Aki Boulanger

green tea swirl bread

I had the good fortune to go to Japan many years ago. I was teaching at culinary schools and didn’t have time to see much, but I ate very, very well when I managed to go to a restaurant in the evenings. The Japanese people I ate with seemed surprised at how much I liked – and wanted to eat – Japanese food. One night we went to a restaurant that set bowls of soy milk on a heater in the center of our table and as a skin formed, we carefully peeled it off with chopsticks and slid the thin slippery skins in our mouths. Another night at a simple sashimi restaurant, one of the courses was set down in front of me, a few pieces of raw seafood in an elaborate, and enormous bowl made of shimmering pieces of glass attached together. Except when I touched it, the whole thing shattered and I realized it was made of ice chips, each one somehow magically attached to each other.

But best of all was the wagyu beef restaurant: a bib was tied around my neck, slender rectangles of meat were brought out, and each piece of beef was singed for perhaps one-half of a second on each side then placed on my plate. And for a moment, everything around me stopped and I sighed as this rich, incredibly tender and juicy morsel of warm beef literally dissolved in my mouth. It was nearly eight years ago, yet I remember every bite I had in Japan.

On the last day of my classes, since I had some free time, the people I was working with assigned me two young women to spend the day with me, to help me navigate Tokyo and interpret. When they arrived, they had a list of places they were sure I would enjoy – “First we will go to Giorgio Armani, then Ralph Lauren. And then we will take you to Dolce & Gabbana, and then…”

I didn’t want to be impolite but I also didn’t want to spend my only free day in Tokyo looking at $3800 suits. (Unless they were Comme des Garçons, and someone else was going to buy one for me.) And we ended up poking around in Japanese housewares stores, eating on the street and in noodle bars, and taking pictures of ourselves in the various arcades filled with outrageously dressed Japanese teenagers in the Harajuku district.

I wasn’t really planning to write anything about the current tragedy in Japan. But this is really the first time I can think of that I’ve watched a natural catastrophe unfold right in front of my eyes, in almost slow-motion. The other morning I was still in bed, watching on the news footage of water rushing forth and indiscriminately washing away everything in its path. The waves encircled boats, houses, buildings, people, and trucks, and simply washed them all away in seconds.

The continuing aftermath is equally compelling and emotionally draining, and that morning was one of the few times in my life when after a few minutes, I realized that my jaw had dropped and hadn’t moved as I witnessed entire towns – entire communities – get swept out to sea. Watching the unbelievable grace in the aftermath, and subsequent problems that these people are dealing with just seems like a bad dream, even as an observer. I can’t even imagine how one makes it through anything like that.

green tea red bean swirl bread

A few weeks ago I stopped into Aki Boulanger on the rue Saint-Anne in Paris, which is a street lined with Japanese eateries as well as a smattering of Korean restaurants and markets. This corner bakery has some lovely pastries, including matcha éclairs and the most gorgeous marbled bread, swirled with green tea and red beans, imaginable. They also have standard French breads which I haven’t tried, but they look like something a French baker would be proud of. Unlike a lot of desserts that look pretty, this bread is great; it’s not too sweet and makes a great afternoon snack and the salty green tea and sweet bean paste balance each other and it’s perfect served sliced, just as it is.

What strikes me each time I go into Aki is how nice they are, and how welcome they make the customer feel. It’s like they are truly happy to see me, as well as other customers, and aren’t just greeting us perfunctorily. Perhaps I’m used to a more forlorn attitude and the contrast is so jarring that I almost don’t know what to make of it. But I was thinking about the lovely young people who run this bakery, how helpful they are, and the spirit of the Japanese people during this particular difficult time.

If you come to Paris, I recommend a stop in their bakery. There’s a small cluster of tall tables if you want to stay for a quick sandwich or dessert with a warm cup of Japanese tea. And although the pastries and breads are lovely, the grace and exquisite perfection are representative of the Japanese spirit. One that needs our support right now.


Aki Boulanger
16, rue Saint-Anne (1st)
Tél: 09 51 84 17 04



Donate to the Red Cross Japan relief efforts easily and instantly at iTunes or at the Red Cross website.

