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.
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.
I realize most foreigners are more interested in strange KitKat flavors than traditional confections, but for those who would like a true flavor of the Ryukyu Kingdom (you know, besides westernized beniimo tarts), here are some must-try places.
Ryukyu sweets are quite different from Japanese sweets, and are probably more similar to Chinese sweets since they were mostly developed to entertain the Chinese envoys when they visited the Ryukyu Royal Court. Most of these traditional confectionaries are centered around Shuri and Naha.
Jahana Kippan: The Jahana family has been creating 2 types of traditional sweets for a long time; tougatsuke and kippan. These are exquisite and I cannot recommend them enough.
Arakaki Kami, Arakaki Honpo and Arakaki Honke: these 3 shops are all descendants of the same ancestor, hence their similarities. But they are all 3 slightly different, so it is worth a look to check them out. They carry chiinsukou and chiirunkou, and I know Honke carries hanaborou, senjukou, and tauchiichau (described in a previous post here).
Matsuhara Shop, located inside Makishi Market: You can try a lot of interesting things here at this shop, from sata andagi to muuchii, and even things like machikaji and kunpen. The sata andagi comes in many flavors, like brown sugar, beniimo, and more.
Zaha Confection Shop: I have made several small purchases here. It is a bit of an odd mix of western style alongside some traditional Ryukyu items.
And of course, no trip to Okinawa would be complete without trying bukubuku-cha, tea of the Ryukyu royal court. Most places serve the tea with small traditional Ryukyu accompaniments, such as chinsukou, kunpen, kuzu mochi, etc.
Some of the more common confections such as chinsukou can be purchased in regular omiyage shops, airport stores, and grocery stores– but for something special (and possibly quite unique) I recommend you check out some of the places listed above.
きっぱん （橘餅）kippan is a traditional Ryukyu confection. It is made from kaabuchii カーブチー citrus (also called “kunenbo” 九年母) which grows in Yanbaru (northern Okinawa). The outside skin is peeled and the entire fruit is then used. It takes 4 days to make! It was one of the 16 different kinds of fine fruits, desserts and sweets served to the Royal Court, especially when entertaining envoys from China, but eventually became available to the common people as well.
There is only one shop in Okinawa that continues the laborious process of making this luxurious confection– Jahana Kippan-ten 謝花きっぱん店. They also make tougatsuke, preserved winter melon sweets.
Anyway, these are made with no preservatives or artificial flavors. Just simply a luxurious dessert to go with tea. The flavor is deep and rich, my husband said it was reminiscent of a fruitcake with the dried preserved fruit flavor. It is recommended to be paired with a fine tea or dessert wine. The kippan does not come cheap at ~420yen per piece, but considering the care and labor that goes into making each one by hand it is worth the luxury.
On the 5th month 4th day of the lunar year is a day known as yukkanuhi ユッカヌヒー, meaning “4th day” in Okinawan language. It is to pray for good luck in fishing and maritime activities and a celebration day with traditional haarii ハーリー (dragon boat) races. This usually close to the end of the rainy season here in Okinawa. This year (2017) it will be Monday May 29th. Although I am supposed to go to work that day, I would really like to go watch the haarii…
On the 5th day of the 5th month, known as gungwachi gunichi グングヮチグニチ (五月五日, meaning “5th month 5th day” in Okinawan language), is Boy’s Day, also known as Children’s Day in the Japanese calendar (orginally “tengu no sekku” 端午の節句).
It is traditional to serve popo ぽーぽー and chinpin ちんぴん on these 2 days; it is also placed on the ancestors altar or the hinukan as an offering to pray for good health and prosperity of boys/children/family, as well as for ocean safety and good catches for fishermen.
It is also traditional to place irises (shoubu 菖蒲) and another type of sweet dish called amagashi アマガシ (or あまがし) on the altar or hinukan during these days in Okinawa.
