Bukubuku-cha, at home

ぶくぶく茶 bukubuku-cha: “buku buku” tea, a type of Ryukyuan foamy tea using genmai-cha 玄米茶 (toasted rice tea) and sanpin-cha さんぴん茶 (jasmine tea). I wrote about bukubuku-cha and some of the cafes where you can experience this in Okinawa here.

Today, I decided to try to make it at home, using a little packet I purchased on Kokusai-dori. It actually turned out great! What a nice omiyage (souvenir) this would make for a tea lover.


Well, when I opened it up, there were several individual little packets (green tea, sanpin tea, roasted rice, and crushed peanuts) inside, as well as a list of instructions… so I got together the things I needed: 500 mL hard water (mineral water, purchased at SanA), a whisk (or 3 chopsticks works, too), and some bowls/teacups.

Step 1 & 2: take the 500 mL of hard water and boil, add in the roasted rice, and let simmer (~medium heat) for 10-15 minutes).


Step 3: Steep the sanpin tea and green tea in 500 mL of regular hot water (nearly boiling, we have a Japanese electric water kettle). As far as time, use the strength you prefer (probably ~ 3-5 minutes).


Step 4: In a bowl, add 200 mL of the sanpin tea/green tea mixture and 100 mL of the roasted rice/hard water mixture.

Step 5: Using your bamboo whisk (or chopsticks), whisk to make foamy bubbles. As you make more bubbles, you can scoop them up and set them aside in another bowl if you desire.


Step 6: In a teacup add some of just the sanpin tea/green tea mixture from Step 3. Add just a TINY amount of the roasted rice/hard water mixture.

Step 7: Add your foam on top of the tea in the teacups and top with the crushed peanuts. Now time to enjoy… I served it with the chiirunkou I purchased yesterday. Yum, a regular Ryukyuan tea party. This package is supposedly “individual” serving, but it was just enough for my husband and I to each enjoy a cup.

**The only thing in the packages were 1) green tea (sencha 煎茶), 2) jasmine tea, 3) roasted rice (煎り米 irigome, or sometimes known as genmai 玄米 and though this can also mean brown rice, here the meaning can also be roasted rice), and 4) crushed peanuts, so if you can get these plus mineral water you can make this yourself at home by following the above instructions.

Muuchii ムーチー: Folklore and Recipe

Previously, I posted about the special Okinawa mochi called muuchii ムーチー (鬼餅). It is traditional to eat muuchii* on Muuchii-no-hi ムーチーの日 (12/8 of the lunar New year).

*also commonly spelled as “muchi” in English.

Eating muuchii on muuchii-no-hi is derived from an old Okinawan folk tale. There are some more macabre (and sexualized) versions of this tale, but I will stick to one of the children’s version that they air on TV here… gotta keep it PG.

This story is “Oni mochi” or in Okinawan language, “Unee Muuchii” 鬼餅. (鬼 oni means demon, 餅 mochi means rice cake). **some variations I have seen on “oni” in Okinawa language are also ウニ uni and ウナー unaa. I suspect these are all correct depending on the region of Okinawa.

Long ago, a brother and sister lived in a village near Shuri called Ozato. The brother became possessed by a demon and ate livestock at night; he even started living in a cave. In some stories, it is also rumored that the demon-possessed brother began eating children. The sister found out, so she came up with a plan to get rid of the demon.

In order to exorcise the demon, the sister made a muuchii (mochi) with iron nails inside and wrapped it with sannin 月桃の葉 (shell ginger leaves, called caasa カーサー in Okinawan language).

She tricked the demon to eat the mochi; the iron nails rid the brother of the demon and they pushed it off the cliff to kill the ogre!

In some of the lesser PG stories, the brother dies as he is the oni and the sister dies falling off the cliff with the oni, or weirder yet the sister has a “second mouth” which eats demons that is located “under her kimono”… I am sure you can guess as to what this might mean.

Anyway, the story happened on December 8th of the lunar calendar, so ever since it is a custom to eat muuchi on this day to ward off demons, protect from evil, and pray for good health.

