Kouri Island eatery serves up bowls of bliss
An old Ryukyuan legend has it that a young couple accidentally fell from the sky onto Kouri Island, becoming the first inhabitants of what we know call the Okinawan islands.
As beautiful as it is mysterious, this tiny island is an ideal day trip. And the rice-bowl dishes topped with fresh local ingredients served at Shirasa Shokudo make it an ideal eatery for anyone to drop in on.
Luckily, you needn’t take to the skies to get there.
You can drive to Kouri Island from Okinawa Island by way of the 1.3-mile-long Kouri Bridge – Japan’s third-longest toll-free bridge.
“The view from our restaurant is fantastic,” says owner Sonoko Kikuchi. Located smack-dab in the middle of a sightseeing attraction, most patrons are travelers. “From here, you can see all of majestic Kouri Bridge with the beautiful white beach and blue sea right in front of you.”
Shirasa Shokudo’s popular “kaisen-don,” or seafood bowl, for 1,500 yen ($13) is an attraction unto itself. It comes with large servings of tuna, salmon, white fish and “umibudo,” the local favorite “sea grape” type of seaweed with a crispy texture that pops in the mouth like caviar. The dish is garnished with various seasonal vegetables and, if available, island octopus. It’s all served atop vinegar-seasoned rice.
The umibudo-don (sea grape bowl), for 1,200 yen, is another option.
Both of these bowls are seasoned with Shirasa Shokudo’s original sauce made from sesame oil and salt.
“Although soy sauce is usually used for rice-bowl dishes, we don’t use it because its dark-brown color spoils the colors of other ingredients,” Kukuchi explains. “Our house-made transparent sauce can keep or even brighten the colors of the other ingredients while highlighting the flavor of each fresh local food.”
According to Kikuchi, all the dishes in her restaurant are cooked completely from scratch.
“We don’t use any precooked stuff in our dishes,” she says. “In order to serve dishes made 100-percent from scratch, we always start preparing our ingredients at 3 a.m.”
In addition to these rice-bowls, the restaurant offers taco rice, fried rice, and “goya champuru” (bitter melon stir fry). It used to offer its extremely popular “uni-don” (sea urchin bowl) but has since removed it from the menu temporarily due to a decrease in the local sea urchin population, according to Kikuchi.
“Sea urchin cannot be cultured,” she says. “So instead of using imported sea urchin as a substitute, we decided to stop serving it until the local population increases.”
The restaurant’s seating options include tables as well as traditional tatami floor seating, accommodating about 80 people in all.
Be sure to try Shirasa Shokudo during your next drive to Kouri Island. Better yet – now you have one more reason drop in on this mysterious island.
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 176 Kouri, Imajinson, Kunigami-gun (40-minutes’ drive from Kyoda I.C. of Okinawa Jidoshado expressway)
Photo courtesy of Shirasa Shokudo