I came to know of these last three kunpen through gifts and recommendations from people who heard about my project. All three are from specialty stores in the Shuri area of Naha, near the very famous Shuri Castle that was the home of the ancient Ryukyuu kingdom.
I decided to buy all of them in one trip to Shuri after bringing my family to the airport for a trip to the grandparents. I wanted to get these three makes of kunpen together and really think deeply about the kunpen - a process I will call "kunpenplation" (registered copyright).
座波菓子店 Zaha Kashiten
The first time I had Zaha kunpen was on the way home from a trip to Naha with my family. A coworker recommended Zaha Kashiten for kunpen, so I had already registered the address in Google Maps. I was in Naha, and it was late in the evening. I was not sure if the shop would be open, so I called. A woman answered. When I explained that I had driven from Onna and wanted kunpen, she told me that she would open the store for me. As I pulled into the parking space, the shutter slowly rose and a few lights went on. She went about her business while I filled a basket with 40 kunpen to share with people at work. I asked her if she was the owner, and she said she was the mother of the current president, who is the "san-dai-me" or third generation to run the store.
The second time I visited the store, I met her son, who was just as natural and friendly as his mother.
新垣カミ菓子店 Arakaki Kami Kashiten
Having read about Arakaki Kami on the internet, I decided to visit the "honpo" or original store in Shuri. It is not a drive for the faint of heart or those who lack a car navigation system. You go through narrow, winding roads and then turn off into a two-way street that at first glance might be mistaken for a footpath, barely affording space for even one car to pass. You coast downhill past homes and old buildings until you see the shop, which is pretty easy to miss.
|Half of the Sixth Generation of Arakaki-Kami and the mother of the Seventh Generation or Nanadaime|
The sweetness of the kunpen comes from the bun. At first impression, there seems too little filling for size of the bun, but when you taste it, you realize that any more of this filling would be overwhelming. It really is something to experience. The filling is more smoky than sweet, with a really intense sesame flavor that fills the mouth and shoots from the nose, exploding in the short moment when you hit it. The rest of the time, you are contentedly chewing through the mild bun in high-carb bliss.
Any kunpen is a bit dry without a beverage, but with a cup of straight tea - assam in my case - this kunpen was flowery, fragrant, and wonderful.
Sweets like this heighten the senses with subtle flavors and mild sweetness, letting the ingredients shine through, unlike the bludgeoning effect of some more modern creations, most of which are advertised by smug-yet-inclusive voice-overs saying, "Treat your family to the new Cro-Magnon butter-scotch and fudge brownie three-scoop ice cream sundae at Fatty Fridays. Come on a weekday and get a coupon for free dialysis with every order."
知念製菓 Chinen Seika
This was the last stop on my kunpen parade through Shuri. The store is small but new, right on the main tourist street, and behind the counter was none other than the "ni-dai-me" or second-generation president, the father of the "san-dai-me" or third generation who currently heads the company.
And so I conclude my Quest for Kunpen. I very much enjoyed going in deep on this easily-overlooked part of Okinawan cuisine. I hope you try it for yourself.
This is the third of four installments:
- Quest for Kunpen, Part 1: Why
- Quest for Kunpen, Part 2: Department Store Kunpen in which I review 14 kunpen found in department stores
- Quest for Kunpen, Part 3: Shuri Kunpen in which I review three very special kunpen from Shuri
- Quest for Kunpen, Part 4: Naha by Chance in which I add some Naha old town favorites