Grillin' & Griddlin': Beach partying a la Okinawan-style
A beach party may be bikinis swaying to club music and resort-style cocktails on MTV and elsewhere, but on Okinawa it’s synonymous with a barbeque. So whenever you see savory smoke hovering about a group of tents from between May and October it’s the telltale sign of a beach party – Okinawan-style!
Pronounced “biichi paari” by locals, this is one of the island’s most popular summertime events, bringing together friends, families and coworkers for fun and simple fare grilled to perfection.
“A beach party in Okinawa is very handy and easy to set up,” says Tomoaki Ameku, a 25-year-old Okinawa City resident. “Most people just barbeque simply so they can get together easily and not worry too much about cooking. It’s more of a way to hang out together than it is a gourmet event”
That’s not to say the food isn’t tasty. After all, how can fresh food cooked over an open flame not be?
The real trick to beach barbecuing Okinawan-style is to let someone else do the prep work. People usually go to a butcher or similar shop and order ready-to-grill grub for beach parties. Many butchers in Okinawa have various beach-party menu sets to choose from. In fact, some beaches will only let you get your grilling on with the equipment and food they supply.
The cost of a typical menu set ranges from 600 yen to 2,000 yen ($6-$20) per person. Some butcher shops even provide complimentary barbequing equipment, such as grills, iron griddles and propane gas, to customers depending on the number of sets they order.
Meat, vegies and even savory “yakisoba” noodles and “hirayachi” pancakes are typical beach party fare, making a large griddle over an open flame as – if not more – essential than a grill. Meat lovers needn’t worry, however, because you rarely have ask, “where’s the beef” at an Okinawan barbecue.
“Beef is the main dish for a beach party in Okinawa. But recently, pork has also become popular,” says Satoshi Yogi, owner of Chuo Meat in Futenma City. “Most people only use one iron griddle to cook with, so seafood is not very popular because you don’t want it to mix with the meat. That’s why people tend to stick with meat and vegetables, unless they’re using two griddles.”
The most popular beach-party menu item at Chuo is the Special Set, according to Yogi. For 780 yen per person, it includes 200 grams (about 14 ounces) of sliced beef, two sausages, two “yakitori” skewered chicken sticks and 100 grams of vegetables.
Unlike typical American grill fare, the beef is usually sliced thin to cook quickly on a grill or griddle. Many butchers offer you a choice of marinades that they can use to prepare the meat, or you can order it plain. The most popular marinade with Okinawans, according to Yogi, is a sweet barbeque sauce made with ingredients such as soy sauce, miso, sake, sugar, sesame seed, apple and garlic.
The main vegetables for beachside grilling are usually onions, carrots, cabbage and green peppers – and sometimes “goya,” or bitter melon. Goya may be Okinawa’s most popular vegetable, and is thought to promote good health and longevity. They don’t call it “bitter” for nothing; but it’s worth a try, if not a taste worth acquiring.
The grilling is usually done with propane, since most beaches do not allow cooking with charcoal.
Fresh local tropical fruit chilled in the cooler is a great way to round out your beach party fare. Mango and pineapple are in peak season this time of year. And of course, the local brew, Orion Beer, if not the local grog, “awamori,” Okinawan rice liquor, are popular drinks that help make a beach party – well, a party. Drinking and having a good time on the beach are as important to this local tradition as the food.
For those who are not good at, or interested in, setting up tarps, tents and grills, there are many beaches where staff will set up and break down equipment as part of the rental package. All you have to do is bring your own food. There are also beaches where staff will prepare the food for you. These places require a reservation in advance and costs a little more than buying from a butcher or other shop.
“We have many Americans who come to Ginowan Tropical Beach to enjoy beach parties,” says Masami Tomari, a receptionist at this full-service beach. “We have a draft beer serving machine that many people like, and banana boating is our most popular activity.”
