Okinawa with its diverse food culture has plenty of unique local street foods. We have picked up 10 popular food items to enjoy like a local when you’re just strolling around with a friend, feeling peckish, or looking for something to accompany a drink! Which one is your favorite?
Jef is an American-style drive-in restaurant born and raised in Okinawa, with three stores in the prefecture. The popular dishes on its original menu are made using fresh local ingredients from the prefecture. Nuyaru Burger, in particular, is a unique dish with its name derived from Okinawan language “Nu Yaru Baga” which means “what is it?” It contains pork luncheon meat, eggs, cheese, goya (bitter melon) and mayonnaise sandwiched in a bun. The sourness of the special mayonnaise, the richness of cheese, and the bitterness of the goya complement the eggs making it a delicious combination.
Jef *Only in Japanese
Onigiri made with pork (luncheon meat) is greatly loved in Okinawa. Pork, usually referring to processed pork meat, is full of flavor and highly versatile, making it a popular ingredient in a wide range of dishes. A pork-egg onigiri (rice ball) consists of a slice of pork luncheon meat and egg fried in lard and wrapped in white rice and nori seaweed. The fluffy grilled egg and salty pork are a good match pleasing to any palate. A variety of toppings such as abura miso (oily miso) fried in lard and thick fried island tofu are often added. Besides specialty stores, pork-egg onigiri can be found at all convenience stores and supermarkets in Okinawa.
In Okinawan language, “sata” means “sugar” and “andagi” means “fried.” As the name implies, it is a donut made from a mixture of sugar, flour, and eggs. When freshly cooked, its deep-fried outside is crispy and the inside moist but not too sweet, a perfect snack. In addition to the classic plain flavor, a variety of Okinawan ingredients such as brown sugar, pineapple, and sweet potato are added, making it fun to compare the flavors. If ever you want to refresh your sata-andagi, just bake them lightly in a toaster oven to bring them back to their prime.
A classic iced confectionery in Okinawa. In the mainland of Japan, sweets made using red beans, such as rice cakes and shiratama (rice flour balls) dumplings in bean paste, are called Zenzai or Oshiruko. Whereas for Okinawa Zensai, kintoki beans are boiled with sugar or brown sugar, chilled and put in a bowl, after which shiratama dumplings and shaved ice are added to complete the dish. The simmered kintoki beans are pleasantly sweet and the sticky white balls covered with ice accentuates the texture. Okinawa Zenzai is highly recommended as a sweet dessert.
Tempura is one of the Japanese foods that has gained world-wide popularity. It’s a common Japanese deep-fried dish that typically has crispy texture and is covered with a light batter. In Okinawa, tempura is made with thick batter like fritters. It is characterized by the taste of the batter and is a dish that Okinawan people of all ages love. It’s good as a side dish, snack, addition to rice when hungry, and as a snack to accompany alcohol. Almost anything can be an ingredient from fish and wieners to mozuku seaweed and sweet potatoes.
A traditional Japanese food, kamaboko is made by grinding and kneading white fish meat then cooking it in steam. Various kinds of kamaboko are sold in Okinawa, but the characteristic feature of Okinawa kamaboko is that it is fried. Burdock root and carrots are also added to make such variations as flat chikiagi, bite-sized chigiri, and small round finger-shaped treats. The taste is not overwhelming and the texture resilient, making it a flexible and convenient product that can be eaten as a side dish or added as an ingredient in miso soup or oden.
Onisasa is a local gourmet folk food that you definitely want to taste when visiting Ishigaki Island. It’s a unique assortment of food all mixed together in a plastic bag, and ingredients include fried sasami chicken fillet, sauce and seasonings of your choice, and rice balls. The dish is completed by squeezing it all together in the plastic bag. Despite its messy appearance, the well-seasoned fried chicken and rice balls are a perfect match. It’s crisp outside, fresh inside, and the texture is perfect. Its appeal is that you can choose the rice balls and ingredients you like and create your own onisasa.
Okinawa has the largest number of fried chicken chain stores in Japan! It’s a chicken-loving prefecture. In addition to specialty chicken stores, a variety of chicken dishes are available at supermarkets and convenience stores. People take them as gifts, or to eat at festive occasions and Christmas events. Chicken drumsticks are one of the most popular snacks among young people in Okinawa, as they are reasonably priced and filling. Try a fist-sized fried chicken leg on the bone, crispy outside, and the meat juicy enough to drip oil. It is an enticing dish that can fill your stomach and be eaten just with your bare hands.
Blue Seal is an ice cream specialty store born in the United States and raised in Okinawa. An iconic Okinawan ice cream brand that has long been loved by the locals. In addition to the classic flavors, such as the Blue Wave which is a mix of pineapple ice cream and soda sherbet, they also offer unique Okinawan flavors such as sweet potato, sugarcane, and salted chinsuko cookie. The taste of the ingredients is distinct, and the mellow flavor is popular regardless of a person’s age or gender. They are sold in many outlets throughout urban areas, shopping malls, and tourist facilities, so be sure to keep your eye out for the Blue Seal ice cream sign!
Okinawa has been greatly influenced by American food culture, making it one of the best places in Japan to enjoy authentic American pies. You can taste the full range of American pie flavors at steakhouses and restaurants and in specialty stores selling baked goods. In addition to the classic apple, cherry, and pumpkin pies, there are plenty of variations, such as pies made using Okinawan ingredients like sweet potatoes and taimo (a type of yam). Okinawa-style fried pies, which are popular for souvenirs and gifts, are sold both whole or cut in smaller or bite-size pieces.