76 comments

  • That’s so funny my husband goes over there all the time but I never noticed that bakery before. I can’t wait to try something the next time we head for Japanese food!

  • Lovely post David. When we visited Paris, we toured the Marche d’Aligre and the surrounding shops. Our guide told us all about the Japanese pastry students who come to France to do apprenticeships with master bakers there. I couldn’t believe how much dedication and clear appreciation they had for mastering their skills to bring back to their country.

  • Very beautifully spoken about the unfolding tragedy in Japan. Aki opened last year while we were in Paris (staying on Rue St Anne, so we watched the renovation of the store as we walked past each day, it opened a day or two before we left in July). We didn’t have time to partake of the delights within. There’s always something to look forward to on the next visit to Paris….

  • Thanks David!!! I’m going to Paris in 3 weeks so I’ve already saved the bakery’s address!

  • Just a beautiful slice! Thank you.

  • I love Japan and had such wonderful memories of their lovely orderly society. Things must be so painful for them now. I hope we can all do what we can to help.

    I find myself saying there but for the grace of god as I can very nearly feel Indian Point Nuclear Plant lurking up the Hudson. I sets me to wonder how we in the greater NYC area would do should the plant suffer a meltdown.

    The bread is a work of art…we all need more of that in these trying times.

  • It was nearly a year ago a long time dream came true with a trip to Japan, and looking at the pictures over the last week all memories came back. Specially about the food, I think I never enjoyed such good food in a wide range – from market stalls at the varios cherry blossom sights over supermarket maki rolls to amazing simply ramen and then the best wagu beef and then the bakeries.
    Everyone thinking German bakers are amazing, japan beats them in the pastry section. Specially the way things are packed, the way they manage to turn a simply piece of chocolate cake (well still the most expensive I ever bought) into something special with icepacks, spoon, and a large box so it looks like you bought a whole cake.

  • Japan has always appealed to me, it looks like such a beautiful country and beautiful people. I have also found myself, jaw dropped, watching the awful images pour in, unable to believe my eyes. It’s all so unreal.
    This little bakery looks wonderful, and I will definitely put it on my list for our upcoming trip!

  • David,
    this slice of bread is a work of art and I cannot even begin to imagine how good it tastes! I don’t know about any Japanese bakery around here, but I am lucky enough to know a very good Japanese restaurant, Yume. Every time I go there, the good food comes accompanied by a feeling of grace and friendship from the whole staff.

  • Sustaining life, art and grace in all in one lovely slice.

  • This piece, and a piece by Howard Jacobson in the Saturday edition of the Independent on the grace and dignity of the Japanese, are both beautifully written and very moving. Many thanks, David – and I will be sure to visit Aki soon.

  • I’ve never had the good fortune to go to Japan (I think I’ll now hold off at least a short while), but hope that someday my son, who studied Japanese, will invite me to go back there with him. Your image of the glass chips bowl that shattered into ice fragments was lovely–and wow, what dining drama in THAT presentation. Wonder if that could be adapted to serving a sorbet or granita?

    BTW, got a funny post up now where food writers are sharing how their recipes have been misinterpreted/mangled. I bet you could add a few tales, too!

  • David: I recently went there last year and it’s like a fancy Japanese dessert bake shop! The Millefeuille (green tea pastry cream) is the best I’ve had by far. :) Thanks for reminding what life is all about: sweet desserts and great people!

  • David,
    This post was haunting and hit hard emotionally.
    Thanks for the list of charities and the need
    for supporting a terrific country in one of
    their toughest times.

    I will make a suggestion…please create a recipe
    as true as possible to this amazing bread
    posted today. It could be a motivating post and be a
    starting point for many to donate to the people
    of Japan. I certainly would make another
    donation! Thnx for the great emails. I look
    forward to your posts.

  • What a lovely slice of bread. I was hoping for a recipe :-) I am sure I could figure one out easily enough though.

    You beautifully captured the grace of Japanese people. Very well done.. Thank you!

