Just 5 Minutes on Foot from Shikinaen Garden, [Imai Pain] is a Popular Bakery Among the Locals in Maji, Naha City
post : 2020.04.14 20:00
Attracted by the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread, I opened the door to the small bakery and found a wide variety of breads displayed in neat order on the shelves.
The owner of Boulangerie Pâtisserie Imai Pain, is Yosuke Imai, who starts baking early in the morning at 5:00 and throughout the day up to 18:00 because “I want my customers to have a wide selection of breads to choose from, from early in the morning to just before closing time.”
Most bakeries tend to have pretty scarce pickings when closing time draws near, but not here. There’s always plenty of breads to choose from, all day.
Originally from Ibaraki Prefecture, Yosuke-san attended a special confectionary school in Tokyo, and after graduating, he honed his skills as a baker in the big city. To further enhance his skills, he relocated to France and after two years of apprenticing, he managed to win third place in a baguette contest held in Paris! After this amazing feat, he was requested by the prime minister of Malaysia “to spread the wonderful skills of baking delicious, Japanese style bread in the country,” and so he went to Malaysia to share his knowledge and skills. How he ended up moving to Okinawa and starting his bakery here was in part due to his preference for warmer climates, and because he met his wife, Aiko-san, who is from Okinawa.
Aiko-san attended a confectionary school in Osaka after graduating from high school, and then moved on to work at a confectionary shop in Kumamoto where she acquired her basic skills. She, too, went on to France to apprentice for three years. “I felt it was my mission to go learn in France if I were to go into the world of confectionaries,” she says. After returning from France, she found work at a confectionary shop in Tokyo. However, she came across an opportunity to relocate to Hungary. She was one of the very few who were chosen to be a member of the opening staff for the first Café Gerbeaud shop in Japan. Café Gerbeaud is a long-established café in the country’s capital of Budapest, and has been cherished by the locals there since their opening in 1858. Aiko-san apprenticed at Café Gerbeaud in Budapest for six months and learned the ropes in creating the popular confectionaries there. After returning to Tokyo, she became the sous chef pâtissier at the Tokyo branch of Gerbeaud.
The two had met through a mutual friend while they were both in France and they remained acquaintances but never kept in touch until they met again ten years later. When Yosuke-san returned to Japan temporarily from Malaysia, he learned that Aiko-san was working at Gerbeaud in Tokyo and decided to visit her. That was when he told her, “I want to open a shop in Okinawa.” Just a few months after their reunion, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on 3.11. The disaster made them both take a hard look about their lives and their future. It was then that Aiko-san decided, “I want to accompany Yosuke-san on his journey to pursue his dreams!” Later, they became a couple, and eventually got married.
Their hopes and dreams finally took shape and Imai Pain opened its doors in November of 2012. The couple wished “for the local people to come by and enjoy the shop as their neighborhood bakery” and so they decided to use Okinawan ingredients that the locals are familiar with and love as much as possible. For example, they use milk from Tamagusuku Dairy Farm in Nanjo City, and Chura Tamago eggs from Haebaru. For flour, they were able to finally find the perfect blend that brought out the best flavor and texture, mixing flour made in Okinawa, Canada, Australia, and domestic flour.
One of their most popular breads is the Hantagawa Tonyu (soy milk) bread, using the same soy milk that the famous British chef, Jamie Oliver praised highly, which is produced by Nagado Tofu Shop. Nagado Tofu Shop, a tofu business with a long history, is the only tofu business in Okinawa that still continues to produce tofu by hand, without using any sort of machinery.
Other items that are made with mainly Okinawan ingredients include bread made with whole grain flour from Ie Island, pain de campagne or French sourdough bread made with wheat produced in Onna Village, and the vegetables in the savory breads are also mostly produced in Okinawa.
Apparently, bakeries in France always offer cakes and other baked sweets along with various types of bread. Unlike in Japan where more women prefer sweets than men, both men and women enjoy sweets in France and people often buy eclairs and cakes even in the morning hours. Can we see the same thing here in Japan? At Imai Pain, the answer was, yes.
They also offer selections that are perfect for gifts or souvenirs, too. Although Imai Pain is located just five minutes on foot from Shikinaen, a royal garden that’s also registered as a World Heritage Site, Imai-san realized that there really were no notable souvenirs from this particular area. And so, they set out to create something with Shikinaen Garden in mind. They collaborated with Maruyoshi Shio Senbei-ya, another long-established shop in Hantagawa offering senbei or rice crackers that are popular among the locals for their simple and delicious tastes. They came up with Shikinaen Rumanpei, which won the Naha City Mayor’s Award of Excellence in February 2016, a prize awarded to outstanding local products.
The Rumanpei was created with the concept of “Champuru of Okinawa and France,” and is baked with caramelized almond slices and coconuts on the specially made Shio Senbei (salted rice crackers) and topped with Guérande Salt from France. The texture is crispy at first, then followed by crunchy, and the balance of sweetness and saltiness is perfect. The packaging has the tricolors of the French flag with sketches of Shikinaen, Imai Pain, and a Ryukyuan king.
“The Ryukyuan King’s Tea Time Cookies” make great Okinawan souvenirs, which come with Kokuto Sablé (shortbread) made with brown sugar from Miyako Island, and Sanpin-Cha Cookie baked with Sanpin or jasmine tea leaves kneaded into the dough.
Freshly baked breads straight out of the oven are neatly arranged on the shelves, one by one. We can hear the “whispers of angels” as the crust on the baguettes makes their snapping noises, and I found myself excited with anticipation.
I was honestly thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to get my hands on these tasty looking breads…”
So, it’s no secret that I was munching away in my car on my way home, thoroughly enjoying every bite. The Shio Pan, or the salt bread was great, with flour as the star ingredient, and it was simple but had a gentle, heartwarming taste. It wasn’t fancy but the flavor was amazing, and it was a kind of bread that you’d want to eat every day. This Shio Pan, by the way, is their second most popular choice by the customers.
For their number one, most popular choice, visit the shop and find out♪
Oh yes, at Boulangerie Pâtisserie Imai Pain, they deliver and donate leftover breads to various facilities for free, and they also rearrange them and make other products like croissant amande. It was wonderful to learn that the breads that are prepared with great care and attention never go to waste, and I had nothing but respect for the Imai couple’s efforts.
Boulangerie Pâtisserie Imai Pain
Address: 12-4 Maji, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 7:30 to 19:00
*Check Website for Details and Changes
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Sachiko