Who’s your Daddy? – a love call from Shikoku

closeupAfter eating what was potentially the worst cream puff of my life this afternoon at the local Willie Winki, I was motivated to write an article on Beard Papa. Having been relocated to the arse-end of Shikoku for the past month, I think you can safely assume that I’m missing a bunch of the things that Black is missing. To be sure, Beard Papa is definitely one of them.

As far as I’m concerned, Beard Papa is the crème de la crème of “choux a la crème” (シュークリーム). I’ve got not idea why the Japanese call cream puffs by a name that sounds like that black stuff I use to polish my shoes (“shoe cream”) but I’m happy to tell you that they have perfected the art of making them. Sorry, I stand corrected, Beard Papa has perfected the art of making them (and Willie Winki most certainly has not).

dreamBeard Papa has a surprisingly young history. Although the founder has been baking cakes in Osaka for years now, he only started growing Beard Papa into a national chain back in the late nineties. Unlike Colonel Sanders, the “Bearded Papa” actually did exist and that the nickname was given to him by the local children near his first bakery. There has got to be a health issue or two about smoking your pipe while baking cream puffs, but they taste so good that I’m willing to forgive him.

Apparently cream puffs made their way into Japan back in the Meiji era when the Japanese government decided (who knows why) to serve French food at high-level official functions. The head chef (大膳職) at the time was said to have learnt how to make Cream Puffs from a resident French Chef called Samuel Pierre. Nobody knows whether Pierre had a large beard and smoked a pipe or not.

detailsSo what makes Beard Papa’s cream puffs so special? Their homepage suggests that it is for two reasons. The first is the double-layered shell of the outer pastry crust. By keeping the inner layer of the pastry crispier, the Papa manages to keep the cream fresher, longer. But for me, the deciding factor is the vanilla flavored custard squeezed generously inside the puff. Despite the price of vanilla beans going up by three times in the last two years, Beard Papa continues to buy fresh vanilla beans and grind them into the custard (that is what those brown specs are that you can see in the custard). Yum!

NYCThe great news is that fans of Beard Papa can still get their fix even after they’ve left Japan (even if you can’t get one in Shikoku!!). Beard Papa has been “sharing the joy” and recently opened up stores in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, America, Hawaii (don’t ask me why Hawaii is separate to America, maybe they think it is just another prefecture of Japan) and Australia. I’m not a fan of most Japanese desserts, but this is one that is worth exporting. Hold on a sec, did I imply that it is a Japanese dessert…? Maybe it is….? Does anyone know any better?

(Bean Knowledge: In case you’re wondering, “choux” means cabbage in French. Apparently it got the name because the pastry on the outside of the puff looks like a cabbage.)

14 thoughts on “Who’s your Daddy? – a love call from Shikoku”

  1. Yeah they have lots of “Beard Papa” stores in L.A. and my coworkers never come back from Torrance (a local Japanese community) without bringing some back. They also have matcha flavored versions which I avoid at all costs.

  2. I totally agree with you on how good the Beard Papa Shoe-Creams are. Great. I live o/s (China) and have tried some of puffs in his Asian outlets but they are just not the same. I can’t put my finger on it but they just don’t seem as soft/fresh. It’s a shame as I reckon he could take on the world. Kuri, it sounds like they’re pretty good in L.A. how would you compare them to HQ?

  3. Im a custard addict , I alsolove manju, and Taiyaki etc..Im a real sucker for convenience store apple pie too….but everytime im tepmted by the strategically designed super-wafting smell of Beard papa I am never satisfied….is it that they arent as sweet as some other kinds?? Given that the quality is definitely good but just lacking in flavor…

  4. Red, you’ve gotta get your head checked if you’re willing to go inside a shop called wee willie winki. come on…

  5. Well Ranger its tuff when you think youre the only one with a wee willy, its comforting for Red to be among alike company

  6. It’s nice to hear that there are plenty of other Papa fans outside of Tokyo like Kuri and Richmond. I was amazed last night when chatting to a friend that lives in Chángchūn (长春) in China (the capital of Jílín Prefecture (吉林省)). He said that “Beard Papa” just opened a shop there! Sure, I know there are a lot of Japanese factories there, but isn’t that taking global expansion a little too far? (population of 8 million, annual GDP per head of 300,000 JPY).

    Apparently one puff costs 6 RMB. (about 90 yen). To put that in context, it also costs him 6 RMB to buy a 20 litre tank of drinking water. Lunch is often somewhere between 3-5 RMB. That’s one expensive puff!

    Thanks for the correction on Colonel Sanders, Bshock. I thought he’d died after he was thrown into the river at Dotonbori a few years back. _(_v_)_

  7. Its hard to gauge if 6rmb is really a steep price as the middle class is rising quickly in cities on Mainland China. A cup of coffee in a western style cafe costs at least 25rmb a cup! however, most chinese outside big cities dont quite see whats so great about a coffee anyway.
    Though Kentucky Fried Chicken Coffee is only 4.5rmb/cup…and 4 chicken wings at 25rmb
    Although average salaries tend to be around the 2-3000rmb/month the folks always seem to spend up large at karaoke and gambling at MaJong….Im sure Beard Papa will do well – for the first year anyway until the novelty wears off

  8. Richmond, I hadn’t tried Beard Papa’s when I was living in Japan, so I can’t compare, but I can say that they are pretty good here as long as they’re eaten fresh… they do the cream injection (did I just write that?) into the puffs as you order. In addition to the vanilla and matcha flavors, they also have eclair (vanilla cream with chocolate on top) and double chocolate (eclair with the chocolate injected as filling).

    They just opened a new branch in Arcadia (a largely Chinese community east of LA with some Japanese residents) and displayed on their front window were lots of blown up news articles (they’ve been in Newsweek apparently) talking about how Beard Papa is going to be the next Krispy Kreme. Let’s hope so.

    My friend from Beijing says Beard Papa is big in China, and considering the popularity of Starbucks and Mister Donuts, I imagine it will do quite well despite the cost. Although lunch can be had for 3-5 RMB in China, fast food is somewhat of a status thing (you’ve got to see their Pizza Huts!).

  9. Can’t say I have ever heard of Beard Papa but there is no doubt that the Japanese do patissirie (spell?) incredibly well. If not better than the French themselves. Great stuff until they slap the “macha” flavour in there. Though incredibly twice in the past month one of the guys in the office has been eating some combini pastry and we all (well, 5-6 of us) reckoned it smelled like fish. Seriously, do the Japanese put fish paste in the pastry?

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