  • Very beautiful description of the memories of your eats in Japan. What an interesting and artistic bread. This whole thing gives great pause….

  • This bread is so beautiful I almost wouldn’t want to eat it!

  • I like the sense of humour you inject into your posts and always look forward to reading them. I feel compelled to say that this was no exception – and indeed exquisitely written and intensely moving! Cheers…

  • probably the best cremepuff i ever had was at chez moustache, a coffee bar in the roppongi section of tokyo. the cream was heavily laced with cointreau or b+b. the coffee was equally lovely, and this was well before the coffee craze.

    at that time tokyo also had a kosher delicatessen run by mme ann dinken (late of the bronx) and her carefully trained kosher japanese chef. deli flown in from new york every week on jal. the shop was just near the national guard barracks of yukio mishima fame. mme dinken was a bit margaret hamilton, but could be great fun.

  • Thank you for your post and thank you for your amazing blog. I am a New Yorker and a French citizen by marriage, living in Paris since 1985 and a lover of all things Japanese. I lived in Japan in the 1980’s and never recovered from the sheer beauty of this place. I have been going there for over 20 years and last year for my 50th birthday I celebrated it there. Where else?

    For those who have never been, you cannot imagine how amazing it is. As for Aki, I am on my way!

  • David, I forgot to say that I agree with you about the beef. Even if it is not Wagyu it is mind blowing! I’m tasting it right now as I think about it. Darn.

  • We stayed right around the corner from rue St. Anne last year and never noticed this bakery..but this year we will make sure to go. The grace and dignity that you talk about is so common among the Japanese..we were lucky enough to go there about three years ago when our son was stationed there at Yakota, and we fell in love with both Japan and the people. He still looks back on his three years there as an incredible time in his life, and would glady go back…he feels about Japan as we feel about Paris…it’s his special place.

  • Thank you for posting this. The nightmare experienced here in NOLA almost six years ago is nothing to what Japan is going through, and Japan was so generous to us, giving huge amounts of money, bringing musical instruments to replace those lost. I’ve donated to the local organization fund for Japan, and hope large numbers of your readers donate now to your links. Thanks again.

  • Loved your post- your descriptions of Japan, its food and people are spot on. It’s my homeland, and although I haven’t lived here in a decade, it breaks my heart to see everyone suffering so much, although they hide it quite well. French bakeries in Japan are on every corner, and I really miss the creativity the Japanese would bring to the technique they learned from French bakers. Japanese LOVE their bread- from the thick slices of toast everyone eats for breakfast to the beautiful little rolls studded with cubes of cheese and ham…to the marron (chestnut cream) cakes. I love it all! This bread looks absolutely incredible and I’m happy to see there are Japanese bakeries in France.

  • Lovely post. And that bread is absolutely gorgeous!

  • Lovely post David. Just thought I’d add another note on giving to Japan: if you donate through Living Social to the Red Cross, they will match your donation:

    http://livingsocial.com/redcross

    I wish I had known before I donated!

  • Ages ago I went to Japan with a graphic design group and spent all my time studying packaging in supermarkets aand pastry shops plus eating, eating,eating. The witty attention to detail was always amazing, making it doubly hard to connect the chaos on the screen with the Japan I know.
    Some of the best books on Paris (particularly pastry shops) are published in Japan and can be found at the bookstore, Junkudo at rue des Pyramid.
    Thank you David for pointing us in the right direction.
    Time to give back.

  • Très émouvant !

    Paule

  • A most wonderful post ~ Living in Kyoto in the early 90’s for a year, I was silently schooled in the Japanese passion for preparation and enjoyment of daily sustenance. It was magical.
    A woman in my neighborhood operated a tiny 5 seat restaurant using mainly organic produce from her plot at the local imperial summer palace. She loved to teach us as she put our meals together.
    Everyone had their own set of chopsticks, kept in one container. When we walked in the door, after greeting us she would find our particular chop sticks out of hundreds. Amazing.
    Their suffering is too large to comprehend at times.

