In Okinawa, just like everywhere else in Japan, regional food and drink is diverse and has a great sense of pride attached to it. I am sure that most of the inhabited Islands (there are over 100), have tantalising local specialities just waiting to be tried. However, for the first time visitor, here are some tasty treats to start you on your Okinawan food adventure:
Souki soba is basically Okinawa style ramen and not at all like the more commonly known buckwheat ‘soba’. Salty broth, wriggly noodles, topped with boneless pork ribs and often accompanied with a few slices of goya (see below), pickled ginger and a chilli pepper condiment that is quite lethal if added with a heavy hand.
We are quite certain that if you asked a group of Japanese people what Okinawa food is, they would either mention souki soba or goya champuru! Goya is not commonly seen in UK, unless you frequent Asian supermarkets, and here it is referred to as bitter gourd or bitter melon. Bitter it is and apparently very good for you. Goya Champuru is basically Okinawan stir-fry. I am not keen on it. Hiro Loves it. I eat in when I am in Okinawa because I feel I should.
It’s funny to me how people assume that Okinawans, known for their longevity, only eat fish. Yet, from my personal observations and experience, I don’t think I’ve seen so much pork on the menu in any other place. Rafute is delicious. Rafute is slow cooked braised belly pork, it melts in the mouth and is just so flavoursome. (If you like butakakuni – then chances are, you will like this Okinawan version).
The purple sweet potatoes that grow in Okinawa are delectable and unforgettably good. They have a vanilla note that lends itself well when the potatoes are used in sweet dishes. The souvenir shops have piles of beniimo tarts, kitkats, cakes and mochi. I like everything made with beniimo especially ice cream!
This is a variety of seaweed that only grows in Okinawa and Philippines. Literally translated as ‘sea grapes’ but is also referred to as green caviar. It can be found as tempura, in soups and with sushi. I like it on its own with vinegar and soy sauce or in a seaweed salad.
It is said that Awamori is Japan’s oldest distilled drink. I’ve been told that exports to mainland Japan are produced at a lower alcohol level but locally, it is typically consumed at 30-40% alcohol! Awamori is served with water and loads of ice but I’ve drunk it on the rocks (can’t remember much after though).
Notice the absence of fish on our little list? We have this theory, based on years of filling our bellies with fish and seafood across the world, and that is – the best fish comes from cold waters and the best prawns from warmer waters. While the fish in Okinawa cannot compare with what is available in less tropical parts of Japan, their prawns, especially those from Kumejima, are top notch.
Hiro proposed while we were on a tiny island in Okinawa (population of about 700). We met a group of Muslim guys from Bradford at dinner in one of very few restaurants on the Island. They were like….”Um Okinawa…..no one told us that everyone eats so much pork here!”. We had to laugh. I wonder how they are doing! They visited Okinawa because they loved Mr Miyagi. Mr Miyagi is a don dada!