My wife came home Monday after staying in Japan a little longer due to her best-friend’s wedding, but among the many things she brought back was this!
This is the famous Ishigakijima hot Chinese oil that was a huge craze in 2010 in Japan, and was so popular for a time, that orders from Pengin’s small shop on Ishigakijima Island were backlogged for a year. Rather than “going corporate”, they simply fulfilled a number of orders per day until they could work through the backlog. The shop itself is also a restaurant open for people who’d like to try the famous oil along with many excellent delicacies. Now they supposedly even have potato chips flavored with the famous oil.
So what’s the big deal?
“Ishigakijima Pengin” (石垣ペンギン) is a Chinese-immigrant to Ishigakijima Island which is a remote part of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, far to the west in the Yaeyama area. The name ‘pengin’ derives from the Japanese pronunciation of his Chinese name (辺銀), but also sounds like the Japanese word for “penguin”. Due to his name, and his unusually tasty rayu oil, it became a Japanese hit and started selling like crazy after a movie was made about it.
I guess the reason why I am so happy to get this oil is that it kind of embodies all the wonderful aspects of Ryukyu/Okinawan culture. As an island culture, people are pretty laid-back and easy going, but the Ryukyu culture is also very distinct due to its past legacies and influence from both China and Japan. It’s the only thing I have from the Ryukyus even though I’ve often wanted to visit there. I guess I’ll save the bottle afterwards. 🙂
So how does it taste? If you’ve had regular rayu oil before, you know how that tastes right? It’s a sesame oil with chili in there, and a deep red color. I love the stuff in general and have tried several imported varieties here in Seattle. One variety had a lot of fried onions and garlic in it, and went very well with natto.1 Anyhow, Pengin’s rayu oil tastes noticeably different. It tastes saltier than regular rayu, but not too spicy either. My wife chopped up some nappa cabbage into a salad, and we mixed the oil in. It was quite tasty, as the salty/hot oil blended well with watery, bland flavor from the cabbage. I can’t wait to try it on pot-stickers next. ;p
So, if you get the chance, don’t miss out on Pengin’s hot oil, and enjoy a small taste of Chinese/Ryukyu culture.
1 I’m surprised that anyone would talk with me at work later in the day. 😉