Has Hello Kitty finally buckled to hipster fashion trends? Has she been tapped to replace the aging Harrison Ford in an upcoming new Indiana Jones movie, under the logic that if the franchise can include aliens, why not anthropomorphic cats, too? Or has she simply decided to make a living as a hard-boiled private eye?
That third theory actually isn’t so far off the mark, but as with any good mystery, the real culprit behind Kitty-chan’s throwback headgear is someone, or in this case something, you’d never expect: custard pudding.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning of this saccharine little tale.
One of Japan’s favorite sweets is purin, a kind of custard dessert not unlike the flan served in Mexican restaurants, with the name derived from the North American pronunciation of the word “pudding”. You can pick it up for a few hundred yen at just about any convenience store, but true purin fans are willing to splurge for higher-quality versions made at specialty shops.
In 1984 a restaurant called Marlowe opened in the coastal city of Yokosuka, located in Kanagawa Prefecture, Tokyo’s neighbor to the south. It’s not clear why the owners chose to give their eatery the same name as pulp fiction author Raymond Chandler’s L.A.-based P.I. Philip Marlowe, but there’s no mistaking his being the inspiration for the restaurant’s logo.
With a menu of tasty seafood pastas and views of both the sea and Mt. Fuji, diners found plenty to like about Marlowe. The restaurant’s biggest hit, though, was its purin, with to-go orders coming in little glass beakers. The beakers are so sturdy that many people hold on to them to use as drinking glasses after they finish the treat, and popular belief holds that you can find one in the kitchen cupboard of any home in Yokosuka.
Of course, young women are the prime target market for fancy sweets in Japan, and wherever you find marketing geared towards young Japanese women, you’ll find cuteness. For a limited time, Marlowe is teaming up with the queen of kawaii herself, Hello Kitty, and offering its signature purin in ceramic cups featuring a portrait of the adorable feline.
Rocking a jaunty fedora pulled down at a rakish angle, Kitty Marlowe adds a dash of old-school cool to her ever-present cuteness, even as her somewhat mannish cap and tie give the momentary impression that her whiskers have morphed into the perma-stubble private eyes are required to grow before getting their licenses.
The packaging may be new, but the purin itself is made with the same great recipe that’s been winning Marlowe fans for the last few decades. For repeat customers looking for something a little different, Marlowe also offers a number of limited-time and seasonal flavors, such as crème epaisee purin with sour cream. One of our Japanese-language reporters told us we have to try the Ajiichi mikan gelee purin, which contains two small oranges and enough sweetness to almost make you forget you’re eating a citrus fruit.
Marlowe has a half-dozen locations in Kanagawa. The atmosphere of the original restaurant in Yokosuka is nice if you’ve got a hot date with a classy dame, but the closest place to Tokyo to get your hands on their purin is at their dessert counter in the basement of the Sogo department store next to Yokohama Station. There may not be any seats, but there’s nothing wrong with getting one to go and enjoying it while you’re spending the night staking out some crook’s hideout.