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Okinawa has so many personalities and one of its distinct characters is Okinawa Food, including Okinawa Soba, Sata Andagi, Rafute, abundant seafood, and the unique ocean grape seaweed – Umibudo.
Our family took a trip to Okinawa – the most southern islands of Japan last December. Since it was winter time, we didn’t get to enjoy the famed beautiful sandy beaches but there are so many things to do in Okinawa. From visiting the caves at Okinawa World to seeing the giant whale sharks at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, we got to experience the many personalities of Okinawa and of course, ate all different types of Okinawan food.
Nami shared Okinawan recipes on the blog as I shared our travel experience in Okinawa. Hopefully, our travel tips will come in handy when you are ready to visit this island paradise.
For this travel series, we’ll share the following posts:
- Okinawa World – おきなわワールド (recipe – Rafute)
- Ocean Expo Park and Ryukyu Village – 海洋博物館・琉球村 (recipe – Sata Andagi)
- Shuri Castle and Nakagusuku Castle – 首里城 & 中城城 (recipe – Taco Rice)
- Kokusai Dori, Shikinaen, Busena Marine Park, and Peace Museums – 国際通り, 識名園, ブセナ海中公園 (recipe – Okinawa Soba)
- Okinawa food, rental car, and accommodations
Watch Journey to Okinawa (沖縄) Travel Highlights
Last December, our family traveled to Okinawa (沖縄) the most southern island of Japan and had an amazing time.
Thank you for following our journey to Okinawa and this is the final post in the series. In this post, we’ll share all the delicious Okinawa food we tried on the trip, where we ate, and what we liked. We’ll also share our experience renting and driving a car in Okinawa and where we stayed.
Authentic Okinawa food was quite interesting, it’s not quite like Japanese or Chinese food but there are some similarities yet the flavors and taste profiles are uniquely Okinawan. We made it our goal to try as much local food as we could when we were there. Ready to go eat? Let’s go!
First Makishi Public Market 第一牧志公設市場
You can’t talk about food in Okinawa without mentioning First Makishi Public Market. Opened in 1950 and located in the heart of Naha City, you can experience fresh local seafood, meat, tofu, preserved food, and other produce. There are many entrances to the market from Kokusai Dori (International Street) so don’t worry if you miss one of them.
There are actually 2 parts to the “market”, there is an arcade portion outside where you can find local souvenirs good, salt specialty shops, local snacks, and other packaged food.
You can buy local treats like muchi (similar to mochi) and popo (similar to crepe) at the food stalls in the aracade.
As you browse around the arcade, you will see signs with 第一牧志公設市場. Go on in. This is the inner part and the actual market itself. Inside the market, there’s a full array of fresh produce and meat vendors.
What the market is also known for are the restaurants on the floor above. Once you buy your seafood, the restaurant upstairs will cook it for you for a fee (by per person). This is called mochiage (持ち上げ ). We had a fabulous lunch there and it was really expensive compared to everywhere else we ate. The lunch for the seafood and prepping cost was (¥18,000) for 5 people.
For our lunch, we selected fish, scallops, turban snail, butterfly fan lobster, and shrimps. After purchasing the seafood, we discussed with the stall on how we wanted each of the ingredients to be cooked.
In addition to the seafood we purchase, we also ordered rice balls and Okinawa soba from Ganjudo on the second floor for our meal.
The turban snail and butterfly fan lobster sashimi (ヤコウガイ 夜光貝) were so delicious.
The butterfly fan lobster shell was used to make miso soup.
We are not sure what is the proper negotiation etiquette for buying the seafood in the market. We recommend doing your research so you don’t overpay like we did.
Nagumagai Restaurant 名護曲レストラン
While driving around Okinawa visiting various places, we were always on the hunt for good food, especially Okinawan style cuisine. We found a roadside diner using Tabelog, which is Japan’s version of Yelp but only for food.
The restaurants we tried was Nagumagai Restaurant. Located right near the coast, it’s a partly a grocery store and partly a restaurant. They served mostly local Okinawan dishes and we enjoyed the authenticity of the flavors.
The food was tasty but not refined, but in line with what we expected from a roadside diner.
Onnanoeki Nakayukui Market おんなの駅「なかゆくい市場」
Another stop we made was the food stalls at Nakayukui market. There we tried different types of Okinawa soba, pig feet, and sata andagi (Okinawan donuts). It was fun to browse the market afterward to check out some Okinawa produce and products.
Yoshizaki Cafeteria 吉崎食堂
Now the finale, the best meal we had during our trip was at Yoshizaki Cafeteria. It’s an Izakaya rather than the “cafeteria” implied in its name. There are 2 locations in Naha City so we recommend stopping by if you have a chance during your visit.
Yoshizaki Cafeteria offers authentic Okinawan cuisine as well as standard Izakaya dishes.
Car Rental and Driving in Okinawa
I’ve been traveling to Japan with Nami for almost 15 years and never had to drive. It’s so convenient to get everywhere by train and it’s always on time. We usually get a JR Pass so we can travel for 1 week without worrying about transportation cost and it gives us the flexibility to change train time or destination.
However, in Okinawa, public transportation is not really an option for visitors to get around. The places we visited were quite far apart and there’s no easy way to get to them besides driving. Time to figure out how tricky it’ll be to drive in Japan.
You can rent a car from many agencies and we decided to go with OTS. When you exit the airport, head left towards shuttle stop 1 to board the rental car shuttle.
The rental process is straightforward and we opted for ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) and insurance. ETC allows you to take ETC entrance and exit on highways without having to pay the tolls manually and insurance is just for peace of mind.
Driving on the opposite side of the street wasn’t as tricky as I had expected and the car navigations systems provide really detailed instructions and images. The navigation system can be set to different languages.
AirBnb in Okinawa
While checking for accommodations in Okinawa, there were 5 of us (including my mother) so we needed 2 rooms and the hotel cost was quite high. The Hilton Doubletree would cost around $2,000 for 3 nights. Since we had a rental car, we didn’t have to stay right in downtown and had more flexibility on where to stay. We ended up with a 3 bedroom near San-A Naha Main Place for $165 a night.
We like to pack light when we travel so one of our criteria for renting an AirBnb is washer and dryer. This way we don’t have to bring too much clothes and when we get home we don’t have bags of laundry.
As AirBnb rules have changed in Japan since June 2018, if you plan on using AirBnb, make sure your host had property registered the unit.
Thank you for traveling in Okinawa with us and if you are interested in our other travel posts, head on over to our travel page. If you have any questions about traveling in Okinawa, leave a comment below and we’ll try our best to answer.