Harold Fields didn’t use the Japanese term okazu pan back when he started making “curry buns” wholesale for a handful of Seattle coffee shops. He figured few customers would be familiar with the phrase, much less what it signifies: Japan’s tradition of savory snacks sold at convenience stores.
But over the years, he started to call his creations by their proper name. The okazu pan had built a following; “I didn’t have to spend as much time explaining to people what it is.” Just one bite precludes further explanation, anyway—fillings like that original beef curry, or creative licenses like black-eyed peas or salmon and smoky cream, occupy the center of a baseball-size bun. A dusting of panko, a satisfying deep-fry, and you’ve got a snack worth hunting down at various espresso hangouts around the city.
Which was the only way you could get your hands on one until last spring. At the onset of the pandemic, Fields lost seven coffee shop accounts in one day, and hustled to set up direct orders from individuals on Umami Kushi’s website. He’d intended to do this eventually, heard plenty of requests over the years, but could never figure out a workable setup. Shutdown life conditioned us to ordering our indulgences a few days in advance (those buns need time to proof overnight with filling inside). Fields’s staff spent most of 2020 dispensing orders from the front door of their production space in Seward Park—and, on Saturdays, some masterful beignets that don’t hit the fryer until their recipients arrive. A new adjacent cafe counter gives those okazu pan a mural-bedecked room of their own. Umami Kushi still sends its creations out to coffee shops around the city, even to Uwajimaya. But now customers know to call them okazu pan—and that they’re worth a special trip.