Few who have not visited the country would ever imagine that Japan is practically overrun with bakeries. When people think of food in Japan, they usually think of things like rice, sushi and ramen, but the truth is, while Japanese supermarkets may not carry anywhere near as many varieties of bread as those in the West, dedicated bakeries can be found all over city centres, with pretty much every station, shopping mall and supermarket having its own shop or dedicated corner offering up freshly baked pastries, and the variety is astounding.
Check out this video to see 30 typical pastries available at Japanese bakeries.
You may be thinking that this kind of selection would only be found at larger bakeries, but even smaller stores in Japan offer a vast number of unusual treats, from milk tea-flavoured scones and melon pan to shrimp croissants and cheesy salmon roe slices. There’s often too much to choose from, and you’ll see shoppers wandering up and down with a tray and tongs in hand for five or ten minutes at a time deciding what to get.
That said, having lived here for roughly eight years now and eaten at more than my fair share of bakeries, I can’t help feeling that while Japanese pastries are pretty good, the country’s take on bread is pretty awful. There is indeed a phenomenal amount on offer, and I’ll never say no to a cheeky doughnut or warm chocolate scone when it’s placed in front of my face, but when you come from a country where bread is a staple, it’s a shock to find so many bakeries here in Japan that, for all their sweet pastries and exciting cakes, don’t offer a single decent loaf of bread.
▼ Typical “shokupan” loaves in Japan. Frankly, my queen would not be amused.
In desperate need of a wiener roll with squiggles of tomato ketchup? Japan’s got you covered. A ham and cheese slice with light, flaky pastry? No problem. A doughnut filled with anko sweet bean paste? You’ll be practically tripping over them in Japan.
But if you happen to need a good-quality loaf of seeded, whole-wheat, non-sweetened bread for your morning toast? Soft white rolls that don’t already have butter or raisins in them? Some hamburger buns for your barbecue? Good luck with that.
In short, Japan is very much a nation of pastry lovers, and you’ll never struggle to find a bakery in the city. But when the novelty wears off and you’re in need of a nice granary roll for your turkey sandwiches, unless you’re prepared to go out of your way to find it or pay through the nose for it, you’re probably going be disappointed.
Ganbatte, Japan. You’re so tantalisingly close to being a true bread lover’s paradise.