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.
While on a trip to Kusatsu onsen, I encountered quite a few tasty foods, so here is a look below at a few of the things I ate, in no particular order.
ぬれおかき nureokaki: The best way to describe this is a grilled rice cracker skewer, with some seasonings/toppings. My husband got the spicy one and I got one with black pepper and mayo. They were really good, but the spicy one was way too spicy. My husband likes spicy food but even he said the spice was too overpowering.
饅頭 manjuu: like any good onsen town, there is a ton of manjuu around. I enjoyed the karintou manjuu (crunchy manjuu) the best, but there are a few types to try out here. The outside of the manjuu is a little crispy and the inside is smooth bean paste.
揚げまんじゅう age-manjuu: so this is manjuu… deep-fried. Oh my. The taste was good, but definitely felt a bit unhealthy! I would limit how many of these you eat, but definitely try at least one.
温泉卵 onsen tamago: eggs soft-boiled in onsen water. When you crack it open into a bowl, the are soft and creamy, cooked to perfection. Usually they have a little shoyu or sauce to add to it, and you just eat it with a spoon. My husband is addicted to these.
温泉卵ソフト onsen egg soft-serve ice cream: okay, so this sounds kinda gross… egg flavored ice cream? But it really means like a creamy egg-y custard-pudding flavor, not boiled eggs flavor. It was really tasty, and I was really surprised at how good it was. I was initially a little apprehensive of the flavor name.
蕎麦 soba: When in mainland Japan, I pretty much always eat soba. Especially whenever I am in mountainous or onsen areas. Soba here was pretty good, so I was not disappointed. We specifically ate at Mikuni-ya 三國家, which had a long line, but it was worth it. So if you want to eat here during the busy season, be sure to arrive early! They had a special plate of soba for 2-3 servings, then you can order your dipping soup and tempura separately. This is probably good for families or very hungry couples, but we each ended up ordering our own individual servings since we knew we would not be able to finish that much food. Plus for 2 people it is probably a bit cheaper to just order individually anyway.
舞茸天ぷら maitake tenpura: maitake is a type of mushroom, the name actual means “dancing mushroom” and is supposed to be pretty healthy for you. Made into tempura it is delicious (but probably not as healthy). I ate it with my soba.
せんべい senbei: some fancy rice crackers were sold; this one was shoyu-negi flavor (soy sauce and green onion). It was a large cracker with a rather sweet chewy outside.
甘納豆 Amanatto: a kind of sweetened beans, which does not bear fruit below 700 meters above sea level. First the beans are dried, then put into water and finally they are cooked in sugar.
Let’s not forget the beer and drinks.
Cider, two types: 湯けむりサイダー Yu-kemuri (not pictured) and 大滝乃湯サイダー Otaki-no-yu (pictured): Awful. Also remember cider in Japan refers to soda pop, not apples or alcohol. I do not recommend unless you really like sweet sugary drinks. It is made with natural water form the onsen area or something.
軽井沢ビール Karuizawa beer: Turns out this area is close to Kusatsu, so many of the beers were available. I have seen 1 or 2 of these in Okinawa, but here I saw so many different types.
草津温泉物語 Kusatsu onsen monogatari beer: We saw 3 different types with this label. We tried them all and enjoyed each one. The price for them was also not too unreasonable, ~500yen.
Special mention: While in Ueno, I could not resist getting a donut from Shiretoko donuts. It is a “wasshoi” festival panda. “Wasshoi” ワッショイ is chant used in Japanese festivals.
蕎麦 soba: buckwheat, or buckwheat noodles. This is the type of soba common in the mainland of Japan, not the kind used for Okinawa suba (soba).
Did you know that in the northern part of Okinawa, in Ogimi village 大宜味村, buckwheat (soba 蕎麦) grows? There are 3 restaurants that serve Japanese-style soba noodles made from Ogimi village buckwheat flour.
江州の花 “Esu no Hana” is one of these restaurants that make the noodles by hand (one other is at the roadside station and another is a shokudo restaurant just north of the roadside station). Japanese mainland soba is not as popular here as Okinawa soba is, so I was very surprised to learn this. Since I am slightly (mainland) soba obsessed, I decided I must try it!
