The Local People’s Cuisine
Developed Deeply Influenced by both China and Japan
For about 450 years from the year 1429, Okinawa was an independent country called the Ryukyu Kingdom. In the Ryukyu Kingdom, magnificent court cuisine was created for royal events, ceremonies, and entertainment. The development of court cuisine was greatly influenced by Ryukyu’s relationship with China, as seen by the visiting envoys from the 15th century onward, and furthermore by its relationship with Japan, which can be seen in the visiting magistrates from the Satsuma Domain from the 17th century on.
Tundabun is representative of traditional Ryukyu lacquerware.
According to Chinese historical documents, “Tunda”(‘eastern road’) is derived from “Lord of the Eastern Road,” and is considered to mean serving as master of a house and taking care of guests.
There are dishes of various shapes such as square (five items), hexagonal (seven items), octagonal (nine items), circular, etc., and the small plates contained in the center incorporate beautifully shaped and colored appetizers, the flavor of which is the same even if served cold, in a number that matches the number of guests.
Representative centerpieces include flower squid, minudaru (steamed pork with a black sesame sauce), kamaboko fishcake with mustard greens, gumbomachi (burdock root wrapped in roast pork), kutimpra (small tempura), fried tanmu (taimo sweet potatoes), shishi kamaboko fishcake, hanbin (a soft fishcake), urachiki chinuku (fishcake stuffed mushrooms), konbu maki (fish wrapped in seaweed), suchiki (salt-pickled pork), and birakaramachi (fishcake wrapped in green onion with miso).
|1.Fried Tanmu (Taimo) Potato||The fragrant, pale purple taimo potatoes boiled and peeled, deep fried in oil, and then dipped in sugar and soy sauce.|
|2.Kutimpra (small tempura)||Tempura fried in a thick, salt batter with a core of white fish cut into sticks.
Eaten without tempura sauce.
|3.Minudaru (pork loin steamed with a black sesame sauce)||Pork loin steamed with a black sesame sauce, also called kurojishi (‘black ink’) due to its pitch black finish. Despite its appearance, it has a relatively light taste.|
|4.Biragaramachi (fishcake wrapped in green onion with miso)||Finely chopped fishcake and fried tofu wrapped in green onion and dressed with vinegared miso.
Imbued with the pleasant aroma of green onion.
|5.Gumbomachi (burdock root wrapped in roast pork)||Burdock root wrapped in thinly sliced pork loin, and then simmered slowly and gently in sugar and soy sauce. A delicious simmered dish with the excellent flavor combination of burdock and pork.|
|6.Shishi Kamaboko (Boiled meat and fish paste)||Shishi means meat in the Okinawan dialect. A modified kamaboko fishcake made by mixing minced fish with ground pork, considered to be the best kamaboko in Okinawa.|
|7.Flowered Squid||Deep-bodied kubushimi (golden cuttlefish) cut with craftsmanship into various shapes, died red and displayed like the flowers it is named for. Enjoyed for its visual beauty more than just for eating.|
Strengthening the Bonds Between People and the Land with Prayers for a Fruitful Year and Ancestor Worship
A wide variety of annual events are held in each region of Okinawa, such as those related to prayers for a bountiful harvest and catch, those derived from ideas of ancestor worship, those transmitted from China and the mainland, and also those that originated in Okinawa. Relatives and local residents gather around ceremonial cuisine to share stories, and in this way it serves the role of strengthening the bonds of the community, person to person, and between people and the land. *Here we have selected one part of ceremonial cuisine. The contents differ depending on the region.
- New Year’s Day (January 1st by Japan’s old calendar)
- If New Year’s Day on the mainland is a “Rice Cake New Year,” then the Okinawan New Year could be called the “Pork New Year,” as pork features heavily in festivities, with soup dishes such as inam duchi, nakami jiru, and soki jiru being traditionally eaten.
- The July Seasonal Festival (July 7th by Japan’s old calendar)
- On the mainland there is the custom of nanakusa gayu, where the seven herbs of spring (nanakusa) are put into a porridge, and this event has been transmitted to Okinawa, where this seven-day seasonal festival of vegetable porridge is becoming a year-round event in various places.
- Hamauri (March 3rd by Japan’s old calendar)
- Called “Sanguchi Sannichi” and known as a women’s seasonal festival, hamauri features women and children bringing picnic lunch boxes (in recent years, with only mugwort rice cakes and March sweets) to the beach to spend an enjoyable time together.
- Shimi (around April)
- In Okinawa, where the concept of ancestor worship is very strong, the Shimi festival is performed at great scale. Rice cakes and usanmi (boxed food with various fishcakes) are special dishes that even in the present day always accompany ancestor worship events.
- Obon (July 13th – 15th by Japan’s old calendar)
- For the three days from its beginning with Unke (welcoming the spirits) on July 13th until the end with July 15th’s Ukui (sending the spirits off), the festival carries on magnificently in various places. Unke Jushi (rice seasoned and cooked with pork and ginger) is an indispensable dish on the evening of the 13th.
- May 4th on the Japan’s old calendar is called Yukkanuhi, and hari festivals (prayers for a bountiful catch) are carried out on a grand scale in fishing villages and ports all around. On this day, the traditional sweets called “popo” and “chinbin” are made in each household, much to the delight of the children.
