Yoron, the southernmost of Kagoshima Prefecture and the closest to Okinawa, has been described by a popular Japanese travel magazine as ‘the paradise that is closest to heaven.’ Yoron’s food plays a part in garnering the island such gushing praise, with local cuisine consisting of simple yet supremely delicious fare that makes the most of fresh local ingredients. Food here is often incredibly healthy too: be sure to try goya and mozuku as great examples of this.
Chicken Curry and Maiu-don at Cafe Kaigan Dori
Kaigan Dori is one of the island’s most popular cafes with locals, who flock here for the laid back atmosphere and very generous servings of everything from donburi rice bowls to ice creams and parfaits. Located between Udonosu and Chahana beaches on Yoron’s western coast, the cafe is bedecked with artifacts made from shells and seagrass, and features play furniture to keep kids entertained. Adults, while they eagerly await the arrival of their order, can amuse themselves by flipping through a notebook filled with humorous doodles courtesy of Kaigan Dori’s horde of regular customers.
Menu highlights include a voluminous, fried egg-topped chicken curry, which is sweet to the taste but has a spicy ‘after kick’ that gradually builds up; and the Maiu-don. The latter is Kaigan Dori’s original signature dish, consisting of a bowl of rice topped with meat-filled curry sauce, cabbage, fried egg, and sesame seeds. A selection of pizzas is also offered, including one topped with goya, a bitter local vegetable said to restore stamina in the humid subtropical summer.
Gourmet Pastas, Curries and Smoothies at Kujira Café
A little more upmarket, but still with the resolutely relaxed vibe that seems to permeate Yoron, is Kujira Cafe. Located down in the island’s southwest, this bright, airy and tranquil spot commands a superb view of the rock-dotted beach and blue ocean beyond. With the feel of a idyllic seaside apartment, the space is fitted out with denim patchwork-covered sofas, abundant houseplants, a ukulele, and mason jars filled with shells and other items gathered from the beach.
Gourmet-level home cooking centers mainly on pasta and curry dishes, and is complimented by a selection of freshly-made smoothies. An original green curry uses red rice with beans in place of the usual white rice, with the entire menu making much use of organic ingredients.
Seafood at Izakaya Hyoukin: Flying Fish, Katsuo Sashimi and Mozuku Somen
As elsewhere in Amami and on the Japanese mainland, in Yoron too fish and seafood are key ingredients in traditional cooking. At the Hyoukin izakaya, just a little inland from Kaigan Dori, you can sample the best of the local catch in a relaxed, authentic atmosphere that has largely gone unchanged for decades. Must-try highlights include katsuo (skipjack tuna) sashimi and the fried flying fish.
Mozuku Somen made from Mozuku, a seaweed indigenous to the Okinawa/Ryukyu region and favored locally for its pleasing texture, unique taste, and health benefits: mozuku is packed with a lot of minerals, vitamins, and tests have shown that it may help ward off cancer.
Yoron’s subtropical climate makes it a place where tropical fruits thrive. The island’s pineapple, passion fruit, mango and papaya are all superior examples of their species, and can be picked up from local vendors when in season.
Shimayusen: Yoron’s Kokuto Shochu
Yoron’s shochu (a distilled alcoholic drink, clear in appearance and closest to vodka in Western terms) is traditionally of the kokuto variety, meaning that it is made with brown sugar derived from the sugar cane plant. This recipe is believed to have originated in Siam around five centuries ago, from where it crossed to the Amami archipelago. The Amami islands continue to be a heartland of kokuto production, with Yoron’s most famed brewery being Arimura which was established in 1947. The company’s kokuto, sold under the Shimayusen label, is acclaimed for its faint sweetness and full body. Shimayusen is available at the Hyoukin Izakaya and local liquor stores, and those won over by its taste can take a tour of the Arimura brewery in Yoron’s Chahana district.