"World War 2 bombs, famous baseball players and Habu warnings"
The plane rounded the sea off Naha, spilling forth light unto the vast ocean as the darkness clouded the rest from sight. We fastened our seatbelts and prepared for a couple of weeks exploring Okinawa for the second time, Ishigaki and Iriomote for the first. The latter two being places that bring perplexing looks from Japanese people everytime I tell them i've been there. "Ishigaki? Iriomote? Even I have not been and I am from Japan".
Anyone who nows anything about me can guess what my first stop was in Naha. Yes: Kouryu Ramen, the undisputed best bowl of Ramen I ever ate. Straight off with the bags, locked the door and hopped the monorail to Kokusai Dori and in to those comforting familiar doors. The same chef was there as last time, standing over steaming pots of broth. We ordered the tonkotsu, with 2 eggs (living dangerously) and sat back and tried to remember the flavour from a couple years back. As soon as the bowl hit the table, life flowed back into tired bodies. The comforting, healing elixir pushed out all negativity and replaced it with infinite light. Hot bowls of deep, unctuous richness balanced perfectly with the toppings and the silky yolk of a perfectly cooked Ramen Egg.
The next morning seemed like the sky was struggling to clear the clouds, and rain fell in patterns. Willy and I ran over to Parasols in the market to have a cup of coffee from the most charming of men. His name escapes me but his wife was American and he, Japanese so he spoke perfect English. His tiny coffee hut was frequented by lots of locals, many of whom turned out to be musicians. We ended up passing by every day on our way to the Okinawa Soba place round the corner.
Inaka Soba Restaurant
This place was highly recommended by the owner at Parasol's and who were we to argue. The ramshackle placec offers some of the cheapest Okinawa Soba in town, but don't be fooled, this spot is legit. Packed to the rafter every day with locals, it's a bizarre mix between a Soba spot and someones garage that needs a clean out. Completely chaotic and busy for the eyes, the lady speaks no English but we managed to point and pay and await out sentence. The bowl was excellent. Springy, great noodles, clear and deep broth and some fish cakes and spring onion. A blinding meal for less than $4.
After spending far longer than expected at the Elvis Karaoke bar with some English girls we met, ramen was in order before bed. A comforting bowl to soak up the booze and promise us sweet dreams. Unfortunately Koryu was closed by now, but the receptionist suggested Fufu just around the corner. In true salaryman fashion, the tiny ramen bar looked like a crime-scene. Businessmen in various stages of disrepair lay sleeping, hunched over bowls, snoring on a stool. We found a solitary area to sit in and ordered. The food came quick, but it was nothing to write home about. A very basic tasting ramen that probably would have been great if we had drank more whisky beforehand.
Up and out "early" to try Danbo Ramen alone since Willy had not replied to my texts. I found a long, long line of Chinese tourists waiting to get in. I took my place in the line and was hurried forward since I only needed a spot at the counter. Solo works nicely sometimes. I ordered their classic Tonkotsu Ramen and wondered how on earth they dared face up against Kouryu in a town of this size. The answer came in the bowl. Solid, solid ramen with everything on point. The sort of place that would be the talk of the town, if not for the other spot a few hundred meters away that just inched it out in competition.
The broth was excellent, not quite on the level of Kouryu but pretty damn close. The egg wasn't amazing, but the pork was great and the nice hit of spice just set it up perfectly.
After pounding soba, ramen, soba, ramen, ramen, soba and sashimi for the past week the decision was made to eat a pizza. Bacar was highly rated and needless to say, the 1+ hour waiting line was reason to expect something quite magical. We were lucky in that nobody wanted to sit outside, so we managed to sneak in front of the line and sit at a tiny table right next to the lane. The pizza's were epic. Solid Neopolitan style, great sauce + toppings and a nice glass to red.
After rehab, we checked out a couple of bars behind the market which were rather bizarre. One was built in a ship container and the door was smaller than our waist-height. The other was a monument to jukeboxes and the owner stood there meticulously polishing the vast array of machines he had spread out all over the room.
Next up was the plane to Ishigaki. Home of the best beef in Japan, according to most. Both of us were super excited about visiting a new place, especially such a rarely visited spot for foreign tourists.
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored in the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"
CITIES / Places