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Okinawa’s soba earns cultural status in Brazil

Date Posted: 2008-05-24

Okinawa soba has won the hearts and palates of a major Brazilian city, where hundreds of Okinawans have immigrated and now call home.

Campo Grande warmed to its Asian neighbors, and fell in love with Okinawa soba. The popular noodles were so appreciated by the Brazilians, they launched a crusade to grant it cultural heritage status. Since 2006, soba’s been the byword for great noodles, and is everywhere.

The chairman of the Okinawa Prefectural Association says “there’s a city mayor who loves Okinawa and wants to make soba a cultural heritage.” George Tamaki says the Campo Grande mayor wants to make it practically a national dish and “promote it to other tourists.”

The soba noodles are selling in more than 40 booths in marketplaces across the Campo Grande city limits. Campo Grande, situated about 1,000 kilometers from Sao Paolo, has more than 700,000 residents. Aside from the market booths, soba is now being marketed and sold in more than 100 downtown restaurants, where everyone’s trying chopsticks, which are uncommon in South America.

“More than 50 years ago,” Tamaki says, “soba wasn’t popular and only Japanese or Okinawans ate it because it was noisy to eat. In fact,” he says, “Brazilians looked suspiciously on soba.” An Okinawan now running a soba place in Campo Grande says when he first started, “I made a fence by the tents so the public wouldn’t see people eating soba. But then one day a Brazilian ordered soba and called it ‘great’. That’s when it became popular.”

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