Okinawan cuisine is widely known for the diversified range of food it offers. It is the perfect mix of some Chinese food influence and a taste of Southeast Asia. It includes the most traditional tropical island ingredients, which have now evolved to produce many amazing modern dishes. Be it purple sweet potato or beef and pork.
As a whole Okinawans, the most loved dishes are the Taco rice, Beni Imo, Umi Budou, Goya, Agu Pork, Ishigaki Beef, Okinawa Soba, and Chinsuko.
On average the popularity of Okinawan dishes has reached far beyond the shores of Okinawa. Many other cultures have incorporated the ingredients of Okinawan cuisine into their own dishes.
If you are a foodie and love to try new foods, you must get to know the top 25 Okinawan foods.
The 25 Most Popular Okinawan Dishes
Okinawa is one of the smallest Islands of Japan’s main island group, where the sun shines on the crystal water and the tropics are in the perfect zone. You can visit Okinawa during the summer and enjoy the beauty of the tropics. But there’s more to just satisfying your eyes and soul in Okinawa.
Okinawan cuisine is slightly different from mainland Japanese cuisine. Okinawan cuisine is the best fusion cuisine in Southeast Asia.
Even if you are unfamiliar with Okinawan cuisine, you must try out these 25 dishes. You won’t be disappointed. So, read further to enlighten yourself more about the sweet and savory taste of Okinawa.
1. Taco Rice
When you read the name, you must have thought, who eats tacos with rice? Actually, this is the taco fillings served on top of rice, without any taco shell in the dish itself. However, it’s up to you to modify the taste, maybe by adding some taco shells on top. Commonly served with a fried egg on top as well.
History says the restaurant owner who introduced taco rice first wanted to bring a token of love from America to the soldiers who came to visit his establishment.
He tried to incorporate the taste of tacos with the most loved Japanese item, rice. So, the toppings were made with beef, pork, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. These were served with rice.
The American soldiers loved it, and hence this dish is still popular in Okinawa even after 40 years. Actually, the trick is to season the meat with the most basic taco spices.
It brings out the real taste of taco rice. You can even have guacamole on top if you wish to have a proper taco feel. Try out the Taco Rice if you visit Okinawa.
Basically, it is a bitter gourd that is popularly known as Goya in Okinawa. Legend has it; the Okinawans have given the credibility of their high longevity to Goya or the bitter gourd. You can eat it raw by making a fresh batch of salad or stir-frying it.
To be fair, it is up to your taste how you want to consume it. But it tastes delicious when stir-fried with egg, chicken or pork, tofu, etc., and eaten with a side dish. Side dishes can be wasabi, octopus. Okinawan dishes are a great source of carbs. However, this dish is full of proteins.
The Goya is a green vegetable with bumps on its surface and a lime-colored interior with many seeds. It can taste extremely bitter if you don’t know how to cook it. The stir-fried dish is called Goya Champuru.
Just visit any Okinawan traditional food establishment and ask for a bowl of Champuru, you will fall in love with a bitter gourd for the rest of your life.
If you are a lover of French dishes, you definitely love crepes. However, this is a different kind of crepe in Okinawa. Unlike the traditional sweet crepes, the Hirayachi is somewhat spicy. If you want to add a tangy dip with it, you can have that too.
Most commonly, the side dip is made with dark or light soy sauce, vinegar, lime juice, and oil. And the crepe is made with an added twist- flour, egg, pepper, and salt.
Actually, it can be called an emergency dish. When guests come over, you can make it as a quick snack or quick breakfast.
This dish is so easy to make that you can make it in any part of the world. It is super tasty and an effortless dish to prepare.
4. Spam Onigiri
It is made with SPAM meat and egg, which is the favorite canned meat popular in Okinawa. Basically, it is a kind of sandwich, or, you can say, a fusion of sushi and sandwiches. Here, seaweeds are used as the outer layer, and in between, there are layers of omelets, SPAM meat, rice, and vegetables.
For the rice and seaweed, you can get the taste of sushi which is a very beloved native Japanese dish. On the other hand, in the layers of omelets, meat, and veggies, you can have the taste of Okinawan cuisine. So, it is actually a great fusion. It can be taken as a snack or a good meal.
Spam itself was brought to Okinawa by the US military because of food shortages post World War II and ever since Okinawans have developed a love of this canned meat.
5. Umi Budou
Umi Budou is the Okinawan term for grapes found in the sea. They come in a string of hundreds of tiny little green balls. When you bite into them, you can taste salty, savory juice. It can be eaten raw or with a side dip of vinegar, dark soy sauce, pepper, mint, a little sugar, or Okinawan cane sugar.
It is very tasty and a good snack. It can be found growing only near the island areas of Okinawa. You can also eat it with rice or salmon roe (eggs). Some people also refer to it as green caviar. Just get a mouthful of Umi Budou, and you can taste the heavenly delight it is.
Besides, it tastes best with side dishes. Have a bowl of Umi Budou when you’re in Okinawa.
