Oki – A Seafood Lover’s Paradise
Oki is unlike anywhere I’ve been to in Japan. It almost felt like travelling to another country. With my fellow coworkers, I spent three days on a culinary adventure, trying unique local cuisine which truly captured the spirit of the islands ‒ cuisine as unforgettable as the spectacular scenery, friendly locals, and ancient stories of emperors, shrines, and warriors.
Rest House Kanjima in Chibu Village
Although like the rest of Japan which has a strong tradition of eating seafood, Oki cuisine centers around ingredients that are unique to the island, the most predominant of these being sazae (turban shell). Due to its availability as a source of protein, turban shell has historically been used as a meat replacement, and is found in dishes all over Oki. To taste this local delicacy, we visited Rest House Kanjima in Chibu Village. I ordered sazae tendon ‒ delicately tempura-fried turban shell and eggplant on a bed of white rice, topped with finely chopped dried seaweed. The turban shell was extremely fresh, and imparted a delicious umami flavor, while offering a chewy yet smooth texture. I also tried Kanjima’s popular sazae curry, which had a perfect balance of mild spiciness and sweetness; with very little fishy aftertaste, it could have easily passed for a meat dish.
*This dish requires booking. Please book directly with the restaurant in Japanese or contact the Chiburijima Tourism Association in Englisha and they can book for you!
Ajinokura in Okinoshima Town
The freshness of the seafood in which we indulged was second to none ‒ due to Oki’s proximity to abundant fishing grounds, I am sure that even the finest seafood establishments in Tokyo would struggle to obtain similar quality ingredients. At Ajinokura in Okinoshima Town, we were presented with a bounty of sashimi, from skipjack tuna to white squid, Japanese amberjack, and ivory shell. The extensive menu also offered a variety of tempura, meat, and rice dishes, and a drink menu showcasing locally brewed rice wine and shochu (a type of spirit distilled from rice), appealing to almost every palate.
Oki View Port Hotel in Okinoshima Town
At all the places we visited, attention to detail in food preparation and plating was particularly impressive. Breakfast at Oki View Port Hotel in Okinoshima Town was carefully prepared and plated before I even arrived, and contained no less that ten dishes of various traditional Japanese fare: cooked mackerel accompanied by a half-boiled egg, tofu, miso soup full of fresh seaweed, potato salad, squid sashimi, rice with a condiment of seaweed in a sweet dark sauce, and more.
Mitsukejima-sō in Nishinoshima Town
I have never eaten a greater seafood feast in my life than at the Japanese inn Mitsukejima-sō, in Nishinoshima Town. Seashell-shaped plates held generous amounts of fresh shellfish and sashimi. Providing a nice balance to the subtle flavors of the fish were a delectable bowl of peppery egg soup, and mozuku—pickled seaweed prepared into a salad with sweet and tangy mayonnaise. The main dishes were a whole white squid - an Oki specialty - simmered in a sweet broth right at the table, and grilled sea bream stuffed with miso paste. For a seafood lover such as myself, the food at Mituskejima-sō would be reason enough to visit Oki, and it was apparent that the staff actively strive for that quality, taking care to bring out the best flavours of each ingredient while staying true to tradition.
Oki Ryugu-do in Nishinoshima Town
Our culinary adventure concluded at Oki Ryugu-do, in the western part of Nishinoshima Town. Lunch consisted of fried noble scallops with tartar sauce, potato salad, sliced sazae sashimi, miso soup and Shimane-grown koshihikari rice. Despite using simple ingredients common throughout the islands, it struck me that Oki Ryugu-do, like the other places we had visited, was able to impart its own character into the dishes; the mouth-watering home-cooked flavors delightfully contrasted with the refined dishes at Mitsukejima-sō, and with the rustic essence of Resthouse Kanjima.
There is a real pride on the Oki Islands for local culture and tradition, and that pride extends to the food. I encourage anyone visiting Japan to embark on an adventure into the sights, sounds and flavours of Oki; it may change your perspective of Japan entirely.
Author: O. Marshall
Photography: M. Koura