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Explore the Kitchen of Okinawa: Makishi Public Market

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To learn about Okinawan food culture, the Makishi Public Market, located just 20 minutes drive from Naha Airport, is the right place to go. You can try all different kinds of local foods, from delicious pork belly dish to exotic sea snake soup.

Crystal clear blue ocean, exotic tropical flowers, welcoming atmosphere, Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, is such an extraordinary place that the beauty is beyond description. Their unique food culture is one of the reasons. Okinawan cuisine differs significantly from most Japanese due to the island’s complex history and subtropical climate and its effects on agriculture. The capital city, Naha’s “Makishi Public Market” is a place where you can get a glimpse of the days when Okinawa was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom, which flourished by trading with various countries in Asia.

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”Chura umi” in Okinawan dialect means beautiful and clear ocean. If you visit Okinawa, you will certainly be captivated by its natural beauty.
© Akimasa Yuasa, JNTO

Located just off Naha City’s main street of Kokusai Dori, the energy-filled market has a long history of supporting local Okinawan households since the time of the black market after World War II. It officially became a property of the city in the 1950’s and expanded its size year by year. Today, there are approximately 130 individual vendors selling local fish, meat, vegetables and fruit, and the market still plays an important role supporting local people’s livings. Therefore, to stroll the bustling maze of tiny stalls in the two stories indoor market is the best way for visitors to learn about local food culture. Certainly, it is introduced by many domestic and international travel guide books, TV programs and magazines so that it has become one of the must-go spots for visitors from all over the world.

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Most of the seafood can be bought and taken home or sent upstairs to be cooked at one of the market’s eateries.

Let’s start with browsing and shopping. On the ground floor, you can buy all kinds of Okinawan fresh products from seaweed to meat, but half of the floor is dedicated to pork. As you may know, Okinawans love pork so much that they eat every part of the pig except its squeal. In the market, pig’s feet and face skin are on display, and innard is piled up on a huge plate. On the rest of the floor, varieties of tropical fish, shellfish, lobster, seaweed and even sea snake are sold. If you don’t know how to cook or how to eat them, please do not hesitate to ask the cheerful and friendly shopkeepers, usually middle-aged women or grandmothers. By talking to them, you might discover new facts about ingredients and might get some discounts!

After exploring the first floor, it’s time to fill up your empty stomach. You can have those meat and seafood purchased on the first floor cooked per your request at the eateries located on the second floor. For example, if you have purchased “Miibai”, a grouper, try butter sauteed or nitsuke (simmered with soy sauce). Or if you like meat, don’t miss “Rafute” a tenderly braised pork belly and “Mimiga” thinly shredded pig’s ear salad. Don’t forget to try local Orion beer and Awamori, the area’s indigenous liquor, along with delicious food.

 

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Must-try Okinawan Soul Foods

Why are Okinawans reputed to have long, healthy lives? To find out its secrets, you’ve got to know their eating habits. There are varieties of unique dishes, but here are the very basics that you must try when you are in Okinawa.

Goya Champuru

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“Goya”, literally meaning bitter melon in English, contains a lot of Vitamin C, Calcium, fiber and other nutrition. This green and nubby summer vegetable is known as the “taste of Okinawa”.  The most common way to eat it is a Champuru, stir fry with egg, tofu and sliced pork.

Okinawa Soba

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Called “suba” in the local dialect, Okinawa soba is made from wheat flour instead of “sobako,” or buckwheat, like regular Japanese soba. Broth is made by simmered bonito, pork and seaweed. Red ginger, stewed pork belly, diced green onion and fish cake top the dish. A bowl of soba to an Okinawan is a hamburger to an American.

Rafute
Pork has been a major part of Okinawans diet for many years. There are many ways of cooking it but “Rafute”, a slow cooked pork belly with soy sauce and brown sugar, is the most famous one. With layers of meat and fat, it is amazingly soft and tender. Great match with Awamori.