When you think of Japanese food, sushi and ramen are probably the first things that come to mind. However, there’s a wonderful world of Japanese baked goods just waiting to be discovered!
Bakeries are an example of the influence the west has had on Japan. The word for bread, pan, comes from Portuguese, because bread wasn’t a big deal before traders and missionaries arrived. Japan is still more reliant on rice than wheat, but pastries are popular, and some of these distinctive snacks are known around the world!
Probably the most wide-spread Japanese breads are the melon bread, an-pan, and chocolate coronet. You’re guaranteed to find at least one of these in every bakery you enter in Japan. And, for many people in other countries, they’re recognizable from anime and video games.
To begin with, melon bread is probably the most common Japanese pastry. It’s round, fluffy on the inside, and crispy on top, with recognizable criss-crossing lines. This is where to melon part of the name comes in—there’s no fruit flavor in a standard melon bread. There are fancier versions, of course, but it’s a pretty basic bread, and a safe place to start snacking.
An-pan is an introduction to a common component of Japanese food, bread and other wise: an, or red bean paste. This mildly sweet and starchy paste fills a round bun to make an-pan, and can also be found on toast, mochi, and more. Think re-fried beans, but sweet instead of savory! If you like an, you’ll like a good deal of Japanese pastries, especially an-pan.
Finally, the chocolate coronet is a cornucopia-shaped bread, filled with chocolate (or sometimes vanilla) cream. It’s puffy and a little messy, if you eat it the wrong way, but always delicious! They’re maybe a little less common than the other two, but still pretty easy to find.
So, once you’re in Japan, where can you go to get your hands on some Japanese bread? It’s easier than you might think. Bakeries are common, especially around train stations, and JCMU is right next door to a fairly fancy place called Club Harie. Also, if you can’t find a full bakery, every convenience store has a section for bread and pastries. They may be less fresh, but they’re often just as tasty!
At a convenience store, you just grab the packages and check out, but there’s a bit of a process at a real bakery. First, you need to grab a tray and a pair of tongs. Then, you can wander around, trying to follow to flow of movement, until you’ve picked up everything you want. It’s important not to use your bare hands, as it’s all self-serve; and important to use a tray, even if you’re only getting one thing, and even if it’s already in a bag. Once your tray is loaded, proceed to the register, where they will take your tray and tongs and bag everything up for you. Often you’ll have the option of eating at the bakery, so they’ll put your purchase on a plate, and you can even ask to get it heated up. Many bakeries sell coffee and tea, too!
Trying new food is one of the best ways to experience a new country. Even western-style food is going to be different in Japan, so don’t pass up the opportunity to try it. Enrich your time in Japan with a trip to the bakery!