The city of Nagoya, located in central Japan between Tokyo and Osaka, is a major transportation hub, boasting itself as one of the largest and busiest train stations in the world. As a port city and transfer point for travel, Nagoya is an important center of business, drawing in Japanese people and foreigners alike. It is no surprise then, that Nagoya has many unique soufusions of Japanese and Western food. Ogura Toast is one such Nagoya specialty, and it is a staple in cafes and breakfast chains.
Ogura Toast consists of thick slices of bread that are toasted, then have butter or margarine spread on them, followed by ogura-an, a specific type of red bean paste that gives this sandwich its name.
The first Ogura Toast was made in Sakae, Nagoya's downtown shopping district, in a cafe called Mitsuba in 1910. The owner of Mitsuba noticed how many of his student customers would order zenzai (a sweet red bean porridge) with slices of toast to dip in it. This inspired him to make Ogura Toast. This sandwich quickly became popular in Nagoya, and today is a common menu item in many Nagoya cafes, including Komeda Coffee, a nationwide coffee shop chain that actually has its roots in Nagoya.
When I first heard of Ogura Toast, it did not sound like a very appealing combination; However, the other day I finally got around to trying it. The first thing I noticed when I tried Ogura Toast was the variety of textures. There is the smoothness of the red bean paste, with a few beans you can sink your teeth into, accompanied by the crunch of the lightly toasted bread. What I found I enjoyed the most though, was the flavorful contrast of the savory butter with the sweetness of the red bean paste. Despite its simplicity, with the amount of red bean paste and the thick slices of bread, it made for quite a filling breakfast.
The name "Ogura toast" comes from the type of red bean that is used: Ogura-an. Ogura-an is a sweet red bean paste that uses whole red beans, skin and all, that are crushed and mixed together with a sweet syrup. In this mixture, some of the beans are left whole. This is in comparison to other types of red bean pastes, such as koshi-an, where all the bean skins are removed to create a completely smooth paste, or tsubu-an, which uses whole red beans boiled with sugar, but are otherwise left chunky and with mostly whole beans.
Ogura-an versus koshi-an
Ogura Toast, then, combines the red bean paste of Japanese cuisine, with the Western tradition of toast as a common breakfast meal, to create a unique dish that has become known as a regional specialty. It has spawned many snacks that cannot be found anywhere else in Japan. At Nagoya Station gift shops, one can find Ogura Toast cookies, cakes, and even Kit Kats.
Azuki Sandwich flavored Kit Kat, inspired by Ogura sandwiches
Nagoya is along the way from Tokyo to many other travel destinations -- Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima -- So if you find yourself with some time to spare on the way, pop into a cafe and have some coffee and Ogura toast, or check out the plethora of Ogura Toast snacks found in Nagoya Station.