[Travelogue] Okinawa- Booten… A Wondrous Discovery

It was 9.30 on a Saturday Night. And Naha is a bustling with revelers on Saturday nights. We were turned away by 3 restaurants that were full 😤 before randomly stumbling across Booten. A busy restaurant is always a good sign of good food and Booten was no where near busy. img_0279We were greeted enthusiastically as we strolled suspiciously into the empty but classy dining hall consisting of mainly counter seats. Through the wooden partitions of the private rooms, we could hear soft chattering and laughter. Ahh… it is not entirely empty… Tired and hungry, we decided to let slide the seemingly unpopular restaurant and hope for the best. img_0278We took two seats at the open kitchen counter where 2 young chefs worked. They smiled nervously when we asked for recommendations. Ok… no English. The Japanese-only menu did not help but the photos looked interesting. Then, a young waitress was summoned and what’d you know? She speaks Mandarin! So Tham helped us with our order, mostly Booten’s specials. Whilst waiting for our food, we learned that both chefs, Truong and Luyn, and Tham are from Vietnam! All three speak fluent Japanese and have been working in Okinawa for a year or more. Hmm… This would be the first time I’m having Japanese cuisine prepared by a couple of Vietnamese😯! Here goes! img_0285Our first dish arrived shortly. Grilled Ox Tongue by Chef Truong. Having thought we’d ordered beef, the ox tongue was a welcomed surprise. Unlike most tongues that are braised or stewed to melting point, this one is springy, toothsome and very enjoyable indeed. Grilled to retain some bite and charred dark at the edges with a sprinkle of salt flakes to finish… The charcoal smokey organ had us nodding in approval from the first bite to the last!

The crispy chicken roll stuffed with sweet sour plums was rather appetizing! Lean savory meat, tart plum and crispy skin, no wonder its the ladies’ favorite!

img_0287We ordered 2 tofu dishes tonight. The first, a large tender tofu ball, covered in chopped chives and roasted sesame seeds. An accompany sauce (I’m guessing dashi) is poured over the steaming tofu. This homemade bean curd is soft and delicate. And the dashi sauce flavors it subtly. Very light, healthy and appetizing!img_0281I love tofu but nothing’s prepared me for this next dish. The homemade Peanut Tofu at Booten is DA BOMB💪🏼! Topped with a dab of fresh ginger mince and served chilled with a thick sweet sauce.. This heavenly tofu, if one can even call it ‘tofu’, is out of this world! It sticks and stretches like a chewy dough when you pick it up! In the mouth, its texture feels like a soft creamy mochi. It also did not have the same taste of soy bean since it is made from peanuts. The sweet sauce and that tinge of ginger spiciness was all the cold gooey chewy mousse needed. I can’t explain enough how unique the texture and taste are except to beckon everyone to try this extraordinary creation. We couldn’t leave without a second portion! img_0296Mid dinner, Chef Luyn held up a tomato and said “Like?”, of which we nodded and what unfolded shortly before our eyes was a little hill of Tomato Tempura. Frankly, the tomato’s possibly the last thing I’d order over a tempura dinner… and that could change from now. Chef Luyn’s Tomato tempura had a batter that’s light, crispy and grease-less. Not so much batter it cuts the walls of your mouth when you take a bite! Ouch.. We’ve all been there! The tomato burst with juice and the flesh was succulent and sweet! Between the juicy tomato and the crispy thin batter laid a thin slice of salty bacon. What is it about bacon that just makes everything better?! Oh and that little dusting of Parmesan you thought wouldn’t make a difference? It made a difference! Nicely done, Chef Luyn!

As the saying goes, “Okinawans eat every part of a pig, except for its cry” ! So, pork is naturally a common ingredient in Okinawan cuisine. The Okinawa Agu pork is renowned for its rich taste, high marbling and quality meat. It also contains a lot of collagen, which was evident in the the evening’s star dish, Fried Pig Elbows!img_0291 If you’re guessing there isn’t much to chew on this part of the pig’s limbs, you’re quite right. But luscious tendons and collagen make up for what’s missing in meat. Its excitement from the first sounds of crunch as you pull the soft bones apart, to dunking it into the sweet tangy sauce, to finally biting into mouthfuls of sweet, juicy tendons and soft gelatinous collagen. My eyes rolled back in their sockets in pure bliss! Its true, everything they’ve said about this precious pig🐷! But credit goes to the Chef for making the knobbly joint so deliciously flavorful and tender! It was absolutely amazing! Not sure we would find the same ecstasy anywhere else, we ordered one more for the road!

As we wrapped up the evening, my mind returned to how misled I had been when we walked into the empty Booten mere hours ago. Not only am I blown away by the fine culinary skills of Chef Luyn & Chef Truong, we received warm and overwhelming hospitality from everyone at the restaurant, including young owner, Sato San.

Clockwise from top left: Sato San, Tham, Chef Truong, Chef Luyn.

It is a joy watching these aspiring Vietnamese chefs carve their careers in Japanese culinary and doing so well in such a short span.

Really liking Okinawa Sake, Awamori 泡盛;  drunk mixed with water & ice
Sato San’s recommended dish, the Vietnamese Spring Rolls, were packed to the rim with fillings, and came with the most delicious dip!
Gotta have us some Umi Budo! Vegetarian caviar, anyone?
This is one elbow I’d gladly rub!
The Tomato Tempura that wowed!

Places you read and hear about, and set out for, are definitely exciting. But it was sheer serendipity discovering Booten! This had been a memorable meal and evening… I believe I’ll be reminiscing and talking about it for a long time. I can’t wait to go back!

BOOTEN 舞天 久茂地店 @ 3-11-22, Kumoji, Naha-shi, Okinawa, 900-0015

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