Japanese Bakeries: Panya, The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Even even more panya

I asked my Japanese friends what they thought about the typical Western meal of one main dish.  The general consensus: not nearly enough variety. Japanese food is all about variety. You don’t see big portions of a few things, but small portions of many things. Even at buffet style restaurants,  called “Viking” for some esoteric reason, plates are often segmented like this:

Japanese Viking Buffet

Panya means bread store, but consider them bakeries. Bakeries, but with a range of dishes outside western baked goods. There’s bread, of course, but these enterprising cookeries come equipped with dishes familiar and not-so familiar to the Western world.

There are  varieties of hot dogs, but looking more like what the American South calls pigs-in-a-blanket. Pizzas by the slice are imaginatively topped, potato and egg chief among Japanese staples. Calzones though, remain untouched by Japanese creativity. Other Japanese creations you may or may not know of.

More panya

I’ve indulged in potato, bacon, squid, lima beans, and other assorted vegetables in a hot doggish bun. Burdock, chicken, mushroom, and mayonnaise on a pizza-like disk is a favorite. Fried curry donut is loveable, melon bread friendly, sweet bean paste cookies divine.

Panya time

Once you’ve lived in Japan you start thinking some foods are normal, even when they’re undiscovered continents off your cultural radar. You see them every day–and repetition can penetrate even the dullest mind. Repetition can penetrate even the dullest mind. (Hehe.) Things that visitors would stop and take a picture of don’t faze you. A yakisoba sandwich? Tried one of those. Meh…

Yakisoba sandwich

Panya are usually conveniently located by stations and in most supermarkets. They’re a go-to option for a quick meal. I used to eat at my local panya several times a week before realizing I was spending entirely too much on lunch.

Soon I found another panya in a local supermarket that sold curry naan for 100 yen and a chicken sandwich for 160. It’s a filling lunch for 260 yen, to which I have recently had to do without. One thing about Japanese panya that does get on my nerves is that you can’t always count on the food you like to be there. Just when you get used to getting your favorite from the store it will just disappear, for no reason. “Poof,” gone. Panya product rotation can be a royal pain. They keep the staple items, but that’s it.

You’re favorite will be back in a few weeks or months, but in the meantime you’ll have to do without. Some of it’s seasonal, but other times it just seemed like the staff chose to kill off an item because it was its time to die.

Even more panya

Anyway, I digress. Panya have a wide selection of single items to combine into a meal. Half a grilled ham and cheese sandwich for around 160 yen, one slice of Japanese pizza for the same, a chicken pita sandwich for around 250 yen–you’ve got a decent lunch for the price of a value meal at McDonald’s. Extra if you want dessert.

Panyas are good things, especially if you’re not in the mood for Japanese food. It happens. Sometimes when you crave a taste of home sushi just won’t do. When you need a “home fix,” panya are there.

Or if you don’t, they have quality Japanese style sweets worth trying. Check one out.

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12 Comments on “Japanese Bakeries: Panya, The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”

  1. fingknitcoolgal
    October 18, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    A great observation! Even in Paris, I’ve never seen that much variety of baked stuff.
    The Japanese are also very prone to a food fad. Last time I was there, it was a huge craze for cream sponge rolls and the previous time was a melon-pan. I wonder how that much of concerted hype can start spontaneously? Sounds silly but maybe covert marketing by giant ad agancy like Dentsu or Hakuhodo?
    Maybe your favourite was shelved because it was no longer “hot”? As an expat, I have certain pastries I feel nostalgic to but tend to find them no longer on display or “improved” therefore not the same anymore. It’s kind of sad that the pieces of Japan I’ve known since my childhood disappear because they are too old-fashioned.
    I also agree that shopping at Panya adds up very quickly. I can never satisfy myself with just one pastry! (^-^)

    • introvertnathan
      October 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm #

      yeah, a lot of fads have come and gone while I’Ve been here. It is sad to see that beloved piece of your childhood disappear because it’s passed out of style. I’m wondering how many things won’t be there the next time I take a trip back home.

  2. ThroughTheLookingGlassAndDownTheRabbitHole
    October 18, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    I like panyas 🙂 It’s always an adventure!
    “Repetition can penetrate even the dullest mind,” huh? I like it 🙂 But I wonder what that says about my kids who manage not to double line space their essays even though I’ve been telling them for over a year now :p

  3. annamibananas
    October 19, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    This seems like my ideal heaven. I love bakery style food and bread. I must get to a Panya one day!

    • introvertnathan
      October 19, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

      They’re good. And plentiful. Whenever you make it around to Japan there will be plenty to choose from : )

      • annamibananas
        October 20, 2013 at 12:48 am #

        Wooooo! I’ll be looking forward to it then and I want to go to Japan so badly

  4. Lynn
    October 22, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Do they have ice cream like here in the US? I guess apple pie is out of the question….

    • introvertnathan
      October 23, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      Ice cream is just as popular here as it is stateside, actually. And while apple pie itself isn’t so popular, there are a lot of sweets based on it. I’m not an apple pie lover, so I’ve never really tried any though.

  5. narcopathcrusher
    August 24, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    the more i scroll down the more excited i become! Your blog is a thesaurus!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The rise of an entrepreneurial niche? Japan’s unique bakeries | consultbrain.com - April 15, 2014

    […] bakery culture is the stuff of salivating tales and recollections of the ubiquitous panya, literally bread shops. What I found very interesting in buying daily goods […]

  2. Entry 13: 6/26-7/2 | Osaka Summer - July 3, 2016

    […] Baked goods at a panya (image source) […]

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