Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa: 9 Spots Where Tony Ate

When you ask people what comes to mind about Japan, it’s probably not Okinawa. Instead, you might think of Tokyo – bright lights, big bustling city – or perhaps Kyoto with its traditional temples and cultural experiences. However, from an American perspective, Okinawa is one of the most important Japanese destinations to visit: it was pivotal in World War II and remains a strategic part of the American Military Industrial Complex in the Pacific.

Anthony Bourdain visited Okinawa in 2015 to film season 6 (episode 4) of Parts Unknown; it was his only on-screen visit to this part of Japan, though he visited other cities and regions in the country throughout his television career (dating back to the first episodes of his first show!). It was one of his most-filmed destinations and one that’s well worth exploring from top to tip; his visit to Okinawa was his penultimate trip.

Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa Hero

So if you’re planning a trip to Japan and are curious about visiting the far southern islands including Okinawa, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find a detailed breakdown of the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa, as well as what he ate at each spot. Grab your chopsticks and let’s dig in.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Ryukyuan people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally written in January 2023 and was updated most recently in January 2024.

Ishikawa Dome

Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa - Yakisoba

The first spot that Anthony Bourdain enjoys a meal in Okinawa isn’t somewhere you might expect: it’s at the Ishikawa Dome while watching Tōgyū (literally bull sumo). There he eats like a local, enjoying some arena food including yakisoba: pork belly, sausage, cabbage, carrots, noodles and sauce, topped with seaweed powder and pickled ginger garnish.

Urizun

Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa - Pork Ears

Next, Tony heads to Urizun, a traditional Japanese restaurant where he’s able to sample a number of traditional regional dishes. These include tofuyo (fermented beancurd that packs a hefty punch, flavor-wise), pork belly cooked with stock, heavily infused with bonito flakes, pork ears thinly sliced and dressed in rice-wine vinaigrette, and slow-roasted ribs brined in sake and seasonings. Pork is one of Bourdain’s favorite meats, so he naturally enjoys this meal a lot!

Gettouan

Bourdain’s next meal in Okinawa is with special company: Masahide Ota, former governor of Okinawa and World War II survivor. It is over this meal that they discuss the history of Okinawa and the presence of the American Armed Forces there.

During that conversation, they enjoy a special menu of tundaabun, which is comprised of multiple bite-size portions served in an elegant lacquered dish, traditionally served to royals and VIPs during the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom – of which Okinawa was a part in the 15th to 19th centuries.

The dishes Tony and Masahide enjoy include sliced squid; swordfish wrapped in seaweed and simmered in stock and fermented sake; dried sea snake, slow-simmered; burdock root wrapped in pork loin, slow-cooked in hot sauce; taro flash-fried and dressed with sugar and soy; pork shoulder dredged in black sesame, then steamed.

Makishi Public Market

Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa - Sea Grapes

Exploring another side of Okinawa’s history and heritage, Tony attends a karate class before enjoying a meal at Makishi Public Market with karate black belt James Pankiewicz and master Tetsuhiro Hokama.

In addition to discussing the origins of Okinawa’s martial art (karate), the trio enjoys several dishes including snapper and parrot fish sashimi, sea grapes in vinegar, battered and deep-fried gurukun (the unofficial national fish of Okinawa), and battered and deep-fried porcupine fish (pufferfish).

King Tacos

Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa - Taco Rice

For something completely different, Bourdain then seeks out dishes that show the American influence I mentioned and which is undeniably prevalent if you visit Okinawa. To taste this, he visits King Tacos with Sumiko Yoseyama, an entertainer who began singing at American bases after the war, and Vivian Takushi, her niece, who has lived both in Okinawa and the U.S.

There he tries their signature dish: “taco rice.” It includes taco beef, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes on a pile of rice with taco sauce – a very unique combination of American ingredients and Japanese interpretation.

Nishimachi Soba (?)

As was so often the case, especially in later seasons of Parts Unknown, Tony sought to understand the place through its foods, seeking out the regional interpretations and unique ingredients he could find there.

This is again the case when he enjoys a meal at Nishimachi Soba, with Keiji Yoda, a pig farmer and pork distributor. It is here he enjoys the Okinawa version of soba: pork belly ribs with wheat noodles (instead of the traditional buckwheat you’ll find elsewhere in Japan).

I couldn’t find any information regarding this restaurant’s status. If you have any news, please let me know in the comments.

Kumejima

Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa - Barbecue

Bourdain explores beyond Okinawa by heading to Kumejima island to reunite with James Pankiewicz and his friends Bunshiro Nagame and Yohina Tomahiro. This isn’t a restaurant meal, but I thought it was worth mentioning since you can plan to have your own Kumejima-style BBQ if you visit Okinawa.

If you want to eat the same as Tony did, seek out fresh-caught tuna sashimi, raw seaweeds, raw and grilled sea snails, and local beef with bean sprouts.

Lawson Convenience Store

After experiencing the magic of their egg salad sandwich on earlier trips to Japan – notably, his meal with David Chang at a Lawson’s in the Ishikawa Prefecture – no trip by Bourdain to Japan would be complete without a visit to the local Lawson Convenience Store for one.

These stores originated in the U.S., but have become wildly popular across Japan for their excellent grab-and-go food and other takeaway options.

Dojo Bar (Temporarily Closed)

Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa - Habushu

The last place visited by Anthony Bourdain in Okinawa is once again with his new karate friends; he is joined by Pankiewicz and other karate students and teachers at Dojo Bar, which is unfortunately closed – hopefully, this is just temporary though (let me know in the comments, if you know!).

For this final meal, he enjoys just a few more unique dishes and flavors before departure: horse meat and goat sashimi, pork belly, pickled pig’s ears, and baked yam. He also takes a sip of snake moonshine – Habushu, an Awamori-based fermented with a Habu snake in the bottle. It is among the more interesting flavors in the meal if you can believe it!

There you have it – a guide to all the places Anthony Bourdain ate in Okinawa. Have any questions about these places or what Tony ate? Let me know in the comments!

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Valerie is a travel writer currently based in Cleveland, but her favorite destinations are Alaska, London, and Jordan – only one of which Bourdain ever visited! You can find her writing on Lonely Planet, Forbes, and her travel blog, Valerie & Valise.

2 Comments

  • Pierce Haverfield

    I would love to know the names of the karate masters that were in this episode! I am a karate student and thought I had recognized some of them, but could not remember their names, as I was receiving cancer treatments at the time!

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