How Tsu 好吃 is a hidden gem in back neighborhood of Ginowan, a small cafe with tea and steamed buns.
It is not too difficult to find, but if you didn’t know about it, you probably wouldn’t have followed the signs to get there. The signs lead you to a small alley, with about 1 maybe 2 kei car spaces.
There is a sign outside saying “Open.” And sure enough, as you open the door of what seems to simply be someone’s house… a small tea space and kitchen appears. The menu is in Japanese and English (probably due to the location near to the military base, though I cannot imagine many Americans come here). There are handmade steamed buns: nikuman (meat), taanmuman (taro), anman (red bean), and bao (like a steamed pork sandwich bun). There are also some choices for tea: high mountain oolong, jasmine, herb, and coffee. For 500yen, I got red bean and taro buns with a pot of high mountain oolong. Cheap and delicious.
Another bukubuku-cha post! Sorry, I cannot help myself, I love tea culture.
So one afternoon I set out on a mission, and asked if my husband would join me. We headed for the Tsuboya yachimun (pottery) district of Naha. Specifically to the popular Ryukyu-style restaurant, Nuchigafu ぬちがふう(命果報).
This place gained much popularity after the Jimami Tofu movie came out; the owner collaborated with the movie showing and prepared a special lunch set that included all the foods that were found in the movie. Many of my friends raved about it (I forgo due to the copious amounts of pork in most Okinawan cuisine). However, recently, they started offering an afternoon tea set with bukubuku cha, so… of course I most check it out.
The restaurant is located off a quiet back street, but it is easy to find. The architecture is beautiful, and one of the resident cats greeted us. The atmosphere inside is quite nice and relaxing. We ordered one “simple tea set” which included 8 treats (savory and sweet), 3 traditional cookies, and bukubuku tea, and one bukubuku tea set (which comes with 3 traditional cookies). The bukubuku cha was prepared at the table so you could watch the magic happen. Everything on the plate was delicious of course. Overall I highly recommend this place for an afternoon stopover while you are visited the pottery district!
Update: Orange Shokudo has closed in Naha and moved to Kin. Just opened as of Feb 2020 there are two! vegan ramen places in the basement of the old mitsukoshi building on Kokasai in Okinawa’s own Ramen Street
Today started as any normal Sunday. It is the monthly Sunrise Market in Naha, and my husband wanted to go. So we set off and parked our car in the Noren Plaza のうれんプラザ as is our usual spot. The monthly market is quite nice and we always find some ono grinds here. Anyway, after we wandered (and ate) through the market, we walked around Naha for a bit before heading back to the car. When we returned to the Noren Plaza, a restaurant called オレンジ食堂 (Orange Shokudo) on the second floor had a sign with something strange that caught my eye.
“Vegan black sesame ramen” ビーガンラーメン 辛い黒ゴマ濃厚担々麺
I was surprised, so I stopped and inspected further; while this place had meat options, it also had VEGAN options (black sesame, gold sesame, and a regular sesame broth, as well as spicy, little spicy, and no spice). When I first saw the sign I thought maybe it was a mistake, but for sure, I asked the owner and he seemed pleased to say that Yes, he has vegan options. This was crazy, and despite already eating lunch, well, I just had to try this! So I convinced my husband to split a bowl.
When it came out, he gave as an extra bowl, spoon, and chopsticks. He also brought out vinegar and extra spice, as well as an extra bowl of rich black sesame sauce so we could add more.
Delicious. I rarely get to eat ramen as there is pretty much never a vegetarian or vegan option. And while the Okinawa vegan scene is on the rise, the only places I knew of previously were Stripes (not very good) and Rakurobi Kitchen (doesn’t always have it available). So today I got delicious ramen and another place to bookmark for a visit when I feel like a bowl of ramen!
I had never heard anyone mention this place before, and even on GoogleMaps there was not mention of the vegan options. Perhaps it is a new menu he is trying out, and I hope it stays. I hope the vegans living in and visiting Okinawa can all give Orange Shokudo their business!
address: https://goo.gl/maps/6SXLreaW2GE2 **Second floor of Noren Plaza Shopping Center
A new shop in Okinawa has opened up, conveniently right next to my university gate. It is called “Citta” and they specialize in vegan and gluten-free snacks, like crackers, cookies, and cakes.
I went to visit this clean, bright shop the other day. The price tag is not particularly cheap, but not unreasonable considered it is handmade specialty goods. While I was there I also ordered a soy latte, which was really tasty. I took home some shikwasa cookies, tomato and basil crackers, and asa (seaweed crackers). Everything was really good, and went well with tea that afternoon. Not all their products are gluten-free, but many area. Everything was made from all-natural ingredients and vegan. I definitely recommend checking it out if you have these type of special dietary needs, as it is uncommon to find this type of shop normally in Okinawa.
We decided to try another izakaya 居酒屋 not too far from where we live. I have passed it dozens of times during the daytime, as it is close to the university. So finally we thought it was time to give it a try.
Dining sumirakuen is located in Nishihara, on the corner of Rt.s 29 and 34. It has a few spaces in front of the restaurant, as well as a huge lot across the street. Inside is nicely decorated with plenty of tables and seating, so we had no problem getting a table with no reservation. You will need to remove your shoes when you enter the establishment and store them on the shoe shelf. As with most establishments, there is a “sitting fee” (called otoshi お通し) and they bring you out some sort of appetizer.
They surprisingly have an English menu in addition to the Japanese menu, however, not everything is listed on the English menu, so you may want to check out their specials written in Japanese. One of these is the iburi gakko cheese いぶりがっこチーズ. I ordered this on a whim, since one of the Google reviews said it was awesome; to be honest I was not 100% sure what it was. Anyway, out it came along with our beers… DELICIOUS! Iburi gakko is a smoked and pickled daikon, a specialty of Akita prefecture 秋田県. The slices of smoked pickle were then stuffed with a creamy tasty cheese. It was smoky, creamy, crunchy… a really good combination of flavors that went well with drinking (they recommend nihonshu, a.k.a. “sake” 日本酒, but we were having beer). I definitely recommend coming here in and trying this… it is a very unique dish that I have not seen anywhere else in Okinawa!
