Japan is a country that is known to have many delicious dishes. Some of the most famous ones are obviously their sushi, sashimi, and tempura. There are also other unique dishes that the Japanese make that are worth trying despite the lack of acknowledgment and attention from crowds. A perfect example of such a treat is the melon pan bread.
The Origin of Bread in Japan and How It Lead to the Melon Bread Recipe
Bread, in general, wasn’t always a product of Japan. It was introduced to Japan when Portuguese missionaries arrived in the year of 1543 with a goal to spread Christianity throughout the land. Alongside the religion they wanted to bring into Japan, they also brought in the bread that would eventually open up Japan to eating such a thing. In historical records, the most powerful ruler at that time was Oda Nobunaga. Upon meeting with the missionaries, it was said that he ate the bread given to him by the missionaries and this act paved the way for all Japanese to welcome this type of food as well. Sadly, things would take an unexpected turn because, in the year of 1587, the proclaimed National Isolation Edict caused Japan’s open borders to close. When this happened, they also closed their doors to the bread that they once accepted to their land.
Eventually, bread would make a comeback in Japan and this happened during the Opium War. This period in time was when a military science researcher ordered for its mass production to feed the soldiers. Since then, it became more common throughout the Meiji Period but it was still not enough to make the locals go crazy over it. What made them truly embrace it was when Yasubei Kimura created anpan which were buns stuffed with the most frequently used Japanese sweets called Anko. With the popularity of bread spreading widely throughout Japan, many bakers experimented and tried making different kinds of bread.
These experimentations lead to the creation of the melon bread or melon pan Kobe about 50 years ago. It was named after such a fruit because of its very close resemblance to the shape of a melon. Melon pan is a sweet bread served with a thin cookie crust and decorated with a grid line pattern on the top of it. Some bread makers give justice to its name by adding a melon flavoring or even the fruit itself to the dough. Others include chocolate chips, cocoa powder, matcha, and custard. Despite all the variations of the melon bread, for most people, nothing beats the classic melon pan that is a simple and sweet bread flavor.
Melon Pan is not difficult at all to make but is very time-consuming. With the use of butter, sugar, milk, egg, cake flour, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and dough, a perfect melon pan can already be baked. If you wish to give this a try, here are the basic steps you should know. First, combine the yeast, milk, and sugar in a bowl then seal it. Leave until frothy then stir in the egg. In a separate bowl, combine the salt and flour. Make a hole in the center of the flour and add the liquid mixture in the hole then start stirring to form a soft dough.
After doing this, transfer it to an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead it for about five minutes. While the mixer is running put the chopped butter and wait for the dough to form a consistency that is smooth and silky. Third, place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with a plastic wrap. Set this aside in a warm place for one hour and once you see that the size has doubled, it is ready to bake.
While waiting for the dough to increase in size, start making the cookie dough by mixing some butter and sugar together until it is creamy and light. Add the egg and vanilla extract to this mixture. Keep mixing and stop only when it is already thoroughly mixed. The fourth step is to fold through the flour and baking powder then you should start dividing the cookie dough into 16 equally small balls. Put these cookie dough balls in the fridge and leave them to set. While waiting for it to set, divide the bread dough into 16 equal sized balls too and knead it on a lightly floured surface until it smoothens out.
Afterward, roll out the refrigerated cookie dough on cling wrap to at least 5 mm thick. Once rolled, place one bread dough on top of one cookie dough ball and wrap together using the cling wrap. After a few minutes, take the cling wrap off and score the cookie dough surface diagonally and roll in granulated sugar. Do this to all 16 bread rolls and place them on a cooking paper lined oven tray. Cover it with a clean damp cloth and set aside for about 40 minutes until size doubles once again. Do not forget to preheat the oven to 180 degrees and bake the balls for about 15 minutes. After this, your melon pan should be ready for the photos that would showcases its golden and crispy exterior to friends and family.
The Nutritional Facts of Melon Pan like Calories and Other Things
The melon pan may be rich in vitamins and minerals such as Selenium and Molybdenum but it's also quite high sugar and fat content so if you are trying to watch your weight, it won’t be advisable to eat too many of these delicious sweet treats. It was calculated to have 276 calories per roll and like most bread, it is high in carbohydrates which are essential for energy production. If you really can’t help but eat more than you should, don’t worry because you can use the energy to get from it to keep you fit through proper exercise. Even just by doing activities like walking or jogging to the park, stretching or climbing the stairs, you can already burn as much as the 276 calories you get from eating a roll.
There isn’t anything wrong with eating sweet treats like the melon pan but too much of anything is bad. Because of the huge popularity melon pan got at a certain point before, the Japanese Ministry of Health had to call the attention of the public to not use it as an alternative for meals like breakfast or lunch because doing so can increase the chances of you getting problems like high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly even osteoporosis. The Ministry even gave out an exact amount of melon pan a person can have in a week by saying that having a melon pan once every two weeks is the most certain way to avoid any of the illnesses mentioned above.
Stores in Japan That Might Be Near You Which Sell Melon Pan and Melon Pan Ice Cream
When talking about the melon pan, the things that immediately come into the conversation are places like Hokkaido or Kumamoto because these prime locations are where you find the most melon pan lovers in one area. Despite this fact, a low key bakery in Kamisu City, found in the Ibaraki Prefecture, actually is the bakery that produces most of the melon pan that spread all throughout Japan.
For those that are a bit far from the places mentioned, don’t stress out because there are also a number of quality stores found throughout Japan. An example is one in Ginza, Tokyo that offers melon pan and other products that came straight from Ibaraki Prefecture. You can even have it delivered to you, which is a very unique and appreciated service to find in Japan.
To experience the original melon pan seen in anime and manga, go to Asakusa and look for the store they call “Kagetsudo”. They have this 1950’s theme going on there with decorations of appliances such as telephone booths and pachinko machines which were popular in that era. If you that didn’t get you curious enough, there is also a variation of the melon pan called melon pan ice cream and it is basically a melon pan bread that is filled with ice cream. If this sounds like something you’d want to test, you can try “The World’s Second Best Melon Pan Ice Cream”. Don’t be confused because that is actually the name of the store and the owner named it that because he believes that the best melon pan ice cream is those of his mentor. Its main store is in Kanazawa, Ishikawa. If this place isn’t near your area, the store that opened up recently in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, which is in the east portion of Tokyo, might be a more accessible store and the quality of the product is on par with the original branch in Kanazawa. Opening this branch was a really great move by the owner because, until this day, it is a sought out store in Japan because of the word of mouth that spread about it being something you must try when in Tokyo.
As you can see, the melon pan craze is alive and well in Japan and whether you are a tourist or a local, it is surely something that is worth a try. There are other places in the world you can get melon bread but the ones made in Japan isn’t the same as those sold in other countries so even if you have tried it in other places, you might be surprised with how different and delicious the melon bread from Japan is.