Top 13 Things to Eat (and Drink) in Okinawa, Japan

Okinawa is a beautiful island about 400 miles South of the rest of Japan. It’s a popular summer destination for Japanese and foreign tourists alike.

Ryosuke and I just got back from a fabulous, four day trip on the coast of Okinawa. While we were there, we tried some of the best (and most unique) foods the island had to offer – and I wanted to share my favorites with you:

These are the top 13 foods you’ve got to try in Okinawa!

1. Goya Chanpuru

Hands down, one of the most famous dishes in Okinawa seems to be goya chanpuru. In a word, it is Okinawa. Goya chanpuru consists of tofu, with spam, goya (bitter melon), and egg, fried together into a sort of “soupy” consistency.

goya chanpuru okinawa food

“Chanpuru” itself is the Okinawan word for “something mixed” – and if you think about it, that pretty much described Okinawa. For those of you who aren’t too familiar with Japanese history, these island wasn’t always a part of Japan. Its culture is a mix of Japanese, Chinese, American, Southeast Asian and traditional Ryukyu (southern island).

Anyways, all you need to know is that goya chanpuru is freaking delicious and available all throughout Okinawa. We ate it as a side dish, as a main course, and as a topping in ramen.

2. Okinawa soba

I’m not going to lie, Ryosuke and I brought back half a kilo of dried Okinawa soba noodles, so we could make this here in Tokyo.

It wasn’t my first time having soba, not by a long shot. Soba is a popular dish in Japan. The most common type of soba noodles are a brownish/greyish buckwheat noodle, served either chilled with a dipping sauce or inside a hot soup.

That being said, Okinawa soba is nothing like the “regular” soba we eat all the time in Tokyo.

Consistency-wise, Okinawa soba noodles are closer to udon noodles (thick wheat noodles) than soba noodles (thin buckwheat noodles). And the broth they are served in tastes more like a ramen broth – rather than anything I’ve ever had served with udon/soba in Tokyo.

okinawa okinawan food japan best eat okinawa soba

Apparently the broth is flavored with konbu (seaweed), fish flakes, and pork. It’s freaking amazing.

Ryosuke and I went to this restaurant TWICE (the only repeat restaurant, since we wanted to try as many things as we could during our four days on the island). It was a tiny place located on a backstreet and each bowl of soba only cost 390yen! (Roughtly $3.50)

3. Dried goya chips

I love dried fruit. I love goya (bitter melon). Naturally, I loved these goya chips. It was a much more memorable snack than regular potato chips (not to mention much healthier).

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4. Umibudo (sea grapes)

Umibudo (also known as sea grapes or green caviar) are a delicious type of caulerpa (seaweed). They are commonly eaten in both the Philippines and in Okinawa. And, of course, they are typically eaten raw.

I loved umibudo because it kind of felt like I was eating tiny, salty grapes. Like really tiny, really salty grapes. They pop right in your mouth and have a pleasant, refreshing taste.

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We ate umibudo as a side dish (with vinegar), as a garnish, and as a topping over rice and goya chanpuru ramen.

okinawa okinawan food japan best eat umibudo sea grapes

5. Passion fruit

Passion fruit isn’t unique to Okinawa, of course, but it is still one of the best fruits we ate on the island. By Ryosuke’s (rough) calculations, we ate about eleven passion fruit each, during our four days on the island. I can believe that.

This is what an un-cut passion fruit looks like!

This is what an un-cut passion fruit looks like!

I have never eaten passion fruit as fresh and as a cheap before. Why wouldn’t I try to eat half a dozen slices every day?

And, of course, because we were flying domestically back to Tokyo, we were able to pack another dozen fruits in our suitcase, to eat back in Tokyo. Which were all gone by our third day back. Boohoo.

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6. Seakuwasha (shekwasha?) anything

Oh man, I had a fun time Googling the name for this. In Japanese, it is written as シークヮーサー and it was harder than expected trying to find a legit English translation for it. Wikipedia says it is “shequasar” or “Taiwan tangerine,” though, so let’s stick with this.

Shekwasha is a very sour citrus, famous in Okinawa. It is notable for its very low sugar content and extreme sour-ness.

You can find shekwasha in a variety of dishes in Okinawa. Some of my favorites were:

  1. Shekwasha juice (sold in 1000ml cartons at basically every single convenience store on the island – for only like 100yen. Or in cans.)
    okinawa okinawan food japan best eat shekwasa
  2. Freshly squeezed shekwasha juice (similar to shekwasha juice, but much more sour and much more expensive, you know, on the account of it being freshly squeezed)
  3. Shekwasha chips (potato chips with a strong, sour flavor)
  4. Shekwasha alcohol (cocktail of alcohol and shekwasha juice)
  5. Shekwasha ice cream (who doesn’t love ice cream?)
    okinawa okinawan food japan best eat shekwasha ice cream

7. Black sugar pocky

Pocky is a ridiculously famous Japanese snack, popular not only in Japan, but also abroad. If you’ve ever been to an Anime convention in the States, you’ve probably seen them. They appear in numerous manga and anime – as well as webcomics, games, and most other things related to Japanese pop culture.