Similar to setsubun, there is the custom of saying:

ウネーフカ(鬼は外) unee-fuka (demons outside)
フコーウチ(福は内)fukoo-uchi (luck inside)

Around this time of year, all the grocery stores start displaying the products to make muuchii, and shops take pre-orders. As I mentioned in the previous post on muuchii, people with children will buy the same number of muuchii as the age of their children and tie them up with string, hanging them up in the house; this practice is called sagimuuchii サギムーチー. People who had a baby in the past year will make up lots and lots of muuchii (this practice is called ハチムーチー hachimuuchi 初鬼餅) to hand out to relatives, neighbors, and friends; last year one of my eikaiwa students became a grandmother and brought us all in muuchii. For the baby, they also have the custom of making chikara muuchii (力 chikara means “power”) which is much bigger then regular muuchii in order to pray for the healthy growth of the baby. Muuchii is eaten as a lucky charm for the prayer of health and longevity. This coming year, Muuchii day (ムーチーの日) is on January 24th 2018; December 8th of the lunar calendar.

There are a couple ways you can make muuchii. First you can buy the pre-mixed bag, just add water. All the grocery stores sell these, in usually in a variety of flavors such as beniimo (purple sweet potato), brown sugar (one of my favorites), taanmu (taro), yomogi (mugwort), kabocha (pumpkin), ukon/ucchin (turmeric), or even just plain. You can also buy the ingredients separately, so you can mix up the flavors as you like; again all the powders to this are in the grocery store. A lot of the mochiko and flavor packages even have the recipe/directions for muuchii on the back. If you really want (or don’t have access to powdered beniimo), you could even do it some more traditional ways like mashing beniimo to get the flavor in instead of the powder. Overall, it is super simple and it does not have to be precise, just don’t use too much of either water of sugar.

For the shell ginger leaves: you can buy these at JA farmers market or just ask someone if you can have some from their yard… they are everywhere!

Recipe for Beniimo muuchii (purple sweet potato): This one uses the powders. Maybe I will post the longer version later if I find a good recipe. You can halve or quarter the recipe, which is what I normally do.

mochiko もち粉, 1kg
beniimo powder 紅芋粉,200g
sugar, brown or white, 200g
water 4-5 cups
shell ginger leaves 月桃の葉, ~50 pieces (cleaned!)
vinyl string for tying muuchii

Knead together the mochiko, beniimo powder, sugar and some of the water (it will probably be a bit sticky at first, that’s okay). Make sure it is not too dry or too wet, it should be pliable but not too sticky or soft; you may want to experiment with the amount of water (the ratio should be somewhere in the range of 2:5 to 3:5 of water in mL to dry ingredients in grams). Shape into rectangular shape onto shell ginger, wrap and tie with vinyl string. Steam muuchii well for ~3o minutes. Carefully remove and let cool. Finished! Hopefully this year I can take some nice pictures of the making and shaping process~ you can see how truly easy it is to make yourself.

Brown sugar muuchii (10 pieces): mochiko, 300g; brown sugar 120g (as little as 80g or up to about 150g depending on your taste); water 240cc. Follow the same instructions– knead, shape, wrap, tie. Steam ~30 minutes.

For these recipes you can change the ratios a bit and you will not affect the texture or steaming time much. Some recipes will call for dried potato flakes (like those instant mashed potato flakes), but I have not tried using any… I am not really sure how that changes things. Recipes from scratch call for boiling and mashing either white potato or sweet potato into the mixture… again, I have not really tried that (yet).

For reference here is a picture of 2 pre-mixed ready to go muuchii pouches I bought at SanA; left is taanmu 田芋/ターンム (taro) and right is brown sugar (黒糖). All you need is water and shell ginger leaves. The best part– these can also be made into dango 団子! Also for reference below is a picture of mochikoもち粉 (sweet glutinous rice flour) if you go that route.

Some pictures of the process:



Okinawa Sweets: 沖縄のお菓子

沖縄 is Okinawa, and お菓子 okashi means “sweets.”

