Tolo Pan Tokyo

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Tolo Pan Tokyo, trendy little bread shop fashioned by a proudly obsessive chef. "When I’m not at work baking, I’m at home reading books about baking."

A tray of oven-crisp croissants emerges from the tiny kitchen at Shinji Tanaka’s bakery, Tolo Pan Tokyo. The chef holds them high above his head as he inches behind his coworkers, who stand shoulder-to-shoulder slicing loaves, packaging buns, and ringing up the till. He weaves through the half-dozen customers who have squeezed into the shop – greeting them and apologising as he goes – and sets the croissants out for sale. Within minutes they are purchased, packaged, and out the door. Tolo Pan – ‘pan’ is Japanese for bread – occupies narrow premises on the main shopping street in the Higashiyama neighbourhood close to Ikejiri-ohashi train station, one stop west of Shibuya. “When all five bakers are in the kitchen, we have to work precisely and without thinking,” says Tanaka, a lithe man with an earnest smile. “We’re like parts of a machine, all operating as one.” Tanaka arrives on his bicycle when only the fishmonger and the tofu maker have their shutters raised. Comrades of the dawn, they say good morning to one another without fail. Gradually his team arrives until the kitchen is at full capacity, producing loaves and pastries, bagels and baguettes, and ‘curry bread’ – a modern classic of Japanese baking that cocoons a dollop of curry inside a ball of savory breaded pastry. During a typical day, Tanaka will handle up to 13 different types of flour and produce about one hundred different breads and pastries. The subtle complexities of a job in which every ounce and every minute makes a difference are what he loves. “Take the weather, for example,” he explains. “Because the seasons in Japan are so different – cold and crisp in winter, but hot and muggy in summer – we need to adjust the balance of ingredients constantly to maintain the quality.” Tolo’s signature white bread, Higashiyama Pan, uses soymilk and tofu, creating a texture he describes with the onomatopoeic word ‘mochi-mochi’, meaning soft and moist. The wholegrain Complet loaf is injected with clarified butter to nurture a lingering richness when it rises. Two doors further along the same street, cooks at a Tolo-branded café use the bakery’s bread to make chunky BLTs, croque monsieurs and roast beef sandwiches. The signature ‘katsu-sando’ inserts a succulent chunk of breaded, fried pork between two slices of whole wheat bread with onion and fig relish and sliced cabbage. Flour-smattered denim jumpsuits and colourful wooly hats are the baking team’s eye-catching uniforms, chosen by Tanaka’s business partner, an entrepreneur from the fashion industry who takes care of marketing, accounting, and other back-office chores of which the chef, in single-minded pursuit of his craft, is glad to be free. “When I’m not at work baking, I’m at home reading books about baking,” says Tanaka, who closes his shop most Tuesdays to give his coworkers a well-earned break. “If was only me, I’d be happy working seven days a week.”

Maru-sankaku

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Maru-sankaku, discreet kitchen turning rice balls into edible art.

The humble rice ball, for centuries a cornerstone of the everyday Japanese diet, is normally known as an onigiri. Mothers make them for their children before they go to school. Office workers grab them from convenience store shelves to eat at their desks. But Chieko Okura’s rice balls are different. And she calls them ‘omusubi’. “The word onigiri sounds so hard,” says Okura, owner of a small restaurant specialising in rice balls. “But omusubi is soft and attractive.” Indeed, the rice balls she creates at Omusubi Marusankaku deserve a name of beauty. In one, tiny ‘sakuraebi’ shrimps appear to be swimming below the surface. Purple chrysanthemum pickles spiral through the rice grains of another, or in springtime edible cherry blossom flowers. Her brown rice and ginger omusubi radiates a soft, golden glow. A thoughtful woman whose life has benefited from both good planning and good fortune, Okura chose the name of her shop, Marusankaku, with characteristic consideration. Combining the two words ‘maru’ (circle) and ‘sankaku’ (triangle), it describes the shapes of the foods she makes. Okura points one-by-one at the three corners of a triangular omusubi. “Rice. Salt. Water,” she says. “They’re the three most important ingredients of any rice ball.” In the native Shinto religion, rice, salt and water are symbols of harmony and the key ingredients of meals offered to the gods. Even the word ‘omusubi’, she goes on to explain, is connected to the name of Shinto deities. Harmony also describes her parallel career as an architect and ‘colourist’ designing medical facilities and buildings for senior citizens that “balance the needs of humans, nature and the city,” she says. She discover healing potential in rice balls while designing colour workshops for school children. “I was looking for something they could make with their hands using many different colours,” she recalls. “Rice balls were perfect.” Out walking in the Jingumae neighbourhood, she happened upon the space that would become Marusankaku, renovating it with clean lines, a soothing palette, and plenty of natural wood. In the kitchen a black ‘donabe’ clay pot sits on the stove, slow-cooking the rice; out front, sliced radishes and mushrooms lie in a circular wicker tray, drying in the sun. Marusankaku is regularly open for breakfast and lunch, and most customers order their rice balls to take away. Those who don’t can sit at stools along the kitchen counter or at two small tables – one a circle, the other a triangle. Keen to show that ‘omusubi’ are more than just snacks, Okura hosts evening wine-pairing events, at which she serves bite-size rice balls with ingredients like dried tomatoes or lemon. She keeps a collection of serving vessels for these special occasions – fine ceramics, perfectly weighted teacups, and cocoons of carefully carved wood. “We need contact with beautiful things in our daily lives,” she says. “They can be healing.”

