Hidden Gem: Ansen Patisserie

Ansen's unassuming signage.
I discovered Ansen Patisserie inadvertently while watching one of my favorite NHK World programs, Begin Japanology. The show is hosted by music critic and DJ Peter Barakan (ピーター バラカン). (I use his Japanese language radio show Barakan Beat to practice listening). Each episode of Begin Japanology focuses on a specific aspect of Japanese culture. I watched the episode about bread (which can be found on the left) just days before taking off for Tokyo
Ansen bakery is close to Nishi-Ogikubo Station.
Follow the main road and look out for it
on your right.
Since I have IBS, additives and other chemicals irritate my digestive system and can cause painful reactions which last for days. Additives and processed ingredients like margarine oftentimes found in bread and pastries irritate my stomach but are common in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese-style bread (I have learned the hard way). So, I had concluded I wouldn't be eating bread in Tokyo, but Begin Japanology changed my mind with the snippet on Ansen Patisserie where all the bread and pastries are made by hand without additives.

The bakery is located in a quiet Nishiogikubo (西荻窪) district neighborhood. The area is easily accessible through the JR Chuo Line (rapid service) or Chuo-Sobu Line, which I took since I went on a weekend. By foot, bakery is a couple minutes west of Nishi-Ogikubo Station.

A vibrant orange gate next to a
fruit stand 
on the way to Ansen Patisserie.
Ansen Patisserie was founded by Hirose Mitsuo (広瀬光男) after he discovered the illnesses he developed as a young man were caused by food additives. Subsequently, Hirose opened Ansen and has used only the freshest, organic ingredients (e.g., eggs from cage-free hens, spring water, etc.) ever since. In addition, he and his workers make all the bread by hand. As Ansen does not have a large workforce, once the bread is sold out you have to return the next day in order to get it. Therefore, I suggest visiting Ansen as early as possible in the morning.

I should have arrived earlier, some choices were
completely snatched up!
I arrived at the bakery about an hour and a half after it opened. Although I thought I'd made great timing, several kinds of bread were either sold out or almost gone! Luckily, there was still a good variety to choose from. I was also happy to see reasonable prices. The labor which goes into making the bread by hand is no joke, but patrons need only to part with a couple dollars for most of the treats.

Compared to most bakeries, Ansen is small; therefore, the number of choices is less than usual. However, there are several types of bread - savory, sweet, and neutral - to choose from. Also, if you're like me, having more than two choices makes in difficult to choose anyway!

Thankfully, for indecisive folks like myself, the popular breads are labeled and marked by level of demand. The choice was clear for me: buy first, second, and third place! I was rather proud of myself for devising this simple, theoretically foolproof plan.

Only three plain croissants left!
Number one was, unsurprisingly, the croissant. When it comes to French bread, croissants appear to be the most internationally known. As seen in the photo, there weren't many croissants left by the time I arrived, but I was able to snag one. Unfortunately, out of the three items I bought, the croissant was my least favorite. It was rather dry and wasn't anywhere near the quality of the ones I had in France (I know, that's a nearly unfair comparison). I'm not sure if the croissant lost its moisture after sitting for a while or if it was too dry when baked. When I return to Tokyo in the future, I'd like to go to Ansen at opening time to try one fresh out of the oven. 

The delicious apple bread (left) and
orange custard pastry (right).
The second in popularity was the apple pastry. It was hands-down the best item I bought! I loved it so much I was shocked it was number 2! I also spent the rest of the day cursing myself for not buying two or 10, but then again I didn't know how good it would be. It can't be compared to mini apple pies you find in fast food restaurants. The outer layer is crunchy and flakey, and once it hits you mouth, it melts into buttery goodness. The apple filling isn't too sweet, and the gooeyness is an amazing compliment to the pastry it resides in. I was honestly dreaming of this apple pastry for quite a while...

Part of the label for the apple bread,
but below are the coffee sandwich (left)
and sweet chocolate bread (right).
In third place was the orange custard pastry. I felt this one deserved second place as it was better than the croissant but not nearly as memorable as the apple pastry. This treat had a generous amount of rich custard and the orange flavor was quite pronounced, a confirmation that only the freshest ingredients were used in its creation. I saved most of it for breakfast the next morning and it was equally tasty the next day without refrigeration.

My bag of goodies!
There is no seating inside the small bakery, so you will have to take your spoils home or enjoy them elsewhere. I enjoyed my treats with green tea as a late morning snack in the park within the nearby Tama Cemetery.

Whether or not you have food allergies, I highly recommend you visit Ansen Patisserie and indulge! It's not in a touristy area, and it's a bit far from several of the main attractions in Tokyo, but if you find yourself visiting Nakano or even Shinjuku find a way to fit it into your schedule!

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