food in Japan foodie trip Okinawa

10 Unique Culinary Experiences You Don’t Want to Miss

It’s typically stated that Okinawan tradition may be summed up by the word chanpuru. Within the Okinawan language, it means “something mixed.” Chanpuru is an etymologically fascinating phrase, deriving from the Indo-Malay “campur,” being similar in both which means and pronunciation.

Japanese pop culture lovers could also be accustomed to the word by way of the anime cult basic Samurai Champloo, set throughout a joyously anachronistic hip-hop-influenced model of the Edo interval.

Earlier than its annexation within the late 19th century, Okinawa was once an unbiased buying and selling nation with connections to numerous elements of Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. Hailing as I do from Malaysia—itself a melting pot of varied cultures, and the previous website of rivalry for numerous colonial powers—the colourful hybrid nature of Okinawan delicacies resonates deeply with me.

The subtropical local weather of the Ryukyu Islands, top-of-the-line destinations in Japan, already units it aside from a lot of the Japanese mainland, and the idea of its delicacies begins with a completely totally different buying basket.

Many particularly local vegetables and seaweeds abound in Okinawan delicacies, and even tofu made regionally is distinctively denser and creamier. Additionally, while Japanese cuisine is legendary for its heavy reliance on fish, pork is on the heart and soul of Okinawan delicacies.

There’s much to explore and luxuriate in when it comes to Okinawan delicacies. Don’t go to and anticipate to eat “Japanese” food; as an alternative, lounge on a seashore and luxuriate in all the things the islands have to supply.

Listed here are a couple of dishes you possibly can attempt throughout your go to!

Goya Chanpuru

It is sensible that one of the defining dishes of Okinawan delicacies can be a chanpuru of some sort. Enter goya chanpuru, a stir-fry of bitter gourd slices, scrambled eggs, and pork. Typically, there’s tofu; it’d even be made with canned tuna once in a while.

In contrast to Chinese language bitter gourds, that are a lighter green and gently bumpy, bitter gourds in Okinawa are of the Indian variety. They’re coated in ridges and tooth, and are most frequently a deep, verdant inexperienced. Typically, you may discover white gourds. The bitterness is an acquired taste, however with age I find it extremely tasty. It doesn’t harm, in fact, that it’s a vitamin and mineral powerhouse.

Goya chanpuru lends itself remarkably properly to variation. No two variations style precisely the identical. In my superb model, the bitter gourd is thinly sliced, cooked just lengthy sufficient to lose its rawness however nonetheless retain a light-weight crunch. The earthy bitterness is softened by loosely set scrambled eggs, and thin, fatty pork belly slices, browned and curling on the edges.

I confess to being keen on the extreme saltiness of Spam fingers in this dish—the exact reverse of rarefied meals. Tofu is non-compulsory but not mandatory in my guide, since egg already offers the creaminess. To season, add salt, and slightly dashi or fish sauce to convey out the umami.

By the way, different chanpuru dishes are also scrumptious. To name just some, fu chanpuru (wheat gluten), mamina chanpuru (mung beans), tofu chanpuru, and somen chanpuru (wheat noodles). I really like the latter. At its greatest, it’s so rather more than just stir-fried noodles, every angel hair-like strand slicked by way of with pure umami, the omnipresent pickled purple ginger at its aspect.


rafute and bok choyRafute paired with bok choy. Is your mouth watering yet? (photograph by Go to Okinawa Japan CC BY)

The place do I start to wax lyrical about rafute? Imagine thick slabs of pork belly, equal elements tender meat and quivering fats the feel of room temperature butter (and just as heart-stopping), coated in a swoon-inducing sweet-savory glaze.

It’s made by braising pork stomach slowly, gently—twice, in some instances—in a shower of soy sauce, kokuto (brown sugar), and awamori (distilled long grain rice liquor). Accomplished right, each bit should simply hold its form till it doesn’t, collapsing proper in the warmth of your mouth. The pores and skin particularly must be tender and gelatinous, not chewy. Those that love Chinese language dong po rou or hong shao rou will know precisely what I mean.

