A visit to the birthplace of pizza toast: Is the original better than all the others out there?

Eating at the iconic cafe that started the Japanese fusion trend over 50 years ago.

As much as people in Japan love eating pizza, they also love eating pizza toast, a Japanese take on the dish that swaps the usual pizza base for a thick slice of white bread.

It’s a comfort food that’s become a household name in Japan, but do you know where it originated? A lot of Japanese people don’t even know the history behind it, so when our reporter Seiji Nakazawa came across the answer to this mystery, he immediately set out to visit its birthplace in Tokyo.

Cafe Benisica, the place where pizza toast originated

Seiji was pleasantly surprised to find that the cafe was still standing in its original location, beneath the overpass outside JR Yurakucho Station, and not only that — it was still serving pizza toast, just as it has for decades.

▼ The sign reads: “Pizza Toast Original Store

A lot of people might mistake this for any other kissaten, as old-style coffee shops are known in Japan, but local insiders know that behind the inconspicuous exterior lies a fascinating history. This history is humbly referred to in amongst the plastic food samples in the window of the cafe, with a small signboard that explains this is “pizza toast’s original shop“.

▼ Apparently, the idea behind the creation was to make it easier to enjoy pizza, which was expensive at the time.

Stepping inside the cafe, Seiji was greeted by low ceilings and a dark wood interior, which are common features in a Japanese kissaten.

He ordered the Original Pizza Toast Set for 1,150 yen (US$12.44), which comes with a mini salad, a boiled egg, half a banana, and a drink of either coffee, tea, soy milk, or kiwi flavoured juice. Seiji opted for the Siphon Benisica Blend hot coffee, which was light and slightly bitter.

Of course, the main star of the set was the pizza toast, which was much larger than expected. Something about its rustic appearance gave off an aura of originality — it was as if the cafe’s years of experience in making pizza toast before anyone else had given them the confidence to continue serving it without any fussy ingredients or fancy flourishes.

The bread and its thick, cheesy topping had been toasted to perfection, creating a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior. It was melty and stringy, with familiar pizza ingredients like peppers, bacon, and mushrooms in the topping beneath the cheese, combining to create a homemade deliciousness that warmed not only the stomach but also the heart.

▼ Definitely the best pizza toast Seiji has ever tasted.

Feeling the warmth of the meal pull at his heartstrings, Seiji spoke to the cafe owner, Mr Murakami, to find out more about the history behind the dish and who actually created it.

Mr Murakami: “My mother created pizza toast, at a time when there were only a few Italian restaurants in Tokyo. You had to make a booking if you wanted to eat at Italian restaurants back then, and when we went my mother and father often ordered pizza. You couldn’t buy pizza dough or flour at the time, so I wondered if it would be possible to make pizza using ingredients commonly found in Japanese households. The recipe was created in our kitchen.”

Seiji: When was that?

Mr Murakami: “We started out as a restaurant in 1957, but it would’ve been around 1964 when we created it because that was the time when we switched the business to become Cafe Benisica. Incidentally, we also created tuna toast in the same sort of way.”

Seiji couldn’t believe what he was hearing — tuna toast is just as widespread throughout Japan, and Seiji had no idea it was first created here.

Seiji: Are you serious? Isn’t that even more amazing? Tuna toast is so common these days that I never thought it had its origins here.

Mr Murakami: “Both our creations have spread all over the country.”

Well, this certainly was an unexpected discovery, and one that Seiji wasn’t going to ignore, so he immediately put in an order for tuna toast.

▼ The tuna toast lunch set is on the menu for 950 yen.

While people overseas might be wondering why Seiji was so excited to eat toast with simple toppings, you have to remember that these types of dishes are as exotic here as fugu pufferfish or square watermelons are overseas. They also have a throwback, retro quality to them too, having been introduced to the country at a time when even bread was still something of a novelty in Japan.

▼ Plus, they’re a great example of “yoshoku” (“Western food”), the term given to foreign foods that have been given a Japanese twist to suit local tastes.

The tuna toast was utterly delicious, with a perfect balance between tuna, mayonnaise and toast. This is a balance that can be hard to master, with many overdoing it on the mayonnaise, but here it was sublime, with each component shining through on the palate.

▼ Eating it in the place where it made its debut in Japan 59 years ago made the experience even more memorable.

If you’ve ever wanted to try toast with a Japanese-style twist, we can’t think of a better place to go than Cafe Benisica, the birthplace of pizza toast and tuna toast.

It’s a great place to stop for a break and step back in time to 1964, which is not only the year when these two dishes were born, but the same year that the first bullet train started running and Tokyo first hosted the summer Olympics.

Restaurant information
Cafe Benisica / 珈琲館 紅鹿舎
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 1-6-8 Matsui Building 1F
東京都千代田区有楽町1-6-8 松井ビル1F
Open: 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. (Mon-Fri); 10:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. (Sat, Sun, Holidays)

Images © SoraNews24
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