Japanese Culture in the Kitchen
Snacks and Breakfast Treats
Written by Otani Hiromi, food journalist Photos by Kawada Masahiro
Walk into a bakery in Japan and you may see everything from English mound loaves and French baguettes and croissants to kashi-pan confectionaries. Many of the kashi-pan ("sweet breads") are buns stuffed with jam, or a soft filling of chocolate cream. Light yet satisfying, they are ideal for breakfast and snacks.
The history of kashi-pan goes back to an-pan—buns stuffed with a bean jam—which are still a favorite among many.
Bread first came to Japan in the middle of the 16th century, but bread baking only started in earnest around 1869. At first, some Western-style hotels and restaurants made bread for their foreign clientele.
It was around this time that Kimura Yasube'e, the owner of Kimuraya bakery in Tokyo's Ginza district, tried his hand at making a new kind of bun. In 1874, he came up with an-pan. Drawing inspiration from the traditional and popular steamed manju, he decided to stuff sweet adzuki bean paste into wheat-flour dough shaped like a bun. And, to make the dough rise, he used rice malt instead of hop seeds. These two ideas created a soft, sweet, easy-to-eat bun suited to the Japanese palate.
Although the an-pan was something new to the Japanese, it was inspired by familiar culinary traditions. Maybe this is why it was a big hit. Over time, people in Japan became accustomed to loaf bread as well. It was thanks to an-pan that Japan's culinary culture first embraced bread. Since then, the country has developed many unique bread products.
In 1900, Kimuraya began marketing jamu-pan, a bun stuffed with apricot jam. Four years later, Nakamura-ya of Tokyo's Shinjuku district came out with kurimu-pan, a bun with custard cream inside. By the 1910s, yeast was being imported from the United States, modernizing bread-making techniques. After World War II, the country began seeing an even wider variety of breads, and fancy kashi-pan confectionaries became a major attraction in bakeries.
The Japanese are good at introducing culinary traditions from other countries and adapting them to their own tastes. A prime example of this is an-pan. The fact that rice remained the staple food for many people may explain why wheat-based products, including kashi-pan, became a favorite snack, rather than an important part of a meal.
Kashi-pan will surely continue evolving in different and exciting directions, reflecting changing tastes.