ln 1940, when John Goddard, an American anthropologist, explorer and writer and lecturer, was 15, he made a list of everything he wanted to achieve. His famous bucket list was filled with 127 goals. When he died at the age of 88, he completed most of his goals except for a few such as a trip to the moon.
As a true foodie/glutton, my bucket list is obviously closely related to food. It may be incredibly clichéd and crazy to create a “Food Bucket List”. However, during my last few months in Okinawa, other than spending time with friends and drinking, I was really obsessed with eating. There were just too many yummy dishes I wanted to eat in my last remaining months. Too much food! Too little time! I really needed a “Food Bucket List” to guide me. Hope this Top 10 list will be useful for anyone living in Okinawa or visiting this beach and food paradise!
10 things to eat in Okinawa
1. Mikasa’s Chanpon (三笠’sちゃんぽん）
This traditional eatery opens 24 hours – it is the perfect place to start your discovery of Okinawan cuisine. Watching the mighty ladies run the kitchen and create every single dish from their heart is pure enjoyment. Chanpon is my all-time favourite but do not forget to try their champuru dishes like the classic goya champuru. I had my “last meal” here before leaving Okinawa after a 2-year sojourn on the island. So enough said!
2. A Lunch
A Lunch is a unique Okinawa-America hybrid dish. Find out more about the history of Okinawa and the American footprints all over the island here. A Lunch is not for the faint-hearted as the plate is packed with so much meat. I could not even finish a plate after a marathon. There are also other versions like B and C Lunch with different variations of fried-goodness.
Some places to get authentic Okinawan A lunch sets:
3. Ploughman’s Lunch Plate
Ploughman’s Lunch Bakery is the forerunner of Okinawa’s fabulous haven. The owners create healthy but extremely tasty plates with so much care and creativity. The cosy cafe is a good brunch getaway spot to catch up with friends without any technological distractions.
Ploughman’s Lunch Bakery
Address: Adaniya, Kitanakagusuku, 927-2 #1735
Opening hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Breakfast: 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., Lunch: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) (closed on Wednesdays)
4. Captain Kangaroo’s Burger
Even my American burger-loving friend said that this is the best burger he has ever tasted. Let’s just say if we don’t eat a burger from Captain Kangaroo when we are in the north of Okinawa (Nago), the entire trip will feel like a wasted one.
5. Ishigaki Beef
Most beef-lovers are fans of kobe beef! But how about Ishigaki beef? Not many people know that calves raised on the island are exported to other parts of Japan to mature into the premium beef. There is no better place to try the prized “wagyu beef” than on the island itself!
Some famous establishments that serve the legendary Ishigaki beef:
Ishigaki’s Kinjo Beef (焼肉金城 浜崎店／石垣島きたうち牧場)
Address: 2-3-24, Hamasaki Town, Ishigaki City
Telephone: 0980-83-7000, 050-5868-5528 (for reservations)
Opening hours: 11.30 a.m. to 22.30 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays)
6. Taco rice
Due to the exchanges with American culture (especially with the presence of American military bases), a combination of eastern and western elements is found in popular Americanized food like Taco rice.
Some places to get the quintessential Okinawan-American hybrid tacos.
7. Café Pipineo’s Cinnamon rolls
Best cinnamon rolls on earth. Oh the decadent cream… This jewel is located in a pretty cafe that is quite out of the way. However, whenever we drive near Uruma city, we will definitely make a detour to buy the cinnamon rolls. Remember to call the cafe to check for availability of the rolls as they are very popular!
8. Okinawa soba with zushi
Some places to enjoy the classic Okinawa soba.
Kishimoto Shokudo (きしもと食堂 )
Address: 5 Toguchi, Motobu, Kunigami district, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0214
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. (or till sold out) (closed on Wednesdays)
9. Ojima tempura
Visit the small island of Ojima (奧武島) and try the best tempura in Okinawa! Okinawa tempura is very different from the tempura from mainland Japan. They are taste more hearty and I love munching on them as snacks. There is no need to dip them in any sauce as the ingredients are just so flavourful. Some of my favourites: Mozuku (seaweed) and beni imo (sweet potato) tempura!
Nakamoto Tempura Shop (中本てんぷら店)
Address: Ou-9 Tamagusuku, Nanjo
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (October to March), 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (April to September) (irregular closing days)
Zenzai is like an Okinawan version of iced ka-chang. Unlike mainland Japanese’s common hot zenzai, Okinawa has its cooling shaved ice edition. Life is good with iced shavings, mochi and azuki in summer!
Tsurukamedo Zenzai (鶴亀堂ぜんざい)
Address: 248-1 Zamiki, Nakagami-gun, Yomitan
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays)
Higashi Shokudo (ひがし食堂)
Address: 2-7-1 Agarie, Nago
Opening hours: 11.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. (closed on Mondays)
I hope my list will provide gastronomical-directions for hungry and lost souls! So what are you waiting for? Go and eat!
Disclaimer: These 10 things are what I love to eat so it may not represent what the locals like.
An earlier version of this article was published at Ryukyu Star back in 2015. I updated some of the information again in Nov 2017.