Okinawan food is very different from the Japanese food that you are probably used to. If you have spent time in Tokyo, Osaka, Kumamoto, or even Hokkaido it is very likely that you have never experienced anything like Okinawan food. In Okinawa, there are ingredients and dishes that are completely foreign even to regular travellers of Japan. Raw goat meat, goya, and rattlesnake whisky are just a few of the strange and exotic things to try in Okinawa. Okinawa was once a country all its own, so it has its own food culture and traditions that vary greatly from mainland Japan. Here are 20 amazing foods you must try when you visit Okinawa. Give these foods a try the next time you are in Okinawa.
1. Goya chanpuru
This could very well be considered the national dish of Okinnawa. It’s a sweet and savoury stir-fry made from eggs, tofu, and goya. Goya is bitter melon which is plentiful in Okinawa. Sliced pork is also added to this delicious dish, and sometimes if pork is not available, spam is used as a substitute. Spam may not sound appealing, but it adds a nice flavor and texture to this chanpuru. Give it a try when you travel to Okinawa.
Address: 3-3-3 Kumoji, Naha 900-0015, Okinawa Prefecture
Sukugarasu is a favorite snack of Okinawans in the very hot summer months. Young rabbit fish are caught in large schools and then salt cured for up to a year to preserve them. The preserved fish are then served on a piece of fresh tofu. This salty and savoury snack is very popular with locals, so be sure to try some during your visit. The tiny fish are filled with bones and actually slightly poisonous, but curing them makes them very safe to eat. Suku is the type of fish, and garasu means to cure with salt.
Address: 231 Hiraranishizato, Miyakojima 906-0012, Okinawa Prefecture
Okinawans really loved fermented foods. Tofuyo is fermented bean curd, and it has an incredibly rich flavor that makes it taste almost like a strong cheese mixed with alcohol. It dates back centuries to when Okinawa wasn’t part of Japan and instead was it’s own country known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. It’s an acquired taste, but you may grow to love it as much as the locals. This ancient food is definitely worth trying on your next trip to Okinawa.
Address: Naha(Okinawa), Naha Airport
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4. Umi budo
Umi Budo translates to sea grapes, and this versatile ingredient is used in many Okinawan dishes. It can be used in salads, but it is often eaten raw dipped in some vinegar. This is one of the most healthy Japanese foods you will find, and it’s one of the main reasons people on Okinawa live so long.
First Makishi Public Market
Address: 2-10-1 Matsuo, Naha 900-0014, Okinawa Prefecture
5. Yagi sashimi
Japanese people are obsessed with raw food. It is a staple of Japanese cuisine, but it’s not just seafood that Japanese people eat raw. Other meats like horse and beef are also consumed raw. In Okinawa, raw goat meat is a popular delicacy. Yagi sashimi is dipped in soy sauce for a salty kick. This is a very healthy and lean meat.
Nakachi Yagi Ryoriten
Address: 132 Nakaza, Yaese Town, Okinawa
When you think of pig’s ear you probably think of a treat for your dog, but in Okinawa it is a delicacy that people love to eat. The hair is singed off and then the ear is boiled or steamed to made it edible and tender. It still maintains its crunchy texture, but after cooking you can at least chew and swallow it. Mimiga is one of the best snack to eat with beer. It’s popular in Okinawa izakayas.
Address: 2-7-25 Makishi, Naha 900-0013, Okinawa Prefecture
This sweet and salty pork dish is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Rafute is slowly simmered pork ribs. It’s simmered in soy sauce and sugar, which gives it a distinctive and contrasting taste. It is said to give you long life, although considering it’s fatty pork, that is probably a myth. Still, it tastes absolutely amazing.
Shimauta and Ryukyu cuisine Chatan dining
Address: 2 Chome Mihama, Chatan, Nakagami District, Okinawa Prefecture 904-0115
8. Taco rice
This doesn’t sound Japanese at all, but it actually is. Taco rice is exactly what it sounds like. It’s ground beef seasoned with taco mix and served on rice with cheese and lettuce. Think of it as the lazy man’s taco. This is Okinawa junk food at its finest, and while it’s popular in Okinawa, you could easily make it at home.
Address: 4-11-5 Chuo, Okinawa 904-0004, Okinawa Prefecture
9. Okinawa soba
Okinawa soba is very different from the soba noodles you would find in other parts of Japan. Okinawa soba actually has much more in common with ramen or udon. It is served in a soup and the noodles are much thicker, like udon noodles. Pork ribs and fish cakes are popular toppings for Okinawan soba.
Okinawa Soba Place Tachimachu
Address: 3-1-12 Yorimiya, Naha 902-0064, Okinawa Prefecture
Jushi is a simple and delicious Okinawa dish. All it is is mixed vegetables with rice. There are many different kinds of jushi, and you can even eat it mixed with pork belly. Seaweed, carrots, and mushrooms are popular ingredients in jushi.
Address: 1-3-18 Matsuyama, Naha 900-0032, Okinawa Prefecture
Think of this as an Okinawan pancake. In a lot of ways, it’s very similar to okonomiyaki. Eggs, flour, salt, and onions are fired together to make this delicious bar food. It goes well with a nice, tall glass of beer.
