First Detroit, Now Paris

Japanese bakers conquer the croissant

There’s good news for budget travelers to Japan. The Japanese, those clever people who mastered the art of turning out reliable automobiles at bargain-basement prices and almost put Detroit out of business, have now mastered the mysteries of French pastry. Pastry shops are springing up all over Japan, turning out tasty treats at prices you simply won’t find in Paris – or just about anywhere else.

In a country where a decent cup of coffee can cost anywhere from $3 to $5 a cup, you can find buttery croissants, chocolate- and cream-filled puff pastry, and mini fruit tarts for about a $1 to $1.50. And these aren’t cheap knock-offs. This stuff is really good.

One of my favorites among the new breed of pastry emporiums is Pan Brothers in Kanazawa. You’ll find it right behind the Kohrinbo Center in the Katamachi district. Here, in addition to a delicious assortment of dessert pastries, you’ll find miniature ham and cheese sandwiches baked into a “slice” of puff pastry. And you know it’s fresh because you can watch them baking it. You can put together a very satisfying lunch here for well under $10. A tiny canal runs just outside and the municipal authorities have thoughtfully provided tables and chairs to facilitate your bargain-priced picnic.

We found small scale bakeries like Pan Brothers just about everywhere we went. Quality varied, as you might expect, but the general standard was quite high. We quickly adopted a standard strategy of stocking up on pastries before every train trip, then buying tiny cans of hot coffee (about $1) from vending machines on the train platform. The result: a very satisfying (if perhaps not too healthy) breakfast for under $5.

The canned coffee, it must be said, is not the greatest, unless your taste runs to heavily flavored and creamy java. And for most Americans it takes two Japanese cans to equal one standard cup. If you like your coffee black, as I do, finding it in the vending machines can sometimes be difficult. Good coffee can be found in Japan but you’ll pay a premium price. We found the best budget coffee at McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds.