Everybody knows the golden rule of vacation: never come back home empty handed. Souvenirs play a big part in Japanese culture especially in terms of food to a point that they have a special name for it called the Omiyage. Omiyage is more than just a taste or a gift of where you have been. In fact, it is almost like an art form in gift giving that shows your appreciation to someone. This can occur not only after trips but also in welcoming a new neighbor, visiting your former office, or meeting up with old friends. Here are some of the most popular and unique Omiyage that Okinawa has to offer.
Beni-imo Cheese Tarts
How can we make an Omiyage list without Beni-imo on top? If you’ve been anywhere on Okinawa, you’ve undoubtedly encountered these purple yams known as Beni-imo. With such popularity, Beni-imo has been dominating in terms of Omiyage and has spread into ice creams, pretzel sticks, cream wafers, daihuku (glutinous rice cakes), cheesecakes, and even – facial creams! For me, I consider the best one to be the Pablo’s mini cheese tarts. With the creamy fillings topped with soft beniimo paste, what can I say except it’s a little taste of heaven. You can find them at the Pablo’s cheese tart at Kokusaidouri.
If you really want to show your appreciation, why not go the extra mile and bring something back that is really special? Although it’s not food, this souvenir has its roots deep down in the Ryukyu culture. I’m talking about the Ryukyu glass. These normally translucent glasses are mixed with vibrant colors giving it more of a decorative piece feel than an average dishware. Putting aside that this already is a one up in terms of souvenir in showing ones appreciation, it also has the added benefit of watching the professionals mold molten hot glass into a meticulously hand crafted dishware. You can also opt to make it yourself as an added experience. A couple of places allows you to do this, but most popular is at the Ryukyu Glass Village. Contact them at https://www.ryukyu-glass.co.jp.
For that extravagant Omiyage, I present to you the Ishigaki beef. Obviously, this souvenir is best bought from the Ishigaki island itself but fret not, they are also available on mainland Okinawa. Ishigaki beef does not joke around when it comes to their marbling. Produced in Yaeyama district, each beef must be carefully inspected in terms of marbling ratio to be officially stamped as Ishigaki beef quality. You can see its certification on the packaging usually with a sticker stating that it is beef from Ishigaki island. Easiest place to find this is at the airport but you can also find them near the Makishi market over at Kokusaidouri. Learn more about Ishigaki beef at http://www.ishigakigyu.com.
In the mood for danger? No matter who I talk to about this souvenir, I always get the same question: “So, is there poison in the sake?” You guessed it – the Habu sake. This is an Awamori with a full Habu snake infused inside the bottle. No need to worry though as the poison has already dissolved in the alcohol making it safe to consume. I believe the Habu itself is purely decorative and contribute to its taste in no way whatsoever. I did feel a rushing burn run up my chest when I tried it but that might have just been the Awamori. You can find this in souvenir shops at Kokusaidouri and Depot Island, Chatan. They also have the miniature bottles where there is no Habu for bringing back to places with very strict customs.
How about for the frenemies? For me, this souvenir is perfect for someone whom you have mix feelings. On one hand, it is a very delicious one-of-a-kind snack, while on the other hand, you’ve literally just gifted someone a pig’s face. Joke all you want but I do feel that it is the most fitting gift for such a person. It’s also interesting to watch them stipulate on how exactly they will consume a pig’s face. Start at the ears perhaps? A wonderful Omiyage nonetheless. This one is actually more common and can be found at a lot more souvenir shops most notably at the Rycom mall. They also have them at Kokusaidouri and Depot Island as well.