Possibly my favorite Nagoya food — it’s hard to choose — is something called ogura toast. This is not a complicated dish, just a piece of excessively buttered white bread, topped with sweet red bean paste. It does not necessarily sound delicious (but it is). It’s usually eaten as part of a “morning set” at a coffee shop. At every coffee shop we visited in Nagoya, if you order a coffee during breakfast time, you get a slice or two of toast with a boiled egg and/or ogura, for free. The exact format of the ogura toast varies; sometimes it’s a scoop of ogura on top of toast, sometimes it’s a sandwich, sometimes the toast is white, sometimes rye. My favorite coffee shop (so far!) is a place called Kato Coffee, in the Sakae area, that serves their ogura on a very thick piece of rye toast, with a chestnut on top, accompanied by a boiled egg (and extremely good coffee).
Ogura is a type of anko, a sweet paste made from red azuki beans and an equal amount of sugar. The two main types of anko are tsubuan (chunky) and koshian (smooth), the difference being whether the beans are left intact or strained into a paste. Technically, ogura is a mix of smooth koshian and whole Dainagon azuki beans, which are larger than regular azuki and firmer after cooking, simmered in simple sugar syrup. That presents some difficulties for me, since I’m planning to make this a lot, and don’t have a handy source of Dainagon beans or the desire to boil two separate sets of beans every week. Fortunately, the internet seems pretty unanimous that while that’s technically the definition of ogura, it’s also widely (lazily?) used to refer to any mix of koshian and tsubuan. So that’s what I decided to make: a big pot of tsubuan (chunky), half of which will be strained and then mixed back in to make a passable ogura.
Plain old tsubuan turns out to be quite annoying, if not especially difficult, to make. The basic process is: soak the raw beans overnight in water, boil them, drain the water, boil them again, then simmer for an hour while constantly topping up the water. This requires a mix of advance planning and patience that I don’t really have. I usually prop up a chair in the kitchen next to the stove and read a book or something while my beans simmer away on the stove. When they’re done, I let them cool, then put half of the beans through our flotte lotte food mill to strain them. Despite having to remember that I want them two days in advance, and dedicate two hours to cooking and straining beans, I’ve probably made this at least 10 times already this year.
Now that we have our ogura, we need something to put it on. The preferred bread is a special type of white bread called shokupan (食パン), which literally translates as “eating bread.” (You may also know shokupan from Shokupanman, one of Anpanman’s friends. No?) Shokupan is very fluffy, slightly sweet, and usually served as extremely thick slices that would be impossible to eat if it were as dense as normal bread. Shokupan is a very normal, daily food in Japan, though recently there’s been a bit of a shokupan boom, with people standing in very trendy, hours-long breadlines at places like Nogami and Sakimoto, and paying hundreds of dollars for ever more ridiculous toasters. After enjoying a loaf of Nogami in Osaka last month, and being spoiled by the shokupans in various cafes, I went to look for a passable shokupan at home. It did not go well. The local Korean bakeries sell something called “Japanese milk bread,” which I think (?) is meant to be shokupan, but fails to be fluffy or sweet, and (thinly) pre-sliced, and costs $5 a loaf.
I am not a baker, but fortunately Lili kind of is, and has decided to learn to make shokupan from scratch. It’s an ambitious, ongoing experiment — every weekend there are at least two loaves, with slightly different ingredients resting or rising or baking — which will probably end with me spending $200 on a toaster. But in the meantime we have tasty, if still slightly dense, shokupan for our ogura.
- 100g azuki beans — Preferably Dainagon beans which, uh, if you want to grow them here’s a link to some seeds [link: https://www.kitazawaseed.com/seed_501-2.html]. Regular azuki beans are pretty easy to find, even Whole Foods has them for cheap, in the bulk dried foods section.
- 100g white sugar
- A pinch of salt
- Shokupan — When Lili eventually masters the shokupan, maybe I’ll request a guest post from her. In the meantime, try to find a Japanese bakery?
- Soak the azuki beans overnight in a generous amount of water. Some recipes say you can just thoroughly wash them in a large bowl of water, but the overnight soaking seems to work well for me.
- Drain the beans through a strainer and rinse with water.
- Put the beans in a large pot with, again, a generous amount of water. The beans are going to more than double in size, so make sure you have enough water to keep them covered and a big enough pot.
- Boil. When the water’s fully boiling, remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for 10-20 minutes.
- Drain the beans again. See, this is annoying.
- Put the beans back in the pot, add just enough water to cover the beans, and simmer on a low heat. It should be boiling, just not too violently. The idea is to have the water level and the heat low enough that the beans won’t jostle about and break apart. Unfortunately, this means that you have to constantly add water to the pot as it boils away.
- Let the beans simmer for about an hour, replenishing the water as necessary.
- The beans are done when you can pick one up and easily squish it between your fingers. If you don’t simmer them long enough, your three year-old daughter will criticize your ogura and say “next time you have to make it more やわらかい, OKAY???”
- When they’re done, add a bit more water and the sugar. Stir gently until the sugar has all melted.
- Turn the heat up to high and stir gently but incessently, so that the beans don’t break apart or burn.
- Eventually the water will boil away and you’ll be left with a sticky bean paste. Add a pinch of salt, then turn off the heat when the beans are a biiit more liquid than you’d like, because they’ll get a little firmer as they cool.
- Spread them out on a large flat-bottomed dish or plate to cool.
- When cool, take half the beans and and put them through a food mill or something similar. What comes out should be a uniformly smooth, light-purple paste (koshian).
- Mix the tsubuan and koshian together and store in the fridge. There’s a lot of sugar in this, so it should last for a week or so in the fridge. If you make a lot, it also keeps pretty well in the freezer.
Cut a thick slice of shokupan. Some of these place had slices of toast that were easily 3cm thick. (If you’re using regular American bread, maybe don’t do this, cause that’s a lot of bread. Toast that thickly sliced toast in the fanciest toaster you can find, then drown it in butter. The thick, fluffy toast soaks up butter extremely well. Put a good sized scoop of ogura on top, and maybe at a little bit of warmed butter on top, too. Serve with a cup of good coffee and a boiled egg on the side, so that this breakfast has some nutritional value.