- May 5th (a modern calendar event)
- May 5th is the “Boy’s Day Festival” imported from the mainland. Irises along with Japanese mugwort have from ancient times believed to drive away plagues and toxicity, are believed to be medicinal herbs that avert all kinds of maladies. And amagashi (Okinawan sweet bean jam) is eaten with iris leaves as a garnish.
- Jyugoya (August 15th by Japan’s old calendar)
- During the time of year when the moon is at its most beautiful, there is a custom that each household offers a fuchagi (rice cake covered in adzuki beans) to their Buddhist altar and fire god shrine.
- 鬼 餅（旧暦十二月八日）
- Onimochi is an aromatic rice cake wrapped in the leaves of a sannin (shell ginger) or kuba (fountain palm) and steamed. Since it makes use of the kasa (leaves) of plants, it is also called “kasa muchi.”
Through Creative Ingenuity, Embodying “Ishoku Dogen” (the equal importance of medicine and diet for a healthy body)
The local people’s cuisine of Okinawa was brought about by the skillful combination of the rich ingredients grown in the subtropical climate and ingredients brought into it.
It is based on the idea, imported from China, that medical treatment and daily diet have the same source, the reasonable idea of “ishoku dougen” (the equal importance of medicine and diet for a healthy body), which has taken root in the daily lives of Okinawans with sayings such as “kusuimun” (food that acts as a medicine) and “nuchigusui” (medicine for life).
- Goya Chanpuru
- A stir-fry of what is known as the king of summer vegetables, goya (bitter gourd) and tofu, this is the most beloved of champuru dishes. Goya is rich in vitamins and is said to stimulate the appetite.
- Jimami-dofu (Okinawa peanut tofu)
- Made from peanut juice and sweet potato starch, with a white finish like tofu. Its thick and creamy texture is exceptional.
- Tanmu Dingaku
(Mashed Taimo potato)
- Also called sata tanmu, an Okinawan-style mashed sweet potato with a sweet finish, it is an item that follows pork dishes well. Taimo is imbued with the idea of flourishing offspring, and is used as a congratulatory dish.
- Ashi Tibichi
- A deeply flavored dish of pettitoes cut into chunks and simmered slowly over a long period with kombu and daikon radish. It has an exquisite texture and melts in the mouth.
- Squid Ink Soup
- White squid and pork, simmered with nigana (toothed ixeridium) and then mixed with squid ink. A rare soup with a jet black finish. People love the peculiar and robust flavor.
- Yushi Tofu
- Refers to the soft, wobbly state of solidly built firm tofu before it hardens. The simple and somehow nostalgic flavor soothes the soul.
- Somin Tshiya
(Stir-fried somen noodles)
- Boiled somen noodles, stir fried in oil and sprinkled with green onions for a rustic flavor. Soft with an excellent throat-feel, it is also called “Somin putturu,” which means “starch dissolves and hardens.”
A Variety of Fantastic Cakes Born of the Influences of China and Japan
Through the harmonious intertwining of Chinese and Japanese styles, confectionary craftsmen refined their techniques to create something unique to the Okinawa climate in which it was created: Ryukyu sweets. With names such as chinsukou, ritopen, chirunkou, kataya yoshino muchi, machikaji, and fuji sarasa, their lineage is obvious at a glance.
Due to the hot climate, there are more fried confectionery and baked sweets than wagashi-style red bean sweets. Even today, traditional Ryukyu sweets are used for important events and ceremonies.
- Refers to a baked confectionary with mustard or sesame seeds sprinkled on the surface. This Okinawan machikaji is characterized by the fact that it is dyed red and shaped into a belt which is tied into a large knot.
- A confectionary made by melting lard and mixing in sugar and wheat flour, they have been made since the Dynastic period.
- With dough made of wheat flour kneaded into lard and wrapped around black sesame bean paste and arranged in a tubular shape, this is a baked confection decorated in red, yellow, and green colors.
- An elegant cake with plenty of eggs, steamed and covered with chippan and peanuts.
- Sata Andagi
- A confection representative of Okinawa, with eggs, sugar and wheat flour kneaded and fried, it is characterized by its spherical shape with one side split open.
- An aromatic rice cake popular as a New Year’s tea cake. Decorated on top with peanuts shaped like four flower petals.
- A sweet made by boiling down citrus fruits such as kunibu (kunenbo) and kabuchii in sugar. Also known as “kippan.”
- A fried pastry with dough that is a mixture of melted lard and wheat flour, wrapped around sesame seeds, rounded into half-circles and folded around the edges.
- A hard candy that comes in various shapes and colors, it is an indispensable sweet of festivals and ceremonies.
Bukubukucha is made by adding roasted rice soup made by broiling rice along with tea water to a wooden bowl (bukubuku dish), and whipping with a long bamboo whisk. The top of the teacup is permeated with a mountain of thick froth, and it is drank directly from the teacup without using a spoon or the like.
In Okinawa, sanpincha, which has been transmitted from China since ancient times, is consumed often. Sanpincha is a jasmine-scented tea, and the name comes from the Chinese word Xianpian.