Mild Okinawan cuisine tailored to tourists tastes
Americans determined not to let their sensitive palates stop them from discovering the authentic flavors of Okinawa just might find a friend for life in Nakaya Shokudo.
With 40 classics ranging from Okinawan soba to “goya champuru” (bitter melon stir fry) to “porku tamago” (Spam and eggs), this downhome eatery in Naha City prides itself on having some kind of local dish for just about everyone.
Moreover, its mission is to win over newbies to Okinawan cuisine with milder flavors, according to owner Terri Nakama.
“We try to cook dishes lightly seasoned so that anyone can enjoy them without being bothered by local flavors that may be to bitter or spicy,” she says. Those keen on bolder flavors, she adds, will find bottled seasonings readily available at each table as condiments to customize their meals.
Nakaya Shokudo’s mild flavors are known for attracting tourists and health-conscious locals alike. It is cited in various guidebooks for both tasty and healthy local dishes. Nakama says that all her dishes also are free of artificial additives.
Nakama and her husband opened shop two decades ago as a noodle house. Based on customer requests, she says, they have increased the number of menu offerings gradually over the years to become the popular local restaurant that it is today.
The restaurant offers such dishes as fluffy “yushi-dofu” tofu, “tebichi” (stewed pigs’ feet) and “rafutee” (stewed pork belly). However, the cooks’ noodle knowhow is still at the heart of the menu.
“All of our dishes start with our basic noodle broth,” says Nakama. From there, each is built upon accordingly.
Okinawa soba noodles goes for 500 yen ($4), while “soki saba,” soba topped with pork, are 700 yen. These are customer favorites, according to Nakama, for the chewy, al dente noodles that pair well with the gently flavored broth of stewed pork bone and bonito flakes.
Located on bustling Kumoji Street near Yu-rail’s Kencho-Mae Station, Nakama says that Nakaya Shokudo is no stranger to U.S. military members either.
“They always ask for fried rice on their first visit,” she says. “But, you know, we are a local Okinawan restaurant and we don’t have fried or seasoned rice dishes.”
That’s not to say Nakama is unsympathetic to American culinary sensibilities. Attracting them along with those of other foreign visitors is, after all, the motive behind Nakaya Shokudo’s signature mild dishes. In fact, the owner is a U.S. military brat.
She says that as a child both her parents, who are third-generation Japanese Americans, were Marines stationed on Okinawa where she attended school at Camp Foster.
“When I was in elementary school, I was presented with a large ‘Stars and Stripes Award’ plaque for being best student of the year,” she says. She adds that in ninth grade she moved to Hawaii where she lived for 10 years before returning to Okinawa and marring. Needless to say, she is able to accommodate patrons in fluent English.
So if you’re curious about the local cuisine and want to ease your way into it, what better way than to drop into Nakaya Shokudo? You just might make a new friend.
Photo courtesy of Nakaya Shokudo
Open: Mon-Fri, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 6 p.m.-10 p.m., Sat – Sun, 12 a.m.-4 p.m., 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
Address: 3-7-10 Kumoji, Naha City (7-minute walk from Kencho-mae station of Yu-rail)