Okinawan Diner Nirai-Kanai serves Okinawa food

To be honest, I’m still salty over the fact that my family’s plans to visit Okinawa a few years ago fell through, especially since the global pandemic has forced everyone’s borders shut. Since then, I’ve been longing to visit Okinawa, but while travel remains distant, I was excited to learn of Singapore’s only Okinawan diner, Nirai-Kanai, where one can experience Okinawa’s culture and cuisine on home turf.

Walking into the restaurant transports you right to the izakayas of Okinawa. The restaurant is adorned with lanterns sporting the logo of Okinawa’s pride and joy, Orion Beer, and dining there is made interactive with bar counter seats overlooking the open kitchen.

Adding to the izakaya vibes is the impressive display of the Okinawan specialty Awamori liquor, sake, and even a whole bookshelf filled with manga novels to welcome diners in.

For extra privacy, tables can be separated with decorative roller blinds, which happen to be made of Okinawa traditional dye craft, Bingata.

While the ambience really transported me abroad, it was the food that I was most intrigued by. Okinawan food was supposed to hit different, due to its many diverse ASEAN influences. 

Okinawa’s historic position as a medium for trade between ASEAN countries created a different culinary universe in contrast to mainland Japan. For instance, take the signature Okinawan dish available here, Champuru ($7++ for small). Originating from the Malay word campur, directly translating to “mixed”, this dish is another representation of the melting pot of cultures in Okinawa.

The goya, or bitter gourd, is a predominant feature of this dish, and is accompanied by tofu, sliced pork, and egg as well. The bitterness of the goya is really distinct and adds depth of flavour to the other ingredients.

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