Born worlds apart, Gyoho and Airi were brought together over their love of food, traveling and their belief that fresh island flavors can heal. Their story is symbolic of the foods they create and the blend of local ingredients they use.
Gyoho was born in Xi'an, China in 1963 and first came to Japan to study Japanese language and photography. He returned to Japan in 1993 and married Airi, who was born in Tokyo and grew up in America.
The couple visited Ishigaki Island in Okinawa in 1999 and immediately fell in love with the abundant nature, culture, and the kind people met. After just three months of experiencing the local island flavors, they decided to make Ishigaki their home.
They began growing their own local vegetables and spices in the back of their house, in a field they called Pengin Garden (after a penguin that Airi loved). It's a chemical-free environment where they grow pipatsu (an island pepper), Japanese peppers, guava, bananas, lemon, shikuwasa (a.k.a. flat lemon, Taiwan tangerine), pumpkin and more.
One day, Airi tried making her own chili oil for Gyoho, an essential condiment from Gyoho's hometown in China that each family creates according to their own secret recipes. Using local Ishigaki Island ingredients, including the pipatsu from their own backyard and turmeric harvested by local islanders, some who are over 90 and 100 years, Gyoho created a sweet and spicy chili oil that became so popular, they started receiving orders for it from all over the country.
Their love for cooking and desire to spread the healing power of local ingredients, inspired them to open their own restaurant, Pengin Shokudo. It's a place where they serve the same foods they eat as a family and share with their children. They combine ingredients from their own backyard with local flavors to create dishes that draw from the island's beauty and their own unique cultural backgrounds. They also add a dash of "nuchigusui" which means "life’s medicine" - a concept that describes how food, relationships and meaningful connections can create a happy, long lived life.
Their Ishigaki Gourmet Chili Oil continues to be one of their most popular items and was featured in our June 2019 Nourishing Essentials Care Package. It's still made by hand, with the help of their island grandmother, and combines a variety of local island spices and seasonings including local sweet and spicy chilis, turmeric, salt from the sea of Ishigaki, Okinawan black sugar, garlic, sesame seeds, black beans and "chimuguru", the heart and soul of the Okinawan spirit.
Learn more about this incredible couple at http://penshoku.com and in the English subtitled video below from Vogue Japan.
Cover photo and video credit: Vogue Japan