  • David,
    That bread is so lovely to look at it belongs in a gallery! I can imagine doing something similar with a cherry puree and some sort of vanilla bean paste. You lost me at the soy milk skin though, that made me feel quite queasy, I always hated the way my mother made coffee, with cold milk, so that by the time you went to drink it, there was a skin on it. Put me off coffee for years, I hated the texture!

  • Thank you for those words on Japan, which expressed EXACTLY how I feel. It made me realise that I’m not alone in my suffering with the Japanese. By the way, I lived there for a while and had some wonderful (and terrible!) food experiences… I remember the street food stalls best. Ever tried okonomiyaki? Eggy pancakes stuffed with mountain vegetables, pickles etc. Yum!

  • Wonderful post….very thoughtful and inspiring at the same time.

    Japan needs the worlds help, and sharing the http://www.redcross.org link is a great way for all us to help or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to Japan and Pacific tsunami relief.

    The Japanese marbled green tea bread looks outrageously delicious.
    ps. I would love the recipe.

  • Margaret Meade once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    There’s not a human being on the planet who hasn’t known trouble in our lives, and we have all at one time or another counted on the kindness of strangers (thank you Blanche DuBois).

    I think a lot of times people just don’t realize how important their individual contribution can be, particularly when confronted with such devastation, it seems overwhelming, even from this distance. How is my little bit going to help? But it DOES help.

    To some people $20us is a lot of money they can ill afford. That’s ok. If you’ve got some flour and sugar and a little butter, bake something. Talk to your neighbors, the people in whatever house of worship you might frequent, your kids’ school, the folks at your local market, etc… and organize a bake sale. (I don’t honestly know if bake sales are even heard of in countries outside the US, I’m a bit ignorant on that score, my apologies, maybe someone could let me know? is there a european equivalent?)

    My apologies as well if I’ve gone too far off topic. I hope I didn’t go over the line with it. Thank you.

  • Lovely, David. Thank you.

  • Thank you David, for your heartwarming piece. My Japanese friends also recommend donations through Akai Hane or the Red Feather Community Chest effort for the earthquake victims. http://www.akaihane.or.jp

  • I’ve found myself lost in thought about the awful situation in Japan over the last fews days more times than I can count. I was struck once again by some images in ‘Le Point’ that showed all the detritus covered in snow. Because it’s not enough to survive first an earthquake, then a tsunami, losing everything in the process. They’re now having to struggle through a cold snap. Thank you for providing a link for donating. I will also check out the link provided by Meg above, and donate again. Matching my donation, that sounds good!

    Also on the list of things that are good: that gorgeous photo of that incredible looking bread, and your bright, lovely memories of Japan.

  • We’re following in your New York foot steps and had a fun lunch at Katz’s followed by dessert at the Laboratorio del Gelato where I had amazing Guinness and black sesame icecreams and yuzu sorbet. I think I may have to go back every day, there are just too many interesting flavours to try.

  • Man, now I regret not knowing about this place when I was in Paris a few months ago. Sounds amazing

  • Look at this great way to help Japan! Even comes with a stove! http://www.shelterboxusa.org/

  • David,
    Really lovely post, wonderful photos, and memories that have made me reminiscent of the brief time I spent in Japan.

    I stayed up in the mountains, about 20 years ago, in a very small village. The first morning I went out for a walk and stopped at the corner to cross the road. A car pulled up with a family of four in it (two little girls in the back seat). When they saw me, their mouths fell open, and then suddenly they seemed embarrassed. I waved at the the little girls in the back seat – they squealed and ducked down behind the seat. They drove around the block five times to watch me walk down the street.

    Time there was magical. The food, as you say, amazing (except maybe the pickled seaweed for breaky), but by far, what stood out the most was the grace of the people and culture.

    Glad you shared David.

  • Such a lovely post, David.

    Thank you.

  • Thank you David. Beautiful words and beautiful bread. Amen

  • The marbled bread looks wonderful. I visited Japan 20 years ago and spent an entire morning in the food area of a department store, watching the staff prepare food I ‘d never seen before. There was a little bakery near my hotel that wrapped even the simplest purchase in tissue, then paper, into a little box and tied with a ribbon.

