Lebresso
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

What's the deal with... Shokupan

Japanese milk bread is a big trend in Tokyo. So what makes it so popular – and where you can buy it

By Kaila Imada
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Soft, fluffy and light as a cloud, Japanese milk bread – or shokupan – is having a moment in Tokyo right now. It may look like your average loaf of bread but there's a big difference in taste and texture.

Explore Tokyo these days and you'll find many cafés and bakeries dedicated to turning out hundreds of these fluffy white loaves daily. Tokyoites are enjoying shokupan in a variety of ways, too, both savoury and sweet: eating it plain, toasted or as a sandwich. Here are some of our favourite café-bakeries where you can get the bread in full- and half-loaves as well as slices. 

RECOMMENDED: Best bakeries in Tokyo

It looks like a boring white loaf to me...

Sourdough and wholewheat-loving bread snobs often sneer at white bread but shokupan is the king of the loaves here in Japan. Also known as milk bread, it’s a rectangular block of white bread revered for its soft, cloud-like fluffiness and milky sweetness.

So it’s an artisanal version of a white loaf then?

Sort of, but baked with an unusual process. The secret lies in the water-roux technique known as the tangzhong method, in which a small amount of flour is cooked with water or milk to create a base. After that, a simple combination of basic ingredients – flour, milk, butter, yeast, salt, sugar and sometimes eggs – results in a sweet loaf with a delicate crumb, chewy mochi mochi bite, and thin, crisp exterior.

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Sounds like it’ll make a good sandwich...

You’re right: just like a bowl of plain rice, shokupan is the perfect canvas for layering on different flavours and textures. However, prized loaves are best savoured in extra-thick slices to appreciate their texture and taste. While shokupan is often sold whole in big loaves, here are a few places where you can indulge in a dreamy slice or three.

Where to eat and buy shokupan

Lebresso
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Lebresso

Restaurants Bakeries Kiyosumi

A spacious bakery-café, Lebresso turns out hundreds of airy loaves a day and sells its own range of fruit and milk jams. Aside from the classic shokupan, it also offers seasonal versions like chocolate chip, walnut and even apple with sweet potato.

Pick up a loaf to go, or takeaway some of its delicious and totally Instagrammable toasts, topped with avocado and bacon Caesar salad, chocolate spread, banana and almonds, or the aforementioned jams. Or go simple: a wedge-like slice of shokupan (about 5cm thick) toasted with butter and served with honey.

Lebresso is also currently available for takeout through Uber Eats.

Viking Bakery F

Restaurants Bakeries Nogizaka

Tucked away from the busy streets of Roppongi, this bakery serves up creative shokupan loaves as well as several other types of bread, including a 21-grain cereal loaf and a San Francisco-style sourdough. The flavoured shokupan are the star here and depending on the season, you can pick up a loaf made with hojicha white chocolate, cheese and black pepper, or charcoal and dried tomatoes.

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Centre The Bakery
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Centre the Bakery

Restaurants Ginza

At this Ginza bakery and restaurant, eager fans line up outside the store an hour before opening just to get one of its coveted shokupan loaves. You have three choices including a British-style bread made with a strong, dense flour that’s ideal for toasting, and another made with two types of domestic Japanese flour that is best eaten untoasted.

While it's not advised to eat in at the moment, the café menu set lets you try all three bread types, accompanied by an assortment of butters, jams and spreads. You can even pick your own toaster, allowing you to toast your bread to your liking right at the table. Sandwiches are also on offer, as well as shokupan toast topped with melted cheese right off a raclette.

For now though, it's best to just grab a fresh loaf of shokupan to go.

Neko Neko Shokupan

Shopping Bakeries Koto

If conventional square-shaped shokupan doesn't get you excited, this adorable cat-shaped version might just change your mind. The kawaii loaves are made from a mixture of domestic wheat flour, cream, honey and plenty of fresh milk which makes this bread so moist and fluffy.

There are four types of shokupan loaves to choose from: plain, chocolate, azuki (red bean) and cheese, plus additional seasonal flavours. You can now order these kawaii loaves online for delivery right to your door.

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Shokupan Specialty Shop ‘Kangaeta Hito Sugoiwa’

Shopping Tama area

If you can’t get enough of Japan’s fluffy shokupan, you'll want to pick up a fresh loaf from this speciality bread shop near Kiyose Station. Made from premium ingredients, these quality loaves are so delicate they melt in your mouth. Pick from two different types: a plain version called ‘Tamashii Shikomi’ and another with raisins called ‘Hoseki Bako’. Our tip: best eaten fresh from the oven.

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Photo: Matthieu Bühler

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