I have posted many times on sweets found in Okinawa and Japan, but this is an interesting little paper I picked up at the COOP grocery store (the one with the apple logo, not the JA’s ACoop) that described a few of the most popular and easy to make at home. I will try to adjust these recipes with more “accurate” measurements and add some personal pictures, since knowing the “right proportion of water and mochi flour to make mochi cake” is not necessarily well-known to most English speakers, as well as the fact that most people do not have easy access to the pre-mixed ingredients you can buy in local grocery stores.


First up, we have sata andagi サーターアンダギー. These are like fried donuts. Sata andagi were used for celebrations like weddings and babies being born.

6-8 eggs (in Okinawa, eggs are a bit smaller than American versions, so 6 medium-large or 8 small-medium eggs)
brown sugar, 700 grams
flour, 1 kg
baking soda, 15 grams
vinegar, 2 tbsp
oil for frying

Mix eggs and sugar, than mix in flour, baking soda, and vinegar. Making spoonfuls of dough, drop into frying oil (deep fry) at 150-160 C, rotating until golden brown.

Next up is chinpin チンピン and popo ポーポー. These are very similar; they are fried crepe-like pancakes using flour and eggs, rolled up. These were traditionally made on the 5th month 4th day of the lunar year, a day known as yukkanuhi ユッカヌヒー (to pray for good luck in fishing and maritime activities, a celebration day with traditional haarii boat races), and the 5th day, known as gungwachigunichi グングヮチグニチ (this day is known as Boy’s Day, or Children’s Day, in the Japanese calendar). On Henza-jima, popo is also traditional on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month.

80 g brown sugar
100 g flour
1 c of water (some people will also replace part of the regular water with carbonated water to increase the number of bubbles in the pancake!)
1/2 tsp baking powder
small amount of veg oil for frying
small amount of andansu (Okinawa pork miso)

Make a thin pancake with flour and water, grilled in a fry pan with a bit of oil. Add a bit of andansu (Okinawa miso) to the middle and roll up. Traditionally, the sugar would be omitted from the pancake and added to the andansu filling instead, so that the pancake would be white. Some people would even just add white sugar to the pancake batter instead of brown sugar to the pancake to keep it white. These days, as tastes have changed, I notice most people add sugar to the pancakes which tend to give them a brown appearance similar to chinpin. Also, depending on your tastes, you could use milk instead of water in the batter. One place I bought popo actually replaced the andansu completely with a brown sugar mochi instead; so, anyway to each their own.

Chinpin: mix flour, brown sugar, egg whites, and water (again, often carbonated water in hopes for more bubbles in the pancake). Make a thin pancake and grill in fry pan, you should see many small bubbly holes on the surface. Roll up and serve. No filling in this one! *Note: many people refer to chinpin as brown sugar popo 黒糖ぽーぽー, and sometimes even just popo. Technically they are different, but it seems many people do not distinguish between the two.

Also, for those of you living in Okinawa, it is quite easy to find “chinpin” mix  in the local grocery stores as well.

Agarasaa アガラサー (also romanized as “agarasa”) is a steamed sponge cake, similar to castella. This was also made for special occasions. It has a mochi-mochi texture (chewy) and is very enjoyable. Many grocery stores will sell the mix for this, so all you need to do is add water and using a steamer basket, add batter into small aluminum tins and steam over high for ~10 minutes. (I will post a “from scratch” recipe later). Traditionally it is made with brown sugar, though you will see other “flavors,” and it would probably be steamed in sannin サンニン/月桃 (shell ginger leaves). Most people at home do not bother with the sannin leaves these days, and likely most grocery stores selling these prepackaged do not either.

Kuzu muchi クズムチ, also called kuji muchi クジムチ, is a type of mochi made with a sweet potato starch (imokuzu):

芋くず imokuzu, 1.5 cups
water, 6 cups
sugar, 200 grams

Mix imokuzu with 3 cups of water, and dissolve sugar in remaining 3 cups of water; mix together. Heat mixture for 3 minutes on 600 watts in microwave range and remix, 5-6 times. Pour into containers, sprinkle with kinako and let chill until gelled/solidified (it won’t get firm per se, but should hold together).

Last is fuchagi フチャギ, which I wrote about in another post. The recipe is very simple, mix 1 1/4 cups of water and 300 g of mochiko (mochi flour), form into rectangular shapes, steam for 15 minutes, and cover immediately with softened/boiled azuki beans.

