As a student abroad in Kyoto there were many firsts. We were all excited about a new panyasan that opened just to the west of our campus. So many kinds of breads! And one of our favorites was meron pan. And we had avid discussions and even arguments on why it was called melon bread. We were sure that it must be slightly flavored with melon juice. In fact, sometimes it seemed a little green-tinted. If we could have banana juice, why not melon bread?
Another faction said it was because it looked like a melon. You are probably going to go ahead and Google this, aren’t you? But in 1976 we had no internet and you would not find it in any guidebook. If we’d asked someone and they weren’t sure (they never were) they’d just prevaricate. We learned that “sō desu ne…” and “do deshō ka” were very useful expressions.
Meanwhile, the panyasan! They had descriptions, but we could not always read them. You could stay safe and stick with what you knew or you could get adventuresome… and end up with curry inside a roll for breakfast. We were great fans of the red bean rolls. Because beans are healthy, right? We had no idea how much satō was in anko back then!
The pizza pan had mayonnaise and corn kernels on it. Why, to this day, I don’t know. Probably because corn looks pretty on it. Appearances are important in Japan. But my favorite after the meron pan was the uinnā pan. It would have fluffy bread around it and catsup and perhaps a bit of parmesan cheese. To this day I can’t resist it.
Miraculously, later that year a Mr. Donuts opened on the eastern side of the campus opening up our breakfast choices considerably and giving us access to unlimited cups of amerikan kōhī. Unlimited cups were a cause for rejoicing because that was a first for us in Japan. But that’s a whole other story…
- panyasan – パン屋さん bakery. It has a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it, though, since bakery is one of those words that is now used widely around Japan
- meron pan – メロンパン melon bread. There’s the r and l thing at work here. And pan apparently comes from Portuguese.
- sō desu ne – そうですね “Is that so?” or “hmmm” or “well, yes.” I once had a whole conversation with a little old lady where I didn’t understand a word of it and simply murmured this phrase the whole time. It took her a while to catch on, so this is a handy phrase.
- dō deshō ka – どうでしょうか “Hmm, I wonder….” “That might be.” A nice ambiguous phrase to respond without actually voicing an opinion. The meaning can change based on your intonation and facial expression.
- satō – 砂糖 sugar
- anko – あんこ red bean paste
- pan – パン bread
- uinnā pan – ウインナーパン wiener or hot dog bread
- amerikan kōhī – アメリカンコーヒー American coffee. In the late seventies when I worked at a restaurant if someone ordered American coffee we made it by pouring half a normal cup of coffee and half hot water into a cup. European coffee is strong, American coffee means a weaker coffee. Don’t order it.