What Are Those Flavored Breads In Japanese School Lunches?

by Justin Sevakis,

Evan asks:

Several depictions of school life in Anime/Manga make reference to what I can only describe as "flavored bread" being sold at the cafeteria with students complaining and or worrying that they'll be out of x-flavor if they're late. E.g. In Ranma 1/2, the entire rivalry between Ranma and Ryoga stems from the fact that when they were in school together, Ranma always beat Ryoga to the last piece of Curry Bread at the cafeteria. Are "flavored breads" the equivalent of french fries or desert in Japanese school lunches i.e. the one piece of junk food allowed?

Oh darn, I guess I'll have to write about FOOD AGAIN! Life is so hard, you guys!

If you've never had baked goods from an Asian bakery, you're missing out! Unlike most American bakeries, they don't just sell plain bread loaves and whole cakes. In fact, most of what you'll find at an Asian bakery are donut-sized, individual-portioned snacks both sweet and savory. The base bread texture is generally a very light and puffy variation on plain wheat and yeast. Some are stuffed with filling, ranging from pork to sweet red bean paste. Others just have a topping, like a sugar crust or dried shredded pork. Others start to cross the line into sandwich territory, incorporating everything from scallions and cheese to hot dogs and curry. Most of these breads have their roots in Chinese Cha Siu Bao, or pork buns, which are popular in Japan as well.

Breads such as these are extremely common, cheap on-the-go foods in Japan. They're stocked daily at every convenience store in the country, wrapped in a clear plastic bag. Most of them aren't particularly nutritious, but kids seldom care about that. In Japanese school cafeterias, particularly at the high school level, they occupy the same general psychological space as pizza does in American schools: they're what everyone really wants, and they're the first things to sell out.

Next time you're in a city with a major Asian population, you'd do well to track down an Asian bakery and treat yourself to an assortment of baked goods. Just, don't do it everyday, because nobody should really be eating these things every day.

Here's a few common ones that appear in anime:

  • Melon pan - A plain bun with no fillings, topped with a thin layer of sugar cookie dough. Despite the name, there's usually no melon flavor (it's named this because it kind of resembles a cantaloupe). Extremely popular, especially with kids. Some bakeries doctor up the recipe with pineapple, chocolate chips, or other toppings.
  • Curry pan - Unlike the other common breads, this one is fried, and has a generous amount of Japanese style curry as filling. Kind of greasy, but total comfort food.
  • Yakisoba pan - This is really just a hot dog bun made with standard Japanese pan (bread), and yakisoba (fried noodles) in the cut down the middle. Pretty much pure carbs.
  • Anpan - The standard dough with sweet red (azuki) bean paste filling. A favorite of Usagi from Sailor Moon (and infamously turned into a "donut" in the old DiC dub). Also anthropomorphized as the popular character Anpanman, whose anime has over 1300 episodes.
  • Taiyaki - Also a sweet red bean paste-filled pastry, but this one uses pancake or waffle batter, cooked in molded trays to look like fish. They can also be filled with other things, like custard, chocolate or cheese. Similar to imayagawaki, which is also cooked on both sides in a molded tray, but is simply shaped like a hockey puck.
  • Cornet - A fluffy, cone-shaped roll (shaped kind of like a cornucopia), usually filled with cream or chocolate cream. The proper way to eat this was famously discussed in Lucky Star.
  • Sausage pan - a whole hot dog, wrapped in bread, and usually with cheese and sometimes ketchup added before baking.
  • Shokupan - This is the basic white bread sold everywhere in Japan. Pillowy soft, thickly cut (toasters in Japan have slots at least an inch wide!) and used to make heavenly sandwiches with things like tonkotsu (fried pork cutlet), cheese, and any number of other things.

This is just scratching the surface of the incredible world of Japanese baked goods. Japanese cake shops are often mindblowingly creative orgies of adorable pastry delights that rival (or exceed) anything you'll find in France. And that's to say nothing of more traditional baked goods like mochi, daifuku, odango, and all the rest.

I don't know how anybody stays skinny in that country.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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