Mention Okinawa and images of white unspoilt beaches and beautiful crystal clear sea comes to mind. But there is so much more to Okinawa than beaches!
I flew to Okinawa for a short weekend trip to have a taste of all the goodness the main island had to offer. If I had more time, staying in resort islands and exploring Okinawa archipelago would be fantastic.
As many would know, Okinawa is famous for its local delicacies like
Arriving on a Saturday morning and left with a satisfied stomach on Sunday evening.
In January, the weather is a cool 16-20 degrees, perfect for exploring, walking and hiking, but just little too cold for swimming.
I was exploring around Kokusaidori of Naha city (国際通り) to see if I can find some good food to enjoy and I remembered seeing from the news that a new food paradise of Japanese gourmet was somewhere near and really wanted to try if I got the chance. Finally, I found Ryukyu Okoku Ichiba(琉球王国市場). This newly opened 3 storey food court (since December 22018), hosts about 42 stalls, selling different kinds of Japanese food and products from all over Japan including Okinawa. With a variety of gourmets like Wagyu beef, Okinawa Agu pork, seafood, street delicacies, sake, and many more, it’s a place where Japanese food lover could ever want.
A hungry man is an angry man, and looking at all the delicious food available, it was too difficult to decide where to start!
Walking around, the first store that caught my eye, with its mouth-watering display of marbled meat, was TEPPEI X 29. If <TEPPEI> this name sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is that famous Japanese omakase restaurant in Tanjong Pagar that needs to wait for 2-6 months ahead before you can eat in the restaurant itself. And they as a well-loved brand in Singapore welcomed their first Japan store in Naha city, Okinawa!
TEPPEI X 29 provides a selection of meat from different regions of Japan, including Kagoshima, Okinawa and many more. Of course, since I was in Okinawa, I had to have the Okinawa Wagyu A4 beef (¥4,800) and it was one of the best cuts of beef I have ever had. The meat melts after taking the first bite and the juice from the fat just bursts within my mouth. It was meatily satisfying.
TEPPEI X 29 also sells freshly made bento boxes (¥1,280), so if you want to grab some meat back to your hotel, just do it. Also, try the Wagyu beef sushi, flame-grilled before your eyes. (2 for ¥880)
After the meal, I headed to Specialty Sake Izumiya Okinawa store, located at B1 of the food court for a selection of Japanese sake (日本酒, nihonshu). Izumiya sells all sorts of sake from different prefectures of Japan. As Sake pairing is available in the shop, I brought my food in and got the skilful shop staff to pick 3 different kinds of sake (¥980/ sake set) that suits what I’m having (seafood or meat) for me to taste.
If you are not into alcohol, why not try freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (¥500) served in the fruit itself! The tropical paradise of Okinawa is well known for their fruits as well
After the sake experience, my other stomach needed its daily dose of sweetness, so I headed back up to the first floor for some dessert. I have gotten myself a Okinawa limited edition Fresh Cream Soft Cream with brown sugar Okinawan Chinsuko biscuit (¥600) from Milk – Craft Cream. Currently, one of the hottest dessert brand in Japan with the mission to star fresh cream, this Tokyo-based fresh cream specialist uses milk from the Konsen region of Hokkaido, pumping air carefully then whipped to produce its fluffy smooth texture that produces a rich flavour, clean aftertaste and melt-in-your-mouth fresh cream products. With 9 stores around Japan and the first in Okinawa, I believe it’s a must-try dessert in your to-eat list.
I also had the Milk Parfait(¥700), which had four layers that consisting of milk pudding at the bottom, tapioca in the middle, followed by its speciality milk cream and finally topped with a serving of delicious milky soft cream. Mind-blowing!
Lastly while exploring the food court, there was an event space called All Nippon Market where an Akita(one of the northern prefecture of Japan) fair was taking place that weekend. They were promoting their products and even had their demon mascot, Namahage performed and held a photo-taking session around the area.
I totally spent almost half the day exploring and eating in Ryukyu Oukoku Ichiba with no regrets. Filled my stomach pretty much, round one cleared and proceeding to round two.
Ryukyu Oukoku Ichiba 琉球王国市場
Time: Daily 11am-11pm
Address: 2-2-30 Makishi, Naha, Okinawa 5 minutes’ walk from Makishi Station on the Yui Rail (Monorail)
At night, I headed to Nankurumi, an Izakaya located on a street just off Kokusaidori.
I had some really good blue parrot fish (a local speciality) sashimi caught by the chef himself. It was fresh and delicious. We also had Rafute (ラフテ, Okinawa braised pork) that was stewed for 2 days. Frankly speaking, the texture of the meat was the softest and juiciest and had that deep flavour that penetrates my cells. Finishing my dinner with some Shikuwasa juice, a citrus fruit native to Okinawa and end my first day by heading back to the hotel.
The next morning, since I’m already here in the main island of Okinawa, might as well visit the must-go-for-all-tourist spot and check out this historic landmark.
I headed to Shurijo Castle, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Shurijo Castle is located on a hill, and it offers the 3rd highest viewing point on Okinawa Island. The castle is a faithful reconstruction built in 1992, and inside the main hall (Seiden), an exhibition about the old Ryukyu Kingdom (which Okinawa was once a part of) was held.
After the castle visit, I headed to Mihama American Village, a shopping complex with food and entertainment located by the coastline. In Okinawa, going for Blue Seal Ice-Cream (Okinawan Ice Cream) is a must as it offers unique Okinawan flavours. I had Ube (Taro/sweet potato), Okinawan Salt Cookies and Okinawa Ta-Imo Cheesecake.
I also tried one of the more famous PORK TAMAGO ONIGIRI (a.k.a PoTama)-a speciality breakfast brand in Okinawa and had their Egg & Luncheon meat onigiri.
Staying in Japan for a couple of years, as a Singaporean, A&W will always be my childhood comfort food, especially the combination of the root beer float, curly fries and coney dogs. And in Japan, only Okinawa has this franchise.
Besides food, American Village also has shops like TITICACA selling American brands and surplus American Military clothing.
Also, don’t forget to try Taco Rice, another original from this prefecture! It is basically Taco filling on top of rice. At Taco Rice Cafe Kijimuna, I had to try their all-time favourite menu, Omu-Taco rice (Omurice + Taco rice) where the omelette covers the Taco fillings and steamy rice with the tomato and mayonnaise dressing. A food that combined the best of the two dishes I loved.
Before ending my trip and heading to the airport, I took a short detour to Senagajima Island, owning a beautiful beach with crystal clear waters. On one side, you can see the city, on the other, you can watch planes land at Naha Airport. It was a peaceful, relaxing place for a walk and digest all that delicious food I had for the past 36 hours.
And that was my short, stomach-filling-to-the-brim 36 hour trip in Okinawa. If it ever rains, visiting in winter or a beachless trip, anyone can enjoy the food in Naha city and Okinawa has to offer! You will definitely not regret.
by Paul Enoch Koh
A filmmaker working for a marketing company in Tokyo. He has lived in Japan for about 3 years, before Tokyo, he was in Osaka and Kyoto.