EN Dining kicks off a promotional seasonal summer menu centred around the produce and taste of Okinawa, Japan.

If you’ve never tried the food of Okinawa, you may be surprised to find how unique it is. While Okinawa may be part of Japan, Okinawa cuisine is very different from that of the mainland.

There are many reasons for this.

For one, Okinawa is Japan’s southernmost province and is closest to the equator. This means it grows a different set of crops – bitter gourd, purple sweet potato, taro, sugar cane, papaya – that forms much of their diet as well as exports.

Another reason? Prior to its annexation by Japan in 1879, it was an independent kingdom that sat as an important trading hub between North Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. The story goes that the Ryukyu Kingdom – sandwiched between China and Japan – had to maintain a fine political balance those two major powers. Shuri Castle, where the Ryukyu royal court assembled, even had two wings built on the palace grounds; one was meant to house Chinese envoys, and the other for Japanese emissaries. A royal Ryukyu cuisine was developed, drawing on both Japanese and Chinese cuisines to suit the visiting ambassadors.

En Dining - Okinawa Soba
Wheat noodle-based Okinawa Soba is more akin to udon than it does regular Japanese soba.

Those influences on Okinawa cuisine persists on this day. And you can have a taste of that at EN Dining.

The casual Japanese restaurant has introduced a seasonal summer menu centred around the flavours of Okinawa. There’s Okinawa Soba, a regional speciality that’s vastly different from Japanese soba. Soba from the mainland is usually made with buckwheat, but this version consists of thick wheat noodles that’s more like udon. These noodles are served in a rich, flavourful broth made by simmering bonito flakes (katsuoboshi), pork bones and pork slices for hours. Topped with fish cake (kamaboko), chunks of pork belly, chopped green onion and red ginger (beni shoga), this makes for a hearty, robust, and comforting, meal. For even more flavour, you can add some koregusu, an Okinawan chilli sauce made by steeping chilli peppers in awamori.

EN Dining - Zanpa and Natsu Spritz
The Higa Zanpa White Awamori is used as a spirit base for the Natsu Spritz, which made with the addition of native shiquasa citrus juice.

Speaking of awamori, this is the indigenous liquor of Okinawa. Unlike Japanese shochu which is usually made from sweet potato, rice or barley, this alcoholic beverage is specifically distilled from long grain indica rice, the same variety that gives us our Thai jasmine rice. Awamori can be drunk neat, but like shochu it is more often than not drunk with ice or water (both hot and cold). Today awamori is also increasingly used in cocktails.

EN Dining’s seasonal Okinawa menu offers the multiple award-winning Higa Zanpa White Awamori, which they sell by the bottle. This comes with a fruity aroma and a refreshing smooth flavour that’s also easy on the palate at 25% ABV. But if that sounds like too much commitment, go their Natsu White Spritz, a white awamori-based spritz that uses shiquasa juice – a native citrus fruit also known as Okinawa lime – for its piquant sourness and then topped with soda for the perfect summer tipple.

En Dining - Rafute
Rafute is a braised pork belly dish simmered with soy and awamori.

You can supplement these seasonal options with more Okinawan specialities from EN Dining’s regular menu. There’s Rafute, a traditional Okinawan-style pork belly dish – similar to Japanese buta kakuni and Chinese lu rou – braised in soy and awamori into unctuously tender submission that you’ll want to eat with rice.

A must-order is the Goya Champuru, a quintessential Okinawa dish. Interestingly champuru is a word borrowed from the Malay and Indonesian archipelagoes – campur, which means “to mix”. The champuru is effectively a stirfry, while the goya version puts Okinawa’s iconic bitter gourd as the star ingredient. Traditionally goya champuru is fried with spam, but EN Dining’s take uses pork belly along with sliced bitter gourd, tofu, and egg for comforting and homely flavours.

En Dining - Goya Champuru
Probably the most iconic Okinawa dish is Goya Champuru, a stirfry featuring bitter gourd.

Hankering for a taste of Okinawa yet? If you can’t quite pencil a trip to the beautiful Japanese island province any time soon, you can certainly head over to EN Dining for its special seasonal summer menu.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with EN Dining. EN Dining’s seasonal Okinawa summer menu is available from 13 July to 31 August 2022. You can make your reservations here.


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