Gastronomic Destinations: Okinawa/Kume Island 1~3

PART 1

Kume Island is a small island located just north west of the bottom tip of Okinawa Island. Not so long ago, only a very few planes landed there and visitors had to stay at minshuku/民宿, the japanese equivalent of Bed & Breakfasts.
Nowadays at least three major hotels welcome tourists coming on daily flights.

Guardian Lions at Kume Island Airport.

Kume Island Airport is tiny but welcoming. In any case two massive lion guardians are there to fend off all bad spirits!

Another statue proves that the island is also a major centre for whale viewing. Actually it is also natural park where sea turtles are protected (but I will talk about that in another part!) and skin divers come from far away to admire the beautiful white sand sea bottoms, corals and abundant marine life.

We arrived in the evening after dusk. Incidentally all the above pics were taken later. We stayed at a farily decent hotel called Resort Hotel Kume Island, which boasted all the facilities wished for.

Although the season starts only in April, a large swiiming pool with bar, mini golf, parks for eating outdoors are on hand forthe lazy guests!
As I said we arrived in the evening just after the last limousine bus had departed. Instead we boarded a taxi whose local veteran driver proved a mine of information on the island and especially its nature.

After a quick dinner (all meals were included in the package) we had a look at the souvenir stand for later reference.
There is only one Japanese sake brewery on the min Island and a few shochu distilleries, but the regional drink is fiery spirit distilled from Thai rice and called awamori/泡盛. The minimum alcohol content is 25 degrees proof, but more usually 30 and can go as far as 45 and more!
You can drink it straight, on the rocks or with water.

They come in striaght one-year casked spirits or aged up to 18 years and more with consequent prices.
Kume Island is host to two distilleries, Kumeshima Distillery and Yoneshima Distillery for a population of less than 10,000 souls!

Collectors should be on the look-out as limited labels are sometimes printed like the ones above commemorating the Spring camp visit of the Rakuten Eagles Baseball Team playing in the Japanese Professional Basebll Pacific League (there are 12 professional clubs in two leagues in this country)!

Awamori in ceramic vessels make for beautiful souvenirs back home!

Some of the limited bottles even look like perfume vials (an interesting way to conceal your secret vice? LOL)!

More in old-fashioned, rustic, pottery!

Frankly speaking, the dinner had been a bit light after a three-hour long journey from Tokyo and we were still mightily hungry (and thirsty)!
Luckily enough (it was closed the next day!) an izakaya belonging to the same group owning our hotel stood across the street.
Called Nantoshokurakuen/南島食楽園, it is a welcoming place open from 17:30 to 24:00 (closed on Thursdays) which boasts truly local food.

The Missus opted for a couple of glasses of umeshu, but I ordered a small bottle of 3 years-aged Bi Awamori distilled by Kumeshima Distillery. It was served in a local pottery flask with ice and local water.

This water is a bit unusual, although typical of Japan. It is water flowing in neighbouring deep sea. It is of the purest kind and needs very little filtering or know because of its very low saline content!

We were in a bit of a fix at which fish or seafood to order for sashimi as the izakaya proposed no less than nine of them all caught along the island shores!

The sashimi on the left (above picture for closer look) is called “irabucha”, a green or brown-skinned snapper variety. A bit crunchy and delicious, it is eaten with its skin.

The fish in the middle is called Akamchi, another variety of snapper caught at 300~400 metre depths. Now this fish is extravagant for its rarity (you wi\on’t find it in Tokyo!) and an absolute delicacy melting in your mouth!
Can you spot the umibudo/sea grapes between the fish and the prawns?

Now, the kuruma ebi/large prawns were also an extravagant morsel. They were still alive and he head and tail moved even untouched!
As for the taste, they were halfway between raw lobster and ama ebi/sweet shrimps!

To ensure we came back to our hotel room unwanting, we ordered two different typically Okinawan foods: Champuru rice noodles as above.

And Agedahi Mizore Shima Dofu made with the local tofuu which is notably firmer than tofu found in other regions of Japan.

If you have the occasion to visit the island know that Kume Island is celebrated for its umibudo/sea grape seaweed, kuruma ebi/large prawns, ogo nori/seaweed, shima kamaboko/fish paste, Kumeshima soba/called soba but actually wheat noodles, miso cookies, awamori spirits, and deep sea pure water!

