Okinawa Food Finds: 9 Tasty Tropical Treasures Uncovered
28 May 2016
Okinawa Food
For many epicurean travelers, no excursion is complete without the chance to seek out and sample the local cuisine. In Okinawa this is not merely an option, it’s an absolute must! While there is an incredible assortment of traditional dishes, each with its own local flavor, there are a few staples of Okinawa food culture that simply should not be missed. Discover these 9 unforgettable favorites during your next island excursion.



 
Goya Chanpuru
 

Goya Chanpuru

Ask the locals about the Okinawan cuisine and the first dish they mention will almost certainly be goya chanpuru. In the Okinawan dialect, the word ‘chanpuru’ means ‘something that is mixed,’ and it perfectly reflects this popular dish, a simple stir-fry originating in Southeast Asia and influenced by Japanese and American cuisine.  This local treat, which traditionally includes pork, tofu and scrambled egg, can be made with an ensemble of different ingredients, each according to regional tastes. However, as its name implies, the most important component is thinly-sliced goya. Known outside of Okinawa as bitter melon, this green, rough-skinned gourd lives up to its name, lending chanpuru the distinctive aromatic tartness for which is has become so loved.



 
Taco Rice
 

Taco Rice

Next to goya chanpuru, it can be said with certainty that the best known Okinawa food of all is taco rice. Invented in the 1980s in the town of Kin, taco rice combines Tex-Mex flavoured ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and salsa on a bed of white rice. Some establishments take this fusion concept to a new level, mixing in finely-chopped shima rakkyo and even san-mai-niku (a cut of pork similar to rafute, our next delicacy) to give the dish an even more distinctly Okinawan spin. Travelers looking for a satisfying meal at a reasonable price will not be disappointed.


 
Rafute
 

Rafute

With origins stretching back to antiquity in imperial China, Rafute is one of the Ryukyu Islands’ most succulent pork dishes and a proud tribute to Okinawan cuisine. Made from square-cut pork bellies stewed for hours in soy sauce, brown sugar and sometimes awamori (Okinawa’s famed and all-original alcoholic beverage), the meat becomes incredibly tender and the fat enticingly rich. Locals insist that rafute, like most other pork dishes served on the islands, is most authentic when made from the meat of aguu, an historic breed of pig unique to Okinawa.


 
Mimiga
 

Mimiga

Mimiga is a popular appetizer that brings to life the local dictum that Okinawans eat every part of the pig but its squeal. Made from pigs’ ears and generally served with awamori or beer, mimiga can be prepared in a variety of ways. Most commonly the ears are sliced into thin strips, boiled or steamed in su (Japanese rice vinegar), salted, then covered in mayonnaise, peanut sauce or sesame dressing. Rich in collagen, mimiga is thought to benefit the skin and has been part of Okinawa food culture for as long as anyone on the islands can remember.


 
Jimami Tofu
 

Jimami Tofu

One lesser-known Okinawan culinary delight is jimami tofu, or peanut tofu. Soft, sweet and slightly chewy, it is often served covered in ginger or black sugar sauce as a light dessert. In the native Okinawan language, Jimami generally means “beans that grow in the ground,” but partially due to the popularity of jimami tofu, the word has come to be associated exclusively with peanuts. While the precise origin of the dish is not known, it was once a mainstay in the Yaeyama Islands, the southernmost region of Okinawa prefecture, which once exported large quantities to mainland Japan.


 
Shima Rakkyo
 

Shima Rakkyo

Shima rakkyo are a form of scallion which has become an important Okinawa food staple and is cultivated both commercially and in kitchen gardens all over the island. Known as “raccou” or “dacchou” in the regional language, shima rakkyo are stronger tasting than their mainland counterparts and give off a more penetrating aroma. Like mimiga, they are frequently served pickled or salted at izakaya as a light companion to alcohol, often covered in fish shavings, or deep fried in batter and made into tempura.


 
Shima Rakkyo
 

Umibudo

Umibudo, the name of which translates literally as sea grapes, is a form of seaweed popular both as a side dish and as a topping on other Okinawan delights. The plant’s numerous spherical fronds are reminiscent of fish eggs and their strongly salty taste, coupled with their mildly explosive texture in the mouth, have combined to earn umibudo a well-deserved comparison with caviar.  High in minerals and low in calories, this locally cultivated seaweed is a perfect appetizer for the health-conscious gourmand.
But be careful; as more than a few first-timers have been warned, this delicacy is highly addictive.


 
Chinsuko
 

Chinsuko

Dating all the way back to the Ryukyu Dynasty, chinsuko is a type of cookie considered by the locals to belong to a group of traditional foods known as Ryukyukashi, or Okinawan sweets. Made primarily from lard and not entirely unlike shortbread, chinsuko is a light, flaky treat made to be eaten in one or two bites. Packaged individually and available at almost any souvenir shop, chinsuko comes in numerous flavors, ranging from caramel at the more conventional end, to mixtures appealing to local tastes like beni imo (a local variety of purple potato) or yomogi, a pungent herb cultivated all over the islands.


 
Sata Andagi
 

Sata Andagi

Okinawa’s unique variation on the donut, the name of this local confection translates loosely as ‘deep-fried sugar.’ With a crunchy outer crust and a cake-like center, sata andagi almost defies categorization. Made in a variety of sizes, these tasty morsels come in flavors that reflect local tastes, such as sesame, koku-tou (black sugar), sato-kibi (sugar cane), beni-imo (purple potato) or for the less adventurous palate, more standard fare such as pineapple or even the plain variety. For a lark, you might dare your companions to try and eat just one!


 
 

Okinawa Food can be Found at Shigira Resort on Miyakojima


In addition to all of the amazing Okinawa food above, one world-famous regional offering deserves special attention, namely Okinawa soba. While many varieties of these renowned noodles exist, travelers on Miyakojima in search of authenticity need look no further than Ryukyu no Kaze Paikaji, the fabulous open air restaurant located within Miyakojima’s Shigira Resort. Wherever you choose to dine, enjoy fine Okinawan cuisine and, as the locals say, “Kuwachi sabira!” (Bon appetit).


 

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