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
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
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
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