Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Andansu Miso

Posted by Maki Nako
             We all have our comfort foods or soul foods that we enjoy throughout our lives, with their tastes and smells bringing back memories in quick flashbacks like photographs in our minds. Home-cooked spaghetti sauce that has just the right amount of spices, blueberry pancakes on Sunday mornings, steaming sukiyaki hot pot on cold winter nights, and tuna casserole topped with breadcrumbs and baked to perfection. But among the list of my all-time favorites, is an item that isn’t a meal on its own, but an addition with so much presence that it manages, on occasions, to take center stage. This is andansu.
              Andansu, (pronounced un-dun-soo) in the Okinawan language, literally means oil and miso. It is prepared with pieces of pork or skipjack tuna mixed with sweet miso paste. Like the rest of Japan, Okinawa’s staple diet is rice. And just like with bread in western cultures, rice is served with the main course or enjoyed on its own, often with sprinkle toppings, seaweed, pickled vegetables, or whatever else to add some pizazz. Although some people like to spread andansu on their toast or other bread, it’s more popular served with rice. Since moving to Okinawa, I’ve never met anyone here who disliked a hot bowl of glittering white rice topped with a generous portion of andansu.
              At the onigiri (rice-ball) section at every convenience store, you will most definitely find a row of andansu-filled onigiri among a selection from tuna-and-mayonnaise, salmon-flakes, ume plums or seaweed fillings, just to name a few. It is also sometimes found in bento boxes (boxed meals), and all supermarkets throughout Okinawa carry at least a brand or two of ready-to-serve andansu. Okinawan households have their own special “tastes” of andansu, perhaps with recipes passed down from one generation to the next. With pretty much the same ingredients needed to prepare it, you wouldn’t think that its taste would vary so much, but every type I’ve ever tasted, from those bought at farmers’ markets and grocery stores to mom ‘n pop diners and friends’ family recipes, they are all so distinctly different, and all so pleasantly delicious.
               You can find them in sealed jars at souvenir shops and at the airport to take some home with you or bring as gifts. But do keep an eye out for the andansu when in Okinawa, as its distinctive taste will certainly be a fond reminder of these unique islands.

Tomari Iyu-Machi

Posted by Mari Rita Tobaru

Visiting markets when traveling different countries is always the best way to learn about the cuisine culture of that specific country or to see the type of food the local people are eating on a daily basis. In Okinawa, you’ll find various vegetable markets, meat markets and fish markets everywhere. Out of all the markets, I personally love visiting fish markets, and there is one specific market I patron. Located in Tomari, this market is a great place to shop for seafood. It’s also my favorite spot to show around when friends visit. The market is basically separated into two different areas when entering the gate of the market area. To make it easier to understand, I simply separate them as the “new” side and “old” side. After venturing to both areas and talking to the owners, I learned that both sides sell the fresh catch of the day. The difference? Some store owners at the old side sell their catch the way it comes, so if you can clean a fish, then this is the right place to go. The new side, named “Tomari Iyu-Machi”, houses several stores and also a fish processing center. Fish of all kinds, large in size are processed at the center and at early hours, visitors can see professionals at work through a glass window. Shopping at Iyu-Machi market makes cooking easier. Fresh tuna (maguro) is already sliced and ready to eat. So far, I’ve bought fresh lobsters at such a reasonable price that I bought the whole lot; fresh oysters, swordfish fillets for my famous meuniere, large prawns, soft crabs, salmon roe (ikura) and sea urchin (uni) for my sushi parties, fresh sushi to-go (sushi looks so delicious here that you can’t resist buying it), crispy fish & squid tempura and much more! If you have the time, try adventuring to this market which is just minutes away from Tomari International Cemetery.

Tomari Iyu-Machi
1-1 Tomari, Naha
Tel: 098-868-1096
Open: 6:00-18:00
Perking: Free
Access: From Naha Airport 15 mins by car.
                                                     by taxi (1,500yen)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ukon Going Natural

Posted by Mari Rita Tobaru

When friends come down to Okinawa to visit me, I realized that I always had a difficult time answering this question, “What would make a good present to take back home?”  Until just recently, I always answered vaguely, asking them questions in return in order to elicit answers in considering possible souvenirs from Okinawa that would be worth taking back and distributing to friends.
This summer, I found a solution to this problem. Two of my friends from Hawaii visited Okinawa in June, and we started talking about things to take back to Hawaii. One of them mentioned that she wanted to buy some ukon  products. This was quite a surprise to me. Although I live in Okinawa, I’d never thought of buying ukon or showed any interest in products made from ukon.

 Thus, our hunt for good ukon products began. We first visited a herb garden and along the tour, the owner explained that ukon, also widely known as curcumin or turmeric (curcuma longa), belongs to the ginger family. The garden had three different types of ukon: haru ukon (literally “spring ukon”), murasaki ukon (purple ukon) and aki ukon (fall ukon). We were told that each ukon has its own medicinal effects. For those who want more detailed info of its effects, check out this website from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
After doing some quick research, we found out that a kuro ukon (black ukon) also exists. This ukon is said to have a high polyphenol and anthocyanin content (more than blueberries). In the end, we all ended up buying black ukon products and gained a wealth of knowledge regarding Okinawa’s ukon product.

Macrobiotic Lunch in Naha, Okinawa

Posted by Masumi Tsuha

As many people know, Okinawan cuisine is healthy and tasty. But how about having a lunch without dairy products or meat once in a while?

