When you think of Japan, do you think of noodles or rice? There’s no doubt that there are a ton of delicious rice and noodle dishes, but maybe what you didn’t know is: Japan really excels at bread.
Usually found in perfectly 90° square sided loaves, shokupan, as Japanese white bread is known as, is unbelievably fluffy, soft, and delicious. Milky cloud white with a tender crumb, it’s a loaf that will take you right back to childhood, conjuring up the images of the ultimate crustless white bread sandwiches you dreamed of your mom making. Of course, that’s a completely subjective view point – maybe I’m the only one who dreamed of crustless sandwiches made from the softest, whitest bread filled with salty smooth peanut butter and sweet strawberry jam.
The truth is, Japan is as obsessed about bread as it is about noodles or rice. While shokupan is plain and unassuming, with none of the texture or intense flavors of sourdough, it makes the perfect neutral canvas, much like a plain bowl of rice. Just like how rice can have nuances, so can shokupan. Bakeries pride themselves on both ingredients and history. Much like how you can judge a French bakery by its baguettes, you can also do the same with a Japanese bakery and its shokupan.
Here are Here arethree of my favorite places in Tokyo to get the fluffy white stuff! Just a heads up though, much like anything that’s popular in Tokyo, there maybe a line, don’t be surprised if there is, and be absurd be excited if there isn’t.
Centre the Bakery
Center the bakery has a delightful café where you can choose your own toaster. Choose your own toaster! I feel like that sentence is enough to make you want to go there but if you need more convincing, it also happens to be one of the best shokupan bakeries in Tokyo. They consistently have lines and often sell out of their whole loaves, especially their “European” and “American” style shokupan. If you’re not looking to buy a whole loaf, you can skip the long line on the right hand side of the bakery and line up on the left for the café. Try the toast set which will give you one slice of each type of shokupan, as well as different butters and jams.
365 Days is literally open every day of the year, except for leap year days. The original bakery is near Yoyogi Park, on a side street in a somewhat quiet area. That doesn’t stop them from having long lines of bread fans lining up for their famous crunchy croquant chocolat, a bun filled with crunchy little chocolate bits. They do excellent mini shokupan that are made with Hokkaido milk – perfect fresh and even better when toasted and slathered with butter. They’ve opened a new store in the more central location of Shinbashi, so there’s no excuse to not go!
Pelican Bakery has been around for about 76 years and is still going strong. They only make two items: shokupan and dinner rolls. When you visit their little shop in Asakusa, which is more of a mini store front for their baking facility, you’ll see rows and rows of bread lined up, but they’re not for sale – those are preorders that people have called in so that they aren’t disappointed when Pelican Bakery inevitably sells out of bread. They do have some loaves for sale though, so don’t be afraid to pop your head in and ask. And, if you’re not looking for a whole loaf, Pelican supplies bread to many cafes around town and also has their own, just down the street. Get the toast set, which comes with coffee or tea and a thick slab of freshly baked Pelican bread toasted over an open fire. Serious bread goodness.
Anyway, I hope this has inspired you to seek out some Japanese bread. It’s truly one of my favorite things in the world to eat. I love it when it’s fresh and fluffy and chewy, just like what you’d imagine a cloud to taste like; I love it when it’s toasted, with a crisp and crunchy layer giving into soft insides; I just love it.