FUKUOKA -- Maritozzo cream-filled sweet buns have seen their fortunes rise amid the coronavirus pandemic in Japan, in a new craze whose origins lie in a bakery here in the southwest Japan city of Fukuoka. While looking into their popularity, the Mainichi Shimbun made a surprising discovery: the spread of coronavirus infections was what spurred the creation of this mouthwatering pastry of Italian origin.
Every day, queues can be seen outside Amam Dacotan, a bakery on a main street near central Fukuoka whose name apparently comes partly from the Ainu phrase for "village of wheat." It opened in November 2018, and maritozzo -- round brioche buns bursting with whipped cream -- has become one of its hottest items.
Maritozzo is a traditional dessert from Rome; its name is said to derive from "marito" -- the Italian for husband -- because husbands would run to buy the pastries for their wives.
Amam Dacotan started selling the sweet buns in 2020 during the pandemic. The bakery's focus on promoting its pastries via Instagram had ensured it was already very popular, especially among young people, with customers lining up in front of the shop before opening. But by the end of March 2020, when coronavirus cases were gradually rising, massive amounts of their pastries were left unsold.
It was then that Amam Dacotan's owner Ryota Hirako, 37, began to develop "snack break"-conducive products that customers would come and buy throughout the day, thereby avoiding a concentration of them coming in the morning to buy bread for lunch. He said he was looking for ideas online when he stumbled upon an article about maritozzo written by a Japanese person living in Italy.
Hirako, too, said he is very fond of sweet pastries, including those with whipped cream. He began selling the "pastry of his dreams" around April 2020, and a picture of their impactful appearance that he uploaded to Instagram instantly went viral and sparked a huge rise in popularity. In April 2021, Hirako opened a second bakery in front of JR Hakata Station, and named it Dacomecca out of a hope that the shop would become a "mecca" for bread lovers.
The craze for maritozzo sweet buns originating in Fukuoka then spread nationwide. Osaka-based Kobeya Baking Co., which operates bakeries, restaurants and other establishments across Japan, began trial sales of them at its Kobeya Breads Fukuoka Parco store at the end of April. The store sells two flavors -- plain and mascarpone -- and sells out a total of 80 buns shortly after noon each day. A representative said, "Sales are good. We want to consider increasing production and expanding sales channels."
Since this spring, the buns have also been available at a cafe and shop at Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture. Signs reading "We make maritozzos here" have also been spotted at other Fukuoka Prefecture bakeries, and the sweet buns appear to be becoming a local fixture.
Amam Dacotan itself has sold around 30 maritozzo variations, including ones with strawberries, figs, and other fruit, as well as vegan buns made without eggs. While customers numbers are still fluctuating greatly amid the pandemic -- Fukuoka Prefecture's third state of emergency began May 12 -- Hirako has also been trying to reduce food waste when creating products. Among his unique endeavors, he developed "sustainable bread," which adds a small touch to the base using bread lasting several days.
Maritozzo buns were born of attempts to reduce food loss in the pandemic. Hirako said, "A bakery that doesn't limit itself to the boundaries of a bakery; I'd like to create a shop that can make people and the community happy."
(Japanese original by Keiko Yamaguchi, Kyushu News Department)