Whether it is the broth, noodles or pork, each soba shop has its specialty Okinawa soba that is loved by its devoted group of followers. When I asked my Japanese friends to recommend the best Okinawa soba shop, I frequently received a myriad of fervent responses. After living in Okinawa for close to 2 years, my gastronomical adventures brought me to a number of well-known Okinawa soba establishments.
For an authentic Okinawan experience, step into Shimujo, a national tangible cultural property in the former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Shuri, and indulge in a hearty bowl of Okinawa soba. From the cobbled footpath, to the well and walls of the pigsty surrounding the house, there is something otherworldly about slurping soba in the traditional red tiled-roof house. Kneeling around the communal tables while waiting for my meal, I could almost imagine the how life was like during the Ryukyu Kingdom period. The popular set meal consists of a big bowl of soba with tantalizing pieces of san mai niku, tangy mozuku (a kind of seaweed produced in Okinawa), Okinawan style flavored rice, jushi (a rice dish that usually contains vegetables and pork), and jimami dessert (Okinawa’s special blend of peanut tofu).
Kishimoto Shokudo きしもと食堂
There is a legendary “Soba road’ up north in Motobu. The scenic mountain route 84 is blessed with a charming stretch of soba shops. One of the most renowned soba shop is Kishimoto Shokudo (きしもと食堂). Founded in 1905, its famous Okinawa soba contains a secret ingredient – tree ash! The noodles are cooked with water soaked in tree ash. The strange ingredient works its magic as locals and tourists do not mind queuing for a long time just for its trademark soda. It is highly recommended to order a savory bowl of jushi to complete this Okinawan feast.
Another reputable soba joint along the “Soba road” is Yanbaru Soba (山原そば) that is famous for its delicious soki soba. The fragrant broth, made with bonito and pork, brings out the flavors of the spare pork ribs, which are perfectly seasoned with a homemade sauce.
A fan of squid ink-related food should not miss Yaezen (八重善). This homely soba shop along the “Soba road” dishes up only 10 bowls of soba in squid ink soup daily. It takes a lot of luck and bravery (by donning a ghastly white apron to shield the attacks of the squid ink blots) to enjoy this bowl of Okinawa soba!
Everyone in Okinawa knows about Nago’s Miyazato soba. This old-fashioned shop is an Okinawa soba institution in the North. The kind obasans running the shop are a living testimony to the sterling reputation of Miyazato soba. The noodles absorb the essence of the bonito infused soup and the slender slices of kombu (a type of kelp) balances finely with generous portion of pork. The homemade koregusu in nondescript bottles epitomizes the lasting appeal of Miyazato soba – the best soba is usually found in the antique-looking places and prepared by experienced obasans.
The fandom of Okinawa soba is spread all over Okinawa, including the outer islands surrounding mainland Okinawa. The taste and style of Okinawa soba vary from island to island. I had the privilege to patronize an outstanding soba shop on the beautiful Miyako islands. Established in 1961, Maruyoshi Shokudo (丸吉食堂) is one of the oldest soba shop in Miyako. Over the years, the generations of the family kept refining the recipe to achieve their signature Okinawa soba that has a distinctive garlic flavour. Unlike most Okinawa soba in mainland Okinawa, this famous Miyako soba hides its succulent meat under its noodles. The well-prepared broth is the key to Maruyoshi’s fame as it is painstaking made by a flawless combination of pork bone soup base, pork spare ribs, chicken and bonito soup stock. After drinking every single drop of the soup, the satisfied soba eaters can enjoy a complimentary brown-sugar flavored iced stick.
In another world-class island paradise, Yaeyama islands, a different version of Okinawa soba, with slightly rounder noodles, is a well-loved local cuisine. The most memorable meal I had in Yaeyama islands was a humble bowl of Okinawa soba prepared on top of Iriomote’s Pinaisara waterfalls, the largest waterfall in Okinawa. Eating the soba while admiring the panoramic views offered by Iriomote’s majestic Nature was simply an unforgettable experience.
Try to conquer all these soba shops and enjoy authentic Okinawa soba when you visit Okinawa!
Okinawa Soba Shop Listings
Address: 2-124-1 Shuri, Sueyoshicho, Naha city, Okinawa Prefecture 903-0801
Opening hours: 11.30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (or till sold out), closed Wednesdays
Address: 5 Toguchi, Motobu, Kunigami district, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0214
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. (or till sold out), closed Wednesdays
Kishimoto Shokudo Yaedake branch きしもと食堂八重岳
Address: 350-1 Inoha, Motobu, Kunigami district, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0228
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Address: 70-1 Izumi, Motobu, Kunigami district, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0221
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (or till sold out), closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Address: 342-1 Namizato, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0222
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (6.30 p.m. in summer), closed Tuesdays
Address: 1-27-2 Miyazato, Nago, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0011
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., irregular closing days
Address: 975 Aza-Sunagawa, Gusukube Town, Miyakojima City, Okinawa Prefecture 906-0108
Opening hours: 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (8 p.m. in summer), irregular closing days