6. Blue Seal Ice Cream
Actually, “blue seal” is the name of the brand, not the type of ice cream. It is a popular brand in Okinawa that is widely famous for the amazing and delicious ice cream they sell. All of their flavors are very popular throughout Okinawa.
Most importantly, the purple sweet potato one is the tastiest. In addition, it looks stunning and appetizing. You can find many blue seal shops throughout the whole island. Every shop has a special flavor item from Okinawan dishes. They have different flavors like – Shikuwasa, Salt cookies, and many others.
Okinawa is an island. Understandably, it is a humid and very hot summer location. The temperature remains high all year round. Rarely, the temperature falls below 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can guess how hot it can get. Hence, Blue Seal has learned to earn its popularity from trying many varieties of Okinawan flavors experimenting through trial and error.
Another popular flavor is sea salted ice cream. There is a superstition, or you can say a widespread belief that the salt in this ice cream helps you to recover the salt you lost from your body due to constant sweating in summer. It can be a good reason for the children to have a chance to eat ice cream.
Actually, it is a citrus fruit. It tastes like lime or orange. Sometimes, you can get a hint of grape too. It is very popular and incorporated in almost all kinds of refreshing dishes. You can have it with ice cream or juice or shakes or whatever you want. It is very tasty and makes a good dish for the summertime.
Besides Okinawa, you can also find it in Taiwan, which makes it popular in China as well. Shikuwasa is a common Okinawan flavor that is used in many other Okinawan dishes and many other cuisines.
But it’s hard to grow Shikuwasa without the optimum climatic conditions it requires. That’s why you have to go to Okinawa to taste a Shikuwasa drink.
If you are visiting Okinawa during Christmas, these are the kinds of cookies you can enjoy. Chinsuko can be salted or sweet. Basically, it is made in the same way as regular shortbread cookies. However, they are extremely soft and delicious and melt in your mouth.
They are made with flour, eggs, butter, and lard. The softness of these cookies is what makes them stand apart. You can buy this from the markets any time of the year or make some yourself at home.
Similar to pancakes, and equally delicious. You can buy this special pancake mix from the Okinawan market. Or you can simply make it from scratch at home. Its specialty is the rich flavor of black sugar which creates a brown texture on it. It is often sold in a box. And it tastes incredibly delightful.
Unlike ordinary pancakes, these are rolled out and eaten. You can add a dusting of powdered sugar or just pour some honey or maple syrup on top. Add some ice cream or whipped cream and some strawberries.
The main trick of making Chinbin is to keep the water content a bit higher. It is widely famous for its moist nature. In Okinawa, you can’t go a day without buying Chinbin for you or your family.
10. Sata Andagi
If you are a fan of doughnuts, try out the Okinawan doughnuts first, the Sata Andagi. These are made of flour, black sugar, or Jagger and then deep-fried in the shape of balls. So, in a way, you can regard them as deep-fried doughnuts. It is quite popular in Okinawa.
A unique ingredient of Sata Andagi is actually molasses. When deep-fried in oil, the molasses creates a special smoky flavor. It makes it different from regular doughnuts.
You can also find sweet potato flavored Sata Andagi. These are usually very small and crunch in your mouth when you bite on them.
11. Abura Miso
Miso is actually soybean paste after it is fermented. When it is mixed with pork and sugar to make a paste, it is called Abura Miso. It is actually used as a topping on top of white rice. However, the choice of rice is yours. The entire dish makes a complete meal in good proportions of carbs, protein, and fat.
It looks very appealing and is very tasty to eat. Besides, it can be spicy, sweet, and savory at the same time. Okinawan Shops are selling Abura Miso in small jars. It is a great delight for the native Japanese who love to have rice with all dishes.
It looks like a block of cheese or butter. It is made of fermented tofu with awamori. It has a very sweet taste, so it makes a good dessert. The taste is robust, with an alcoholic hint of awamori (Okinawan alcohol). It takes a great deal of time to make a fresh batch of Tofuyo. Hence, it used to be quite rare to find.
Earlier, Tofuyo would be found only among the royal Okinawan families, especially when there would be any occasion, the royal families would make Tofuyo for dessert. That’s why it is also known as the Emperor’s Snack. But at present, Tofuyo is now easy to make. So, you can find Tofuyo in any Okinawan grocer or specialty shops.
It is a great snack. The heavenly taste of cheese which melts in your mouth is excellent. It is like a string connecting you to your past, taking you back to the era of the Ryukyu kingdom.
13. Jimami Dofu
It looks like a block of flan or pudding. It is made from peanuts. When you cut it with a knife or a spoon, a creamy texture is created. It is because of the use of extract from peanuts and starch of sweet potatoes. Soy is not used here. It tastes sweet. So, it is another fabulous dessert.
Usually, it can be eaten as it is. But if you want, you can add soy sauce to it. In particular, light soy sauce can be added. It can be found at Izakaya or cafes. It looks beautiful and is very tasty too.