Interested in more Okinawa sweets? Check out these posts on sweets that are special to Okinawa:

Muuchii: ムーチー (part 1)

Muuchii ムーチー: Folklore and Recipe (part 2)

Okinawa mochi, pt.3: Nantou ナントゥー餅

Machikaji: まちかじ (松風)

Kippan: きっぱん (橘餅)

Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬

Sangwachi gwashi: 三月菓子

Kunpen: くんぺん

Chiirunkou: ちいるんこう (鶏卵糕)

Ryukyu Traditional Sweets

Okinawa Zenzai: 沖縄ぜんざい

8th Lunar month in Okinawa: ハチグヮチ (八月)

ハチグヮチ hachi-gwachi in Okinawan language (八月 hachigatsu in Japanese) means 8th month. This refers to the 8th month in the lunar calendar, so more around September time frame than August. Several days throughout the lunar year there are umachi ウマチー days (Okinawan for festival day, or matsuri まつり in Japanese), in which special traditional observances are held. The 7th and 8th lunar months are particularly busy, first with Obon and then with Autumn Equinox week.

Besides Juugoya, or juuguyaa in Okinawan (Tsukimi 月見 moon-viewing), on the 15th of the 8th lunar month, there are some other traditional days in the Ryukuan calendar.

On 8/8 (double numbers are always considered lucky), is the celebration of Okinawa longevity called Toukachi (tokachi, tookachi) トーカチ. This is similar to 米寿 beiju celebration (88th birthday year) on mainland Japan. Those who turned 88 in the current lunar new year are celebrated; these days, it is now a small family affair with traditional foods (pork of course, some fried foods, kelp knots, and such), a bamboo decoration called toukaki 斗掻 (とうかき) in Japanese and tokachi トーカチ in Okinawan (hence, the name of the day), and perhaps a ceremonial bingata kimono in the Ryukyuan style. The mall displayed the longevity celebration parade car.


Another one of these special days is on 8/10, called Kashichi カチシー; this day is to pray for health offering to the buddhist altar (butsudan) and the family fire-god (Hinukan).

Kashichi カシチー is called 強飯 kowameshi in Japanese. Kashichi is glutinous rice mixed with red beans and is offered at the butsudan (altar) and the hinukan. See the recipe below.

A Shibasashi シバサシ (柴差し) is attached to the pillars of a house from the 9th to the 11th days of the 8th lunar month (most calendars mark it officially as the 10th); it is pampas grass (susuki ススキ) and mulberry branches bundled into an amulet, then placed at the four corners of the house and/or the gate (also the well, the barn, and any food storage buildings traditionally) in order to ward off evil, specifically majimun マジムン which are Okinawan ogres/demons/evil spirits. The amulet is made into a shape called サン san, like a sangwa サングァー.

Around this time are also 豊年祭 hounen-matsuri, or harvest festivals, in English. During these, you will see tug-of-war (Tsunahiki) and lion dances (shishimai), among other traditional songs and dance. Many of these will occur on the 15th day (same as juugoya), though in my surrounding neighborhoods they wait until the Friday or Saturday after juugoya.

Kowameshi (kashichi) 強飯 (カシチー) recipe: This is mochi rice (mixed with regular non-glutinous rice) with red beans. It translates to “strong rice” because made with mochi-gome もち米 (glutinous rice, which is a firmer mouth-feel). Traditionally, this type of rice was only used for special occasions.


red beans (azuki beans), 1 1/4 cup
Glutinous rice (mochi rice), 260 g
Non-glutinous rice (such as koshihikari, or some other short grain rice), 75 g
salt, 1 teaspoon
leftover boiled water of red beans, ~360mL

Wash beans, put in pot over stove with 1.5 cups of water (add more water if needed). Once it is boiled and soft, strain in a colander, keeping the boiled water for later.
Wash the rice for 30 minutes before the cooking. I use a rice cooker.
In a pot, add boiled bean water , mix with salt, rice, and cooked red beans. Pretty simple to prepare. 

