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A favorite local bakery, Imai Pain (Imai Bread) in Maaji, Naha City, a five-minute-walk from Shikinaen
post : 2017.04.06 15:00
The heavenly aroma of fresh baked bread is wafts out from a small bakery into the street. Inside, is a huge selection of bread and pastry.
“I like to provide many kinds from opening to closing,” said Yosuke Imai, the owner of Boulangerie Pâtisserie Imai Pain. He bakes all day from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Most bakeries run out of items when it gets near to closing time, but Imai Pain keeps a good selection until closing time.
Yosuke is originally from Ibaraki Prefecture. He went to France to learn baking techniques after confectionery school and work as a baker in Tokyo. After two years of study, he won third place in a baguette competition held in Paris. Afterward, he was invited to Malaysia by the prime minister of that country to teach the techniques he learned. The two reasons he decided to open a shop in Okinawa were that he didn’t like cold places and he met his wife, Aiko, who is from Okinawa.
Aiko traveled to France to study baking after attending confectionery school in Osaka and worked in a confectionery store in Kumamoto Prefecture. “I wanted to learn authentic techniques in France,” Aiko said. “It’s almost mandatory to go to France if you’re a pastry chef.” When she returned to Japan after three years of study she got a job at a sweet shop in Tokyo. Then, she went to Hungary because she was selected to be a starting member for the opening of the first Japan branch of GERBEAUD, which is a legendary café that was established in 1858 in Hungary. She worked at GERBEAUD in Hungary for six months studying their special sweets. She returned to Tokyo and began work at the Japan branch as sous-pastry.
Yosuke and Aiko actually met for the first time in France through a mutual friend, but then had no contact with each other over the next ten years. During a temporary visit to Japan from Malaysia, he stopped a GERBEAUD to see her and told her of his desire to open a shop in Okinawa. Several months later, the great Tohoku earthquake struck. The tragic event caused them to think seriously about life. At that time, Aiko decided to support his dream. They were married soon after.
They opened “Imai Pain” full of hopes and dreams in November 2012. They use local ingredients exclusively for their menu, as they want local people to visit the bakery daily. For instance, the milk is from Tamaki Farm in Nanjo City and their eggs are from Chura Tamago in Haebaru Town. They blend several kinds of flour together from Okinawa, Canada, Australia and some domestic ones as well in order to bring out the best flavor.
One of their best selling items, Hantagawa soy milk bread is made with soy milk from Nagadou Tofu Shop. Jamie Oliver, a famous English chef loves their tofu products. Nagadou Tofu is the only tofu shop in Okinawa that makes tofu without machinery.
They try to use local ingredients whenever hey can. For example, their whole wheat bread is made with flour from Ie Island, their pain de champagne is made with flour from Onna Village and local vegetables are used as well.
Bakeries in France usually sell pasties and sweets in addition to breads as French men tend to have a sweet tooth and many of them buy pasties starting from the morning. This usually is not the pattern in Japan, but it is at Imai Pain.
They also make sweets for tourists as the shop is located just five minute away from Shikinaen, a World Heritage site. They wanted to make something relating to Shikinaen and came up with a plan to make souvenirs. They collaborated with a favorite local snack shop Maruyoshi Shiosenbei-ya with them and then started to make rice crackers called Shikinaen Ruumanpei. The crackers received an award for great local products from the mayor of Naha city.
Ruumanpei is made with sliced almonds and coconut on salty gluten crackers with French salt sprinkled on top. The concept of this cracker is a chanpuruu (mixture) of Okinawan and French styles. You will enjoy the crunchy texture and the great balance of sweet and salty. The packages contain three-color renderings of the French flag, picture of Shikinaen, Imai Pain and a king.
Kokutou sablé shortbread (contains brown sugar from Miyako Island), Sanpin-cha cookies (contains tea leaves and jasmine) or King of Ryukyu tea time cookies are also available as souvenirs.
Fresh baked breads come out one after the other. I was excited when I heard the cracking noises from fresh baguettes. The sound is known as the angel’s whisper.
"I want to finish this interview and eat some bread," I said to myself, laughing.
I have to confess that I ate some of the bread in my car after the interview. Salt rolls are simple but they have great wheat flavor. I would like to eat this kind of bread every day (salt rolls are the No.2 seller).
Please make it a point to get to know what the best seller is at the shop.
I was impressed by their efforts to avoid waste. As much as possible, leftovers are given to facilities without charge or they are remade into certain pastries.
Boulangerie Pâtisserie Imai Pain
Address: 12-4 Maaji, Naha City, Okinawa
Closed: Mondays and one Tuesday per month
Okinawa CLIP photo writer: Sachiko