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A Local Favorite, Zenzai (shaved ice with sweet red beans) at “Iiyanbei”
post : 2018.09.21 06:00
With the local Okinawans, Zenzai is a favorite treat with sweet red beans topped with shaved ice, and serving up this icy treat is Iiyanbei, located along Route 331 in Tedokon of Sashiki, Nanjo City, just past the area lined with palm trees. A few years ago, the lady of the house decided to renovate the open garage space at her residence and started her own little shop. The shop has become a local favorite and people from far distances stop by on their drive to the southern region of the island. It’s gained much popularity simply through word-of-mouth, and here’s why.
The little shop holds only one big round table inside, and is always lively with customers.
The picture above is the zenzai, the most popular item on the menu and among the locals. Okinawan zenzai is different than that of mainland Japan. In the mainland, the zenzai is prepared with red adzuki beans, whereas the Okinawan zenzai uses red kidney beans. And of course, throughout the year in the subtropical climate of Okinawa, the zenzai isn’t served hot but rather with plenty of ice topped on the beans.
There are variety of choices to choose from; the Kinako Zenzai has roasted soy bean powder sprinkled on top; Milk Zenzai is topped with sweet, condensed milk; Kuromitsu Zenzai is topped with brown sugar syrup; Ichigo Milk Kintoki has the cooked red kidney beans on top of the shaved ice with strawberry syrup and condensed milk; Coffee Zenzai of course is with a sweet coffee syrup; and Ice Cream Zenzai, well, is pretty self-explanatory. All of the zenzai served at Iiyanbei is delicious and you may have a hard time choosing. The ice is finely shaved and their beans are cooked to perfection with just the right amount of moisture, and the shiny beans have a great texture.
The owner, Ms. Miyuki Yamashiro tried all the different red kidney beans she could get her hands on before opening the shop, and finally created her own recipe. After soaking the beans with plenty of water, she cooks them for over four hours every day.
Ms. Yamashiro says, “I don’t like it when you take a bite of the zenzai beans and they’re too dry, or when the bean and its skin separates in your mouth, do you?” That’s why, she says, she cooks them with great tender loving care. She adjusts the soaking and cooking times for the beans in different seasons, temperature, and humidity. Her secret, she shares, is finding the “Ii ambai” (Japanese for “just right”) for her beans.
While at the shop, the local regulars came for takeout zenzai. For an additional 30 yen for the container, anyone can get their zenzai to go, too. You can swing by while on a nice scenic drive south, pick up some zenzai, and hit a local beach to enjoy your icy cold treat! There’s a beach just a few minutes away by car, so that’s convenient!
The sit-in area isn’t just the round table inside, but there’s a little garden at the back, too. Ms. Yamashiro apparently has a green thumb and her little garden is lovely and comfortable. Also available on the menu are shaved ice without the beans, topped with tropical flavors like mango and Okinawa's shikwasa citrus that the kids love.
For “Uchinanchu” or the local Okinawans, it’s not an exaggeration to say that zenzai is one of the soul foods next to Okinawa Soba noodles, Taco Rice, and Okinawan Tempura.
Stop by on your way south and quench your thirst and feel “Iiyanbei” (Okinawan for “good feelings”) here.
Zenzai Shop Iiyanbei
Address: 378 Tedokon, Sashiki, Nanjo City
Business Hours: 11:00-17:30
Okinawa CLIP photo writer Naoko Tsuruta