What better way to spend the weekend than on an island paradise just two hours away from home, surrounded by crystal clear waters, curious manta rays and an abundance of delicious food?

A small Japanese island off Taiwan, Ishigaki is still a well-kept secret. In addition to offering an endless diaporama of picture-perfect landscapes, the island is also known for its unique delicacies—and they are definitely worth the trip.

1. Yaeyama Soba

A hearty meal in the winter and a delight in the summer, Yaeyama soba noodle soup is one of the island’s most traditional dishes. Unlike its mainland counterpart which is made of buckwheat, the Okinawan soba noodle is made of flour and is more dense and chewy.

Noriba Syokudo, a tiny restaurant located just a ten minute walk from the city center, is revered for its Yaeyama Soba. Don't let the outside fool you, there is indeed a restaurant there. Inside, you will find low tables set on tatami flooring and a menu featuring an array of soba noodle soups.

2. Umi Bodo (sea grapes)

Umi bodo is a curious appetiser that makes one wonder, am I eating seaweed or grapes? The answer is: a little bit of both. Otherwise known as sea grapes, the caviar of Okinawa is comprised of tiny green bubbles—a pop of salt if you will—best paired with a splash of soy sauce or vinegar. Because of its low calorie count and nutritional properties, it is considered a superfood and can be found in a few parts of South-East Asia.

Find it at Usagiya, which has the best ambiance on the island. A live band goes on every day and the whole room comes together to sing and dance between bites.

3. Benimo (purple sweet potato)

Benimo is the celebrity of the island. You will find it in every shape or form at every corner of the island, whether it’s layered on cute little tarts or swirled and served as ice cream. Benimo, to not be confused with taro, is considered a superfood and contains the same molecules found in red cabbage and blueberries which give it a rich violet colour.

The best place to find benimo soft-serve is at this unassuming little shop, a local favourite. It is owned by the kindest man, who will gladly help you style your ice cream shot for Instagram with his cat figurines, as cats are a symbol of good luck.

4. Taco Rice

This Japanese-Tex-Mex fusion was created to serve the US military personnel stationed in Okinawa in the 1980s. Taco rice is essentially a minced-beef taco without the shell and served on a bed of short-grain rice.

This specialty is a little harder to find in the city center, but just 10 minutes east is Island Vegetable Café Re: Hellow Beach, the perfect beach-vibe lunch spot to enjoy your taco rice with an ocean view.

5. Jimami Dofu (Peanut tofu)

Peanut tofu is the ideal snack to curb your appetite while you wait for the heavier mains. Served with soy sauce, this dish is a spoonful of lightness with a silky texture and peanut aroma.

Order the peanut tofu while you wait for your sushi plate or uni noodle soup at Hitoshi Ishiganto, a must-visit while in Ishigaki. It is considered the best izakaya restaurant on the island and people start making reservations early. 

6. Sata Andagi (Okinawa donuts)

The name —“deep-fried sugar”—says it all. Unlike the usual fluffy cloud we expect when biting into a donut, this donut has a crisp brown crust and a more dense, cakey interior. The three popular flavours are plain, brown sugar and purple sweet potato.

If you want to get them fresh out of the oven, Sayoko No Mise—a tiny bakery run by three generations of women—serves batches of different flavours every hour.

7. Shikuwasa citrus

You will notice shikuwasa or citrus depressa everywhere on the island—in dishes, candy and even mixed with Awamori in popsicles found at Fruit Jewelery Factory. The flat Okinawan citrus is only grown in Okinawa and Taiwan and is said to have wonderful health benefits. It looks like a regular lime but tastes slightly more tart.

8. Awamori (Okinawan Sake)

The island’s signature alcohol has a long standing history. Produced in Okinawa and consumed primarily by the local population, this sake has been around for 600 years. The alcohol is distilled from long-grain Thai rice, unlike its Japanese sake counterpart which is made from fermented rice.

Enjoy it on the rocks, with a little water or add it to some juice at any restaurant.

See also: A Food Lover's Guide To Ishigaki

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