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Okinawa Soba: The Soul Food of the Okinawans

Okinawa Soba: The Soul Food of the Okinawans

Ask any Okinawan and they will tell you, if they could only eat one food for the rest of their lives (and that’s a pretty long time as Okinawans are some of the longest living people in the world!), many would tell you it would have to be Okinawa Soba.

The soba noodles eaten in Okinawa are different from traditional soba noodles consumed on the mainland. Mainland soba noodles are made using buckwheat flour, but Okinawans use wheat flour in their noodles. According to our vast internet research, these soba noodles, called ‘Suba’ in the local Okinawa dialect, became officially recognized as a type of Soba on October 17th, 1978.

And it’s been soba everyday since then for many Okinawans and service members stationed on Okinawa. But it’s not all about the noodles, Okinawa Soba wouldn’t be the cultural staple that it is if it weren’t for the toppings! And for those who’ve spent time here traveling the islands and occasionally stuck in traffic behind a truckload of Okinawan ‘buta’ (pigs), you’ll know that the island is famous for it’s pork meat. The finest breed of pork available on island is called “agu”, giving Okinawans their daily dose of B1 Vitamins which is said to be effective in relieving fatigue. 

When it comes to your meat topping, the main two options you will find on the menu at your favorite local soba shop will be ‘Soki Soba’ and ‘Sanmai Niku”.

Sanmai niku is a juicy slice of braised pork belly, which is so popular and delicious that it has it’s own day! March 29th each year is unofficially known as “Sanmai Niku no Hi” because when the date is read aloud it sounds the same as the Japanese phrase for “three pieces of meat”.

The other option you will most often encounter is “Soki” which means pork rib in Okinawan. Soki will either be served on a hard bone (honsoki) or a chewable soft bone called “nankotsu”. The soft bone rib has a chewy, gelatinous texture and is chock-full of collagen, which is an ingredient known to revitalize your skin. (We continue to see the connection between Okinawan diet, health, longevity, and keeping your youthful appearance!)

And now for the best part! 

This delicious food which is an absolute essential in your Okinawa diet, is about the most affordable meal you’re likely to find, here on Okinawa and just about anywhere else! Often available for between 600 to 700 yen, as you can see in this video accompanying this article, a bowl of Okinawan soba, with rice and pickles on the side cost an unbelievable 710 yen, which at the time of writing is only $5.12! Where else can you find a meal so delicious and healthy at such a great cost??

There are hundreds of soba shops on Okinawa which all have their own twist on the most common food the Ryukyus have to offer. If you travel as far south as Miyako Island they really turn the dish upside down to provide something new from something traditional. Miyako Soba is similar to other Okinawa sobas in all but one way; they hide the toppings beneath the noodles and the soup!

Whichever way they’re serving the soba, and whatever shop you choose, enjoy this great food while you’re here on this beautiful island, and feel the soul of Okinawa with every bite!

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