We also tried many other small dishes, that were also really good. But the iburi gakko cheese stood out as the most interesting. The beer was cold, the prices reasonable (not super cheap, but reasonably compared to other standard izakaya), and the food was all really ono (oishii). I can’t believe we had not tried this place in the 4 years we have been here… we will definitely return.
Daisekirinzan park is at the very north of Okinawa main island, in Yanbaru. It is a pretty long drive from the southern part of the island… but worth checking out. One of the best parts is that this park is dog-friendly (even the shuttle bus and the cafe).
Right now the park is set to open up a new museum and facilities at the end of April (before Golden Week), and unfortunately increase the entrance fees to 1200yen per adult from my understanding. As it was we paid 820yen per adult, which is definitely not cheap, considering the best way to get here is also to take the expressway (toll road). Our dog was free though.
There are 4 different courses you can walk along (labeled with colors and easy to follow) during your time there. None of it is particularly difficult hiking, more of a leisurely nature walk. Overall each course is fairly short, none took us more than hour to complete (I think total may have been about 2.5 hours at most including both our rest breaks at the cafe, once for shiqwasa juice, and the second time for the pizza).
As you walk along the courses, there are several signs for what the rocks are shaped like (dragons, pigs, cats, etc). See if you can spot them all! It was a little bit of a game for us. Daisekirinzan is also a major power spot in Okinawa; it is located in Ashimui 安須杜, Okinawa’s oldest sacred place, supposedly be created by one of the gods. I can see why, the rocks are rather impressive in their way, and being so far out in the middle of nature, you cannot help but feel a little energized.
At any rate, our miniature dachshund had a blast trotting through the forested courses. Bigger dogs may find the walk a bit more boring, but our guy has short little legs, so pretty much anywhere is an adventure for him.
The main reason we went, actually, was for the Irukanda イルカンダ– some type of subtropical flower that is blooming this time of year. Usually these are only found fairly deep in the wilds of Yanbaru but at Daisekirinzan you can see them easily. Mostly they are found along the green trail labeled on the map (from the parking area to the park itself), so only take the shuttle bus up and walk back if you want to see these.
Cokofu is located in the eclectic Minatogawa Stateside Town in Urasoe. The name stands for: Coconut × Kokuto 黒糖 (brown sugar) × Fu 麩 (wheat gluten).
It is a mix of Okinawan style and some Kyoto style… it is interesting!
The best part? Vegan-friendly! I ate delicious soy milk and Okinawa brown sugar ice cream, drizzled with brown sugar syrup and sweet crispy fu on the side. I also had the fizzy kumquat juice drink (so really more like a soda than a juice). All the sweets and cafe drinks are made with soy milk, no regular milk is even available. There are several types of teas, coffee, and natural juice drinks to choose from. The menu is in Japanese and English, with pictures, so it should be easy to order.
Everything looked so good, and I actually wanted to try some of the Kyoto-style sweets, but it was warm out, I had already ate lunch (and was kinda full), so I opted with something a little smaller. Overall– AMAZING! I will definitely be back here to try everything else.
**There are some parking spots (maybe 2-3) for the store so you do not have to pay for parking!
Time to share a small gem located in Ginowan. It is on top of a hill up a narrow road off of Pipeline-dori, actually situated in a peaceful neighborhood near a lot of Americans… but somehow this place remains untouched.
There are other hammock cafes in Okinawa that you hear about all the time. But this one is really nice and quiet. It has a beautiful view overlooking Ginowan, plenty of parking, sweet and friendly owners, and the lunch plate is mostly (if not all) vegetarian and vegan. How has this place stayed so hidden?
For 1200yen you get a plate of the day, drink (hot/ice coffee or herbal tea), and dessert. It was all really good. Admittedly service was a bit slow/haphazard, but hey, we are on island time. This is a great place to relax with a slow, healthy, and delicious lunch! There were many colorful hammocks to relax in. It was perfect for a beautiful day. Keep in mind if you go, the menu listing was all Japanese and I had the impression only Japanese was spoken since no one attempted to speak English with me (all our conversation was in Japanese). That being said.. there is no menu to really choose from, just the plate of the day is offered, so why not go for it (oh and remember to remove your shoes at the door)!
How has it been this long and I have never made a post about Jimmy’s? Well, Jimmy’s is a local Okinawan chain: part bakery, part import foods store, and part restaurant. And it is SUPER popular. I always get gifts from Jimmy’s– the cakes, cookies, and such are decent. Not really spectacular, but just fine. I guess they are sort of “American-style,” or at least that’s the idea. I wouldn’t go in expecting American cakes or anything, but it is definitely a little different than a lot of the Japanese-western dessert shops.
I have never eaten at their full restaurant (Jimmy’s Island Grill), but maybe one day I will try them. They also have a few shelves of random import goodies.
There are several of them around island; some are big stand alone stores, and others are smaller size stores in the mall, airport, Makeman メイクマン (DIY/Home store), etc.
People really love Jimmy’s, so I recommend getting gifts or omiyage there. Or if someone special is having a birthday, order a cake and see what you think.
Just put Jimmy’s or ジミー into Google Maps to find locations; or be sure to check out their website for locations: http://jimmys.co.jp/
Mofgmona is a a really quaint cafe located in Ginowan that serves both lunch and dinner, as well as having various pottery and handcrafts for sale. There is a parking lot with marked spaces for the cafe just past it.
From the outside, you cannot help but want to enter. Inside is so cozy, but plenty of space several customers. The menu is fairly simple (Japanese only), with only a few choices. Upon request, a vegetarian plate-of-the-day can be made; lots of local vegetables are used in every dish. You also can choose between turmeric rice and brown rice. Sometimes the service is a little slow, but it is because they make everything there; one time service was incredibly slow, but the waitress brought me out a free dessert, so really it was a win for me. The price is reasonable enough as well. I can’t help but recommend taking a slow and relaxing lunch at this lovely cafe!
