“Why can’t you just buy the 90 yen bread loaf at the grocery store?” my husband asks, mystified. “Or grab onigiri?” Sigh. I’ve stared at that rice wall, waiting for some new flavor or stuffing to pop-out at me. And I don’t always have time to make sandwiches at home. Not to mention, grocery store bread isn’t exactly the height of eating for enjoyment. The best solution, some busy days, is to turn to freshly baked bread or ooyaki, the perfect street food, from Azabu Juban’s Mont Thabor bakery.

You know the routine: follow the scent of freshly-baked bread, enter, inhale, grab your tray, tongs, and go to town. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

This is indeed, a go-to grab. There are two ooyaki choices, the pickled turnip and greens version (157 yen) or an easy-to-scarf-down smoked chicken and cheese, punctuated with black sesame seeds (231 yen). Reach for an onion cheese bullet (189 yen), a baked potato and mustard bread (220 yen), or a Camembert walnut bun (189 yen). That veggie ooyaki is my favorite, though, as crisp and fulfilling strolling through a wooded park, then discovering a farmers’ market near the end. It is a grounding choice–smelling faintly of sesame oil, not overpowering or obvious, but present–silently cuddling the greens like a doting nanny. Another healthy nosh is their quiche. With all the sugary, saccarine items in a bakery, it’s nice to have more savory items available, as well. A small tomato onion or spinach bacon quiche is perfect for breakfast (210 yen).

A custardy take on the quiche, baked into flaky beds as crisp as Phyllo. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

In business since 1977, this Mont Thabor is the original and first of seventy-nine other Mont Thabor shops in Japan. This is largely where the Azabu neighborhood flocks for crusty baguette, sugary doughnuts, and buttery shokupan (white bread). Mont Thabor writes all product placards in English and Japanese; they turn-out petite puffs of Brazilian biscuit de polvillo (94 yen a pop) and variations of the German schneeball (snowball), dusted with confectioner’s sugar and even matcha. I love hearing the many languages spoken throughout the bakery, as proud friends introduce their favorite items and moms reign-in their kids. Nestled in the heart of old Azabu Juban, Mont Thabor mixes Japanese taste with a French boulangerie, as seen in the deep black mame, or beans, that pop out of the Hokkaido Black Soybean bread, or mentaiko, a spread of teeny salmon roe (eggs), baked atop personal-size baguette. They capture green tea and sweet bean paste (anko) inside French breads and mellow buns. Showa period curry bread stretch out like little guitars and domes of melon pan glisten. Their Hokkaido Milk Bread has earned them a 2012 Monde Selection silver medal in Bruxelles and on various trips to the Azabu Juban bakery, I have caught Japanese TV crews filming and shooting pictures of this sweet, buttery wheel of milky bread. Samples of their original and (limited edition) strawberry Hokkaido Milk Breads abound.

Not so cheap, but massive. This strawberry wheel of hokkaido milk & butter is like a dessert baguette to bring home. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

During winter months like these, as many as 1,000 cold and hungry carb lovers choose Mont Thabor to provide them with the warm, fluffy breads and pastry. In sweltering summer months, the shop pulls-in 700-800 customers, daily. Absolutely all baking is done on their premises, just upstairs. Eight to eleven bakers mix, knead, and craft every roll and sweet. Bakers are trained on the job, as the illustrious Mont Thabor bakers, meaning all purity of the baking craft is taught and cultivated in-house. This also means I may have a shot one day of making my own ooyaki and pillowy karinto doughnuts upstairs, baring the Mont Thabor logo on my own apron. For now, I’ll just be one the many love struck patrons. Speaking of love-struck, Mont Thabor is on a chocolate-strawberry kick in honor of Valanetine’s Day. Five such sweets will line shelves until February 28.  I found my own Valentine in the form of their chocolate Danish pastry (210 yen).

Getting Cutesy for V-Day | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

I couldn’t believe the quality and amount of chocate—like buying an extra-stuffed chocolate croissant. Nothing restricts the thick bed of chocolate or gets in the way. There is one lone strawberry on top, slightly embedded, like he was frozen on his raft. Down at the bottom, between the chocolate lake and flaky pastry, Mont Thabor has spread strawberry jam that almost blends-in to the chocolate. You must buy one of their cold milk boxes or have something else on hand. This is rich.

Gleaming egg-washed pastries line large windows. Soft Camembert peeks out of milk bread, and their croissants flake impeccably. I am hopelessly beyond grocery store bread.  Supermarket bread? Same-old, same-old onigiri? Not today.

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