Photo by David Nakamura
When cultures collide, the results can be unpredictable. Surely, no one in Japan would have imagined that Americans would add avocado and cream cheese to sushi. Similarly, it came as a surprise to me to learn this week that some in Japan have taken to mixing Spam with their yakisoba noodles and corned beef with their omelets.
But both have become staples of cooking in Okinawa, the chain of islands off Japan's southern coast. Since the end of World War II, the prefecture has been home to 27,000 United States military troops, whose presence has at times been controversial but whose influence is clearly rubbing off. For better or worse.
I didn't actually make the trek to Okinawa, but rather jumped at the chance when my friend Tomoko Hosaka invited me join a dinner party at Yamanekoya, an Okinawan chain with a branch in Tokyo. I was curious what could be so different about Okinawan cuisine. Plenty, it turns out.
In a country that can appear stiflingly homogeneous to foreigners, Okinawa has long been the neglected step-child of the main island, its ethnically distinct people at times ostracized by prejudice and at other times defiantly independent from the rest of the nation.