Near to the university, on a back road, there is a small local restaurant called Miyako Soba Nakayoshi. As my sensei is from Miyako-jima, he is partial to this place, so of course one sunny day he treated us students to lunch and kakigouri (shave ice) かき氷.
When you see the place, you know it is a true mom&pop type shop, filled with regulars. Inside, it seems everyone knows everyone else. Anyway, we all sat down and checked out the menu; mostly the typical shokudo stuff, including a type of Okinawa soba (suba) popular in Miyako-jima.
Well, being as I don’t eat meat, sometimes eating Okinawan food can be a bit of a challenge. But the owner is very kind and made me Goya Chanpuru without the pork. Funny enough, one of my lab-mates ordered the same as me. For dessert, my sensei ordered us all Okinawa zenzai, which is basically shave ice with sweet red beans.
Everything was delicious and cheap, as expected from a small place like this. Anyway, if you find yourself looking for small hole-in-the-wall places near Ryukyu University, this is a place to check out for some local hospitality.
The grocery aisles are lined with various important foods on display, many of which may not be too familiar to foreigners.
In this modern day you will see stores bustling with pre-orders, as not many people have so much time to prepare all these foods! Again, it usually falls on the wife of the oldest son to prepare these things, so as you can imagine ordering a platter with all the required items from a restaurant or grocery store is much easier than making everything yourself.
There are a some traditional foods necessary for Okinawan osechi-ryouri, and it is typically the same items you see in usanmi (feast boxes), so click on the post to learn a little more about these foods. Honestly in the stores, the fried foods and Okinawa hors d’oeuvres plates (オードブル) were flying off the shelves while the mainland-style foods were left somewhat untouched.
Some items in the aisles are traditional Japanese, while others are traditional Okinawan; here are a few of the things you may see: (I have more to add to this list, but here it is for now).
Oranges/mikan みかん (also called daidai 橙): you will see bags and bags of oranges for sale, these are an important symbol for New Year, meaning “generation to generation.” These are put on the altar, eaten, even attached to a shimenawa (rope wreath made from rice straw).
Beans 豆: I wrote a post on beans already… basically beans are good luck, ward of evil… all sorts of things really. Often the store sell different types of sweetened beans (particularly kuromame, black beans 黒豆), ready made in the refrigerator section for eating.
kuri kinton 栗きんとん: sweet chestnut mash with sweet potato. It symbolizes fortune and wealth.
kamaboko (fishcake) かまぼこ: usually seen in kouhaku 紅白 (red/pink and white colors), as well as fancy designs, or even shaped like Mt Fuji. Traditionally, slices of kamaboko are in rows or arranged in a pattern. The color and shape are reminiscent of Japan rising sun, and have a celebratory, festive meaning.
konbu 昆布: a kind of seaweed, usually tied in knots. It is associated with the word yorokobu, meaning “joy.”
datemaki (伊達巻): cooked sweet egg and hanpen (fishcake) rolled into an omelet; it has a ribbed outer surface like the sun. In Okinawa, something called castella kamaboko カステラかまぼこ, fishcake “cake” is also very popular. It is similar to “datemaki,” though datemaki is usually a more rolled shape where you can see layers. This is yellow with minced fish and eggs, resembling more of a castella sponge cake.
sardines/tazukuri (田作り): dried sardines cooked in shoyu; the fish were used historically to fertilize rice fields. It symbolizes an abundant harvest.
ebi 海老 (shrimp): hunched like an elder, so it represents a long life.
mochi/wagashi sweets: often you will see sweets in fortuitous shapes or in the shape of the upcoming year’s zodiac.
Another “favorite” here in Okinawa is nakamijiru 中身汁, intestines soup (pork). This is a very traditional dish for Okinawan people, but younger generations are (for perhaps obvious reasons) less inclined to eat it these days. Bags of pre-made soup (just heat and serve) and large bags of “chitlins” (pieces of intestines, pardon the American slang) are easily found in the center aisles of the store this time of year.
As mentioned before about toshikoshi soba 年越しそば (year-end soba, or year-crossing soba), buckwheat noodles are not very common in Okinawa. Rather, many people may eat Okinawa soba instead. So you may also see many rows of Okinawa soba noodles, broth, and pork prominently displayed in aisles under New Year signs.
**in Okinawa language it is pronounced “toushinuyuruu” とぅしぬゆるー
New year’s eve in Okinawa is a bit different from the mainland. Overall, there are less temples and shrines in Okinawa than in the mainland (not only, this but historically there are some differences in religion), so visiting at the stroke of midnight is not nearly as common. Some people do it, but it is much less of a thing here than mainland Japan. Mostly only the big ones like Naminoue Shrine in Naha, or Futenma Shrine in Ginowan, are crowded. I have a list of some temples and shrines in Okinawa in a previous post, as well as a description of hatsumode. I described some of the Okinawa New Year’s customs in another post.
As far as countdown fireworks, there are some, mostly at the resort areas. Again, mostly for tourists rather than the common folk, these shows are only about 1 minute; typically the resorts also host live music shows or dance parties as well. Outside of the resorts, Itoman Peaceful illuminations by the Peace Memorial Park and the ChuraSun Beach illuminations in Tomigusuku have fireworks. There are also some fireworks by the Nakagusuku Port/Awase area (by the Comprehensive Park) that I can see from my lanai, and then some to the south in Nanjo at the Yuinchi Wellness resort that I can see as well. The Peace Memorial Park has some solemn ceremony as well, to pray for a peaceful New Year.
Many people stay at home for New Year’s eve. Young people, Americans, and tourists often go out to all-night events, so some areas around Naha, American bases and resorts hold various types of music and party events.
