Dec 2, 2016
Bread (パン / pan) loving community website in Japan votes for 2016’s Bread of the Year (パン・オブ・ザ・イヤー２０１６) and the bakeries that are selling it.
Would it be fair to say that the high quantity of bakeries and cake shops in Japan comes as a surprise? We’ve often heard it remarked upon, usually in the same breath as something about Japanese people being so thin. Putting the latter remarks to one side however, there must be some truth to the postulation that at any sizeable train station in Japan, the first sight after coming through the ticket gates is usually one of a bakery or cake shop. It’s cynical, but very effective positioning; knackered commuters vulnerable to an after-work indulgence, or a hassle free supplement to the evening’s dinner, are easy fodder.
Another, less welcome, surprise, especially to those expats from countries where bread is a main staple, is that bread in Japan is expensive. By bread, we mean the regular sliced stuff that is bought from supermarkets back home without a second thought. Here, you’re looking at 100 yen for eight average-sized slices, and unless you’re willing to pay a premium, it’s going to be fluffy white, fluffy white, or fluffy white (in varying degrees of thickness). This can lead to a sense frustration among many of us, exacerbated by the fact that Japan sometimes has the front to sell this stuff in a single/two slices.
There is variety though (just not in the supermarket). Enough variety in fact, for Japanese bread enthusiasts to have carried out an ‘election’ to determine the best bread of the year for 2016 in Japan.
The 'Bread of the Year' is brought to us courtesy of ‘bread’ (yes, bread) community site (the largest in Japan) パンスタ (pansta); a one-stop platform/guide for all things bread in Japan.
Since 2014 the people at パンスタ have been carrying out polls among site users to determine the year’s best breads. Prior to 2014, this was in the guise of a ‘Delicious Bread Ranking’.
This year saw パンスタ open up, via social media, to include those who aren’t registered with the site in order to gather an even more diverse set of views on the best bread in Japan. More specifically, this year’s collection of award winners are described thus; ‘Bread mania’s most noteworthy breads this year.’. Bread from 10 bakeries/specialists have been selected, each for a particular category. We translate and introduce them here.
david pain (boulangerie artisanale) / ダヴィッド パン (Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki)
In what パンスタ describe as a ‘hard fought battle zone’, boulangerie david pain has emerged from the oven with some of the favored breads in Tsukuba, Ibaraki. The breads made here by the French (Corsican) owner are said to have a good aroma, and a fine tasting wheat that spreads throughout the mouth. Using domestically grown wheat, and home-made yeast, all ingredients of the bread are carefully considered. People come from surrounding prefectures to buy these baguettes.
Web: http://www.geocities.jp/davidpain2007/ (according to this site, the store is closed from Dec. 26, 2016 - Jan. 10, 2017)
White bread specialist
High grade ‘raw/fresh’ white bread specialist Nagomi / 高級「生」食パン専門店 乃が美 (Tennōji-ku, Osaka)
This white bread specialist always commands a queue. Based on the thought of wanting to eat a bread without toasting it, the speciality here has been named nama pan / 生パン (raw/fresh bread). In order to preserve softness and delicacy, bread here comes unsliced, and is baked from a moist dough that has a fine texture. Eating it ‘raw/fresh’ is to get that melt-in-the mouth feeling and a sweet aftertaste.
GONTRAN CHERRIER TOKYO (Shibuya-ku, Tokyo)
This store in Shibuya is managed by popular Parisian baker Gontran Cherrier. The popularity has spread to Japan, with the croissants here being snapped up from the open front store. The croissants are crispy, and from the moment you get them in your hands you’ll notice the aroma of sweet butter.
Backeri Tokutaro / ベッカライ 徳多朗 (Aoba-ku, Yokohama)
Already a favorite among the crew at パンスタ, there are plenty of classic items to chose from at Backeri Tokutaro. This place is usually crowded with customers waiting for their bread. The ‘gold prize winning’ danishes change ingredients according to the season. People have complimented the way in which bakers here are able to draw out the delicious flavors of the ingredients.
Web: Facebook page
LE PAIN de Joël Robuchon / ル パン ドゥ ジョエル・ロブション (Shibuya-ku, Tokyo)
A shop from leading French chef Joël Robuchon, this is a high class place but with reasonable prices. It’s always busy here. The popular focaccia is fresh, and has a fine aroma coming from the olive oil. With one bite a fruity aroma envelops the nose. LE PAIN de Joël Robuchon’s focaccia is also popular for its ability to compliment a variety of dishes.
Pomme de terre / ポム・ド・テール (Suginami-ku, Tokyo)
With their 外パリ中もち系ベーグル (Outer Paris(?) medium mochi style bagel), 巻き込み系ベーグル (roll style bagel), Pomme de terre is regarded as the originator of Japan’s bagel scene, and responsible for some unique 'Japanese' creations. The offerings here are plentiful, filling, and indicative of the owner’s background as a patissier.
Curry bread specialist
L’ile des Pains / イル・デ・パン (Isogo-ku, Yokohama)
Stuffed with chicken, the curry breads served at L’ile des Pains are regarded as not only generous in size but also as having a delicious sauce. Said sauce uses large quantities of vegetables, sautéd for four hours, mixed in and cooked with the sauce for another four, and then left to stand for a day. It’s been three years since the store opened, and thanks to the delicious sauce it is already popular, and an essential stop for curry bread enthusiasts.
Web: Facebook page
POTASTA (ポタスタ) (Tokyo, Shibuya-ku)
Although a new establishment, POTASTA has already become a center of hype on the Internet. An interesting combination of ingredients/fillings reflects a sense of freedom in thought here that allows the store’s individuality to shine. Mild use of seasonings, thin bread and the flavors from the raw ingredients combined with the sensation of biting directly into vegetable fillings makes for a natural and healthy sandwich experience.
Web: Facebook page
Backeri Tokutaro / ベッカライ徳多朗 (Aoba-ku, Yokohama)
The red bean paste is cooked everyday in-store, and is made from carefully considered ingredients that allows the flavor of the azuki beans to best come through. Light and fluffy, Backeri Tokutaro’s anpan has the look and feel of elegant Japanese confectionary. Many comments from the poll expressed that this anpan would make for a fine gift / souvenir.
Web: Facebook page
Cream bread specialist
Kagurazaka Kameido / 神楽坂 亀井堂 (Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo)
Kagurazaka Kameido is the factory-cum-bakery of ‘Kameido’, an old ningyo-yaki store in Ueno Hirokoji (Tokyo). The cream breads here are 1.5 times the size of those found in your regular stores. Stuffed to the limit with cream, these things are so heavy they need to be handled with special spatulas rather than regular tongues lest they break up on lifting. The custard cream filling is smooth, thick, creamy, melty …
Web: No page (Link to info on パンスタ )
What would be your 'bread of the year in Japan' and where do you get it? Let us know in the comments.
NB* If the text here appears a little different from our regular style it’s because we’ve translated the descriptions from the パンスタ site. It's not an 'official' translation
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The Joël Robuchon place in Roppongi is very nice indeed! Any, yeah, not as expensive as you might think.