A lot can be learn about the culture and lifestyle of a place through its food. The ingredients used, how dishes are prepared, and why, when and where the food is eaten. In Okinawa, there’s a restaurant that gives tourists the chance to learn this through its interactive cooking workshops, while also adding a pre-cooking shopping tour of Naha’s Makishi Ichiba Market.
Situated in Naha’s Makishi district, Taste of Okinawa is a craft beer restaurant by night and a cooking “school” by day. Taste of Okinawa is run by Tomo-san, a local entrepreneur who loves Okinawa and is passionate about sharing the island traditions with the world. The restaurant offers customers a menu of fusion cuisine which combines international dishes and local draft beer, with the dishes prepared using local ingredients. One such delicacy is the succulent pork leg made from locally sourced pork. The restaurant is equipped with the same communal tables used during classes and are setup in this way to set the mood for customers to interact with each other during dinner.
Taste of Okinawa
During the day, Taste of Okinawa turns completely local, and instead of the international cuisine, it offers its cooking workshops to teach participants how to prepare the most popular Okinawan dishes, such as goya champuru, rafute (glazed pork), and sata andagi (Okinawan donuts).
The cooking class is run by Tomo-san and a professional chef who will go through the recipes step-by-step in a straightforward and fun way. Workshop participants are the ones who actually prepare the four course meal, albeit under the personalized guidance of the professionals.
Naha’s Makishi Ichiba Market
Prior to the cooking class, the group sets out on a tour of Naha’s Makishi Ichiba Market, where participants will learn about the locally grown products, how to choose them, and why they are used in the dishes that will be prepared during the class. Sometimes there’s also a chance to try out a few of these products; a sampling of freshly made Okinawan tofu, a taste of fresh pickles, or bonito flakes shaved in front of your eyes, to name a few. This tour also allows for interaction with the local shop owners in the market who might be more reserved, or simply unable to communicate in a foreign language, outside of the tour. The whole experience takes approximately three hours.
Naha’s Makishi Ichiba Market
The cooking classes and food market tours are offered in English from Tuesday to Sunday and from 4pm to 7pm. The cost for adults is 6,500 yen and 3,500 for children. Reservations are required 72 hours prior to the experience and there’s a maximum of 10 spots available, which only adds to this experience as the classes tend to be more intimate and personalized. For groups that take all 10 spots, a different scheduling time might be a possibility with prior consultation.