Everything You Should Buy at Union, Okinawa’s 24/7 Grocery Store!
If you aren’t from Okinawa, you may not have heard of the local beloved grocery chain Union open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Union has 18 branches, making it ubiquitous to the island prefecture. It’s known for its selection of diverse and high-quality, locally-sourced produce as well as its wide variety of meats, seafood, dairy products and pantry staples. Customers can also find an extensive selection of Japanese and international goods, catering to the diverse tastes and preferences of Okinawa’s residents and visitors. No trip to Okinawa is complete without a visit to this region’s iconic grocery store, where you can buy souvenirs as well as try local delicacies.
Locals usually have a Union points card that looks like this, which gives them discounts on purchases.
After entering the shop, you will be greeted by a catchy jingle that will stick in your head long after your trip to Okinawa is over.
Near the entrance, depending on the season, you can buy packs of fruit, which are used as offerings for the gods, meant to be placed at shrines and temples for obon and other holidays.
The large fruits section sells fruit at cheaper prices than Tokyo and other parts of mainland Japan.
Shine muscat, for example, might be three times the price in Tokyo. This seedless grape is a popular fruit in Japan due to its juicy, sweet flavor and refreshing aroma. Definitely give it a try when you’re in Okinawa.
You can also purchase goya, also known as bitter gourd, a vegetable found in many Okinawan dishes. It’s said to have many health benefits, such as lowering blood sugar levels and providing various nutrients, including vitamins B, C, E and K. Common Okinawan dishes with goya include goya champuru, tempura and pickled dishes.
Kabuchi is a local small mandarin orange that has a unique aroma and refreshing sweetness. It’s harvested from October to early November, so make sure to give it a try in the autumn if you find yourself in Okinawa.
There is a large section dedicated to Awamori, an indigenous distilled alcohol made using long grain indica rice. Most of the indica rice used to make it is imported from Thailand, since domestic demand is too high for local production. Awamori holds a special place in Okinawan culture and is often enjoyed during celebrations, festivals and special occasions, making it a symbol of Okinawan identity. It has a complex flavor profile with hints of earthiness, tropical fruits and a mild sweetness.
Orion Beer is the most famous beer in Okinawa. The beer is brewed in a brewery in Nago City in the north of the Okinawa Main Island and distributes beer locally and internationally. It is a cultural icon of Okinawa, representing the island’s relaxed and joyful lifestyle.
At Union, you can also purchase merchandise for the supermarket or for popular brands like Orion beer, Blue Seal and Spam. The Union products use cool retro designs that remind you of the 1980s.
There is also a souvenir corner which has popular items for tourists.
Spam has integrated itself into Okinawan cuisine over the years since World War II when American troops stationed on the island introduced it to the local population. It was a readily available source of protein during a time of food scarcity, but now is found in Spam musubi, stir-fried noodles, fried rice and other dishes. It is found in most convenience stores and grocery stores in Okinawa.
Like Spam, corned beef hash also found its way to Okinawa through American influence. It is often served as a side dish alongside other Okinawan specialties or as a component of bento. It can also be enjoyed as a main course when served with rice. Okinawan people eat it as comfort food and it is commonly prepared at home, particularly during holidays and special occasions.
You can also purchase many kinds of cinsukou, a popular souvenir snack from Okinawa. Chinsukou has roots dating back to the Ryukyu Kingdom when it was originally served only to the royal court and aristocrats. It has as subtle sweetness, making it easy to snack on.
Like chinsukou, Okinawa soba was originally reserved only for royalty and nobility, but became a staple in everyone’s life in Okinawa. Unlike traditional Japanese soba noodles made from buckwheat, Okinawan soba uses thicker and chewier wheat-based noodles. The broth is usually pork-based and seasoned with soy sauce. It is commonly eaten family gatherings, festivals and celebrations. It is a popular dish among tourists who come to savor this local speciality.
If you want to try making your own Okinawan soba from scratch, you can purchase raw soba noodles as well.
Bireley’s, an American soft drink brand, has several flavors unique to Okinawa, including shiquasa, orange and guava. Make sure to try a bottle when you’re in Okinawa.
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