Instructor Kae Izena demonstrates proper cooking technique for the students. (Photos by Shoji Kudaka, Stripes Okinawa)
Instructor Kae Izena demonstrates proper cooking technique for the students. (Photos by Shoji Kudaka, Stripes Okinawa)

Book your next Okinawan cuisine experience at Kae Project

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

Ryukyu cuisine is known to be the key to longevity amongst Okinawans, and you may be able to get a taste of many dishes at any local izakaya pub. But what makes it so healthy and can anyone make it?

Kae Project, a cooking school in Yomitan Village, is working to demystify the food of the island for both the younger generation of Okinawans and foreign visitors alike.

Under the motto “Shoku wo Tooshite Okinawa wo Genkini Kenkouni,” or “to help Okinawa be full of health through food,” the school focuses on teaching healthy cooking through Okinawan recipes. Through byFood, an experience and restaurant booking platform, participants can book cooking classes at the school which range from weekly courses to oneday and cooking party-style classes.

In the Okinawa cooking class, students learn about the origins of the island’s traditional food and how and why it came to be internationally acclaimed. Unique aspects of Okinawa’s food culture are highlighted, like the use of seaweed, which is rich in minerals, or that of bonito and pork soup stocks. You will also learn about renowned research on Okinawans’ longevity and local food culture through slides prepared in English.

After the brief, it’s time to get your hands dirty in the kitchen. Students follow at their workspaces as teacher Kae Izena cooks in the main kitchen. For the Okinawan food theme, menu items range from common local dishes such as Jushi (rice cooked with various ingredients), Inamuduchi (white-miso soup), Soki Jiru (soup with pork spare ribs) to those that are not often seen these days, such as Minudaru (steamed pork loin with black sesame sauce) and Sefan (rice with bonito broth topped with vegetables).

The school pairs up several dishes for each class to make it a balanced, healthy meal. One example is, Goya Chanpuru (stir-fry with bitter melon), Jushi, Rafte (braised pork belly), Yushi Dofu (unsolidified Okinawan tofu) and Chinsuko (Okinawan cookie).

Similar to your high school science class, the classroom is made up of six tables with four students each, who share the tasks of cooking the meals.

While the students cook, Izena and her assistant, Kaori Uehara, oversee the students and offer tips to ensure the cooking is successful. At the end of a class, students get to try the meal they’ve prepared.

The one-day class, which is about 3 hours long, appeals to students regardless of whether or not they have experience with Okinawan food.

“I do cook Okinawan food at home sometimes,” said Lina Nakama, who joined the class with her friends.

“There were some procedures that I didn’t know. I used to soak Goya in water. I didn’t know that was bad. And I did not know that Okinawans use pork broth for Jushi. So next time I make Jushi, I think I will use pork broth,” she said with a smile.

Dayana Harrison, another student, said she enjoyed the cooking lesson. “I liked the history and the background on why it was healthier. I think that was my favorite.”

Harrison, who is originally from Colombia, found some similarities and difference between Okinawa and Colombian cuisines.

In Colombia, Harrison said, there is also a focus on fresh ingredients and some of the ingredients she used in the class are similar to those in her home country.

“We have a cucumber that’s similar to Goya. But it’s not bitter, it’s sweet. We always cook rice and vegetables. So those were similar,” Harrison noted, adding that she would be following the recipes from the class to cook something up for her husband.


(From left to right) Lina Nakama, Kadie Hildebran and Pias Pak prepare to cook pork belly.

According to the teacher Izena, who also serves as the director/nutrition manager of the school, Ryukyu cuisine was developed through exchanges with foreign countries and was the royal palace’s official selection when it hosted guests.

Thus, teaching recipes and skills to those from foreign countries can be put in the historical context of the local cuisine.

“I want them to notice that Ryukyu cuisine is tasty,” Izena said. “When they go back, I hope they let others know that as well.”

Students at Kae Project school have many options on learning this royal cuisine. The school offers weekly courses designed to prepare students to be certified cooking instructors, starting with basics of food and cooking. The one-day course, on the other hand, takes a more casual approach, introducing students to cooking of specific themes in a fun and relaxed manner. There are three themes to choose from: Okinawa cuisine, medical, health and beauty.

kudaka.shoji@stripes.com

Kae Project via byFood

GPS Coordinates: N 26.374885, E 127.755673 (2nd floor of building A of Synergy Square)
Tel: 098-989-9530
Website: https://www.byfood.com/experiences/ryukyu-cuisine-cooking-class-in-okinawa-279
About byFood: ByFood is Japan’s one-stop food platform for food tours, cooking classes, dining experiences, and tastings. ByFood strives to offer rare experiences and make Japanese food accessible for all with filters for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, halal, and kosher experiences.  In doing so, byFood brings locals and visitors together through food and celebrates Japanese cuisine.

In addition, byFood also gives to children in need through our Food for Happiness Program. And you can help, too! When you book an experience on byFood, a portion of the proceeds goes toward NGOs that support children in developing countries, giving them access to necessities like nutritious meals, schools, and housing.

* Fee for one-day class is 6,000 yen (approx. $55). Participants are expected to bring an apron, towel, notebook and pen for notetaking.
* The school accepts beginners. Notify the school ahead if a specific dish or special arrangements are necessary.

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