No, I’m not Okinawan.
I say this because I’m asked it all the time. And I’m not really sure why. (I do love my taco rice and soki soba…)
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I eat too much, work really hard, and laugh really loud.
At least that’s what I’ve come to think of Okinawans, anyway. Which is why, in my opinion, they live so long.
So when I got invited to be part of the production crew to Okinawa for “Family Ingredients,” the Emmy award-winning food genealogy travel show that aired on PBS Hawai‘i in 2013 and slated to go national this year, there was absolutely no hesitation.
The chance to eat authentic Okinawan soba and rafute in the land of their origins?
Uh, yes, please.
Okinawa has always been fascinating to me. This southernmost prefecture of Japan — the plane ride will take more than two hours from Tokyo — boasts about 1.4 million people, including the American servicemen and their families who live there. (There are 32 U.S. military bases on Okinawa Island alone.)
The island is about 400 miles south of the rest of Japan, roughly the same distance from China, and 300 mile north of Taiwan. Its culture bears traces of its various nearby trading partners, particularly China and Thailand. Karate, for example, is a blend of Chinese kung fu and traditional Okinawan martial arts. And awamori, a popular Okinawan distilled spirit, is made from indica rice imported from Thailand.
While Okinawa is part of Japan, there’s a lot about this island that’s utterly unique and distinctive. (Much like how Hawai‘i is so different from the rest of the Mainland.) Case in point: there are six Ryukyuan languages that are incomprehensible to Japanese speakers. And the local pubs here serve unique dishes like goya champuru (bitter melon stir fry), rafute (braised pork belly) and — my personal favorite — taco rice, which is white rice topped with taco meat, cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and sometimes ranch dressing or sour cream.
Oh, and they love their Spam here.
I’m leaving on Sunday for a week with the crew, diving headfirst — or, mouth-first — into the history and culture of Okinawa.
So follow along!
I’ll be writing blogs whenever I can get WiFi and posting pics on Instagram (@catherinetoth) and Twitter (@thedailydish).
And follow “Family Ingredients,” too, on Facebook and Instagram (@familyingredients).
I tried to get the producer to let me surf while I’m there, but to no avail. I’m still bringing a bikini, though, just in case!