————————

PART 2

Tatami Beach

On the second day, after a hearty breakfast (probably the best meal at the hotel,…), we decided to vist a few parts of the island by bicycle. Most visitors to this island book a rental car or motorbike, but as neither of us drive, we opted for the cheap and healthy way. We could gone by bus, but the stopover options would have been greatly restricted.

Like in any city in Japan, if you keep an eye open you might discover a few interesting signs. This one is found above a “convenience store”!

It is also a good idea to keep another eye (how many do you have) onto the local roofs as they are often surmounted with “shiisa”, or lion guardians. Some of them are real beauties as we are going to discover them on the way!

In daytime, most of the izakayas are closed, but it is never a bad idea to find out what food they specialize in. Well, this one does serve goat meat, a local delicacy!

A laughing shiisa?

Sugar cane is the main crop in this island. They are everywhere. Interestingly enough, no rice is grown on the island (well, that is what our taxi driver told us last night…)

Sugar cane ready to be taken away. The Missus dissuaded me from pinching one!

Even in the remotest island, they play baseball!

As we rode over the bridge to the next island, we couldn’t help stop and take pictures of the beautiful cobalt blue waters and white sands!
Kume Island is one of the most famous spots for snorkeling and skin diving in Japan!

I don’t know the name of that tree, but I can assure you those rock hard fruit would be deadly if were unlucky enough…

The island is also replete with artists and their creations!

We finally reached our fist destination, the Tatami Beach/Mat Beach. Easy riding so far.

This rock pattern, unique in Japan, was formed when volcano lava hit water under the sea a long, long time (eons, actually) ago. Have you heard of the Giants Steps (or is it Stairs?) in Wales? The same, but different shape!

That is we were extremely lucky to find this sweet local lady who was harvesting “aosa”/green laver seaweed for her own consumption, although she told us locals were selling them for quite a hefty price in Tokyo! After paiinstakingly picking them from the rocks, she would first wash them in seawater and in clear water back home, a process that would take days. Her family mainly eats it in miso soup!

That “shiisa” might turn into a laughing ghost at night!

Just next to the Tatami Beach is another must visit: the Sea Turtle Museum of Kumeshima!
Unfortunately they don’t have a website, but it is compact with great information in spite of the relatively small size (ridiculoulsy cheap entry fee of 300 yen!) with TV video show.
The picture above represents a celebrated legend figure welcoming visitors. A bit tacky.

Great corals, but do not forget that picking live ones is prohibited!

This little museum boasts an incredible collection of almost all the shellfish (and some impressive corals9 found around the island!

Live sea turtles (there are three other types, small ones)! But not easy to take on pictures. I should have taken a video!

And it was back on the road!
I doubt that Jack Kerouac would have followed us, even with the help of the local fiery spirits!
Can you guess who is cycling ahead of me?

Now, it took us more than an hour of tough riding on a single-gear rusty bicycle over really nasty slopes to reach Ajimakan for lunch.
Ajimakan has a website in Japanese. it is a place worth the visit for tourists who want to learn local crafts!

Now the full lunch was 100% local! Very healthy! Apart of a little local char siu called rafute, it could have made for a vegetarian meal!

After luch, it was another tough ride up aninterminable slope to reach the Kumeshima Shizen Bunka Centre/Kume Island nature & Culture Park, another comparatively small park lost in the midst of a beautiful park. Another visit though as it is packed in a little space with history and natural information.
The boat above was used until WWII when there were little communications with Okinawa mainland.

A natural model of the island. Sorry, terrible picture. We found a similar one in Yakushima last year. Same artist obviously. Very instructive.

Great corals there, too!

A religious cortege dating back to the Meiji Era.

A collection of funeral ash vessels.

And then it was rolling down the slopes on our way back. easier, but a bit dangerous for my other alf!
Now, this “building” is a typical Okinawan cemetery/funeral crypt, completely different from those found in the main Japanese islands!

The great thing abou cyacling you can double back to take a picture of still well-preserved old tradtional Okinawan houses.

One of my favourite “shiisa” at the entrance of a house whose roof is also guarded by a lion!

With some time to spare and legs in need of relaxation, we visited another local supermarket to check on the local food. These are goya!

