How Shochu And Parfaits Are Growing New York’s Japanese Dining Scene

When it comes to hospitality staff uniforms, there will be plenty of establishments in New York City that reflect the ethnic and cultural variety of the cuisine on offer in this most cosmopolitan of cities.

Few cultures on the world are more distinctive than the Japanese and, in common with other countries from the Far East, food is a big part of culture and a familiar way for westerners to interact with it.

Japanese food and drink may have been a little later coming to the west than its Chinese counterpart, but it has been growing in popularity and has just received a major boost from governor Kathy Hochul.

As Restaurant Business reports, this has come with a change in NYC licensing laws, which mean restaurants that are licensed for beer and wine can now sell Japanese spirits. This measure includes Shochu being sold under that name, rather than the incorrect moniker of Soju that currently applies. The latter name is actually that of a Korean spirit.

Until now, Schochu was treated as a hard liquor, which meant this required a different license as well as serving under the wrong name, the New York Japanese Restaurant Association noted. At 24 per cent, it is stronger than beer or wine, but less potent than vodka or that other Japanese speciality, Sake. 

While any licensed restaurant in the city will be able to add Schochu to its drink offerings, the clear winners in this change will be Japanese restaurants, which have been nothing if not inventive and innovative in some of their recent creations in New York as it is.

As Eater Magazine notes, a recent trend has been for sculptural parfaits to be appearing across the city’s Japanese restaurants. These are, the magazine notes, not like the kind of parfait seen elsewhere with its granola, yoghurt and strawberries.

In the Japanese case, the common features include ice cream, chiffon cake, cornflakes, jelly, cream and rice flour dumplings called dango.

These were once hard to find, but establishments like Cha-An, based in the East Village, started serving its Japanese parfaits 20 years ago and it has been followed by many newer restaurants, such as Greenpoint-based Kettl, which opened last September and is doing a roaring trade in its parfaits. The article also name checked Soho-based Momoya as a great place to try this type of dessert. 

All this may come as a pleasant surprise to anyone who imagines that Japanese savoury food is all about Sushi, desserts all about green tea ice cream and drink all about Sake. Innovation and licensing law changes are providing a great opportunity for growth and diner discovery. 

Like so many other cuisines around the world, Japanese food and drink is enjoying a growing profile and New Yorkers are increasingly coming to discover what it is all about. The innovations being created by some and the chance to discover Shochu - as well as learning that it doesn’t come from Korea after all - will only help expand its reputation. 

July 22, 2022 — Jacob Blakey