So we set out for a drive up north, and of course after exiting the main road had to drive up and down some twisty roads to find the place as it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We arrived at exactly 11am and there was already another car there with people waiting to get in; it said somewhere online that reservations were a good idea, and although we did not make any, we were luckily able to be seated. There were 6 decently large tables inside. They were happy when they realized I could speak/read Japanese– we figured out a bit later that this not a place for tourists, but definitely for locals! If you plan on going during busy days (holidays, Sundays, summer vacation, etc), I would definitely recommend getting a reservation. The place was packed by the time we left, all with locals and not a rental car to be seen.
The menu is very easy, so not to worry! Here is the translation:
soba set, regular: 1000yen
soba set, large: 1500yen
udon set kids/regular/large: 500/700/800yen
omakaze set (comes with both udon and soba): 1500yen
Everything on the menu also comes with:
“appetizer” (which is basically various tsukemono/pickles)
agedashi tofu (fried tofu with sauce)
bonito/katsuobushi soup (winter) or salad (summer)
As for drinks, tea and water were included on the tables. The large soba set comes with about twice the amount of noodles as the regular. I did not see anyone order the udon sets, I think if you come up to Ogimi, you should try the locally grown, ground, and handmade soba, and not bother with udon unless you have a picky eater in your group.
We just stuck with soba set regular size. The picture showed just a set that comes out, so we were expecting something pretty simple like the typical teishoku 定食 meals. Instead, we were greeted with quite the feast!
First, we were immediately brought out a small plate 6 “appetizers” 前菜 and the soba dipping broth was placed out as well. Moments later, we were brought out katsuobushi かつお節 (dried, smoked bonito flakes) with hot water poured over. We were told to stir the katsuobushi in the hot water and kind of let it steep to get out the flavor. A bit later we were presented with agedashi tofu 揚げ出し豆腐, although I admit I have never had it quite like this before… but it was very delicious. I was surprised by the amount of “sauce” that came with it… we learned just a few minutes later that it is also used as the tempura dipping sauce. Needless to say, this was shaping up to be quite an interesting experience.
The first of the fresh, piping hot tempura was brought out to us, along with our soba plates. As we were happily eating, a second different type of tempura came out. We thought this was it, until again, another batch of fresh and different tempura arrived! This kept going and going, with some unique and delicious tempura! Most days they serve up to 12 types of fresh and tasty tempura, all included in your lunch price! It was pretty much all you could eat tempura… we probably could have stayed for longer (and eaten even more), as they were not shoo-ing us out the door all.
After we finished our soba, some soba-yu 蕎麦湯 also came out to finish our soba broth with. At this point, we were absolutely stuffed full, and what a value for only 1000yen. If you cannot finish it all, they even had some takeout containers (which I noticed some obaasans that came about the same time as us utilized). Actually, they will even encourage you to take some tempura home with you.
What struck me most about the whole experiences was just how really great and friendly the service was, and the atmosphere was like being at your grandma or aunty’s house! Of course, us being foreigners, owners and customers alike were especially interested in where we were from, where we lived, and one lady said I was practically a Japanese person (lol). Apparently there was also some Okinawa dance at the community center later that they invited us to, but we already had some things on the schedule. This being said, the wife came out to greet every single customer who entered, and asked the non-village residents where they were from. It really reminded me of the innate friendliness of the Okinawan people. Anyway, I highly recommend visiting this place as it is an experience you will likely never forget!
*Something new I learned it that residents in Ogimi are the renown for longevity– some of the longest life-spans in the world!
The other day, my husband was complaining that I did not take him with me to (Japanese mainland-style) soba restaurants. This was a bit of a surprise, as I assumed he mostly just tolerated my soba-eating habit and did not care for it as much… perhaps after eating it several times he has grown to enjoy it as I do. So I told him of a new Japanese soba restaurant I had heard of here in Okinawa, located in the old foreign housing neighborhood of Minatogawa 港川 in Urasoe, an area known for trendy little restaurants; he immediately says he is going there for lunch, if I want to meet him there… and off I go.
As a reminder, Okinawa soba (noodles made from regular flour, always served in hot pork broth) is quite different than mainland Japanese soba, made from buckwheat (buckwheat is actually called soba 蕎麦 in Japanese). Okinawa soba always feels like a misnomer to me since it is not made from buckwheat, and many foreigners here do not know what mainland soba is!