In terms of food, year-end (or year-crossing) soba 年越しそば (toshikoshi soba) takes the form of traditional Okinawa soba rather than mainland style buckwheat soba. Although toshikoshi soba is not that popular here, you will find that the Japanese soba and Okinawa suba places are very busy on New Year’s eve anyway. Rather, typical celebratory foods also used in other Ryukyu feast days are more common. So those feast boxes, usanmi ウサンミ, are the typical; you can buy them at any grocery store during this time, though it is better to pre-order. In addition to usanmi, hors d’oeuvres オードブル trays are commonly purchased (or pre-ordered) from grocery stores and restaurants. But don’t let the name fool you, it is not what many westerners may consider hors d’oeuvres… but rather lots of fried foods and meats. In Hawai’i it is similar to the idea of “heavy pupus.”
Red vs White (Kouhaku uta Gassen 紅白歌合戦) is one of the New Year’s eve TV programs that I am familiar with; there are others, but this is the tradition for my husband and I. Probably because Arashi 嵐 (boy band of my generation) has hosted it a few times, I insist on watching it. This year, Okinawa’s own Namie Amuro 安室奈美恵 will be singing.
Anyway, there are different options on how to spend the eve of the New Year in Okinawa… choose what you like best.
*I will try to add a little more info to this post with some more traditional customs over the next week or so.
Previously I made a post about a special type of miso found in Okinawa, called andansu. But this is not the only miso you will find, as you can find all the regular Japanese varieties of miso as well. Sometimes you can find locally produced miso, and other brands will be big nation-wide corporate brands (not necessarily a bad thing). So let’s take a look at some of the things you should know about finding the right miso for you in Okinawa.
To start, things to look for on the label:
White miso 白みそ: this is a “light” or mild miso.
Blended Miso (Awase miso) 合わせみそ: this is usually pretty versatile and the one I typically keep in my fridge.
Red Miso 赤みそ: this is usually dark and salty, but so good. My husband prefers this darker, saltier miso but it can be pungent if you are not used to it.
dashi (fish broth) added だし入り: you probably don’t want this. It is so much easier to add your own dashi (and you can make it vegan by using konbu/seaweed dashi) and adjust it to your tastes.
reduced salt 減塩
*for non-GMO, if you look at the ingredient list, and the soybeans 大豆 are from Japan 国産 then you know it is non-GMO. Otherwise, it probably will not say.
*for gluten-free, check to see if 麦 (barley) or 小麦 (wheat) are listed in the ingredients.
Now, where do I get miso? Well, any grocery store has an entire aisle dedicated to it. The choices are, frankly, overwhelming. It might take a few tries until you find one perfect to your tastes and uses. Look for ones that say 沖縄県産 for brands local to Okinawa; some examples you can find easily in stores are Kumejima miso 久米島みそ, Shuri miso 首里みそ, and Shimagome miso 島米みそ. Other big brands like Marusan, Marukome, TopValu, Maruman, etc. are also commonly found in stores here. I usually don’t go for these, but out of all the big brands, I think Hikari 光 is probably one of the best in my opinion (I don’t have a picture, but it comes in many varieties depending on your preference and says HIKARI on the tubs).
There is a lovely place I went to in the southern part of the island, you can read about it here: Miso chiffon cake, Yume Koubou: 菊みそ加工所夢工房. I bought some of their miso and it was really good, and while not the cheapest, reasonably priced I thought.
There is also a specialty store in the Aeon Rycom Mall, called Kuze Fuku, and they often have many varieties of higher-end miso and specialty miso from different areas of Japan. I recommend checking here if you are looking for something “special.”
Sometimes farmers markets will have bags of homemade miso, usually pretty cheap.
Below are some examples of miso you can find in Okinawa stores:
This is just some info focusing on Okinawa. For a much more comprehensive and explanatory look at miso, as well as some ways to cook with it, I highly recommend reading JustHungry website’s Miso Primer. It is such an excellent resource, I always recommend it to anyone who is first starting out with miso.
Often times there are prefecture or area product fairs that travel to Okinawa. One of the best locations to host these is the Ryubo department Palette Kumoji store in Naha, though often times you can find smaller scale fairs set up in the Aeon and SanA malls.
Kyoto and Hokkaido seem to be the most common, but they come from all over (previously I posted about a tea and sweets set from a pop-up cafe at the Mie products fair). One of my favorites is the Italian fair that comes through about once a year at the Ryubo… so many amazing Italian wines, cheeses, and more. We often buy the wine set (usually 3 -6 bottles per box), of assorted wines selected by a sommelier.
Recently I visited the Kyoto fair at Ryubo that comes through at least once a year. There was even a geisha and maiko traditional Kyoto dance show. There were tons of samples of nihonshu (sake), tea, candies, snacks, pickles, etc. There was a pop-up specialty cafe, as well as several special Kyoto-style bento sellers for the event. I made a few food purchases of items not easily found in Okinawa. And of course, I indulged in buying a mini wagashi set for later to have with tea; I simply could not resist the beautiful designs.
If you live in Okinawa, I highly recommend not missing these special events when they come to the area. You can indulge in samples and purchase all sorts of quality products that the regular stores don’t usually carry.
This blog post is long overdue… it has been sitting in my drafts folder for many months, so here it goes. It seems foreigners are interested in trying out onsen while in Okinawa, so here is a continuation of my Okinawa onsen posts.
Yuinchi Hotel and Spa ユインチホテル in Nanjo is home to Enjin-no-yu 猿人の湯, a.k.a. “Bathing Ape” spa (or “Ape-man” hotspring). The adult entrance fee to the onsen is 1,650yen (elementary age is 750yen, 6 and under is free). Overall, it is a fairly nice facility, with sauna, jacuzzi bath, ocean onsen bath, waterfall bath, etc (but no outdoor bath!). Since the hotel and spa is perched atop a hill, you also have some nice views as you bathe. While it may not be my personal favorite onsen or sento in Okinawa, it is certainly a worthwhile experience and a very nice facility.
This onsen does not allow tattoo in the public area, however, you can reserve private baths (you may enter these as a couple or a family!) for guests with tattoo. I have never reserved a private bath here since I do not have any tattoo, but I have heard others do so with good experiences. **Private bath prices PER PERSON (depends on size of group): alone 5,000円, 2 people 4,000円 each, 3 people 3,000円 each, 4 people 2,500円 each.
