Usanmi ウサンミ: Okinawa Feast Boxes

ウサンミ (kanji: 御三味): usanmi.

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.

taimo (tanmu) 田芋: taro, usually fried. Optional.

daikon nitsuke 大根煮付: boiled daikon (radish). Optional.

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!

Display of Usanmi at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum

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.

easy prep packages in the grocery store.

Makabe Chinaa: 茶処 真壁ちなー

茶処 真壁ちなー Makabe Chinaa is located in Itoman, in an old traditional Okinawan house. It is in a small, quiet neighborhood. When you drive there, you wonder if you are going the correct way… but not to worry, it is not too difficult to find and has ample parking.

When you enter, remove your shoes. Most of the seating is tatami seating. The menu is in both Japanese and English. It is mostly typical shokudo food– champuru, suba, and some others. The price is a little higher than some typical shokudo, but it is also a nicer setting.

The atmosphere is very relaxing, taking you back in time when life was a slower pace. There is no A/C or central heating, truly an old traditional building.

The food was pretty good; we ordered tofu chanpuru, fu chanpuru teishoku (came with mini soba and a choice of purple rice or juushii), and hirayachi. Overall a very nice experience.

address: 沖縄市糸満市真壁223番地

New Year gathering, Shinnenkai: 新年会

新年会 shinnenkai: first gathering in the New Year.

Shinnenkai is the counterpart to bonenkai 忘年会 which is the end of the year party. These parties are social gatherings for work, classmates, social clubs, or just friends; they typically involve alcohol, much like bonenkai, or well, any other Japanese social gathering.

This year, the hulau (hula dance group) I am in held a shinnenkai in Naha, at an izakaya just off Kokusaidori in Naha called とぅばらーま Toubaraama (it is named after a folk song from the Yaeyama islands). It is a decent sized place, with a large party room (with a small stage) available for rental. As with most large gatherings, it was a set fee for tabehoudai 食べ放題 and nomihoudai 飲み放題 (all you can eat and drink).

The food was mostly local-style Okinawan/Ryukuan favorites, and in the regular restaurant part they had menus in English, Chinese, and Korean (seeing as how we were on the main tourist drag of Kokusaidori, this is not a surprise). The had juices, awamori, Orion beer, and various highball (cocktails). Since it was a large group to accommodate, it was set up buffet and self-service style rather than table service (which is more often how it is with group course plans). When there are not large groups reserving the hall, they also offer entertainment such as sanshin, Okinawa folk music/dance, etc during dinner time.

During the shinnenkai, members from each class put on stage performances, there was a raffle, and a gift exchange. It was my kumu’s (sensei, teacher) birthday, so we also got her a cake. Overall, it was a lot of fun and a good bonding experience.

Afterwards, groups broke out to go to nijikai 二次会 (these means “round 2” in Japanese, and then sometimes 三次会, etc.). We went to a westernized izakaya that had a lady’s course menu 女性コース. At this point, our little group was pretty tipsy and went home~

address of Toubaraama: 〒900-0013沖縄県那覇市牧志2-7-25




Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬

冬瓜漬: tougatsuke, tougadzuke. The first 2 kanji are 冬瓜 tougan, which is “winter melon” in English. The last kanji is 漬 (usually ‘tsuke’) meaning “pickle” or “preserve.” So the meaning of this term is something like pickled/preserved winter melon.

Tougan is also known as shibui しぶい in Okinawan language. It is a very hearty and cheap vegetable here in Okinawa. The word winter melon is sort of funny, because it is actually harvested in summer, but it is easy to store these and they will last all winter, so hence winter melon.

Anyway,  I recently visited the Jahana Kippan Shop 謝花きっぱん店 in Naha. These shop is the only shop that still makes 2 very famous Ryukuan sweets called kippan and tougatsuke. During the Ryukyu kingdom era, these sweets were enjoyed by the emperor and high ranking nobles as delicacies, one of the 16 types of special fruits and desserts served in the Royal Court. This shop has amazing quality sweets, everything I sampled was so good; since I am a student, my budget was the “imperfect” pieces that they sold in small bags instead of the beautiful perfectly shaped ones.

To make tougatsuke, the juiciest flesh from tougan is used, as well as Okinawan sugarcane. There are no preservatives or artificial flavors here, just natural food made in the same style as the Ryukyu kingdom era. It is amazing that a simple tougan is turned into this sweet concoction! They recommend keeping it chilled, slicing thin pieces, and serving with tea or dessert wine. It is hard to describe the exact flavor– it was very sweet, and a little juicy, sort of melts in your mouth. An excellent pairing with some green tea.

Update: I later purchased the shiqwasa flavored tougatsuke and it is also delicious. I sampled the Okinawan sugarcane rum flavor in the store as well, and it was nice with a hint of rummy flavor.

Address:Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo 1-5-14

Tofuyo: 豆腐よう

豆腐よう: Tofuyo (toufuyou).

This is a fermented specialty food of the Ryukyu kingdom, enjoyed only by emperor’s family and few privileged nobles during the Ryukyu kingdom era.

It is intense and delicate, all at the same time. Creamy, and a bit pungent, sort of like a fancy European cheese, this is not to be missed while in Okinawa! Tofuyo is dried shima-doufu, marinated and fermented in red kouji and awamori (Okinawa liquor).

Perhaps to a westerner, it does not sound appetizing, but I promise it is! When I first heard about it, I actually pictured something closer to “stinky tofu” of Taiwan, and felt a little timid about trying it, but it is much different! The smell is quite pleasant, a little bit alcoholic, and the texture really is reminiscent of a creamy cheese. The taste can be a bit intense, but it is not overwhelming.

These days tofuyo can be purchased in just about any grocery store in Okinawa. Recently I visited one of the fancier producers in Naha, Tatsu-no-kura 龍の蔵. I was able to sample a bit of everything… and it was amazing. A delicacy indeed, though a bit expensive… this is a special occasion food.

It has come to my attention that Tatsu-no-kura has a store and awamori/fermentation limestone cave up North near Kin kannon-ji (temple). There are 2 parts of the cave system, one for the temple (free) and one for the shop (entrance fee), so don’t get then confused! Go to the store in Kin to pay and join a tour… it is fun!


Naha address for Tatsu-no-kura 龍の蔵: 〒900-0014 Okinawa-ken, Naha-shi, Matsuo, 1 Chome 1-9-47

address for Kin Limestone Cave 金武鍾乳洞:

Kin address for Tatsu-no-kura (to visit cave):

Fu: 麩

Fu ふ (麩) is wheat gluten, often added to soups. It contains a lot of starch and is usually eaten in exchange for meat, especially in vegetarian temple food. It is also low of calories, low in fat and easy to digest. In Okinawa, it is mostly sold in dried, long tubes and is called 車麩 kurumu fu, although other forms are usually available in most grocery stores. Another bonus: it is CHEAP. So… of course it is popular(ish)!

Many people add it to miso soup to make it more filling.

Fu chanpuru フーチャンプルー is a popular dish in Okinawa. It is just like goya chanpuru, but with fu substituted for goya (or sometimes both are used!). Chanpuru is basically just a stir-fry.

So, when in Okinawa, try some fu. If you order fu chanpuru, don’t be surprised if the server taking you order looks at you funny… I do not think it is very popular with foreigners. We have been asked if we were ordering the correct thing before. Luckily I am able to reassure them that we know what it is and like it.