Okinawa Food – The Complete Guide
Okinawa food is as varied as it is delicious. Discover it all with our comprehensive guide to all things Okinawa food.
Although it’s Okinawa’s glistening beaches and perfect climate that first attracts many visitors to the islands, it is the Okinawa food that keeps people coming back. Native Okinawan, Southeast Asian, Japanese and American influences collide head on in Okinawa, giving the culinary landscape a character all of its own.
Below, we’re going to take an in-depth look at Okinawa food to discover exactly what makes it so unique. From the nourishment of the famous “Okinawa Diet” through to the hamburgers and fries of the Americans, our quest into the soul of Okinawan cooking knows no bounds.
For some Okinawa restaurant recommendation, check out: The 12 Best Restaurants in Okinawa.
Okinawans have the highest life expectancy of any population on the planet (86 years for women and 78 years for men) and some of the lowest rates of cancer and other diseases. How?
For many, it is the Okinawa diet that holds the key. Indeed, a few years ago the “Okinawa Diet” caused a bit of a sensation in nutritional circles when it was hailed as the latest way to eat right. It’s easy to see why when you look at what the people of Okinawa eat: fruit and vegetables grown in the mineral-rich soil of the islands, very little sugar and fat, less rice than mainland Japan (sweet potato instead) and relatively little meat. The Okinawa diet is simple, nutritious and fresh – an enriching combination.
If you feel like trying the Okinawa diet out, take a look at our one-day diet plan below for some inspiration.
Breakfast: Miso soup, tofu, rice and green tea.
Lunch: Wakame (seaweed) salad, purple sweet potatoes, grilled eggplant, eel (or any kind of low in fat fish), rice, papaya and green tea.
Dinner: Goya champuru (bitter melon, tofu, egg and pork stir-fry).
Okinawa is distant from the Japanese mainland in terms of miles – and to a lesser extent – in terms of food culture, too. Sushi is demonstrative here; food synonymous with Japan yet not a typical Okinawan dish. If you’re after some truly world-class sushi, Okinawa should perhaps not be your destination of choice. However, of course, sushi restaurants aren’t lacking on the islands and they do serve up some perfectly delicious fish. Given the American influence, Okinawa is also a good place to indulge in Westernized sushi.
A few of our Okinawa sushi favourites:
Sushi Bar Yoshihachi
Owned by a Japanese chef who for a long time plied his trade in the US, this place is great for the classics, but equally, for sushi rolls and the Americanised sushi we all know and love (although perhaps guiltily). The sweet potato rainbow roll with Okinawan beniimo (purple sweet potato) is not to be missed.
Address: 590-3 Kuwae, Chatan Town, Nakagami-gun Phone: 098-936-2359 Website: Okinawakuukan Business Hours: 16:30- 00:00 Additional information: Closed on Tuesdays
Gohanya de Su-Su-Soon
Located a few miles from the Miyagi coast, near a great scuba diving spot, Gohanya is a joint with a laid back vibe and sushi with a distinctly Okinawan twist. Sushi with goya (bitter melon), sour sea grapes and Okinawan pork and other treats are specialities.
Address: 208-8 Hamagawa, Chatan Town, Nakagami Phone: 098-936-6237 Website: Sususoon Business Hours: 11:30 - 15:00 (14:30 L.O.）/ 17:00 - 22:00 (21:00 L.O.) Additional information: Closed on Tuesdays
For quality and value, Gurume Kateinsushi can’t be bettered. Queues are a common feature, but they typically go down pretty quickly so don’t be perturbed. Classic sushi and Okinawa favourites are all on the menu, served in kaiten, conveyor belt style. Private rooms are also available for a bit of intimacy.
Address: 2-4-5 Mihama, Chatan Town, Nakagami-gun Phone: 098-926-3222 Website: GurumeKaiten Business Hours: 11:00- 22:00
Jiro Cho is more of a local spot than our other entries but is no less delicious. The menu is simple, fresh and ever-changing in line with the season. All the food is prepared in front of your eyes in an impressive display of sushi mastery.
Address: 1-2-8 Kitano, Chatan Town, Nakagami-gun Phone: 098-936-6266 Business Hours: 17:30- 00:00 Additional information: Closed on Tuesdays
Customers are always welcomed with a smile at Sushi Zen; home of Okinawa’s best sushi rolls. The chef, a former New Yorker, is well-versed in all the sushi classics as well as American-style rolls. Sushi Zen is popular so reservations are advised, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend.
