Tokyo finally got a Jewish deli. Wise Sons, founded in San Francisco, opened their first international branch on February 26, 2018. Wise Sons combines “classic Jewish recipes with the best Californian ingredients.” And now they’re taking their California Jewish cuisine to Tokyo.
Japan already has bagels, but they are decidedly different from what Americans are used to. American style-bagels are made by boiling and then baking, whereas Japanese style-bagels are cooked in a style called yukone or tangzhong. As Stella Parks explains on Serious Eats, “The basics of yukone are simple: combine flour and water and cook them on the stovetop into a thick paste of gelatinized starch before incorporating that paste into a dough.”
One of the co-founders of Wise Sons, Evan Bloom explained “The Japanese bagel is far more like a soft, squishy roll than it is an authentic bagel as we know it.” Additionally, it’s not uncommon to find Japanese bagels in very un-bagel-like flavors in Japan (yes, wasabi bagels are a thing). As Bloom told Japan Times, the only similarities between Japanese bagels and American bagels are the shape.
So why did Wise Sons bring Jewish deli to Tokyo? Bloom told Eater SF that Japan is “a relatively large market that is completely untouched by the type of food we are making.” (Read: no Jewish food.) They kept the American-style chewy bagel in six different flavors (plain, poppy, sesame, everything, and pumpernickel).
But to adapt to the Japanese customer, Wise Sons invented something new: a bagel bento box. In this new box, you get a bagel, a spread, and several toppings. Bloom explained that the logic behind the “bagel bento box” was that it would be something familiar to the Japanese customer, and “it’s nice way to introduce people to that kind of food.”
They’re also experimenting with incorporating local cuisine. As Japan Times reported, Wise Sons Tokyo plans to serve the classics (challah French toast, matzah ball soup), but then experiment with “more regional items,” which includes “matcha babka, a build-it-yourself bagel bento box with shmears and veggies, plus a forthcoming yuzu citrus cream cheese and cured salmon roe sesame bagel.” Here’s the matcha babka:
Differing from its American locations, Wise Sons Tokyo is offering open faced bagels, and the option to only order half a bagel. This is because, as Quartzy reported, “They also discovered that an entire bagel was too large a portion for some less-peckish Japanese customers.”
And this worked. As Yahoo Japan reported, “the most popular menu available after 11 o’clock is the open face bagel. Because it is open face, it looks gorgeous and photogenic!” This could be another reason for the open-faced bagel: the #aesthetic.
Not only are they bringing Jewish food (with a twist), but they’re bringing in Jewish culture. Notably, however, they are not branding themselves as a “Jewish delicatessen,” as they do in San Francisco. Instead, Wise Sons Tokyo’s tagline is “San Francisco delicatessen.” Wise Sons brought in a Jewish artist, Amos Goldblaum, to paint a mural on the wall. The mural shows Mount Fuji over San Francisco, a fun mesh of worlds.
We have to admit, the open-faced Wise Sons Tokyo bagel looks pretty damn good: maybe New York is due for a Japanese-bagel makeover soon. In the meantime, welcome to Tokyo, Jewish bagels.