An Okinawan Kitchen & Family Food Memories

Instead of a restaurant review, we will be discussing a new cookbook that focuses on Okinawan cuisine. In this post, we spotlight “An Okinawan Kitchen” by Chef Grant Sato.

Grant is a Chef Instructor at Kapi’olani Community College. I’ve taken a number of his Continuing Education classes, including the one on Okinawan cooking (which will be offered again this Fall! Highly recommend it.). He is also the host of the television series, “What’s Cooking Hawaii.” Grant is very informative and interesting, which is why I was intrigued when I heard about his new cookbook.

What interests me the most about An Okinawan Kitchen is that the recipes in it are inspired by family food memories. Grant wrote this cookbook as a tribute to his grandmother, who he credits as his biggest influence.

Food Memories:

Grant was raised by his Okinawan grandparents, Bernard Akamine (Haebaru) and Jeanette Arashiro Akamine (Haneji), from small kid time. For him, his food memories are associated with smells:

“I always bookmarked the smells or flavors of the items that caught my attention as I was experiencing them or if it was the smell that was somehow tied to a food item. The smell of the gas torch my grandpa used to burn the weeds was the same torch used to singe the hairs off the pigs feet, so when I smell something being burned I always think of pigs feet soup. I always smelled senko from when I was a very young child. It’s funny that I always saw mochi and musubi when I smelled the senko, so now when I smell senko, I want to eat mochi or musubi.”

Stories and memories accompany recipes in this cookbook. Some of the recipes in the cookbook are Jeanette Akamine’s, with the rest based on her dishes or with a modern twist. It is Grant Sato carrying on his grandmother’s cooking in a really touching way.

Why an Okinawan Cookbook?

This cookbook reflects Grant’s pride in being Uchinanchu, as well as his love for the “bold in your face flavors and colors” of the food. It represents an attempt to put Okinawan cuisine center stage. Grant also makes an effort to showcase the crafts that connect food and the table. Featured in the cookbook are stunning examples of Ryukyu glass dishware and exquisite fabrics of Okinawa.

The cookbook is broken down into sections:

  1. Okinawan Basics, which includes Kanduba Jushi (Rice Gruel) and Hirayachi (Chive Crepes);
  2. Goya (Bittermelon), which has traditional and contemporary recipes for Goya Champuru and Goya Namashi;
  3. Pork, which includes Rafute, Pig’s Feet Soup, Andansu (Pork Miso paste), and Pork Spare Rib Soup;
  4. Fish;
  5. Noodles, which has Okinawan soba, yakisoba, and soki udon;
  6. Vegetables and Salads;
  7. Desserts and Sweets, which has items like Andagi (traditional & contemporary), Nantu, Shikwasa Curd Tarte, and Goya Tea Crème Brulee;
  8. Contemporary Creations, which include Mini Okinawan Soft Tacos, Okinawan Eggs Benedict, and Goya Egg Custard with Mozuku Sauce.

So do you have to be a whiz in the kitchen to utilize this cookbook? According to Grant, this cookbook is for everyone.

“For the novice cooks and for those that cooked all their lives. Simple, basic recipes that are easy to make, with ingredients that are readily accessible! The recipes were formatted so that anyone who has never cooked before could successfully make them.”

Preserving Your Family Food Memories:

According to Arnold Hiura,

“More than just satisfying our hunger, food is a symbol of our culture and it celebrates change, creativity and pride as we transition from then to now. . .and it brings people together by connecting us to the memories that form our common heritage.”

Chef Grant has found a way to share his grandmother’s recipes and his vision of those dishes with all of us. With this cookbook as a model, Grant hopes that “people to start cooking on their own, as well as learn from their elders before their pass. A whole treasure trove of knowledge and experience is going to waste if we don’t seek it from our elders.”

Even though my Grandmother Shizuko Sunahara passed away over 25 years ago, her kids still talk about her Beef Stew with longing and lament that she never left recipes of her signature dishes. My mom remembers enough to have her own version of it but still reminisces about how amazing her mother’s stew was. My grandmother never wrote down recipes because she would just go by taste or what ingredients she had.

We all need to make the time to sit down with our families and properly capture these family food memories. I sat down with my mother years ago and typed out the recipes to her signature dishes (like my favorite meatball soup, energy bars and potato mac salad!) with tips and comments. It’s something I treasure!

An Okinawan Kitchen, Traditional Recipes with an Island Twist is “the third in a series of cookbooks exploring Hawaii’s many ethnic cuisines from the viewpoint of those who grew up in the Islands and learned to make the dishes of their heritage, local-style.” Published by Mutual Publishing.