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Enjoy great Ryukyu Japanese cuisine in a hidden house with a red tile roof at Sakazen Maeda, Naha City
post : 2017.09.16 07:00
This district in Naha City used to be called Kuninda. People from Fujian Province in China came to Ryukyu by the order of Chinese emperor Kuang-Wu in 1392. They sank roots into the district and facilitated trade and diplomacy between the Ryukyu Kingdom, China and other countries. They were skilled professionals with expertise in areas such as technology, navigation, shipbuilding, languages, document creation and administrative work. These experts from China along with some of the samurai in Shuri and Naha were known as “Kuninda 36 group.” You may feel the presence of these people here and there in the atmosphere of the area Kume. Sakazen Maeda is one of such places.
Sakazen Maeda opened in December of 2012. The restaurant is a converted house that ws built in 1957. The relaxing ambience was crafted by time.
“We provide traditional Ryukyu Japanese food. All of the ingredients, such as seafood, pork and vegetables are locally grown and harvested,” said owner Teiko Maeda. “We operate with the idea that a healthy life comes from a healthy diet therefore we use fresh local herbs in our dishes and choose vegetables grown without chemicals – most of them anyway.” Maeda’s ancestors are from Kuninda 36 group mentioned above. She always welcomes customers wearing a beautiful kimono.
“If I describe our place in one word, it might be “gentleness,” said Maeda. “We try to provide customers with not only the expected services, but also the invisible ones, like hospitality.” She was carefully applying cypress oil to the wooden poles in the restaurant when I came in. “This daily routine is one I would call an “invisible service.” When customers come in, the nice smell welcomes them. “ She continued.
The garden is known as “the fairy garden” by regular customers. It is decorated with bird’s nest ferns (Cyathea lepifera), or bamboo bushes, which are reminiscent of old Okinawa. The private rooms with garden view are the most popular. “Many of our customer’s come here for business,” Maeda says. “We try to provide a comfortable ambience for business dinners.” All she and her staff care about is providing meticulous service to customers.
They serve individual dishes and various courses depending on budgets or dietary preferences (such as vegetarian). According to Maeda, female customers tend to prefer health-minded foods. Some VIP visitors from United States came and enjoyed a special vegetarian course last October.
Fish dishes are owner’s special recommendations, especially the Maasuni (fish simmered with salt), “as it is a very simple dish and the fish needs to be very fresh for the cooking. Please try our Maasuni.” She said.
I would like to introduce one of the courses: the Kumegozen is often ordered for business occasions. It comes with chef’s choice fresh sashimi, duruten (deep fried mashed taro, see below), * minudaru (steamed pork with sesame paste), Ie Island peanut tofu and more. The course includes about ten kinds of traditional Ryukyuan dishes with each one brought to your table individually.
*Duruten – deep-fried duruwakashii (a traditional Ryukyuan food is made with mashed taro, taro stems, shiitake mushrooms and pork)
The chief chef recommends a modified Yamatomushi, Okinawan-style. This is a steamed dish of local grouper, soft tofu and grated Japanese yam. It is one of the chef’s great fusion specialties.
“Of course we offer a great selection of awamori ( Okinawan sake),” Maeda says. “We have selections aged 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. We have a 44-year-old one as well.”
Wow, 44-year-old awamori! Can I see it? I asked.
“It is somewhere hidden.” She said with a smile. If you become friends with her, you may have a chance to taste the special awamori.
Tacchan, the chief chef welcomed me at the counter. “I do everything from selecting the fish at the market to cleaning up. I think I deserve more money,” he said, smiling. “Maybe triple the amount I am getting now.” He said and then laughed. His recommendation was the sashimi plate (a selection of grouper, giant clam and local octopus) and a steamed white fish. “Customers are honest,” said Chef. “I can see if they enjoyed the dish or not by the expressions on the faces. For an enjoyable conversation with Chef with him or the owner Maeda, it’s best to take a seat at the counter.
Actually, I wish I didn’t have to tell you about this hidden restaurant Sakazen Maeda. The owner, the chief chef and other staff welcome you with a beautiful garden, great Ryukyu Japanese food, and wonderful hospitality. Please visit them without hesitation even if you’re dining alone.
Message from Teiko Maeda, the owner of Sakazen Maeda to Okinawa CLIP readers:
“You will love the old Okinawan house with red roof a garden and Okinawan atmosphere. Please stop by and enjoy Ryukyu Japanese cuisine. We look forward to serving you with great food, hospitality and cheer.”
Address: 2-11-22 Kume, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 17:00-24:00 (last order 22:30)
Closed: Sunday and holidays
*reservations only accepted on Sundays and holidays
Okinawa CLIP photo writer: Mika Asaka