In Okinawa, they trot out rafute on particular occasions. You’ll additionally discover skinny slices on prime of Okinawan soba, and it’s typically referred to as sanmainiku (three-layer pork stomach). Eaten carefully, all the collagen and fat helps hold your pores and skin wanting clean and young, or so the locals say. However for those who’re the type of one that slices every single piece of fats off your meat, avoid this dish. Rafute isn’t for these fastidious about their fats.

Jimami Tofu

jimami tofu with syrup okinawan cuisineJimami tofu served as a desert (photograph by carolzero CC BY)

Abnormal tofu is produced from soybeans, however in Okinawa meals, there’s a sort of tofu comprised of peanuts and potato starch. It’s referred to as jimami tofu, and its most distinctive high quality is its texture—a delicate stickiness that’s remarkably addictive. It’s typically served with ginger or black sugar syrup as a dessert, however can be eaten as with extra typical tofu types, similar to with soy sauce, a dab of wasabi, and grated ginger.

Those with peanut allergic reactions will need to be sure that they’re not by accident consuming jimami tofu. The choice in Okinawa is shima dofu, or “island tofu.” This is made out of soybeans, however has less water (and more protein) than typical tofu, and a a lot denser, crumblier texture too. You’ll find luggage and packages of shima dofu at supermarkets made recent every day—a deal with not to be missed on any trip to Japan.

Taco Rice

taco rice with bacon in okinawa, japanTaco rice with fried bacon on prime (photograph by Nelo Hotsuma CC BY)

The long-term U.S. army presence has left an enduring affect on Okinawa meals. Spam, for example, has discovered its approach into numerous local dishes like goya chanpuru. Then there’s taco rice, seemingly created in the Shinkaichi district of Kin City near one of the bases.

Not to be confused with tako as in octopus, the “taco” right here refers to the American favourite—a wheat or corn shell crammed with meat, tomatoes, and cheese—besides that they’ve substituted the shells with rice.

It’s arduous to go improper with a rice bowl. Assume sloppy, stewed minced meat, crunchy salad greens, tomatoes, mayonnaise—maybe some scorching sauce—on a bed of steaming rice. Don’t overlook the cheese! A taco is perhaps handheld, but there’s one thing so basically proper about digging in to your meal with a spoon.

Umi Budo

umi budo seaweed okinawa foodUmi budo might appear to be fish eggs, nevertheless it’s just seaweed (photograph by Shawn Chan CC BY)

Japanese onomatopoeia might be remarkably correct in its descriptions. Puchi puchi is an enthralling phrase referring to the sensation of a mess of issues popping, and it encapsulates completely the feel of umi budo. Generally known as “green caviar” or “sea grapes” in English, umi budo are an area, mineral-rich seaweed cultivated and harvested within the waters around the Okinawan islands. (You’ll additionally see them in the Philippines.)

These succulent strands have a satisfying snap to them, and are coated in tiny, salty bubbles that pop in your mouth. When dipped in ponzu (soy sauce and citrus juice), it’s sharp and tangy and completely refreshing. Typically, you’ll even see umi budo as an ice cream in the summertime! On the izakaya, wash these sea grapes down with an Orion beer or a glass of awamori.


awamori from okinawa, japanBeware of water-like look, awamori is far stronger than your regular drink (photograph by Nao Iizuka CC BY)

For beer drinkers, there’s little better on the island than a pint of Orion. However for these on the lookout for a stronger, boozier liquor, awamori (also called “island sake”) is the spirit to go for in Okinawa. Awamori is an extended grain rice liquor, fermented with indigenous black koji mould after which distilled.

Unsurprisingly, awamori exists due to Okinawa’s trading past with Thailand a number of centuries ago—even right now, it’s made with Thai rice, relatively than regionally grown rice.

Written with the characters “bubble” and “swell,” awamori isn’t truly fizzy, but the identify is claimed to derive from the bubbles that rise during distillation.

