(Full disclosure: I did not eat this in Japan.)
I may be in trouble.
Some of my goals for the year, in occupation form: Blogger. Itinerant. Party planner. Rockstar. Mime.
Is it time to add, Baker? Boulangerie owner?
Because my trip to Japan, with its myriad gastronomic delights, is making a case for future adventures in bread.
Let me back up a bit.
A great deal of my life enjoyment comes from eating food from around the world. Mexican, Mediterranean, Indian– I bounce from one cuisine to the next, as if getting stuck eating one kind of food would cause me to shrivel up and die. Japanese food has always taken part in that rotation. Sushi! Tempura! Donburi! I was even briefly obsessed with making bento, but that project proved to be too time intensive to continue.
Naturally I ate as many different kinds of food as I could while in Japan. There was the donburi (rice bowl) with egg and tofu:
(The old couple running the restaurant was so sweet. She thought I was Japanese!)
The izakaya and parfait desserts:
(So beautiful! Also had rice krispies at the bottom which was weird.)
I even had omurice (rice covered with an egg omelette and sauce):
(This, of all the meals, was only ok. The best rice covered with an egg dish I’ve had is still nasi goreng pattaya from Malaysia.)
Then there was the undisputable king of the Kansai region, okonomiyaki:
There’s egg, pork and who knows what else mixed in these pancake-looking things! They are thick and delicious and leave me full to bursting at the end of every meal. I ate it twice on this trip and have had it three total times in my life.
There are the meals I didn’t take pictures of.
The cold soba served on a wooden mat: I had stared at it, completely non-plussed on how to eat it. I sneakily tried spying on the boys at the neighboring table who had ordered the same thing to see what they did. I discovered the sweet sauce in the jar and would spill a little on the noodles. I thought dipping it into the sauce would be conspicuous, even though further research later proved that it was the thing to do.
The udon with the single breaded shrimp: This was at some tourist trap of a restaurant in Nara. I would never have bought a meal for the same price in Seattle! But it tasted so much better than I thought it would. The shrimp’s breading interacted well with the miso soup so I didn’t even mind that it got soggy. I also drank down all the miso which is something I rarely ever do.
So, that brings us to bread. I first became enamored with Asian bread on my first visit back to the Philippines in 2006. It’s the same bread that you know and love but augmented to suit the Asian palette; it might even contain native Asian flavors such as red bean, ube, or kaya. Since 2006, I’ve always thought it was such a shame that these options weren’t available in the United States; I have a gut feeling they are just waiting to embrace it! Bread is one of the most American things there is.
I’ve since tired of Breadtalk and its ilk. And Korea was particularly sad in its bread endeavors– it’s ok, Korea, I get that bread is not your priority in life and that getting wheat shipped from overseas makes it less fresh than in other places. But for all of Korea’s shortcomings, Japan makes up for it by going above and beyond where any of the French dreamed bread could go.
(Of course, I’ve never been to France and eaten bread as the French intended it. So perhaps I don’t really know. But at least now that’s one more thing for me to do once I visit France.)
On one of my trips to Kyoto Station to meet a friend, I got hungry. So I bought a small bread item from the boulangerie inside the station. It was called a “Provence,” which I pronounced like an American at the cash register. The Japanese lady behind the till corrected me like the stiff and proper person she was, then gave me the quiche-like thing. It was small and could fit in my palm, a circle of fluffy crust and a pile of vegetables (including distinctively an onion… but beyond that, I couldn’t give you details) that cost me 382JPY (almost USD$4). I could buy a full blown sushi lunch for that amount of money, but that Provence! I could not eat that succulent little pie fast enough. I must have looked insane and uncivilized, walking through the station while stuffing my face. The stiff and proper Japanese lady behind the till had packed me a moist towelette– bless her, she knew exactly what I was in for.
I ate another one the next day.
Shokupan is another story. I’ve had Japan’s famous thick slices of milk bread before, particularly at Asian dessert cafes where they are topped with whipped cream, honey and/or chocolate syrup (see the top pic). I knew about their pillowy goodness, but it was always too drowned out in sugar for me to really get it.
Then one of my couchsurfing hosts offered me a simple toasted slice, topped with a bit of blueberry jam and I was done for. A friend of mine says there are additives that make them addictive, in which case sign me up because I really really really really REALLY need one of these in my life again.
I spent the rest of the week taking surveys of the Japanese bread at the convenience store. And now that I’m in the Philippines, I’ve been looking at the Asian bread here. Thoughts of culinary school in Japan and France have danced in my head (I could use any reason to go back to Japan, really), but I’ve committed to bringing about world peace first. So there’s that.
In the meantime, I’m taking pictures. Eating a ton of bread. Maybe collecting recipes and taking a turn in the kitchen myself. I might not end up a baker, but Asian bread is going to be a thing in the United States. Watch for it.