Not only is Okinawa a paradise for sun-seekers, it also boasts some of the most rich and diverse culinary scenes in Japan with influences from the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom to other countries like China and the U.S. The gastronomic array of culinary delights will satisfy any foodie who appreciates diverse texture and flavor combinations. From savory pork-based dishes to exotic sea creatures and tropical fruits, Okinawan cuisine is a vibrant fusion of tradition and innovation. This post lists the most popular, must-try local food to make your trip to Okinawa complete.
Goya, or bitter melon, is found in many dishes in Okinawa and it is usually mixed with tofu, pork and egg. It has a slight bitter taste that leads some to hate it and others to love it, but it is widely respected for its health benefits. The word champuru means “mixed up,” which explains the way goya is made in goya champuru. Champuru is often used as a method of cooking leftovers in Okinawan households.
Okinawan soba features chewy, thicker wheat-based noodles in a rich pork-based broth rather than thin wheat-based noodles you will find in ramen or udon. Rather than clear, soy-based broths found in the mainland, Okinawan soba also has a rich and cloudy color due to the use of pork bones, bonito flakes and a unique combination of seasonings. It is usually garnished with slices of stewed pork, green onions and pickled ginger. It is found across the islands in family kitchens, local eateries and soba shops, making it a staple part of Okinawan culture that visitors and locals alike enjoy.
Taco rice consists of ground beef with taco spices, lettuce, cheese and tomato on rice. It was invented in the 1980s by a Japanese restaurant owner who tried to cater the taste to the American soldiers visiting his restaurant. Noticing they enjoyed tacos, he put a Japanese spin on the dish. This Tex-Mex dish is inexpensive, tasty, healthy and filling, making it a common dish throughout Okinawa. It is a symbol of the unique culture of Okinawan cuisine, which embraces cultural diversity and adapts foreign influences to create something uniquely its own.
Rafute is the Okinawan version of the classic pork belly and consists of tender, salty-sweet pork belly braised in awamori, soy sauce and Okinawan black sugar. The dish is usually garnished with beniimo, or purple sweet potato. It is an important dish at banquets and during Hoji, a Buddhist memorial service in Japan. It is made by gently braising the pork for several hours until the meat can easily be pulled apart with chopsticks. It is found in casual restaurants and izakayas around Okinawa.
Due to American influence, spam became a popular household ingredient post-World War II. Not only is it used in miso and goya champuru, it is also found in onigiri. Spam onigiri features spam in seaweed-wrapped white rice with a variety of additional ingredients like fried egg, thick miso or fried tofu. In addition to stores like potama which specialize in pork tamago onigiri, you can also find it in convenience stores across the islands.
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