Around the World in 80 Plates

Around the World in 80 Plates: Okinawa, Japan

Captain Create is on an island in the South Pacific while we are all in Utah in the snow… She’s gone to Okinawa, Japan today! While Okinawa is the smallest and least populated of the five islands of Japan1, it has a lot of cool stuff going for it, including being the birthplace of Karate, home to Shuri Castle, the Churaumi Aquarium, and is known as one of the five Blue Zones (where people live longer than anywhere else.)

Okinawa is also the birthplace of karate! While there are many styles of martial arts used and taught around the world, karate is a specific style. Because of the popular movies in the 1960’s and 1970’s, karate became more popular around the word, and English-speakers started to use the word karate to mean any martial art.2 Practicing karate is a wonderful way to stay active and build your muscles, and you can find beginner lessons online, or look for a local teacher to learn from.

Though Okinawa is one of the smaller islands that make up Japan, it also has its share of beautiful things to see, including Shurijo Castle and the Shurimon Gate, which are open to the public to tour. You can learn all about the history of the castle and the region around it. Another beautiful place to see is the Churaumi Aquarium, which is one of the largest aquariums on the planet. One exhibit, “Encounter the Okinawan Sea”, which reproduces the sea of Okinawa and most of the creatures that live in it. Churaumi was selected as the name of the aquarium by public vote amongst Japanese people: chura means “beautiful” or “graceful” in the Okinawan language, and umi means “ocean” in Japanese.4

Okinawa is also home to more centenarians than many other places…. but what does that mean? It means that there are more people that live past 100 than in other places. Researchers have named places where people live a long time Blue Zones, and Okinawa is one of them! (The others are Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Icaria Greece, and Loma Linda in California, USA)6 Researchers think that one of the reasons people live so long in these Blue Zones is due to what they eat, but lifestyle also plays a big part. They are all very active communities with lots of walking, and with many things for people to do with their friends as they get older. Okinawa is home to lots of delicious foods, like purple sweet potatoes that are packed with vitamins, many dishes full of vegetables or bitter melons, noodle dishes full of flavor, and some interesting meals created by combining the foods available on Okinawa with the wants of the United States Military.

There are US Military bases on Okinawa for the United States Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Army, which means there is a lot of influence in their food from the United States too. Folks stationed on Okinawa learn to enjoy Okinawan food, but they also share recipes from home and lead to new dishes becoming popular, like Taco Rice. Taco Rice was created in 1984 by Matsuzo Gibo and introduced at two of his cafes, Parlor Senri and King Tacos, located just a minute from the main gate of Camp Hansen (US Naval Base) in Kin, Okinawa5 This dish is pretty simple, just taco meat over rice with lettuce, tomato and cheese over the top. It was probably made to satisfy the folks living and working on the base who missed foods from home, and since it sold well, its still being served in Okinawa!

Okinawa Soba is a hot noodle soup consisting of a specific type of chewy noodles made with flour, water, and egg (see more below). The soup is a combination of pork broth and katsuo dashi, filled with stewed pork belly slices, a few slices of fish cake, chopped green onion, and red pickled ginger.

There are a few steps to making this noodle dish, and a couple of the ingredients aren’t going to be available at your typical grocery store, but its worth the extra stop to find them. Dried bonito flakes are available online or in most Japanese or Asian Markets. Okinawan soba noodles are not the same as Japanese buckwheat soba noodles, but udon noodles are a close substitute if you can’t find the Okinawan kind. Pork belly is easier to find at a butcher shop or latin market, but ask at your grocery store just in case they can get it for you. It is the same piece that is used to make bacon, but bacon will not taste right in this soup!

list of stuff

  3. shuri castle

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