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Shoku no Ie Shimabukuro in Naha City Enjoy great food with ingredients from Ie Island
post : 2017.04.06 07:00
Ryugu Dori Shakougai is an area located behind Kokusai Street. Hostess bars and restaurants characterize this area. I heard somebody singing karaoke as I was walking around. I stopped in at a restaurant where Ie island food can be enjoyed in this unique part of town.
The day’s destination, Ie Island Shoku no Ie Shimabukuro, is located on the second floor of a complex bar building. “Shimabukuro is your ibukuro (stomach)” a handwritten sign proclaimed as I entered and I smiled at the joke.
A homey atmosphere is created with a counter and three tables. Cheerful-looking shisa dolls hold a sign saying “Imenshori” which means, “welcome” in the Ie Island dialect.
Cute characters are drawn on an Iijima guchi (Ie Island dialect) 50-sound chart on the door. You can get a good speech lesson from this chart. Noriaki Shimabukuro, the owner is from Ie Island. The small island is located about 30 minutes by ferry from Motobu Port in the north of the main island of Okinawa and has a population of about 5,000.
“If somebody asked me about my most favorite place, the answer would be Ie island without hesitation.” said Chef Noriaki about his beloved hometown. The deep fried snack Beniimo Buruburuu that he serves is one of the things he used to enjoy during his childhood. He buys the dried dough from someone he calls Grandma Haru when he goes back to visit which he fries it at his restaurant.
Granma Haru’s Beniimo Buruburuu is made with steamed beniimo, Okinawa’s famous purple sweet potato and flour then kneads, dries and slices the dough. The sliced flat dough changes into a fluffy, puffed shape in oil. The snack is usually eaten sugar by kids topped with sugar, but grown ups can enjoy it with salt with alcohol here. The light, fluffy texture and simple taste are addicting.
Shoku no Ie Shimabukuro was originally located in Shibuya, Tokyo. Noriaki was working as a chef in Naha City 15 years ago when his friend invited him to join his Okinawan restaurant in Tokyo. In 2008, Noriaki started his own restaurant in Shibuya. As he wanted to open a restaurant somewhere closer to his home island, he returned to Naha City in February 2015. Obtaining the ingredients he needs from Ie Island is certainly much easier from Naha and so his menu is made filled with Ie Island ingredients.
Ie Island foods including Ie shallots, jiimamii (peanuts), Ie octopus (caught by his father) are on offer
Slow-steamed octopus has a chewy texture. It fills your mouth with flavor as you chew.
Makiko is from Amami Oshima Island and has been Noriaki’s partner since the Shibuya days. She wrote the sign mentioned above and drew the cute picture on the menu. The two are always smiling and have a great sense of humor.
Two popular items Rafutee (simmered pork belly) and Tebichi (simmered pig’s feet) have an impressive dark color. The fifteen-year-old homemade sauce gives them their color. The original sauce was made in Tokyo. Since then they keep adding sauce in to the initial bottle to use in cooking. “This sauce knows about my difficult times in Tokyo and smiles received from customers, said Noriaki. “It is a part of Shimabukuro’s history.” The story the sauce tells adds flavor to his great food.
Ie Island is a place where flour has been produced since the Ryukyu Kingdom days. Noriaki uses Ie flour in tempura batter, noodles and hirayaachii (Okinawa crepes). During the war, the harvest was reduced and actually almost disappeared. But farmers decided to restore the field and return the flour tradition to the island. Ejimajinri, a rare spice, which is treasured by locals and great-tasting mineral and fiber-rich whole-wheat flour are used at Shimabukuro.
Noriaki’s tempura is made with the Ie Island flour and is deep-fried in rapeseed oil from Kumamoto Prefecture. The fresh tuna, snapper and seaweed tempura on the menu are crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside and not as heavy as most local tempura.
Noriaki’s cooking style is based on Okinawan tastes, but he adds some unique ideas. His Fuuchibaa Pohpoh is one example. Pohpoh is traditionally made with plain flour and eaten with miso. He adds fuuchibaa (mugwort) to the flour. The combination of the sweetness of the miso and the bitterness of the fuuchibaa is delicious. Jagasuku Butter is made of sautéed potatoes with small fermented fish. Spaghetti made with Ie soba noodles, Oki Napolitana, is also available. You will love his creative dishes.
Noriaki and Makiko hope tourists will enjoy Okinawan food as much as they love Okinawa. Don’t hesitate to try some completely new ingredients or dishes. For example, the Shimayasai no Midori no Yakisoba made with mugwort noodle, fuuchibaa (mugwort leaves), sakuna (bitter herb) and handama (Okinawan spinach).
At first, it seems bitter but the way they make it is delicious with all the tasty vegetables. There are no surprises or weird flavors in his dishes so you will feel great eating this healthy dish.
Fu champuru (sautéed gluten and vegetables) is made without eggs. Vegetarian or vegan menus are available on request. A customer once requested Okinawan food without meat or fish and that was their inspiration to make something tasty with limited ingredients. The challenge turned into new discoveries and possibilities in Okinawan cuisine for them.
When I visited the restaurant, it was packed with regulars and tourists, including folks from Taiwan. As the sanshin (Okinawan shamisen) music played, people started singing and dancing. “Great food is a tool for a great communication,” Noriaki said. “I would like to provide that kind of space for people.” Santa Maria Rum made from Ie Island sugarcane is a great help as well. Listening to local stories over local liquor is a great experience and could make you want to fly to Ie Island the very next day. Great food, drinks and communication are waiting for you at Shoku no Ie Shimabukuro -- why not stop by if you feel like enjoying any of these things?
Ie Island Shoku no Ie Shimabukuro
Address: 3-10-5 Makishi, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: Lunch 12:00-14:00; dinner 17:00:23:00 (no lunch service Sundays)
Closed: Tuesday and some irregular days
Okinawa CLIP photo writer: Norie Okabe