After your bath, be sure to make you way over to Restaurant Sunpeer サンピア, undoubtedly one of the top hotel buffets on island– with plenty of healthy EM options and top-notch cheese from the island’s only real cheesemaker. Everything is superb, and I was totally impressed as it exceeded my expectations. It is a little bit more cost than other buffet restaurants, but well worth it.
Hmmm… street food in Okinawa? To be honest, this is not really much of a thing outside of matsuri (festivals); matsuri are the best times to find all these foods. There are no big street food markets or night markets like some other areas of Asia. But, there are still things I would consider street food, even if they are not all jammed into a large marketplace in one particular area of the island.
Probably the easiest place to check out for “street foods” is in the surrounding neighborhoods of Kokusai-dori (International Street) 国際通り. There are several snack and light meal options, Makishi market, and other small street vendors around. Again, nothing like Taipei, or other places with large street food markets, but some good foods to try while you explore Naha.
Here is a list of some “street foods” to keep an eye out for here in Okinawa:
Yakitori 焼き鳥 (grilled chicken skewers): Yakitori stalls are ALL over the island. Usually they do not open up until ~3pm or so, mostly for the evenings. You can find them alongside many backroads or next to farmers markets, smoke billowing out of their ramshackle stalls. This is not especially Okinawan, but it is a popular Japanese street food.
Pork Tamago Onigiri ポークたまごおにぎり: This is definitely island-style, and I think most Hawaii folks would appreciate this one. I wrote a post on this already, so click the link to check it out. Basically this street stand sells (a fancy version of) spam musubi!
Yatai-mura 屋台村: The literal translation of this place is “street stall village.” This place was set up to replicate Japanese yatai-style dining (again, not really very Okinawan). Anyway, I also wrote a post on this place before, so be sure to click the link to read about it.
Tenpura 天ぷら: Actually, quite a few markets have tempura stalls, where they simply sell individual piece of tempura. Often times you find fish or fishcake, but sometimes there is potato or squid, etc. You will also most likely see mozuku tempura… this is unique to Okinawa, and worth a try.
Nikuman 肉まん (Chinese bun stuffed with meat), Croquettes コロッケ, oden おでん (stewed skewers in broth): You can mostly just find these in the convenience stores. I know, not the same I guess. But, these are types of Japanese street food that you can try in Okinawa. There are occasionally some places that might carry these, but it it is not common to see these along the streets of Okinawa.
Takoyaki たこ焼き (octopus balls) and Taiyaki たい焼き (fish-shaped pastry): The most common place to find these is at Gindaco in the malls. Otherwise you may get lucky and occasionally run into a small shop that sells these Japanese goodies.
Kakigouri かき氷 (shave ice) and Okinawa zenzai ぜんざい (shave ice with red beans): This is all over Okinawa in the warmer months. You can find it on the streets, lunch shops, the mall, pretty much everywhere.
Sata-andagi サーターアンダーギー: Okinawa fried donuts. These can be found in some of the farmers markets or tourist markets.
Just an additional list of some popular Japanese “street foods”: many of these are found at matsuri or other food festival booths in Okinawa, though some may be not be so common outside of that.
Yakisoba 焼きそば: fried noodles.
Ika-yaki いか焼き: I like to call this one grilled squid-on-a-stick.
Yaki-toumorokoshi 焼きとうもろこし: grilled corn.
Okonomiyaki お好み焼き: Japanese savoury pancake.
Ringo-ameりんご飴: candy apple.
Wata-ame わたあめ: cotton candy.
Choco banana チョコバナナ: banana, dipped in chocolate.
Crepe クレープ: Japanese-style crepes.
Frankfurt フランクフルト: hot dog.
American dog アメリカンドッグ: corn dog.
One of the most popular natsu matsuri (summer festival) 夏祭り is the All-island Okinawa Eisa and Orion beer festival held the weekend following obon— at least with Americans that is. Held at the Koza Sports Park, I have seen more Americans at this festival than any other. It is actually 2 festivals, coinciding with each other: the eisa festival itself and the Orion Beer Festival.
*In 2018, this will August 31-September 2.
To reach the festival, there are free shuttle buses, as there is no parking at the venue. You can park at Aeon Rycom Mall, as well as some other areas to catch the free shuttle buses. Otherwise, there are some paid parking areas near Koza.
On Friday evening, in the Koza area, there is the Eisa parade. The parade is actually pretty nice; bring a leisure sheet to sit on and some dinner to relax and watch. Next to us, there was a family with a kid (who could not have been more than 3 or so) and he played his pint size drum, dancing around in his eisa outfit as the groups played on the street. He was quite entertaining.
On Saturday and Sunday, is the actual eisa festival and beer festival; the festivals, though both are at the Koza Sports Park, is divided into 2 sections. On one side is the Orion Beer festival, with outdoor tables and chairs, music stage entertainment, Orion Beer girls, tents selling nothing but Orion draft beer, and of course, loud drunk Americans (well, and locals too, if we are being honest). When you enter, they give you a wristband if you are of drinking age and you MUST have it to buy alcohol. I usually don’t spend more than about 5 minutes there, as it really isn’t my scene. But I think the beer is usually cheaper on this side than the eisa festival side, so…
The other side where the eisa festival is, however, more family friendly. There are pay seats in the bleachers, but for free you can just bring a sheet and sit in the field to watch. It is all eisa performances, so it can get a bit repetitive, but can be a fun evening out, especially if you have never been to a natsu matsuri before. You will likely see many girls (both local and foreign) wearing summer yukata or jinbei.
Of course, lining the entire area is typical summer festival food tents. A lot of these are what I refer to as generic “yellow tent” food (due to a majority of them using a basic yellow tent), a company that comes in and sells mediocre food in large volume.. often times it is not really hot when you get it. I try to find the more local vendors, who are usually hawking piping-hot fresh food. Over here, you can still buy beer and are away from the drunk scene.
At the end of the night, there are fireworks to finish off the evening. While it is not my favorite festival on island it can still be fun, especially for new-comers, and you can experience a lot of eisa all in one place. Plus, I have to admit, all the lanterns strung up with happy festival goers in yukata, drums and fireworks gives a nice ambience on a hot summer evening.