Address: 15-4 Minato Chatan, Okinawa-shi, Okinawa Phone: 098-904-0114 Business Hours: 10:30- 22:30 Additional information: Closed on Sundays
Sushi Minami is little more than a hole in the wall, yet one of the best holes in the wall in Okinawa! The sushi is fresh and tasty, all prepared with finesse. If you’re feeling adventurous, try out the dried stingray, chicken heart yakitori (skewers) or horse!
Address: 880-1 Furugen, Yomitan-son, Nakagami-gun Phone: 098-956-2276 Business Hours: 17:00- 00:00
The warm waters of the southern Pacific are bursting with seafood of all kinds and Okinawan markets and restaurants are among the best places to enjoy it.
First Makishi Public Market
Address: 2-10-1 Matsuo, Naha Phone: 098-936-2359 Website: Kosetsu Ichiba Business Hours: 08:00- 21:00
Payao Fish Market
Payao Fish Market is less of a tourist trap than Makishi, and all the better for it. Choose a fish and the stall owners will happily turn your selection into delicious sashimi and use the bones and off-cuts to make some traditional soup or broth. There’s also some great restaurants dotted around, all with handy picture menus for confusion-free dining.
Address: 7-1350-81, Oyama, Ginowan-shi Business Hours: 10:30- 18:00
Tempura is a beloved Japanese dish and each region has its own take. Okinawa’s version is best expressed at Nakamoto Sengyo, a place specialising in seafood tempura, including the best mozuku (seaweed) tempura on the islands. Popular with locals and tourists alike, expect a wait to get in, but it’ll be well worth it.
Address: 9 Ou Aza Tamagusuku, Nanjo Phone: 098-948-3583 Website: Nakamoto Sengyoten Business Hours: 1O:00- 18:00
Goya, perhaps better known as ‘bitter melon’ to Western readers, is a staple food of Okinawa. It is prepared in a multitude of ways – boiled, steamed, fried, battered – and makes an appearance in most Okinawan cooking. Goya is healthy and tasty, totally in line with the Okinawan approach to eating.
Below, find two of our favourite Okinawa restaurants for trying out some interesting goya based dishes.
Jeff Burger is an Okinawan fast food chain which blends US-style hamburgers with traditional Okinawan ingredients. The results: tasty and far healthier than regular fast food. Goya, of course, is taken rich advantage of. Indeed, many of the hamburgers blend goya with meat, there are fried goya rings and even goya juice. Jeff Burger is an Okinawa institution that shouldn’t be missed!
Address: 66-1 Fuda, Tomigusuku Phone: 098-856-1053 Website: Yonaburu Business Hours: 24/24H
The first dish on every traditional Okinawan restaurant’s menu: goya champuru. This stir-fry of goya, tofu, egg and sliced pork is Okinawa on a plate and something you can’t leave the islands without tasting. Every restaurant and family has their own special recipe but the essentials always remain the same, making it a great dish to try out over and over again.
Okinawa Umi Budo (Sea Grape)
Umi budo, also known as sea grapes or green caviar, is a type of seaweed with an almost alien, shiny green appearance and highly distinctive taste. It is high in nutrients and abundant in the waters around Okinawa, making it another staple of the Okinawan diet. Typically, umi budo is simply eaten dipped in vinegar, as a garnish for dishes like sashimi or in a salad.
Try it out in one of the following restaurants.
A small Okinawan restaurant with a cosy vibe and friendly staff. The food on offer here is fully authentic, freshly prepared and ever-popular. Consequently, if you want to guarantee a seat, advanced reservations are strongly recommended.
Address: 388-5 Asato, Naha Phone: 098-885-2178 Website: Urizun Business Hours: 17:30- 00:00
Located just off one of Naha’s central streets, Jizake Yokocho is an izakaya (Japanese pub) with a distinctly Okinawan feel. Turn up at the right time and you’ll be treated to some live traditional Okinawan music, the perfect accompaniment to the authentic food. If you’re planning to visit at the weekend, make sure you make a reservation.
Address: 2-8-13 Matsuo (2F), Naha Phone: 098-860-9511 Business Hours: 12:00- 14:00; 18:00- 23:00 (L.0 22:30)
Yotsutake is one of Naha’s most popular restaurants for good reason. Besides the typical Okinawan food, diners are treated to a full-blown show of traditional Okinawan dancing and singing which guarantees a carnivalesque, fun-loving atmosphere every night of the week. Again, avoid disappointment by booking in advance.
