A new adventure takes us to a local spot we never would’ve found ourselves. 

When you’re travelling in an unfamiliar area and your belly starts growling for food, where do you go to satiate the beast?

Our reporters have taken to asking local taxi drivers for assistance, hopping in their vehicles and requesting they be taken to the best eateries in town. It’s worked a treat every time, so when hunger pangs hit our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma while he was in Naha, the capital of the Okinawan island chain down south, he immediately held up his hand on the side of the street and hailed a taxi.

The cool air-conditioning inside the vehicle was a welcome relief for Masanuki, who’d been roasting in the sun outside, and when he asked the cab driver to take him to the best Okinawan restaurant in town, the driver’s response was a welcome relief as well, because he said he knew exactly where to go.

Realising Masanuki was an out-of-towner, the cheerful driver began pointing out sites of interest as they made their way to the mystery destination. “There’s an Okinawa soba joint over there, Okinawa zenzai over there, and over there is my alma mater.” The driver obviously had experience helping out-of-towners before, and just as Masanuki began to feel like he was on a taxi tour, with his own private tour guide, they arrived at their destination.

▼ The driver’s recommended spot was an eatery called “Mikasa“.

Mikasa Kume, as it’s known, is a 5-6 minute walk from Asahibashi Station on the Yui Rail monorail. It’s open 24 hours a day, and the driver gave it a glowing recommendation, saying, “All Okinawan people like it!” Though it looked like a relic from the Showa era (1926-1989), Masanuki knows better than to judge a restaurant by its appearance in Japan, so he stepped inside, and was met by a no-frills, casual eatery-style interior.

The day’s menu, set out on the wall, featured a wide variety of Japanese dishes, like tonkatsu (fried pork), katsudon (fried pork bowl), sukiyaki, and curry rice. There were also local Okinawan options like Goya Chanpuru and Fu Chanpuru — stir-fried dishes containing pork and vegetables, “fu” (“wheat gluten”) in the latter — and Pork Tamagoyaki (pork omelette).

The taxi driver recommended the Chanpon (650 yen [US$4.76]), so that’s what Masanuki ordered, despite it being a local specialty of Nagasaki inspired by Chinese cuisine. Using the ticket machine by the counter to pay for his meal, he handed his ticket over to staff and as he made his way to a table, he noticed there didn’t seem to be any tourists here — only locals, who looked to be so relaxed it was as if this was their second home.

▼ It didn’t take long for Masanuki’s meal to arrive, but when it did, it didn’t look like what he’d been expecting.

Masanuki knows chanpon to be a noodle dish, but there were clearly no noodles here. Still, the waitstaff had cheerfully said, “Your Chanpon, sorry to have kept you waiting!” when they gave it to him, so no mistake had been made here.

Okinawa is known for marching to its own beat in the food world, putting a unique spin on everything from tacos to onigiri, so Masanuki figured this must be another new take on a familiar dish.

After tasting his first spoonful, Masanuki discovered his hunch was right — this was an Okinawan take on chanpon, as the saucy, eggy vegetable topping usually served on noodles was served on a bed of rice!

The serving size was huge, presenting great value for money, and the flavour was fantastic — it was richly seasoned with salt and sweetness for mouthfuls of satisfying flavour. This type of homestyle, local cooking is known as “B-kyuu Gourmet” (“B-Class Gourmet“) in Japan, and it’s usually only enjoyed by locals in the know, and highly sought after by travellers wanting to experience the heart and soul of the place they’re visiting.

If Masanuki was a local, he’d be happy to pop by for a bowl of this every day. It was so good that before he knew it, he’d finished every last morsel in his bowl, which is a massive compliment to the chef.

For 650 yen, this was a tasty and filling meal designed to appeal to all sorts of palates, and it definitely got a big thumbs-up from Masanuki, who loved the local recommendation.

It just goes to show that when you’re in unfamiliar territory, it never hurts to flag down a taxi and ask the driver to take you to their favourite eatery. It’ll be the beginning of a journey you’ll never forget, especially in Japan, where the drivers are so kind they’ll even stop the meter to ensure they don’t let you down!

Restaurant information
Mikasa Kume Store / 三笠 久米店
Address: Okinawa-ken, Naha-shi, Kume 1-15-3
Open 24 hours

Photos ©SoraNews24
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