Okinawa, the southernmost Japanese prefecture, comprises islands set in the East China Sea. Thanks to its tropical climate, fertile soil and pristine surrounds, Okinawa produce is prized throughout Japan for their superb quality.
Okinawan culture dates back to the Ryukyu kingdom, when food was revered as medicine, and the preparation of food based on medicinal knowledge of the ingredients. This mindset, and the low-fat, low-salt diet that’s rich in whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, tofu and seaweed, could explain why Okinawans have one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
At a recent hands-on Simply Her cooking workshop, held in partnership with Okinawa Tourism Board at ABC Cooking Studio, Simply Her readers learnt how to cook three easy and nutritious traditional Okinawa dishes.
Yukie Miyaguni, head of Yakuzen Ryuka Cooking School in Okinawa, also shared insights to some of the prefecture’s most popular superfoods and why they’re so good for you.
Photo: Goya (Japanese bittergourd)
GOYA (JAPANESE BITTERGOURD)
Goya, Japanese for bittergourd, is one of the most popular vegetables in Okinawa. It is believed to be beneficial in cooling the body, and also good for soothing tired eyes. Its detoxifying properties come in useful if you’ve been eating a lot of rich food.
Cook: Slice then stir-fry with egg and tofu.
HECHIMA (JAPANESE SPONGE GOURD)
Also known as hairy gourd or luffa, hechima is believed to improve blood circulation, soothe coughs, as well as reduce swelling and puffiness in the body.
There are two other reasons why Hechima is so popular with women: its high vitamin C content makes it a good anti-ageing superfood, and it is considered helpful in increasing milk production for breastfeeding mums.
Cook: Add to soups.
It sounds too good to be true, but the Japanese swear by pork belly to keep their skin moisturised and “mochi mocha” (Japanese for supple). Pork belly is rich in iron, which makes it especially good for people who suffer from anaemia.
Cook: One of the most classic Okinawan dishes is rafute – braised pork belly cooked with awamori, a traditional Japanese rice liquor. Pork belly is also often marinated with miso, which is said to be good for digestive health.
OKINAWA BROWN SUGAR
Okinawa brown sugar generally has higher levels of minerals, such as calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium, compared to white sugar, thanks to the sugarcane fields’ proximity to the ocean. A heaty ingredient, it is said to be able to improve blood circulation, keep the flu at bay and reduce menstrual cramps. With a rich and complex flavour, a little goes a long way.
Cook: Make cakes and cookies with it.
All these ingredients are seasonally available at Japanese supermarkets like Meidi-ya, #B1-50 Liang Court Shopping Centre, tel: 6339-111 and Isetan Supermarket, Shaw House, 350 Orchard Road, tel: 6733-1111.