So karukan かるかん is not entirely just Okinawan– it is also a famous sweet from Kagoshima prefecture (Kyushu). But it is so common in Okinawa, many people in Okinawa consider it to be an Okinawan sweet. I have not tried karukan from Kyushu, so I am not sure if the taste is the exact same as the Okinawa taste, but I suspect it is very similar.
Karukan comes in pink/red (赤) and white (白), representative colors for celebrations. In the middle is a sweet bean paste, with a somewhat spongy outside. It is steamed sweet bread incorporating Japanese yam. It is actually very delicious, and a little different from a typical manjuu 饅頭.
Karukan is very common and easy to find in Okinawa, just look in any grocery store, sweets shop, or even sometimes in the convenience store! You can probably even find it in omiyage お土産 (souvenir) shops. It is commonly places on altars during Obon, or given as small gifts during celebratory events.
カメアンダギー Kame Andagi is a small cafe located in Umikaji Terrace on Senaga-jima (same area as the Ryukyu Onsen and Happy Pancake) that serves fresh sata andagi サーターアンダーギー with various types of toppings.
Sata andagi is a classic Ryukyu sweet, and here at Kame Andagi, it gets a little bit of a twist. There were several choices, so it was a little hard to choose, but I ended up with the matcha ice cream 抹茶アイス as it was a rather hot day outside. You could even add 2 toppings together for the ultra dessert if you so desired. But the price was a little high, so I decided against it. I think my total was around 400yen, and honestly, it is not that big– an andagi split in half with a scoop of ice cream (I am considering the fact that you can usually get a plain andagi this size for about 80yen).
But it was SO delicious! Warm andagi, cool matcha ice cream… such a good combination. I really recommend trying this place when you are near Senaga-jima (connected to Okinawa main island by bridge, close to the airport). I thought that even though the price seemed slightly high, it was really tasty and unique to Okinawa. Plus, there is a nice view in this popular tourist area, so I figure it was worth it.
Usanmi are Okinawan feasts typically prepared during holidays such as shiimii 清明祭 and Obon 旧盆. It is packed into lacquered multi-tiered boxes. The amount of food should be in odd numbers, usually 9. Usanmi seems to be a mixed custom, with origins in China and with Japanese influence… after all, Okinawa is a “chanpuru culture” (mixed culture).
These foods are nearly always some combination of the following, I have noted 7 items which are required, and the other 2 depend on family/region (I will slowly add pictures of each of these):
castella kamaboko カステラかまぼこ: fishcake “cake”; it is similar to “datemaki,” though datemaki is usually a more rolled shape where you can see layers. It is yellow with minced fish and eggs, resembling a castella sponge cake. Optional.
kouhaku kamaboko 紅白かまぼこ: red and white fishcake. Required!
age-doufu 揚げ豆腐: fried tofu. Required!
tenpura 天ぷら: various fried things, such as shrimp, squid, fish. Required.
konbu 昆布: kelp, boiled and tied into knots. Required
gobou ごぼう: burdock root, cut into long sticks and boiled in a broth. Required.
konnyaku こんにゃく: konjac, turned into a twisted shape and boiled. Required.
sanmainiku 豚三枚肉: boiled pork meat ribs, usually cheap and popular with Okinawans. Required.
mochi 餅: usually just plain white rice cake is used for offerings, though if it is for eating there will usually be red bean paste (anko) inside. Mochi are put into a SEPARATE box, and not mixed with the others. This second box is required!
I read some recipes on how to make all of these… at some point I shall put them up for those interested in challenging to make this and become and Okinawa cuisine master.
To be traditional, you should use umeshi (special Okinawa chopsticks) to eat it.
ウチャヌク uchanuku comes from the Japanese 御茶の子 (ochanoko). It is a plain rice cake made without sugar, typically used as an offering (供え物) for the hinukan (火の神) or altar (butsudan 仏壇).
It comes as 3 tiers of 3 pieces, as well as a “bonus” one for making a “new offering,” which you can remove the top piece from stack and replace with the bonus one. It is a frugal way to extend the life of your offering.
The taste is not so great, so it is recommended if you want to eat this thing, you should heat it in the oven for about 2 minutes and then add honey or a sweet shoyu mixture to it. I have also heard people say to add a little red bean paste (anko 餡子) and a strawberry, then wrap it to make similar to an ichigo daifuku 苺大福.
There is something else different and unique, called tanna uchanuku タンナウチャヌク. It is made from a simple brown sugar cookie called tannafakuruu タンナファクルー. Tannafa is “Tamanaha” 玉那覇, the name of the family who made it, and kuruu is “black” 黒 as in brown sugar 黒糖 in uchinaaguchi.
All of these are easily available at grocery stores in Okinawa, especially around important times of year where offerings are needed.
*more pictures coming soon… sorry this photo is just of regular Tannafakuru!
Manjuu 饅頭, or まんじゅう, is a popular Japanese wagashi, specifically a rice cake, often with a sweet red bean paste filling.
*also sometimes romanized as manju.
城まんじゅう Gusuku manjuu is a manjuu shop located in Kitanakagusuku village. Of course, I love manjuu but this place is a little special. First, there are 3 types of handmade manjuu sold here: aasa (アーサ, a type of Okinawan seaweed), sesame (ごま), and azuki bean (小豆). Second, the manjuu here are steamed in fragrant shell ginger leaves (called サンニン sannin in Okinawan language), similar to famous “No” manjuu in Shuri and muuchii. Since the leaves of ginger shell have bactericidal effect, in the old days Okinawan people would often wrap rice balls and muuchii with the leaves.
My friends bought some of these manjuu the other day and gave me some… they were very delicious. The delicate smell and taste of the shell ginger leaves infused into sweets has grown on me since living here.
The shop sells both individual and packages of manjuu; good for omiyage or tomb offerings, particularly for shiimii.
