Your trip is delayed now due to Coronavirus but if Okinawa is on your planning list for the future this post will help you prepare your MUST EAT and MUST BRING BACK food list.
Okinawa, with its turquoise seas and white sand beaches, touches the heart of anyone who visits. Whether you’re strolling down Kokusai Dori or you’re dipping your feet in the seas of Ishigaki, you want to take a slice of the Okinawan lifestyle back to reality. While Kariyushi (Okinawan aloha shirts) and island made jewelry are lovely baubles, I have found that the best way to show those back home how wonderful a culture is, is to bring back a little taste of their local delicacies. Tasting an area’s food can snap us right back to our relaxing vacation log after we’ve returned home. Let’s explore some of the best foods from the south of Japan that are worth making a little extra room in your suitcase.
Chinsuko is the light, slightly salty and not-too-sweet shortbread cookie of the region. International visitors and Japanese tourists alike bring back this treat for people, so it’s no wonder that you can find them at any souvenir shop you visit. They are compact and often come boxed up with pretty paper, which makes it the perfect gift for your coworkers, or easily passed around at your next party as you regale them with the details of your trip.
Although this full-bodied island alcohol is called sake, and is made from rice like sake, it’s actually closer to shochu in how it’s made. This liquor is everywhere in restaurants on the islands (other than beer, of course) and is a fantastic way to bring a taste of Okinawa back home with you. They sell small bottles of it all over the shopping district, and they’re perfect to stow in your baggage. One of the most popular brands for tourists is the White Tiger brand, and can be easily found, including in the Naha Airport.
If you have a larger bag and a way to pack it, don’t miss out on trying or buying habushu or ‘snake sake’. This Okinawan exclusive takes the local awamori sake and infuses it with AN ENTIRE PIT VIPER. These snakes are local to the islands and remain in the bottom of the bottles of this drink. Despite the fact that these snakes are poisonous, the amount of time they are distilled in the liquor makes it safe for human consumption. This drink is also said to have aphrodisiac properties, so make sure to bring it back for your significant other to share.
Taikoo sugar is Okinawan black sugar, made from the famous sugar cane which grows all over the island. This unrefined sugar is actually (they say) more healthy for you than white or brown sugars. There are claims that is has the ability to help lower cholesterol and contains essential minerals such as iron, calcium and potassium. Like other sweets from these islands, the sugar has a slightly salty taste. Bake with this sweet souvenir or added to your morning coffee.
On the opposite side of the flavour spectrum, you should also consider buying some Okinawan sea salt. Other than a great flavouring for food, it can be made into awesome skin care scrubs. This compact gift allows you to take the taste of the ocean back home with you. The best place to buy this from is likely the Okinawan Sea Salt Institute of Okinawa. Since they’re the experts, you know it has to be good! You can also get Ishigaki Island specific salt, which is supposed to have a stronger taste to other surrounding islands.
Benimo is an island sweet potato. You can find many things flavoured with this sweet tuber, such as cookies or ice cream, but one of the most popular souvenirs from Okinawa is tarts made from them. With a deep, royal purple colour and a flaky shortbread crust, these little delicacies can be found everywhere and add an aesthetic aspect to your souvenirs.
Hi-Chew candies are one of the most famous candies from Japan, and are a great souvenir no matter where you are in the country. In Okinawa, however, they have region specific flavours that are not to be missed. I personally purchased the shikuwasa (island citrus) ones and absolutely loved them. You can also find mango and pineapple ones, which give you a burst of island flavour every time you snack. I have been chewing Hi-Chew candies for years but I think the shikuwasa ones are my absolute favorite!
Sata Andagi is a dense, locally fried dough which is very similar to donuts, but much heavier. You can taste delicious fresh ones all over, but they also come in convenient plastic packaging which allows you to transport them back home.
Now this one carried a little more risky (heaven forbid it erupts in your luggage) and can only be enjoyed legally in Japan by those twenty years old and up. However Orion beer is Okinawa’s signature brew and enjoyed Japan over for its light, citrusy flavour. You might want to look up luggage rules, but if you fall in love with this taste, it might be worth bringing home the comforting island beer. Just remember to wrap those bad boys in plastic bags!
Ok, so this one isn’t food. It does, however, allow you to have a piece of Okinawa that won’t disappear after you have enjoyed it. The best part of these glasses is that they were originally created to repurposes old cola and beer bottles post World War II. Now you can drink your habushu out of them and keep the island vibes going. Just be sure to pack those glasses delicately in your luggage!
Okinawa is a magical place, and the best way to experience it is when you can share its flavours with those you love. Make sure you pick up one, two or all of these options… while you can!