Japan’s southernmost prefecture Okinawa is known for its tropical weather, beautiful beaches, and rich history and culture. And the best way to bring home that island spirit is through the local omiyage (Japanese souvenirs). Here are some we recommend picking up during your visit.
Okinawa’s most popular cookie is comparable to a shortbread cookie, however, it includes lard instead of butter. Its precise origin is unclear but chinsuko has been around since the times of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Chinsuko was originally steamed but is now baked, giving it a light, crunchy texture. There are many variations of chinsuko flavors like kokutou (Okinawa black sugar), chocolate, beniimo (local purple potato), and even goya (bitter melon)!.
Beniimo (Purple Sweet Potato) Tart
Beniimo tarts are another of Okinawa’s popular sweet treats. Beniimo is the Okinawan word for purple sweet potato. It was introduced to Okinawa through China in the 17th century and remains a popular staple to this day. Beniimo tarts are made entirely out of purple sweet potato, with no extra coloring or preservatives. This sweet treat is so popular that you can make your own at local shops or even purchase some non-food beniimo tart merchandise such as towels and eco-bags.
Citrus depressa, also know as shikuwasa, is a citrus fruit mostly grown in the northern part of Okinawa. Shikuwasa have a green exterior and a yellow interior, and is incredibly sour, similar to a cross between a lemon and lime. This fruit is often used as a garnish or flavor enhancer in local cuisine but is only available in the summer months in Okinawa. Aside from the fruit, it is also sold in juice, cookies, candies, dressings, and more.
Okinawa soba is a regional noodle dish only produced in Japan’s southernmost prefecture. Unlike normal soba, Okinawa soba noodles are not made with soba (buckwheat) flour and instead resemble the texture to udon. Its clear broth is flavored with konbu (kelp), katsuobushi (bonito/skipjack tuna flakes), and pork. Popular toppings include soki (pork ribs), tebichi (pork leg), pork belly, kamaboko (fish cake), and beni shoga (red ginger). You can enjoy Okinawa soba everywhere in Okinawa or buy a kit to savor these flavors at home.
Salt is one of Okinawa’s more unique omiyage. The Sea of Okinawa is said to contain high amounts of natural minerals making Okinawa salt a healthy seasoning. It is regarded as one of the best salts in the world and is available in different forms such as yukishio (snow salt) and a variety of flavors Okinawa salt is not only used in food but can be found in various skincare and body care products.
Kōrēgusu is a popular Okinawa condiment made by infusing shima togarashi (Okinawan chili peppers) into awamori, a local rice spirit. It is a common tabletop condiment, used as a topping for Okinawa soba and other Okinawan dishes. A little goes a long way as shima togarashi is incredibly spicy and kōrēgusu holds the same alcohol content as awamori (about 20-40. You can pick up bottles of kōrēgusu anywhere in Okinawa or try our unique awamori chili paste. You can also make kōrēgusu at home by infusing chilis into a good bottle of awamori.
Mozuku is a seaweed unique to Okinawa and quite prevalent in Okinawa cuisine. It is regarded as one of Okinawa’s longevity foods as it contains many nutrients and minerals. The taste of mozuku is rather flavorless and has a signature slimy texture. It is often served in soups, tempura, or most commonly in vinegar with a little bit of ginger. You can find it vacuum packed, in water, or dried, or try it in our artisanal mozuku udon noodles.
Umi Budou (Sea Grapes)
Umi budou (lit "sea grapes") is a unique local Okinawa seaweed that has a salty taste and is quite fun to eat as it crunches and pops in your mouth. You can try it with ponzu or by itself to enjoy the ocean taste. You can buy umi budou fresh, vacuum sealed in salt water, or dried. If you get it fresh or in salt water, it is highly recommended to keep the umi budou at room temperature and away from sunlight. Do not put it in the refrigerator or else the bubbles will deflate.
Jimami tofu is a common item at most izakayas (Japanese pubs) and restaurants specializing in local Ryukyu cuisine. Unlike regular tofu, jimami tofu is made from peanuts instead of soybeans, which gives it a springy texture. It’s often served with a kokuto black sugar sauce called kuromitsu and a tiny mound of grated garlic for contrast. Jimami tofu is a unique omiyage because you can only find it in Okinawa. You can find little cups of them in the tofu section of the supermarket or shelf-stable versions in omiyage shops.
About the author:
Samantha is currently a 5th-year JET in Okinawa, originally from Hawaii. She has been somewhat connected to Japanese culture her whole life despite being Chinese American. She's had the privilege of traveling to Japan and experiencing Japanese culture at a young age. She loves food and is always looking to try new places. When she is not working or out eating, she is an avid baker at home and has been known to feed her colleagues an excessive amount of baked goods.