Thursday, September 10, 2009

Taking Pastry Seriously

You could call me a Japanese Fanboy. My interest in Japanese history and culture started my senior year of high school, followed by a degree in Asian History and my current 9 year stint as a Sushi Chef. I'm just letting my bias be known before I gush here about the recently opened Mahoroba Bakery in Sacramento.

An aspect of Japanese culture I really admire is their attention to detail and drive for perfection. The Tea Ceremony is one example of this. About a thousand years ago they developed the absolute best way to make tea. And then they stuck with it. Kikkoman Soy Sauce, one the bigger soy sauce makers in the world, has been around since the mid 1600s. That's a serious company history. In the sushi bar, many people are surprised to learn that in Japan, Sushi and Tempura are (beyond the tourist areas) not available at the same restaurant. It would be un-Japanese to specialize in two things, therefore specializing in neither. It is this cultural trait that puts them on top of the electronics and car industries. They take it seriously, whatever "it" is.

In this case, it's pastry. Pastry and bread in Japan is, like their beer, a relatively (in the last hundred years) new phenomenon. Their word for bread "Pan", is the same as the Spanish word, not out of some cosmic coincidence but because bread was brought to Japan by Portuguese and Spanish trading vessels in the late 1600s. They took it and ran with it, apparently all the way to Freeport Blvd in Sacramento, California.

This is usually the section where the writer divulges the secrets of the Japanese baking process, the special techniques, ingredients etc. that you could use at home to recreate the kind of pleasure you get from eating a pastry from Mahoroba. But the truth is I have no idea how the pastries they offer transcend the Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kremes of this country, but they do. To write a true review I really should have just sat there and sampled all the varieties (20-30) but I didn't want to put my health on the line for this article.

I can tell you that the white chocolate ones, soft, rich bread, surrounding a creamy white chocolate center, may have been made by an angel. If you're not into sweets Mahoroba offers Chicken Terryaki mini pizzas which are also excellent. My favorite (and pictured here) are the Red Bean Paste, Strawberries and Cream. The term "Red Bean Paste" conjures images of Mexican food stuffed into a donut, but I assure you it is very different. Sweet and smooth, it adds a heartiness to the pastry that gives the eater a sense that maybe they are getting some health benefits from this piece of Japanese Pastry Genius after all.

Regardless of what they fill their pastries with, I'll be back, again and again.
And as far as a true understanding for you my readers, well you're just going to have to go there.