Beach party goers may also enjoy such seaside games beach volley ball and soccer. But here are some classic Japanese. On is “suika wari,” or watermelon bashing, which involves blindfolding a player and setting a watermelon on the sand. The player then holds a stick and tries to hit the watermelon as the other players egg him or her on in the right direction. The split watermelon also doubles as dessert.
The real dessert after an Okinawa beach party barbecue, however, is the long day you’ve spent having fun with friends and family members. And the proverbial cherry on top just might be the new friendships you’ve forged around the grill.
“In Okinawa, we have a saying: ‘Ichariba chode.’ It means that once we meet, we become brothers and sisters,” says Ameku.
“So, basically, anyone is welcome to join beach party. We love to have a good time with everyone; it’s part of Okinawan culture.”
LET'S GET THIS BEACH PARTY STARTED!
Grill & griddle recipes to give your barbecue that taste of Okinawa
- 5 shiitake mushrooms, slice to small pieces
- 1 onion, slice to small pieces
- 2 carrot, slice to small pieces
- 4 green onions, chop to small pieces
- 1/2 whole cabbage, chop it to small pieces
- 500 g sliced pork belly (or you can use beef, too), cut it to 1 inch pieces
- 3 table spoon oil
- 1 table spoon of salt and pepper
- yakisoba sauce (often comes in the yakisoba package)
- 3 package of yakisoba noodles
- dried green seaweed powder, or “ao-nori,” for garnish (optional)
- pickled ginger for garnish (optional)
Directions: Heat oil well on an iron griddle and cook the meat until there is no pink visible. Add the onion and cook until it turns slightly brown. Add the rest of vegetables and stir fry until they are soft. Add salt and pepper. Loosening the noodles with your hands, add the yakisoba to the griddle. Pour water over the noodle to separate the noodles and steam. Add Yakisoba Sauce. Depending on the amount of ingredients, adjust the amount of sauce. Mix well with tongs. Serve garnished with dried seaweed powder and pickled ginger (optional.
Notes: My secret ingredient is to pour beer over the yakisoba instead of water to steam it. It gives it richer flavor.
If you want to cook something different on the iron griddle at a beach party, “hirayachi,” a savory Okinawan-style pancake-like dish is just the ticket, according to Satoshi Yogi, the owner of Chuo Meat in Futenma City. Hirayachi means cooked flat in Okinawa dialect. It is very easy to cook.
- 1 1/5 cups flour
- 1 egg
- green onions
- 2 2/5 cups water
- dashinomoto (dry soup stock base)
Direction: Mix the egg, water, flour, dashinomoto and salt in a bowel well, then add green onions. Heat oil on the griddle, then add mixture and cook on each side until slightly browned. Serve with yakisoba sauce or similar sweet thick sauce.
Note: you can add any ingredient to hirayachi, such as fish cake or spinach, to make your own original version.
Japanese Barbeque Marinade:
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup mirin (sweet cooking rice wine)
- ¼ cup sake
- 2 table spoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon miso
- 2 teaspoons grated garlic
- 1 teaspoons sesame seed oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- ½ apple
Directions: Put miso, soy sauce, sugar, sake and mirin into a pot and heat. Stop the heat right before it boils. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well and refrigerate. Some people add hot pepper to make it spicy.
Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Chicken
Although a popular Hawaiian dish, this is sure to be a hit on Okinawa as well. It is often served with rice. Let the chicken soak in the marinade for at least an hour, the longer the better. "
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground paprika (optional)
- 5 pounds skinless chicken thighs
Directions: Whisk together the soy sauce, brown sugar, water, garlic, onion, ginger, black pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and paprika in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the chicken thighs, and toss to evenly coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat, and lightly oil the grate. Remove the chicken thighs from the marinade. Discard the remaining marinade. Grill the chicken thighs on the preheated grill until cooked through, about 15 minutes per side.
