Mar 2, 2018
When you travel, there are certain local food dishes that can appear as "must trys" on your list, even if you know you might not like them. But sometimes you might be surprised by how much you like it as well, and chanpuru in Okinawa is a perfect example of a simple local dish that catches many people's heart upon trying it, and is definitely one of the 'soul foods' of Okinawa.
Chanpuru is a dish that is often found in Okinawan restaurants, but it is also a family food thanks to how simple it really is. If I was to describe chanpuru to you, it is basically a plate of stir-fried vegetables plus a specific ingredient. It doesn't sound that unique in just words, does it?
However, this simple concept is always cooked to perfection. Every time I eat it, no matter eating it outside or at home, it never disappoints. There are variations to chanpuru, and the main ingredient is usually written as a part of the name: goya (bitter melon), tofu, ofuu (this interesting chewy thing made from wheat gluten, I believe), soumen (a type of thin noodles), simply veggies, and many other options. Given how goya is often associated with Okinawa, many people outside of the island assume that all chanpuru has the bitter melon sliced and included. However, that is not quite the case, just as not all ramen comes with cha-siu on top and katsu can be done with food outside of pork as well. It is just a common misconception. (Having that said, I looooooove bitter-melon and I would highly recommend anyone to give it a try).
Besides the main ingredient, the other common components include cabbage, bean sprout, fish cake, carrot, tofu, and perhaps spam. With all the ingredients sliced up and prepared, you would simply heat up the fry-pan or wok, grease it up, toss all the things in and fry them up. As for seasoning, it is as simple as salt and pepper, plus the one key: dashi, or basically the fish powder.
Some people serve it up on the dining table as one of the dishes of a meal, and some would have it with rice on the side, treating it as the main dish of the meal. Whichever it is that you prefer, the sheer volume of a plate of chanpuru is usually enough to satsify.
As I mentioned earlier, Chanpuru is one of the 'soul foods' of Okinawa. It is filling, it is delicious, it is healthy with all the vegetables included, and most importantly, it is extremely easy to make, yet every family has its own particular set of ingredients, sizes and ratio in the way they make a plate of chanpuru. It also means that those who left the island to live elsewhere can easily learn it and make it for themselves, using whatever ingredients are available or affordable.
If you go to Okinawa, this plate is a local specialty that you ought to try. You might be taken back by its simplicity at first, but each restaurant does it in their own style, and you might find this to be a dish that you want to try making even after return home.
For more must-try Okinawan food, check out my list of the 5 that you should look for during your visit to the islands: https://www.city-cost.com/blogs/Jackson/wr8a6-food_okinawa