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Since 1970 Yuunangii has been serving great Okinawan cuisine at the gateway to Naha’s Kokusai Street
post : 2017.10.30 07:00
No story about sightseeing in Okinawa would be complete without mentioning Naha City’s Kokusai Street. One of the largest, busiest streets in the prefecture is always crowded with tourists. Naturally, with the area’s booming popularity, rising land prices have made changes in the character of the neighborhood businesses inevitable. The Kumoji area near government offices has a great variety of establishments including souvenir shops, eating and drinking shops and taverns. Just a one-minute walk from the Kumoji Street intersection and 10 meters from the main street, a simple, white on black sign on the first floor of a building reads, as it has since 1970, “Yuunagii.” The famous and historic shop, established before Okinawa’s return to Japan, is notable for being the first to serve “Okinawan cuisine and awamori”
Yuunagii’s narrow interior has seating for up to 39 at the counter, tables or on tatami mats. Naturally, it is primarily a drinking destination at night but, unusually for an Okinawan restaurant in this neighborhood, it is also open for lunch. At lunchtime, locals and people who work in the neighborhood queue up daily for the Okinawa soba for 570 yen (tax included) that has had the same great taste for 47 years. Reservations may only be available for evening hours and only if you can come at the time of opening. Patrons are advised to come in early on weekdays to avoid a long wait.
Of course, the place is known for its Okinawan food. Selections include various champuru (stir-fry) dishes made from island-produced tofu, vegetables and other ingredients. The menu includes dishes that appeal to everyone from novice diners to experts. Particular care is given to pork dishes. A popular saying in Okinawa about pork goes “we eat every part but the squeal.”
Pigs are a major food item in Okinawa, where the limbs, trunk, viscera, skin, face fat and blood are used in various traditional dishes and cooking methods. One dish that historically has been popular with everyone from court nobles to commoners is rafute (750 yen). The classic dish of pork, seasoned with awamori (Okinawan sake) and soy sauce and simmered until tender is the quintessential Okinawan pork dish. Rafute (pronounced, “raf-tay”) recipes are as varied as the places that serve it. At Yuunagii, sanmainiku (pork belly) and their original house miso is used. This restaurant has been nominated for “Okinawa’s best rafute” in various guidebooks for good reason.
What goes into the creation of this famous dish? I was allowed to impose upon the kitchen staff for a look. The process begins in the morning as the meat is simmered slowly for five to six hours in water and awamori. The fat is skimmed several times to achieve a refined flavor.
There are no shortcuts taken to achieving the rich taste, silky texture and delectable aroma – which is mild without any strong pork odor. When the meat becomes tender enough to cut with chopsticks, it is just about done. The extraordinary texture and the silky melt-in-your-mouth collagen are enhanced by the homemade miso, which gives the whole its flavorful depth.
Several other pork dishes fill out the menu. From the top: soki, sauteed spareribs, (750 yen). Plenty of sake is used to make the tender cartilage a perfect match for the juicy meat. Next, tebichi, pig’s feet (640 yen) is stewed for over three hours is prepared in an elaborate process that includes shaving the hair with a razor. The two soups include Inamuruchi, made from pork stock an white miso and nakami no shriumon, which is made with organs.
Since first opening her shop, owner Aiko Tsujino has been full of enthusiasm. “The shop is run by only by housewives,” she said. “Since everything on the menu is handmade, it is all made with care. We use fresh, local vegetables and we buy our fish directly from the fish market every day.” As a result, food has the flavor of local anma (“mom” in the Okinawa dialect) dishes for local people.
For over 47 years the gentle taste of Okinawan “mom’s home cooking” has remained unchanged at Yuunangii, and this has certainly been what has been attracting locals, repeat visitors and tourists year after year.
Address: 3-3-3 Kumoji, Naha-city, Okinawa
Hours: Lunch 12:00-15:00 (last order); evening 17:30-22:30 (last order)
Closed: Sunday, holidays
Okinawa CLIP photo writer: Kiwamu Ogawa (Qey Word)