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A Pain-free Visit to the Pan-ya

While it may seem simple, getting exactly the right baked goods from the bakery can be tricky. Gaijinpot explains how to make a trip to the baker’s as simple as possible.

By 3 min read 2

When visitors first arrive in Japan, one of their first mistakes usually takes place at the bakery. Let me know if this sounds familiar. One day I was passing by a bakery and I saw a delicious-looking bread roll filled with what I assumed to be jam. After buying it, I took a big bite, only to discover that what I had actually purchased was アンパン- the sickly sweet bean paste buns that are popular in Japan!

When I bought the アンパン, I was at least aware that what I was buying contained something sweet. However, it can often be difficult to tell whether you are buying a sugary snack or one of the bizarre savory options such as カレパン (Bread stuffed with roti curry). Instead I should have checked whether what I was eating was 菓子パン (A dessert bread) or not.

Speaking of the パン (Bread) part of these words, it is one of those words that often surprises Japanese learners when they discover that English speakers don’t use it. I have had students gape at me when I struggled to understand words like 食パン (White bread) and the tricky 全粒粉 (入り)パン (Bread which includes whole grains).

While パン may look like English to Japanese eyes, the word for bread is most likely taken from the Portuguese word pão. Of course, this probably won’t help your younger students as it is usually this word that brings the reality that not all katakana words are English crashing down on them.

Of course, working out the appropriate word to use in Japanese can be equally tricky. For most of us when we first arrive, this confusion starts at the door to the bakery when we try to work out what to call the bakery itself! The most common word for a bakery is a hodgepodge of a loanword and a Japanese word: パン屋. Of course these days with the increasing influence of English, you will also see the quasi-English ベーカリー used instead.

So what of the bread itself? A few years ago I started noticing a sign saying 焼きたて was often hung next to some loaves of bread. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with this word and so avoided those loaves. Unfortunately my lack of experimentation lead to me missing out on the freshest produce as 焼きたて means that the bread is fresh out of the oven!

If you can’t get your hands on 焼きたて goods, you can get hold of the second best bread by looking for the word もちもち in the description. もちもち describes something as being soft and squidgy, the ideal feeling of bread. If you aren’t a fan of the soft bread and prefer the harder, crunchier bread found in countries like France, you should look instead for かりかり.

Of course, whether かりかり bread is better than もちもち is not the only thing that bread-lovers have to consider. The never-ending debate about whether 薄切り (Thinly sliced) or 厚切り (Thickly sliced) is better divides prefectures in Japan! According to the Japan Times 薄切り is preferred in Kanto and 厚切り sells more in Kansai.

Quite what this says about the respective prefectures is beyond me, but this word does reveal a useful ending: 切り (Cut). This ending is also seen in the word 細切り which describes bread cut into the thinnest strips possible. You will also see 輪切り (Literally: a rounded cut) if the object being cut is similar to French bread (フランスパン) because of the unusual shape of the loaves.

While a trip of the baker’s may seem easy, it is actually full of interesting Japanese and getting your bread exactly the way you like it can be tricky. So whether you like your bread 厚切り, かりかり or 焼きたて, there will be plenty of Japanese to practice whenever you visit.

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  • Tachikochan says:

    There is more than one Portuguese word being used by the Japanese. I’m just surprised and sad they themselves don’t know it. The Portuguese were sailors, who travelled and discovered most of the land before the rest of the Western world, and they interacted with the peoples they came across in their travels, leaving part of their culture with them. Another example is ビードロ (vidro, the Portuguese for glass) which is a beautiful art form that you may have found in anime or hanging by Japanese windows as wind chimes: https://ja.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ビードロ

  • Chris Vlachos says:

    It may also have been taken from the Spanish word Pan, which means …bread!



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