All About Japanese Bread: Types, Flavors, Differences, and More Explained!
Bread has become an integral part of the diet in Japan today. All kinds of bread can be easily enjoyed throughout Japan, not just at specialty bakeries but also at convenience stores, supermarkets, and more. This article will explore trivia regarding the history of bread in Japan as well as varieties of bread that were developed here.
The Characteristics and Ingredients of Japanese Bread
Bread enjoys a long history of nearly 6,000 years, but it wasn't until 1543 that Western-style bread made via the fermentation of dough was introduced to Japan. The Portuguese that landed at Tanegashima Island shared their knowledge of firearms, Christianity, and bread baking with the Japanese, leading Japanese bread baking to eventually begin in earnest in the latter half of the 19th century.
Japanese bread's most noticeable feature is that it is softer, fluffier, and lighter than the heavy breads of the West. The reason for this is that rice is king within Japanese food culture, which creates a preference for breads that exhibit rice-like properties such as moisture and softness. Furthermore, since bread is not the main part of the Japanese diet, creators were free to experiment with a variety of breads, such as sweet breads and stuffed breads. Typical stuffed breads include curry bread, yakisoba bread, and more. From chewy rice flour bread to bread made with soybean powder and "okara" (the leftovers from making tofu), Japan plays host to an innumerable amount of unique breads.
Breads You Can Only Get In Japan!
Milk bread, which is made by using milk instead of water, is as soft as a cloud. The soft, fluffy milk bread seems to melt in your mouth without even chewing it, spreading a subtle sweetness and milky flavor over your taste buds. You can enjoy this bread as is, or you can toast it a bit to really bring out the wheaty fragrance and milky sweetness. A recommendation is to cut the bread thickly, enjoy one half plain, and enjoy the other half by toasting it, spreading plenty of butter on it, and finishing it off with pepper and honey before chowing down.
Melonpan (literally translates to "melon bread") stands front and center among breads made in Japan. This sweet bread is made by topping bread dough with sweet cookie dough before baking. Despite the name, melon is not actually used in making melonpan. Rather, the name supposedly comes from its visual resemblance to a muskmelon. The wide variety of melonpan is one of the bread's charms: there are versions with chocolate chips mixed in the cookie dough, with a moister texture, and with flavored creams inside such as melon cream or anko (red bean paste). A delightful pastime while traveling is to try and compare the different styles of melonpan you come across!
Curry bread is made by rolling up curry in bread dough, coating it in batter, and frying it. This popular stuffed-bread pick-me-up is not only sold at bakeries, but also at supermarkets, convenience stores, and more. It is said that the origin of curry bread was the "Western Bread" made at the Meikado bakery (now Cattlea) in Koto-ku, Tokyo in 1927. There are numerous combinations of curry bread flavors, stemming from differences in the frying method, texture, and the spiciness of the curry filling. I personally fancy a crispy, crunchy texture and always make sure to pick up freshly baked curry bread at a baker in town.
Summer brings with it a craving for spicy dishes, and curry bread fairs are held all throughout Japan at department stores and bakeries where you can try all sorts of inventive curry bread flavors, such as extremely spicy varieties, green curry breads, and more.
About 100 years ago, the couple that founded Nakamuraya, a long-standing food company in Shinjuku, tried cream puffs for the first time and were blown away by its deliciousness. Seeking to introduce the flavor to their products, they came up with the idea of replacing the red bean paste in their buns with cream, and thus cream bread was born. While cream bread typically comes in its characteristic globe-like shape, different stores experiment with different shapes and toppings, such as animal-shaped cream breads or those topped with chocolate chips or almonds. The evolution of this sweet treat is ever in motion: these days, some cream breads are made with different dough like croissant or brioche dough; others are filled with cream so smooth that it melts in your mouth, or with fresh cream; and others are filled to the very limit. My personal preference is to get a variety with a thin layer of bread and plenty of soft cream filling, and chilling it before eating.
Make Bread in Japan at a Kitchen Studio
For those who want to not only taste unique Japanese bread but also try their hand at making some, we recommend you participate in a cooking class.
Ginza's ABC Cooking Studio offers a one-day bread-making experience geared toward foreigners. Visitors can experience making bread filled with sweet red bean paste, melonpan, and other varieties. I took part in one of these lessons with a friend. Even though it was our first time, the bread was easy to make, and enjoying our very own freshly made bread was a real treat! Why not commemorate your trip to Japan with a bit of bread baking in Ginza?
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So, what do you think? Japan has all sorts of breads that boast their own originality. We encourage you to taste and compare different ones to find the bread that's right for you!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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