Typical Okinawan dishes
Okinawan dietary habits have received a lot of attention lately. Many researchers and otherwise-curious individuals make pilgrimages to the island in hopes of discovering the secret to the famed longevity of its people, and more than a few of them believe that the secret lies in the island’s food. Although that remains to be proved, it’s worthwhile to try it out. The local food reflects the influence of the many Southeast Asian cultures that Okinawa used to have extensive trade ties with during the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Subsequent circumstances added Japanese and Western flavors. Following are some of the most common local foods that people on the island eat daily.
Okinawan culture can be defined in one word: champuru. The actual meaning of champuru is “to mix together,” and champuru culture refers to the fact that Okinawa has mixed together a number of distinct elements that make up the fascinating culture that exists today. As a result, champuru foods can be viewed as the essence of Okinawa. A champuru is usually named for its main ingredient, although it can contain several different elements. Just as people have various ways of thinking, each person has his or her own special champuru recipe.
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1. Goya champuru
Goya champuru is one of the most common of champuru. Translated as “bittermelon” and in season during the summer, goya has a green skin and bitter taste. Served at many restaurants, Goya champuru includes goya, tofu, pork, eggs, salt and soy sauce. Goya gives the champuru an exotic flavor and a healthy quality.
2. Fu champuru
Stir-fried vegetables with fu (wheat gluten), a very healthy food rich in vegetable protein and often used in Asian food. Champuru means “to mix together,” and stir-fried fu champuru is one of Okinawa’s main such dishes. Found at local restaurants serving Okinawan food and at local grocery stores.
3. Tofu champuru
The flavor of Tofu champuru is similar to that of Goya champuru. There are not many differences between the two, although in this case tofu is the main ingredient. It is seasoned with salt and soy sauce.
4. Papaya champuru
Although a fruit, papaya is often used like a vegetable. When added to champuru, papaya is cut into thin strips, fried and mixed with carrots and other vegetables as well as with tuna or canned pork. It is then seasoned with salt and soy sauce. Resembling a cut-up potato, papaya is said to be good for the health.
5. Tebichi no nitsuke
Tebichi boiled with carrots, daikon (Japanese radish), tofu and konbu (seaweed) and seasoned with soy sauce. Tebichi means “pig’s feet” in Okinawan dialect. Nitsuke describes a kind of food that is boiled and seasoned with such condiments as soy sauce. Tebichi produces a rich gelatin when boiled and helps keep your skin young.
A traditional Okinawan dish in which chopped pork belly is slowly simmered with soy sauce or miso, brown sugar and awamori. The pork becomes tender and free of extra fat because of the long cooking time.
A variety of seaweed found in the waters surrounding Okinawa. “Umi” means sea and “budo” means grapes in Japanese. This seaweed resembles grapes and is eaten after dipping it in vinegar soy sauce and ponzu (citrus vinegar).
8. Taco rice
Taco rice is an Okinawan dish using taco ingredients that have been put on rice. Despite the origins of the taco and the American fast food chain Taco Bell, Taco rice is believed to have been created in Okinawa and has become an integral part of the island’s food culture.
9. Shima rakkyo (Okinawan shallots)
Compared with their counterparts in the mainland, Okinawan shallots are smaller in size and much stronger in aroma. Normally served with flakes of dried bonito and soy sauce after light pickling with salt. Also good for tempura.
10. Fuchiba jushi
Fuchiba is Okinawan dialect for mugwort leaves, and jushi is a rice dish prepared with a choice of ingredients including pork and vegetables. Fuchiba jushi is often served as a side dish to Okinawa soba at local eateries. Mugwort is an herb with a characteristic aroma, known for its property as a natural antidote.
11. Jimami tofu
Peanut butter tofu, made from potato starch and liquid squeezed from peanuts. A little chewy and sweet, it’s like an Okinawan dessert. You can eat it with grated ginger, wasabi, sweet soy sauce dressing or brown sugar syrup. Also available at local grocery stores.
A delicacy essential to court cuisine, tofuyo has a distinctively rich cheese-like texture. It is made with dried tofu that has been fermented in a mixture of awamori and red koji, a method that originated in China. A popular dish served with awamori.
13. Yushi dofu, kumi dofu
Very soft tofu with a consistency similar to that of yogurt or pudding. It is made from soy, like regular tofu, but after nigari (from seawater) is added to liquid pressed from soybeans, it doesn’t set like hard tofu. Nigari is high in minerals such as magnesium and potassium, is often served by itself and is sometimes cooked in miso soup. It is available at local grocery stores.
14. Asa soup
A clear Japanese-style soup with bonito broth and a nutrient-rich sea vegetable called asa, or sea lettuce, and characterized by a refreshing scent reminiscent of the ocean. Dried asa can be purchased at shops selling local specialties as well as at most supermarkets.