Japan was once inextricably associated with rice, but bread—known as pan, from the Portuguese word pão—has caught on in a big way. Today small bakeries can be found just about everywhere you turn. Over the years, Japan’s bakers have developed their own local specialties.
These sweet buns are filled with anko bean paste, most commonly the red paste made from azuki beans. They were first sold in Ginza, Tokyo, in 1874. Anpanman, the hero of a children’s comic and anime series whose head is literally an anpan, has boosted the popularity of the snack.
The name for “melon-bread” originally comes from the buns’ resemblance to the fruit, rather than the taste, which is most commonly sweet and buttery. But there are a host of variations on this theme, with chocolate chips or cream filling popular, and the range of flavors—including chocolate, strawberry, and maple—now features melon as well.
Curry arrived in Japan in the nineteenth century in the mild form then enjoyed by the British, and has since become a firm national favorite. “Curry-bread” is a kind of savory donut filled with Japanese-style curry sauce, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. While tasty, it is perhaps not recommended for those watching the calories.
Basically a hot dog bun crammed with yakisoba (fried noodles) and often topped with pink pickled ginger, this commonly sold snack may seem surprising to some visitors to Japan. Adventurous sandwich aficionados should also try potato korokke (croquette) as a filling, as well as strawberry or other fruit with whipped cream.
These fluffy and light steamed cakes are delicately flavored, whether in a traditional variety like brown sugar (or the matcha-flavored ones pictured here) or a more modern style, such as chocolate. In the 1950s, horse-drawn wagons selling mushipan were a common sight, but now the snacks are commonly found in bakeries, convenience stores, and supermarkets.
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