Okinawan Food

Posted May 25th, 2010 in Japan 4 Comments »

While I was in Japan few months ago, there was a tv show featuring the healthy diet taken by Miss Universe candidates.  Erica Angyal, who is from Sydney Australia, is a nutritionist who works for Miss Universe Japan as a health consultant, and on the tv show she flew to Okinawa to discover what is so good about Okinawan food and why people in Okinawa live longer than anyone else in the world.

Okinawa is one of Japan’s southern prefectures, and consists of hundreds of islands in a chain over 1,000 km long.

It was only 100 years ago that the kingdom of Okinawa was incorporated into Japan, and the southern islands still maintain their own distinctive culture, language and cuisine. Okinawan cooking tends toward stronger and spicier flavors than Japanese food, and is more heavily influenced by Chinese cooking styles.

I’d say Okinawa has the strongest accent in their language as Japanese among all the prefectures in Japan.  Osaka people speak Osaka dialect, and Fukuoka people speak Fukuoka dialect.  Some of them are very difficult to listen to, but still understandable.  But, Okinawan language is very different!  That’s what makes this place to be a popular tourist destination for other Japanese people.  Different culture, different life style, and different food.  But, still the same country.

The food you see in Okinawa often contain pork and seafood.  Pork is a very important ingredient there, and every part of the pig is used: including feet, ears to tripes.  And, because Okinawa has a tropical climate and is surrounded by ocean, many local seafoods and seaweeds are used in cooking, and some of them are not available in Japan’s main island.

Other foods that are commonly used in Okinawan cuisine are black sugar, tropical fruits and vegetables, brawn rice, and awamori, which is an Okinawan brandy-like liquor made from rice.  Okinawan people are known as big drinkers! (awamori is very strong alcohol drink)

The reason why Okinawan people are the most long-lived on earth is not only these food.  It’s because of HOW people eat them everyday.  Their everyday meal contains rice, soup, and few side dishes.  There are many vegetables, seaweed and seafood used, and the common cooking method is stir-frying.  They use olive oil very often too.  Eating many kinds of food everyday is very ideal thing in order to take different nutritions.  Besides, most of the food they eat are very healthy – seaweeds are good for skin and hair, brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, and seafood gives you Omega-3 which can help to lower the amount of cholesterol in the body.

I’ve been to Okinawa twice in my life:  the first time was to join the home-stay program at American family in Okinawa vase.  I was 17 years old, and I organised everything by myself …  all  my family was so worried, but I wasn’t.  I had a big interest in foreign country (English) and wanted to experience something unique.  The second time was to get scuba diving licence in Okinawa.  I organised this by myself too, I even bought some equipments for the trip including dry suit and an under-water camera. :p

While in Okinawa, I enjoyed Okinawan food everyday.  There are few small restaurants around the hotel I stayed, and these restaurants served home-style Okinawan food.   Very delicious!   Typical Okinawan food such as chanpuru dishes including tofu chanpuru and go-ya chanpuru, and rafuti (pork stewed in miso, soy sauce, sugar and awamori).

If you get a chance to visit this “health paradise”, here are the list of Okinawan food I recommend! :

Tofu chanpuru – stir-fried tofu dish

Go-ya chanpuru – stir-fried go-ya (bitter melon) dish

Rafuti – slow cooked, stewed pork

Taco rice – basically a taco that uses rice instead of a taco shell.

Mimigaa – pig’s ear in vinegar

Saataa andagi – Okinawan doughnuts

(photos from Kinki Tourist and Okinawa Council websites)

4 Comments on “Okinawan Food”

  1. 1 Megan said at 8:40 am on May 26th, 2010:

    Hi Ume!
    I have heard the name Okinawa but had no idea it was such an unusual place, so far from mainland Japan. Now I really want to go there. There are just too many places I want to see in Japan. I really can’t wait to go back!

  2. 2 umepontarou said at 2:25 pm on May 26th, 2010:


    Okinawa is considered as “tropical island” in Japan, because its location is southern than Japan’s main island and has a tropical climate. On the other hand, Hokkaido is considered as “snow island” as it is located in North.

    You’ve been to Hokkaido already, so it’ll be a good experience to go to Okinawa and compare the difference 😀

    I’m planning to go to Hokkaido on my next home-coming trip, but I start to think that Okinawa is also a good destination after recalling all the memory of these food and atmosphere.

    >There are just too many places I want to see in Japan.
    I’m Japanese, but I think the same! I haven’t seen all of them yet.

  3. 3 Bishonencam said at 10:16 pm on May 26th, 2010:

    Yo Ume!

    I went to an Okinawan restaurant while I was in Japan.
    I looked at the menu and though, “I’ll probably NEVER eat Okinawan food again, so I should try something unique or that I can’t get anywhere else!”
    So my friend said I should try the Goya Chanpuru.
    When it came to the table it looked very different from anything I had seen before. I took a large chunk of goya in my chopsticks and popped it in my mouth…

    It was terrible! >_<
    It was SO bitter! I can normally finish anything I order even if I don’t really like it but, the goya…. it was too much

    I would like to try other Okinawan food but I was beaten by the Goya that day and I shall never forget it! T_T

  4. 4 umepontarou said at 8:29 pm on May 27th, 2010:

    Hi Bishonencam,

    Oh, yes! Goya is very bitter. Goya is bitter melon 😀

    It’s not my favorite taste either, but I eat it because I know goya is good for health.
    Goya is a typical Okinawan food. Although it’s now common to see goya at supermarkets across Japan, people in main island had hardly eaten or seen goya before.

    Because goya is one of the icons for Okinawa, you can get many goya related products there such as goya juice!
    I wasn’t brave enough to try the can of juice when I saw it in the vending machine at Naha (capital city of Okinawa) airport.
    I’m sure it’ll taste bitter…

    Next time you go to Okinawan restaurant (if there is a chance), try Rafuti, Somen Chanpuru, or some normal-looking food. Seafood is nice too.
    Oh! And, Okinawan local tofu is very famous.
    “Yushi-doufu” ゆし豆腐
    “Jimami-doufu” ジーマーミ豆腐
    “Toufu-you”  豆腐よう
    Very different from normal tofu, if you are interested 😀

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