Ash's Grilled Bacon Wrapped Scallops
- scallops (2 -3 per skewer)
- bacon (sliced, enough for each scallop)
- ¼ cup Butter
- 1 tablespoon garlic power
- 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
- shikuwasa or lime, whole (1 for every 3 skewers)
- wood skewers
Directions: Fire up grill and set coals for indirect grilling. Place skewers in water flavored with a little shikuwasa or lime juice added for at least 1 hour. Rinse off scallops and wrap outside edge with bacon. Skewer through bacon and scallop where bacon overlaps. (I like to use 2 skewers, about a finger width apart. It is a little easier to handle.) Put butter, Garlic powder and Old Bay into small grill pan and place on grill to melt (you just want it to melt, not boil or burn) and stir. Once melted, set the pan away from direct heat, but keep it warm. You can make more if you need it. Baste the skewers on both sides and sear them on both sides over the coals, and then set them up for indirect grilling. Baste one side, then cover for 5 minutes or so, then flip them, baste again and cover the grill for 5 more minutes. If you want them more crunchy, put them back over the fire for a minute or so each side. Place on plate and squeeze some shikuwasa on them.
– Okinawa Grill Masters
Tofu Goya Salad
- 1/3 goya (better melon)
- ½ tomato 1/2 fruit
- ½ package tofu (momentofu) 1/2 package
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking rice wine)
Directions: Mix soy sauce, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and mirin, then set aside to use as dressing. Dice-cut tofu and tomato. Slice goya and gently squeeze goya with 1 table spoon salt about 30 seconds, then wash and dry. (This is to reduce the bitter taste of the goya.) Put the tofu on the serving dish first, then goya on the tofu, and top off with tomato. Add dressing and serve.
–Yuko Jones, Okinawa.com
Okinawan Spinach Salad
This is a simple side-salad that uses a local green sometimes called "Okinawan spinach," but more commonly known as “handama” on island.
- 2 leaves iceberg lettuce
- 4 leaves Okinawan spinach (handama)
- 1 tablespoon diced red onion
- 2 cherry tomatoes (quartered)
- 1 teaspoon herbed croutons
- 1 tablespoon salad dressing, of choice (I used a creamy French-style cheese dressing)
- 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (cracked)
Directions: Rinse, strain, and tear lettuce and spinach greens into large bite-size chunks. Toss with onion, tomatoes, and croutons. Drizzle on dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Okinawan Tuna Salad
- 1 large can tuna
- 1/2 lb short pasta (cooked al dente and cooled)
- 1 bell pepper chopped
- 1 tomato chopped (and seeded if desired – I like the extra tang)
- 1 cucumber cubed
- 1/4 head cabbage finely chopped
- 6 garlic chives finely chopped
- Juice of 2 shikwasa
- 1/4 cup Mayonnaise
- 2 Tbs milk ?
- Rice Vinegar
- Sweet Rice Wine (mirin)
- Soy Sauce
Directions: Mix cucumber, cabbage, and chives together, squeeze juice of 2 shikwasa over mixture and stir in, on the side blend 1/4 cup mayo, milk, a little rice vinegar (1-2 tablespoons), sweet cooking rice (around the same amount as the vinegar), soy sauce (1-2 tsp?), and pepper all to taste. Mixture will be a little runny, pour over cabbage. Put tuna in a medium bowl and flake with a fork, add pasta and remaining ingredients except tomato, stir until well blended. Add tomatoes and toss gently, serve chilled.
Note: The taste improves with time because the flavors blend more thoroughly.
Ninjin Shirishiri (Shredded Carrots)
This Okinawan dish is very quick and easy to prepare, but also tasty. If you tell an Okinawan you had ninjin shirishiri for lunch they will know exactly what you ate. It can be cooked at home in a pan or on a griddle at the beach.
Directions: Shred yellow or orange carrots and sauté them in oil on the griddle for a few minutes (sauté longer if you like them softer). Next scramble an egg or two and sauté with the carrots. Add salt to taste.