From afar it might appear as a hot-dog bun, but get closer and you'll see the coppe pan is a uniquely Japanese take on the sandwich.
The coppe pan (or koppe pan, as it's often written) starts with a fluffy white bread roll. "It's a different type of bread than the one you find in Melbourne," explains Coppe Pan Japanese Bakery's head chef Yutaka Kurimoto.
"Japanese bread has a high water rate, which makes it really soft and fluffy. It's also a bit sweeter than usual bread. It's a great combination with both savoury and sweet food."
Coppe pan was popularised after World War II as a food ration and was later introduced in school lunches after the war. It's still part of some school lunches to this day and available in most convenience stores. "Japanese people grew up with coppe pan," says Kurimoto.
In recent years, trendy shops have banked on the nostalgic appeal of coppe pan by selling gourmet versions of it with all sorts of fillings.
There's now a shop in the basement of Melbourne Central, Coppe Pan Japanese Bakery. Owners Charles Pai and Keiichi Watariguchi have recruited Kyoto-born Yutaka Kurimoto, who came from Japan to head the kitchen.
Both Pai and Kurimoto recommend the yakisoba 'pan' (meaning 'bread' in Japanese). Soba noodles are fried with yakisoba sauce, cabbage, onions and capsicum before they’re placed in the bread roll and topped with pickled ginger.
It's in Japanese manga so it's how foreigners recognise it."
"Most customers are surprised when they see the coppe pan, but sometimes they recognise the yakisoba pan. It's a very typical, famous one. It's in Japanese manga so it's how foreigners recognise it," says Pai.
You can also find prawn katsu and egg salad, Spam and scrambled egg, teriyaki tofu and sausage katsu at Melbourne Central.
"The pan itself is a bit sweet so it brings a new taste with savoury food. It's softer compared to European bread so it's a different sensation too," says Pai.
If you'd rather keep things on the sweet side, your coppe pan can also come filled with a sweet spread like matcha cream or strawberry jam.
All of the pans
While the coppe pan is the star (it's in the name, after all), the bakery is also about all things pan. All the bread is made on site, and you can even buy a whole cubic loaf to take home.
Currypan is also on the menu as is agepan. The former is a deep-fried bread coated in panko and filled with a mixture of ground wagyu and Japanese curry sauce.
Agepan is a lightly fried version of the same bread used for coppe pan, which is then coated in sugar and kinako (roasted soybean flour). "The texture of agepan is like a doughnut because it's fried. It's quite spongy and moist in the middle, but the outside is crispy. With the powdery sweet coating, it’s very tasty," says Pai.
The sandos (crustless, of course) have been especially popular since the opening of Coppe Pan Japanese Bakery. Take your pick between chicken katsu, tamago, egg salad or the eye-catching fruits and whipped cream.
While only a few items like the matcha tiramisu are gluten-free at the moment, Kurimoto is hard at work on a gluten-free version of his bread.
Melbourne Central, Lower Ground
211 La Trobe Street, Melbourne
Sun – Sat 10 am – 7 pm | Thu – Fri 10 am – 9 pm
This slightly sweet Japanese fruit sandwich is a perfect middle-ground between healthy and indulgent. For best results use bread that has been slightly sweetened and fruit at its peak ripeness.
Picture the glory of the perfect schnitzel sanga, but with chicken coated in panko crumbs for extra crunch, a slathering of Japanese mayo for extra creaminess, and a smear of Tonkatsu sauce for extra richness.