Mention any part of Japan and it’s fairly likely that a Japanese person will be able to tell you the food specialities of that area. Food really is something of an obsession here and it took me a fair few years to find any appeal in travelling for food reasons. Okinawa is famed for it’s cuisine as it’s quite different to mainland food due to differences in culture, historical contact between other regions, climate, vegetables and other ingredients.
Even though I know I sampled some Okinawan food during my original trip to the islands in 2006 I don’t really remember any of it so it wasn’t till last years ‘Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown‘ about Okinawa (s06E03) that I had any real idea about the local specialities. This particular episode of his CNN show sparked some kind of online conversation with an ex-student of mine who I knew lived in Naha.
The plan to meet up with Chizu was inevitable as soon as we got round to booking this trip. She’s a freelance writer and was responsible for an article about another student of mine where the back of my head was featured in one of the photographs which I seemed to think was necessary to blog about all those years ago!
She picked up my wife and I from Senagajima shortly after we’d seen sunset and we went to an izakaya called Itoman-ya where we ate some absolutely delicious sashimi, tempura (fish and squid), shira-ae of nigana (salad dressed with tofu and white miso), mozuku (edible seaweed) and some sweet potato starchy thing.
After that we went to Cafe De Camp Nou football cafe which was close to our hotel and where she introduced us to the owner Hiro and her friend Aika who feature in the picture collage above. More on them and that bar to come in ‘Okinawa 2016 Pt III‘.
Rewinding back to our first night and before we even went to our hotel we got off at Asahibashi Station to go to Mikasa Shokudo; an old, worn-out 24 hour place popular with locals where old ladies serve up cheap, hearty portions of Okinawan food.
Washed down with some local Orion beer, we had Mikasa chanpon (below) which was very different to the noodle-based Nagasaki chanpon as this one was made up of ground meat, onion and eggs over rice. We also had yakiniku (pork meat with pasta, cabbage, rice, pickles and soup) and some Okinwan noodles including corned beef which, along with spam, is really popular in Okinawa. During WWII these tinned meats were craved by soldiers and civilians due to meat being scarce and subsequently have continued to be favourites in Okinawan cuisine ever since then.
We ended up returning to the same place a couple of days later and this time tried three different dishes. These included somen chanpurū (spring onions, onions and spam) and goya chanpurū which is one of Okinawa’s most famous dishes consisting of goya, tofu, eggs and spam!
I’d never heard of Blue Seal until the night before our trip but this Okinawan ice cream (below) is everywhere in Naha (even the airport) and I had my fair share of exclusive local flavours whilst in town. They included sugar cane, sweet potato and salt-cookie!
One of our favourite meals was the simple Okinawa hiyashi-soba (cold Okinawan noodles) which we had nearby Shuri station en-route to see Shuri-jo castle. Eating cold noodles has been something that has really grown on me in the last couple of years and these were fantastic. There was even some ice hidden away under the noodles to keep them extra cool!
Down the road from there was the Oppa Ice Gelato shop where we purchased ice creams and some tasty yoghurt drink.
My wife wanted to try the local cola (above) once we’d finished at Shuri-jo Castle but I didn’t sample it as I’ve been soda-free all year and may as well push on and do a full year without any fizzy drinks! Beer is a different story and I tested out a fair few of the locally produced Orion beers!
When I got back from having watched FC Ryukyu in Okinawa City I was absolutely starving and was very keen to sample taco rice; a dish (below) created over the years having been adjusted for American taste in parts. This meal is one which I have a great fondness for and one that brings back memories of the first meal my wife ever cooked for me. In Okinawa, it is loved equally by both locals and North Americans missing home. I was a fan too!
Due to the typhoon our trip was extended by an extra day which all sounds good but finically was not as we had to take a hit on the hotel for another night plus extra spending money and the loss of a day’s pay at work. On top of that many places were closed as the typhoon approached but there was one shopping arcade where a few places were still open.
In there we had sōki soba (above) which is basically soba noodles with boneless pork ribs in them. Only a few hundred yen for a bowl in what was a popular local restaurant. Later in the afternoon we ventured out of our hotel room and had some tacos.
There really were very few places open in the evening beyond the convenience stores but even looking round them was quite interesting as they possessed a fair few Okinawa-only products such as the crisps seen below.
Our final meal came at the airport though and what you can see below is umi-budō, a type of seaweed called sea-grapes that grow only in the deep seawaters of Okinawa. This highly nutritious stringy green pearl-like food was surprisingly good and a nice accompaniment to my main noodle dish.
Click here to read ‘Okinawa 2016 Pt III: J3 Football At FC Ryukyu’