Recently, my hula kumu (sensei/teacher) brought in shark meat and skins from a fishing tour she took here in the southern part of Okinawa main island. Now, admittedly, I paled a bit… killing/eating sharks can be a bit taboo in Hawaiian culture (since some people believe it may be a god or guardian spirit or ancestor), so this was a bit of a shock to me. Now, it depends, as some people do catch and eat shark in Hawaii (only the cutting and eating of fins is illegal), but I would say overall it is somewhat uncommon.
Now, I have seen shark (サメ pronounced sah-meh) for sale in some of the Okinawa grocery stores with fancier fresh fish sections before, so I knew it was not unusual for Japanese people, per se. But it was still a shock, and not just to me but some of my Okinawan hula friends as well since it is not a commonly eaten food.
Anyway, it was certainly unique to hear and see video/pictures of the experience, as well as see the meat and skins in person. We helped clean the skins (皮 kawa) to be used to make drums later. My kumu gave away the meat to anyone who was willing; I am sorry to announce I simply was not up to the challenge so I cannot give any personal story here. My kumu recommended frying in butter and garlic; some of my friends made like a bread-crumb crusted bake as well. Most claimed “oishii,” though some of my friends like myself declined the shark meat challenge. After all, it was not the most pleasant of odors… though maybe I missed out on something delicious. I am still uncertain about how I feel regarding shark meat.
So, if you are in Okinawa, and would like to experience eating shark, it is very possible to do. I am not sure I comfortably recommend it, but it is definitely possible. I don’t know that I have ever seen it on a restaurant menu though so you may need to buy it from the grocery store and prepare it yourself. Perhaps I need to add this to the bizarre foods of Okinawa post I made earlier…
I decided I would post some of my favorite fruit and vegetable markets here in Okinawa. Most of these are near to RyuDai (University of the Ryukyus), not necessarily the American bases. I prefer the markets with less foreigners (since most of the ones that cater to Americans import a lot of their produce to satisfy demand) and more domestic/local produce, rather than imported goods. It is always import to check/read the labels to see where your produce comes from– just because it is sold locally does not mean it is grown locally. That being said, some products simply are either not grown locally, or very expensive compared to imported versions, so sometimes you have to pick your battles.
A good example of this is garlic: Chinese garlic is incredibly cheap, and a lot of the garlic sold in Okinawa comes from China. Garlic from Aomori prefecture is pretty expensive, and while it may be higher quality and tastier, it can be hard to justify the price especially when you are on a budget. Locally grown Okinawan garlic is seasonal, so it is important to buy it while it is cheap during Spring time! Of course, it only lasts so long.
Anyway, first check out the key terms for locating a farmers market in GoogleMaps, then I list some of my favorites. If you are in Okinawa looking for fresh local fruit and vegetables, these are some of the best places to look in the South-Central area of the island. Perhaps later I will add some of the Northern area markets in… (like Onna-no-eki, a great place to check out if you go up there!). There are also plenty of supermarkets around, but often times you will find better deals at the farm markets, so it is worth checking them out.
青果 seika: fruit and vegetables
青果店 seikaten: fruit and veg shop
青果市場 seika ichiba: fruit and veg market
八百屋 yaoya: greengrocer, or produce market
ファーマーズマーケット: farmers market, written in katakana
野菜 or やさい yasai: vegetables
果物 kudamono: fruit
List of recommended markets (I will update with some more as I have time):
Nakagusuku Farm Minami 中城ファーム南 (Nakagusuku): This place usually has a lot of stuff cheap. It is my “go to market” whenever I need something. https://goo.gl/maps/AQjmqmgEXDD2
HappyMore ハッピーモア市場 (Ginowan): Sometimes cheap, sometimes not so cheap, it depends on the item… but it has a lot of chemical/pesticide-free and “organic” items, as well as a curry cafe with smoothies. It is a really nice market overall. Sometimes I can find interesting things. https://goo.gl/maps/Z8kbW8tFeho
Kariyushi 軽便駅 かりゆし市 (Nanjo): Tons of locally-grown stuff, and usually the cheapest prices around. It is a bit further from me, so I don’t go there as much as I would like. I only ever see locals in here, never foreigners. Also this place has a lot of fresh cut flowers for cheap, as well as potted plants. https://goo.gl/maps/djLtDsgPBs42
JA Agarihama あがりはま市場 (Yonabaru): One of the Japan Ag (JA) stores. Usually not too crowded (unlike the JA stores near the bases). Sometimes a bit more expensive than the other farmers markets, but cheaper than produce at the supermarkets/grocery stores. https://goo.gl/maps/cqA1wfFXvJo
JA Kugani くがに市場 (Haebaru): Also one of the JA stores, this one is brand new. It has a lot of variety and things I have not seen in the other JA markets. There is also a gelato stand outside here… dangerous! https://goo.gl/maps/BhYwQHaWB8K2
Agri-house Kochinda アグリハウスこちんだ (Yaese): Lots of cheap, local produce, as well as eggs (there is an egg farm next door). You can buy eggs in bulk here. https://goo.gl/maps/RU5kid6kcjH2
野菜, or also seen as やさい (pronounced yasai) means vegetables.
At RyuDai 琉大 (short for Ryukyu Daigaku 琉球大学, the University of the Ryukyus), there is an occasional vegetable stand by the “Welcome Plaza” at the Nishihara/South gate (西原口, also labelled 南口). It is run by the agricultural department field studies. The vegetables are grown in the fields at the school and are mostly local types of vegetables like goya, okra, ensai, carrots, and such.
I am not sure if there are any actual set open times, but I know it is open when I see the flags with “野菜” out at the Welcome Plaza. The only times I have noticed it open is around lunch times. Last time I bought a bag of okra and some enormous goya; the prices are pretty cheap for what you get. I should remember to try to stop by there more often, but I usually forget about it since I usually use the East gate (東口) or the North gate (北口) instead.
To explain this one is a little tricky. You will see various spellings in both Japanese and English!
シークヮーサー or シークァーサー or シークワーサー all mean “Citrus depressa,” a type of lime grown here in the Ryukyu islands. It is romanized as shikwasa (most common), shikuwasa, or shiquasa. In Japanese, it is also known as ヒラミレモン hirami lemon.
