Kin Kannonji (temple) & Awamori Cave

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.

check out some pictures here: http://imgur.com/a/qJET5


address:

Kin Kannonji 金武観音寺: the parking lot is across the street from the temple.  https://goo.gl/maps/5f94bKcMJXQ2

Tatsu no kura 龍の蔵: https://goo.gl/maps/dPy3C2BeQoF2

Island Garlic: 島にんにく

にんにく Ninniku means garlic in Japanese; in Okinawan it is ヒル hiru. Some of my  neighbors grow lots of fresh island garlic for cheap, so I am particularly lucky. In Japan, Aomori (towards the north) is a large garlic-producing region, but the garlic is rather expensive. Many stores sell garlic imported from China for cheap. So when Okinawa garlic season is in full swing, I take advantage and buy a lot, because it is fresh, tasty, and cheap. It is not as dried out as other garlic, so it tends to have a fresher scent, and perhaps a bit sharper taste.

Recently, I have made some batches of ninniku-shuu にんにく酒~~ oishii! In Okinawan, it is known as hiru-zaki ヒルザキ, although some people may even refer to it as にんにく泡盛 ninniku awamori. I have heard some people drink this (?!!) as sort of a medicinal thing, but I cannot help but imagine that is simply too strong. It is also used as a condiment for cooking, and especially goes really good in stir-fry dishes. Basically the garlic soaks in the awamori (or other strong clear liquor of one’s choice) while the garlicky essence permeates the liquid… sort of like making an extract I guess. Anyhow, it is actually really good, and with all this local garlic, it is a good way to capture the flavor when fresh garlic becomes scarce in the later months.

On the mainland, I think most people use something referred to as “white liquor” ホワイトリカー or shochu 焼酎 to make ninniku-shu. In Okinawa, of course the local favorite would be awamori. So… awamori it is for me, as well.

Island peppers: 島唐辛子

Shima tougarashi 島唐辛子 are island peppers, similar to small thai chilis. These type of small red peppers are also common in Hawai’i.

While Hawaiians make chili water, Okinawans make koregusu コーレーグース (also seen as コーレーグス). The difference is Okinawans put the chilis in Awamori 泡盛. Yup, that’s the recipe, just add some small red chilis to cheap awamori, let it “age” a bit, and you have Okinawa’s equivalent of hot sauce. I read someone use a ratio of 20 peppers to 200mL of awamori, but my husband says that is not really enough and to just add as much as you like. Suffice to say, it is simple to make at home (check out the “recipe” in my recipes section). Sometimes I buy bottles from little obaasans that bottle their own in the farmers markets or alongside the road.

If you like this, you may consider also trying hiruzaki ヒルザキ, made from island garlic and awamori.

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Awamori: 泡盛

Awamori 泡盛 is the local liquor here in the Ryukyu Islands. It is very different than Japanese mainland liquor 日本酒 nihonshu or “sake” as many foreigners refer to it as.  Sake 酒 actually means “alcohol” in Japanese and refers to everything from beer and chuhai to seishu and whiskey.

Awamori gets its name from the bubbles (awa 泡) that appear on it surface when it is distilled. Since it is unique to Okinawa, you may also hear it called shima-zake 島酒 (translation: island liquor).

Firstly, awamori is distilled and not brewed, which makes it more similar to shochu 焼酎. It is also made from long-grain Thai rice, not Japanese short-grain rice. Occasionally you will hear it referred to as shima-zake 島酒, “island liquor.” If an awamori has been aged more than 3 years in a clay pot, it is then considered kusu 古酒, “old liquor.” Typically the alcohol content of awamori is 25%-45%… so be careful, it can be quite potent.

Some important to note is aging time: similar to a whiskey, aging changes the flavor a lot. If there is no indication of aging time on the label, it is under 3 years and considered “new” liquor. Otherwise, you will see 3 year, 5 year, 8 year, 10 year… probably not a lot older than this but you might find some. 古酒 “kusu” is the kanji to look for when searching for an aged awamori.

Personally, I mostly only use awamori to make “koregusu” コーレーグス, the local chili water you see on all the tables of shokudo restaurants. In this case, I just buy whatever is cheap or on sale.

There are many distilleries on the islands where you can see how it is made and try some samples. Behind Shuri-jo is the Zuisen distillery 瑞泉 and Chuko distillery 忠孝蔵 in Tomigusuku is a second place. Another recently discovered location is Masahiro in Itoman.


addresses for Awamori distilleries you can visit and sample:

South:

Zuisen 瑞泉酒造: 〒903-0814 沖縄県那覇市首里崎山町1-35  https://goo.gl/maps/xbi3ERYZC2n

Masahiro まさひろ酒造: 〒901-0306 沖縄県糸満市西崎町5-8-7  https://goo.gl/maps/TrEFwEeDUWz

Chuko 忠孝蔵: 豊見城市字伊良波 556-2  https://goo.gl/maps/oAyUbJFut192

North:

Helios ヘリオス酒造: 〒905-0024 沖縄県名護市許田405  https://goo.gl/maps/LbKTCDvjmuy