Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#31 Foods I will miss from Japan – THE BREAD

Today we will talk about THE BREAD here in Japan.

Oh it’s so good.  How shall I sing its praises?  I’ve fallen in love with Japanese bakeries so hard since coming to Japan, that my boyfriend and I sometimes talk, half-seriously, half-dreamily, how we should open up our own Japanese-style bakery someday in the US, ideally on a college campus.  It seems like it would do really well there.

Japanese bakeries serve breads that are fresh, relatively cheap, and that are very unique.  There are a host of flavors, from the sweet more dessert like breads, to the heartier meal like breads, to the in-between snack like breads.

There are a lot of “chain store” bakeries.  Fred’s Cafe was my favorite from when I studied abroad, because there was one inside a train station that I often stopped by on my commute home from school.

The picture below was taken of a different Fred’s Cafe in Sannomiya, Kobe.

And here is my beloved “home” Fred’s cafe in the Nishinomiya Kitaguchi station:

I actually had the audacity, back in November 2011 when I took these photos, to take photos inside the store.  Most people who work at stores don’t like it when you take pictures inside, for all sorts of reasons, but I was sneaky, and so excited to be back at this particular Fred’s Cafe (which I had been away from for a little over 2 years, the time between I left Japan with study abroad to the time I returned on JET).

The breads are sitting on shelves out in the open.  They each have a little placard with the name of the bread, a description of what’s in it, and the price per piece.

When you walk into the store you grab a tray and tongs and you walk around and select as many or as few breads as you like.

What’s on offer varies from day to day, and even hour to hour, as new fresh baked breads are sometimes brought out and added to the shelves.

After selecting your breads, you take them to the counter, they ring them up, put each bread in its own individual plastic bag, then put all the breads you selected into another bag with the company logo:

A couple of weeks ago I was in the Osaka-Umeda station (for Hankyu Trains – my favorite line in Kansai – cheap, clean, snazzy – the trains are actually featured in the background of the above picture!).  My boyfriend was feeling a bit hungry so we stopped by the Fred’s cafe just outside the ticket gates on the lower level.  Here are the breads he got:

The one on the left had hash browns on it (sort of a breakfasty-thing) and the one on the right was some sort of cheese bread.

And here are the breads I got:

It had apricots on it, which was such a rare find in Japan!

I accidentally took a bite out of this before remembering to take a picture.  It’s something akin to a brownie, though it’s a lot more squishy in a delicious way – my boyfriend likened it to a brownie x marshmallow mix.  I find it 10 times more delectable than an actual brownie.

And here are some pictures I took of the establishment on the way out.

Of course there are other chain bakeries, but I prefer Fred’s not only for nostalgia reasons, but because their breads tend to be slightly on the cheaper side compared to other places, and the quality of the breads is generally a sort of chewy doughiness that I absolutely LOVE.  Plus they tend to have a lot of cream-filled breads which I personally am quite fond of.

To not be overly biased though, here’s a few more breads.

Below is some I got from a chain I often go to in Fukuyama called “Vie de France”

The big one on the left is filled with cream cheese; the long one is Green Tea flavored with cream in it, and the little one is a sort of mochi-like piece that is lemon-flavored.

I also bought a delicious apple-themed bread at a road-side rest-stop while on a bus from Fukuyama to Kyoto that had brown sugar and bit of apple on the inside (and the outside was a little sticky).

Japan is a wonderland of strange and sweet breads!

Have you eaten some of these delicacies in Japan or elsewhere?  I saw Japanese-style bakeries in Hong Kong.  I really hope Taiwan has at least a couple as well!

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#30 Foods I will miss from Japan – Part 2

Here’s the next installment of all the delicious goodies I’ll soon be missing out on when I leave Japan.

CROQUET (コロッケ)

We’ll start with this one, since I mentioned it at the end of my last post and some of you may not know what it is.  I certainly didn’t when I first came.  The term is French, so perhaps it’s a French dish, and perhaps not?

It’s basically made out of potatoes, and deep fried.

It has such a hearty, sumptuous texture, and it goes really well with rice in my opinion.  I think generally there are vegetables minced up and added in, and it’s usually slightly flavored (sweetened?) as well.  There are also versions that have meat inside, but I don’t buy those.

SHOKU PAN (Meal bread? 食パン)

This is a chunk of bread, sold by the square, and is cut into either 4, 5, or 6 slices depending on which version you buy.  If you buy the 4 sliced version, the slices will be thicker, because it’s the same base cube you’re buying just divvied up differently.  I tend to buy the 6 slice one, or else it would be way too thick.

Shoku pan is generally used for breakfast, as a single slice either toasted or not, and then you spread something over the top of it.  It’s actually quite chewy and satisfying for breakfast.

On occasion me and my boyfriend have tried to make sandwiches out of this bread, since regular sliced loaves of bread such that you find in the US are non-existent here.  However, we’ve generally been dissatisfied with our shoku pan sandwich meals because there’s just far too much bread that it eclipses whatever you put in between.  Or, you have to put like twice as much stuff in between the slices to even taste it, often ending up with a very dense, high calorie, far too filling meal.

GOMA SOFT (Sessame seed spread)

Probably my favorite thing to spread on top of shoku pan is Goma Soft.

It looks quite scary at first, because it’s grey with black bits in it (sesame seeds), and hardly resembles food.  However, it’s incredibly tasty.  It’s basically tons of sesame seeds, sugar, some sort of sweetened syrup, vegetable oil, shortening, and a little bit of peanut butter.  I suppose it’s not the healthiest thing ever, but it’s really tasty.

