Kansai Scene Magazine


Life is sweeter here

Meet the dutchman who swapped his briefcase for a wafel iron

Life is sweeter here

It’s not hard to find Kansai’s sweetest new addition. Step out of Rokko station and the jolly blue shop front, with its Dutch flag, will be easy to spot among the grey hues. If all else fails, follow your nose — the tasty whiff of cinnamon, caramel and baking will lead you right to the door. Which I’ve barely stepped through before Marco presses a hot, sweet smelling wafel into my hand. “Here, eat this — then we’ll talk.” He says with a smile. I happily oblige.

Dutch Stroopwafels aren’t a bit like their more familiar, fat Belgian cousins. They have the dimensions of a coaster, light and flaky, with a thin caramel filling. They make a sweet alternative to a biscuit with your cuppa. At home, the wafels are served after resting them lightly on your coffee cup. But of course, they taste best freshly pressed by the waffle iron.

The man behind the iron, Marco Bos, grew up eating freshly-made Stroopwafels at local markets and bakeries. This variety is a specialty of Gouda, a region in theNether- lands more famous for its cheese. But Marco didn’t arrive in Asia in the 1980s intent on serving up nostalgic wafels. He came in search of education, and a little adventure.

After an exchange programme in Taiwan, he won a scholarship to Japan, to write a thesis on computer science. Studying in Kobe, he met his future wife and partner in business, Yoshiko. After graduation, the pair threw on their rucksacks to explore Asia together, but inevitably, their funds ran out, so Marco began working for a software company in Singapore. Within a few years he was working freelance, selling software to clients directly in Malaysia. But on returning to Japan, purely to enroll his three children into the school system, Marco decided it was time for a change.

“Corporate life here has a lot of fake behaviour — you do your best for a customer and they’re never satisfied, they never say thank you.” He says. “I wanted to dosomething different. I wanted to see my customers’ happy faces. I get to do that every day now.”

After experimenting with recipes, finding equipment and choosing the shop location, there was little red tape to get through before Wafelhuis opened its doors earlier this year. The shop itself — a former yakitori — is small, but a long serving counter, and wooden fittings painted in bright blues and creams make it cozy rather than cramped. A third of it is a back area where the dough is made with the help of gigantic mixers. It’s then rolled into small balls and squished into the wafel iron right by the shop window.

Pause by the window and you can see Marco deftly flipping the wafels, slicing them in two and slathering caramel inside. In the back, Yoshiko is wrapping up small gift bags of the newest flavour she developed, matcha. Their youngest child, 3-year-old Colin, is hanging out watching DVDs on a huge play area in the corner of the shop. Unsurprisingly, this place has a genuine family feel.

“It’s a very easy-going business,” says Marco. “There are other Dutch foods I’d love to bring to Japan, like poffertjes (pancakes), but the dough only lasts for a few hours. With this product, and process, nothing goes to waste.”

The wafels themselves have a long shelf life — two months — if you can resist them that long. As they are cut into perfect discs, the off-cuts are also bagged up for sale, or mixed with ice cream and hot caramel in the shop.

“I think it’s the perfect product. I couldn’t work with something like okonomiyaki,” says Marco. “Your clothes and hair would just smell of fried food. When we go home, we just smell of the caramel, the sugar.”

What a sweet life it is.

• Open: 11am–6pm • Closed: Sundays & National Holidays
• Nearest station: Rokko Hankyu, north exit
• Tel: 078-858-6663 • www.wafelhuis.com

Text & photos: Donna Sheffield

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