Address: 3-29-70 Kumamoto, Naha Phone: 098-863-4444 Website: Yotsutake Business Hours: 11:30- 13:30; 18:00- 22:00
Okinawa Beniimo (Purple Sweet Potatoes)
With their intense purple colour, beniimo, or Okinawan sweet potato, aren’t hard to spot. In Okinawa, beniimo is eaten with most meals, just as rice is in mainland Japan. The potato is midly sweet with vanilla undertones, and its deep purple flesh never fails to impress. It’s also a highly adaptable vegetable, used in savoury and sweet dishes both. Indeed, one of the best Okinawan souvenirs is a beniimo tart.
Okashi Goten is a shop specialising in beniimo treats. Although available in various guises and styles, it is the classic beniimo tart that people bend over backwards to get their hands on. Okashi Goten also gives visitors the chance to peek a look at how their sweet potato delicacies are made in the attached factory and even have a go themselves in special cooking workshops.
Address: 100 Seragaki, Azi, Onna-village Phone: 098-862-0334 Website: OkashiGoten Business Hours: 08:30- 21:00
Located on the top floor of Okashi Goten, Cafe Hanagasa is dedicated to beniimo treats, from salty savoury dishes to delicate desserts. Naturally, a variety of hot and cold drinks are also available, as well as a good range of potato-free menu items. The cafe’s views out over the ocean are also central to its charm.
Phone: 098-866-6085 Business Hours: 11:00- 20:00
There’s nothing better for beating the fierce Okinawa heat than ice cream. And there’s no better ice cream retailer than Blue Seal. An American chain though it may be, Blue Seal’s beniimo ice cream is as Okinawan as ice cream gets! Obviously, if you don’t fancy sweet potato ice cream, other options are available.
Address: 1-2-32 Makishi, Naha Phone: 098-867-1450 Website: Blueseal Business Hours: 1O:00- 23:00
Okinawa Goat Meat
Goat meat became a staple in Okinawa as a result of the food shortages brought on by the Second World War. Although other meats are no longer in short supply, goat remains widely popular. One of the most popular goat dishes is yagi sashimi, essentially goat sashimi served with a tangy sauce. Get over your initial misgivings and you’re in for a treat.
Here are a few of Okinawa’s best goat serving restaurants.
Sakae is one of the best goat meat restaurants on the islands. Run by two old ladies, the recipes are tried and tested classics. The yagi sashimi is divine, as is the chiirichi, a dish of vegetables cooked in goat blood. The place is small so get there early to guarantee a seat.
Address: 3 Chome-12-20 Makishi, Naha Phone: 098-866-6401 Business Hours: 15:00- 23:00 Additional information: Closed on Sundays
A tiny, family-run restaurant that serves nothing but goat dishes. Although the staff don’t speak much English, they are friendly and will do their best to understand you. Menu highlights include yagi sashimi, goat soup, fried goat and chiirichi. Be warned, portions are huge, so be sure to arrive with an appetite.
Address: 388-6 Asato, Naha Phone: 098-884-6266 Business Hours: 16:00- 01:30 Additional information: Closed on Sundays
Okinawans, traditionally, eat very little meat. When they do, however, pork is common. Chefs on the islands are known for using every part of the animal in their cooking, making sure nothing goes to waste. To sample some of the best pork on Okinawa, check out the restaurants below.
Hisamatsu Shokudo is famed for its pig blood chiiricha, a dish so popular that lines out the front door are common. Garnished with raw garlic and rice, it is a rich and satisfying dish, perhaps best suited to colder days. A must-try dish for meat eaters.
Address: 41 Aza-Kin, Kin-cho, Kunigami-gun Phone: 098-968-2987 Business Hours: 1O:30- 14:30 Additional information: Closed on Sundays
An affordable pork speciality restaurant that leaves no part of the animal unused. Try the deep-fried trotters or boiled ears for something a little different, or keep it simple with a pork belly stew or shabu shabu (hot pot).
Address: 1-13-1 Matsuyama, Naha Phone: 098-867-7177 Business Hours: 18:00- 04:00
Lauded by many as Okinawa’s best izakaya, Yuunangi is a temple of Okinawan food. Everything on the menu is delicious, though order the rafute, a dish of slow-cooked pork belly with a ginger broth, for the house speciality. Get there early or make a reservation to avoid long queues.
