The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 20 March 2009

Okinawa Part II: Naha eats

During our short trip to Okinawa, I made it a point for us to try the unique Okinawan cuisine which stands apart from the mainland Japanese cuisine. The food in this region draws its influence mainly from China and Southeast Asia, but also from America due to the presence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa (taco rice, anyone?). The first time I encountered Okinawan food was almost two years ago, and my interest was piqued. When we were in Naha, we dropped into an izakaya for dinner and ordered the typical Okinawan dishes that I knew of. Dishes were priced at around 700-900yen each, and our five dishes came to a total of 3500yen. It was still too early for the drinking crowd, so we had the place to ourselves and the full attention of the friendly staff. One of the ladies even asked to carry Zak, which honestly surprised me, but I was not going to refuse because Zak was entertained while we ate.

It was fun eating the Umi Budou Salad ("umi budou" literally means "sea grapes", a type of seaweed) with the 'grapes' popping savoury juice onto the tongue as you bite. And it has been ages since I ate bitter gourd, so I enjoyed the Goya Champuru (Rob wasn't as keen as I was on the bitterness). My mum used to cook bitter gourd when I was a kid in Malaysia, and I used to hate the bitterness, but I would eat it anyway because my mum told me it would make my blood bitter and prevent the mosquitoes from attacking me (put me in a room with a few people and mosquitoes and I can guarantee you that I'd have more mozzie bites than anyone else). I guess the taste grew on me and I ended up liking the stuff just before we migrated to Australia where bitter gourd is not as readily available. Apparently the word "champuru" means "to mix", and I wonder if it has its roots from the Malay language because "campur" is the Malay word with the same definition.

Umi Budou Salad; and Goya Champuru:

Apparently Okinawans are crazy about pork, that it is said that the cuisine "begins with pig and ends with pig" and that "every part of a pig can be eaten except its hooves and its oink". One of the well-known Okinawan pork dishes is the Rafute, braised pork belly. Apparently, despite the dish's unhealthy appearance with the generous layer of fat, the braising method renders a lot of the fat out of the meat which makes it not so unhealthy. That's what I choose to believe anyway. The meat was juicy and tender that tasted sinfully rich.


Not feeling quite satisfied just yet, we asked for o-susume (recommendations). The Hirayachi was like a cheesy pancake, and was very more-ish. And the fried little fish (called Sururu on the menu) were very umami, all of them containing little sacks of yummy roe in their bellies.

Hirayachi and Sururu:

All up, it was pretty good food for an izakaya establishment.

The following photos are what I had for breakfast the next morning. I booked a breakfast package at the hotel we stayed at, and we could choose from three restaurants (Japanese, Chinese or western) all serving buffet-style. Both Rob and baby were still sleeping when I woke up, and I thought it was best if we had our breakfasts separately so we didn't have to wake the baby up prematurely. My first option would have been the French restaurant since there were more variety, but it was also the most popular choice for the other hotel guests and there was a waiting period, so I went for the Chinese restaurant (baby was due to wake up anytime for his breakfast and I was aiming for a quick brekkie). The quality of the food was good for a buffet, but I was a tad disappointed that the dishes weren't more varied. I am a big eater so I went back for seconds and thirds but I got bored of the dishes pretty quickly. Rob chose the French buffet which definitely proved to be the better one of the two. I asked him to take photos of his breakfast too, but I haven't uploaded them from his iPhone yet. Next time I'll post them.

The whole table spread with salad, condiments/toppings for congee, and tiny individual servings of cold dishes including mozoku (seaweed), fish, jimamidofu (peanut tofu) and sesame pork. The hot dishes are in the background. They were all delicious:

The hot dishes: goya champuru (I liked this one more than the previous night's one at the izakaya), a braised tofu dish, fried chicken and omelette. There were also siumai (pork dumpling) and mini pork buns in bamboo steamers at one end of the table. The next shot shows my first serving. Tea, soup and chuugoku (Chinese) congee were brought to the table (you could also choose plain rice or plain congee):


  1. Nice
    I prefer the taco rice myself!
    Photographer Mike
    Uhinanchu for life!

  2. Re: Nice
    I have to admit I've never tried taco rice, and I wanted to on this trip, but we ran out of time.. Ah well, maybe I'll try it when I see it on the menu somewhere in Tokyo.