Igisu tofu: イギス豆腐

イギス豆腐 Igisu Tofu is known as the local diet of people living in the islands of the Seto Inland Sea and it is also said to be the food of longevity. This version of the dish comes from 向島 Mukoujima, located in Hiroshima. This one more recipe from the Island Mama’s homemade cooking news article (part 1 is here).

Igisu is a kind of red seaweed that grows on reefs along the shoreline. It is harvested and dried. To make this “tofu” it is then mixed with soy bean powder (or rice bran depending on the recipe) and liquid, then pressed into a mold and chilled to solidify.

Igisu tofu イギス豆腐 recipe: most of the recipes I was able to find from Mukoujima called to mix with rice bran, however some from Ehime called to mix with soy bean powder instead of rice bran; if you decide to do this, you mix 100 g of soybean powder with 7 c of liquid and no straining bag is needed, just add the soybean powder directly to the liquid, otherwise the directions are basically the same.

Igisu, dried, 30g
rice bran, 40g
vinegar, 1 tbsp
soup stock (dashi + water), 6 c.
salt, to taste
mirin, 1 tbsp

**Sauce for topping:
mustard powder, 3 g
white miso, 3 tbsp
sugar, 3 tbsp
mirin, 2 tbsp

Wash the igisu well repeatedly until the water is clean. Put the rice bran in the cloth bag over a bowl; to make the juice of rice bran, strain the soup stock through the bag with the rice bran, gently massaging. Add the rice bran juice and igisu to a pot. Turn on heat and add the vinegar. Over low heat, boil, cook until igisu dissolves. Strain in a colander (if needed), put back in the pot, adjust the seasoning with salt and mirin. Put into mold, and chill to solidify.

Sauce: Put the mustard in a bowl and mix with hot water. Then mix with miso, sugar, mirin. Serve over the igisu tofu.

Other regions that make igisu tofu also add in small shrimp, edamame, black sesame seeds, shredded carrot to the “tofu” while cooking. I prefer the simplicity, but sometimes it might be nice to spice it up a bit.


Mochikibi Onigiri: もちきびおにぎり

More of Island mama’s home-cooking (part 1). This time another recipe from one of the islands in Okinawa prefecture, Tonaki-jima 渡名喜島.

Mochikibi もちきび: millet.

Onigiri おにぎり: rice ball.

So mochikibi onigiri is rice ball with millet mixed in; it is very healthy! This recipe is from Tonaki-jima, off the coast of Okinawa main island, but it is seen everywhere (and perhaps some places on the mainland of Japan!). Mochikibi is one of the specialty products from Tonaki-jima.

Recipe? Well… I mean, it is just onigiri! There really are not any tricks to this recipe. What you need:

-rice (white, but you could use other types)
-mochikibi, 1.5 tbsp
-a little salt (to taste)

Wash rice, add to rice cooker with mochikibi and add required amount of water for you rice cooker (note: if you are Hawaiian, you just do the first knuckle test for adding water). Cook according to rice cooker. Mix in a little salt, make sure the mochikibi is evenly distributed in the rice, let cool for a bit, and form your onigiri. Finished. Usually this is served a bit chilled or room temperature, perfect for bento or quick snacks.


Yashirojima (Suooshima) recipe: kenchou けんちょう

Yashiro-jima (also known as Suooshima) is located off the coast in Yamaguchi prefecture, known for its mikan みかん (oranges). I have heard there is even such a thing as mikan nabe みかん鍋, which is hotpot with oranges…! I would like to try this one day. It sounds like a refreshing taste to me.

Today we have a winter dish, called kenchou けんちょう. This is another installment of “Island Mama’s homemade cooking” from the news pullout section (refer to here).

This dish is made with Japanese radish called daikon 大根. It was originally vegetarian food, only seasoned with shoyu and sake, with just fried daikon and tofu. But then evolved to adding carrots, shiitake mushrooms, lotus root, gobou (burdock root), konnyaku; and then even ingredients like chicken or other seasonal variety.

Nowadays, it might be made in a dried sardine soup; I choose not to do this and stick to a vegetarian version. Vegetable combinations such as daikon, carrot, konnyaku, gobou (burdock root), fried fish cake (satsuma-age), shiitake, lotus root, etc, can be used, depending on what is available to you.