This gourd (not a good pic, sorry!) was longer than my whole forearm (and a lot thiscker!)!

Local red-fleshed satsuma imo/sweet potatoes.

Local fish: no name, but ridiculously cheap price!

The Okinawan char siu, or rafute. Delicious and so cheap! Oknawan markedly eat more meat than the average Japanese.

The local ham, another beauty!

Sushi meals. Not so local, mind you!

Maki sushi. Not so local, either, but this is a cheap supermarket!

The local spirit, awamori.
Our taxi driver last night told us that the local policemen are very lenient, except on drunken driving!

And then it was back to the hotel and a somewhat light dinner.
Great sunsets to be expexted in this very dry part of Japan!

This time we were prepared to go outside for more food (and drinks) as we knew beforehand than the fare at the hotel would not suffice.
We chose to enter this very local izakaya called Takaya.
The service was disappointing, but the food was worth the try!

Albacore tuna and cuttlefish/squid for sashimi. Eminently eatable!

The local set of kakiage tempura was also a good morsel and i had the merit to be very local.

To finish, a set of the local pickles to go with the awamori and the beer!

And that was it for the day!
Next and last time, we were going to spend almost a full day walking around back to the tatami beach, but that is for the next posting!

—————————————-
PART 3

Another picture of our favourite beach from the bridge!

On the “third” and last day of our stay we decided to both combine exercise and relaxation.
We walked all the way from the hotel and over the same bridge again as a very slow pace, taking in everything in for the last time.

We finally arrived at the tatami/straw mat beach and and checked with the small restaurat we were supposed to have lunch at. As it was still full we decided to go to the beach a last time.

We found our dear lady still harvestingmore aosa/green laver seaweed. We just had the time to greet her again and have a very pleasant if short chat before a horde of tourists came rushing!

Another picture of the beach still at low tide. It would be completely submerged later in the afternoon.

We went back to the small restaurant where we served another typical local lunch!

Featuring those great Okinawa “kuruma ebi”/large prawns in deep-fried manner!

We had a little walk in the neighbouring park before going to our main destination of the day: Bade Haus.
Bade Haus means Bath House in German.
Check their Homepage (Japanese, but have a look still!).
The seaweed-harvesting lady told us that quite a few locals were patronizing the place everyday.

I was not supposed to take this picture! LOL
The establishment features outdoor hot tub, a steam sauna, a bath pool, a rest and drink/food zone, a spa sauna and a massage room!
We spent such a long time in the outdoor hot tub filled with jacuzzi right in front of the sea! All water used is deep-sea water taken off that very coast!

We had spent at least two hours in the baths getting rid of the fatigue accumulated the previous day and started to get hungry again.
The establishment has a nice rest room equipped with a counter serving food.
At long last we could taste the Kumeshima Soba that the Missus had wanted so much. Actually “soab” in Okinawa is not “buckwheat noodles” but “wheat flour noodles”!
They were served with pieces of local kamaboko/fish paste and rafute/Okinawan char siu!

I’m not supposed to show that picture, either! LOL

The Missus is going to kill me for showing those “private” pictures! She said I looked like an idiot and she is probably right!

The dessert I chose was shaved ice with Kumeshima Brown sugar syrup over a bed of sweet red azuki beans. The dessert was totally vegan (I’m not, sorry!) and so tasty!

Another picture of the old idiot geezer!

Another picture of the beach as the tide was rising.

My last picture of the sea and beach under the setting sun.
We departed back to the hotel and airport…

Here is a selection of pics taken with the Missus’ camera as mine were all taken with my mobile phone:

That great sashimi plate we had at Nantoshokurakuen!

The sea from that long bridge!

The tatami./straw mat beach!

The sea turtle at the sea turtle museum/aquarium!

And another picture of the beach to say good-bye to Kume Island!

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4 thoughts on “Gastronomic Destinations: Okinawa/Kume Island 1~3”

  1. The plant with the big pineapple-like fruits is a pandanus – most probably P. utilis (le vacoa en francais). The fruits are edible, but not very tasty (mostly starch). You may have come across the leaves of another Pandanus species – P. amaryllifolius – which are widely used in other Asian cuisines as “Pandan leaves” (i.e. Thailand, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka) for their strong and pleasant aroma, mostly in curries.

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