Okinawa, Japan's southernmost tropical islands, has a climate and way of life that differs from the rest of Japan. With its own local foods and a rich history influenced by the different cultures that have passed through, Okinawan cuisine, also known as Ryūkyūan cuisine (Ryūkyū ryōri), has a taste and flavor that is uniquely its own.
Staples such as the purple sweet potato was first introduced to Okinawa in 1605 and was a main part of the Okinawan diet until the beginning of the 20th century. Goya (bitter melon) was also likely introduced to Okinawa from Southeast Asia.
Here are some present day regional foods from Okinawa:
Chanpurū is an Okinawan stir fry dish that is considered the representative dish of Okinawan cuisine.
Chanpuru means “something mixed” and consists of any number of local ingredients, including tofu, pork and eggs. But the most popular version includes goya, a nubby, green gourd with a distinctly bitter flavor. Locals prepare it in different ways: deep-fried as tempura, thinly sliced and tossed in salads or pickled as a side dish. Loaded with vitamin C, it's prized as being restorative, especially during the hot steamy summer months.
Okinawa soba uses a thick wheat noodles that is different from Japanese soba (buckwheat noodles).
These wheat noodles are typically topped with slow-cooked spare ribs called saki. The ribs are cooked in soy sauce, sugar with awamori(more on this below), until the meat falls off the bone. The dish is garnished with pickled ginger, scallions and a dash of chili-infused awamori sauce known as koregusu.
Kokuto, or Okinawan black sugar, is a speciality of Okinawa and has been produced on the islands since the 17th century.
Unlike regular brown sugar, which is a mix of molasses and refined white sugar, kokuto is made by boiling the fresh squeezed juice from locally harvested sugarcanes, a major crop in Okinawa. This preserves it natural vitamins and minerals and its delicious rich liquorice flavor.
Mozuku is one of Okinawa’s unique superfoods. It's a slimy brown seaweed found only in the seas of Okinawa. It's been said that this superfood is the secret ingredient to the longevity of the local centenarians due to its very high levels of fucoidan.
Mozuku can be found in local supermarkets and is usually enjoyed as a side dish in many meals.
Awamori, a local island alcohol spirit, owes its creation to Thailand who taught the Okinawans the secrets of distillation back in the 15th century.
Awamori is an alcoholic beverage indigenous and unique to Okinawa. It is made from long grain indica rice that is distilled (like shōchū), as opposed to being brewed (like sake).
Firm tofu topped with salted baby fish, sukugarasu is a classic Okinawan accompaniment to sake or awamori.
The intense briny flavor of the fish complements the mildness of the tofu, and should be eaten all in one bite.
About the author: Hello, my name is Suzan, 20 years old student in Sofia University, Bulgaria. My major is Japan, so as can you guess I’m now studying about their rich and beautiful culture and language as well. That is why I find great pleasure doing these articles as it gives me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and it’s easy doing something you love.