Amagashi is sort of like a mix between amazake 甘酒 and zenzai ぜんざい; red beans mixed with rolled oats (wheat or barley), mung beans, rice koji, and brown sugar (it ferments for 2-3 days after making it). It used to be eaten with the leaves of the irises, but I have my doubts that it is common any more. It is possible to find pre-made in the local grocery stores, next to the zenzai cans and packages. It can be made with either Japanese azuki beans or red kidney beans, though the red kidney beans are actually more common due to the American influence after WW2, making them cheap and accessible.
ちいるんこう（鶏卵糕) chiirunkou is another type of traditional Ryukyuan sweet. It is like a steamed sponge cake, similar to castella カステラ. It is moist, fluffy, and delicious with that perfect hint of candied orange flavor and nuttiness from island peanuts called jimami ジーマーミ (the reddish dots are island peanuts dyed red with an orange peel sugar syrup). Like most Ryukyu sweets, this sponge cake was only consumed by nobility and royals; since eggs are a main ingredient and were scarce during the Ryukyu Kingdom era this cake was especially valued as a luxurious high-class sweet.
My husband and I both preferred the “regular” flavor to the brown sugar flavor. The brown sugar flavor was a bit heavier with a strong molasses taste, which for me did not quite fit with the sponginess of the cake. We served it with some Chinese green tea, perfect for the rainy season in Okinawa. It would also go well with bukubuku-cha, or even just plain sanpin-cha!
This particular chiirunkou came from Arakaki Kashiten 新垣菓子店 in Shuri, where I have purchased some Ryukyu sweets previously. It was sold as a half-and-half set with both cakes inside. Of course, as always, I was given ample free chinsukou cookies with my purchase. This makes a nice omiyage, as well.
In Nakagusuku village there is a small shop called Nakatomi Kashi-ten なかとみ菓子店 (Nakatomi sweets shop) that specializes in taimo pie. You can often find them selling their small fried pies at food events on the island or visit their shop.
The shop is on a small road off of Rt. 29 in Nakagusuku; at the turn their are purplish colored flags with the words 田いもパイ on them. Following the small signs down the road you will end up at their small shop where you can purchase the pies. Sometimes they have some seasonal sweets as well, but mostly it is just the taimo pies which are 100yen each.
The pies have a crispy fried outside and are stuffed with taimo filling. Very delicious. I recommend taking them home and reheating them, maybe adding a side of ice cream. This is one of the many unique sweets you can find in Okinawa!
くんぺん kunpen (in hiragana) is also sometimes seen as クンペン in katakana or as コンペン konpen. The representative kanji (which you probably will rarely see is 薫餅). It is another type of Okinawa sweet, one of the representative sweets from the Ryukyu Kingdom era (more Ryukyu sweets). It was often served to visiting Chinese envoys or during feast days. It is also a popular grave or shrine offering during Shiimii シーミー.
Kunpen looks plain and rustic on the outside, just a round little brown bun, but inside is full of an island peanut taste! I think this is a food that westerners can appreciate, since it kind of reminds me of peanut butter. The outside bun is a little dry and the peanut paste is sweet and rich so make sure to have some tea to drink while you eat this tasty treat. Personally I would recommend an unsweetened drink as you will get plenty of sweetness in the kunpen itself. Many bukubuku-cha cafes will serve a small piece of kunpen with the tea set.
You can find kunpen in supermarkets and some Okinawa sweets shops; it is very easy to find if you are interested in trying one. I bought the one in the picture from Zaha Kashiten in Shuri 座波菓子店. Some kunpen have sesame added in (or even other flavors as well), but this one does not– I think I prefer it that way.
