Imagine yourself coming to Japan. What would you want to do? Food is one big attraction, right? Besides, you all would have heard about traditional Japanese course dinner. They are carefully prepared to bring out the natural taste of each ingredient and every dish is beautifully put in a bowl or a plate in a way to cerebrate each season (and they don’t mean just four seasons; spring, summer, fall, winter). When you eat them, the food doesn’t only nourish your body, but they also evoke your imagination when you try to think of what the chef was trying to capture in the course. Yes, it’s wonderful. But what about something more casual? What comes into your mind when you think of Japanese invented bread? No Ideas? Maybe you can try melon bread (or melon-pan as they call it).
Melon bread is usually white dough bread with thin layer of cookie on top. It doesn’t necessarily have any melon flavor or any extract from the fruit either. The name has more to do with how the top layer dough’s surface resembles cantaloupe melon, although there are many other theories where the name came from.
History of Melon Bread
Origin of melon bread is vague. Since arrival of what we now call ‘bread’ back in mid 16th century from Portugal, Japanese have made it into something that would appeal more to their liking in taste. Even during the national isolation period, they baked bread in Nagasaki Prefecture though mostly for foreigners. Later in history, bread was sometimes used as portable food for soldiers during war due to the fact it doesn’t need to be cooked in the field like rice does.
Bread started to gain its popularity in Meiji period (1868 -) after Western culture became more accessible for Japanese people. Bakeries started to open, then one baker invented a bun filled with sweet bean paste which became a big hit. He had spent several years trying to invent a bread that suits Japanese people’s taste. Then there came a kind filled with fruit jam, then custard. Although only limited people who’re able to access Western style living ate bread until after the World War 2, it would be fair to mention Japanese started to fully enjoy taste of bread and developed it to fit their liking more. And melon bread was what came along with it.
There are many theories when and where melon bread has its root. Some say it was an invention of Armenian baker who worked in a hotel in Tokyo, and he made it with a combination of French and German bakery knowledge he’s gained from his previous career. Or that it originated from Mexican sweet or German bread. But one thing for sure is that Japanese people can’t get enough of melon bread that lately more and more bakeries are coming up with new styles of it.
More Kawaii in Melon Bread
In recent years melon bread have evolved so much that bakers are getting very creative. There are kinds with actual melon flavor, or with chocolate chips, or fillings. With social media’s expansion and people sharing their personal life becoming norm, more people compete in creating more Kawaii (cute) melon bread. They are bringing it in a form of pop art.
Melon Pan Festival
There is even a festival, which is called Melonpan Festival (melon bread festival). Although the festival is already finished this year in May, they succeeded in attracting such a big crowd that the advance tickets were sold out way before the festival. This event has a very interesting social aspect as well. The story started when the organizer learned that rare metal, which is widely used for prolonging smartphone battery life is causing never-ending dispute in Democratic Republic of the Congo. That is when he start thinking about the festival to raise people’s awareness that something so normal to our daily lives could be causing a conflict in another part of the world.
TOKYO MELONPAN: Melon Bread Specialty Shop in Tokyo
そして孤独のグルメで一瞬出てきた東京メロンパン\(´ω` )/››‹‹\( ´)/›› ‹‹\( ´ω`)/›› pic.twitter.com/cjA3F5ghOk
— みつき (@mitsukikou0204) 2017年7月1日
If you miss the festival, TOKYO MELONPAN is one of the melon bread specialty shop you can try in Tokyo. They have several shops in Tokyo and although you may have to wait in line, you would see how the strong passion Japanese people have for the fluffiness of bread and crunchiness of the cookie dough. They have plane version as well as cinnamon or chocolate or even seasonal ones like strawberry flavor.
Top Images by ＠Photo Monkey