Good Eats: Ashibiuna (Naha)

A few of you have mentioned to me in the comments or elsewhere that you were surprised to hear that  1) I actually lived for quite a while in Okinawa and 2) I didn’t really like it all that much at the time. True, and true. I’m certainly much happier here in Kyushu, without the relentless humidity, the frequent typhoons or the penchant for tracking sand just about everywhere.

But boy, do I miss the food.

Okinawan food took a while for me to adjust to – goya is known as bitter melon for a reason!! But now I actually relish the thought of a meal featuring the delicacies of Japan’s southernmost islands. Which is why I was very excited for our first meal after we touched down in Naha the other week, at a restaurant called Ashibiuna.

If you’re visiting Shuri Castle (and you really should), Ashibiuna is a worthwhile lunch stop tucked away on a tiny alley northeast of the castle grounds. You’ll enter through a stone gate that’s covered with tropical plants, and the Eden-like atmosphere continues all the way up to the restaurant’s door, as orchids and other flowers compete for your attention.

Entrance to Ashibiuna
Entrance to Ashibiuna

Inside, slip off your shoes and step up onto the floorboards of this beautiful 70-year-old house, constructed just after the fighting ended in 1945. You can sit inside in one of the tatami dining areas but the best seats are on the veranda. That vantage point gives you an enviable view of the garden. Stones raked in concentric circles are framed by more orchids and palm trees, while native butterflies flit around the blooms.

One side of the L-shaped veranda
One side of the L-shaped veranda

For a setting this nice, the food is a steal. You can order either just main dishes or complete sets (for just a few yen more) off the bilingual picture menu. Our family ordered three different options and shared – a bowl of Okinawa soba (with tender pieces of Okinawan-raised aguu pork), a portion of goya champuru, and a plate of tofu champuru. Champuru is a word in the Okinawan language that simply means “mixed” and champuru dishes often incorporate a few other vegetables like mung bean sprouts and the ends of green onions and often some scrambled egg. My husband and I opted for the full set, which came with a bowl of special Okinawan rice, mozuku (an edible seaweed usually served in a light vinegar), a small plate of sashimi, a portion of pickles and a hunk of locally-grown pineapple for dessert.

Okinawa soba
Okinawa soba
Goya champuru set meal
Goya champuru set meal

We opted to add to our sets with a few glasses of shikwasa juice, a drink made from a type of citrus grown only in Okinawa prefecture (and one of the tastes of Okinawa I miss the most), and an additional dessert. For the finale, we chose beniimo tiramisu, a creamy pudding made from Okinawan purple sweet potato and topped with what was a sweet/sour tofu whip. It was divine.

Beniimo tiramisu
Beniimo tiramisu

A main lunch dish at Ashibiuna is only around ¥600-¥700 for most options, and it’s only ¥200 more to make it a set meal. Dinner may be slightly pricier but you have a few more a la carte options at that hour. For dinner, you can also choose from course meals at ¥2000, ¥3800 and ¥5000.

Ashibiuna is a ten minute walk almost due west of the Shuri monorail station. If you are driving, there is a sizable paid parking lot about 20 meters away from the restaurant’s entrance.

You can check Ashibiuna’s menu and directions at their website. It’s mostly in Japanese but a shot of the menu will also show you English as well.

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