Why we’ve got a soft spot for shokupan

28th July 2021 | Eativity editors

If all that lockdown-induced home-baking is anything to go by, sourdough is still right up there in the popularity stakes. But there’s also another type of bread that’s been winning hearts in Australia recently – shokupan. Also known as Japanese milk bread, shokupan (literally “food bread” or “eating bread” in Japanese) might not be quite as good for you as sourdough, but it makes up for this by being outrageously delectable.

Softly, softly: shokupan has to be eaten to be believed.

Although at first glance it might look like any other ordinary loaf of white bread, shokupan is ultra-soft and fluffy. Some describe it as “pillowy”, or like biting into a cloud. The bread’s fluffiness comes from the use of the “Yudane method” – mixing bread flour with boiling water. This gelatinises the starch in the flour, not only creating more sweetness, but also increasing the amount of moisture in the loaf. (As a bonus, this method also makes the bread stay fresher for longer.) Shokupan dough also includes butter, cream and/or milk, increasing the fat content, and therefore the delicious factor. Oishii desu ne!

Shokupan is now available in a growing number of Australian bakeries, including Breadtop bakeries in every state and territory; Azuki Bakery in Sydney, Bakemono Bakers and Shokupan (which has a wait-list) in Melbourne; and Raisin’ Bakery in Perth.

When the bread is this good, it deserves some extra-special filling.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Being so light and soft, shokupan is the perfect bread for making Japanese sandos, one of the latest food trends that’s taking cities like Sydney and Melbourne by storm. Sando is short for “sandoitchi”, or sandwich, but this is so much more than just two slices of bread with some cheese and ham slapped into the middle. Sandos are made with artful precision, the crusts are often cut off and they contain carefully-selected savoury or sweet fillings. Sandos also usually come beautifully wrapped, so it’s like getting a delightful present.

While sandwiches most certainly aren’t part of traditional Japanese food culture, they are what’s known as “yoshoku” – Western-inspired food that’s been reinvented with a Japanese influence. You’ll find sandos at convenience stores and restaurants all over Japan, and now they’re establishing themselves as a firm foodie favourite here in Australia.

Sandoitchi Cafe’s sandos made with whipped cream and yuzu-soaked strawberries.

Pretty as a picture

Japanese-inspired cafe Sandoitchi in Sydney makes such beautiful fruit and cream sandos, it’s almost worth buying one just for its Instagramability alone. On the savoury front, katsu sandos are leading the way in cult sando status, containing panko-crumbed and fried pork cutlet, tonkatsu sauce, Kewpie mayo and shredded white cabbage.

Saint Dreux was perhaps the first Melbourne cafe to put katsu sandos on the menu. They source their shokupan from baker Satoshi Narusawa, originally from Tokyo, who’s been running the wholesale shokupan business Little Cardigan since 2018 and who has been perfecting the art of shokupan for the past 15 years.

Worth saving up for: Katsu Sando’s ultra-fancy wagyu sando.

Sandos gone wild

When it comes to making sandos, imagination really is your only obstacle. In Melbourne, Meet Sando offers a mushroom, mozzarella and truffle sando; while Cutler & Co has featured an abalone katsu sando on its menu. Perth’s Chubby Boy has a hash brown and chipotle sando available, along with shokupan that comes with a variety of toppings, including matcha, Nutella, salted caramel, strawberry ricotta and s’mores.

In Sydney, Devon Cafe offers a Korean fried chicken sando with ssamjang sauce, kimchi mayo and cabbage. Sandoitchi has a buttermilk fried chicken sando with pickles and seasoning on the menu, and last year released Sydney’s most expensive sandwich – a Kobe wagyu katsu sando for $150 a pop (for pre-order only, obviously). Up in Brisbane, Katsu Sando has a wagyu katsu sando with panko-crumbed MB6+ wagyu sirloin, red miso sauce, Kewpie mayo, cabbage and onion for a slightly more affordable $65.