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For good or bad, one of the consequences of the global pandemic is that many people have had to rediscover their kitchens — and the pleasure of preparing their own meals from scratch. For many, enforced lockdown has also sparked a rising interest in home-baking, especially sourdough bread.

In Tokyo, few of us have ovens of suitable size and sophistication to produce bread of any serious quality. Fortunately, we’re blessed with a growing number of artisan bakeries around the city that can fill that pain de campagne-sized hole in our diets — plus many more in other parts of the country who are ready and willing to ship their wares.

Bricolage Bread & Co.

Not even 2 years old, Bricolage Bread & Co. is already a landmark on Roppongi Hills’ swish Keyakizaka-dori avenue, a rare beacon of wholesome nourishment in an area better known for its luxury brand-name boutiques. Even though the state of emergency means the spacious dining area and its kitchen are closed for the interim — and so too the wonderful alfresco seating area — the store is still open for business.

Chef Shinobu Namae, who oversees the operation, says the coronavirus epidemic is proving a double-edged sword. Despite the reduced number of customers dropping by, the bakery itself is working harder than ever, thanks to strong online demand. Besides the Bricolage pain de mie (soft loaf) and eponymous natural-rise bread, there are plenty of other baked goods. Among the savory highlights, don’t miss the choucroute (sauerkraut) and bacon rolls or the iburigakko batons (bread sticks) studded with crunchy chunks of smoky daikon pickles. Delivery is nationwide.

Roppongi Hills Keyakizaka Terrace, Roppongi 6-15-1, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032; 03-6804-3350; delivers nationwide; bit.ly/bricobread

Scandinavian simplicity: Sourdough bread, cinnamon and cardamom rolls, and pains au chocolat at Vaner in Tokyo's Yanaka district. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Scandinavian simplicity: Sourdough bread, cinnamon and cardamom rolls, and pains au chocolat at Vaner in Tokyo’s Yanaka district. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Vaner

Over on the other side of the city, the remarkable Vaner bakery continues to fly the flag for Scandinavian wholewheat sourdough from its atmospheric premises in tranquil Yanaka. Rather than trying to diversify, head baker Tsukasa Miyawaki has wisely opted to focus his efforts and limited workspace on just one kind of bread — his flavorful, nourishing golden-brown sourdough loaves and rolls — complemented by his trademark cinnamon and cardamom rolls, croissants and pain au chocolat.

Vaner is not yet available for shipping directly. But to help reduce the number of people crowding into its diminutive storefront, and because Yanaka is so far from most people’s beaten track, the bread can be ordered online for pick-up from three other locations: the Fuglen cafe/bars in Tomigaya (Shibuya) and Asakusa; or at the Fuglen Roastery in Futako-Tamagawa.

Atari 2 1F, Ueno-Sakuragi 2-15-6, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-000; pickup in Tokyo; bit.ly/vanerbread

Lee’s Bread

Lee Utsumi’s bakery in the coastal town of Oiso (Kanagawa Prefecture) is the picture-book definition of an artisan operation, albeit in a very traditional Japanese setting. She produces up to 20 kinds of bread and pastries each day, ranging from rustic country loaves to fragrant focaccia and even the occasional anpan (red bean bun).

Utsumi sells most of her output locally, but once a week she takes online orders for mixed packages of her best baked goods for delivery straight to your doorstep. Look out for the Morning Bread Set, which is likely to include a quarter loaf of her Godzilla oatmeal almond sourdough.

Oiso-machi 1156-10, Naka-gun, Kanagawa 253-0003; 0463-74-6499; bit.ly/leesbread

Fresh from the oven: Loaves of olive sourdough (right), Hokkaido wheat (center) and campagne (French sourdough) sit cooling on blocks in Lee's Bread. | JOAN BAILEY
Fresh from the oven: Loaves of olive sourdough (right), Hokkaido wheat (center) and campagne (French sourdough) sit cooling on blocks in Lee’s Bread. | JOAN BAILEY

Le Sucre-Coeur

From its humble start as a small but ambitious bakery on the outskirts of Osaka, Le Sucre-Coeur has become the leading light for quality bread and pastries in the entire Kansai region. Owner and head baker Ayumu Iwanaga has inspired a growing number of artisans to follow in his footsteps, and was instrumental in setting up the bread program at Bricolage Bread & Co.

Until recently, he has insisted that all orders had to be picked up fresh from one of the Sucre-Coeur locations. But fans of his loaves, especially his classic sourdough campagne, which he calls L’Ami Jean, will be pleased to know that he is beginning to ship nationwide. The weekly shipments are currently being announced via Instagram or Facebook posts, but the online store should be operational shortly on the Sucre-Coeur website.

Shin-Daibiru 1F, Dojima-hama 1-2-1, Kita-ku, Osaka 530-0004; 06-6147-7779; delivers nationwide; lesucrecoeur.com

Three more bakeries of note:

Across Japan, from Hokkaido down to Okinawa, artisan bakers are developing a passion for the beguiling complexity of flavor found in naturally leavened and sourdough wholewheat breads. Many are also responding to the current difficult times by making their loaves available for order online, including these three.

  • Kanel Bread Honcho 5-2, Nasushiobara, Tochigi 325-0056; 0287-74-6825; delivers nationwide; kanelbread.jp
  • Boulangerie deRien Horikoshi 2-8-22, Minami-ku, Hiroshima 734-0052; 082-224-6191; delivers nationwide; derien.jp
  • Munakatado Kakazu 1-20-2, Ginowan, Okinawa 901-2226; 098-898-1529; delivers nationwide; munakatado.com

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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