Japan has countless incredible desserts available for consumption, but a few have emerged as quintessentially Japanese treats. Those treats are the sort that can be found in any store or supermarket, home, and even Japan's pop culture. My personal favorite example is none other than...
Like many other popular Japanese treats, anpan emerged during the Meiji period when many aspects of western culture spread throughout the country. The creator was a samurai-turned-baker who sought to create a bread that would appeal to Japanese tastes and sensibilities. Rather than creating a dry, savory bread, Yasubei Kimura opted to craft a sweet bread and treat it like traditional Japanese manju by sticking red bean paste inside. So that's what anpan is: a sweet roll with some type of paste (typically beans) inside.
As you can see by the sheer volume of anpan consumed throughout Japan today that Kimura was onto something, but I hardly think he could have imagined his creation becoming such an important part of Japanese pop culture, and by that, I mean of Anpanman, of course.
No superhero captures both the tragedy of war-torn Japan and the hopefulness of the postwar era like Anpanman. Inspired by memories of starvation while a child trying to survive during World War II, Anpanman's creator Takashi Yanase wanted to create a superhero with a simple but important purpose: end hunger and fight disease. Anpanman is a superhero whose head is made of Anpan, and he has been a hero for Japanese children and adults alike since 1973.
So that brings us to the important question: how good is Anpan?
The simple answer is that it is delicious. I enjoy it as a mid-morning snack, an afternoon pick-me-up, and an after-dinner dessert, so there really isn't a wrong time or place to enjoy it. Further, one of the great things about Anpan is that it doesn't just have to be redbean paste in the middle of the bread. Other variations include white bean paste and (the autumn favorite) chestnut.
For this article, I decided to go even one step further, picking up a limited edition coffee-an variant.
On the outside, it looks like any other anpan...
But when you open it up...
Voila! Coffee and sugar were mixed into the koshian (finely ground red bean paste) to give it a distinct coffee flavor and aroma, and whipped cream was added to balance the bitterness of the black coffee.
While I am simple at heart and still prefer the plain anpan, these variations keep things fresh and interesting!
So there you have it...
...an introduction to one of Japan's most important desserts: anpan. If you are journeying through Japan, I say zehi, visit a supermarket, convenience store, or bakery (they'll all have anpan) and try one for yourself!