Eating a sandwich the other day, I started to think about bread. The sandwich was good, apart from the bread. The bread wasn’t bad. It was nicely chewy, a little grainy, didn’t disintegrate due to juicy tomato slices, but it was sweet. Really sweet. Everything was good about the sandwich apart from that sweetness.

Until I started to live overseas, I didn’t give bread much thought beyond ‘Do I have enough for toast?” If bread on a holiday in a foreign country was different from the bread at home, it was no big deal. Vacations are opportunities to try all sorts of new things, and since vacations  outside the UK meant France, it was all very good! But when being overseas is your everyday reality, it matters a little more.  It wasn’t an issue when I lived in Italy. Plenty of decent (and not sweet) bread there. But as I moved further from home, I realized bread is certainly not the same thing in every country. To clarify, I’m talking about sliced bread. I know that buying a fresh, whole loaf is invariably tastier, but more often than not, I buy sliced loaves for convenience. I used to go to a bakery and get them to slice up a granary loaf while I waited back in the UK.  I’ve not seen a bakery, as I know it, in the town where I now live.

When I lived in Japan, I was amazed by the sliced bread. For a start, they don’t sell you the whole loaf. You buy it in bags of between 4 and 8 slices. It was often doorstep-thick, soft and puffy, but lacking in body and texture. Not to mention fibre! Wholemeal bread was relatively scarce, though it existed, but it too was soft, squishy, and far too sweet. japanese_bread01

I learned to eat rice balls stuffed with picked plums and wrapped in seaweed instead, or rice rolls filled with fermented soy beans. I still would if they were relatively available here. I really enjoyed them!

Now I live in the US, and bread looks a lot more like the bread I ate in the UK. Loaves are full size.  I have a wide choice of whole-wheat breads made of various grains. However, it still doesn’t taste like home. The main difference between British bread and American bread is the sweetness. Bread here is sweet. Much sweeter than English bread. One of the few things I remember from studying Dante  many years ago is the line in Purgatory where he talked about the saltiness of other’s bread. He was speaking both figuratively and literally   (the salty/bitterness of exile, and the actual saltiness of bread from outside Tuscany: see this blog post for an explanation of  Tuscan bread). For some reason that resonated with me when I read it and now I always think of that when I eat bread here –  while certainly not in exile, I’ve chosen to settle abroad, and the bread just isn’t right! It looks right, smells right, but it just doesn’t taste right due to that sweetness. Although here is now my home, there will always be little differences that will never feel quite right.

“Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui,
(You will know how salty another’s bread tastes,)
Paradiso XVII: 58-59

And my preferred loaf? A nice granary. What’s yours?



6 thoughts on “Bread

  1. I don’t mind sweet bread but not every day. Bagels (which I can no longer chew thanks to my jaw and teeth problems) are made from Challah dough and that’s sweet.

    I had a holiday in Israel a few decades ago and while their bread was reasonable, they didn’t know how to make toast, so every morning in the hotel I got the white equivalent of hot cardboard and butter. The better option was to skip levened bread altogether and go out to an outdoor stand for a pitta (usually stuffed full of falafel and salad – wonderful!)

    I like wholemeal bread which, if I know I’m going to be having a lot of sandwiches, I slice by hand when I first get it. (There are bread slicers you can get but I can never be bothered.) I’ve often wondered about getting a bread machine and making my own but I know it would just be left in the cupboard.

    • I’ve also been tempted by a bread machine, but I came to the same conclusion as you.
      Falafel – now there’s a good idea for a lunch later this week!

  2. I’ve got a loaf of the featured granary at home. Not full size as it is a 400g loaf as we don’t eat much bread. I’ll enjoy a slice of it for you later.

    • Why don’t you get a full size loaf and freeze it? I think it’s cheaper than buying the mini loaves. And what do you usually eat instead of bread?

  3. I completely agree with you about American bread! So disappointing compared to British bread (Esp. the manufactured version that you get in supermarkets) and I wish we could get granary flour here! It might inspire me to bake!

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