Awamori is usually 50 proof (25 % alcohol) or greater. To the uninitiated, it can be disconcertingly robust, especially if it hasn’t been aged very long. Getting old awamori in conventional clay pots mellows out the tough edges. Like Japanese whisky, the longer the growing older process, the more mellow and wealthy the flavor, and the extra prized the resulting tipple. This does make it dangerously straightforward to drink—more like a presence that makes itself felt the subsequent morning, according to a good friend. It’s most popularly drunk with water and ice, and in cocktails. Many locals also take pleasure in squeezing a couple of drops of shikuwasa juice into their awamori.

For culinary functions, consider awamori as an area model of Japanese sake. You’ll see awamori table aspect, as an example, however infused with chili peppers. In this type, it’s a scorching sauce generally known as koregusu, and it’s a well-loved condiment for Okinawa soba and different dishes. Down south, you’d use awamori as an alternative of sake within the initial braising of pork belly to make rafute.


bottled shikuwasa juice Bottled shikuwasa juice (photograph by fogindex CC BY)

Japan has a shocking number of native citrus fruits, largely unknown outdoors of the nation—or in some instances, even outdoors of sure prefectures. Yuzu, sure, but in addition kabosu, sudachi, daidai, ponkan, kinkan, and amanatsu—simply to identify a couple of!

Shikuwasa is a citrus endemic to Okinawa and Taiwan. It’s small and inexperienced, with an intense sourness. It tastes like an excellent tart hybrid of a lime and a tangerine. You’ll see it in all places on the island—a slice to squeeze into your soy sauce, or right into a glass of awamori and ice to brighten it up; maybe as jam; and there are the ever present cans of sweetened shikuwasa juice in merchandising machines and supermarkets. I guess shikuwasa juice can be unbelievable in a cocktail.


mozuku seaweedEven simply taking a look at it, you possibly can see that Mozuku just isn’t for everyone (photograph by Richard Lee CC BY)

Mozuku is divisive. Even more so than umi budo, it is an acquired taste. I personally love these slippery, slimy tangles of darkish brown strands of seaweed, however they’re not for everyone. It does, nevertheless, include a ton of minerals that purportedly strengthen your immune system, which may be a think about that well-known Okinawan longevity.

An area speciality is mozuku tempura. Then again, most issues are extra palatable deep-fried! Or, in the event you take pleasure in different textures as a lot as I do, attempt slurping mozuku marinated in vinegar and a bit of soy sauce. You may see it as an appetizer in izakayas, or in small plastic containers on the grocery store.

Okinawa Soba

okinawa soba dish in okinawa, japanOkinawa soba is analogous to ramen, however has an island flare (photograph by pelican CC BY)

Okinawa soba is the island’s answer to ramen on the Japanese mainland—a soup noodle dish topped with stewed pork, scallions, and fish cake. Although soba commonly refers to buckwheat noodles, these thick, curly noodles are manufactured from wheat and egg. “Soba” is just a approach to refer to the dish. For me, much hinges on the quality of the noodles, as wheat noodles could be a little stodgy. For most Okinawans, this is well-loved comfort meals.

What I really like greatest about this dish is the surf ‘n’ turf broth. It’s made by simmering pork bones and meat along with kelp and skipjack bonito, marrying one of the best of Okinawan and Japanese cuisines in a single soup. It’s mild and clear, but has a definite body and weight from the pork.

Pickled pink ginger makes the broth wonderfully piquant, and some drops of an area condiment referred to as koregusu—awamori infused with chili peppers—adds a pleasant kick. The stewed pork topping is usually sanmainiku (three-layer pork belly), however soki (bone-in ribs), nankotsu soki (ribs with cartilage), and tebichi (pig’s trotters) are additionally common options.


mimiga (pig ears) from okinawa, japanMimiga is a superb snack for many who like totally different textures (photograph by Ocdp CC BY)

Every a part of the pig is eaten besides its oink—or so they say in Okinawa. (Pragmatic, and to my thoughts, very Chinese.) Mimiga is just one instance of this.

Consisting of thinly sliced pig’s ears boiled or steamed, it’s often tossed in vinegar, and served with mayonnaise or a salt, peanut, or sesame dressing. Mimiga is crunchy and frivolously gelatinous, undoubtedly for diners who recognize more fascinating textures of their food. It’s an addictive appetizer or beer snack.

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