Today I went to Arakaki Chinsukou Honpo 新垣ちんすこう本舗, an omiyage sweets shop in Shuri which has been in business since 1908. There are also 2 locations in Naha, near Kokusai-dori. An interesting note, there are also 2 more shops called Arakaki Honke 新垣本家 and Arakaki Kami 新垣カミ which are from the same ancestors that make chinsukou and other traditional sweets. Obviously, they are most famous for their chinsukou, however today I went for something a little different; some lesser-known traditional Ryukyu sweets:
千寿こう（せんじゅこう） senjukou (also romanized as senjuko): peanut butter, sesame seeds, and kippan (citrus peels that are boiled with sugar), then wrapped in lard-based pie dough with rainbow colors. Its shape is similar to the image of a lotus flower. It was re-introduced after a long time after being featured in a popular period drama called “Tempest.” This is the only shop in Okinawa which sells senjukou, and quantities are limited every day since it is made by hand.
闘鶏餃（たうちいちゃう）tauchiichau: traditional treat fried in lard, a sesame bean paste wrapped in a stiff pie crust with red and green dots added. It is named as such since it resembles a cockscomb (rooster comb).
花ぼうる hanabouru: ryukyu cookie with a hard texture and intricate decoration that is carefully shaped like a wisteria flower.
These sweets are perfect for tea-time, especially if you choose sanpin-cha (jasmine tea). Or if you want to be fancy, try recreating bukubuku-cha. Today though I decided on hibiscus tea.
At this shop, you can also find many varieties of chinsukou, as well as a few other traditional sweets only found in Okinawa. The staff was very friendly and had some samples out. If you make a purchase, they will give you a free chinsukou cookie to take with you. My husband liked the chinsukou best of the four items, but for me I think it was definitely the senjukou with its nutty taste with a hint of citrus (plus it is so cute looking!). The hanabouru would have actually gone better with coffee in our (westernized) opinion. As a reminder, these are not for strict vegetarians or others who don’t eat pork since all of these contain pork lard.
I am quite fascinated by all the various traditional Ryukyuan sweets and their differences from traditional Japanese wagashi; they developed independently, with influence from both China and Japan. The names of more than 200 sweets are found in literature, but almost all of the recipes were lost with the overthrow of the dynasty and then the mass destruction during World War II.
In Okinawan language it is pronounced machikaji まちかじ (松風). The 2 kanji that make up the name are “matsu” 松 meaning pine and “kaze” 風 meaning wind.
Machikaji is a type of senbei せんべい (cracker or cookie) that is colored red (well, more like pink), tied in knot. A red knot is an auspicious symbols, usually used for marriage, so it is commonly eaten at engagement or marriage ceremonies. Machikaji does not have to be limited to just engagements, so it is also eaten for other big celebratory occasions as well.
Today I purchased a machikaji at a shop called Zaha kashiten 座波菓子店 (菓子店 kashiten means “sweets shop”). I brought it home and ate it with tea; it was very delicious. A little sweet but not too much, with a little sesame flavor and crispy.
As a side note: I recently received a photo of my friend’s “engagement” (actually, official entry into her husband’s family registry) and there was a large plate of traditional treats including machikaji~~ I was amused.
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):
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 isfuchagi 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:
サングァチグァーシ (or also spelled サングヮチグヮーシ) Sangwachi gwashi is the Okinawan words for third month (March) sweets. In kanji it looks like 三月菓子, the first 2 characters meaning 3rd month (san gatsu in Japanese) and the next 2 characters meaning sweets/snacks (kashi in Japanese).
Why March? Because of Girls Day! But this is during the lunar calendar (which Okinawans still use to celebrate traditional/religious holidays, unlike most mainland Japanese).
Sangwachi gwashi is very similar to sata andagi, except it is longer and slightly different dough. It is sort of a sweetened fried dough. It is traditionally eaten at the beach on March 3rd of the lunar year (旧暦の3月3日), Hamauri 浜下り, the Okinawa version of Girls Day. On Hamauri, Okinawan families take their daughters down the beach and purify them with ocean water.
This year, one of my dear students made some for me to enjoy and it was indeed delicious. I am fortunate to teach Eikawa (English Conversation) to a group of older ladies and one gentleman; honestly they teach me as much as I teach them.