Kenchou けんちょう: This recipe is courtesy of the island’s school meal program, and is vegetarian, however, it can easily be modified to accommodate your tastes. For instance, simmering in a stock of sardines, sort of like an oden おでん style dish would definitely add some winter flavors to the dish.

-tofu 1 block (~300g), drained and cut into chunks or slightly crumbled
-daikon, ~600g, cut into slices and quartered
-carrot, ~ 30g, cut into slices (or strips is okay too)
-konnyaku, 1/2 package (120g), cut into strips
-aburaage (fried tofu)  (25g), cut into strips **other recipes suggest fried fishcake
-oil for frying, ~3 tablespoons
-Sugar, 2 tsp
-salt, 1 tsp
-shoyu, 4 tablespoons
-sake or cooking mirin, to taste

Heat oil in a pan, and stir-fry well daikon, carrot, konnyaku, and aburaage, mix and add seasoning, simmer about 5-6 minutes. Add tofu, simmer over low heat. Enjoy.


Ojiki-jima recipe: bouburazouse ぼうぶらぞうせ

This is a continuation of the Japanese newspaper section entitled “Island mama’s homemade cooking.” I am really enjoying this special section on local dishes of the various islands of Japan. Last time I introduced special dish from Yonaguni-jima.

小値賀島 Ojiki-jima is an island in Nagasaki prefecture (長崎県). There is a local cuisine called 「ぼうぶらぞうせ」Bouburazouse in the local dialect. It is a porridge made with kabocha かぼちゃ(pumpkin), red beans (小豆 azuki) and millet (きび kibi). The ratios are not exact, so use what you feel is reasonable. I think like me, island mamas do not measure much and just go by what looks right, so I apologize if the recipes seem a little vague. These are not the type of recipes that are found in English resources, or that many Japanese resources for that matter, since while the recipes may be famous locally, it is not widespread throughout Japan. And it seems that each mama has her own version!

ぼうぶらぞうせ Bouburazouse:

kabocha (pumpkin), peeled and cut into bite size pieces, then steamed
azuki beans, to taste
millet, to taste **probably any sort of grain will do, if you have a preference
sugar, salt, to taste

Steam the kabocha in water (maybe ~ 1 L); when the kabocha is soft, add the azuki beans (with the juice/water) and the millet. Boil until the kabocha is completely fallen apart soft (doesn’t hold shape), and add a little flour to thicken (making it not so sticky), and some salt/sugar to taste. Once it is well-steamed/boiled, it is ready to eat. This is a hearty porridge, and tastes just as good chilled the next day. Itadakimasu いただきます!



Yonaguni-jima recipe: Sakuna shiraae サクナの白和え

This showcases Okinawa grandma’s cooking. Below is a simple Okinawan recipe which includes tofu, peanut butter, miso, some type of leafy green of your choosing, as well as canned tuna (optional). It might sound strange, but is quite delicious.

白和え shira-ae is basically a Japanese “salad” dressed with tofu and white miso; in Okinawa, usually island peanuts are included as well. It is a type of 和え物 aemono, which just means “dressed salad” dish.

サクナ sakuna, the Okinawan name, is better known by its Japanese name, choumeisou 長命草 (also pronounced botanboufu, so I am not sure which is more common), which basically means something like long-life grass or herb; it is known for its herbal medicinal properties and is supposed to be very healthy for you. It grows in the wild on the rock outcroppings of Yonaguni-jima in the Okinawa prefecture. Choumeisou contains abundant polyphenols to prevent arteriosclerosis, cancer, blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. The plant grows on wave-battered, sun-drenched cliffs exposed to the salty ocean air; the hardiness of the plant to survive such a harsh environment is astounding and it has long been a favorite of people as longevity food. The scientific name is Peucedanum japonicum; I have seen it used in diet/health drinks and smoothies. The herb, as well as products made from the leaves, is easily available in Okinawa.

