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!
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.
しゃぶしゃぶ: shabu shabu, a style of hotpot dish. The name comes from the sound the ingredients make swishing in the pot.
In Okinawa, there are a few places to try shabu shabu dining. This weekend, we found an amazing place up north. Yanbaru Dining Churashima Kitchen (YANBARU DINING 美ら島キッチン) in Motobu. It is mixed in with the Nago Agri Park, located behind the NeoPark Okinawa. It is in the back corner of the lot, and you will walk by some small stores and cafes to get there.
During lunch, prices are reasonable (1580yen per person): it comes with 100g of meat (Okinawa agu pork and chicken, which I just gave to my husband) and all you can eat veggies, rice, side dishes, soft drinks, etc. This place was great because it featured all Yanbaru produce and greens… there was so much fresh variety. You just grab a tray and fill up bowls with the veggies you want for cooking and they will bring out the broth and the meat (they also have some “specialty veggies” which they will bring out in separate bowls, so if they ask you any questions, just say YES = HAI!). Get some rice, dipping sauces, some side dishes, a salad… then get to work cooking and eating. Once your pot is boiling add veggies or meat as you like– the leafy veggies will cook very quickly, the thicker veggies and meat will take longer. Just use you hashi (chopsticks) to add and fish out the pieces you like. Dip in the sauce of your choice and it is ready to eat.
The menu is in Japanese, so you can order extra meat, but I am not sure you would need it. The workers also only spoke Japanese from my interactions with them, which again, should be fine since it is not so complicated. Just remember the large bar of veggies is for cooking, and the smaller table is for salad use (it says サラダ用 on it). There were many amazing Okinawa veggies, like handama, sakuna, fuchiba, and more.
Everything was delicious and we were quite full leaving. I didn’t get any pictures of the meat or cooking, I was too busy eating…
軽便駅かりゆし市 “Keibin-eki Kariyushi-ichi” is the name of a fantastic local market in Nanjo, the southern part of Okinawa. Every time I go, it is locals only. Maybe 外人 do not really know of this place. It seems to be a bit further from the American bases. But this place almost always seems has some the cheapest, freshest local produce with a lot of variety. There is even a huge selection of fresh cut flowers, as well as plants. There are breads from local bakeries, local eggs, EM products, and other local products. The place is quite large and has lots of parking.
This market is one of my favorites and I never walk away disappointed. They are open every day from 8am- 7pm.
Here is an outline of potatoes you can find in Okinawa (in no particular order). The word for potato is imo 芋 in kanji, いも in hiragana. I will upload some images later for easy identification.
jaga-imo じゃがいも: this is plain old potato.
May queen メイクイーン: a popular type of jaga-imo. There are probably several varieties of jaga-imo around, but there are not always specifically labelled.
beni-imo 紅芋: the famous purple Okinawa potato. The skin is white-ish and the flesh purple, it is somewhat sweet. Many people use it to make desserts.
ougon-imo 黄金芋: these are orange sweet potatoes grown in Ikei-jima of Uruma city. These are related to the famous annou-imo 安納芋 in Kyushu on mainland Japan. These potatoes are so naturally sweet and flavorful. Many people use them like “american sweet potatoes.”
satsuma-imo さつまいも: these are yellow sweet potatoes, usually with a reddish skin. They are usually baked or made into candy/sweets. Many people buy these thinking they will be like american sweet potatoes, but they do not cook the same. These are best as yaki-imo (baked potato) and are sold in stores already baked over hot stones in fall and winter. There is even a yaki-imo truck that drives through neighborhoods it is so popular.
murasaki-imo 紫芋: these are the purple species of satsuma-imo. Used similarly as above… baked!
sato-imo 里芋 or taimo 田芋 (taamu ターム or taanmu ターンム in Okinawa language): Taro! Of course it is popular here in Okinawa. It seems some westerners do not know what to do with it, but islanders (and some others) all know how and have many different ways to eat this. Chinnuku ちんぬく is a type of Okinawan taro sold in stores. Popular ways to eat taro: boiled then mashed with a bit of sugar, stews (try a polynesian version with coconut milk and fish), or fried chips.
yama-imo 山芋: this wild mountain yam. It has many uses and is very healthy. That being said, its texture is usually a tad slimy and sticky when it is grated. A popular topping for Japanese soba noodles and also used when making okonomiyaki.You may also see it called naga-imo 長芋.
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.
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.
This can be romanized a few ways: moui or mo-i, I think are most common. Moui known in English as Chinese cucumber, red gourd, or just yellow cucumber. It looks just like a giant yellow-orange cucumber. It is a pretty common summer vegetable here in Okinawa, and since it is getting cheap in the markets, I will probably make some pickles from it.
It pretty much tastes and looks like a large yellow cucumber. It can be eaten plain, pickled, added to salads, or even cooked in soups. There are some Okinawan recipes for using it in side dishes.
