Okinawa has nurtured its own unique food culture since the era of the Ryukyu Dynasty. Pork is an essential feature of Okinawan cuisine – there's even a saying that goes like this: “You can eat every part of the pig except the oink.”

    Some of the city's most iconic dishes include pork belly in salty-sweet stew (rafute), collagen-rich braised pig’s leg (tebichi), and stir-fried bitter melon (goya champuru), inevitably accompanied with pork. Don’t forget to taste Okinawa’s special Agu breed of pork. We also recommend sampling delicacies that are only found in Okinawa, such as green algae (umibudo), also known as green caviar, coconut crab (yashigani), and seasnake soup (irabu-jiru).


    Okinawan soba noodles

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    This Okinawan noodle dish contains wheat flour noodles cooked in a soup stock made of pork bones and bonito, accompanied with pork belly, minced-and-steamed fish meat (kamaboko), island leeks, and ginger. Originating as a dish for royalty during the Ryukyu Dynasty, Okinawan soba noodles gradually spread to the common people around the time of the Meiji era. Soba typically refers to noodles made using buckwheat flour, but Okinawan soba uses simple wheat flour – it’s also closer to egg noodles, thanks to its yellow colour and al dente texture. The noodles’ width and shape vary depending on the area and restaurant, so it’s a good idea to try this dish more than once.

    Each soba restaurant has its own dashi, some of which are made with chicken or kombu (seaweed). A popular variation of Okinawan soba is soki soba, which comes with spareribs instead of pork belly. With endless varieties of toppings – including fluffy tofu (yushi dofu) and sea lettuce (aosa) – this is a dish to keep coming back to. Many restaurants also offer Okinawa’s famous seasoned rice (jyushii) with the dish, so perhaps you can skip pudding!

    photo by Blue Lotus (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Okinawan-style stewed pork (rafute)

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    Rafute is a local dish of salty-sweet pork belly simmered with bonito stock and strong Okinawan liquor (awamori), seasoned with soy sauce. Highly popular as a preserved food during the Ryukyu Dynasty, it’s also an important dish at banquets and during Hoji, a Buddhist memorial service in Japan. Unlike Okinawa’s braised pork belly (buta no kakuni), which is skinned before cooking, rafute is cooked with the skin left on. 

    Rafute is gently braised for several hours, producing meat so tender you can easily cut it with chopsticks. This is a popular dish enjoyed in casual restaurants and Japanese-style pubs all over Okinawa. There are also restaurants where rafute is served as a topping for rice bowls (donburi) or in Chinese-style fried rice (chahan). 

    photo by ayustety (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Sea grapes (umibudo)

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    Known as umibudo in Okinawa and Kagoshima, sea grapes give a unique popping sensation in the mouth when eaten. It can be found in the waters surrounding Okinawa and the Nansei Islands, though it’s also cultivated in Onna Village and Kume Island. This local speciality is known as ‘green caviar’ because of its colour and scarcity

    Umibudo really needs to be eaten fresh, together with a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce and mirin (sanbaizu) or with a sweet and salty sauce (tare). You can try it at restaurants, but it’s also available at local supermarkets and roadside stations. Just make sure you don’t keep it in the fridge, as this will cause it to shrink and lost its flavour. 

    photo by Mokkie (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Agu pork

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    The Agu pig is Okinawa’s most famous breed used for pork dishes. It was imported from China over 600 years ago and has since become the representative island pig (shimabuta) of Okinawa. 

    Thanks to its excellent flavour and its rarity, Agu is the island's most famous breed of pig used for pork dishes. The pork fat is sweet and rich in umami, while the meat is marbled and tender. It's also low in cholesterol with high levels of collagen, which helps improve your general health and skin. The best way to eat Agu pork? Either in a hotpot (shabushabu) or on the grill (yakiniku).

    photo by Richard, enjoy my life! (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Stir-fried bitter melon (goya chanpuru)

    Goya chanpuru consists of bitter melon (goya) stir-fried with tofu and pork, and seasoned with bonito flakes and soy sauce. Goya is called the 'king of summer vegetables' – it’s packed with vitamins and its bitterness stimulates the appetite even in the extreme heat of Japan’s summer. 

