If you’re looking to explore a very different side of Japan, then you really must visit Okinawa. As the country’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa is closer to Taiwan than it is to Japan’s main island of Honshu, and boasts different traditions, landscapes, architecture and cuisine that makes it a fascinating place to visit.
Our reporter Mai recently took a trip down to Okinawa, and one of the first things she did after arriving was seek out the local soul food, heading straight to a place that had come highly recommended: Pork Tamago Onigiri.
▼ The name of the restaurant is written in Japanese beneath a larger sign that shouts “Onigiri Breakfast”.
With a name that literally translates to “Pork Egg Rice Ball“, there was no mistaking Pork Tamago Onigiri’s specialty, but when Mai arrived, she found there was a huge variety of rice balls to choose from on the menu. And while most rice balls in Japan are triangular in shape, the ones here looked more like seaweed-covered sandwiches than onigiri.
Pork Egg Onigiri is a local soul food that’s popular in Okinawan homes but virtually unheard of in mainland Japan, so Mai wasn’t going to miss out on getting one now that she was here. The only problem was deciding what type of pork to get, but the choice was made easy when she realised that the head store she was at, located in Okinawa’s American Village in Chatan, had some exclusive items unavailable at their other three stores.
So she went for a limited-edition “Tacopeño” for 450 yen and a “Tonkatsu Tamago”, which was also 450 yen. And when they arrived, they were wrapped in paper, which made them look more like burgers than rice balls.
Unwrapping them like gifts on Christmas Day, Mai was delighted to see that they really did look more like burgers, as they were much bigger than any rice balls she’d ever seen.
With their contents spilling out enticingly, the “Tacopeño” beckoned to Mai first, with its red-tinged contents hinting at the spice kick to come. Underneath the top layer of rice and seaweed was a slice of egg omelette, followed by pork in the form of Spam, a beloved ingredient in Okinawa that’s used in a large number of local dishes, and underneath that was a huge fried tomato that looked to be twice as big as a regular tomato.
It was fresh and insanely delicious, and when Mai added the small tub of salsa sauce to it, it added a taco-style flavor to the Tacopeño, giving her two different taste sensations for the price of one.
Next, it was time to try the enormous Tonkatsu Tamago (Tonkatsu Egg), which comes with not one but two tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlets), along with a slice of egg omelette, a slice of Spam, some cabbage, and a generous serving of mayonnaise.
It tasted so good and so bad for you at the same time, just like a true soul food should, and while it had all the familiar ingredients you would find in a regular tonkatsu dish, the extra addition of Spam, egg and seaweed gave it a bold, punchy flavour that made it truly unique.
The rice balls from Pork Tamago Onigiri certainly live up to their slogan of being a “freshly made, one-handed feast”, and Mai highly recommends trying them when you’re in the area. Not only are they a great introduction to Okinawa’s homely, local cuisine but they’re a rare treat you won’t find on mainland Japan.
And if you’re looking to refresh your palate afterwards, you might want to try a Coke in a limited-edition Okinawan design bottle, or this quirky yet tasty rice beverage that’s exclusive to the area.
Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten Chatan American Village branch / ポークたまごおにぎり本店 北谷アメリカンビレッジ店
Address: Okinawa-ken, Nakagami-gun, Chatan Mihama 9-21
Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. every day
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