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Sa-Fu-Fu is traditional Okinawan izakaya

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2002-03-14

Of all the izakayas Iíve been to over the past year, Sa-Fu-Fu is definitely one of the best. Sa-Fu-Fu is an old hougen (Okinawan dialect) word that means ďthe feeling of contentment one has before reaching a drunken state.Ē The name is perfect for this place. Sa-Fu-Fu has a lot of Okinawan glass, art, shisa and earthenware awamori jugs as decoration, and once you walk through the door you will catch a hint of traditional feeling and Okinawan pride.

Sa-Fu-Fu has been in business for over 15 years and was previously situated near Palette Kumoji in Naha City, but owner Hideko Nakamura says she moved to her current location to get away from the hustle and bustle of Naha. Hideko was born into the family that owns Nakamura-ke, a traditional Okinawan house which has been a designated cultural asset since 1956. She decided to uproot her business to be closer both to her familyís historic dwelling and to her own home.

Generations of Nakamuras have lived in Kitanakagusuku Village, an area known as a showcase of traditional Okinawan culture. Since moving her restaurant out of hectic Naha City and closer to home in Kitanakagusuku, business has actually improved due to the vestiges of Okinawaís heritage that can be observed both in the village as well as in the restaurant. In addition, behavioral patterns are beginning to change, and people are looking for free parking, less crowded settings and a relaxing feel to a restaurant. Sa-Fu-Fu positively fills the niche.

Sa-Fu-Fuís menu is written in Japanese, but if you know what youíre looking for, itís not too difficult to order. Some of their most popular dishes include kushiyaki (meat, cheese or vegetables on a stick), yakimono (fish grill), champuru, gohan (rice, taco rice, etc), assorted sashimi, spring rolls and fried cheese. Kushiyaki moriawase, one of their most popular dishes, comes with five yakitori for •500. The meat was very good, but if you donít like liver, watch out for the sauced-up meat on a stick. I thought it was beef; it wasnít. Kimochi-chahan (•600) is another favorite. It was the best! The kimochi is spicy, so chase it with awamori mizuwari (awamori and water on ice). All of the dishes are good for two or more people to share, so order several with a few friends for some variety.

One feature of the izakaya is their horigo-tatsu, or tables with a hole dug out underneath. At these tables you can eat and drink to your heartís content while sitting on the floor with your legs below you in the dugout. The floor was very comfortable, and as itís difficult for some of us Westerners to sit cross-legged or eat while on the floor, the horigo-tatsu was a nice feature.

Nakamura says that a few Americans have managed to find Sa-Fu-Fu, and they all have become return customers. The izakaya is a little bit tricky to find but well worth the effort. To get to Sa-Fu-Fu, if you are driving south on Route 330 from Okinawa City, turn left when Camp Fosterís Legion Gate road is on your right. Drive straight past the first stoplight. At the second stoplight, you will see a Camp Foster gate on your left. Turn right at this light. Go straight until you see a lit up sign with an awamori bottle. This is an advertisement for Sa-Fu-Fu. Turn left at this sign into the Sa-Fu-Fu parking lot.

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