Food & Drinks

Why Is $18-A-Loaf Japanese ‘Shokupan’ Milk Bread So Popular?

It is just a loaf of bread.

You feel a little guilty and upset that you paid $18 for it.

But you also feel lucky to get the sought-after goody that is constantly sold out.

Here we are talking about the Shokupan bread from Ginza Nishikawa in Los Angeles.

Ginza Nishikawa opened in 2018 in Ginza, one of the poshest areas in Tokyo, to sell high-quality “Shokupan” bread. The bakery earned accolades very quickly and now it operates over 130 shops throughout Japan. The huge success spread to the U.S. and the company opened its first overseas location in L.A. in July 2022.

But Ginza Nishikawa is just one of the premium Shokupan producers in Japan.

Why are people going so crazy about expensive Shokupan?

Shokupan is a Japanese-style soft bread and is also called milk bread outside of Japan. It is distinctively more delicate and sweeter than regular soft bread like Wonder Bread.

You can buy Shokupan at supermarkets in Japan for $1 or so. However, premium Shokupan became suddenly popular in 2013 when some brands launched new products at around $2 a loaf.

Ginza Nishikawa and other bakeries pushed the envelope further and began to sell Shokupan at $7 or above by using high-quality ingredients like butter, cream, honey and carefully selected yeast strains.

Japanese consumers and the media enthusiastically reacted to the greatly refined taste and flavors of these products and a Shokupan boom arrived nationwide.

Now the boom subsided but super-premium Shokupan seems to have established a new status as a delicacy among Japanese consumers and beyond.

Why Super-Premium Shokupan Stays Popular After The Boom

Besides its superior flavor profile, there are a couple of reasons behind the enduring appetite for premium Shokupan in Japan.

First, western-style bakeries are hugely popular in the country, even though bread became available to the public only after the late 19th century.

There are 12,116 bakeries nationwide, almost half the number of the ubiquitous 26,500 ramen shops in Japan. Even with the global anti-carb movement, the Japanese are quite obsessed with high-quality bakery goods.

By the way, Japanese people eat Shokupan, not as a complement to other dishes (that is rice’s job). It is the main focus of a meal. For instance, Shokupan toast is one of the most beloved menu items at Kissaten, the Japanese classic-style coffee shop.

In other words, Shokupan’s presence is more significant than Wonder Bread.

Another reason why expensive Shokupan remains popular is that Japan is such a gift-oriented society. If you go on vacation, it is almost mandatory to buy souvenirs for your colleagues in Japanese offices. Or when you visit someone, for work or privately, it is customary to bring a little box of sweets or snacks.

$10-a-loaf fancy bread can be a more impressive gift than an ordinary box of cookies or rice crackers for the same price or more.

“Our packaging is designed for gifting to your loved ones,” says Noriko Okubo, co-owner and chief operations officer of Ginza Nishikawa U.S.A.

Is Premium Shokupan Worth The Price?

If you are not gifting it to someone else, is super-premium Shokupan worth the expense?

Let’s try the $18-a-loaf bread from Ginza Nishikawa.

You open the box and instantly a sweet, buttery scent hits your nose. You know that this is not going to be an ordinary experience of eating a piece of bread.

The company even gives you an insert to explain how to enjoy the bread to the fullest:

Day 1: Tear the loaf and place a piece in your mouth to enjoy the silky soft taste.

Day 2: The bread turns sweeter on day 2. Slice it without toasting and add your favorite toppings, or enjoy it without.

Day 3: Toast the bread for a crispy crust. Slice, wrap and freeze the rest.

By the way, the bread should not be sliced with a jagged bread knife that is meant to cut crusty bread. It will certainly ruin the silky, pillowy texture of the Shokupan. You need a sharp knife that can be used to cut something delicate like sashimi.

The texture of the Shokupan feels so airy and light that it is hard to stop eating it; you want to keep chasing the ephemeral sensation. The taste is sweet, but not too sweet, which is often the case with Japanese sweets. And even after toasting it on Day 3, the inside remains moist.

David Schlosser, the Michelin-starred chef/owner of the authentic Japanese restaurant Shibumi in Los Angeles, is one of those curious people who tried Ginza Nishikawa L.A.’s bread.

“The Shokupan was classic as you would find in Japan. Slight sweetness, fluffy airy, nice chew. Well done. This cannot be made without Japanese-milled flour in my opinion.”

Indeed, Ginza Nishikawa’s loaf is made with superior Canadian flour milled in Japan.

“We need minute fineness in our flour but there is no local vendor that can provide the ideal particle size for us,” says Okubo.

Also, the company uses alkaline water produced with its original ionizer, which is the key to realizing the silky texture. While most commercial breads use milk and margarine, the company only uses fresh cream, butter and honey with no preservatives.

Hence, the resulting price is $18 a loaf.

Let’s think this way.

Many Japanese people choose to give themselves a gift of fancy Shokupan bread and call it “puchi zeitaku” (an affordable little luxury).

We all deserve it once in a while.

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