If I were to do more grad work in a non-Japan related field, I would love to study the history of food culture. Have you ever looked at the differences between the editions of The Joy of Cooking, or looked through vintage advertisements for Campbell’s soup or Jello? Have you watched what Betty Draper serves her family in Mad Men?
By looking at recipes, cookbooks, and food consumption, one can track trends in ingredients, diet and food fads, socio-economic changes, and the international trade of food. There’s so much we can learn from what we eat or what we ate in the past.
Which brings me to today’s topic (and eventually today’s recipe): Bread Culture and Japan.
I have a theory about bread culture.
White bread has an extensive history, but white bread was not always as ubiquitous as it is today. White flour requires extra processing, and so, historically, it has been expensive. What’s expensive, of course, tends to become a mark of class, and so while commoners had to “make due” with whole-grain flour and brown bread, the wealthy could afford “clean” looking white bread. Furthermore, the whiteness of the flour and bread made people associate it with cleanness and purity because it would be more difficult for the miller to cut the flour with other cereals (or worse).
Sliced white bread, of course, reaches the American masses in the 1920s in the form of Wonderbread, and the reign of white bread was secured until the last ten years or so. I grew up thinking that non-white bread would taste like cardboard. I was really missing out and have since learned my lesson about what is good bread. In the US, it’s relatively easy to get whole-grain bread since shopping at Whole Foods or the local organic store has become the luxury of choice for many. “Artisan bread,” yesterday’s crusty peasant bread, is in vogue, and I am on that like a foodie setting fire to a stack of Semi-Homemade Magazines.
Unfortunately, I now live in Japan, where 食パン (shokupan, which assures you it is bread for eating) is king. 食パン is basically Wonderbread cut to the size of Texas toast. To as insult to the 食パン injury, I live in rural Japan, so while the Tokyoites can get decent whole-grain bread in right in Tokyo Station, I can only get whole-grain bread if 1. I’m able to root out the ONE bag of three slices of 全粒粉 (zenryuuhun, whole wheat flour) bread in the store or 2. if the local bakery takes pity on a poor foreigner and happens to have some bread with “stuff” in it.
So, why 食パン? First, Japan is not a bread culture, and, as such, has not had the movement to go back to peasant bread. Second, white rice vs. brown rice/other grains is their version of upper-class food now available to the masses. Third, there’s the lack of sandwich culture. A “sandwich” here is an egg-salad sandwich on white, not a delicious sliced-turkey sandwich piled with vegetables and nestled between seven-grain bread. As if the bread weren’t already a problem, there are no sliced deli meats here and eating raw vegetables is considered weird. (You should see the stares I get with my lunch salads.) Thus, the culture of bread in Japan hasn’t developed in a way that suits my tastes.
It took me six months, but I finally have started baking my own whole-grain bread in the oven range (moven). I have yet to experiment with bread for sandwiches, but this dense, non-sweet bread is great for dipping in soup or having for breakfast with a bit of jam.
Whole-Grain Soda Bread
Adapted from “Irish Brown Bread” on allrecipes.com*
Makes one large loaf
240 g whole-wheat flour (zenryuuhun 全粒粉)
70 g bread flour (kyourikiko 強力粉)
12 g (about 2 tablespoons) oatmeal or rolled oats (ootomiiru オートミール)*
2.5 g (1/2 teaspoon) baking soda (juusou 重曹)
3 g (1/2 teaspoon) salt (shio 塩)
350 ml buttermilk***
1. Preheat oven (予熱 yonetsu) to 220 degrees C. Lightly grease a baking sheet or cake pan.
2. In a large bowl, stir together whole wheat flour, bread flour, rolled oats, baking soda and salt. Gently mix in the buttermilk and knead very lightly. If you use a heavy hand with this dough, the bread will turn out like a brick.
3. Form into a rounded flat loaf on the baking sheet or in the cake pan and make an X on top with a knife.
4. Bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown on top.
This bread should be wrapped up well and eaten within 2-3 of cooking, if possible, as it has a tendency to dry out quickly.
*I haven’t included American measurements because you can just use the original recipe in your big American ovens. Why, yes, I am jealous.
**Oatmeal (オートミール）may be available in the baking section of your grocery store with the specialty flours. This type of oatmeal is not rolled oats, but “cooking oatmeal” and make contain some eggs or sugar. If you prefer to use rolled oats, you can order organic rolled oats from the Foreign Buyers’ Club for a reasonable price.
***Make your own buttermilk by combining 140 ml regular or lowfat milk (gyuunyuu 牛乳) with 10 ml lemon juice or vinegar in a small bowl. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes at room temperature before adding to the recipe.