Okinawa, Japan Feb. 28 Wed 10:34AM
Okinawa is known for being a bit different than mainland Japan due to the environment of the land. Okinawa is more tropical in climate, labeled as a subtropical island. Being so far off the coast of the main island, another thing that tends to be different is the food. Okinawa is known for certain food specialties that make the cuisine stand out from others. There are a lot of seafood dishes due to Okinawa being surrounded by water, many pork dishes, and dishes with a lot of vegetables, especially use of their most esteemed crop, the goya.
Here is a guide of Okinawan food to show you some popular and common dishes in the area and help you narrow down your choices of things to eat.
Goya itself is one of the most popular vegetables in Okinawa. In fact Okinawa is known for their goya, bittermelons, all over Japan. Goyas are well-known for being extremely bitter, and for some people, it is not something that they can handle. But for many people in Okinawa, the Goya vegetable is a household staple, and can commonly be found in restaurants as well. There are many dishes you can find in Okinawa that involve goya, like goya tempura, and the vegetable has become a source of pride for the people of Okinawa, attributed to their high life expectancy.
Marketed as a super health food that is a refreshing dish to eat when it's hot, the Goya Champuru is particularily enjoyed during the warmer seasons. Goya champuru consists of the famous goya vegetable sliced into small pieces and stir-fried with usually some tofu, pork, and eggs. The result is a combination of different flavors, and a healthy, filling meal. There are many households that make this, as well as many restaurants that serve it, so it shouldn't be too hard to find. This dish can also be found more commonly now around all of Japan due to its reputation for being a champion of health.
This dish serves more as a sidedish than a main meal, and many report enjoying the texture of this seaweed/green algae dish. Umibudo(u) is a pretty dish to look at and resembles a leaf that has just been rained on, collecting beads of water (if we're getting a bit poetic). Others describe it as resembling a green stalk with tiny little green grapes on it that burst into a salty flavor when bitten into, hence its name umibudou which is translated to "sea grapes." It is a common dish that is served alongside the main course, but depending on where you go, it sometimes is served as the main course. There are places that serve it over rice with bits of sashimi, as a donburi or ricebowl. It usually is eaten with a bit of vinegar and soy sauce or plain, and is also a popular food to eat with beer.
Pork is a big part of the Okinawan diet, and almost every part of the pig is used. It is common to find many pork dishes, or dishes that incorporate pork in the food.
Rafute is influenced by the Chinese and it is pork belly that has been boiled until soft. The dish is usually tender and characterized as sweet. The pieces are often very thick and have thick layers of fat which just adds to the creaminess and richness of the flavor. The meat is slow-cooked in a mixture of sugar, awamori (or sake), and soy sauce, as well as a variety of different spices depending on who's making it. This dish is a popular one that is commonly served, and people eat it with rice or on top of noodles.
Another pork dish, mimiga is made up of pig's ear. Usually the dish is thinly sliced or shredded, and boiled or steamed until tender. Then it is eaten with a sauce, but that sauce varies depending on who is preparing it. Sometimes it is eaten with vinegar, ponzu, or miso, and sometimes it is eaten with a peanut based sauce or mayonnaise. Often times mimiga is enjoyed with a beer as well.
The collagen in the pork dishes is advertised as being great for beauty and keeping youthfulness when eaten in moderation, and with Okinawa's high life expectancy, maybe they're onto something?
Awamori is the local alcohol of Okinawa. A type of shochu, awamori is also used in cooking certain foods, in addition to being enjoyed as is. Awamori is gaining popularity due to the fact that it has no sugar content, and supposedly does not cause hangovers. Okinawa has many distilleries for awamori. The distilleries sometimes offer tours and sampling of their drink, so this is a great way for people to become more familiar with one of Okinawa's most famous drinks.
Okinawa soba is different than the traditional soba that is found is most restaurants on the main island. The noodles are made out of wheat instead of buckwheat. The dish is eaten hot, and it resembles ramen when in a bowl, but the noodles are a bit thicker, almost like udon noodles. The toppings differ but usually consists of green onions and pickled red ginger. Many times there is pork added to the dish, and this is often referred to as soki soba. This is a dish that is sure to be filling and comforting.
Taco rice is a dish that comes from American influence. A bit similar to Tex-Mex in that it has influences of Mexican cuisine, but it is Americanized with the ingredients, and Taco Rice in Okinawa has a Japanese twist. Taco rice is quite popular in Okinawa and is found in some local fast food eateries. The dish consists of tomatoes, ground beef, lettuce, and salsa that lays over Japanese rice. Sometimes the bowl is topped with cheese, and there are no tortillas involved in the dish. Although relatively simple, the dish is surprisingly filling and tasty, making it a great convenient meal.