Haritts

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Haruna Toyoda, Baker at Haritts - Hand-made Doughnuts Shop

Haritts is not a place that’s stumbled across. It’s not even for a GPS-enabled device. No, this is a place that’s about a personal recommendation and a map. But then, even with both, the doughnut shop can seem elusive, hidden as it is inside a converted house on a suburban footpath lined with private homes, potted plants and a barbershop. Owner-baker Haruna Toyoda opens her shop at 8am – early by Tokyo standards – and it’s not uncommon to find a few enthusiastic customers already waiting outside. Yet she never advertises and has no hoarding. The only way to hear about Haritts is by word of mouth. Several years ago, Tokyo was consumed by a doughnut craze. On-trend customers queued patiently for hours outside American-brand stores, eager to taste the synthetically sweet glazed variety on offer. But eventually people recognised these shops for what they were – profit-powered chains pedalling fast food. The sugar-high fizzled out. By contrast, doughnuts are still special at – and the specialty of – Haritts. The dough Toyoda bakes is soft, fluffy and bread-like. She makes three or four hundred doughnuts daily, all of them by hand. One popular variety contains a dollop of cream cheese folded into the dough; another includes cinnamon and currants. Toyoda offers her own unique varieties such as green tea or pumpkin, and occasionally drops new recipes in to match the season. But otherwise she remains impervious to baking trends – no blueberries or sprinkles here. “It’s a family-size kitchen, so we have to make the doughnuts in small batches,” she explains, sliding open the door of the shop. It still feels like a private home on entry, and includes a genkan – the space inside where the family who would otherwise live here would remove their shoes. A step up, and the cosy living area has been converted into a miniature café. At one table, students from a nearby high school finish their homework, while at another, local housewives gossip. From the kitchen there emerges the unmistakable smell of freshly raised doughnuts. Toyoda first learned the technique from her older sister, who at the time worked at a bakery. Together, they developed their own recipes and bought a food truck. They named the business Haritts, a combination of their first names – Haruna and Itsuki. The Toyoda sisters drove the Haritts truck around Tokyo for two years, stopping outside office buildings and on shopping streets to sell their wares and build a reputation. When ready for a permanent home, they settled on the current space in Yoyogi-Uehara, a residential neighbourhood characterised by affordable rents and a quaint atmosphere. Despite their plans to keep things small, the business has been growing. Itsuki has moved to Taiwan, where she has opened a new branch of Haritts. Meanwhile Haruna continues to run the shop in Tokyo, rising early each day to start baking at 5am. It’s how she’s ready for those first customers at eight. The success of the business means she … Read More

Chatei Hatou

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Slow Drip Coffee Shibuya, Chatei Hatou.

