Shōwa Day & A Taste Of Nostalgia with Pizza Toast
At the end of April beginning of May marks one of Japans biggest holidays known as “Golden Week”. It is a string of national holidays starting with “Shōwa Day”. Many people take this time off to visit families, book a trip away, or simply take the time to enjoy the gorgeous spring weather by visiting a flower park or garden, before the temperatures start to rise and the rainy season comes.
Shōwa Day is on April 29th 2023. Shōwa 昭和 means “Bright Peace” and was a unique period in Japanese history from 1929-1989, corresponding to the reign of the Emperor Hirohito the 124th emperor of Japan. This period was described as a significant breaking point in Japanese history that followed the “Taisho” period, with many events that happened over the 63 years. From World War II and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to Japan experiencing the largest economic growth outside of the USA between 1950-1970. Bringing with it a flourishing economy. Places like 7 Eleven opened and the Shinkansen train network grew. Tokyo hosted the 1964 summer Olympics and became the first city in Asia to do so. Also technological advancements like the Nintendo console was released in 1983.
From the 1970’s Japanese people started to take an interest in a variety of new dining options. Family restaurants, convenience stores or “konbini” and fast food chains spread across the country.
Despite being known for its green tea coffee culture started to become popular, with the birth of the kissaten in the Shōwa era. Kissaten is derived from three kanji 喫茶店 “consume” “tea” “shop” but is more widely known today for being coffee shops even though you can also buy tea and light meals. Why did the Kissaten grow in popularity throughout the era ? In fact it was in the 50’s a place that someone could go and listen to music, as people then still didn’t have the money to buy records. As time moved on corporate brands started to take over with chains of coffee shops and the Kissaten fell out of favour.
Now people again are looking for that piece of nostalgia and are finding relaxation in the dimly lit retro atmosphere of the Kissaten. With its old china cups, dark wood furniture, leather and velour upholstery and antiques, which have kept the Shōwa era vibe. In such Kissaten today you may see generations of families working in the same place, even the grand children helping out. The older generation visitors seam to have a strong attachment to these places, reminding them of a bygone time.
Menus in a Kissaten are quite similar offering coffee usually made with a drip machine which makes either a whole pot or dripped into a cup.
Nostalgic home cooked simple food is normally on offer with a “yoshoku” 洋食 western influence like spaghetti naporitan, Omurice, thick slices of ogura toast (toast with anko) sandwiches like fruit sando and tamago sando, curry rice, pancakes, melon cream floats, coffee jelly and purin.
Take a stroll through some of the Shitamachi old quaint neighbourhoods of Tokyo like Yanaka, Asakusa and Golden Gai to find nostalgic influences with buildings that survived World War II.
Shitamachi means lower city opposed to Yamamoto which means higher city. The term Shitamachi used to refer to places where lower classed people lived but nowadays for an area to be classed as Shitamachi it must have lots of alleys, many small workshops, flowerpots in the street next to the houses, curly shaped streets and many cats!
One such place that has many of these characteristics is the area “Yanesen” an area consisting of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi.
There is something quite comforting about the past which connects us to the present , with these places that have faced the challenges over decades of change, affectionately looked upon by the Japanese people as living culture from a bygone age. I am very fond of Yanaka and you can read more in previous posts with food inspired by the area and a walking tour.
Pizza Toast was created by a kissaten in Ginza Tokyo called Benishika which opened in 1957. It was made by baking cheese, onion, salami, sweet green peppers, mushrooms and thick slices of bread. Pizza toast is a very popular menu item in Japanese kissaten thick slices of shokupan milk bread topped with tomato sauce vegetables and melted cheese. Why not try making this snack for yourself . You don’t have to use shokupan just a nice thick slice of bread will do.
Back in 2017 when I first started this blog and vegan cheese was still something of a rarity I used to make cheese with mochi . You may even recall my mochi cheese on toast as one of my first ever recipes. So I decided in true nostalgic form to bring it back for my pizza toast recipe. Of course you have a lot more vegan cheese to choose from as things gladly have moved on quite a bit since then, but you could always give this a try for something a bit different and a little extra Japanese ingredient touch, as it gives that lovely melted cheese look.
You will need:
An uncut white tin loaf (cut a thick slice around 2 inches thick)
x1 piece of dried Mochi rice cake (the kind you get in packets you put under the grill)
Vegetables of choice like sliced mushrooms, sliced onion, green pepper, sliced cherry tomatoes.
Put your oven to warm on a moderate temperature
First make your mochi :
Put your dried mochi in a bowl and cover with soy milk, microwave for 30 seconds and then break it up with a fork.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, mix and put back in the microwave for another 30 seconds. The mochi will go gooey and sticky. Mash with a fork then add a teaspoon of nutritional yeast and a teaspoon of white miso. This will give your cheese flavour.
Add more soy milk to give the desired melting cheese consistency and put back in the microwave. Then mash with a pestle if you have one or add to a blender to get rid of any lumps. Then put aside.
Assemble your pizza. Take your bread and thickly spread the top with tomato purée add a sprinkle of mixed herbs, then place on your vegetables starting with sliced onion.
Warm your mochi cheese again in the microwave for a 15 seconds and pour over your vegetables adding sliced tomatoes on top and maybe a sprinkle of cracked black pepper.
Place in the oven on a wire rack so the bread can bake evenly and bake until the bread is crispy. Finishing off by browning the cheese under the grill.
Served of course with a coffee.
If you would like to know more about the Japanese golden week holidays I have lots more information in previous posts or why not try one of my other nostalgic recipes for vegan coffee jelly
and purin for a taste of nostalgic Japan.