Okinawan food is prepared in Okinawa, a Japanese island. Although a part of Japan, the Okinawan cuisine is entirely different from Japanese cuisine in many ways, including the use of ingredients and style of cooking. The cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, with a generous use of spices and herbs. Okinawan food is known to be healthy and is believed to be the primary reason for the longevity of Okinawans.
Historical Influences on Okinawan Cuisine
In the past, Okinawa has had trade relationships with other Southeast Asian countries. As a result, the Okinawan cuisine has been influenced greatly by the cooking styles of China, Thailand, and other Asian countries. The cuisine also had a western influence as Okinawa was under the control of United States from 1945 to 1972.
Meat, rice, tropical fruits, vegetables, and seaweed are an essential part of the Okinawan diet. The predominant meat is pork, but mutton and beef are also consumed. Tofu and seaweed take a very important place in the cuisine. Fruits like papaya, guava, passion fruit, and pineapple are eaten. Bitter goya, flat lemon called shikuwasa, and luffa are some of the vegetables native to the region. Sweet potato, bean varieties, onions, and tomato are commonly used to prepare dishes.
Meat stews, noodles, rice dishes, rice porridge, raw meat, vegetable stir-fries, and pickled seaweed are some of the everyday Okinawan foods. Stews made with pork, pork tripe, pig feet, and pig ears are common in the region. Tofu and seaweed are combined together to prepare a variety of everyday dishes. These include stir fries which are made with tofu, eggs, goya, or leek. Other common foods include noodles and rice dishes. Yakisoba is a fried noodle dish with vegetable. Foochiba Jooshi is a rice porridge prepared with a bitter leaf vegetable. Dried and roasted fish called iriko is another common dish.
Traditional and Festival foods
The following are some of the traditional food prepared in Okinawan homes as well as restaurants:
· Okinawa Soba – This is a noodle dish served in a broth with a variety of toppings. Green onions, ginger, fish or pork are the common toppings served with the noodle.
· Goya Champuru – A stir-fry dish comprising bitter goya, eggs, pork, and tofu.
· Yagi Sashimi – This is a dish of thinly sliced raw goat meat, which is eaten after dipping in soya sauce. The meat is arranged on top of shiso leaves and shredded daikon.
· Taco Rice – This is a fusion food created due to the American influence. Taco toppings such as lettuce, salsa, ground beef, onions, tomatoes, and cheese are served over rice.
· Rafute – A savory dish comprising thick pieces of pork which are cooked in fish broth and soya sauce. This was once a royal dish, but now has become a common one.
· Umibudo – This is a dish made with a type of seaweed. It requires very little preparation and is made with soya sauce and vinegar.
· Mimiga – Boiled or steamed thinly sliced pig’s ears, which is seasoned with ponzu sauce or peanut dressing.
· Koobuirichi – A stew made with pork and seaweed called Konbu.
Dishes made with konbu, tofu, and pork are indispensable during festivals. These special foods include fried tofu, meat broth with tofu and konbu, and a clear soup with tofu and a seaweed called asa.
A local liquor called awamori and the jasmine tea called sanpin-cha are traditional in Okinawa.
Places that Serve Authentic Okinawan Food
Apart from the restaurants, local establishments called izakaya serve authentic Okinawan drinks along with a variety of small dishes. These establishments are found all over the region.
What Makes Okinawan Food Healthy?
Okinawan food is mostly low in fat and calories. Pork dishes are rich not only in protein, but also in collagen, which is very healthy. Studies have revealed that dishes like pig’s ear/face skin sashimi, leg tibichi (pork leg soup), and nakami suimono (pork intestine soup) contain significant amount of elastin and collagen, which help prevent diseases and promote health and longevity. It is believed that collagen can bring down triglyceride levels in the blood, thus lowering the risk of heart disease. The subcutaneous fat from pork is also removed via a special process, making the dish almost zero in saturated fat. Konbu the seaweed is rich in fatty acids and dietary fiber, which aids in digestion. The Okinawan tofu is a rich source of isoflavones, which help in preventing lifestyle-related ailments. Apart from these, the herbs and leafy vegetables provide the essential vitamins and minerals to the people’s diet. Thus, Okinawan food proves to be very healthy and nutritious.
It is not uncommon for Okinawans to live up to 100 years, and their diet is believed to be the primary reason for their longevity.