One of the great joys of Japan’s convenience store culture — among the onigiri, the canned coffee, and the dozens of varieties of instant noodles — is the fact that you can walk into any random 7-Eleven and find a refrigerated case full of tasty, convenient grab-and-go sandwiches that’ll put many American delis to shame.
That’s the inspiration behind Chikara Ono’s (B-Dama, Delage) newest East Bay enterprise, Sundo, which will specialize in Japanese convenience store–style sandwiches — and, especially, in fruit sandwiches: two thick slices of airy-light Japanese milk bread filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit, cut just so to reveal the pleasingly symmetrical cross section of the strawberries and other fruits.
The sandwiches will make their debut at a pop-up this Sunday, December 6, from noon until whenever they sell out, at Masabaga in downtown Oakland. The pop-up will also feature the black curry from Ono’s forthcoming Japanese curry restaurant, Dela Curo.
The idea, Ono says, is for his two new concepts — Japanese black curry and Japanese sandwiches — to exist side by side, the same way they would at a depachika, or basement-level food hall that you can find in any big department store in Japan. Starting sometime in mid- to late-January, that will translate into a new standalone restaurant: Dela Curo and Sundo will take over B-Dama, Ono’s Old Oakland restaurant, which has been closed since the start of the pandemic. Both the curry and the sandwiches will also be available in January at the Berkeley Bowl West Cafe, where B-Dama has been operating for the past several months.
Eventually, Sundo will carry a full slate of savory milk bread sandwiches, including an egg salad sandwich and a chicken katsu sandwich. But Ono says he wanted to start with the fruit sandwiches in part because they’re not very well known in the U.S., despite being a Japanese convenience store staple. (Bread ‘n Chu, in SF’s Richmond District, is one of the only other local spots that routinely offers a version.)
The fruit sandwiches are also mild-flavored enough to allow customers to really taste the bread, Ono says. And at Sundo, the main point of distinction will be the bread itself: Pasco brand choujuku pan, which, according to Ono, has been Japan’s best-selling white bread for a number of years. Shipped frozen, the choujuku pan is made with a patented aging process that gives it a texture that’s even silkier and fluffier than other Japanese milk breads (which are already known for their extreme fluffiness.) Despite its popularity overseas, the Pasco bread is hard to come by here in the U.S., apart from the couple of Japanese supermarkets in New York that carry it. For now, Ono believes he’ll be the only one on the West Coast selling it — both as part of the sandwiches and by the package, including an extra-thick-cut version that’s especially good for making toast.
Halfway between a dessert and a more conventional sandwich, the fruit sandwiches may be a bit difficult for some American customers to pin down at first. “They think cake, actually,” Ono says of the typical reaction he’s gotten from beta tasters so far — though the sandwiches are quite a bit less sweet than most cakes. For now, Ono is mostly using fresh strawberries for the sandwiches, but he also plans to make versions with mangos, kiwis, and more seasonal fruits. But the idea, again, is for customers to relish the texture and flavor of the bread itself.
For Sunday’s pop-up at Masabaga, the fruit sandwiches will priced at $5 for two triangular wedges — half of a full sandwich, essentially. On the following Sunday, December 13, Sundo and Dela Curo will pop up again, this time at the Berkeley Bowl West Cafe.