14. Yushi Dofu
Yushi Dofu is a treat to your taste buds. It is the best version of tofu anyone can make. Here, the tofu is crushed, so it looks like a paste. However, it is not dehydrated. Tofu is a great source of protein for non-veggies. So, you can enjoy this dish of tofu if you are a vegetarian. It contains brine and has a soybean taste.
You can eat it with soy sauce or use it in miso soups, that is, fermented pastes. It tastes fantastic wherever you use it. Tofu lovers must try this dish.
These are small pickled fish. They are crunchy and salty. So, to even it out, they are served on tofu cubes. The soft and mellow tofu balances the crunchiness and salt. Okinawans love this dish with a side glass of Japanese beer or sake. A glass of alcohol can change the taste of this unique dish.
The name is quite hard to pronounce. But it is common in Okinawa. Try once, and you will fall in love with it if you are a fish lover.
It is another dish that you can enjoy with alcohol. Basically, it is a pork dish. The Okinawans believe in eating the whole pig except its hooves and its nose. Mimiga is actually made with boiled or steamed pig ears.
It is served with white sauce or ponzu sauce. Not everybody can accept the taste of Mimiga, so it is more of a sophisticated and acquired taste.
A pork dish. Actually, it is the belly of pork cooked in distilled alcohol which is the awamori. It tastes great as curry or gravy. It can be made sweet and spicy.
The pork belly is slowly cooked in alcohol here. The recipe varies from place to place. So, when you visit Okinawa, try it out at different places. You can have the taste of Rafute from all over Okinawa, and yet every time, it will be tastier.
18. Okinawa Ramen – Soba
It is an Okinawan version of mainland Ramen. The Okinawans don’t always prefer the usual kind of Japanese ramen. They prefer a modified version of ramen, the Okinawan Soba. The broth is thick and made with bonito flakes, seaweed, and pork.
The noodles are thick and made of wheat. A bowl of Soba is sure to fill your stomach entirely. It makes a complete and hearty meal.
19. Yagi Sashimi
It is a little outside the box. However, this is not for the ones who are very sensitive about animals. Okinawans eat raw goat meat which is popularly known as the Yagi Sashimi. It is said to taste highly delicious.
It is a sugar substitute that you can add to any dessert. These are sold in the Okinawan market in packets. In fact, they look like chunks of brown molasses.
Actually, these are the black sugar of Okinawa. They taste like licorice and are used widely in Japan. But if you wish, you can eat it without adding anything, just how it is.
21. Beni Imo
The most famous dish of Okinawa, the Beni Imo, is the purple sweet potatoes. They are beautifully colored vegetables to look at. They have a gorgeous shade of purple color. You can make a smashed paste and put it as a topping over many base foods.
It is exceptionally unique to Okinawa. The most commonly made dish is the sweet potato tart in purple. At the same time, it tastes incredible. It is also used to flavor sweet dishes like ice cream, KitKat brand chocolates.
22. Agu Pork
The Okinawans take pride in the fact that they can prepare a delicious dish from any body part of the pig. They love to add pork to any dish which requires meat. Pork, when expertly cooked, can taste delicious.
Agu Pork is a dish from a rare pig species that originated from China more than 500 years ago. For some reason, the meat tastes exceptionally sweet. Agu Pork is considered to be sacred by the Okinawans.
As mentioned previously, there almost is no part of a pig that Okinawans fail to use. It may sound unusual, but Tebichi is a dish made from pork’s feet. Just boil it until it becomes soft, and then added as a topping in Soba or ramen or whatever you wish.
Tebichi is actually good for health as it contains lots of collagen protein. It is also good for the skin. Besides, you can have it with a spicy or sweet sauce or dip it in soy sauce.
24. Ishigaki Beef
Okinawans love to eat beef. Besides the traditional ways of eating beef, like steak, stir fry, pan fry, curry, and steamed., you should try out the Okinawan way of eating beef.
In particular, the meat of Ishigaki beef holds special importance here. Ishigaki is a part of Okinawa, and the Okinawans named the meat after the location. It tastes nearly the same as Kobe beef and has a very soft texture.
25. Orion Beer
Last but not least, any meal is not complete without a glass of cold beer. The Okinawans have a particular locally made alcoholic drink, the Orion Beer.
It is a special kind of alcoholic beverage which is produced with consideration to the climatic conditions of Okinawa. The taste of this beer will take you back to the tropics as many times as you take a sip. It is marketed widely in Okinawa. However, you can find it in other parts of mainland Japan too.
If you have a love for tropical dishes and Japanese food, Okinawan cuisine is a great choice. Also, if you want to try out new foods that have unique flavors, try out these top Okinawan dishes. You will indeed say, money well spent.
Okinawa has developed many dishes and flavored ingredients due to its isolated location. Although trade with neighboring countries has brought in new ingredients that were incorporated into the culture’s food palate over many centuries.
Food in Okinawa is something special and every visitor should make a special effort to try as much of their amazing and delicious variety of dishes.