Remember the movie Karate Kid 2? Where Mr. Miyagi goes back to Okinawa to get his honor back? If you do, that is about the extent of Okinawan culture most people experience (time to take in more, and I do not mean Karate Kid 3).
What he meant by honor was to honor his stomach by eating some bitter melon, an ingredient in signature Okinawan dishes like goya chanpuru which is a stir-fry of bitter melon, tofu, egg, and sliced pork or Spam. Since Mr. Miyagi likes his alcohol, you know he washed it all down with an Okinawan brewed Orion beer. All of which was the honorable way to do it. *cue Peter Cetera “Glory of Love.”*
Okinawans (Ryukyuan) Are Japanese, but the Cuisine Has Some Distinctive Differences
Even though Hawaii is part of the United States, the culture of Hawaii is dramatically different from the mainland, much like Okinawa is to Japan.
“Okinawa (Japan) is 0.04 times as big as Hawaii (US).”– MapFight.xyz
Habuya Has a Cool Interior With a Lot of Character
One of the coolest interiors in Orange County because a lot of the art in the restaurant was done by the owner Mayumi Vargas herself.
“Goya champuru with bitter melon is a signature Okinawan dish, and do not for the Spam.”
If you are one of my latino homies, you have no issue saying “goya” and you probably will not struggle saying “champuru” either.
Distinctively Okinawan Dishes/Foods
Goya chanpuru $6.80, is one of the most iconic Okinawan dishes, so don’t pass it up when putting your order in.
This was my first time having umi budou, and if you want to get all fancy, the latin name for this type of algae is called “caulerpa lentillifera.”
“They are considered a good source of vitamins A and C, calcium, zinc and iron. They also contain a high level of vegetable protein per calorie and a good amount of omega3 fatty acids too.“– favy-jp.com “Sea Grapes are Known as Umibudo in Japan.”
How was my sashimi and umi budou salad? Think fresh and crunchy algae/seaweed (it is nothing like tiny grapes) mixed with fresh salmon and tako sashimi. All those ingredients amount to an epic salad well worth the money.
Japanese restaurants typically have either a grilled (teba) or a deep-fried (tebasaki karaage) chicken wing. Regardless how they are prepared, you won’t get the overcooked wing you would find at an American chicken wing restaurant.
The Owner of Habuya, Mayumi’san
There are always the occasional hand drawn and written signage and promo’s on the tables. The amount of time it takes to creates these just reflects on how much effort Mayumi’san puts into her business.
Okinawa soba is not buckwheat/wheat noodles, and they are closer to udon noodles. The broth is also like a shoyu (soy sauce) broth. Nice way to confuse the f*ck out of you.
The Rest of the Menu at Habuya Okinawan Dining
Yea, they do a very basic shoyu ramen here and a number of other noodle dishes which are just aiggghhhht, but throw that in with a number of other items and drinks, and we coo.
Okinawans do eat dessert, and I think they typically have daifuku which is an anko/azuki filled mochi or a yuzu sherbert (I like both).
The art here can be called art versus your IKEA KNOPPÄNG print hanging in your dining room.
Characteristics of Okinawan Cuisine
- Okinawan dishes are a combination of S.E. Asian, Chinese, and American influences due to trade or the U.S. presence in Okinawa.
- Common or signature ingredients are goya (bitter melon), turmeric, miso, salt, kombu, and katsuobushi.
- I found this surprising, but due to a number of factors from the hot climate, religion, to the surrounding types of fish species, seafood is not a huge part of the Okinawan diet.
- This is a good one, it’s quotes about Okinawan cuisine which goes that it: “begins with pig and ends with pig” and “every part of a pig can be eaten except its hooves and its oink.”
Popular Okinawan Dishes and Drinks
Here are a few of the most distinctive Okinawan dishes that are a combination of S.E. Asian, Chinese, and American influences due to trade or the U.S. presence in Okinawa.
- Gōyā chanpurū (bitter melon, egg, and pork)
- Okinawa soba (the base stock is like ramen)
- Rafute (braised pork belly)
- Taco rice (Americanized taco ingredients with rice)
- Tofuyo (fermented tofu)
- Umi-budo (sea grapes/algae)
- Awamori (a dialcohol unique to Okinawa made of long-grain indica rice from Thailand)
- Orion (brand of beer from Okinawa)
If I had an Okinawan bucket list of food experiences, it would be to try taco rice (yea, I’m aiming for the moon and one can dream).
Are You Okinawan or Japanese
This took some research because I knew there were some distinct differences when calling somebody from Taiwan, “Chinese.” Something you may want to have a sensitivity to because just like Taiwan is an island off of China, Okinawa is also a tiny little island off the Southwest tip of Japan. Both countries have their own distinctive roots and culture much like Hawaii does in contrast to the mainland U.S.
Okinawa is part of an island chain called the Ryukuan islands, and they are considered a part of Japan. The indigenous people of these islands are called Ryukuan or Lechewan. There’s a bunch of subgroups within the population, and Okinawans are considered to be a part of it because even though they do speak Japanese, and their nationality is Japanese, they are still considered Japan’s largest minority group with 1.3 million living in Okinawa or dispersed outside of Japan, mostly in Hawaii.
So after reading all that, and if you still feel the way I do which is like Hank Hill:
Hank: So are you Chinese or Japanese?
Kahn: I live in California last twenty years, but first come from Laos.
Kahn: Laos. We Laotian.
Bill: The ocean? What ocean?
Kahn: We are Laotian. From Laos, stupid! It’s a landlocked country in Southeast Asia. It’s between Vietnam and Thailand, okay? Population 4.7 million.
Hank: (pause) So, are you Chinese or Japanese?
If that is you, you need to read Kelly Yamamoto’s response about “Do Okinawans identify themselves as Japanese first, or Okinawan? The answer is so well done (I love it), so go read the entire response – probably one of the best things I have read in a long time.
“To Japanese people on the US mainland, whether they are Japanese nationals or Japanese Americans, I’ll usually say I’m from Hawaii, so they know I don’t identify primarily as Japanese and that I have a slightly different generational history than Japanese Americans from the mainland (i.e. no WWII internment camps, less discrimination).”– Kelly Yamamoto, via Quora
It Is Not Just Pat Morita’s Character in the Karate Kid Who Have Okinawan Roots
How about some famous celebrities with a Okinawan connection:
- Tamlyn Tomita, the actress best known for her role in “The Karate Kid, Part II” who is a a quarter Filipina.
- Brian Tee, the actor best known for “Fast and the Furious, Tokyo Drift” was born in Okinawa, but left when he two years old. He is of Japanese and Korean ethnicity.
- Merle Dandridge, the actress in “The Last of Us” was born in Okinawa, and she is of Korean, Japanese and African-American heritage.
- Namie Amuro, is a musician and actress, and she was born in Okinawa. She is a quarter Italian and Japanese.
Where Da Hell Is Okinawa
Where is Okinawa? It’s that tiny little island that I circled in red. For a closer look in and around Okinawa via Google Maps, click this link or Google Earth here.
Where to Eat Okinawan Food in California
Here’s your chance of getting a taste of Okinawan cuisine in Orange County, California without doing a 22 hour flight from SNA to OKA for about $1k.
Habuya Okinawan Dining
14125 Red Hill Ave
Tustin, CA 92780
Instagram: Mayumi’san, the owner of Habuya is amazingly creative, so a lot her work adorns the menu, the walls, to the artists she has performing in her business regardless how tiny her venue is, it doesn’t stop her from having musicians and other entertainers. So don’t miss out on the food and entertainment, and make sure you add her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/habuya2010/