What to Eat in Okinawa
So you’ve come to the Okinawa expecting restaurant menus to be filled with lots of seafood dishes because of course, you are visiting an island. Surprisingly though, all around the prefecture the seafood options, although not bad, are just not the same as what you find in other parts of Japan. On these islands, pork and vegetables rule, and these ingredients served in different forms is what you find more commonly in the restaurant scene. Okinawans have a thing for longevity and their dishes which are heavy on the veggie side often reflect this. Here are some of the dishes you need to try while visiting the islands.
Ask about Okinawa’s best dishes and this will definitely be at the top of the list. Goya Champuru is a mix of bitter melon (Goya), spam, and scrambled eggs, and although it is found outside of Okinawa it definitely tastes better on the islands. It could be a little on the bitter side but it is still a tasty dish and even more so when paired with an local beer. Goya champuru is commonly found in izakayas but Uchina Ryukyu Izakaya located behind Naha City Tourism Centre does a great job at it.
Another one of the staples when it comes to Okinawan food is Rafute. This is pork rib stewed in a mix of soy sauce and brown sugar. The meat is as tender as it can get and with the skin on, the pork is juicy and mouthwatering. While in Naha, why not try cooking this delicacy yourself? Taste of Okinawa offers a cooking class where you’ll learn how to make Rafute as well as other traditional dishes; and you’ll get to eat it afterwards.
Okinawans take longevity pretty serious thus their food tends to focus on ingredients that contribute to a long lasting life. Tofu is one of those dishes and the one found in Ishigaki’s Tofu No Higa is one of the best. They open bright and early here to offer a variety of filling tofu sets starting at 350 yen which come complete with eggs, ground beef, and milk. Tofu No Higa is hidden behind a thick palm tree forest along a dirt road off road 208 on the way to Banna Park.
Kame Soba is a dish found on Irabu Island, one of the Miyako Islands. This succulent bowl of noodles is served warm with a slice of pork rib, pork bone, and soft tofu typical of the region (just to keep the longevity factor in check). This delicacy is served by Aniyasan at Irabu Kame Soba, a rustic restaurant on the northern end of Irabu Island. You can also try the island's signature soba or Irabu Soba, which comes with pork backbone (sebone in japanese) and katsuo slices. A power combination of meat and seafood.
Sata Andagi and Tapioca Balls
Sata Andagi are basically Okinawan sweet donuts and are a total treat. Using an island technique they are made by mixing flour, sugar, and eggs, and deep-fried in a way that the outside turns crispy brown while the inside remains soft. You can try these along with a refreshing cup of tea at the Ryukyu Mura in the town of Onna.
Another snack a bit less common but nonetheless part of the local menu are tapioca balls. There are made with cassava starch and are softer than the Okinawan donuts. You’ll find these just outside Seifa Utaki in the Nanjo District of Okinawa.