Anyway, I drove over to the neighborhood and checked the map on the sign at the entrance, but it was not labeled, so I followed GoogleMaps. I found the building that looked just like the picture online, but again, no signs or labels! I went to the entrance and sure enough this was it; my husband showed up a minute later. We chose one of the tables and started perusing the menu. What I did not realize was this was a special type of mainland soba 日本蕎麦– Izumo soba 出雲蕎麦! Izumo soba is darker and more aromatic than other mainland soba because the buckwheat hull is left on and ground up when making the soba flour. It also makes it a little chewier I think.
We ended up both choosing 2-tier 二段 warigo 割子 soba; this is considered the smaller size, 3-tier 三段 is the medium size, and 4 or 5 tiers for big appetites. We also split a 2-person size tempura, because what better to accompany soba than crispy tempura!
Warigo 割子 is round lacquered boxes stacked in tiers to serve the soba. It is particularly unique because unlike dipping soba, this soba you pour toppings and tsuyu (sauce for soba) into the first tier of noodles, mix and eat! When you finish, you take the leftover sauce and add it to the next tier of noodles, refresh the toppings and tsuyu, and continue this pattern until you finish. This was our first time eating soba in this way.
After we finished our noodles, the soba-yu 蕎麦湯 came out; it was thicker and more flavorful than others I have had. We poured our leftover broth into it and drank up to finish the meal.
Miyanchi is a nice cafe in a clean, new Okinawan-style building. For lunch, there are set meals, sort of a Okinawa-style fusion. The main dishes are Okinawa soba noodles, but in various styles; I always get the Thai green curry soba. It also comes with seasonal salad, taro juushi, tea or coffee, and dessert. I love the tea; it is a special blend of Okinawa tea and herbs. I even bought some to take home, it was so relaxing. Everything is served in pottery made at the shop, and there is a small gift shop area with art, house tea, and other local items. There are a few regular tables, counter seats overlooking the yard, and a tatami room. It is a very lovely spot for lunch! It is close to the Awase Living Design Center along Rt 329.
There are two types of “soba” here in Okinawa: Japanese mainland-style soba 蕎麦, made from buckwheat, and Okinawa soba, made from regular flour (and are also thicker noodles). Okinawa soba is typically served hot in a broth derived from pork, and typically topped with some sort of pork meats (there are various types which is for a later post). Also in Okinawa language, it is pronounced すば “suba” (not soba).
Mainland-style soba is what most foreigners are familiar with when they hear the term soba. A few places here in Okinawa do in fact serve up some pretty delicious homemade soba noodles; zaru soba or mori soba (or sometimes seiro soba) served chilled with a tsuyu つゆ dipping sauce (dashi and shoyu* base) or kake soba served warm in a tsuyu soup.
*shoyu 醤油: in Hawai’i everyone calls “soy sauce” by the Japanese name, shoyu.
One of my favorite places is near the university. It has a really nice name: 美波 “Minami,” which in this case translates to “beautiful (美) wave (波).” I suspect it may also be a pun, because “minami” can also be written as the kanji 南 which means “south,” and Okinawa is the “southern islands.” I usually order up their monthly special, which last month was a real treat– wild mountain vegetable tempura 山菜天ぷら蕎麦:
kake soba かけ蕎麦, perfect for chilly days:
Mushroom tempura soba きのこ天ぷら蕎麦：
In the picture, on the top, what is in the little cup? When you order cold soba, after you finish dipping and eating your noodles, the waitress will come by with a cup of そば湯 soba-yu, hot water that the noodles were cooked in! You add this to your leftover tsuyu to make a broth, and drink it. Delicious.
Here in Okinawa, we also have some variations on traditional mainland soba. For instance “sannin” soba. Sannin is the Okinawan word for shell ginger; in Japanese it is “gettou” 月桃. There is a famous little soba shop in Naha called Minosaku that makes this type of soba. I highly recommend visiting some day. The gentle fragrance of the shell ginger really went well. Next time, I hope to try their tumeric noodles (ウコン ukon in Japanese, うっちん ucchin in Okinawan).
Gettou soba 月桃蕎麦 served with a side tempura 天ぷら, look at that lovely green color:
Addresses of soba places I have visited in Okinawa (and would recommend!), all noodles are made in house: