A hidden gem that’s popular with locals. 

A recent trip to Ashikaga City in Tochigi Prefecture was a revelation for our reporter Takamichi Furusawa, who never knew how good the local food scene was.

After trying an unusual shumai dumpling in the precincts of a local temple, he got wind of another must-try sweet, and this one was being sold from a food cart on the grounds of a local shrine.

▼ The legendary sweet is known as “Panju” (“パンヂュウ”), and the best ones are said to be sold from a food cart called Okada Panju.

This food cart is popular with those in the know, and the small, palm-sized treats they sell are said to be addictive. While panju is a famous snack usually associated with Hokkaido and Mie prefectures, where they’re commonly sold as a regional specialty, the sweet has now taken root as a local sweet in Ashikaga, where it’s become a household name.

▼ About a 10-minute walk from JR Ashikaga Station, Okada Panju has the wonderful atmosphere of a secret hideout. 

A sign outside the cart reads “パンヂュウ” instead of “ぱんじゅう”, which is “Panju” in katakana rather than hiragana, the latter of which is how the sweet is usually written in Hokkaido and Mie. This suggests the sweet here is different to the others, and the cart seemed to be popular with people of all ages, who had already formed a line outside before Takamichi arrived.

The wait wasn’t long, and it was actually enjoyable, as he was able to watch the cooking process through the sliding glass panels. Each sweet was carefully handmade by a craftsman, whose skill at the grill was one that could only be acquired with years of experience.

As the cook flipped the panju over and over, like takoyaki balls, a sweet scent wafted through the glass panels, whetting his appetite while he waited.

With only one thing on the menu — koshian panju — this was a specialty cart, and despite the handmade attention to detail, each one costs a mere 40 yen (US$0.27).

▼ They were so cheap that Takamichi bought five of them.

Plucking a freshly made panju from the bag, Takamichi was surprised by the size — it was heavy and large, and palm-sized rather than bite-sized.

▼ A fantastic deal for 40 yen.

The dough was springy, and the overall appearance was really cute, kind of like a spongy, edible U.F.O.

Tearing it open revealed its beautiful koshian (whole red bean paste) centre, and when he took a bite, he found the combination of red bean and dough created a wonderful combination of sweetness that spread through the moth with a gentle texture and rich wheat flavor . The thick skin had a nice crispy and chewy texture, and after polishing off one, he was keen to try another.

The red bean paste was salty, giving it a surprisingly punchy taste. The sweetness was subtle and delicious, and the moistness of the bean paste and the moreishness of the dough was exquisite.

Once you start eating these, you won’t be able to stop. Takamichi ate all five in no time, and though he felt that each piece was satisfying, five pieces didn’t feel like enough in the end, so he found himself lining up for five more.

After eating ten of the treats, he finally felt satisfied, but now he had developed a panju addiction that was hard to recover from. He’ll definitely be stopping by Okada Panju on a regular basis whenever he’s in Ashikaga City, and he highly recommends trying it too, perhaps while stopping by to visit the city’s famous flower park.

Store Information

Okada Panju / 岡田パンヂュウ
Address: Tochigi-ken, Ashikaga-shi, Asahicho 577-1, Mitake Shrine Precincts
栃木県足利市旭町577-1 御嶽神社境内
Open: 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Irregular holidays (may be closed in the case of rain or stormy weather)

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