Narita bakery stuffs savoury grilled eel inside fluffy bread

Eel-stuffed bread, the signature item of Shimoda Koseido Pan-chaya, is shown at the cafe-bakery in Narita, Chiba Prefecture.
PHOTO: The Japan News/Asia News Network

NARITA, Japan - At first, it looks like a piece of regular koppe-pan, a kind of long bread roll that resembles a hot dog bun. When you take a bite, a savory aroma accompanies the delicately soft texture of the bread. Then you find yourself biting into several pieces of grilled eel dressed with sweetened soy sauce, something usually served on rice.

This unagi-pan, or eel-stuffed bread, is the most popular item at Shimoda Koseido Pan-chaya, a cafe along the main approach to Naritasan Shinshoji temple in Narita, Chiba Prefecture.

What you get for ¥615 (S$7.70) is broiled unbasted eel, sweetened soy sauce, garlic paste, bechamel sauce, pickled gourd and nori wrapped in dough that is baked into a plump bread. The spicy flavor of sansho pepper and the crunchy texture of the chopped gourd create an interesting combination.

"I don't just put eel inside bread," said owner Shingo Shimoda, 47.

"You can appreciate all the flavors found in unaju," he added, referring to the dish in which eel is served atop rice in a rectangular lacquered box.

Shops along the main approach to Shinshoji are said to have started offering eel to pilgrims in the hope that the nutritious ingredient could help ease their fatigue from travelling.

Shimoda released his signature item in 2013. He was inspired to develop it by staff members of a TV programme who wondered if he could combine eel and bread when they visited Narita to produce a programme featuring the temple. He spent a month developing unagi-pan by experimenting the fillings and texture. Now, 50 to 60 pieces of the product sell out every day.

Shimoda's shop originally started in 1971 as an eel restaurant run by his grandfather Masasuke. The restaurant closed in 2012, when Shimoda, who trained in France after graduating from high school, was running a cafe-bakery called Pan-chaya at Narita's health and welfare centre. The closure prompted him to move his cafe to the current place to make a fresh start under the new name. Shimoda Koseido comes from the name of a traditional Chinese medicine shop run by his ancestors.

Shimoda Koseido Pan-chaya

  • Open: 9am to 6pm (cafe closes at 5pm)
  • Closed: Tuesdays
  • Address: 551 Kamicho, Narita, Chiba Prefecture
  • Phone: (0476) 22-0396
  • English menu available
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