Longevity and serving authentic Okinawan soul food for over 40 years

Translation by Satsuki Uno

Okinawan local cuisine is obscure even for Japanese, and if known is an acquired taste. So when I landed in Okinawa, I wanted to have exotically Okinawan-sounding foods--like Mimiga, goya, chanpuru, nabera--thinking those labels embody the regional cuisine.

But I was wrong, and for their "soul food," the philosophy is just as important as its taste.

"Can you even earn money making this?"

5105650963054592

Located in the backstreet of Kokusai street, Yunagi has become one of the popular restaurants for local customers and tourists alike. More oversea tourists have come in thanks to TripAdvisor, so be prepared for a long queue.

On the back of the menu of the restaurant is a photograph dating back to 1970. Wood blocks rawly spell out the name in romaji--Yunangi. Instead of the usual Izakaya staples or traditional Japanese foods, Aiko Tsujino, the "mom," of Yunagi, tells us of the cuisine's familial roots.

Rafute, chanpuru and awamori are all family meals. So, Okinawan people were surprised and said, ‘You’re taking money for this?’ But now so many people visit here just to have Okinawan meals," said Tsujino.

5672749318012928

She served us thick rafute, rich with an awamori liquor reduction. Rafute is usually soy sauce-based so I was surprised to see the miso-based rafute, but it’s wonderfully delicious.

“Okinawan local cuisine is rooted in home cooking. Yet the seasoning and preparation differ depending on the families making the meal. Our own rafute are seasoned with our family-original miso, which is not-so common even for other locals.”

5749328048029696

Menu line-up that endures

In spite of the popularity, Yunagi has shunned setting or grasping trends, instead sticking to its homegrown tradition.

"That Okinawan cuisine has become a trend, or become known as food that helps promote a long life expectancy is a bit strange to us. We haven’t changed our recipe for 40 years, in spite of the environment around us having changed a lot.”

After listening to Tsujino-san’s story, I was now ready to have a course meal of the island's soul food.

Yunangi's A-meal set (2,900 yen)

5134473146400768

Yunangi’s A-meal set consists of:
- Rafute
- Gurukun
- Fu Champloo
- Mimiga
- Jimami Tofu
- Karasu Dofu
- Kubu irichi
- Inamuruchi
- Rice
- Oshinko (pickles)

There’s enough to serve two people.

4878221707313152

Fu champloo is a mix of fu (wheat gluten) and corned beef. The harmonious mix of the two are delightfully addictive.

5752754626625536

Okinawa’s representative fish, Takasago, is deep fried and called Gurukun no karaage.

4855880898052096

The soup, inamuruchi, is also served during celebratory occasions.

4896606314823680

Kubuirichi is made from seaweed, which is full of minerals. It also lines up with chanpuru and rafute as Okinawa’s archetypal cuisine, known to contribute to Okinawans' long life expectancy.

5085604337418240

Karasudofu is a side dish that pairs well with alcohol, consisting of salty Sukugarasu fish and tofu.

Mimiga is vinegared pig’s ears, which is unexpectedly light in flavor and easy on the palette.

5989177275449344

This wasn’t part of the meal, but I also wanted to try out the nabera miso blend. Nabera is sponge gourd, blended with Yunangi’s homemade miso. It's not popular even for the locals, but many customers told them that they started to like Nabera after having Yunangi’s.

6004121614155776

Whether the cuisine actually leads to longevity, Yunagi's unique, unpretentious flavor shows its popularity is here to stay.

Yunangi
Location: 3-3-3 Kumoji Naha-shi Okinawa prefecture
TEL: 098-867-3765
Open: Noon 12:00 to 15:00, Evening 17:30 to 22:30

Photos by JAPAN LOCAL
Kurousagi's goya chanpuru challenges Okinawan fast food culture
Following the Second World War, Western-influence into Okinawan food is undeniable. According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, "U.S food p...
Kinichi Soba takes Okinawa soba to the next level with "raw noodles"
Ramen, udon, soba are noodle staples for Japanese cuisine, but Okinawa soba has a unique historical background and flavor all its own. Using thicke...
Okinawan Awamori liquor harkens back to forgotten Ryukyu glory
Awamori Warehouse is a membership-based bar in Naha city exclusively serving Awamori, a unique Okinawan distilled liquor with a 600-year history. B...
Togatsuke: A sugary taste of Okinawa's old kingdom
It’s difficult for me to choose souvenirs. After all the deliberation about what to get for my family and friends back home, I usually end up defau...
Bacar, an Okinawa restaurant where servers run to bring you piping hot authentic pizza
When a local connection first introduced Bacar to me, I couldn’t conjure much excitement. Pizza in Okinawa, of all places?Plus, in an age where we’...
8 Okinawa spots with exquisite views
I wish it was summer.For those feeling the same, I'd like to introduce you to eight scenic spots in Okinawa I have encountered throughout this trip...
Best time to enjoy Captain Kangaroo's towering hamburger in Okinawa is 11am
One simple rule to remember when you go to Captain Kangaroo: Go there at 11am and never during lunch hours. The reasons are simple: I want be serve...
Spring Valley Brewery's craft beers and food are fitting for Kyoto, the Old Capital's Kitchen
Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, fondly known as the Old Capital’s kitchen, is a highly popular spot for eating and walking, known for the quality of its fo...
For all budgets: 12 restaurants to eat in Shibuya
Dining in Shibuya is a double-edged sword for visitors. On one hand, the scale and density of the city means there’s no shortage of restaurants, wh...
For the best seafood when traveling, head to the local fish market
In Nichinan city of Miyazaki Prefecture--famous for its pole-caught katsuo (bonito)--there are any number of spots where you can find great seafood...
Cafe Subaco embodies the chill Okinawan life.
I dreamed of working remotely from here.Cafe Subaco is at top of the hill of Kitanakaguson, a small town known for its residences resembling someth...
Finding a cool hangout cafe in the most unexpected of places in Okinawa
Chatan is a town that sounds almost as alien to the ears of Japanese as it is to foreigners, since the “cha” and “tan” come from irregular pronunci...
Take Eat Easy. Diner with local Miyazaki flair
There's a bar in Obi, the heart of Nichinan city in Miyazaki prefecture where people involved in regional and traditional housing revitalization pr...
8-fingered ex-Yakuza reforms as an Okinawan folk musician, bar owner
Day 3 of my Okinawa trip coverage: Having to withdraw money from the bank, I walked into the bar a bit later than the other crew. As I went through...
The hidden beauty of Okinawa’s waterfalls
If there’s one leisure locale you can associate with Okinawa, it’s the island’s sandy white beaches. But not commonly known by outsiders is its lus...
Head to yakiniku BBQ Baka Ichidai to get stupid stuffed in Okinawa
Hey yakiniku lovers out there—I have a perfect solution for those nights when you feel like letting it all go. Because sometimes, there's nothing w...
Campy signs you may encounter when you visit Iwate in Japan
According to the Japan Tourism Agency, Japan has reached 20 million oversea visitors in 2017, and we’re two years away from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics...
Michelin-rated affordable French bistro is buried in a Shibuya back alley
234: That’s the latest number of Michelin-rated restaurants in Tokyo according to the 2018 guide, more than doubling second-place Osaka and third-p...
Aomori’s beautiful WWI-era Starbucks revamped with local artisans
Starbucks has its own characteristic, if not inert, atmosphere and design, making more people feel welcome. But due to its Seattle, Washington root...