Enjoy authentic Yaeyama dishes on Okinawa
Tantei is a reservation-only restaurant where you can experience the flavors of traditional Yaeyama dishes.
You may have heard of or tasted Ryukyuan cuisine, which is rooted to the Ryukyu Dynasty (1429-1879) on the mainland of Okinawa. However, very few have heard of Yaeyaman cuisine, which is the local food of the Yaeyama Islands, located 270 miles south-west of the mainland of Okinawa.
“Food on the islands is significantly different from that of mainland Okinawa,” says Reiko Miyagi, owner of Tantei.
According to Miyagi, Yaeyama dishes have delicate and elaborate taste and texture, combining saltiness, sweetness and sourness. “We use more vegetables and fish than Okinawan mainlanders do,” she said. “Instead, we don’t use as much pork, potatoes and seaweed as Okinawans.”
The Yaeyama Islands developed its unique culinary art while entertaining dispatched officials from the Ryukyu Dynasty.
Miyagi was born on Ishigakijima Island, one of the main islands of the Yaeyama archipelago. Since her family has passed the recipes of traditional cuisine from generation to generation, she mastered them and opened a restaurant in Naha City 22 years ago.
Today, her restaurant is very popular, and has repeatedly been featured in various food magazines and on television shows.
“Not only locals, but people from all over the nation and foreign countries visit my restaurant to sample Yaeyama dishes,” Miyagi said.
Miyagi orders fresh products directly from Ishigakijima. “Local vegetables, such as adan (screw-pine tree), ootaniwatari (fern sprouts) and shiitake mushrooms, along with smoked cuttlefish, are some of the main ingredients,” she said. “Various types of dashi broth made from kelp, bonito and vegetables also play an important role in the dishes.”
In the Yaeyaman cuisine, Takiawase (mixture of boiled foods), saihan (vegetable rice) and fermented pickles are the three most important dishes, according to Miyagi.
Fermented pickles are usually served as an appetizer. “It really goes along with any type of drink,” she said.
Takiawase consists of 10 different vegetables boiled separately and then put together just before serving, allowing the different flavors of the vegetables to be enjoyed at once. Saihan is vegetables on rice sprinkled with special dashi broth.
“These dishes are not only tasty but also very colorful,” Miyagi said.
“You can get a good taste of Yaeyama dishes by ordering Tantei’s set dishes,” Miyagi said. Currently, Tantei offers two lunch sets for 3,000 yen and 5,000 yen ($25-$42), and five dinner sets, ranging from 7,000 to 20,000 yen ($58-$167).
All these sets contain the three main dishes and several side dishes of local mountain vegetables, goya (bitter cucumber) jelly, homemade tofu (bean curd) and peanut soup. For dinner sets, sashimi (raw fish), semiebi (slipper lobster) and various types of seaweed are also served, depending on the set.
Since Tantei stands on a high point of Naha City, you can look down at Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while enjoying the exquisite traditional delicacies.
Yaeyama Ryori Tantei
Hours: Tue - Sun, 11 - 3 p.m., 6-10 p.m. (must make reservation)
Address: 2-40-1 Shuriakahira Town, Naha City (10-minute walk from Shuri Station of Yui-rail)