Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bread

Librarianguish writes about seeing the movie Supersize Me, and mentions the fries that don't decompose. And that reminded me of the first time I bought sliced bread in a Japanese supermarket.

The first thing to surprise me was the size of the slices. They were slabs, not slices. You could barely get your mouth around one. In NZ you used to be able to choose from bread that had been sliced for sandwiches (thin) or toast (thicker). In Japan a 'normal' slice of bread is about three times the width of a toast slice, and will dislocate your jaw if you're not careful. There is no way it will fit into a toaster, which is why, I suppose, nobody has toasters here. They have toaster ovens.

The second shock was the taste and consistency. It was like biting into a giant white sponge. I didn't spit out my first (and last) mouthful, but it was a close thing. I stared thoughtfully at the rest of the slab in my hand, decided I wasn't all that hungry, mourned the waste of Vegemite, and threw it in the bin, putting the rest of the packet on top of the fridge. I hoped someone more culturally acclimatised might eat it. Then I forgot all about it. It was the middle of July. Temperatures were around 35C and it was very, very humid.

About two weeks later I noticed guiltily that the packet was still there. I opened it gingerly, holding it well away from my face, and that was when I discovered the amazing and magical everlasting property of Japanese supermarket bread. It was still soft, spongy, and white. There was no mould, it hadn't gone stale, and it looked and felt as fresh as the day I'd bought it.

I wondered briefly if it would be useful for, say, wiping the floor. Then I chucked it in the bin, except for one slice that I broke up and put on the wall, for the birds. A few weeks later it was still there, still fresh and spongy and mouldless, untouched by sparrows, crows, rats, itachi, or any other wildlife. Perhaps they didn't realize it was food. Eventually I decided we didn't really need these lumps of white sponge stuff decorating the wall and threw them away, too.

But how do they do it? How do they manage to turn something as simple as bread into some alien, inert, indestructible and non-biodegradable substance? And WHY?

There is a lot more variety these days, although ordinary supermarket bread is still pretty much the same. But you can buy decent bread if you know where to go. Until a few weeks ago we had to go into Osaka or Kobe to get our supplies, but then a new bakery opened near our house and we were ecstatic to discover that they make and sell the real thing. You know, the sort that tastes good, smells good, goes stale after a day or two, and grows mould thereafter. I know, because I checked.

I never knew that stale, mouldy bread could make me so happy.

UPDATE: After writing this I went downstairs to make dinner, and discovered, finally, a use for Japanese supermarket bread. Not that I had any when I needed it, of course, but after I'd sliced my finger and was dripping blood everywhere and had soaked through half a roll of paper towels waiting for it to stop bleeding it occurred to me that this was the perfect moment for a slab of Japanese supermarket bread. If I'd had a slice I could have just rested my finger on it and bled dry, and not ended up with blood all over the kitchen.

8 comments:

melinama said...

I'll have to tell you some time about my gig as secretary at the MIT Dept of Food Sciences where they study how to make "food" last longer on the shelf.

librariangush said...

How...appetizing. Food that doesn't decompose properly is a fright. We expect it of some things, like twinkies, but bread? Ewwwwww.

Cheers!

Ilona said...

..maybe you just thought it was bread...maybe it was really an alien sponge come to take over our planet.

tinyhands said...

Japanese weasels. *snort*

melinama said...

OK, this is for you!
http://pratie.blogspot.com/2005/02/wonder-bread.html

and so is this:
http://pratie.blogspot.com/2005/02/food-science-making-your-dinner-tasty.html

enjoy...

E.P. said...

GoodAunt, except for the thickness, that Japanese bread sounds like "Wonder" Bread here in the U.S. (as in, "I wonder how that stuff can pass as bread?!"). Mind you, as a child growing up in a German matriarchy smack in the middle of the U.S. (we were a state-within-a-state---culturally, that is), I was condemned to eat the bulky, brown, rough (and wholegrain) German bread that my mother would buy at the German deli----the bread that took you 10 minutes per bite to chew (exacerbating your TMJ in the process). NEVER would she have contaminated our pantry with something as "vulgarly" American as Wonder Bread! ("What?? Those squishy, mushy slices of soggy cardboard?!") But to me, Wonder Bread constituted the quintessence of Americanness; I lonnnnnged for Wonder Bread as tho it were ambrosia. Surely, eating Wonder Bread would be like ingesting Americanness itself. (You know: you are what you eat...)

Badaunt said...

Melinama: Thanks. I think. :-)

Librarianguish: What's a Twinkle?

Ilona: It is possible I misread the label. This is Japan, after all, where nothing is what it seems.

Tinyhands: *Inspiration* I have a new nickname for The Man! (Yellow Peril was getting tired.)

E.P. Isn't chewing supposed to be GOOD for your jaw muscles?

We had ordinary white (but not long-lasting) bread most of the time, but quite often it was my mother's homemade white bread, and oh, the yeasty smell of dough rising ...

Weirdly, the German type wholegrain bread was a treat in our house, probably because of its novelty value. It was more expensive, too, which is odd when you think it isn't as processed. Shouldn't it be cheaper?

E.P. said...

Oh, gosh, a "Twinkie" is this mushy, sweet variation on Wonder Bread with some sweet pasty "cream" inside (but not REAL cream, GoodAunt; Americans don't put real anything in mass-market "foods"). I guess it's supposed to be like a cross between sponge-cake and eclair, but it's not (tho as a child, I adorrrred them and loved to buy them with my allowance; my Prussian Pedagogue mom and grams wouldn't have even CONSIDERED bringing that kind of junk food into the house).

>>>which is odd when you think it isn't as processed. Shouldn't it be cheaper?<<< You hit the nail on the HEAD, woman! I have always wondered why things like unsalted butter and whole grain bread/cereals, whole grain flour, real wool, etc. are more expensive than their processed opposites. A conspiracy to promote artificiality? Bec. there's a kindred mentality behind the kind of architecture they've been producing since the 60's: make sure everything's hermetically sealed, so that you can't POSSIBLY get any real live FRESH air, and make sure there're 1000 levels in the bldg. (the better to discourage folks from taking a walk during their break or their lunch, and reacquainting themselves with reality thru tangible contact with nature).