Sakuna sold in the farmers market

Anyway, I recently found a really interesting periodical, “ritokei,” about the islands of Japan, with a fold-out sections talking about “mama’s island homemade cooking” with featured dishes around the many islands. Today I will introduce a dish from Yonaguni-jima made from sakuna and island tofu, called サクナの和えもの (sakuna no aemono). Aemono basically just means “seasoned/dressed dish” and in this case, it is referring to shira-ae 白和え, so with tofu and white miso. I suppose you could also call this dish sakuna no shira-ae サクナの白和え.

サクナ(長命草)の和えもの Sakuna no Aemono: 

sakuna (choumeisou 長命草), as much as desired– washed and shredded
island tofu (shima-doufu 島豆腐), 1/2 block– drained, “mashed” or crumbled
roasted sesame, 3 tbsp
white miso 1 tbsp
sugar, a pinch
peanut butter, small amount to taste

Grind sesame with mortar. Next add in miso, sugar, island tofu, peanut butter and mix. Add shredded sakuna, mix well.

Optionally, you can add a little canned tuna. Another option could be to add a tablespoon of dashi if you prefer a bit of fish flavor. Or if you wanted to go all out Okinawan, a third option is to add some mimigaa ミミガー, which is thinly cut boiled pig’s ear sold in supermarkets everywhere here. Not my cup of tea since I do not eat pork, but some people really enjoy mimigaa. There are many variations on this dish, so don’t be afraid to experiment a bit. You can even use a darker miso, just keep in mind, it will make the dish a bit saltier and more pungent, changing the flavor a bit.

Sakuna is fairly common to find here in Okinawa, but you can even use other green leafy vegetables in addition to or instead of sakuna; nigana and handama are also popular in Okinawa, or if you cannot find this, just regular spinach will work as well. You could blanch the leaves in boiling water quickly (~1 minute or less) to get them soft, especially if you decide to try this type of recipe with a more hardy leafy green, such as komatsuna, karashina or other mustard greens.

This is a very simple, yet healthful and flavorful dish, to give you the feeling of Okinawan mother’s home-cooking.

If you enjoyed this, try the second in the series, a special dish from Ojiki-jima in Nagasaki prefecture.

BONUS: Oddly enough, I saw these sakuna-flavored chinsukou cookies the other day at one of the farmers markets. Somehow I doubt these will help extend your life, though…


**For anyone who was directed here looking for more info on “Bizarre Foods in Okinawa,” I have created a special post: here.

Winter melon: 冬瓜

冬瓜 tougan in Japanese, シブイ shibui in Okinawan means “winter melon.”

Many Americans buy tougan thinking it is a watermelon… and then are very surprised. I guess it kinda looks similar, but not really. Tougan is another staple in Okinawan recipes.

Tougan is harvested in warm weather, but is able stay good for many months, so it is basically a year-round vegetable here.

Many people add it to stews or soups; I especially see it added to miso soups to make them more hearty. The vegetable itself can be a bit watery, and does not have much taste by itself, but it will soak in the flavors it cooks with. Also it is fairly cheap, making it popular here in Okinawa.

There is even a delicious Ryukyuan delicacy made out of this vegetable: Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬. I recently visited an amazing little Ryukuan sweets shop that served this tougan “candy.”

Shibui-no-hi シブイの日 (Winter melon day) is on April 10th. They decided this by using “shi” from shibui, 4, and “tou” from tougan, 10. So 4/10, April 10th, is winter melon day.

I will find some more recipes and add them, but here is one to get started:

Tougan no shiri-shiri (Shredded winter melon salad) 冬瓜のシリシリー: シリシリー shirishiri refers to the way the tougan is cut, basically to shred. It is common style in Okinawa; often you see carrot shirishiri, but today, we can use it with tougan.

Tougan, ~400g shredded
1/2 cucumber shredded
*optional: fake crab, shredded
salt, 1 teaspoon
shoyu, 2.5 teaspoons
sesame oil, 1 tsp
vinegar, 3.5 teaspoons
sugar, 1/2 tsp
ra-yu ラー油 (type of chili oil) 3 drops or to taste
sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon

Peel wash, and shirishiri (shred) with a slicer. Add the tougan to a bowl and salt, let it sit and then drain to get some moisture out. Add cucumber (and the crab if using), and combine the seasonings, mixing well. Chill and serve.