I arrived in Okinawa the weekend before Thanksgiving 2015 via Tokyo. I was prepared for the customs in Tokyo based on my trip to China mentioned in Part I. My initial stay was at a hotel on Camp Foster USMC base in Okinawa. I stayed there until I found an apartment and got settled in with some purchases.
I wished I’d been more prepared as I could have saved money and brought sheets, towels, and some basic necessities. I planned to live as simply as possible and not have a lot to take home when the assignment ended and I returned to the states. The apartment was furnished and even had some dishes someone left behind so I had a good start at setting up my new home.
It was more than a month before I could get a base pass to shop or even work on base so I did all of my shopping off base. That was a real advantage I later learned. I wasn’t startled by the local stores because my Chinese daughter-in-law bought products from the local Taipei store in Roanoke and I had been there a few times. Plus, I’d been taken to some local restaurants by my working partner who lived on the island (a retired Marine) and between both experiences I was able to find plenty of products I liked and wanted to try.
One of the first necessities was a rice cooker. I’d only used Minute Rice at home, but knew my daughter-in-law had a rice cooker and when I visited China every home had a huge one. My landlord took me to a local department store to buy some curtains and I saw they had rice cookers that seemed inexpensive. Granted they were all in Japanese, but how hard could that be?
Japanese Rice Cooker
My friend told me that rice is a very important part of the Okinawan culture and there are many choices as well as very expensive ones to give as gifts. He advised me to purchase a mid-range priced rice and try it and then move up or down from there. I’ve actually liked the first choice I made and used it ever since.
The photo button was pretty obvious and it came with two measuring cups. There were also graduated markings on the inside of the removable pot. I knew that the ratio of water was 2:1 of rice. I made rice and it actually came out. It was fluffy, yet sticky so easy to eat with chopsticks.
I took a photo of the front panel and sent it to my daughter-in-law. I knew there was a difference in the writing, Kanji, between different Asian cultures but hoped she could tell me what the different buttons meant. It was funny because she said one was for white rice, one for brown rice, and the third button she didn’t know!
If you didn’t know it, a rice cooker stays on warm after it cooks the rice for about 18 hours. During my first month in the apartment I was strapped for money and ate a lot of rice!
I bought fresh salmon that was very thin and delicious and became a staple for my meals. It was very inexpensive. I dread the thought of returning to the U.S. and no longer having this available. For $5 or less I had enough salmon for two meals. Hard to beat, right?
One of the things that I found that separated Okinawa from the U.S. other than types of food and freshness of food was quantity. When you go to a restaurant, you get what’s called a ‘set’. That’s a combo in the U.S. Except it’s also different from a combo in that it generally contains miso soup, and several items to make the ‘set’. Often there will be a small cookie or something sweet and matcha tea or oolong tea.
At the grocery store, quantities are small. You don’t buy a pound of bacon or several pound package of steak or pork. You buy small packages that are very thinly sliced of whatever it is. You see quarts of milk not gallons. You see individual bottles of soft drinks, not 2-liter bottles or 6-packs. You see small loafs of bread with 6-8 slices though the slices are as thick or thicker than Texas toast.
The vegetables are all fresh and delicious, but are also small. Cucumbers are as skinny as two of my fingers. Sweet potatoes (a staple here and even available in bags for enjoyment the way we might see fresh peanuts on the street) are thin and smaller than my wrist. Lettuce comes in half a head and celery or fresh herbs come just a few stalks instead of an entire bunch.
On the contrary carrots are HUGE! Bok choy is big and what I think is referred to as Napa Cabbage is big.
Soba noodles are very popular here, but Taco Rice is everywhere. The Okinawan poeple love it!
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