Although they share the name with soba noodle dishes found on the Japanese mainland, Okinawa Soba is a completely different dish. They are made of wheat rather than buckwheat flour, and therefore resemble udon noodles more than soba noodles. Similar to ramen noodles, Okinawa Soba are served in a bowl of broth with a number of toppings. A common topping is soft boiled pork, in which case the dish is called Soki Soba, but there are other varieties. The dish generally also includes green onions, kamaboko (fish cake) and red ginger.
The main ingredient in this Okinawa food staple is pig’s ear, but don’t let that deter you. This delicate and delectable dish has the pork ear cleaned through slight burning or grilling, and then steamed or boiled to tenderize. Typically, it is shredded afterward and served with vinegar, peanut butter, ponzu, and miso sauce, a smooth and a somewhat creamy compliment to the soft, slightly chewiness of the ear. This dish is often a side and goes great with sake. The richness of the sauce is best served with dry sake to cleanse the palate for the next helping.
Champuru is a dish very specific to the intermingled cultures of the island; spam is even used in this stir fry, which depicts influence from the United States. Goya is a bitter lemon that looks like a lumpy pickle; on its own, it’s pretty unpleasant, but Okinawa has learned how to use this healthy ingredient in many staple dishes. Goya Champuru is a combination of the melon, egg, tofu, spam, other veggies, and sometimes pork.
Umibudo literally means "sea grapes" in Japanese, and this type of seaweed does indeed resemble grapes on a miniature scale. Each little umibudo ball has a soft skin that releases a salty liquid when bitten. Umibudo is usually served with little preparation, with only a bit of vinegar or soya sauce.
Rafute is a pork dish featuring thick cuts of meat from the pig's belly that have been boiled to become very soft. It was originally part of the cuisine of the Ryukyu royal court, but has since become a common dish. An order of rafute typically comes with one to three pieces of meat, but each piece is quite thick. The meat is cooked in soya sauce and fish broth, and sometimes awamori as well. The pieces of rafute are sometimes served with a bit of mustard as a seasoning. The taste of the meat is usually very rich and savory.
This delectable, eponymous Okinawan cuisine consists of everything in its name and then some. Taco rice is a Tex-Mex like dish that is served with taco flavored ground beef, shredded cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce over white rice. It is sometimes served with salsa, in a tortilla roll, and tastes exactly as one would imagine—literally tacos and white rice. It was born and bred in the islands and is one of the most well-known Okinawa food dishes outside of the islands. Since being created by Matsuzo Gibo and served in his cafes beginning in 1984, taco rice has found its way into the hearts and stomachs of locals, expats and tourists alike.
Another derivative of the versatile soya bean, tofuyo is the result of fermenting and aging regular tofu. It is a powerful and pungent dish that is served in very small portions and commonly eaten with toothpicks. Tofuyo is often compared to strong cheese because of its similar texture and taste. The tofu is soaked in malted rice and awamori during the fermentation process, which takes a few months to complete. Red yeast is added in the process that gives the tofuyo its distinctive color. A glass of awamori is said to complement the taste of tofuyo nicely.
If shortbread or cookies aren’t your things, then try this specialty instead. These deep-fried balls, a novel concoction of beaten eggs mixed with flour and sugar that are also known as Okinawan doughnuts, are a real taste bud turner. They are thick, hearty, and have a similar consistency to hushpuppies. Though they are dense and cakey, you’ll be satisfied by how they crumble in your mouth. If you only take one Okinawan food home with you, make it a box of sata andagi—just try to keep yourself from eating all of them first.
Chinsuko is a very soft cookie, comparable to Pecan Sandies; but even crumblier and tasty. You’ll see a variety of flavors, but you can’t go wrong with salt or milk chinsuko. If you find yourself in the unusually wonderful fruit-themed amusement park, Pineapple Park, pick up a box of pineapple Chinsuko cookies. Possibly the most heavenly way to enjoy the Okinawan treat, is when it’s coated in what can only be described as pineapple white chocolate.