Address: 3 Chome-3-3 Kumoji, Naha Phone: 098-867-3765 Business Hours: 12:00- 17:00; 17:30- 22:30
Sata Andagi (Okinawan Doughnuts)
Okinawan’s favourite sweet snack: sata andagi (literally, ‘deep-fried sugar’). These Okinawan doughnuts can be found all over the islands and come in a range of flavours. For some of the best, check out our recommendations.
Few shops make sata andagi quite like Mitsuya Honpo. Having been making the snack for over 40 years, they know a thing or two about how to do it well. Flavours include pumpkin, brown sugar, azuki bean and even ice cream.
Address: 1656-9 Nakadomari, Onna, Kunigami-gun Phone: 098-6861-1943 Business Hours: 10:00- 19:00 Additional information: Closed on Sundays
Ryugu Sweets Shop
Located near Kokusai-Dori and Makishi Public Market, Ryugu Sweets Shop is a small, traditional sata andagi specialist. The regular variety is endlessly tasty, but other flavours like black sesame and coconut are also well worth trying.
Address: 2-9-14 Matsuo, Naha Business Hours: 10:00- 20:00
Ayumu Sata Andagi
A small sata andagi stand in the Farmers Market Yambaru, it doesn’t look like much but serves up freshly made and consistently delicious sata andagi to order. The best part? The price. A single doughnut costs just 90 yen and a sharing box of nine pieces just 756 yen.
Address: 2-10-1 Matsuo, Naha Phone: 098-863-1171 Website: Tadeko Business Hours: 09:30- 19:00
Okinawa Taco Rice
Taco rice – a bed of rice topped with Mexican-style meat, vegetables and cheese – is the Okinawan take on the classic Mexican taco. Oddly enough, taco rice has become astonishingly popular on the islands, eaten regularly and even a mainstay on school cafeteria menus. Try it out at one of the below restaurants.
King Tacos – the birthplace of Taco rice! Fifteen years ago this fast food joint invented the dish and although it’s now available from a variety of different retailers, for many, King Taco remains king. The chain has several locations, though if you want to visit the dishes birthplace, head to the original store in Kin Town.
Address: 1-24-6 Futenma, Ginowan Phone: 098-892-0705 Website: King Tacos Business Hours: 11:00- 03:00
Tortilla Factory is an Okinawan Mexican fast food chain which serves up classics like burritos, classic tacos, and naturally, taco rice. The ingredients used are fresh and prices pretty reasonable. Vegetarian options are also available.
Address: 2-39-20 Aragusuku, Ginowan Phone: 098-892-6200 Website: Tortilla Factory Business Hours: 11:00- 22:00
Okinawan soba isn’t like typical Japanese soba, it has its own unique taste that is loved by locals and tourists alike. The noodles are chewy, the broth typically made with pork and often featuring tofu, green onions and sliced meat. Popular varieties include soki soba (topped with pork ribs) and tebichi soba (topped with pig trotters).
Don’t be fooled by the name, Ramen Menya specialises in soki soba made with a thick pork and fish broth and topped with seaweed and Okinawan pork. The time and effort put into the broth is evident in the superior taste.
Address: 3-39-15 Awase (1F), Okinawa Phone: 098-934-0155 Website: Okinawatimes Business Hours: 11:30- 14:30; 18:00- 21:00 Additional information: Closed on Wednesdays
Located close to Shuri Castle, Ashibiuna is a wonderful restaurant set in a verdant Japanese garden. Customers can choose to sit outside looking out into the garden or inside in the tatami-floored dining room. The food is inexpensive, authentic and tasty.
Address: 2-13 Shuritonokuracho, Naha Phone: 098-884-0035 Website: Ashibiuna Business Hours: 11:00- 15:30; 17:00- 23:00
Address: 40-1 Kokuba, Naha Phone: 098-834-7428 Business Hours: 11:00- 16:00
Another soba restaurant close to Shuri Castle, this time one designed to resemble an izakaya from the Ryukyu Kingdom. The setting is impressive, but the food more so. The soba is served in huge bowls, topped with pork belly and seaweed, alongside traditionally prepared rice and pickles. If you’ve still got room, try the delicious jimami (peanut tofu) for dessert.
Address: 2-2 Shuri Sankicho, Naha Phone: 098-884-1933 Website: Ddepartment Business Hours: 11:30- 15:00 Additional information: Closed on Wednesdays
Be one of the first customers through the doors of Yaezen and you’ll have the opportunity to try out their legendary squid ink soba. Only 10 servings of this dish can be given out daily, something that only exacerbates the legend. If you miss your chance, don’t despair, all the food here is pretty special and very reasonably priced. Although there are no English menus, helpfully, there are pictures to guide you.
