The Best Places To Get Okinawa's Unique Tempura | CoolJapan

Tempura is my ultimate comfort food. It's familiar and comforting. That crunch of crispy light batter that crumbles apart to reveal succulent shrimps or fresh tasty vegetables brings back nostalgic memories of late nights in Tokyo. All my life, I've only known this one variant of tempura. Imagine my surprise when I visited the tropical island of Okinawa and discovered that Okinawan tempura is unlike any other that I've tried before.

Derived from the Latin word "tempora", this batter-fried concept was first introduced to Japan by the Portuguese traders and missionaries back in the mid-16th century. It has since been adopted by the Japanese and evolved to become the version we are familiar with today. Now, tempura is one of the staples of Japanese cuisine.

Best Tempura Places In Okinawa

The traditional tempura we know and love

However, unbeknownst to many tempura lovers, Okinawa's tempura is slightly different and unique to this region. Being located in the southernmost part of Japan, Okinawan cuisine is influenced by Southeast Asia and China.

Best Tempura Places In Okinawa

The hearty and fluffy Okinawan tempura: fish tempura, asa (sea lettuce) tempura and mozuku seaweed tempura

Don't let looks fool you, Okinawan tempura may not be the most presentable food in terms of aesthetics, but they are oh-so scrumptious. While typical tempura is deep-fried in thin, plain batter to ensure maximum crispiness, the Okinawan islanders make theirs with a rich and well-seasoned batter. They prefer their tempura to be big on taste! It makes sense why no dipping sauce is served with the Okinawan tempura — there's really no need to. By itself, it's already very tasty. 

In the idyllic island of Okinawa, the local people eat tempura as a snack instead of as a main dish. There is also an impressive array of tempura choices: shrimps, squid, white fish, goya (Okinawan bitter gourd) and even mozuku (Okinawan seaweed). Okinawan tempura is typically sold in individual pieces for about JPY70/~USD0.63. 

Best Tempura Places In Okinawa

Mozuku (Okinawan seaweed) tempura

Are you salivating already? Take a bite of this juicy delicacy at the best tempura places in Okinawa. Keep reading to know where and how to get there.

Travelling to Ojima: The heart of Okinawan tempura

To get a taste of the authentic Okinawan tempura, you have to go to the quiet little fishing island of Ojima in Nanjo city. From Naha Airport, take a short 40-minute drive southwards. Even the locals travel all the way to Ojima island for its famous tempura; that's how you know that the dish is really good and special.

Best Tempura Places In Okinawa

Ojima island

The beauty of this tiny island strikes you immediately. The sight of a lively bunch of local kids playing in the shallow, beautiful waters of the harbour sends serene vibes. There are several tempura shops here, each with their own specialities and recipes. Since this island is so small, it is a fantastic idea to walk around and sample different types of tempura from each shop.

Nakamoto Sengyo Tempura (中本鮮魚てんぷら店) 

Nakamoto is one of the more popular shops where you can see queues of people patiently waiting to buy some freshly fried tempura. This tempura place boasts a long history and the owners have preserved the traditional and original recipe until today. Some of their famous tempura includes mozuku seaweed that they grow themselves and the seasonal fish caught locally. They also have special mochi-mochi potato tempura which is a soft and sticky treat.

Teru-chan Tempura (テルちゃん天ぷら)

This nondescript shop is a relatively newer tempura outlet and because it is not so well-known, it means a shorter waiting time. Although they are not so famous, their tempura is just as delicious as the other more established stalls. Plus, you can expect that this place has some of the freshest and cheapest fish tempura as the owners also have a fresh fish store located just beside their tempura shop. Besides fish, you can also get squid, shrimp, mozuku and umibudo (sea grapes).

Oshiro Tempura(大城天ぷら店)

Best Tempura Places In Okinawa

This is perhaps the most scenic place to gorge on some Okinawan tempura. Overlooking the sea, people crowd around a quaint old wooden hut where whiffs of aromatic tempura being fried fill the air. While waiting for your orders, you can even play with the island cats who aren’t shy to come up for a nibble. Oshiro offers a good variety but the squid tempura is the most recommended. Tender and flavoursome while coated in a fluffy tasty batter, it is unbelievably good.

Kadoya Tempura (かどや)

Situated slightly further up from Ojima island is this cosy eatery that has been serving traditional Okinawan tempura for decades. The tempura here tastes very homemade — just like its homey and unassuming ambience. It is a must to try their fresh fish tempura! Do also try their sausage and vegetable tempura; simple but delightful, it is an item that is popular with both kids and adults.