"Haisai" is "hello" in the Okinawan language.
I'm now in Okinawa visiting family from my mother's side before I settle down in Tokyo. This is my sixth time here and I love Okinawa. My family lives in northern Okinawa in a city called Nago. Let me share a little bit about this island and its rich culture.
Okinawa is a beautiful island located between Japan and Taiwan. It was once called the Ryukyu Kingdom. The Kingdom was independent and had close ties with China before being invaded by Japan four hundred years ago. During World War II, a terrible battle was fought on the island with over 100,000 civilians killed -- many by Japanese soldiers or by suicide. My aunt was actually born in the middle of the fighting. I can't imagine how it must have been for my grandparents during that time. After the war, Okinawa was placed under the control of the U.S. government until 1972. Today, there is still a strong U.S. military presence on the island.
Okinawa prides itself on its unique culture. It has its own language, food, music and other traditions. Let's start with food!
Okinawan soba is one of the island's most popular dishes. We found this great place in Nago that makes its own soba noodles. Okinawan people love to eat pork. This bowl is topped with "souki" (stewed pork spare rib), "sanmai-niku" (stewed pork belly) and "kamaboko" (steamed fish cake, a kind of fish hot dog). This bowl cost 500 yen, about $5.
This funny looking vegetable is called "goya." It has a bitter taste that takes some getting used to, but once you learn to love it, you really love it!
Goya is commonly served in a stir fry dish called "goya champuru" with tofu and/or meat and egg and served with rice.
This nice lady is selling saataa andagi -- an Okinawan donut -- from a stand for 90 yen each, about 90 cents.
Andagi can be plain, with brown sugar or with sesame seeds.
This is beni imo ice cream. Beni imo is a purple potato. I tried to find Foremost brand ice cream but the super market only carried this one for 250 yen, about $2.50 for a small cup.
One interesting fact about Okinawan food is that there is a strong influence from American culture through the military. In addition to Foremost ice cream, Okinawa has A&W drive ins and tacos!
As for drinking, Okinawa is famous for it's own brand of beer called Orion and it's own sake called "awamori." A special kind of awamori is made with a snake in the jar called "habu sake." Habu is a poisonous snake indigenous to the Ryukyus and habu sake is said to pass along special powers to the drinker.
image credit: panduh
More cool Okinawan culture to follow!