  • Just over a week ago I woke up to the horrific aftermath scenes of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster; then, we have the news on Libya sharing the headlines this week. If this whole thing is already such a nightmare to me, I can’t imagine how much more haunting and trying things are for those undergoing the tragedies as we speak. My prayers and thoughts go out to them. And thanks for a lovely post, David. I would pick your post on matcha-azuki bean bread over those tragic news anytime.

  • To have been to Japan and have such strong memories would make the current tragedy so much more personal. It is hard to wrap my head around the suffering they are experiencing.

    Beautiful photo. — Brenda

  • Beautifully written and nuanced post as usual, David. A gentle call to arms.
    And the matcha / red bean (and mochi, too!) combo is always a winner :)

    I just wish there wasn’t a (thankfully small, but still pervasive) shameful trend of people linking Japan’s current plight with the (also shameful) actions of a handful of Japanese political and military figures over 60 years ago. It saddens my heart even more.

    Let’s leave our ‘politics’ out of food blogs!

  • David your posts are so very educational, informative and always entertaining. This particular post is so moving and for that I thank you.
    Would love to have a taste of that bread.

  • Lovely post, David. Yes, my country needs any kind of help right now.
    The macha swirl bread reminds me of a bakery near my mother’s house. It has a great harmony of macha, azuki and the tender bread.
    I miss it.

  • “…grace and exquisite perfection are representative of the Japanese spirit…”

    Thank you (bowing).

  • Having just rediscovered my serious love of mochi and red bean paste, I so wish I could visit this bakery, well, now. Stupid Australia.

  • that marbled bread blows my mind. it’s nice to read your kind words about japan.

  • That bread looks divine. Makes me miss Japan.

  • You describe beautifully what a bad dream it is watching this all unfold. Except that every morning we wake up and realize again it’s unbearably real.

    I’m someone who believes we have to go beyond financial donations. More money was raised for Haiti relief than for any disaster dating back to 9/11 and little has changed there in over a year.

    I am encouraging everyone possible from politicians, community leaders, Japanese consuls, Avaaz, MoveOn.org to Oprah to push for more hands on assistance specifically airlifts of food, generators and fuel, specialized medical supplies AND helping hands, even though some governments are now evacuating their search and rescue teams because of radiation fears.

    my site http://mlleparadis.blogspot.com has references and links to news reports and organizations posted over the last few days. i just feel that the scale of the catastrophe is too big, and that natural Japanese reserve is working against the Japanese people. Time is being lost, and the troubles multiply and compound in the meantime. They threaten to become insurmountable for the Japanese government and unspeakably tragic.

    It only takes a few quick emails, I’m pleading for the world community to speak up and ask your leaders to help NOW!

    Thanks so much if you can.

  • This is a beautiful post David.

    And the marbled green tea/red bean bread looks gorgeous.

    I think one of the things I would miss about Japan while studying there were the wonderful bakeries. Granted they were expensive but the wide range of cakes, tarts and pastries they offered were to die for.

  • It is worth noting, for those that find the idea of this bread so tempting that they’re ready to run out and buy a loaf immediately, that Aki is closed on Sundays (before anyone else finds themselves standing heartbroken in front of an empty bakery half-way across the city).

    Still — Thank you for your post. I’m really looking forward to successfully buying a loaf later this week. ^^

    And the next you’re around rue St. Anne, I recommend also trying the green tea cheesecake at the (tout petit) salon de thé ZenZoo (if you’ve never been). I like it because the mellowness of the green tea isn’t out-done by sweetness or heaviness in the cake and it has a nearly-impeccable balance of crumbly vs. moist, slightly sticky texture. Miam.

    http://www.zen-zoo.com/zenzoo/index.html

  • Thank you for reminding us of what Japan brings to our world community.

  • Lovely post. I’m a long time Francophile, but after my first visit to Japan six months ago, I fell in love with Japan, the food — yes, and its baked goods as well.

