Eating in Okinawa Sushi JiroCho
Sushi at JiroCho
Eleven years ago, I departed Okinawa, Japan wondering if I ever would return to this misunderstood tropical paradise. Two weeks ago, I found myself back to this island for work.  Some things looked new  and some looked exactly the same as I left them.  Eating in Okinawa encompasses some of my fondest memories on this island.  As most business travelers know, it’s hard to squeeze in sightseeing when you’re busy with meetings and work.  As I have mentioned previously on my posts about Boulder and Cancun, I get the most out of a culture and destination through its food.  This has been the case with Okinawa as well. I’m here for an extended work trip and here’s a summary of the notable places I’ve eaten at since my arrival:

Jiro-cho:  When I returned to the United States after living in Japan for a year I was ruined when it came to sushi.  Whether is was the supermarket variety or the $200 dinner, I could not find my happy sushi place.  Last Saturday, I re-encountered my sushi happy place at Jiro-cho, a small sushi and tempura restaurant in Okinawa.  As you enter, you see the chef at work preparing the fresh cuts of fish. They prepare the sushi with the fish  received that day so if you’re too late, you may miss out on the good stuff.  Tip: reservation is recommended. The fish melted in my mouth, the egg sushi had the perfect salty flavor, and the roe were tiny bursts of happiness.  The tempura is made with vegetables local to Okinawa: bitter melon (I still can’t get into it, but anything deep fried is delicious), Okinawan purple sweet potato, and daikon.  JiroCho: 次郎長寿司北谷ハンビー店, 1 Chome-12-8 Chatan, Nakagami District, Okinawa Prefecture 

Eating in Okinawa Ramen
Ramen at Tenka Ippin

Tenka Ippin:
  I used to avoid the “American Village” like the plague when I used to live here, I found it generic and with bad food catered to Americans (hence the name).  Since the unfortunate Tsunami in mainland Japan, many people have moved to Okinawa  for a new start. This can be seen through the new construction, gentrification, and new food spots popping up all over the island.  Tenka Ippin is a Kyoto chain that made its way to Okinawa  perhaps cater to those from the mainland diaspora and I’m in love. I indulged in a set of thick ramen (Kotteri) with a side of rice and gyoza for less than $10 (hurray for a weak yen). The broth was thick and flavorful with hints of spice and the perfect noodle to broth ratio. I’m still thinking about it.

Tenka Ippin:  3 Chome Mihama, Chatan, Nakagami District, Okinawa Prefecture 904-0115

Eating in Okinawa Ukishima Garden
Decor at Ukishima Garden

Ukishima Garden:  As I was getting stir-crazy from being in the middle of the island with no car, I got an email from Lena from JetsetTimes who was also in Okinawa.  Two travel writers on a little known Japanese island?!? We had to meet!  I paid a very expensive and adventurous cab ride to Okinawa to Ukishima Garden, a quaint cafe on a small side street on Naha. The place was recommended by Rie, whom I met from the Okinawa Tourism board.  The menu is international with a hint of Okinawan. We had a local tofu variation of the caprese salad that was unforgettable. We were hesitant about it but we were both happy we gave in. The savory tofu was the perfect alternative to the buffala mozarella (never thought I would say that, being the cheese fan that I am).  We also tried a squid ink paella that was not quite paella but it was very tasty nonetheless.  Aside from the Euro-Japanese themed menu, the atmosphere made it a place to be: a mix of Europeans, Japanese and Americans coming together in a quaint space with small eccentric details on the walls and friendly waitstaff.  Ukishima Garden: 浮島ガーデン, 〒900ー0014 Okinawa Prefecture, Naha 松尾2丁目12−3

Eating in Okinawa Soupcon Cafe
Coffee at Soupcon Cafe Okinawa

Soupcon Beachside Cafe:  I had set up a meeting with the Okinawan tourism board and when looking for a place to meet in Ishikawa, I found Cafe Soupcon on Google maps and decided to take a chance and meet there. Completely unassuming on the outside, it’s a hidden treasure on the island.  It reminded me of North Shore in Hawaii with surfboards lining the concrete walls, vintage mementos, and mismatched retro furniture.  There, I had a beautiful cappuccino and a delicious sliver of cheesecake as Rie shared with me unique spots throughout the island and tourism trends in Okinawa. She also shared beautiful books and magazines about the island. Although I can’t read kanji, I still browse through them to get photography and design inspiration! Soupcon Beach Cafe: 1 Chome-6-38 Ishikawaakebono, Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture

Eating in Okinawa Shabu Naha
Shabu Shabu at Kaigyuu Izakaya
Kaigyuu Izakaya:  Really, I couldn’t figure out the name of this place nor the address even after I ate there. I ended up taking a photo of the place and sending it to my nephew who speaks Japanese to dig up this place.  My friend and I were looking for somewhere to eat when we saw a sign outside the elevator with pictures of meat and all sorts of other goodies.  Tip: when looking for somewhere to eat in Asia, make sure to look up, some of the best places are on the 3rd floor and up! Needless to say, we were able to conclude the place was a shabu place based on the pictures on the sign.  Thank goodness for hand signs, pictures, and google translate because nobody on the staff spoke any English. We ordered gyoza, the most succulent pork belly I’ve ever had, and shabu shabu meat of abu pork and beef. When the four trays of meat were delivered to us with a plate overflowing with veggies and tofu, we got scurred!  We didn’t think we were able to throw it down but we did. We spent almost three hours drinking Orion, being carnivores, and catching up after not seeing each other for over  a year.

Kaigyuu Izakaya: 海牛, 〒900-0015 Okinawa Prefecture, Naha, Kumoji, 3 Chome−12−4, ラフテビル 5F

Eating in Okinawa Sushi
Sushi in Action at JiroCho
As I move into a 12 hour day schedule  at work , I will probably will not be able to explore as much until a few weeks from now but my belly is happy… for now.  Eating in Okinawa can be overwhelming, especially with the language barrier and all the amazing choices on this little island.  Have you been to Okinawa? What is your favorite foodie spot?

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