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Ishidatami serves the best in Okinawan cuisine

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2002-07-25

After last weekend’s trip to the Shurijo Castle Park, I happened upon an interesting looking restaurant next to the historic Kinjo-cho stone pavement road on my hike back home. I was quite famished from my long walk around the castle site and a bite to eat sounded spectacular! Upon entering the restaurant, I discovered an Okinawan restaurant quite unlike any other I had previously dined at. Ishidatami serves some of the best, if not the absolute best, Okinawan food I have ever had. However, not only is the food great, but the restaurant itself seems to be a statement of pride in the Okinawan culture.

While traditional eisa music played in the background, Okinawan decorations hung from every wall in the establishment. I was amazed at some of the items on display. According to Sae Yutaka, co-owner of Ishidatami, her husband Setsuo is a collector of Okinawan items, and Sae enjoys Ryukyu style dancing, so the kimonos on display are her uniforms. Ishidatami is a family owned restaurant, but the actual spot the restaurant sits on has some historical legacy. “This place was once lived in by a Samurai during the time of the Shurijo Castle,” says Sae. She showed us historical maps to prove it. All over the restaurant are many historical items such as her maps. A world war II era rifle hangs from a distant wall, some shisa sit on a shelf, and dozens of clay awamori jugs sit near the tables in the tatami dining area. These are just a few of the items my eyes happened upon. I could have spent all day soaking in the Ryukyu culture.

Though the Yutaka family has lived in Shuri for many years, Ishidatami has only been open for five years. Sae says that the area nearby the restaurant was once a popular trading place. When her family decided to take residence in a house near the historic Kinjo-cho road, an elderly person recommended that she start a business in the area. Soon after, she opened up shop and her restaurant has since been quite popular with locals, foreigners, and mainland Japanese tourists.

The menu items at Ishidatami aren’t much different from what you’ll find at most of the Okinawan restaurants, but the food is the best I can remember ever having. I especially recommend the goya champuru. During the summer months when goya is in season, many restaurants on Okinawa serve this delicious meal, but none come close to Ishidatami’s. This meal goes for ¥700 and includes rice, soba noodles, and seaweed. Other great meals are soki soba (¥600), Okinawa soba (small ¥350, medium ¥400, large ¥500), and there is a soba set for ¥650. Aside from goya champuru, Ishidatami has three other types of champuru sets: somen (noodles), tofu, fu, and yasai (vegetables), all for ¥700.

The meal itself was flavorful and delicious and I was stuffed, but when I saw zenzai (shaved ice with sweet beans and mochi) on the menu, I had to find out if their treat could match others I’d had. It wasn’t good. It was the best! Even the ice was shaved to perfection. It was like eating snow! Everything was just right. This was a real treat after spending the day in the hot July sun all afternoon. Ishidatami’s zenzai goes for ¥300 and is worth the visit even if you don’t stick around for a whole meal.

Though the menu is all in Japanese, if you can remember the names of the meals I mentioned in this article, you should be fine. There is no English speaking staff, so you’ll do well to bring a Japanese friend if you are not brave enough to try one of the items I mentioned. As far as drinks are concerned, the restaurant also serves draft beer for ¥500, awamori by the flask for between ¥500 and ¥800, ice and hot coffee for ¥250, orange juice for ¥200, and sampincha tea is free.

If you’re ever up in Shuri checking out the castle site, you must visit this restaurant. It’s that good! The restaurant is open everyday from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., but they are rainy days as the stone sidewalk becomes extremely slippery. Getting to Ishidatami is not too difficult if you are somewhat familiar with Naha city. If you are headed south on highway 58 towards Naha, turn left at the Tomari intersection towards the beginning of Kokusai Street. Pass Kokusai, go through the Asato intersection, and keep going straight until you reach Daido Street. The road will split and you’ll eventually see signs for the Shurijo Castle Park. Drive to one of the pay parking sites at the park and walk to the historic Kinjo-cho stone pavement road. It’s not far from the castle site and someone will point it out to you if you can’t find it. Walk downhill a good distance and you’ll eventually see an open walled building that serves as a resting place for weary travelers. The restaurant is on the opposite side of the road as this resting place. Get ready for one of the best Okinawan meals of your life!

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