Okinawa is known for its beaches and subtropical climate, but what about the food? Turns out this island has a tonne of specialities you’ll want to get your chops around. Here are my top 10 things to eat in Okinawa.
1 – GOYA CHAMPURU
The quintessential Okinawan dish is fantastically tasty. Bitter melon (not very bitter at all, nothing like bitter gourd), fried up with tofu, spam and egg. It looks and tastes like a hodgepodge of a dish and indeed has origins as a “stick everything we have left in the frying pan” mishmash from the US Navy who have a massive base on the island. But it tastes great. My favourite restaurant to try this and other Okinawan specialties is Yunangi, just off International Street in Naha. Fantastic local food and well priced too.
2 – SEAFOOD
Okinawa is a Japanese island in the Pacific so it kinda goes without saying that the seafood here is flippin fantastic. Take a stroll through First Makishi Fish Market in the middle of Naha and you’ll see what I mean. Not only is the fish ludicrously fresh and great value, it’s also super colourful – I’ve never seen so many tropical fish in a fish market before! Pick one out then take it upstairs to one of the small restaurants to cook up for you. Amazing.
3 – UMIBUDO
Aptly otherwise known as as “sea grapes”, this type of seaweed native to Okinawa can be eaten fresh, or is also cooked up in different ways for a whole bunch of local dishes. From fried beer snacks to soup, this is a surprisingly versatile and tasty seaweed (especially good if, like me, you really like seaweed).
4 – OKINAWAN SOBA
Okinawan soba is a soup dish with thick wheat noodles similar to udon in a thick, flavourful broth (not too dissimilar to ramen), usually served with pork and some seaweed. for some extra kick, throw in a few drops of kōrēgūsu, (chills soaked in the local spirit awamori). A wonderfully simple but very tasty dish. Try the amazing Akisoba in Naha, which specialises in horse meat soba – make sure you arrive early though as queues can be crazy.
5 – RAFUTE
Okinawa does pork belly in it’s own unique and wonderful way. Rafute is a stewed pork rib similar to pork belly, cooked in a sweet soy and brown sugar marinade. Holy God it’s good. Like, really good. It’s another dish that the excellent Yunangi restaurant in Naha does very well.
6 – BREAKFAST ONIGURI
Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten, (with branches in Naha and American Village), does one thing, and it does it very well. “Pork egg onigiri” is a kinda rice sandwich, wrapped in seaweed, filled with spam, egg and various other ingredients from mantaiko (cod roe) to mexican beef. It’s a bargain at $2-4 USD depending on what you order, and it’s the perfect breakfast, lunch or even snack (albeit a big one) in between. I almost guarantee you will want to go back again before you leave Okinawa.
7 – STEAK
Okinawa isn’t famed for it’s steak by any stretch but there are some fantastic steak restaurants that are well worth a dinner or two in my book. There are plenty of places to get a good steak in Okinawa but if you want tasty and good value, you can’t go far wrong than Yappari – good cuts of steak with unlimited salad, rice and pasta for around $10USD. Not bad at all.
8 – SATA ANDAGI
Sata Andagi is a fairly simple snack – basically a deep fried ball of sweet dough, similar to a donut. The outside is crispy and sweet, the inside light and doughy. They’re sold all over the place in Okinawa, most commonly around the main market near International Street in Naha. A very tasty grab and go snack.
9 – SALT ICE CREAM
If you haven’t read any of my posts about food yet, I’ll let you know now that I bloody love ice cream. Especially in tropical climates. It’s a dangerous mix. And to make matters worse, ice cream in Okinawa is a) everywhere and b) bloody lovely. I’ve seen this a handful of places in Japan but the salt ice cream I had at Yukisio in Naha was the best I’ve had. Super creamy, sweet and with a lovely subtle salty edge. Very moorish (I had 3).
10 – AWAMORI
Ever drunk rice wine out of a tap? I hadn’t either, until I visited Okinawa, where in some places you can pay around $10 USD for 3 hours of unlimited Awamori – a locally made rice spirit not too dissimilar to sake – to be consumed right out a tap on your very table. Seriously. And if you’re brave enough, try the snake Awamori. Just don’t plan on doing much the next morning, that’s all I’ll say.
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