Food, Glorious Food

Ginowan Travel Blog

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Grocery store somewhere in Japan (not my picture).
Food is always an interesting thing and is very rarely what you expect it to be - especially in another country.  Before coming to Japan, I only knew to expect a lot of white rice and noodles - an expectation that has definitely been met.  However, I had no idea that chicken, beef and pork would be so common or that the Okinawan cuisine would have adopted into it so many international foods.  Below is a list of some of the things that I have eaten here so far.

Taco Rice
This is a meal that originated and may only be found on Okinawa.  It is white rice with taco beef, lettuce, cheese and salsa.  Mexican food is really popular here now, but this dish was created in the 1960s by a local chef who had a restaurant near to one of the Marine bases and decided to create the dish by combining the normal taco ingredients with Japanese white rice.
Taco rice from above.
  You can read more about it on its Wikipedia page.

I'm a fan of taco rice.  It's like a little taste of back home, with a Japanese twist.

A Japanese staple and what the country is probably most well-known for.  Here they have restaurants that specialize in sushi, some that do many different foods but also have sushi and sashimi on the menu, and places called "sushi-go-rounds".  These are more like fast-food sushi places where a chef makes different kinds of sushi and puts pieces on small plates that rotate on a belt around the tables and you can pick off what you want.  

So far I've eaten sushi at a sushi-go-round and at a really good izakaya restaurant that we went to over the weekend with Nicole's co-workers from school.
Sushi goin 'round.
  There I had some really good salmon rolls and tuna sashimi.  The salmon rolls were different and larger than at home.  They had the salmon and cucumber in them, no seaweed around the outside, but a large slice of avacado and little orange salmon eggs on the top.  And yes I ate the salmon eggs.  When you pop the whole roll in your mouth at once you can't tell anyway.

I've eaten a few different types of seaweed here.  Mostly I've had the dried kind that they put around sushi or rice balls (yummy), but I've had a slimy pickled kind that they give to you in a little bowl on the side of some of their meal sets, and another kind called Umibudo, or sea grapes.
Soba noodle soup.
  They were pretty good.  Very salty.  Almost like you had gotten bowled over by a wave and got some sea water in your mouth.  A little less briny, I suppose, but similar.

These are a lunch time staple here and noodle places abound.  Here you can order a "set" which will include a type of salad, maybe some seaweed or pickled apricots (ume), a bowl of rice and a noodle soup.  These soups usually have a flat soba noodle, some kind of meat - many times pork, as well as cabbage, radishes and other vegetables.  They are served in big bowls and are almost too much for lunch.
Example of a Bento box meal.
  I have yet to finish one.

Soba noodles are also served cold or as yakisoba - a dish that Nicole made for dinner the other night.  It's a great staple you can throw anything into with some sauce and heat it in a skillet and voila!  In the soba sauce it reminds me of lo-mein.

Bento Boxes
These are another popular lunchtime meal here.  You can buy them at a shop or pack one of your own for a picnic or lunch break.  These sets are similar to the noodle soup ones but the main part of the meal is usually tempura chicken or vegetables or some kind of egg dish (at least on Okinawa, I think they are different on mainland).  They use a lot of eggs in cooking here, which surprised me, as well as the amount of fried foods they have.  

The most popular bento box place I've seen here is Hokka Hokka Tei.
Bottles of awamori.
  We got some boxes from there one day and brought them to the beach.  They were really good, especially for stuff that's considered fast food.

Well, there's a short list of some of the foods you can find here on Okinawa.  Also popular are various other types of Asian cuisine - I've noticed Thai, Chinese, Korean and Indian; hamburgers - there is McDonalds, Mos Burger (about 100 times better than McDonalds) and A&W (I swear there are more on Okinawa than must exist in all of the US combined); drink vending machines - they are everywhere and sometimes even dispense things like creamed corn; Starbucks, of course; and good old Japanese rice wine - either in sake form or Awamori, an Okinawan liquor made by distillation instead of brewing.  Both will get you good and drunk, especially if you're a foreigner.
Some packaged sweets made out of Benimo.
  Other ingredients used a lot in Okinawan cooking or packaged goods are brown sugar (produced in many places on the island), goya (a bitter vegetable), cabbage, curry, garlic, mango, pineapple, corn and Spam (Yes, the Spam. You should see the beautiful gift boxes of it you can buy to send your loved ones for New Years.).

Lastly, I want to mention two new foods I found here that I had never heard of before I came to Okinawa.  One is called Shikwasa and is a fruit that is a sweet tasting cross between a lemon and a lime.  They use it in many sweets here, including pies, tarts, cookies, lemonade and popsicles (a favorite of Nicole and I).  The other is a purple sweet potato named Benimo.  It is also popular to put into baked goods as well as ice cream and candy.  I'm going to miss these when I leave.

The only thing I have to complain about the Okinawan food (besides the amount of salt used) is the lack of available and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.  I suppose since it's winter here, the local produce would not be as easily available and things are expensive to import to a small island.  For example one canteloupe costs about $20 in the grocery store!!  Apples and watermelon are also on the expensive side.  Salads are hard to come by at restaurants and I pine for a large, crisp, green dinner-sized one.  Mmmmmm, salad.  But besides my need for greenery, I've been having fun exploring the supermarkets and experiencing a new way of eating.  I highly recommend it.

Note: The only photo that I took out of the ones posted in this entry is the one of the sushi-go-round.
annonommous123 says:
I feel like you missed your calling as a food photographer
Posted on: Jan 17, 2008
Shellikinz says:
Hi Allison!

Looks like you're having a great time in Japan. Thanks for the chopsticks and nuts... they have a very interesting taste, but good. Oddly enough, the blue set of chopsticks are the exact color of blue I was trying to find, I'm doing my maid of honor dress in that color! So, Thanks!
Posted on: Jan 15, 2008
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Grocery store somewhere in Japan (…
Grocery store somewhere in Japan …
Taco rice from above.
Taco rice from above.
Sushi goin round.
Sushi goin 'round.
Soba noodle soup.
Soba noodle soup.
Example of a Bento box meal.
Example of a Bento box meal.
Bottles of awamori.
Bottles of awamori.
Some packaged sweets made out of B…
Some packaged sweets made out of …
photo by: Chariot13