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Special Series! Focusing on the Delicious (Umanu Sugurimun)! Imo Poki from Ougon Chaya
post : 2018.10.30 16:00
Okinawa, a treasure trove of ingredients nurtured in the brilliant sunshine and bountiful land surrounded by the spectacular seas. Today, somewhere on the island is another new “something delicious” that’s introduced to the world. For you foodies out there, this is another episode of “Umasugurimun (A Delicious Pick)” using foods from the island. In this article, I will be introducing and recommending the Imopoki produced by Ougon Chaya.
(A bag contains 3 Imopoki sticks. The box contains 6 bags, just right for souvenirs.)
The Kugani Imo (golden potato) is a specialty product of Ikei Island. The Imopoki uses these organic potatoes, which are mashed into paste and baked into a stick. The name came from the sound, Poki! Poki! This is a Japanese onomatopoeia to describe the delicious sounds of the potato stick when bitten. The texture is fun to eat and before you know it you’ll go through the trio in the bag. The sweetness of the Kugani Imo potatoes will gently spread on your palate, and the butter mixed in with the dough adds a very nice touch. The three sticks of Imopoki in a bag is just the right size and reasonably priced, and they’re also available at Naha Airport. This product won the grand prize in the Shima (island) Food Grand Prix held at the Flowers & Foods Festival in 2017. For this article, I interviewed Mr. Murata, the producer of this Kugani Imo treat that made such a dramatic entrance into the market, to hear about behind-the-scenes episodes.
(Mr. Tomohiro Murata, who runs a Kugani Imo potato farm with his parents.)
In 2012, Mr. Murata’s father retired from a company where he had worked for many years, and moved to Uruma City with his wife, Mr. Murata’s mother, who was originally from Uruma. From there, his parents began growing Kugani potatoes on Ikei Island. Starting out, things were difficult. Farming was something neither of them were deeply familiar with, and to maintain their principles of growing their products completely chemical-free in the often unfriendly natural environment was more difficult than they had imagined. This is when his parents called Mr. Murata to join them in their farming. At that time, he was living in a different prefecture in Japan, but decided to join in the challenge. The Murata family basically started from scratch, learning as they went along. Even with all the hard work, if the potatoes were not aesthetically up to par, they couldn’t sell their harvests. There were days when they disappointedly thought, “Although they may not look perfect, the taste is just as good…” And that’s when they came up with the idea to use the not-so-perfect-looking Kugani Imo potatoes for pastries and pudding. This was the beginning of Kuganiya.
(Baked Kugani Imo potato with a brilliant gold color.)
They came up with various ideas using the Kugani imo, like pudding or flan, as well as manju, a Japanese confectionery. These items complimented the bright color of the Kugani Imo, as well as its texture. Along the way, they were met with new challenges like “expiry dates” and “Kugani Imo potatoes that were too small to make into commercial products.” In overcoming these issues, they spent many days and nights trying to come up with new ideas for Kugani Imo sweets. They wanted to make pastries that people of all ages could enjoy, and to use the paste made from small potatoes without wasting the skin. With this intention, they carefully selected the flour, butter, cane sugar, and natural salt from Hamahiga Island, mixed them into the dough. The shape was decided through tasting and sampling, and after many variations, the most popular was the stick shape which was initially made so as to not waste any of the ingredients.
Together with local businesses, they embarked on creating the product for the market in a span of eight months, starting from scratch. They’re gaining confidence in working together in every aspect with the businesses based in the area they live, coming up with the product names, packaging and designs. The Muratas took five years to establish the flow from farming to creating a commercial product. As for his next new challenge, Mr. Murata shares, “I want to work with the other farmers on Ikei Island to drive out the west Indian sweet potato weevil (species of insects found on unprocessed Kugani Imo potatoes, which is why these potatoes are prohibited from being taken out of the prefecture). This way, more people across Japan can get to know how great the Kugani Imo potatoes are.”
Learning about all the people involved in the creation of this small but delicious snack, and the experiences they had, and the hard work they put in to reach their particular intentions, made me appreciate the Imopoki more. What a great story behind this aromatic stick!
Impoki, born from the little island of Ikei, is also available at the Okinawa CLIP Marche shopping website (only available in Japanese). If you’re wondering what Kugani Imo is like, I hope you’ll give it a try. And for those of you visiting or returning from Okinawa, look for it at the airport. If you get an opportunity, visit Ikei island to enjoy the simple and nostalgic scenery which will certainly charm you.
Ougon Chaya (From January 2018)
Address: 3908 Haebaru, Uruma City, Okinawa
(In front of Urumaru, Uruma City Specialty shop)
Business Days: Every Saturday & Sunday
Business Hours: 12:00-17:00
Okinawa CLIP photo writers, monobox (Testumasa & Kozue Kono)