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Kebabs Make Their Debut in Okinawa

By: Dinner Gong

Date Posted: 2000-10-06

Until now there has been nowhere in Okinawa to sample that staple of Turkey, Greece and the Middle East, kebabs. However last month a kebab restaurant called Shalom Kitchen opened in the Gate 2 area. This was at the behest of some airmen who had been stationed in Turkey. They had become used to the kebab as a delicious snack or a meal in itself – somehow more satisfying and nutritious than a hamburger.

Taka, who runs Shalom Kitchen was resident in Sydney, Australia for 16 years where he had his own Japanese restaurant. This closed four or five years ago and he opened a Japanese bento or lunchbox shop. Next door was a kebab shop run by a man from Turkey, who became his friend. Sydney gets a lot of Japanese visitors and Taka noticed how many of them seemed to like the kebabs his friend made.

Although there are kebab shops in mainland Japan, the fact that there was not one in Okinawa, planted the idea in Taka’s mind that there would surely be a demand for them here, once they became known. He learnt from his Turkish friend how to grill kebab meat, how to prepare the salad and how to make the distinctive unleavened bread that encloses the other ingredients.

The classic kebab is the Doner Kebab which is made from a composite of lamb and beef, compressed into a column a couple of feet tall, which slowly turns on a spit. The sight and smell of these sizzling slabs of meat, often placed in kebab shop windows, is enough to tempt in curious customers. Once tasted, a good Doner Kebab can ensure a lot of repeat visits.

Taka, from Kyushu, but who has an Okinawan wife, came back to the island for a visit last November and was surprised to find some of his wife’s relatives were running a bento shop, just as he was in Australia. A believer in destiny he says he prayed for the chance to come back and do something similar. Neither he nor his wife’s relatives had the money to open a new restaurant but somehow a wealthy Japanese lady backer was found and things fell into place. An active member of a local Christian church, Taka, believes a divine helping hand allowed him to achieve his ambition. Thus was Shalom Kitchen opened.

He had plans for big Doner Kebab grill to entice potential customers to try the product. Then he ran into a Japanese government regulation concerning cooking procedures, which does not allow food to be cooked from the side, as kebab grills do. An important feature of this cooking method is that it allows fat to drain off, leaving the meat slightly dry and suitable to go with the other ingredients. Taka thought if he put the meat in a frying pan it would be too greasy. So he devised a method of cooking it on a big iron tray which was slightly raised so the fat could still drain off.

He tried out some pork kebabs but found they were not popular with Americans, so he settled on chicken as his base ingredient. The chicken is soused in a red sauce and combined with lettuce, onion, tomato and parsley. These are wrapped in unleavened bread, which Taka makes to his Turkish friend’s recipe. The kebab can be taken out or eaten in the restaurant, which has tables or tatami seating.

The kebab DG tried was delicious and other Japan Update staff eagerly devoured the samples taken back to the office, with lots of enquiries about their source.

A Regular Kebab costs ¥420 and is enough to satisfy a meal sized appetite. A Baby Kebab which is more like a snack but nonetheless very filling, is ¥350. Until the end of October Shalom Kitchen is offering anyone who comes to the restaurant with this article a 20% discount. So a Regular will cost ¥340 and a Baby ¥280.

The shop is hoping that Americans will become most of their kebab customers. Meanwhile they also cater to conventional Japanese taste by offering Viking lunch boxes at ¥250 or ¥400. There are also different sizes of lunch boxes allowing customers to choose their own servings. They cost ¥300, ¥350 and ¥420.

Shalom Kitchen is open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturday 10 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. It can be recommended as a purveyor of simple but well prepared and delicious food that cannot be found elsewhere in Okinawa.

Directions: Coming from Futenma along Route 330 towards Koza, pass the Goya intersection with Gate 2 Street and take the next left into Park Avenue. Take the next left again and Shalom Kitchen is a short distance down the road on the right.

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