TINY MUSHROOMS! – ENOKI

These are apparently called Enoki, and I buy them all the time.  They add delicious texture to any pasta, and they’re usually dirt-cheap, like 60-80 yen a pack.  On occasion I’ve even fried them up by themselves with a little soy sauce and mirin (sweet cooking sake) and they have made a tasty side dish on their own that way.

KINPIRA-GOBOU

This is a common Japanese side dish that is made up of Gobo (burdock root?), konnyaku (devil’s tongue?) carrots, and sesame seeds.  I guess because I’m a sucker for sesame seeds, it’s always SO delicious.

You can use it as it’s own side dish, or put it on top of rice, like I did here:

FISH CAKE THINGS

I pretty much only buy these when they’re on sale; this picture here shows a “half-price” sticker.  It’s ususally a cheap and easy way for me to fill out a rice-based meal with side dishes.

I’ve known people to not like fish-cake foods here, but I’ve always found them pleasant.  Basically there are a lot of variety of fish-cake side dishes, where fish I guess is ground up and then flavored and pasted together.  It usually ends up tasting both sweet and savory.  This particular one here has eda-mame (soy beans) clustered with the bits of fish cake, adding some extra nutrients.

NATTO! (Fermented Soybeans).

Now, we’ve reached the pinnacle of this post.

Natto, or fermented soybeans, is one of those foods that you either love it or you hate it.  Most foreigners are completely disgusted by natto, and I admit I was at first too.  Natto is offensive not in its taste, or even in its smell, but in its texture.  It’s slimy.  It sticks to your chopsticks in nebulous strings.  It feels all wrong in your mouth.

When I first came to Japan, and Natto showed up in the school lunches (which it did from time to time) I would usually try to eat it in big gulps, not thinking about it, and try to get it out of the way as soon as possible, followed by something much more savory and delicious to get the remnants of it out of my mouth.

Somehow, humans can get habituated to most everything, and at some point Natto started actually tasting pleasant to me.  A few months ago I actually started proactively buying Natto in the grocery stores.

I was converted to Natto (somehow I feel it needs a capital N) but many people aren’t.  Many Japanese people themselves dislike Natto (as well as sashimi or sushi – just because a food is prevalent in a culture doesn’t mean everyone likes it or will eat it).  My boyfriend still only suffers through Natto when it’s served to him, but will never eat it willingly.

When you buy Natto in the store, it looks like this:

It generally comes in packs of 3, each in their own Styrofoam box.

When you open the styrofoam box, there’s the natto covered with a sheet of plastic, and usually a packet or two of flavoring.  My favorite brand (this one) comes with some kind of sauce, and mustard.  It’s not uncommon to have grated daikon (Japanese radish) in a sort of sauce form to mix in.

You mix everything together still in the styrofoarm container.

Then you put it over rice, and you’re finished!  Ta da!

Natto is supposed to be very healthy for you, and here in Japan it’s also very cheap – about 100 yen for the pack of 3, sometimes even cheaper.

Now I’ve basically covered the Japanese foods I enjoy and will miss, except for one very important area: the bread.

I talked about Shoku pan in this post, about it’s chewy thick goodness (for breakfast), but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  While Japan doesn’t do bread for lunchtime sandwiches, Japan does do bread for breakfast, or snacks, or even for meals themselves, very uniquely and deliciously.  The Japanese bakery is like nothing I’d ever seen in the US.  I will talk more about Japanese bakeries and Kashi pan (snack breads) as they’re called, in my next post.  Look forward to it!

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#29 Foods I will miss from Japan – Part 1

In leaving Japan, my lifestyle is going to change dramatically.

All of the foods I have gotten so used to eating I will no longer have access too.  Even the things I only ate occasionally here, will no longer be available, and that’s sad.

So here’s a list, in no particular order, of the foods I’m going to miss.

BENTOS

You can pick these up really easily at any grocery store or convenience store.  Since becoming a vegetarian, I haven’t bought them as often as they often have some meat in them, like this one with a small hot dog.  But they give quite a variety of side-dishes and always have plenty of rice such that they are often satisfying and filling meals.

TAKOYAKI

These are delicious cooked balls of batter with little bits of octopus in the center.  The octopus is tolerable; if anything it adds a little bit of texture, but you don’t really taste it.  The deliciousness is in the sauce and the topics, and the battery goodness of the balls themselves.

RAMEN

No longer will I be able to get a solid bowl of ramen.  Though, ramen usually comes with meat, but I’ve found you can often request to have the meat taken out.

FRESH BOWL OF UDON

You can get dried Udon noodles in asian food stores in the US, but nothing beats fresh ones in broth with other ingredients mixed in.  This one has some green onions, a slice of fish cake, and some tofu skin thing, which are all pretty common things to add to Udon.

MIKAN ORANGES

My prefecture, Ehime, is well known for its citrus.  In the winter you can buy whole bags of mikan (6 or so) for about 100 yen.  It’s fabulous.  Sometimes I was even given some.  Mikan come in all different sizes.  Actually “mikan” is the name of one type. other types include Harehime, Dekopon (my favorite), Hassaku, etc.

TEMPURA

Delicious vegetables and usually a large shrimp fried up in tempura batter, sprinkled with soy sauce, and on top of a bowl of rice.  Tasty.

EEL (Unagi)

This picture is actually when I ate eel at a pretty high-class place.  I actually learned from that experience that the appeal of eel is less in the meat itself, and more in the delicious sauce that they usually lather on it.  So actually I prefer cheap eel with lots of delicious sauce, over abundant eel with less sauce!

MEALS WITH A BOWL OF RICE AND SIDE DISHES

This is a Japanese meal at its most basic; a bowl of rice with or without something on top (here I have a sort of tofu/carrot/konnyaku mix on my rice) as well as some side dishes (here I have a croquet and some cooked spinach).

Oo there’s so much more food I’m going to miss.  Tune in next week for part 2!

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