Story Savour the Flavours of a Unique Blend of Cultures By JNTO On August 5 2021

The Taste of Okinawa

Separated from mainland Japan, Okinawa has maintained not just its own culture and rituals, but also its own cuisine. For over 400 years from the 15th century, Okinawa was an independent kingdom known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. Traditional Okinawan cooking – known as Ryukyu cuisine – incorporates local ingredients and cooking methods that is distinctly different from the rest of Japan. Its cuisine is historically influenced by both Japan and China, creating a unique fusion of flavours.

One of the characteristics of Okinawan cuisine is its direct link to good health and wellbeing, which is based on the local expressions “Kusuimun” (medicinal diet) and “Nuchigusui” (medicine for life). Most of the dishes found in the Okinawan menu are prepared either as champuru (stir-fry) or netsuke (simmered). This is probably why people of Okinawa are known for their longevity!

Here are some popular Okinawan dishes you can find on a typical menu:

 

Umibudo

Resembling green caviar, umibudo is a type of edible seaweed that is native to Okinawa. The tiny balls pop in your mouth to release a little burst of refreshing salty flavour similar to caviar – this is why it is nicknamed “green caviar.” 

Various types of tofu  

Tofu is common in Okinawa, and you can find it in various forms. One of them is the jimami tofu made of peanuts – it is creamy and slightly sweet, usually served with thick, sweet soy sauce. Other tofu dishes include sakugarasu which are small tofu cubes, each with a tiny pickled fish on top, and the tofuyo which is a red-coloured cube of fermented tofu with a strong, pungent flavour.

 

 

 

Goya Champuru (bittergourd stir-fry)

Okinawa is the only Japanese prefecture to consume “goya” (bittergourd) on a regular basis, and goya champuru is a stir-fried version of this vegetable. It is commonly fried with egg, tofu, and either pork belly or canned Spam, depending on the restaurant. 

Rafute (braised pork belly)

Inspired by Chinese cuisine, rafute is a dish of pork belly slow-cooked in awamori, a potent local rice liquor. This sweet, savoury, and sometimes tangy dish is very popular among locals and visitors alike, and each restaurant has its own recipe.

 

Soki soba

Okinawa’s signature noodle dish is the Soki Soba, which is served with a big piece of stewed pork rib, called “soki” in Okinawan. Unlike other parts of Japan, the “soba” noodles here are made of wheat instead of buckwheat, which is served in a bowl of flavourful broth made with kombu, bonito flakes, and pork – and topped with pickled ginger. 

 

Mimiga (pork ear)

A common side dish is the mimiga, or pork ears, which is either boiled or steamed. An order of crunchy mimiga is usually served with mayonnaise, ponzu sauce or peanut dressing.

 

 

Taco rice

Despite its name, the “taco” does not refer to “octopus” in Japanese, but the popular TexMex dish. It is said to have been invented in the 80s by a local restaurateur catering to the taste of American soldiers stationed in Okinawa. The dish is basically ground beef seasoned with taco spices, served on rice and topped with lettuce and cheese.

 

Chinbin

Okinawa is synonymous with kokuto brown sugar, which is made from local sugar canes that proliferate on the islands. In some rural restaurants, cubes of kokuto may be served as a dessert after a meal. They are also used to make a local pancake called chinbin

The unique climate and international influence has made Okinawan cuisine very distinct from those of mainland Japan. One of the best ways to enjoy the local flavours is to pair your meal with the locally-brewed Orion Beer.

Website: Food Culture in Okinawa | VISIT OKINAWA JAPAN

 

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