This is part two of the series of blog posts I’ve written on the Japanese tiramisu craze of 1990-1991 (or to be more exact, early 1992-ish). Part one can be found here and part three here. Now on to part two, where we really get into the nitty gritty of the Japanese tiramisu craze:
The Beginning of the 1990 Tiramisu Boom
The tiramisu boom officially began in May of 1990 when Hanako, the highly-influential Tokyo young women’s lifestyle and fashion magazine, took notice of the growing passion for tiramisu at home and abroad and promoted it in that month’s issue on page 8 as the “New Queen of Italian Desserts”. It called on “every urbane woman to seek out the nearest establishments that sells delicious tiramisu” and to give “cheer me up” (the literal meaning of ‘tiramisu’ in Italian) a try. To help the fashionistas in their quest for tiramisu, the magazine included details on the various upscale bakeries and restaurants across Japan that sold tiramisu as well as a special tiramisu dessert menu. As a result, Hanako didn’t just spark a trend. They sparked a national craze that lasted for the greater part of two years. Not to mention the biggest sensation of Hanako’s lifetime up till now. This particular issue of Hanako sold like wildfire all across the nation once it hit the newsstands.
Overnight tiramisu became the official dessert of suave and sophisticated young GenXers and a major fashion statement. Italian restaurants across Japan were swamped with thousands, if not millions of young fashionistas (and fashionable guys too) who were demanding this new sensation they read about in Hanako. It quickly became the most popular dessert in virtually all Italian restaurants across Tokyo. Business executives and young urbanites would meet their friends at posh Italian restaurants or cafes in cities such as Tokyo or Osaka for tiramisu. Even lesser-known restaurants and coffee houses outside of the major metropolitan areas and upscale districts started whipping up tiramisu just in case the tiramisu hysteria came crashing through their doors!
The Worldwide Mascarpone Crisis
Since mascarpone is a key ingredient in tiramisu, it’s inevitable that demand for mascarpone would skyrocket as well. And not just the Masukapone substitute. People wanted the real deal. They wanted premium Italian mascarpone for a premium tiramisu experience.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1990, Japanese importers got their hands on every batch of genuine Italian and/or European mascarpone they could possibly get their hands on. As a result, a worldwide shortage of mascarpone occurred that left the rest of the world who needed mascarpone for their recipes out of luck that year. Or at the very least paying an exorbitant price for it.
Tiramisu in 1991
The tiramisu boom continued through 1991 and it was around this time when tiramisu started trickling down to the average Joe.
After seeing it so heavily promoted in the media and being eaten in so many fancy restaurants, it was only natural that the average person in Japan dreamed of eating this exquisite dessert. Establishments frequented by relatively middle-class people such as fast-food chains, family restaurants, and local bakeries and pastry shops started offering their own tiramisu at cheaper prices than what the upscale restaurants were charging.
Among the more family-oriented restaurant chains, the Japanese branch of American restaurant chain Denny’s reached a milestone when they revamped the tiramisu that had been a part of their dessert menu since 1986 and re-released it sometime in late 1990 or early 1991 with more high-quality ingredients. Denny’s new tiramisu ended up being very popular among diners and it remains a part of the menu at many locations in Japan to this very day.
It was also inevitable that corporations would start cashing in on the tiramisu phenomenon. In addition to the ever-increasing availability of tiramisu itself, tiramisu-themed products and treats such as tiramisu-flavored candies, ice cream, and much more started hitting store shelves in Japan at around this time. Fast food restaurant chains such as Lotte’s flagship Lotteria chain, Mos Burger, and Wendy’s started offering tiramisu-flavored milkshakes. Even KFC cashed in on the craze and started offering its own frozen tiramisu dessert. Commercials advertising tiramisu candy and ice cream were commonplace on the Japanese airwaves that year, and some of these treats even had some celebrity endorsements! At one point in 1990 and 1991 there was even a womens’ magazine named Tira-mi-su!
One company who cashed in on the tiramisu craze and profited nicely from it was South Korean conglomerate Lotte. In early 1991, Lotte released a series of tiramisu-flavored chocolate bars and drops. These candies – which used fresh ingredients such as mascarpone imported direct from Italy – sold like hotcakes and are fondly remembered by many of Japan’s GenXers and Yer’s, who were children or teenagers during this time! Many people who lived during that time also fondly remember the flashy and intensive advertising campaign Lotte launched to promote their new tiramisu line.
Tiramisu in the Media
Tiramisu TV commercials and magazine and newspaper ads proliferated the Japanese airwaves throughout 1991. Lotte’s TV commercial campaign advertising their line-up of tiramisu-flavored candies and milkshakes was perhaps the most famous and memorable.
One thing that a great deal of these commercials had in common was an Italian theme. Keeping in line with the gurume movement and the passion for Italian food it created, many of these commercials featured mandolins playing Italian serenades and Italian flags plastered throughout. Others, such as this one advertising Meiji Tiramisu chocolate bars and this one advertising Lotte’s tiramisu shakes, had a theme of Italian cuisine coming to Japan and Italian chefs and waiters being quite impressed with the new, luxurious 100% made in Japan candy (as well as a celebrity appearance at the end of the Meiji commercial).
Of course, since these companies were appealing to the trendy young crowd who were indulging on actual tiramisu, the vast majority of these commercials and ads all featured young people dressed in the latest fashions enjoying these candy bars made from premium ingredients imported from Europe.
The Tiramisu Craze Steams Ahead Into 1991
In the early 1990s, the tiramisu trend seemed unstoppable in Japan. But alas, all good things must come to an end. More to come about the decline of the tiramisu craze in Part 3.
(Image copyright: 胡蘿蔔 via Wikimedia Commons. Used per CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 license. Lotte and its associated products are trademarks of Lotte Corporation. Meiji Chocolates are a trademark of Meiji Co, Ltd. This blog is not affiliated with nor endorsed by either entity. The above commercial comes courtesy of a YouTube user not associated with this blog.)