    This local dish uses Okinawan-style tofu, which has a firm consistency and richer soy flavour than other tofu in Japan. It's able to retain its shape even when cooked. There are quite a few variations of goya chanpuru – you can mix it with Japanese thin flour noodles (somen) to make somen chanpuru, or gluten cakes (fu) to make fu chanpuru.

    photo by Kakei.R (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Coconut crab (yashigani)

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    The coconut crab isn't technically a crab, but it belongs to the hermit crab family of decapod crustaceans. They have an average body length of 40 cm and weigh around 4 kg. They're generally found on Miyako Island in Okinawa. As it's designated as a protected species because of its decreased numbers, the coconut crab is a rare delicacy available only in Okinawa. 

    Most restaurants serve the entire crab boiled, with a hammer to help you crack open its hard shell. Try it with sweetened vinegar (amazu) or soy sauce. The meat tastes like crab or shrimp, with its shell stuffed with richly-flavoured innards. Coconut crab is also served at some restaurants in the Asahibashi Station area of Okinawa Island.

    photo by nirvash_z (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Okinawan-style fermented Tofu (tofu yo)

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    Okinawan-style fermented tofu (tofu yo) is made of standard Okinawan-style tofu (shima dofu), which is fermented after being marinated with strong Okinawan liquor (awamori), red yeast and malted rice (komekoji). This is the island’s take on the fermented bean curd (funyu) that introduced from China in the Ryukyu Dynasty.

    Tofu yo is very nutritious and rich in protein, with a rich and deep flavour that’s so out there – a cross between cheese and sea urchin – it’s also known as ‘oriental cheese’. Tofu yo also goes really well with awamori, beer, shochu and Japanese spirits.

    photo by Koji Horaguchi (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Okinawan dish of stir-fried grated carrots (ninjin shirishiri)

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    Ninjin shirishiri is a local dish made by stir-frying grated carrots with eggs and seasoned with salt and stock. Households in Okinawa tend to use a specific type of slicer to make this dish, called shirishiri-ki. This is a classic home-cooked dish that’s also popular as a side dish in boxed lunches (bento). Aside from the basic ingredients of carrots and eggs, tuna and cold cuts are popular additions to the dish. You’ll find this dish at local restaurants all over Okinawa.

    photo by Nissy-KITAQ (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Sea snake soup (irabu-jiru)

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    Irabu is another term for the black-banded sea krait (erabu), which comes from the waters around Kudaka Island. Sea snake soup (irabu-jiru) is a staple of traditional Okinawan cuisine. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare this dish. The irabu is first smoked for 1 week in a specialised smokehouse called baikanya. It’s then carefully washed and parboiled, before it’s deboned by hand. Next, it’s simmered for a long time with kelp and stock made from pig’s feet (tebichi) and pork spareribs (soki). 

    During the Ryukyu Dynasty era, irabu-jiru was a nourishing meal exclusively for royalty and aristocrats. Very few restaurants on Okinawa Island serve irabu-jiru, so you may need to book well in advance to enjoy this dish. 


    Pig's feet broth (tebichi-jiru)

    Tebichi is one of Okinawa’s most famous pork dishes. Parboiled pig’s feet are stewed in a dashi stock together with kelp, wax gourd, and other ingredients. This collagen-rich dish is very popular as it’s said to be good for the skin and joints. You can enjoy pig’s feet in a broth (tebichi-jiru) or as a topping for Okinawan soba noodles. You can find several restaurants that serve grilled tebichi. It’s also the main ingredient in Okinawan oden stew. Okinawan oden typically has various ingredients and vegetables in a bonito and pork bone broth. 

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