Some people are die-hard pocky fans. Ryosuke and I aren’t.

We like them, of course, but they’re just another snack to us.

In any case, there are dozens of varieties of pocky, ranging from chocolate to strawberry to green tea. Okinawa had their own type, “black sugar” pocky. Okinawa is famous for their black sugar (which is like rocks of the brown sugar I grew up eating in my oatmeal in America). We brought back a dozen boxes for friends and family members, as a souvenir. And then proceeded to eat two boxes on the plane, because we were bored and hungry.

8. Beni Imo (purple sweet potato snack)

Beni imo snacks are another solid souvenir. They’re sweat, creamy, and vibrantly purple. And, of course, available pretty much everywhere on the island (including the airport).

okinawa okinawan food japan best eat beni imo

9. Goya pizza

I confess, I just wanted to try this one for the sake of it. How cool is it to say “I had bitter melon pizza on vacation!”

It was good. It really was. It wasn’t amazing, of course, but it was a very solid meal.

okinawa okinawan food japan best eat goya pizza

10. Goya burger and goya rings

This was another dish that I wanted to try just for the sake of it. We found a small fast food restaurant that served goya chanpuru with ham, as a burger. It was an interesting (and cheap!) cutlernary experience. The highlight of the restaurant was actually the “goya chips” – which were like onion rings, except with sliced bitter melon instead of onion.

Weirdly enough, the oil, breaded matter, and salt went wonderfully with the goya.

okinawa okinawan food japan best eat  goya burger

11. Goya beer (or any other local, Okinawan beer)

Whenever you travel, you really ought to try local beers. We had a couple cocktails (with shekwasha and passion fruit) and a couple beers.

Our favorite was probably the dry goya beer. Apparently it won some sort of competition at the International Beer Festival… and before you ask, yes, it was priced very reasonably.

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12. Fresh Pineapple

Why not? Fresh fruit is awesome.

There were tons of stalls selling small, edible pineapples. They were even nice enough to cut it up for you.

okinawa okinawan food japan best eat pineapple

13. Snake venom alcohol (habushu)

Habushu (also known as Okinawan Snake Wine or Habu Sake) is an alcoholic drink made from long distilled grain indica rice, mixed with snake venom, of course. Because why not.

Habu sake is an “awamori” type of alcohol, which is indigenous to Okinawa. We got another type of awamori alcohol for Japanese mom and dad (that didn’t contain any dead snakes), so the dead snake part isn’t strictly necessary.

Habu snakes are pit vipers with extremely venomous bites. Habu sake makers stuff the snakes in the yellowish alcohol while they’re still alive, so that they die with a particularly scary look on their face (which is kind of morbid, if you think about it). The snakes are left in the alcohol.

okinawa okinawan food japan best eat habu sake habushu snake

Ryosuke and I bought four different kinds of (cheap) habu sake, as gifts and because we wanted to have a massive taste-testing fest once we got home. All our alcohol was, of course, habu snake-less.

Why do people put snakes in the alcohol? Good question, I’m glad you asked. As you might imagine, it’s supposed to have medicinal properties.

A habu snake can go without eating for a year and still have plenty of energy (so I guess if you eat it, you can also get that super-power? Kind of like eating birds will make you fly). Also, habu snakes are able to bump uglies with their lady friends for over 25 hours (which is rather impressive, if you think about it), so consuming habu sake is supposed to help increase the male libido and cure sexual dysfunction in men.

Personally, I thought habu sake tasted kind of like whisky.

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

25 Comments on Top 13 Things to Eat (and Drink) in Okinawa, Japan

  1. Hi, I will be going to Okinawa in late July. Can you tell me the names of the places of the things you ate in this post? Thanks!

  2. Anonymous // 18 October, 2015 at 9:48 am //

    This post inspired me to pick up a goya at the local Asian market and try it myself. Not the biggest fan of eating it alone, but it sure is fantastic on my burgers. Thanks for expanding my palette!

  3. After seeing your videos on Youtube I decided to visit Okinawa!! Though I won’t be going till december… Super excited!! I’m definitely going to try all the things listed up there haha. Especially the soba and the umibudo.. it just looks peeerfect! Do you recommend any specific places to eat in Okinawa?