Address: 342-1 Namizato, Motobu, Kunigami-gun Phone: 098-47-5853 Business Hours: 11:00- 18:00 Additional information: Closed on Tuesdays
Who doesn’t like beer? Certainly not the Okinawans. In the ferocious Okinawan heat, an ice cold beer is what dreams are made of. The biggest beer in Okinawa is Orion, a light, refreshing lager which is rarely found on the mainland.
Orion Happy Park
Get well acquainted with the history, brewing process and taste of Orion at Orion Happy Park. The complex is a working factory, where Orion is brewed, packaged and sent out into the world. Visitors are given guided tours covering each stage of the process, which, happily, culminates in a free tasting session. One for the beer loves for sure.
Address: 2-2-1 Agarie, Nago Phone: 098-54-4103 Website: OrionBeer Business Hours: 09:00- 18:00
Orion Bar Hall
The Orion Beer Hall is located within the huge Aeon Rycom Mall. It is popular with locals as well as Americans in the area, principally for its great selection of Orion craft beers, cocktails and bar snacks. The atmosphere is always relaxed and the staff are English-speaking and friendly.
Address: Aeon Mall, Orion beer terrace 1F, Kitanakagusuku-so, Nakagami-gun Phone: 098-82-2067 Website: Createrestaurants Business Hours: 10:00- 23:00
Okinawa Ryuku Awamori
Mainland Japan has sake, while Okinawa has awamori, a popular rice wine that is thought to be another factor in the long lives of Okinawans. Different to sake, awamori is fermented using koji, a type of microscopic mushroom. It is then left to brew, with some bottles in existence said to be over 400 years old. If you get a taste for the drink, you’ll be happy to hear that it is available almost everywhere on the islands and usually very cheaply. There are also several awamori breweries on Okinawa, where visitors are given the opportunity to learn all about the history of the drink and the techniques used to make it.
Feeling brave? Try habushu – Okinawan snake wine. Said to have ancient origins and health-giving properties, it is a novel drink to try out. To make it, a viper is drowned in alcohol, giving it a deep brown colour and pungent taste. Habushu is available in most liquor stores and supermarkets, or if you’re really intrigued, head to the Habu Museum at the Okinawa World Theme Park, where you’ll be given the chance to get up close to the snakes and learn all about the drink’s history.
Okinawa Sanpin Cha (Jasmine Tea)
Sanpin cha (jasmine tea) is the most popular beverage in Okinawa, drank, by most people, every day. Slightly different from the versions you’ll find in mainland Japan and China, the tea is demonstrative of the influence of both nations on the islands. You’ll find sanpin cha everywhere, including in convenience stores, supermarkets and cafes.
Okinawa Brown Sugar
In Okinawa, even the sugar is healthy. That’s right, unlike most sugar, Okinawa’s famous brown sugar is rich in calcium, iron and potassium, making it a highly prized commodity all over the world. Eaten raw as an energy-boosting snack, in tea or added to desserts, the Okinawans make fine use of their brown gold.
Ajitoya is a Japanese curry restaurant famed for its use of brown sugar in its cooking. The curry, made using pork bones, chicken and vegetables is rich and delicious, yet made slightly sweet and mild with the addition of the sugar. Although it may not sound particularly advertising, the restaurant’s hordes of loyal customers would protest otherwise. On the side, try some of their famous fried chicken or a shiku wasa (a yoghurt drink with spices) to mix it up a little.
Address: 5-24-6 Awase, Naha Phone: 098-927-3381 Website: Ajitoya Business Hours: 11:00- 15:00; 18:00- 21:00
Okinawan Restaurant in Tokyo
Want a taste of Okinawa without leaving the capital? Check out our favourite Tokyo Okinawan restaurant:
Located in the fancy Azubu Juban district, Taachi promises an authentic Okinawan feast in the heart of Tokyo. Taachi, in fact, is said to serve the best goya champuru on the mainland. If you want to put this to the taste test, make sure you make reservations or be prepared for a wait. The restaurant’s reputation proceeds it.
Address: 1-7-7 Azabu Juban (3F), Minato-ku, Tokyo Phone: 03-5772-7290 Website: Taachi Business Hours: 18:00- 03:00 Additional information: Closed on Sundays
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