(Part one of this blog post series can be found here and part two here.)
The Death of the Tiramisu Craze
The tiramisu phenomenon died a relatively quick death.
Strangely enough, the publication that helped create it helped kill it off. In 1991, tiramisu was officially “dethroned” by women’s cosmopolitan magazine Hanako as the “New Queen of Italian Desserts” and crème brûlée was crowned the dessert of choice by the magazine for Japan’s young fashionistas that year. As a result, crème brûlée experienced a smaller but fairly significant boom in 1991 among Japan’s young trendsetters and tiramisu was immediately cast aside. In the end, tiramisu, crème brûlée, tapioca, and nata de coco (the latter two being Japan’s two “trendy foods” in 1992 and 1993 respectively) all became the most famous and iconic foods of the early ’90s gurume movement.
Another big factor in the death of tiramisu’s popularity was the extensive franchise surrounding it. By the beginning of 1992, the novelty of tiramisu had worn off and people were tired of being bombarded with tiramisu everywhere they went. The Japanese public began moving on to new trends in both the fashion and food worlds. No longer was tiramisu a expensive or sophisticated treat to be enjoyed on a special night out. Or at least as far as the young trendsetters were concerned. From tiramisu candy bars to tiramisu milkshakes, it suddenly became something that could be found everywhere you went. To them, tiramisu was “so last year” and the fashionistas of the time dared not be seen in public eating 1990’s big fashion trend.
Furthermore, many of the tiramisu-flavored treats being marketed by various food companies were reported to be disgusting or just plain mediocre. The only people eating tiramisu or tiramisu-flavored treats now were some average (and older?) Joes/Janes who couldn’t do with it and children who were hooked on all the tiramisu bars and shakes permeating the store shelves.
The Mascarpone “Sub-Boom”
A byproduct of the tiramisu boom was the mascarpone “sub-boom”. Thanks to the massive public interest in tiramisu and its ingredients, mascarpone started becoming a vital and useful ingredient in many popular Japanese recipes to come, especially candy and fruit recipes. Even as the tiramisu novelty faded away, the Japanese public’s interest in mascarpone did not and still continues in some form or another today. Many recipes calling for mascarpone can be found on sites such as YouTube.
The Burst of the Japanese Economic Bubble
Ultimately there was another very big reason why tiramisu experienced such a rapid fall from grace. The Japanese economy began to slow down in 1990 and over the next several years, the Japanese economic bubble finally burst. A recession officially got underway in 1992. People started tightening their wallets as prices started to go up on foodstuffs and tough times began to roll in. As a result of the slowdown, more economical and traditional dishes started becoming the new trends in the Gurume Movement over the next few years.
The Tiramisu Mini-Boom of the 2010s
In recent years, interest in tiramisu has been gradually rekindled in Japan thanks in large part to a number of Japanese restaurants that have started offering tiramisu-flavored pancakes which have, according to a number of sources, sold like hotcakes (pun intended).
In 2014-15, Denny’s started offering – albeit for a limited time – tiramisu-flavored pancakes served complete with your choice of mascarone and espresso cream!
Tiramisu candies have continued to flourish in Japan. Tiramisu-flavored Pocky sticks and Kit Kat bars are still easily found in Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores. In 2012, Lotte re-released their line of Tiramisu candy bars. This re-release of the candy bars was eagerly anticipated by the country’s 30-somethings in particular, who have many fond memories of eating those candies back in their childhood and adolescent days!
Today tiramisu is, like its American cousins coffee cake and apple pie, a common dessert found in some form or another in many Japanese restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and bakeries. Mini tiramisu snack cakes made at home and abroad can be found all over Japan and some of the tiramisu candies that debuted in the ’90s are still alive and well there. Others have been re-released as special editions. All in all it remains an essential Itameshi (Italian) dish and it still has a strong following in Japan, but its popularity has yet to reach the feverish heights that it reached in 1990 and 1991. Nor is it the “fashion food” that it was during that brief period of time. In many ways, tiramisu is to most Japanese what biscotti, bagels, and “cafe lattes” (as lattes were commonly called then) were to most Americans living in the early ’90s: A formerly exquisite treat that was enjoyed by rich, fashionable urbanites thirty years ago, but is now a fairly common sight in any local grocery or convenience store.
In addition to being a popular dessert, tiramisu could also be considered to be a symbol of the times. It’s a symbol of a time when Japan was the world’s second largest economy and a time when people were living it up in society. Maybe tiramisu is also a symbol of the climax of that era as it made way for more frugal lifestyles and trends that became the norm of the rest of the 1990s and beyond.
However, with tiramisu-flavored foods steadily growing in popularity in today’s Japan, could another big boom be in store for tiramisu there? Only time will tell!
Japanese Language Links:
*Please note that nearly all of the websites below are Japanese language only. Also, please note that a few of the webpages I used for reference when I originally wrote these blog posts back in early 2016 are now long gone and no archived version can be immediately found. I spent much time doing a Japanese language search for these websites as little information could be found in English. Due to their relevance to the blog posts, the dead links are listed below, but will not be clickable. If anyone knows of any archived versions or knows of comparable websites or blogs that offer the same info, feel free to share them with us.
https://web.archive.org/web/20090820204619/http://www.ntv.co.jp/omoii-tv/today/080526.html (Special 2008 article from Japanese broadcaster NTV about the 20th anniversary of Hanako and highlights
of its history.)
http://www.excite.co.jp/News/90s/20151111/E1446598770556.html (Article about the early ’90s tiramisu boom in Japan.)
http://magazineworld.jp/hanako/ (Homepage of Hanako Magazine.)
https://www.dennys.jp/index.php#dennysMenu (The latest menu from Denny’s Japan.)
https://web.archive.org/web/20160417071412/http://www.dennys-jp.com/blog/2014/09/post-1293.html (An archived version of a blog post from Denny’s Japanese blog about their tiramisu offerings. They go into detail about when they first started offering tiramisu in 1991 and its initial reception.)
http://www.pablo3.com/cheesebook/types/mascarpone/ (Article about mascarpone cheese from the Cheese Book website.)
English Language Links:
https://books.google.com/books?id=VJETAQAAMAAJ&q=japanese+mascarpone+1990&dq=japanese+mascarpone+1990&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjWwMW99KnKAhWGl5QKHfAbBRAQ6AEIKzAA (An article from a late 1990 edition of Focus Japan about Japan’s tiramisu craze and the worldwide mascarpone shortage.)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiramisu (Tiramisu at Wikipedia.)
Schilling, Mark. The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture. Trumbull: Weatherhill, Inc. 1997, pg. 64.
http://www.highballbar.net/archives/13594 (Post from a Japanese food blogger about Lotte’s Tiramisu chocolate bars.)
http://mainichi.jp/articles/20150818/ddf/012/070/008000c (A 2015 article from the Manichi Daily about the Tiramisu Boom.)
http://news.livedoor.com/article/detail/10817913/ (Another detailed article about the early ’90s Tiramisu Boom.)
(Image copyrights: Prepackaged tiramisu: 男のティラミス・春. Ginza tiramisu: ラ・ベットラ・ダ・オチアイ La Bettola da Ochiai (Ginza. Tokyo). Both used via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons per CC Attribution 2.0 Generic license. HistoryZen is neither affiliated with nor endorsed by any entities mentioned above.)