Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. In addition to its pristine beaches, unique culture, it is also famous for its food! Okinawa has many quirky delicacies that can only be found here. I had the chance to visit this little paradise for the first time last month. Being the foodie that I am, of course a food hunt was a must. I have rounded up 7 food one has to eat in Okinawa as well some of my favourite eateries discovered.
Must-Eat Food in Okinawa
It is no surprise that being an island prefecture, Okinawa is a paradise for seafood lovers. You can enjoy fresh seafood all year round. There are many fish markets throughout the island where you can buy not only delicious seafood like tuna and salmon, but some fishes that you may have never seen before. Check out the Makishi Fish Market, a popular market in downtown Naha. (More information near the end of the post)
Otherwise known as “bittermelon”, this is a staple food in Okinawa. A green lumpy vegetable, goya is slightly bitter. Although not everyone enjoys the taste, this vitamin rich super food has many health benefits. It can help lower blood sugar, boost immune system, improve skin conditions, and much more! Okinawans love goya. It is eaten in many ways. Try goya tempura. It’s a nice introduction to this strange melon as its bitterness is pretty much masked. What’s left is a refreshing taste contrasted with a crispy batter.
This dish consists of taco-flavored ground beef with shredded cheese and lettuce, served on a bed of rice. Doesn’t sound like a Japanese dish? Well yes. This dish is very much thanks to the American influence on the island. After American troops came in Japan after WWII, they introduced Americans’ favorite Mexican food, tacos! Okinawans made it their own and now taco rice is an Okinawa specialty!
Another American food that has penetrated deep into the Okinawan diet is spam! It is an indispensable ingredient in almost every household’s pantry. Spam is used in many famous local dishes such as bittermelon stir fry or pork and egg. (Keep reading for an amazing spam breakfast sandwich shop recommendation near the end of the post!)
Literally meaning “sea grapes”, umibudo is a common Okinawa snack. It is also known as Green Caviar because of its resemblance to fish eggs. However, it is a type of seaweed. Umibudo is often eaten raw dipped in vinegar or served with sashimi, rice or soba. Enjoy it with a beer and you are living the true Okinawa life.
Usually, when one mentions soba, the image that comes to mind are noodles that are black, thin and slippery. However, the Okinawa soba is very different from soba you would find on mainland Japan! They are fat and white noodles, usually served in a bowl of thick bonito soup topped with fish cakes and pork ribs. It’s definitely a comfort food worth trying.
If you are craving for a dessert, look for these little donuts being sold in many places on the street. A popular two bite snack in Okinawa, Sata Andagi is sweet and crunchy. They come in many flavours like mango, caramel, and pumpkin. They are super cheap as well!
Where to go eat these delicious food?
Here are some of my favourite places and personal recommendations for those who are looking to hunt down all the delicious food mentioned above.
Kokusai Street Food Village
Located on Kokusai street (the most famous street in downtown Naha), Kokusai Street Food Village hosts 20 mini restaurants that features Okinawa food. We had a delicious time here shop hopping and trying different dishes.
Umibudo salad, fried goya, giant shrimp tempuras and more!
→ The restaurants are really small and can only fit a couple people at a time.
→ There is a useful map near the entrance that tells you what each restaurant specializes in.
Kokusai Street Food Village 国際通り屋台村
3 Chome-11-17 Makishi, Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 900-0013
Makishi Fish Market
The Makishi Fish Market is one of the most well-known markets on the island. It’s a great place to go for a fresh seafood breakfast. The different stalls sell precut and packaged sashimi but you can also choose freely from the selection on display.
There are oysters, crabs, giant shrimps and all sorts of fish! You may never have seen some of these colourful tropical fishes like the blue parrot fish, a premier fish in Okinawa, or the red grouper, a fish that is commonly deep fried.
After you’ve made your choice, the shop will help bring your selection upstairs to be prepared by one of the restaurants. How about a lobster porridge?
The market also has more than just seafood. You can also find all sorts of meat and sausages, including these slightly nauseating pig faces.
→ If you want the restaurants at the market to cook the seafood you bought, there is a cooking fee of 500 yen per person. It doesn’t matter if you have one fish or two fishes, they count the fee by how many people will eat!
First Makishi Public Market
2 Chome−10−1, Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, 900-0014
Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten
At last comes a special mention and my favorite! Pork Tamago is a small shop that sells Japanese rice balls AKA onigiri. What makes it worthy of mentioning is that the rice balls are made with an Okinawan twist. There is a great selection of filling available, but the key ingredient is spam! Delicious, lovely spam! Stuffed in a sandwich shaped rice ball with other goodness like egg, fried tofu, shrimp, or fish, it’s so good! I made sure to go every morning that I could during my time in Okinawa and try all the flavors. My favorite was spicy carrot. If I could only choose one breakfast to eat for the rest of my life, I would probably choose this.
There is a menu near the door of the shop.
The Fried Shrimp Tartar and Fried Fish with Pickled Okinawa Shallots are also delicious.
→ There is always a long line as the sandwiches are made-to-order. Be prepared to wait at least half an hour. It is worth it though!
Pork Tamago Honten ポークたまごおにぎり
2 Chome-8-35 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 900-0014
Okinawa has a unique and vibrant food scene. It is definitely worth exploring! If you have the chance to try out some of these recommendations, I would love to hear what you think!
For more fun ideas on what to do in Okinawa, check out my post 5 Day Trip in Okinawa | Highlights & Tips.