When in Okinawa, you will soon realize the cuisine is quite different from the rest of Japan and reflects a heavy influence from China, and in more modern dishes, America as well. This is due oth to its physical distance from the main island and its history.
Local Soul Food
American influence makes Spam - the canned luncheon meat - a commonly used ingredient in many dishes. Meanwhile, the presence of locally grown vegetables that cannot be found on other parts of Japan are also abundantly used. Chinese influence can be seen in its pork dishes, stir-fries and noodle dishes.
Goya Champuru is a signature dish of the Okinawan islands, and is a stir-fry of egg, tofu, spam and “goya” (bitter gourd). The warm climate of Okinawa allows bitter gourd to grow all year round. “Champuru” means “mix”, and this dish has many variations, from Fu (wheat gluten) Fu to Papaya Champuru, made with green papaya.Okinawa Soba is unlike the buckwheat soba on mainland Japan, and more like something in between ramen and udon. It is yellow in color but the texture is like udon. A common topping is simmered pork belly and some spring onions, with red ginger to taste. Another soul food is Taco Rice, a dish that localized the Mexican taco that Americans brought to the islands by putting it on rice. It consists of ground beef, tomatoes, lettuce, taco shells and salsa on rice. Cool Treats
Blue Seal ice cream, a brand brought over by the Americans that then set roots in Okinawa, is a popular ice cream brand unique to Okinawa, and perfect to cool off on a hot day by the beach. Other local sweets include the andagi - a fried flour ball that is like a doughnut ball and comes in flavors such as plain, green mugwort or black canesugar. If you like pork, try the Rafute, which is pork belly simmered in soy sauce and fish broth until it is melt-in-your-mouth soft.Pig ears are also a delicacy here, boiled, steamed or fried as snacks, and called the Mimigar.Unique Drinks & Eats
A unique ingredient is the umibudo, which means sea grape, named after what the seaweed resembles. The little nodes are crunchy and taste of the salty sea. It is eaten on its own with some vinegar, or often mixed in a salad or topped on tofu.Speaking of tofu, Okinawa has its unique type of tofu, called tofuyo, which is aged and extra fermented beancurd. The texture is like cheese but of a more pungent variety. Its origins are believed to be from China, and it is eaten on its own as a snack with awamori, the local spirit. Awamori is made from long-grain rice and fermented with a unique mould. It is often used in the cooking of local dishes as well. Chili peppers soaked in awamori called koregusu is often used as a condiment to noodles, champuru or fried rice.Under the influence of Awamori, meals in Okinawa are often accompanied by local song and dance, with the shamisen. If you head to a local izakaya, don’t be surprised to hear people breaking out in song and standing up to dance - do feel free to join them!
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