Sure. I’ll intercut the Japan Society’s description of each food and drink item below with my remarks:
Bingata roll: A colorful salmon roll with cucumber and turmeric-tinted rice, representing the vibrant patterns of bingata textiles
Bingata is one of Okinawa’s traditional styles of textiles, and some quite beautiful pieces were on display and also shown in slide shows by two of the presenters: Takao Kadekaru, Senior Executive Director of the Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau and Hiroshi Jashiki, a fashion designer who was trained as a traditional weaver in Okinawa before he left to study in the US and then live in New York. It was explained how the motifs in bingata are inspired by the light, scenery, flora and fauna of Okinawa, with examples, such as the wings of a local butterfly compared to an example of bingata.
The roll was fresh and good, although possibly less interesting than the other items.
Rafute: Braised pork belly simmered in soy sauce, awamori liquor, and Okinawan brown sugar
This dish, we were told, needs to be simmered for 8 hours or more. The nutritionist who gave a presentation on the traditional Okinawan diet and the principles and science behind it, Hiroko Shou, Professor Emeritus of the University of the Ryukyus, who went to Michigan State in the 50s and later came back as Visiting Professor there, said that the traditional Okinawan diet contributed to the longevity of Okinawans. What surprised me is that, for a group of 600 islands, that diet doesn’t emphasize fish but instead emphasizes pork. And the way they make pork healthy is by boiling it for hours and skimming off the fat. There was fat in this dish, but it was a kind of stew pork, with layers of somewhat chewy meat and fat. It was pleasant.
Jimami tofu: A sweet and savory tofu dish seasoned with peanut butter and sweet potato starch
This was fantastic - a slightly sticky texture, redolent of peanuts that had a somewhat roasted taste. My girlfriend and I probably liked this best of all the food items. We had a conversation with one of the staff members in which she mentioned that this is a uniquely Okinawan way to make tofu - in other parts of Japan, you can get tofu made with sesame, but never with peanuts.
Goya chanpuru: Okinawa’s signature stir-fry, made with egg, tofu, and the exotic green goya, or “bitter melon”
Chanpuru is an interesting word to me - is it a cognate of the Malay “campur” (old spelling: champur), or is it a borrow word from Malay, as one not necessarily authoritative site claimed? Anyway, both words mean “mixed”. Goya is the same as karela, as it’s called in some Indian languages - the bitter green gourd with a crinkly skin. The pieces of goya were small and didn’t provide much taste, so they may have gone easy on us; I wouldn’t have minded more goya taste, but some other people might have. It was more or less a scrambled egg and tofu dish, topped by katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), and it was nice.
Mozuku: A healthy seaweed treat that has a mild flavor and is loaded with nutrients
My girlfriend remarked that it took her a moment to get past the sliminess of this seaweed. I didn’t find it particularly slimy, only a little. There were a few strands of vinegar-and-sugar infused ginger in it, and it was in a vinegar-based sauce that was very tasty. I got used to it quickly, really liked it (probably more than anything else except the peanut tofu), and I would gladly eat this once a week. The nutritionist said that Okinawans’ consumption of seaweed (she suggested we call it “sea vegetables”, so as to value them more) is a major factor in their good health and longevity. By the way, she is 84, looked great and is clearly very vital.
Okinawan beer: A light, crisp beer brewed in Okinawa, which is perfect for the islands’ tropical climate
This tasted like a perfectly good Pilsner to me. I’m not a huge beer connoisseur, but it was perfectly acceptable, though nothing amazing. My girlfriend tasted a hint of citrus in its bouquet, but I didn’t really notice that.
Sanpin tea: A floral green tea similar to jasmine, Sanpin is the most popular variety of tea in Okinawa
A perfectly good, subtle jasmine to my palate, but nothing exceptional. I think the exceptional varieties would be quite expensive.
Shikwasa juice: Made from the shikwasa citrus fruit, this juice has a pleasant balance of sweet and tart notes
Mostly quite tart and limey.
Awamori Cocktail: Cocktail made from Okinawa’s distinctive awamori liquor, which has a smooth, deep flavor
The cocktail was good, but the liquor itself, as I mentioned before, was great!
The history of the Okinawan Kingdom and its influence by China and Southeast Asian lands and then Japan is quite interesting. The Okinawans referred to the Japanese Home Islands as “the Mainland”. I wonder whether they have feelings toward Japan that are a little like Hawaiians’ feelings toward the US Mainland, but I’d have to learn a lot more about the islands and their people to come close to really knowing this.
Some members of the Japan Society told me that there’s only one food presentation per year, but the “Explore Okinawa” series will continue with presentations on karate, the islands’ native martial arts form, and bingata.