Foods for that autumn mood on Okinawa
Like many other parts of Japan, certain foods are only available during specific seasons, helping to give an identity to different times of the year. Here are a few fall foods to get you in the mood.
“Shikuwasa,” sometimes called a Taiwan tangerine or flat lemon, is a small, green citrus fruit whose sour taste is used to garnish dishes like sashimi and fried foods. It is also used to make jam or juice, which can be sweetened with honey or sugar or diluted with water to make it more drinkable.
“Handama” is a leafy vegetable that can be deep fried like tempura, stir-fried, or included in a salad. It is regarded as a distinctive ingredient in Okinawan cooking.
“Urizun mame” (Winged Bean) is a square-shaped bean whose bitterness usually requires it to be cooked before being used in other dishes. It can be blended in miso soup, salad, or in stir-fried dishes.
“Umi budo” (Sea Grape) is a local specialty that is sometimes called “green caviar.” It is used in seafood dishes such as sashimi or as a topping for rice. It is even used to make ice cream.
Other specialties of the season, according to the Okinawa Tourist Information website, include star fruit, “atemoya” (custard apple), “shima togarashi” (island chilis), “taman” (a fish that grows as large as 30 inches and is often made into tempura), and “kihada maguro” (a type of tuna often cut into raw slices and served on a bed of rice).
Certain flowers bloom in autumn, including “ohamabo,” “tokurikawata” and “mokusenna,” reddish and yellowish flowers that help give the island some color.
One food that is available all year round is soba noodles, which is so popular in Okinawa that Oct. 17 has been called Okinawa Soba Day. Apparently, Okinawa-style soba noodles, which are made from wheat flour rather than buckwheat flour, were not recognized as soba by Japan’s soba association. On Oct. 17, 1978, they were finally granted official recognition. In Okinawa, soba means thick wheat noodles, and if you want Japanese-style buckwheat noodles you have to order “Nihon soba,” or Japanese soba.
Autumn is also the season for picking “mikan,” or mandarin oranges. You can pick mikan at Motobu village in northern Okinawa. At Mikan no Sato Izumi (Mikan Orange Town), on Route 84, they will introduce you to fruit farms where you can pick fresh mikan that day. It costs 250 yen for adults and 200 yen for kids.