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Okinawa’s Soul Food, Hija (Goat) Cuisine, is Available at the Stylish [rat & sheep] (Urasoe City)
post : 2019.09.26 21:00
The Minatogawa area in Urasoe City is known for the stylish shops that line the streets, similar to the Oyama area in Ginowan City. This area, called Minatogawa Stateside Town, is a popular local spot where you can enjoy a distinctively Okinawan atmosphere. This was once a housing area for US military personnel and their families, and the structures and the whole neighborhood underwent work and was reborn as Minatogawa Stateside Town.
This area is busy with people even on weekdays. In this article, I will be introducing [rat & sheep], a restaurant that I recommend if it’s your first time to try goat cuisine.
To describe this establishment in a nutshell, I’d say, “It’s a casual and welcoming restaurant for people to enjoy goat cuisine in style.” Recommended items on their menu are the Pinza Hamburg, and the Pinza Curry & Rice. “Pinza” means “goat” in the language of Miyako Island. Goat meat is used as the star ingredient in these dishes, but they’re prepared in a more “curve ball” sort of way. For people who may not be too fond of goat meat for its distinctive characteristics, and even for people who are huge fans, the dishes offered at [rat & sheep] are very well balanced. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned goat meat diner, you’ll find their dishes to be wonderful.
Jun Taira says, “I hope we can be a gateway for people to enjoy goat meat.” And gateway, they certainly are. Their dishes have become popular among visitors from other parts of Japan, and even among children, too. Unlike the strong and potent experience I had when I once went to a goat specialty restaurant, the dishes at [rat & sheep] have a soft, mild flavor and are actually very pleasant. Maybe I can describe them as being more feminine than masculine, and more elegant than wild. They carefully bring out the naturally delicious tastes of goat meat to offer a new and different taste.
“Goats from farms near the sea tend to taste more delicious. It’s probably because the grass they feed on, and the goats themselves too, are constantly exposed to the mineral-rich sea breeze.” If you’ve tried goat soup or goat sashimi, you probably know that goat meat has a very distinctive smell and texture. That’s what keeps many people away from trying it, but Jun-san prepares the meat so that the odor is toned down and the delicious essences remain in the finished dish.
“Okinawan goats are unique. They’re delicious but are more slender, with more fat and less red meat. I first thought about preparing them like lamb chops, but the yield from one goat was too little, and so the cost was higher than what I wanted to offer the dishes for.” Jun-san wanted to set his prices so that the locals can enjoy his food anytime they wanted, and so he thought of using ground goat meat instead. That’s how he reached his popular menu items, the curry and hamburg.
His next challenge was creating his recipes. He tried three different patterns; using goat meat only, mixing goat meat and beef, and mixing with pork. In the end, he decided to blend ground goat and pork because it brought out the great features of goat meat and enhanced the overall finish.
The ingredients he uses for his hamburg are ground goat meat, ground pork, onions, and seasoned with salt and pepper only. By pursuing simplicity, he brought out the great taste of goat meat. The curry is a keema curry, and he makes the base by carefully sautéing onions and tomatoes for four to five hours, and uses coriander, cumin, and garam masala for seasoning. The dishes are delicious as they’re cooked with such great care. The more I learned about the dishes, the more I enjoyed them.
I wondered why Jun-san’s was so very particular about goat meat. When I asked him, I was touched by his response. “Goat dishes are a unique part of Okinawa’s traditional food culture. And in Okinawa, goat meat was what kept my parents and their generation alive after the war when food was very scarce.”
He explained that up until he was around junior high school age, it was common to see households with goats in their yards. Whenever there was a special occasion, goat meat was procured, big meals were prepared, and enjoyed by everyone, including people in the neighborhood. Goat meat, in Okinawa’s food culture, was a source of learning about life, and also a symbol of community life among the people of the neighborhood during happy occasions.
“I hope to offer goat cuisine based on those thoughts, and hope that people will enjoy it in this casual and a little stylish setting. It would be great if we could show the way to this traditional food to the customers who try goat soup and sashimi and other dishes at our shop for the first time.” This is the intention behind starting [rat & sheep]. Before, it was a nighttime café diner that only served dinners, but now, they changed their business style and are open for both lunch and dinner for more people to enjoy.
“The windows in our shop are big and the rooms are filled with natural light. The garden’s pretty big too, don’t you think? We hope to hold art events outdoors, with sculptures, ceramics, painting and other works,” says Jun-san who’s also a professional photographer. Through [rat & sheep], he connects to various aspects of Okinawa in many ways.
A place where people are connected through food and art. Here at [rat & sheep], they offer their two goat meat dishes as mentioned, as well as green curry with local vegetables. For beverages, they have Yamashiro Tea from Jun-san’s hometown of Ishikawa in Uruma City, and their original lemonade, among other soft drinks. They have a wide selection of alcoholic beverages, too. They offer a brand of Awamori distilled in the central region of Okinawa Island, as well as others like six varieties of red and white organic wine selections.
For dessert, I highly recommend their Cream-Sand Scone, a wonderfully delicious scone with cream sandwiched in the middle. Jun-san’s partner, Masumi-san carefully bakes the breads and scones, and with each bite, the gentle, delicious taste spreads on the palate. In the recent years, there have been action by the government of Okinawa and goat meat is once again being recognized as a local specialty product. I hope you’ll give goat dishes a try while in Okinawa.
Address: 2-13-9 Minatogawa, Urasoe City, Okinawa
Hours: 10:30 to 17:00 (Monday thru Saturday)
19:00 to 24:00 (Fridays & Saturdays)
Closed: Sundays and Mondays that fall on holidays
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda