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How About Some Pickled Pigís Ear or Goat Soup?

By: Elena Sinnemaki

Date Posted: 2000-06-02

Have you tried Okinawan food? Oh, Iím sure youíve tried soki soba, taco rice, or even lesser known dishes like okazu or champuru, and those are indeed dishes that are representative of Okinawan. But what about other Okinawan specialties, the kind that you canít get on base and only the locals seem to appreciate? Read on and Iíll tell you about some real Okinawan food.

Most Americans tend to squirm at the mere mention of ďpigsí feet,Ē but tebichi is hugely popular on Okinawa. Tebichi isnít pigsí feet per se, but rather the upper portion thatís more a part of the animalís leg. Tebichi is cooked for a long time in a liquid and served as a main course or in a set. Although tebichi can be very meaty, itís savored for its gelatinous skin. You can mind your dining etiquette when eating tebichi, or simply do what the Okinawans do: put a chunk of tebichi in your mouth and spit the small bones out onto the bone dish as you chew (are you still with me?).

If you thought tebichi was hard core, brace yourself for the next dish. Nakami is another product of the islandís favorite livestock, in this case the pigís intestines. Nakami is so Okinawan that even mainland Japanese find the dish rather aversive. But if youíve tried hog maws or chitterlings back in the States, youíll find that nakami isnít all that different. As with tebichi, there are a number of ways to serve nakami, but the best way I know to enjoy it is over a bowl of Okinawa soba.

When it comes to appetizers, mimigaa, or pickled pigís ear, is probably not everyoneís idea of a splendid starter, but mimigaa sashimi is often served as either a first course or part of a teishoku, or set meal. Mimigaa is cooked for hours to soften the cartilage of the pigís ear and make it easier to chew.

The last Okinawan specialty I want to tell you about is yagijiru, or goat soup. As you may already know, goat is the most revered livestock on Okinawa and goat meat is considered a true delicacy, although for the most part the consumption of goat meat is the bastion of older Okinawan men. Yagijiru isnít on every Okinawan restaurantís menu, but there are more than a few places that serve yagijiru. If youíd like to try yagijiru, be forewarned that goat meat is extremely high in cholesterol and may cause health problems for some (such warnings are in fact usually posted in yagijiru restaurants). Iíve tried yagijiru and Iíll limit my comments by saying that I can appreciate the sentiments of younger Okinawans who typically shun this dish.

With the exception of yagijiru, I encourage you to try any or all of the aforementioned Okinawan specialties, strange and unusual though they may be. As the saying goes, donít knock it till youíve tried it!

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