Okinawa cuisine: tofu, Spam and root beer | india | Hindustan Times
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Okinawa cuisine: tofu, Spam and root beer

india Updated: Mar 12, 2008 19:18 IST

Spam, "taco rice" and A&W Root Beer - if you're looking to sample authentic Okinawan cuisine, these are musts for the menu.

Residents of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa might like their tofu and other Japanese favourites, but they are just as likely to tuck into fast food burgers and other dishes first made familiar by American troops.

"We've been used to American food from an early age and people think it's just as Okinawan as 'chanpuru' (stir fry)," said Yasuyuki Takaesu, 38, master chef at a restaurant in the Okinawa capital of Naha that serves traditional fare such as crunchy "mimiga" (pig ears) and "rafuti" (flavoured stewed pork).

"Lots of people my age are getting fat, but I just can't stop eating fried chicken and hamburgers," he added with a grimace.

Okinawa was occupied by the U.S. military from Japan's 1945 defeat in World War Two until 1972, and remains host to the bulk of U.S. troops in Japan under a bilateral security treaty.

Mainland Japanese often shake their heads at the sweet taste of A&W's trademark drink, but Americans can find it comforting to grab a burger, onion rings and root beer -- refills free in a frosty glass mug -- at one of the many A&W's dotting the island.

"It's nostalgic," said U.S. Consul General Kevin Maher.

"Fast food came to Okinawa relatively early, so people are used to it. But traditional cuisine also used a lot of oil ... there are multiple factors," said health official Mitsuyuki Maeda. Okinawans also tendency to drive rather than use public transport, another cause of high obesity rates.

Opined Maeda: "It's the same all over Japan, but the problem is bigger in Okinawa."