There’s no experience quite like walking into a Japanese bakery. The smell of freshly made bread. The act of carefully selecting your bread. The sight of meticulously decorated cakes behind the display case. And of course, the cheery greeting of Japanese bakery owners.
Bakeries in Japan play a vital part in local communities and instantly bring back a sense of nostalgia for all Japanese people. If you are ever in Japan, definitely check out a local neighborhood bakery (you can read more about Japanese bakeries here).
Today, we review a special Japanese snack from the famous Nakamura-ya bakery in Tokyo: the An-Macaron.
Nakamura-ya bakery was founded in 1901 by Aizo Soma (相馬愛蔵). He initially bought an old building across from the famous Tokyo University and established his bakery. But he quickly moved to a larger location in Shinjuku due to the bakery’s success. What made Nakamura-ya extremely successful was Aizo Soma’s willingness to experiment and think outside the box. Rare for a Japanese business at that time, he consulted numerous foreign businessmen, chefs, and bakers for new ideas for his bakery.
For instance, the resourceful Aizo sought ways to use his leftover bread and stumbled upon the Rusk (here, you can read more about this extremely popular Japanese snack, which we also featured last August). Nakamura-ya is credited with being the first store to sell rusks in 1931.
During the great kanto earthquake of 1923 which destroyed most of Tokyo, his shop was luckily unharmed and he offered earthquake survivors free bread.
Aizo was also a philanthropic man. He established a school of commercial morality and ethics and preached good business practices to his employees. He was even a patron of literature and arts, and provided financial support to struggling artists and writers. He also established numerous literary salons. These salons became the most prominent meeting places for politicians, businessmen, and dignitaries.
Picture of Nakamura-ya's famous curry dinner set
It was at one of his literary salons that Aizo befriended Rash Behari Bose, an Indian independence movement leader. Bose introduced Aizo to curry and he fell in love with it so much that he decided to serve it at his cafes. Curry became an instant hit at his café and it soon sparked a nationwide curry movement. In 1940, Nakamura-ya launched the widely celebrated Curry-Pan (curry-stuffed bread). Curry-pan is now one of the most famous types of Japanese bread and can be found at any Japanese bakery.
The packaging is pretty simple. It’s nothing special, but the pink, brown, and white color scheme invokes a fun playful feeling. Each macaron is individually packaged and carefully laid out so it doesn’t crush within the box. There are 5 different flavors in the box: matcha green tea (my favorite), lemon, chocolate, raspberry, and purple sweet potato (known by some as Ube).
Full disclosure, I usually don’t like macarons. I generally find macarons to be too sweet and I’m not a fan of the outer texture.
So as a non-macaron fan, how did I like these Macarons from Nakamura-ya?
Well, I have to say these were fantastic! They’re not quite like your average macaron. Unlike traditional macarons, the outer shell of these cookies have a more lightly baked texture that crumbles delicately with each bite. Personally I like this more because I find regular macarons to be crispy initially, but then becoming too chewy and gummy after a while.
Nakamura-ya’s macarons have a unique Japanese twist to them because filling is a mixture of Japanese sweet bean paste and Hokkaido cream. From the moment you open the packaging, you get a whiff of different gentle aromas.
Most importantly, these macarons taste amazing. It’s not too sweet and the subtle flavors are accentuated the more you bit into them without leaving an unpleasant aftertaste.
The matcha flavor was my favorite out of the five in my box. Unlike some snacks that disguise the bitter grassy taste of cheap matcha powder with overuse of sugar, the matcha in these macarons was elegantly tastey. The earthy smell and the natural sweetness of matcha leaves were extremely well highlighted in these macarons.
The balance between Japanese sweet bean paste and the cream filling was perfect too. No component of the macron was overpowering, making these macrons very refreshing snack indeed!
TLDR: I couldn’t stop eating these macarons. Coming from a non-macaron person, that’s really good!
Check out these other amazing Japanese snacks from 100 year old shops!
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