Naha, Okinawa: brief report
Our four days in Okinawa were very tasty. Days one and two were up north, staying at the Kanucha resort on the eastern side of the island. A brief rundown of the resort food: Japanese restaurant was pretty good for dinner and breakfast, Chinese restaurant breakfast was horrible, and the informal Okinawan restaurant was very good. Shinzan soba in Nago was disappointing: bland broth, grisly pork ribs, unexceptional noodles.
The food highlights came during days three and four, in Naha. Two meals stood out.
First was dinner at Ayajo, an izakaya on Ichigan-dori, two blocks off of the main street Kokusai-dori. They feature Okinawan specialties, and standouts included jimamitofu -- the creamiest of the several versions I tried in Okinawa -- and minudaru, black-sesame crusted pork. The place is small and feels family-run, patronized by regulars but with an English menu.
Second was lunch at the big municipal market. I chose fish downstairs, which was sent to a restaurant upstairs and prepared. I had chutoro sashimi and shio-yaki mackerel. Both were very fresh. The mackerel stayed moist. Two simple dishes, both well made. I had no idea, when I chose the fish downstairs, what the serving portion would look like, and I ended up with 13 pieces of chutoro sashimi and a whole big fat grilled saba. I had also ordered yakisoba before seeing what the fish portions would look like. Embarrassingly, I was only able to finish around half my meal. The bill for food that easily would have filled two bellies was Y1800.
If you go, it's a little tricky to navigate unless you speak Japanese (I don't). I recommend going upstairs first, choosing the restaurant that looks busiest (any of them will cook fish ordered downstairs), ask for their business card, then go back downstairs to choose your fish, show them the business card so they know where to send the fish, and then go back up and claim your table. You pay upstairs when you're done.
Shinzan was recommended for good Okinawa soba in an English-language guidebook I picked up on my last trip, in late 2006. I had wanted to try it, but the day I went up to Nago, I forgot the book. I thought about looking for it (Nago's not that big, after all), but just as well I didn't, because from the map on their website, it looks like they're close to the Orion brewery, and I was heading a different direction from the big banyan tree. I'm scheduled to go back in early 2009, and if I make it up to Nago, I'll probably give it a try. I hope you were able to find some local soba somewhere else that you liked better. When it's good, it's really good! (See my avatar.)
Ayajo sounds good. I usually go to the Okinawan restaurant at Palette Kumoji, which I like, but nothing wrong with trying somewhere else. Did you try tofuyo?
Good advice on how to work the fish market/restaurants at Heiwadori/Makishi Market. I don't really speak Japanese, either, so the prospect of figuring out how to handle the transaction seemed too daunting.
Attached are some pictures from the market.