The name comes from 2 parts: 「シー」shii which means sour (酸い suppai in Japanese) and 「クワス」kuwasu meaning eating/to eat (食わし kuwashi).
It is small and similar to a lime: a sour, citrusy flavor. When I first saw them I thought maybe they were calamansi (which I adore), but the taste is a little different than that. Since the taste is so sour, most people add sugar to the juice to balance it. I prefer less sugar since I really like sour flavors.
You can buy shiqwasa in grocery stores and farmers markets (when they are in season*, or the 100% juice year-round. There is a shiqwasa “park” (tourist attraction) up north in Nago where you can try fresh juice.
*Shikwasa are generally in season from August through February, though they are most sour early in the season. Towards January and February they get less sour and can be eaten just as is.
You can buy just bottled PET bottle drinks of shikwasa drink which is diluted with water and tons of sugar added. It is a popular flavor for various sweet desserts/snacks and ice cream. There is even Okinawa limited potato chips with shikwasa flavor (kind of like salt and vinegar but a citrus-y acid!). Oh, and even Orion makes a shikwasa beer… it is not that great, but it is basically Orion beer with a tiny bit of shikwasa juice (and I think part of the citrus peel) added.
In Kin town 金武町 (Northern part of Okinawa), there is a temple and limestone cave where a shrine is located as well as bottles of awamori 泡盛 are stored for aging.
The first thing you need to know is that there are 2 entrances to the cave: the one at the temple is FREE, but is blocked off from the awamori storage. You will still be able to see pretty stalactite and stalagmite formations and descend into a portion of the cave BUT you will not see the area where the awamori and tofuyo 豆腐よう are aged. The temple itself is not very grand, but it is one of the typical old temples in Okinawa (of which there are very few).
If you want to see where the awamori is stored, you will need to pay the fee for the tour (adults are 400yen, the tour is only offered 3x per day). To do this, head to Tatsu no kura 龍の蔵, awamori and tofuyo store (you can also try yummy samples here) which is located just across the street from the temple. Tatsu 龍 means “dragon,” another reference to the importance of the dragon god in the Ryukyu kingdom. The shop is named this since the cave is known as the auspicious birthplace of the dragon god faith. We bought tickets for the tour, which started at 1:30 that day. I would post a schedule for the tours, but honestly it seems to change randomly and the tour times available when we arrived were completely different from what it said on their website, so I would call ahead unless you randomly are lucky like we were.
The cave is a chilly 18 degrees Celsius and the tour is offered in Japanese. But you can still join and enjoy the scenery if you do not understand Japanese. Bottle storage services are offered for 5, 12 and 20 years; many customers store bottles here to commemorate a wedding or birth of a child. A lot of the bottles are decorated with messages.
Normally aged for just 3 months, the tofuyo here is aged for a year or more! It is pricy here, but really delicious… I recommend sampling it all. We bought some to take home. I have previously visited their branch store in Naha and ate their tofuyo, but it was the first time for my husband. It was interesting being able to see the cave where everything is aged and stored.
狩り kari means “hunting” which in this context means more like “picking fruit.”
Believe it or not, there are 2 farms located in Nakijin (North part of Okinawa, not far from Nakijin castle 今帰仁城) that have grape picking for a short time in July. One is Komesu vineyard 米須ぶどう園 and the other is Ishikawa vineyard 石川ぶどう園. In the past I believe there were more, but these are the 2 that I know of. Both farms grow the kyoho grape variety 巨峰, which are a large and sweet.
Now, this is not really cheap here in Okinawa, so you won’t be getting a “deal” or anything… though there is no entrance fee, it is 1500yen per kilogram. That being said, they are fresh and very delicious.
Anyway, after missing the season last year, at last we made our way up there. If you visit, look for the flags with ぶどう狩り or 巨峰 and pictures of grapes. We got to Komesu at 10am, were explained the rules, given scissors and a basket, and let loose. We were told the grapes in the bags with a red mark were ripe and ready for being cut down. Since it is not terribly cheap, we only cut a few down.
Afterwards they weighed the fruits of our labor and we paid the fee. We also tried a grape smoothie made with local kyoho grapes being sold by a vendor at the vineyard… I don’t normally like grape flavored things, but made with fresh local grapes the ice-cold smoothie was sooo good.
We decided to drive to Ishikawa vineyard next since it was nearby. This vineyard was a little more difficult to find, located off a road not even in GoogleMaps… so you may end up circling a bit. We stopped by and took pictures. It was a bit more crowded (with all locals), so we decided we probably had enough grapes anyway and moved along. Overall we had quite a bit of fun and the fresh grapes really are much better than what you normally buy in the stores. To be honest, I don’t typically love grapes, but I really like these kyoho grapes.
Both places recommend calling ahead to make sure they have enough grapes for picking, or even reservations if it is particularly busy (otherwise you may drive up there and leave empty-handed). We took our chances and did not call ahead, but since we were there early in the morning, as well as one of the first weekends they were open for picking, we had no problems at all. So I recommend showing up close to opening time (9am) and NOT waiting until the end of the day, otherwise you may be out of luck. I also recommend trying to get there early in the picking season, otherwise they close up shop when they run out of grapes; this is what happened to us last year. Typically the season is during the whole month of July; usually the event sites or newspaper publish an article when the time is near.
亀の甲せんべい kame no ko senbei: tortoise shell senbei (rice cracker)
Sometimes it is abbreviated to かめせん kamesen.
Kamenoko senbei is shaped like tortoise shell. It is an old-fashioned Okinawa snack, but still popular. It is salty and fried crackers. It is cheap to buy in stores.
There are a few different brands of kamenoko senbei, one is Tamaki snack company. Recently I tried the ume (plum) flavor– it was so good and addictive. It is called 梅小亀 ume kogame (plum small tortoise).
I heard that some people used to eat it with chocolate sauce as a treat for children.
It is easy to find this type of senbei in all the grocery stores.