Recipes, when in Okinawa

When in Okinawa, Try Purple Food

You’ll  never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try.
Dolly  Parton

Most people who have come to Okinawa probably know about the Purple Sweet Potato (Beni-imo) that grows prolifically here. (See article: http://www.downtoearth.org/health/nutrition/okinawan-sweet-potato-purple-powerhouse-nutrition for more information) I have noticed the dominance of the color purple with every visit I make to local food market or gift shop. Gazing at a plethora of purple snack foods, I have always been curious as to what they might taste like.

I made a trip within the last week to the farmer’s market and wanted to pick out a few new things to try and I decided that there should be at least one purple item in my cart every time I go shopping. The Beni-imo could be a post alone, but I wanted to try some Beni-imo snacks along with other fresh produce.

It’s hard to tell by this picture but this little pineapple had a very purplish hue to it. The inside was yellow like any other pineapple I’ve seen and it was delicious.
pineapple

Here were the purple snacks I chose. At first glance I was sure one was a cookie. Upon closer inspection it looked more like cake.DSC03143

The bag appeared to have candy-covered peanuts which would be one of my favorite snack foods. If you look closely at the label you’ll find a small caricature that looks like a sweet potato man complete with arms and legs. So in theory these were in fact sweet potato covered peanuts. The lightly sweet crunchy coating complimented the savory peanuts well. DSC03146

I then tasted the “cake”. As I picked it up out of the container it sunk a little into my thumb revealing a central layer. It turned out to be a sandwich pastry of some sort.

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My first bite revealed a fruity jam layer in the center that no doubt tasted like sweet potato. The gooey, spongy pastry was not what I expected. I’m still not sure what it is; the best I can say is that it is a Wagashi, but there are many different types of Wagashi. It tasted okay, but it was so chewy I had to stop. My mouth got tired.

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Next I tried a curious fruit that was of great interest to me. Its papery outer shell and round fruit looked just like a tomatillo only this was orange and a little smaller. I knew I had seen something in a book about tomatillos being relative to an Asian Lantern fruit of some kind so I started researching on the internet. My search led me to believe that this fruit goes by a few names such as Chinese Ground Cherry, Cape Gooseberry, and Orange Tomatillo.

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The inside of the fruit had an identical texture to the tomatillo, was a little sweeter and tangier, and had the similar citrusy taste and smell. I was convinced it was a closer relative to a tomatillo than a tomato and wondered how it would taste in salsa–not that I found out because I’ve already eaten them all (after saving some seeds!).

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This, I was certain would be a small melon. I was very interested in a small melon because I knew I would be attempting to eat it by myself. Cutting it open I found the flesh to be pale.

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My taste test gave me yet another unexpected surprise for the day. It tasted exactly like a cucumber. There was nothing sweet or melon-like about it. I do like cucumber, but I didn’t think I could eat that much cucumber. I placed the remaining portions into a container in the fridge.

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I was very excited to try this tiny squash since I’m the only one in our house that really eats it. It had this little protective bottom cover and looked adorable. Then I took it home and discovered something on the bottom.

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Ewww, how disappointing right?  This led me to cutting almost half of my already tiny squash to throw away. Well, the top half was yummy. Note to self and my readers: always look on the bottom of the produce before buying!

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There is nothing mysterious about these tomatoes; I’m just grateful I can buy them locally.

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To finish out my taste testing session, it was time to make a brew of authentic Japanese loose leaf tea. Word of caution: Japanese Tea is STRONG even for tea enthusiasts like myself. I have been wanting to try more teas for a long time but as usual I’m intimidated by the selection. Usually all of the labels are in kanji and I don’t know what the name of the teas are or what they contain. This one had the name Ryukyu Ouki Tea which is an indication that it’s Okinawan. I don’t know if Healthy Communication is a brand or what the tea is suppose to promote.

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With some locally grown honey and my Japanese Tea Set I was good to go. As suspected, it was a strong hearty green tea and the honey complimented it well.

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Expect more taste testing in future posts and don’t let me forget to always add something purple to my cart!

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4 thoughts on “When in Okinawa, Try Purple Food”

  1. =) the melon-y-cucumber-y thing in your pictures is a tougan, or winter melon. it can be eaten raw or cooked, though some get stomach upset from eating it raw. it is very much like cucumber though. funny that i came across this today, i just posted a recipe for tougan soup this morning. =)

      1. you’re welcome! the pineapple is called piichipain, as in peach pineapple. beni imo piinattsu-peanuts. and the cake thing says yakimochiyaki… yakimochi is roasted rice cake. but yakimochiyaki translates as jealous person… i don’t know enough to understand this… 0.o

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