A must for foodies looking for quality fare in a traditional Okinawan setting
Naha restaurant Sui Dunchi comes exactly as described — in the Okinawan dialect, it literally means a Shuri mansion for upper-class samurai.
The eatery does everything for patrons except putting a robe on them and strapping on a blade. It opened in 2007 in the shadow of Shuri Castle, four years after its owners opened Omoro Dunchi, also in Naha. The restaurant’s theme is a creative take on old-fashioned Okinawan cuisine.
For foodies looking for high-quality fare in a traditional Okinawan setting, or for those who pray upon the altar of all things swine, Sui Dunchi is required eating.
The restaurant is a porthole back in time, nestled on the Kinjo cobbled path, which was built by Okinawan King Sho Shin during the golden age of the Ryukyu kingdom in the 16th century. The road, paved with Ryukyu limestone, once connected Shuri Castle and Naha’s port, one of many similar cobbled paths that served as the kingdom’s arteries.
The path is the epitome of traditional Okinawa and was originally about 10 kilometers long. It hosted famed American naval officer Commodore Matthew Perry when he visited the kingdom in 1853 and 1854 on his way to and from Japan. It was largely destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, but about 20 percent of the original stones remain, serving as part of the 300-meter-long path that can be seen today.
In the era of the Ryukyu kingdom, Kinjo was a town for the warrior class, government officials and artisans who worked for the royal family. Today, it is the site of Sui Dunchi.
Sui Dunchi observes traditional Okinawan architecture, flanked with clay pots, with outdoor seating areas and beautiful lush gardens and a reflecting pool, perfect for large or intimate gatherings. Inside, the private booths built into the floor offer authenticity as well as privacy. It’s a great venue for formal and informal affairs.
The food is fresh. In 2009, the restaurant’s owners founded their own pork farm in Kunigami, where they raise indigenous black-haired pigs called Agu.
Agu pork has a light taste and its fat is soft and melts in the mouth. It is one of Sui Dunchi’s many specialties and is served in a number of ways, grilled and lightly seasoned for 720 yen (about $7), or cooked in a sweet broth for 750 yen (about $7.30). All are delicious.
The restaurant tops its pork-fried rice with generous hunks of the delicious fresh meat, also for 750 yen.
Sui Dunchi also specializes in squid-ink yakisoba, which was fried to perfection. It featured generous helpings of fresh vegetables and pork to go along with the black noodles and was topped with dried-fish shavings. Like the pork dishes, the yakisoba was affordable at 500 yen.
The green-onion tempura batter was light and crisp and devoid of grease deposits, making it another must-try item. The portion size was large enough for two at a cost of 680 yen.
The eatery also has an awamori museum on site and a display featuring all 47 awamori breweries on Okinawa.
Sui Dunchi’s food was amazing enough to put Okinawa on the culinary map, and it seems a lot more affordable than it should be. It will surely make you feel like royalty without paying a king’s ransom.
Location: 2-81 Shuri Kinjo-cho, Naha, Okinawa. There are other branches, called Omoro Dunchi, in Naha and Higashi, Hiroshima.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. to midnight for dinner daily.
Prices: Generous portions of food to share in the Japanese manner start anywhere from 500 yen (about $4.85) and go to just under 1,000 yen (about $9.70).
Directions: Visit sui-dunchi.com/map.html
Information: 098-885-6161; www.sui-dunchi.com