In hypermodern Tokyo, it might seem there is little time or space for the quiet rituals of the Japanese tea ceremony; its ethos of ichigo ichie – or ‘one encounter, one moment’ – sounds like a quaint echo from the past. Thankfully, at Chatei Hatou, the spirit of ichigo ichie lives on, albeit updated for our contemporary world. Today, coffee is our common fuel, and a rich cup of Hatou slow-drip is that fuel at its best. The coffee shop is located near the heart of Shibuya, Tokyo’s most chaotic and cacophonous neighbourhood. A walk through its teeming streets can leave you feeling sensually assaulted and physically exhausted. For this, a coffee at Hatou is the perfect antidote – and pick-me-up. “Hustle and bustle is what this area is known for,” says barista-manager Kazuya Terashima. “We intentionally made this a calm place – a world within a world.” The sensory experience inside Hatou is the antithesis of its external surroundings: natural wood textures, soothing classical music, beautiful ikebana flower arrangements, and the deep, wafting aroma of coffee. Many regular customers prefer to come to Hatou not with friends, but alone. They sit at the counter and watch the barista at work. Each drink is made by hand with great care – the focus is on perfection, not speed. “It takes 10 minutes, often longer, to make one cup,” Terashima explains. “But people are willing to wait.” The ritual unfolds, step by step: he picks a worn metal container containing coffee beans that have been aged for up to three years. After passing them through a grinder, he measures out precisely 25 milligrams of fine coffee powder in a cloth filter. He heats water in a copper pot, keeping the temperature a consistent 87 degrees centigrade. Then, with unerring concentration and accuracy, he drizzles the water into the filter, saturating the dry coffee until it hits critical mass and begins to trickle into a small glass pot beneath. After that he patiently adds more water – one drop at a time – until the thick black brew is ready. “This method produces a coffee that is stronger than normal, but it also brings out the sweetness of the beans,” Terashima explains. “Many people have not experienced coffee like this before.” Once ready, the drink is transferred into one of hundreds of unique porcelain cups the shop has collected over its 24 years in business, ranging from Japanese Arita to British Wedgewood to German Meissen. Terashima says he makes a mental note of which cup each customer uses, so he can give them an alternative next time, explaining: “Even if they order the same thing, I like to think each Hatou experience should be a little bit different.”

Little Nap Coffee Stand

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Little Nap Coffee Stand

“Wherever you go in the world, there are always coffee shops near parks. Parks and coffee shops – they compliment each other. They’re places where people congregate,” observes Daisuke Hamada. “But that wasn’t so true of Tokyo, which is why I chose this place.” Hamada is referring to Little Nap Coffee Stand, his diminutive shop beside Yoyogi Park. One of the largest open spaces in Tokyo, the park is the city’s unofficial playground, used for early morning jogs, dog walks and outdoor yoga. During cherry blossom season, the grass becomes a patchwork of parties celebrating the arrival of spring. In the evening, sounds fill the air – a violin here, a saxophone there – as musicians use it as a place to practice. Little Nap is housed in a slither of a building squeezed between an offshoot of the park and a railway line. Every time a train passes by, the shop rattles a little. It’s a sensation Hamada says he has learned to love because, “it’s just the rhythm of the city.” The location is more auspicious than it sounds. Across the tracks is one of Tokyo’s most boho suburbs, home to young families with money and taste, and with – one might guess – more dogs per square mile than anywhere else in the city. Little Nap is en route to the park. “The shop is supposed to be a place where you can drop by for a break in your day,” says Hamada. “It’s like a siesta – but with coffee.” Hamada’s love of the bean was planted by his father, but nurtured during a trip to Italy while working for a company that imported espresso machines. His first café was a disused shop in rural Toyama, his home prefecture northeast of Tokyo, and he decorated it simply with the help of some friends. Years later, and having long-since relocated to Tokyo, Hamada opened Little Nap. The distinctive logo, inspired by his love of vintage typography, is what most will notice first, and yet it’s the more no-nonsense type saying ‘Coffee Stand’ that he deems most important to its look and feel. “In America, you see signs on the side of the highway that just say ‘Restaurant’ or ‘Coffee’,” he says. “You don’t even know the name of the place, but that doesn’t matter. You’re just being told what it does, but the sign somehow has the ability to make you feel something.” With his scruffy beard and Salvador Dalí-esque moustache, Hamada is clearly at home in his self-made surroundings. Consciously fashionable, he has a nonchalant air that masks a keen mind for both the business and the science of coffee. “I customised my espresso machine,” he says proudly. “I changed the pumps, water lines, and temperature settings – it was like pimping up a car.” The changes, Hamada maintains, make the machine easier to use when he’s busy, and allow him to tweak the flavour of what he serves – finessing this begins when he arrives … Read More