  • I wish the best for Japan. Beautiful photo of the bread. Thanks David!

  • This bread sure looks yummy! Hope things work out for Japan and the world.

    If you haven’t been to Japan, you’re missing out. Truly a great place to visit. Just not when the cherry blossoms are going to bloom. That’s their holiday.

    Carolyn Z

  • I was at work here in Tokyo when the earthquake hit last Friday. We knew very quickly that it was a major, major quake.. but it took a lot longer to fully comprehend the true extent of the damage than those watching overseas as we had to deal with the chaotic aftermath.

    The destruction here is unimaginable and I think we are all still in shock at the magnitude of what has happened. The last week and a half in Tokyo has been the most surreal experience of my life, but it pales in comparison to what so many are going through just a few hundred kilometers away.

    I want to encourage all those who can to think of the good they can do by just sacrificing one or two trips to Starbucks to help ensure that the survivors (many of whom have lost their friends, families, and entire communities in addition to their homes) have the food, medicine, and heat necessary to get them through this.

    I have written a little about my experience in Tokyo on my blog for those who are curious for a difference perspective, but there real attention needs to remain focused squarely on the true victims of this disaster.

  • David, thank you very much for the most lovely post.
    I agree with everything you said – about the beautiful food there, the Japanese shop with great customer service… And how jaw-droppingly awful the situation Japan is in right now. I too was so horrified with what I saw on the news – actually, I couldn’t bear it, I cried everytime, that my 7 year old son held my head away from the screen & told daddy to turn the telly off…

  • I too am glad that you did find a way to acknowledge the happenings in Japan. Your writing was gentle and thoughtful, and allowed me to think past the horrors on the radio and Internet.

    I ache for my friends in Chiba and Tokyo, as well those I don’t know as well caught in this nightmare. Today I found out that my friend, who works for a French company, must use her measly one week annual vacation time to ensure she is paid at all for the last week where the company closed its doors and sent all nationals to abroad. I’m pretty certain that a multinational could have compensated the little workers somehow for the time they locked them out. Of course, my friend takes it all in that graceful Japanese stride, and returns to work this week, but I am furious!

  • It is awful to see the pictures on the TV. Well, worse than that.

    This seem flippant going on to comment, but the bread is beautiful.

  • I fell in love with that bread! It looks so fluffy I feel like giving it a hug!
    Also love the combination of green tea and adzuki beans. It seems like a steamed bread to me, or a sort of sponge babka, but I guess it must be less sweeter than that…

  • I share your feelings, David. I too felt the need to focus on all the wonderful contribution of Japanese people to the world, first and foremost heir amazing food: so healthy, so beautiful. You managed to find the right words.

  • The green bread reminds me of the line from The Odd Couple – “It’s either very new cheese or very old meat.” It looks interesting.

  • I keep coming back to this hauntingly beautiful entry… Thank you.

  • The bread is beautiful. Do you think brioche is the base for the recipe? The color and the crust certainly make me think of brioche.

  • What an eloquent post on such a difficult subject. Thank you for sharing your stories, and these beautiful photos. The marble bread looks divine.

  • How stunning….like a painting.
    The images, and now the news of the reactors are so sad. So much to take in.

  • David, after reading your post I couldn’t wait to try the matcha bread. OMG!!! It’s even more delicious than your description and your photo. The people at the Boulangerie Aki were lovely, as well, which made for a very nice experience.

    I’ll definitely be returning.

    I have a history with Japan and a deep-seated love and respect for the people and their country. I also have no doubt that they will, as their PM has said, “build a new Japan” – at which point, we will all see just how beautifully they rise, again, from the ashes.

    Thank you for the beautiful post and your always wonderful recommendations.

  • can anyone tell me re-create THAT marbling? it’s perfection.

  • Wow that is gorgeous, almost too pretty to eat.

  • Omg! That’s a ridiculously good looking bread. How did they get that crazy marbling? It seems like a single swirl, but with perfection. A true artist’s work.

  • It is really amazing what the Japanese can do with green tea! That looks delicious!!!