Address: Yui Rail Asahibashi Station, Naha, Okinawa
12. Fu chanpuru
Chanpuru is Okinawan stir fry, and there are all sorts of popular types of chanpuru you can try on your next trip to Okinawa. Fu champuru should be at the top of your list, but if you’re gluten intolerant, this one if definitely not for you. Fu is wheat gluten and it is often used as a meat substitute. It’s a great dish that has a meaty flavor, but no meat at all.
Minyo Tavern Kanasando
Address: 176 Urasaki Motobu-Cho | Urasaki Bldg. 2F , Motobu-cho, Kunigami-gun 905-0217, Okinawa Prefecture
13. Tebichi no nitsuke
Okinawa people love to use all the parts of the pig. Tebichi no nitsuke is the perfect example of this. Tebichi no nitsuke is made with pigs feet that are boiled with daikon, carrots, tofu, and kombu kelp. It’s simmered in soy sauce until it is very tender. This juicy and delicious dish is a must try when you go to Okinawa.
Address: 2-11-1 Matsuo, Naha 900-0014, Okinawa Prefecture
14. Asa soup
Asa is sea lettuce and it is commonly collected on the shores of Ojima Island in the early part of the year. It’s boiled with tofu and soy sauce to make asa soup, or it can be flash fried to make asa tempura. You can also buy it dried from many shops in Okinawa. Asa also makes a very healthy snack to munch on when it’s dried.
Address: 388 Asato, Naha 902-0067, Okinawa Prefecture
15. Nakami jiru
Nakami jiru is a soup that is a staple of Okinawan cuisine. It uses the same ingredients as the popular Japanese dish motsuni. Nakami jiru is a pork soup made from pig innards. If you consider yourself an adventurous eater and love bizarre foods, then you should sample some nakami jiru when you travel to Okinawa.
Ishigaki Beef and Agu Pork Restaurant Shurei Heiwadorimae
Address: 2-3-1 Makishi | K2 Bldg. 2F, Naha 900-0013, Okinawa Prefecture
This spicy pork sausage is very popular in Japan, but it originates in Portugal. Ground pork is cooked in pork casing with spicy red pepper. It is a great addition to any bento lunch in Okinawa.
Address: 90 Nakayama, Nago 905-0004, Okinawa Prefecture
17. Shima rakkyo
Green onion, or negi, is a popular ingredient in Japanese cooking. It’s put on numerous Japanese dishes as a topping. In Okinawa, there is another type of scallion that is eaten regularly: shima rakkyo is the larger and heartier cousin of the green onion. It’s harvested in April and served salted or as tempura.
Farmers Market Itoman Umanchu Market
Address: 4-20 Nishizaki | Michi-no-Eki Itoman, Itoman 901-0305, Okinawa Prefecture
18. Goya chips
Bitter melon is one of the most versatile ingredients in Okinawan cooking, so naturally there would be some innovative ways to eat this vegetable. Goya chips are dried, making a delicious snack. They still manage to capture the bitter flavor of the vegetable. You can purchase this snack at most convenience stores in Okinawa, and they make a great souvenir to bring home from your trip.
Address: 5-10-2 Kanagusuku, Naha 901-0155, Okinawa Prefecture
19. Sata andagi
This list wouldn’t be complete without dessert. Sata Andagi are Okinawan donuts, and they are a tasty treat. Sugar, flour, and eggs are deep fried and made into a delicious fried ball. These yummy balls of fried dough are crispy and crunchy on the outside. They are soft and doughy on the inside.
Sata andagi no Mise Amuro
Address: 1-20 Shurikubagawacho, Naha 903-0807, Okinawa Prefecture
20. Mozuku tempura
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Tempura is one of the most popular foods in Japanese cuisine, so naturally the people of Okinawa have their own take on this famous Japanese dish. Ingredients that are only found in Okinawa are commonly deep fried. You can enjoy sea lettuce tempura or goya tempura. However, the one type of tempura that you need to try in Okinawa is mozuka tempura. It may not sound tempting, but this type of tempura has a rich flavor unlike any other. Mozuka is algae, and it is a bizarre and intriguing sea vegetable to try deep fried. Okinawans often cook it up with seafood like scallops and shrimp.
Address: 197-1 Okawa, Ishigaki 907-0022, Okinawa Prefecture
So many amazing foods to try in Okinawa
Even if you are a fan of Japanese food, you likely know nothing about Okinawan food. Okinawa has a rich and diverse history separate from mainland Japan, so the food is vastly different. Seafood and sea vegetables are popular just like in the rest of Japan, but other meats like pork and goat are much more commonly eaten in Okinawa. If you are looking for healthy food, then Okinawa is the place to go. Okinawans have the longest lifespan in the world, and many believe that is in largely due to their diet. Lean raw goat meat, sea lettuce, and sea grapes are a few examples of the very healthy food that people on Okinawa enjoy. However, there are also more rich and luxurious foods to enjoy. Slowly roasted pork and pork offal are amazing additions to Okinawan cuisine, and there is always room for a snack like goya chips. Desserts like Okinawan donuts make a tasty treat, and many of these foods go well with beer or another type of alcohol. The next time you travel to Okinawa, be sure to try one of these 20 foods. You may not enjoy them all, but you might discover a new favorite. You might even enjoy Okinawan food more than Japanese favorties like sushi, ramen, udon, or curry.
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