Friday, June 12, 2009

Trying to Get a Little Bit Ahead

When you think of Japanese cuisine you probably automatically think of rice and fish. You’d be surprised to discover the number of full blown boulangeries that dot the contemporary Japanese urban landscape. You might think you were in France if it weren’t for all the Japanese people not speaking French and the lack of French architecture (but they’re working on that).

Buy one of their magnificent looking baguettes hot out of the oven, carry it home (because eating it in public would be a tres beaucoup social faux pas in Japon), sink your teeth into it and it’s like you’ve been transported to the sampling line at the Wonder Bread factory (not that there’s anything wrong with Wonder Bread, they provide good jobs and good food and don’t ever pretend to be even remotely French). It’s a totally deceptive business or maybe it’s just a fusion of Eastern and Western culinary ideals that I haven’t learned to totally appreciate (although I do like the sesame seed rolls smeared with butter and cod fish roe, etc.). Among the baguettes and brioches from time to time you run across a bagel or two. They look exactly like any bagel you’d get in New York, but bite into it and you realize you’re just not in New York. That's the way it was until I stopped in a bakery at the Yokohama branch of the 7-11 owned mega retail outlet, Ito Yokado. When it comes to Bagels in Japan they have the genuine article. My first bite was true serendipity. I’ve been going there like everyday to get my minimum daily intake of onion bagels. That is, until today. I pedaled up to the store on my bicycle as usual and then must have spent a half an hour combing through the rolls and other sundry pastries for my bagels. They were no where to be found in the entire 10 by 15 foot enclosed retail space. So I waited for the crowd to dissipate and asked the cashier where the bagels were. She told me "they were all exported to Hamburg." Which made perfect sense for a second, and then I asked her again by way of repeating exactly what she said to me. They were all “exported to Hamburg?” To which she replied, “we’ve stopped selling them.” In Japanese “exported them to Hamburg” and “stopped selling them” are like identical twins (or at least like bagels and bialys, they’re very close, believe me). I was too much in shock, and a little too embarrassed over the Hamburg thing, to find out what happened to the bagel baker and how he/she learned to make authentic bagels in the first place but I just hope they bring them back soon from wherever they may have been exported or not.

Bagel Boy vs. Anpanman

Bread is firmly encrusted into everyday Japanese life. Demonstrating this fact is a well beloved Japanese storybook super hero dubbed Anpanman. Anpan is a delicious Japanese bread filled with sweet azuki bean paste. It may well be one of the first East/West fusion foods or maybe not. At any rate it’s a classic Japanese treat and the character that shares its name is a classic as well. His head is actually an anpan roll and he spends his days scouring the universe on a mission to stop ne’er do wells like his arch nemesis the evil Baikinman (Bacteria Man). Anpanman packs a mean punch but he has a heart of gold and head full of sweet beans. He uses his head a lot. In fact whenever he finds hungry children he breaks off a piece of his head and feeds them, but not to worry the real power behind the super hero known as Anpanman is a baker who along with his assistant is always ready to bake up a new batch of brains and everything else for the headless hero. I only wish there was a Bagel Boy who was willing to share a piece of his mind as well.

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