Event: Explore Okinawan Art, Cusine & Culture from the RyuKyu Islands, The event was part of series on Okinawa at The Japan Society, For info on this series, click here.
Spirikal’s bottom line: A really delightful and informative evening with guest speakers from Okinawa, who talked about karate, traditional textiles aka Bingata and the health properties of Okinawan cuisine. A reception followed with beautifully prepared Okinawan-style bento boxes, imported beer and a delicious, refreshing cocktail with Awamori, an Okinawan distilled liquor. Guests each got a bag of goodies to take home, courtesy of the Okinawa Prefectural Government.
Review: I’m really grateful that the Japan Society continues to host so many interesting after hours foodie-oriented events, which always teach me a lot about Japanese culture and gastronomy. For this evening, I brought along my dear aunt as pay back for taking me to a Hungarian concert at the Alice Tully hall last week.
When I arrived, I was feeling really hungry, and thank god the guest speakers and Q&A didn’t go to long. I still remember when David Bouley nearly ruined his own event on Kaiseki cuisine by talking over two hours about frickin’ kuzu! The reception afterward was reduced to 30 minutes because of his kuzu rant. Yeah, I was pretty pissed off. Anyway, back to the review.
It was interesting to hear about the karate and bingata traditions of Japan’s Okinawan prefecture, most of us were famished and dying to eat the food and wash it down with a cocktail or two. Interestingly, although Okinawa is one of Japanese poorest prefectures, it’s cuisine, lifestyle and climate all contribute to its amazing longevity. To this day, even with the presence of Western fastfood, Okinawa still has the largest population of centanarians in the world.
Okinawan cuisine draws influence from Japan, Taiwan, China and Southeast Asia. One of main staples of the Okinawan regimen is pork and green and yellow veggies. Along with seaweed, or as the panel preferred to called ‘sea vegetables’, Okinawans have a wonderful variety of nutritious food. Dr. Hiroko Shou, the expert of nutrition explained that pork can be healthy, if it’s cooked properly by boiling it with lots of water. I’ve made this dish before at home, using my favorite cut, pork belly, which fatty and delicious, especially when it’s braised in a sweet tare sauce.
Each guest got a beautifully prepared bento box and unlimited quantities of Okinawan drinks. God I love Japanese hospitality! Check out this menu.
Bingata roll: A colorful, square salmon maki with cucumber and turmeric-tinted rice, representing the vibrant patterns of bingata textiles
Rafute: Braised pork belly simmered in soy sauce, awamori liquor, and Okinawan brown sugar
Jimami tofu: A sweet and savory tofu dish seasoned with peanut butter and sweet potato starch
Goya chanpuru: Okinawa’s signature stir-fry, made with egg, tofu, and the exotic green goya, or “bitter melon”
Mozuku: A healthy seaweed treat that has a mild flavor and is loaded with nutrients
Okinawan beer: A light, crisp beer brewed in Okinawa, which is perfect for the islands’ tropical climate
Sanpin tea: A floral green tea similar to jasmine, Sanpin is the most popular variety of tea in Okinawa
Shikwasa juice: Made from the shikwasa citrus fruit, this juice has a pleasant balance of sweet and tart notes
Awamori Cocktail: Cocktail made from Okinawa’s distinctive awamori liquor, which has a smooth, deep flavor
The Japanese also eat goya, which my people call ‘kerela’ a sort bitter melon that is packed with vitamin C. Whereas, Indians shave off the bitter green nubs on the outside and fry the kerela beyond recognitions, the Okinawans keep it intact, hence preserving its nutrients. The sweet sauce, fluffy egg.and bitterness of the the Goya chanpuru makes a very interesting contrast on the palette.
My favorite was the cocktail with Awamori and orange juice. It was surprisingly refreshing and not too sweet, which meant no headache for me. We chatted with Dr. Shou and some of the other guests, before my aunt and I stumbled over to Soba Totto for a sake nightcap.
Yeah, I had sweet piggy dreams that night.