The spotlight was on Okinawa last week, as two locations in the city held events in honor of Japan’s southernmost prefecture.
Sing Sing Karaoke in the East Village was the host last Thursday, when a handful of people who love Okinawa gathered for a home-cooked meal filled with regional specialties. Everyone enjoyed fu champuru (a stir-fry with fu, a gluten extracted from wheat flour), rafute (braised pork belly), ninjin shirishiri (braised carrots), and mozuku seaweed (native Okinawan seaweed in vinegar).
Patrons sipped on beverages from Okinawa – such as Orion beer and three kinds of awamori, the region’s distilled liquor of choice – while singing karaoke songs by Okinawan stars BEGIN and Natsukawa Rimi.
Then on Saturday, Uminoie, a tiny East Village izakaya, hosted a packed house, serving Chef Mika Okui’s scrumptious Okinawan buffet of goya champuru, taco rice (ground beef with rice, lettuce, and taco seasonings), and the tenderest rafute one could imagine.
Shochu/awamori expert Stephen Lyman of the website Kampai! gave a tutorial on awamori and offered tastings of the different types of the Okinawan spirit. There was plenty of Orion beer and awamori cocktails to sample as well.
Live music from Okinawan sanshin (three-stringed, banjo-like instrument) performer and instructor Saki Taguchi and Ryu-Kaji rounded out the event.
These special Okinawa nights reinforced the idea that Okinawan culture is alive and vibrant in the New York area.