Click for a pickles recipe using moui on this page. Perhaps later I will add in some other recipes from local friends.
Handama is the Okinawan word for a type of local spinach known as 水前寺菜 suizenjina in Japanese. It is considered very healthy and visually striking, as the fronts are dark green and the backs a brilliant purple. Handama works best in salads, raw.
If you drive about some of the more “rural” parts of Okinawa, you may notice small wooden stands with vegetables and fruit. They are unmanned, with an honor box to collect money. You might not recognize them at first, as some of them may look a bit run down or in odd places alongside the road. This is where you get the best deals on produce. Fortunately for me, there are about a dozen within walking distance of my house.
I always stop when I see them… you never know what you will find. Tomatoes, beets, onions, fresh garlic, lettuce, random greens, cabbage, potatoes, watermelon, dragonfruit… the list goes on. When you find something you like, drop the payment in the box and say “いただきます!” itadakimasu! Translation: I will receive (eat) this well, or something to that effect. It is also said before meals, as a thanks.
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.
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.
Hechima, a.k.a sponge gourd or loofah vegetable. Many mainland Japanese do not consider eating this vegetable and instead make sponges from it. However, hechima is a staple in Okianwan cuisine. The Okinawan word is “nabera” ナーベーラー and “hechima” ヘチマ is the Japanese word.
While I was at an onsen resort on the mainland, I talked to some people about Okinawan food like hechima and goya. They had never eaten either, and were shocked to learn that these foreigners had. I guess it goes to show how different Okinawan cuisine is from typical Japanese cuisine. That being said, I will be the first to admit I do not love hechima, but tolerate it mostly because it is cheap. It can be very watery when you cook it, so you need to find a way to absorb or get rid of the excess water that comes out when it cooks.
There are simple ways to eat it; most involve some sort of stir-fry or sauté. When I asked the (older) Okinawan ladies that I teach eikawa (English conversation), they recommended spam and hechima fried in a bit of oil (okay, actually I think they said pork fat not oil, but do as you prefer). On a few restaurant menus I have seen hechima chanpuru (basically a type of Okinawa stir-fry); I also recently found a hechima tempura recipe, though I worry it might be a bit watery for this, perhaps the crispy tempura will balance it out. It is also a popular item to add to simple soups (an easy way is consumme soup, hechima cut into pieces, small pieces of ham, and some Japanese mushrooms). I suppose I will continue to try various recipes until I find something I truly like with hechima. Even my ladies admitted they did not like hechima as children, but it has grown on them, sort of a “soul food” for them now.
**Recipe for “Hechima Steaks” on this page, scroll down to find hechima.
In the picture below, hechima is on the far left. It curiously resembles a cucumber or maybe a zucchini in outward appearance a bit, but when you cut into it, you will see that it is much different.
No discussion on Okinawan food is complete without the inclusion of the infamous vegetable goya ゴーヤー, a.k.a. bitter melon. This beloved vegetable is often touted as one of the reasons behind Okinawan people’s longevity. That being said, many non-Okinawans do not care for goya. Bizarrely, it is the complete opposite in my house– my husband loves it!
Goya is fairly easy to prepare and can be turned into a variety of dishes. When you get a goya, follow a few simple steps to prepare it for cooking and mitigate the bitter taste. First, cut the goya in half lengthwise, so you have 2 long strips of goya. The seeds and pith will be exposed; if any of the seeds are reddish color THAT IS OKAY, do not panic and throw it out, it is is normal. Next you will need to remove and discard the seeds and pith; my favorite way to do this is actually with a grapefruit spoon because it has those nice little scraping edges. Once the middle is cleaned, sprinkle the INSIDE (not outside) of the goya with salt and let it sit for awhile (maybe 15 minutes, half hour). Rinse and it is ready to use.
There are many ways to use it, although probably #1 in Okinawa is in a dish called goya chanpuru ゴーヤーチャンプルー. Chanpuru just means a stir-fry type dish (you will see many types of chanpuru listed on the menus in Okinawa shokudo). Goya chanpuru is typically a combination of egg, goya, tofu, bean sprouts, spam, and chanpuru sauce. You can make your own chanpuru sauce or buy it from the grocery.
You can also make goya pickles, goya tenpura, or even just grill the goya. My husband loves to just grill goya in the summertime, as a side to hotdogs or hamburgers. He just takes a half goya (cleaned) and marinates in some oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, then grills until tender.
The best part of spring is riding my bicycle around the neighborhood, scouring the farm boxes for fresh vegetables. Rakkyou are currently in season here in Okinawa. They are kinda like shallots… but their flavor is wonderful as pickles or as tempura.
Recently, we had “izakaya” night at home. Izakaya 居酒屋 means Japanese style bar/drinking place. I was gifted an expensive seishuu 清酒 from Niigata prefecture after a research meeting with a company president. That is another topic for later. Anyway, we made rakkyou tempura which really goes well with alcohol! Refreshing.