Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, offers up a wealth of unique bites, from doughnuts to pig faces.
Okinawa, a cluster of Japanese islands with a wonderfully laid-back pace influenced by its tropical climate and sybaritic beach culture, is closer in proximity to China than Tokyo, with its own traditions and unique cuisine. And now it’s much easier (and cheaper) to get to, with both ANA and JAL offering explorer fares for $131 and $89 respectively, that will have you eating out in Okinawa in no time.
Feel good factor
Okinawa’s cuisine is not only fresh and delicious, it is also credited for its health-giving benefits, resulting in the fiercely proud Okinawans living longer than anywhere else in the world – the average age for women is 87, and 84 for men. With a big focus on fish (at least three serves a week), lots of tofu, rice, wholegrains and soya products, and plenty of locally grown vegetables and greens, Okinawans also put a lot of emphasis on staying active, getting out in the fresh air and having fun.
We’ll drink to that
Okinawa has a tipple all its own: awamori is made from long grain indica rice and distilled like whiskey. But be warned, it packs a powerful punch, with an alcohol content of 30 to 40 per cent.
Face to face
Possibly the weirdest delicacy in Okinawa is freeze dried pig’s face (chiragaa), which, as the name implies, consists of the skin of a pig’s face being dried and preserved, to be sliced into strips and served during special celebrations. It is more than a little surreal to wander around the many food markets scattered across the islands only to come face to face (constantly) with flat packed blank-eyed pigs (Okinawans also have the quirky habit of putting fresh pig’s heads on display, many wearing sunglasses).
Don’t leave the islands without trying these Okinawan specialties.
Salt ice-cream: A creamy soft serve ice-cream that is garnished not with sprinkles but with flavoured salt, from chilli to lime to wasabi.
Jimami dofu: Okinawa’s own version of tofu, made with peanuts; it has a silky, soft consistency and a strong nutty flavour.
Tofuyo: A slightly smelly fermented tofu that’s served in small cubes and popped into the mouth to accompany awamori
Champuru: Try the traditional recipe made with goya; to many this is Okinawa on a plate.
Sata andagi: Okinawa’s own version of doughnuts, the blobby, golden and dense little nuggets are sold in markets and often filled with pineapple or banana.