Traditional Okinawan restaurant serves up real deal
Anyone in search of a meal with an authentic local taste will be pleased to find Irohatei, a restaurant specializing in traditional Okinawan cuisine. Fittingly, it can be found on Ishidatammi (rock paved road), a well-known attraction just south of historic Shuri Castle in Naha City.
This restaurant was established by renovating an old-fashioned Okinawan home. It has classic tatami mat floors and “horigotatsu,” those short squat tables with a hole in the floor underneath (thankfully) to give the illusion of dining at the table on your knees in a traditional manner.
In all, Irohatei can accommodate about 45 people, according to the owner Masatsune Tsukayama.
“Since the restaurant is a part of our house, you can feel like you are visiting your Okinawan friends,” he said. “You can see an Okinawan style garden filled with various flowers in season from the rooms, too.”
This restaurant is very popular and is often featured national and local media on such networks as NHK and RBC. Famous talents and celebrities, such as the illusionist Princess Tenko visited there, according to the shop’s homepage.
It is, however, not only popular among Japanese but to the U.S. service members, as well.
“There are a lot of foreigners visiting us,” Tsukayama said. “Some Americans who are married to locals come here all the time, and others who are currently living abroad often drop by here when they come back home.”
At this restaurant, you can sample traditional Okinawan cuisine – both those once served to Ryukyu royalty as well as old-fashion home-cooked – dishes at reasonable prices.
The Ishidatami Set at Irohatei is a lunchtime favorite that includes traditional fare with fresh local ingredients for 1,500 yen ($15). This sampler set contains 10 or 11 popular Okinawan dishes, including “kubuirichi” (fried fare), “inamuruchi” (soup) and “umukujiandagi (a deep-fried dish). It offers a unique overview of some of Okinawa’s must-try traditional dishes, according to Tsukayama.
“Uchinaa (Ryukyu) cuisine is quite different from what you eat in mainland Japan,” he said. “It uses more oil, meat, seaweeds and potatoes.”
“Pork is, definitely, a main ingredient in this type of cuisine year round,” he added.
Traditional Okinawan dishes are often considered healthy and a main contributor to the famed longevity of Okinawans.
“In Okinawa, food is called ‘nuchigusui’ (life medicine),” Tsukayama explained. “It is not only tasty, but also good for your health.”
You can enjoy even wider selection of Okinawan foods with the restaurant’s two dinner options, the Shuri set for 3,000 yen and the Shurijo set for 4,000 yen. Each consists of 14 or 15 different dishes to sample.
Irohatei offers almost every brand “awamori,” of Okinawa’s signature traditional liquor, too.
Irohatei is a great place to stop by on your stroll around Shuri Castle. Being a very popular restaurant, reservations are highly recommended.
Photo courtesy of Irohatei