November 13, 12 | Minako Takada
In Yubari, there’s only one “Panju” shop. Panju, a confectionary fusion of bread, ('pan' in Japanese) and manju, a steamed rice cake with red bean filling, has been a favorite of both locals and tourists since the days when Yubari was famous for coal mining. At the height of this sweet’s popularity, patrons would even reserve 50 Panju at a time! The store famous for producing this treat is 'Ogura Panjuya'.
The shop was taken over from the original Ogura owners 30 years ago and has since been run by its current owner, Naoko Numa. Even when I visited the shop, she stood in front of her baking equipment and politely talked with me.
After putting in the red bean paste (called an), an additional layer of batter is poured.
After being cut apart, each “Panju” is flipped to have the bottom cooked. The shop soon overflows with their sweet smell.
“When I first took over the shop, I learned that the dough used in each mold was measured by sight. It was very hard to get used to! I wasn’t used to using 'an' like this; it drove me to tears! Even now, I’m lucky if I have one batch in 10 days that I think I have baked perfectly. I am always making the same thing, but depending on the temperature and the humidity of each day, the resulting Panju can be different.”
Ms. Numa explained this as she laid out some beautifully browned Panju for me.
The shell of some freshly baked Panju. As they cool, they seem to soften a bit.
Just one bite filled my mouth with the delicious bean paste, so I couldn’t keep myself from reaching for a second one.
The rich sweetness was popular with miners in the old days, but even today the perfect blend of sweet and salty flavors provides a beautiful combination that won’t overwhelm you with sweetness.
The Panju mold pans that Ms. Numa uses weigh 2kg each! At the beginning, it was too heavy for her to hold. The cups are deeper than those of other molded baking trays, so the Panju are rather large. However, there is one problem that Ms. Numa has…
“Today, there just aren’t such hefty trays. Even if I were to search very hard or try to have one custom made, these trays are just irreplaceable.” With a kind of helpless laugh, Ms. Numa continued, “If these trays were to disappear, there would be no more Panju.”
I certainly hope this perfectly-baked confection doesn’t disappear anytime soon!
● Ogura Panjuya
(Hokkaido Likers Photo Writer - Megane)