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Mountaintop Curcuma: real culinary adventure

Date Posted: 2011-12-16

It’s been described as a place that takes two hours to get to, and 30 minutes to return, but Curcuma in southern Okinawa is an adventure, an educational experience, a breathtaking and spectacular view, and Thai in the sky.

It’s a Thai restaurant, but getting there’s half the fun. The drive to the extreme south of Okinawa takes folks well beyond the expressway and onto the winding roads that are the real Okinawa. They’re paved though, so it’s just a matter of following all the signs to the top of the mountain near the ancient Chinen Castle and the sacred spiritual site Seifa Utaki.

Curcuma is a Thai restaurant, with an Asian master chef whose specialties extend beyond the kitchen to the garden, where the restaurant raises its own herbs and spices. Those are blended into everything from Thai Pad Thai, a popular noodle dish, to several Asian curries, Thailand’s most famous Tom Yum Kung spicy shrimp soup, and variations of a dozen Asian specialties. The food’s well worth the drive, and even more importantly, the waiting. Be prepared, as the ever-popular Curcuma often has a dozen or more parties ahead of you, and nobody’s in a rush to eat and run.

There’s a reason for that, too. The view from Curcuma is breathtaking, with its view from southeast Okinawa out over the ocean waters. From the mountaintop, the view to several islands is clear, and not too far to the right as you look from Curcuma’s patio dining, there’s even an active fishing port. There are gardens to walk in, and swings to swing in, and grass to frolic in.

What you don’t find in most restaurant entrances though, are dinosaurs. Yep! Dinosaurs. Bones, fossils and plenty of artifacts. It’s laid out seemingly haphazardly, but it actually makes for a fun visit, walking alone or with kids through the displays of huge dinosaur skeletons only a couple meters away. And on the way out, there’s even a massage area waiting, foot massage or full body, right next to the dinosaurs.

Curcuma’s open daily 10 a.m. ~ 10 p.m., with last orders at 9 p.m. There’s an exception though; Tuesday’s hours are 10 a.m. ~ 6 p.m. with the last order at 5 p.m. Reservations are available at (098) 949-1189. English and picture menus are available. Through December, mention “Japan Update” or show this article and receive a free lemongrass tea.

Getting there is the trick. Many visitors think they know the “best” way, but try this route: Take the expressway south until it ends. At the split, follow the signs for the airport but at the first exit bear left on Route 329, and then south onto 331, as 329 essentially turns into 331. Go a total of roughly 16 kilometers between the two. At that point, look for the junction to Route 86. Do NOT turn there, but begin watching your odometer another 1.2 kilometers and then turn right. The landmark for that right turn is a white sign giving directions to Chinen Castle.

Getting closer now. After turning right, begin counting the small alley roads and take the 3rd right. You should now begin seeing Café Curcuma signs. Follow those signs and take a quick left turn to go up a very steep grade about .4 kilometers. Turn right at the big green dinosaur, and you’re in the parking lot. Park, relax and enjoy the view, the dinosaurs and the food.

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