  4. Ok I’m hungry now! :p :p

  5. No Taco rice?
    That’s my favourite Okinawan dish :)

  6. I loved this post. I’m Australian, currently living in Okinawa, and I STILL haven’t tried all the things you did! Did you have Tacorice! I know it’s not technically Japanese, or Okinawan, but is so delicious!
    http://www.seachangeokinawa.blogspot.com

  7. nagarazoku // 25 June, 2015 at 9:38 pm //

    I really don’t get why so many specialities in Japan are made from animals that are still alive, like ikizukuri O.O Suffocating the snakes in alcohol to have something fancy to display – this is horrible T^T

  8. Goya is so bitter I do not like it saddly so I guess I will not go to Okinawa for the food but for landscape. I loved your Okinawa video :)

  9. Thank you for sharing all your delicious adventures!
    You guys got to try all the fun stuff.
    Which was your favourite?

  10. Yes, eating or drinking a snake to absorb its powers is like eating bird meat so you can fly or eating fish so you can breathe under water.
    I kind of wish the “traditional Asian medicine” practitioners would leave all the critters alone.

  11. peiyunn // 25 June, 2015 at 2:22 am //

    I hope to try the shekwasha ice cream if I ever get to go to Okinawa ! It’s looks really good!

  12. Musa Morena Marcusso Manhães // 25 June, 2015 at 1:33 am //

    In the region of Brazil where I grew up, a lot of Japanese immigrants came from Okinawa decades ago. Okinawa soba was as “native” to my region as any other Brazilian dish and I guess I didn’t spend one week of my childhood without family soba on Fridays or on the weekends (FYI, I have no Japanese ancestry). After I left that place that has been THE one thing I miss the most and ever since I came to Germany I found out how hard it is to find Japanese restaurants that don’t serve only sushi or the ingredients to make it myself :( I hope I can go to Okinawa one day to try the original dish :D

    • This is interesting! I heard a similar story about rural Peru where a large Japanese Peruvians, of whom are a large Okinawan Peruvian population, lived. People, including non-Nikkei Peruvians, believed Okinawan traditional food (e.g., champuru, Okinawa soba) to be the mainstream “Japanese” food, and were surprised when they went to Japan, only to find out that the “comida japonesa” they were familiar with was actually uniquely Okinawan.

  13. Thank god i’m making some food right now, cause i got so hungry. especially when i reached the noodles part XD hahaha

  14. Hi Grace — Here is a question I have always wondered, concerning the food in Japan, and it sorta (a little bit, teeny-tiny bit) fits into this topic which was very enjoyable. I have a terrible allergy to peanuts. So I need to be careful but I can usually find places (even Chinese) which do not use it and here in the States most sushi bars are fine for me if I avoid the salads. But I have always wondered, does the food in Japan use more peanut oil and peanut products than the Japanese USA-variety foods? Don’t worry I promise not to base any life-threatening decisions on your answer it’s just something I have always been curious about!! Thanks. Oh, just got your third book so now I have a trifecta! This one is awesome too!!

  15. It looks great. We used to buy also tons of dried noodles in China and in the local Asian stores however when my wife once again decided to make noodles herself (all kinds of Chinese varietys) we quickly lost interest in the dried once as the freshly made ones are sooooo much tastier. They just soak up all the flavor and thanks to writing about it I am craving for some noodle dish…

  16. Okay, this is the first time I’ve heard ‘bitter melon” and “delicious” in the same sentence. I am skeptical, but I’m going to give the chef in our house the go ahead to hunt for the recipe!

  17. OKINAWA! I LOVE Okinawa! I’m so glad you wrote about that beautiful island! I was born in Okinawa, and my mother’s family is there. I went back a couple years ago with my daughter, who loved it too. =) Hoping to be able to take my whole family there soon.

    What about Andagi? Did you get a chance to try those? If not, they are Okinawan donuts. Delicious! They are made with white sugar, or Okinawan brown sugar. I prefer the white sugar andagi, but the coconut andagi is pretty good too. I can’t remember if I saw purple sweet potato andagi or not, but I’m sure they are made with that too. =)

  18. Did you try chinsuko? The brown sugar biscuits? The best ones we had were samples at Shuri castle, so yummy!!

  19. I watched your video last night, Sing was laying next to me and heard you and Ryosuke ate the bitter melon chips. Sing looked at me and said ‘I want to eat it too, even he said it’s bitter. I love bitter’.
    Now my husband suffers because of you :D! just joking, but he really was jealous and I’m glad you could rest a bit and get more energy to write more awesome posts :)

    • Hahaha. As soon as I can find a way to get them in Tokyo, I will send them to you!
      Though seriously, goya is the MOTHER of all things bitter. I’m sure Sing will love it~

  20. Incidentally, minor typo here: mixed with snack venom, of course.

    I want to try nearly all of these! Well, definitely not the Habushu, for the snakes but also because I happen to not like alcohol. I’m so glad you had a great time!

  21. Goya, goya, GOYA!! I love goya!!
    I swear I can never get enough of it. Okinawa soba is also nice.
    Ahhh~ I tried so many delish things in Okinawa, I can’t even list them anymore.
    But one can’t go wrong with goya!

    Umibudo is alright. It’s extremely salty and I can understand if not everybody likes it!

    GOYA!!! ;P

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