At a car rental in Japan…

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Tree-lined paths in northern Okinawa hide good soba

Bise Fukiji paths are lined with trees and makes a pretty sight. It is also a village community of old houses with a small number of residents. One of them runs a B&B cum cafe, Kokko Shokudo, that serves up noteworthy chicken broth Okinawan Soba. We hunted it down.

The few signs put up were in Japanese, pinned to trees and so the cafe was not too easy to spot without understanding where we should be headed. The buzzing mossies were also an unwelcomed distraction. We walked past it a few times before realizing that it was a house we should be looking for and not a cafe.

Kokko is a small and cosy living room where diners seat barefooted on the floor and lean over a nice wooden table to slurp noodles. It is air-conditioned (which is surprising and nice) and has a grand total of 4 long tables. There are only two items on their menu so ordering is a breeze. The owner, previously from the poultry industry, whips up your order in the kitchen not 5 meters away so you experience the home-cooked goodness of the meal you are having.

I thoroughly enjoyed the soba noodles with chicken broth (vs. the usual pork broth) and gooey egg in the middle so I highly recommend going to this place for lunch if you are in the area (of the Churaumi Aquarium).

Sashimi!

Whenever we visit Japan, Sashimi is always on our minds. We make a point to go to the fish markets because you cannot get them any fresher. Price-wise, I found Okinawa’s fresh catch to be cheaper than other parts of Japan.

Any 3 nicely sliced and wrapped up packets of regular cut salmon or octopus or tuna or white fish or squid go for 1000 yen. Sea urchins, scallops, lobsters, crabs, prawns are priced higher but are reasonable.

Little eating places selling sashimi and sushi typically pepper the immediate area around the market. A stroll around would allow you to assess prices and goods so as to pick a suitable place to settle down to feast. Long queues indicate specialty and best left to early birds if time is not on your side. I find some of those a little gimmicky; other than bragging rights, you don’t really have to eat at these establishments unless you are hunting for something quite specific.

Fish markets in Okinawa, perhaps because the touristy side has yet to blossom, has less of those. It has just good old sashimi at any eating spots. Having said this, there is a place at Payao Seafood Awase Fishing Port where you can get a half lobster with sea urchin sauce and sashimi set meal for 2900 yen – cheap and good. No gimmicks. Tea and water are on the house. You clean up after yourselves with cleaning tools provided too – as with many places in Japan.

Other Ports we tried that are worth the visit:

Tomori Wharf for breakfast

Osakana Centre Itoman Fishing Port also for breakfast

Okinawa’s Bukubuku Tea

A mouthful of frothy bubbles later, I sipped a wee bit of tea. That was because the frothy mount, larger than the tea cup, forms an interesting defence against those who wish to reach for the goodness within; it stamps your upper lip with a white moustache as proof of that.

We were at Kariisanfan, a small and quaint teahouse that is a 4-minute walk from Shuri Castle, that serves Bukubuku tea in the most traditional manner – not for the physical aspects because it is a cosy cafe with modern (not 2018 but like it never emerged from the 1980s) facilities but the way it was served. It is reminiscent of the days when this was served in the Ryukyu Kingdom.

A big bowl of fragrant, brown liquid first arrives with a bamboo whisk. This is a bowl of boiled brown rice, hulled and unhulled. Then, you only had to whisk it to create the characteristic foam. They use hard water to make it so one can beat the solution to form the foam which in turn would be transferred to become the white peak on the teacup.

You will be specifically told to take the foam and not drink the bowl of liquid. Funny because we’d have drunk from that if we weren’t told. It looks like tea, smells like tea, so it must be tea. Heh. No! Drinking a basin of hard water may not be such a good idea.

While you are hard at work whisking away, the lady behind the counter prepares tea – Ryukyu sweets, cut fruits and the actual tea you drink.

Once it arrives, you sweep the foam you have made into your teacup above the tea as high as you are able to. Then, sprinkle a powder of ground peanut and sugar over the dollops of white, and you drink from the cup with both hands holding it up. The action of sprinkling the powder is supposed to bring luck. So, Bukubuku drinkers usually finish the foam and repeat the process. It is also a lot of fun, especially if doing for the first time.

There is a whole list of teas to choose from amongst which there is one with 14 herbs. It was a dreadful choice – this is coming from a person who likes herbs. So, it would be better to pick hibiscus or lemongrass or any one of the others. You can also have it hot or cold. The tea set costs 800 yen and you can get a refill of tea for another 500 yen.

If driving there, note that there are only two lots right under the cafe, no charge. It is open from Thursday to Monday, 10am to 6pm.

Green Caviar of Okinawa

I would never imagine that the floating bits of green in the deeper ocean could one day end up in a plate costing enough to inflict a wee bit of pain. At about S$7 per 100g, it won’t burn a hole in your pocket but it is something that would make you think first before buying. Like most delicacies.

This mass of green is known as umi-budo in Okinawa or seagrapes, and the consumption of which has long been attributed to the reason for longevity around here. You can pair it with almost anything in the Okinawan Cuisine and they pop in your mouth when bitten on. It can be had on its own too but dipped in vinegar. The delightful popping sensation is intensified along with an interesting mix of salty and sour. There is also umi-budo ice cream – it is like eating Dippin Dots, but in smaller spheres.

We visited Uminchi Farm where seagrapes are cultivated. The small farm is located near the coast so seawater is pumped inwards to the tanks where the seagrapes grow. It takes about a month for them to grow from barren stem to full frond, after which they will be hand-harvested for sale. A quality yield is only 50% of what they grow so that explains the price. The owner and staff are friendly and gave us a complimentary bowl of the green caviar when we pigged out on the ice cream. Oishi!!

Rich in vitamins A and C, coupled with its reputation for contributing to longevity, the seagrapes certainly fall in the category of healthy.

All I learned about Instant Noodles I did in Yokohama

Innovation. Perseverance. Ingenuity. For the masses and not the individual.  

These noodles were the brainchild of one Momofuku Ando. He invented the first instant noodles at age 48, first cup noodles at age 61 and the first instant noodles for astronauts in space at 95! Late bloomer he is.

There is an animated video of Momofuku’s journey you can watch that tells you a bit more about the trials and tribulations of the commercialization process and business wars in a simple, child-friendly yet emotive way. The film is in Japanese but there are audio guides available in English, Mandarin, Korean and one other language (I forgot! 😝). 

The museum does not have a lot of artifacts to show but has a great story to share.

500 yen per adult for entry and another 300 yen to make your own ramen to take home in a cute bubble bag.

Sinning on Saturday 

If you are ever in Matsumoto, Japan and have an hour or so to spare, head to Nakamachi Cafe on Nakamachi Street. 

Order their pancake soufflé. Bitter chocolate. You must. Moist and fluffy….They were so good my toes are curling thinking about them. Two can share the pancake and feel satisfied after. Get coffee too – their house blend, hand dripped, was pretty good. You won’t regret it. 


Its interior is modern with no-fuss, clean lines furnished in natural wood and oxidized metal – feels Scandinavian but is clearly Japanese. The staff are attentive but not intrusive, polite, understand simple English and they have English menus, so ordering isn’t a problem at all. 

The total bill came up to about 1400 yen including tax for the pancakes and the cuppa.

I am inspired to make my own!



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