The Arsoa café is located in Omoromachi, Naha, and offers hearty macrobiotic lunches from Thursday through Sunday. The menu includes Beauty Plate, Loco Moco, Detox Curry Plate and Organic Hamburger Plate, which do not contain dairy products or meat or fish. They use soy bean and gluten protein instead of “real” meat, and do not use white sugar.

The Beauty Plate changes weekly. As an example, the plate I had on the day I visited included: fresh salad, cooked sweet potatoes, simmered Okinawan carrots and daikon radish, tempe teriyaki, tofu with okra sauce, deep fried soy meat with green onion sauce, pasta with red shiso and black beans. The plate comes with a cup of soup, brown or white rice with coarse cereal, and organic tea or coffee or special blend tea.

Such a wide variety of ingredients will definitely satisfy your appetite. Mini soft ice cream made from soymilk is available for an additional 105 yen. It has a mild taste and is a perfect dessert to finish your healthy lunch. If you still have space left in your stomach, cake and soymilk smoothies are also available.

All of their hearty dishes are prepared by the sole chef, Keigo Uchimura. Keigo studied macrobiotic theory and cooking intensively in Yamanashi Prefecture four years ago and has been broadening his experience in cooking and teaching macrobiotic cuisine since then.

His warm smile and the friendly staff always sincerely welcome you and make you feel happy and at home.

4-17-31 Omoromachi, Naha
Tel: 098-988-1640
Lunch time: 11:30-16:30 (Thursday to Sunday)

New Year’s & Hatsumode

Posted by Maki Nako

       One of the biggest events of the year in Okinawa, like many other places on earth, is New Year’s. The celebrations of New Year’s remind me how different life is here in comparison to life in Canada. There, the countdown to New Year’s is one great glitzy party often lasting until dawn, and of course in Okinawa and in the rest of Japan, the party scene may be no different, but traditionally, New Year’s is welcomed peacefully with family.
              Many families spend their New Year’s Eve at home, snuggled up in their kotatsu heating tables, nibbling on mandarin oranges and watching the national New Year’s tradition, Kohaku Uta-Gassen, the prestigious music program on television. Soba noodles in broth are eaten for dinner or as late-night meals, as the long, thin soba noodles are believed to be auspicious, symbolizing a long and healthy life. 
              Once the 108 peals of the Joyano kane or the traditional bell starts to sound, as the New Year draws closer, the younger members of the family begin to get restless with anticipation for the countdown. In Okinawa, there are several places that display fireworks starting at midnight of the New Year, coloring the night sky with brilliant colors and adding to the excitement. Past midnight, the streets begin to get congested, as people start to make their way to the shrines for their first visits, called the Hatsumode. Some of the most popular Hatsumode destinations in Okinawa are the Gokoku Jinja and Naminoue Shinto shrines in Naha, Futenma Jingu in Ginowan, or Naritasan in Nakagusuku
Once there, people cleanse themselves with the sacred water at the entrance of the shrines, then proceed to the main area to pray for happiness and good health in the New Year. Most visitors will purchase omamori, which are talismans, amulets and other protective charms to cast away bad luck and bring good fortune. Omikuji or oracles are also purchased, and you will see many people anxious to read what is written in the small paper, all hoping for the characters 大吉; the greatest of fortunes. Even those who happen to pick an oracle with the dreaded , the extreme opposite, the wise words and lessons written in them aren’t so bad. The oracles contain wisdom meant to guide us in the New Year, and many visitors will tie their oracles on a tree branch or lines set by the shrines for the purpose.
As you make your way through the crowds and pass by the many stalls of food, treats and games, the sights, smells and sounds are very similar to omatsuri festivals, but distinctively different at Hatsumode, is that you can feel in the air, the hopes and wishes of the people for the New Year.

Tanaga Gumui Plant Community

Posted by Tsukasa Hellinger   
    Okinawa is Japan’s southernmost prefecture, and as you might imagine, the summers here are blistering!  When most people think of Okinawa, Karate Kid, spectacular beaches, and tropical fish are probably the first things to pop up in their minds.  However, few people know about Tanaga Gumui Plant Community.  This is an area in Kunigami Village designated by the government as a natural monument.  The area is inhabited by several species of plants that only grow here.  
     In addition, there’s a waterfall there that is fed by Aha River.  At the base of the waterfall is a basin where the water collects.  So why am I writing about this?  That’s right; to help you escape the heat!  The water at this lake is cold, so on a scorching summer day, taking a dip here is so refreshing.  It’s located in a jungle like area, so it’s also a way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
      Getting there is a bit of an adventure, so put on your Indiana Jones action gear and watch out for habu, a venomous snake in Okinawa!  Once you park your car, you’ll walk down a path through the woods leading to the lake.  Before reaching the lake, you’ll also have to rope your way down a sharp slope.  What?!  That’s right; ROPE your way down, Indiana Jones!  I recommend you bring clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty because the soil there is clay. 
     Once you’ve made it to the lake, prepare to get wet.  There is a rope hanging from a tree branch at the edge of the lake.  Use it to swing yourself out and take that first shocking cold plunge, Tarzan!  Next, to generate a little body heat, swim to the other end of the lake where the pristine waterfall is.
     Now, as you can see in the photo, I climbed to the top of the waterfall.  (This can be dangerous, so take precaution.)  At the top of the waterfall, there is a shallow stream and large rocks to rest on.  The rocks are heated by the sun, so it’s so relaxing to lay on them after making that frigid swim!  
    Guess what?  Now you gotta swim back, climb back up that steep slope, and watch out for habu snakes before going home!  Don’t worry; it’s worth it.  Besides, most people need the exercise and to experience the feeling of being a kid again, eh?  Trust me.  Once you’ve gone there, “you’ll be back,” Terminator.