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Okinawa Food Guide. What was the Sushi like? Most of my friends asked when I got back home. Also, one of my first desires was to try the real sushi. It’s a common fact that the first Japanese dish, which comes into people’s mind is sushi followed by ramen or udon noodles. Therefore, I was curious to taste more authentic meals. Of course, Okinawa had so many more specialities to offer than the stereotypical dish sushi. As I said, the Okinawan islands are quite unlike than the rest of Japan. Not in a bad way, obviously. So are their Okinawan specialities. Given that Okinawa’s islands once belonged to the independent Ryukyu Kingdom it was an important trading hub linking Japan, China, Korea, South East Asia but also America. All this influence helped to form the local cuisine, which is still served in most Okinawan restaurants.
China brought the pork to Okinawa, for instance. Also, they use every part of it, like Chinese do, except for its squeal. Moreover, one of the signature dishes is Goya Champuru. Champuru simply means ‘something mixed’ while goya is a bitter vegetable, which was delivered from South East Asia once. Goya is full with Vitamin C and is apparently invigorating during steamy hot summers on the island. In my opinion, it is horribly bitter and inedible. Regardless, Japanese people are willing to eat a lot of un-tasty meals justifying it with being good for your health.
Admittedly, Okinawan dishes were so delicious. Sometimes slightly too bold for my taste but with intriguing flavours and accompanied with some fresh side dishes. Compared to the meals I had in Tokyo, where also a lot of meals are packaged, I could definitely taste the difference regarding freshness of the products. So let’s start my little introduction to Okinawan specialities.
Okinawa Restaurant Guide Awase fish market
Firstly, a visit to a local market is a must. One great recommendation is the Awase fish market where you can buy fish directly or have lunch/dinner. I’ve had a lot of sashimi the days before, hence I went for half a lobster set (most of the meals come in sets in Japan). My lobster was served with a bowl of rice, miso soup and some slices of sashimi. It was so delicious!
Okinawa Restaurant Guide First Japanese sushi at 和食処ばん傘
I’ve read in a guide that you don’t usually find sushi in a local Okinawa restaurant. But how can I leave the country without having tried the real sushi? Yes, it tastes a lot better than in Europe! But I feel like I can still eat sushi here in Europe (ok, we’ll see when I try it the first time here again). To begin with, there only exists either sushi (nigiri), sashimi, maki, gunkans or temaki. Their toppings are sufficiently distinct that you don’t need anything else. In fact, inside-out rolls, California rolls and so on – forget about it! You won’t find these in Japan.
I stopped eating fresh tuna here in Europe. Nonetheless I had to make an exception for Japan and try the delicious one there. There are various sorts of tuna – from Ohtoro, broiled fatty tuna to Chutoro, medium fatty tuna up to Maguro, the super fatty one. However, I prefer salmon a lot more and I started to like the egg nigiris, Tamago, a lot too.
A great address to have reasonable lunch sets is the Japanese restaurant 和食処ばん傘 at Plaza House Shopping Center (Nr. 325 – 2nd floor adjacent to the Indian restaurant Krishna). My lunch set cost around 1500 ¥ (∼12,50€). You should also try the Japanese schnitzel, which was super delicious.
Okinawa Restaurant Guide Ohki seafood restaurant
Let’s head onto another super local and authentic restaurant – Ohki seafood restaurant. Yes, we had a sushi (1200¥ ∼ 10€) and sashimi platter (1500¥ ∼ 12.50€) again but we’ve ordered also some typical dishes like the Okinawan So-Men Chicken Noodles (600¥ ∼ 5€), Sea grapes (500¥ ∼ 4€), Ji-ma-mi tofu (300¥ ∼ 2.5€), a miso soup with mussels and a buttered batayakai machi fish, peas and lots of garlic. Everything was so delicious and I could go back there every single day. The atmosphere of the restaurant is relaxed and perfect for a night out.
above Umibudo – Japanese “sea grapes”, type of sea weed
below typical Okinawan chicken rice
above buttered fish – Batayakai Machi
Okinawa Restaurant Guide Dinner at Murasaki Mura
One of the main specialities of Okinawa are the Sukugarasu, which is tofu with a salty baby fish on top and Mimiga, which are thinly cut pig ears. I wasn’t quite a fan of the pig ears but really loved the Sukugarasu. Also, you have to try the Rafute here, which is a long braised pork belly and it’s so delicious!
above Sukugarasu – tofu topped with salty baby fish & Mimiga – thinly cut pig ears
below left Rafute – delicious pork belly | right Gurukun fish – double-lined fusilier
Okinawa Restaurant Guide Dinner at Juri in Naha
Once we were back in Naha city we had dinner at Juri, a lively pub, which also serves great food. As you can see we took the Jimami tofu again. When on Okinawa you need to try the fried sweet potatoes, too, and have some tempura. Orion beer is also known here in Europe and you should definitely have one with your meal! If you want to try something more local have Awamori, the area’s indigenous liquor.
above Jimami tofu – peanut tofu
above Goya tempura
below fried purple sweet potato – so delicious
Okinawa Restaurant Guide Taco Rice at King Tacos
Taco rice is probably the dish with the most influence from American occupation. The Japanese/American fast food is definitely something you should try, because it tasted surprisingly delicious. Also, it is probably the cheapest and filling meal I had on Okinawa. In case you go to King Tacos take one taco rice for two as the portions are huge. One taco rice costs between 400 – 600¥ (∼ 3,3 – 5€).
below the famous Taco Rice
Okinawa Restaurant Guide Blue Seal’s Ice Cream
The journalist colleague Samantha told me that her Japanese friends would be really jealous that we had ice cream at Blue Seal. You’ll find the chain all over Okinawa but in Tokyo they only have one branch. Try the mango ice cream!
Okinawa Restaurant Guide Japanese steak at Ryukyu No Ushi
To conclude my Okinawa food guide I have another great tip for you. One dinner we tried the fantastic steak at Ryukyu no Ushi Chatan (location here). Apparently, the chain offers the best Japanese barbecue & steak. Don’t be afraid to go there because you’ll smell of fried food. They have a modern technology where you don’t smell at all, which is great. We had various sorts of steak: e.g. Rib eye roll steak (3,200¥ ∼ 26€), Prime diced tenderloin steak (4,600¥ ∼ 38€) and the most delicious Okinawan Wagyu Beef sirloin thick-cut steak (6,000¥ ∼ 50€). All accompanied with a bowl of rice – so good! I could eat rice bowls every day.