Okinawan cuisine is the cuisine of the Japanese Okinawa islands. The cuisine is also known as Ryukyuan cuisine, a reference to the Ryukyu Kingdom. Due to differences in culture, historical contact between other regions, climate, vegetables and other ingredients, Okinawan cuisine differs from mainland Japanese cuisine.
Besides vegetables and fruits, the influences of southern and southeastern Asia are evident in Okinawan cuisine in its use of herbs and spices, such as turmeric, used in Okinawa more often than in mainland Japan, but less frequently than other tropical island cuisines. Okinawan cuisines’ condiments consist mainly of salt, miso, bonito flakes (katsuobushi) or kombu. Compared to mainland diets, Okinawan dishes do not use so many kinds of mushroom.
Another characteristic of Okinawan cuisine is its reliance on meat. The main protein sources of Okinawan cuisine are derived from livestock, specifically pigs. Buddhism spread less widely in Okinawa, and the islands were less influenced by the non-meat eating practices of the Tokugawa shogunate. Okinawan has had a culture of using livestock since the Edo era. An Okinawan saying states that Okinawan cuisine “begins with pig and ends with pig” and “every part of a pig can be eaten except its hooves and its oink.”
Despite being surrounded by the sea, Okinawans eat relatively little seafood compared to other maritime cultures. Fish and other seafood products were traditionally difficult to preserve in the high temperatures of the Okinawan islands. Additionally, the islands are surrounded by relatively few fish species. The primary preparations of fish are pickling in salt (shio-zuke), dried, grilled, simmered in soy sauce (nitsuke), and as kamaboko, a processed seafood product typically made from white fish. Sashimi is served in Okinawa, but is limited by the inability to retain freshness due to high temperatures on the islands. Sashimi, unlike on the main islands of Japan, is not part of a full course meal.
Edible kelp varieties are also popular ingredients, such as kombu. Okinawans make salad, soup, or tempura using Cladosiphon okamuranus (モズク), Hijiki and so on. Okinawan cuisine frequently uses kombu, not only in making soup stock, but also in preparing braised dishes, stir fried dishes and so on. Okinawa is one of a largest consumers of kombu in Japan. but they don’t cultivate it.
Okinawan staple foods are traditionally potatoes, such as sweet potato or taro root, but they are substituted to rice or wheat flour, then Okinawan developed original dishes such as taco rice, etc.
After the end of the occupation, they still have original food cultures, and Americanised foods are frequently eaten in their diets. But, Okinawan people do not consume dairy foods so much, such as milk and cheese. Bread is not so popular as a staple food.
Common Okinawan dishes
- Goya chanpuru
- Okinawa soba
- Taco rice
- Sata andagi