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Pōpō (Okinawan Crêpe)


Photo: TARUMI Kengo

With its outside wooden walls painted a pale, faint blue, the shop looked like a dream. It was on a back alley, which itself was narrow and winding like a maze, just off Kokusai Street. Every time I tried to go there, I had a hard time finding it; maybe that’s why it felt like a dream. The shop is simply called Pōpō-ya (Pōpō Shop).
 Inside, a short and discreet old lady devoted herself entirely to cooking pōpōs and chinbins. I visited the shop to admire the way she cooked them so skillfully, and would also buy some to take with me.

Pōpō is a dessert with a thin, crepe-like sheet made of flour rolled with andansū (miso mixed with lard) inside. Its skin is white. For chinbin, brown sugar is added to the flour batter then cooked into a thin crepe-like sheet. It is also rolled, yet there is nothing inside. Since it is mixed with brown sugar, the color is darker and for some reason, its surface gets lots of tiny holes after it’s cooked.
(An additional note: Yoshitetsu Arakaki, an expert on Okinawan confectionery, told me that in the old days, the white one with andansū was called chinbin, and the one with brown sugar was called pōpō. This remark is worthy of more research.)
 In the past, they were standard desserts for kids on Yukkanufi (“the fourth day”, May 4 of the lunar calendar), a day equivalent to Children’s Day in mainland Japan. Pōpō and chinbin seem to be popular among children even today, but I wonder whether people still make them at home. Even if they don’t, you can buy them if you visit the public market in Naha. Because pōpō is less sweet, it can be enjoyed by adults. Some traditional Ryukyu restaurants even offer it as well.

However, Pōpō-ya in Makishi is now long gone. About 30 years ago, I tried to visit the shop as I was nearby. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked some people in the area, and I finally understood that the shop was gone.
 That early summer afternoon, as the vivid red color of deigo (Indian coral tree) blossoms dazzled my eyes, I wandered around the streets hoping to find the place where the pale blue building stood, but I couldn’t find the exact location. The shop had disappeared like smoke.