Goya Champuru & Hiraya-chi

Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Goya Champuru & Hiraya-chi

Narumi arrives at 11:00 A.M. for Art’s kanji lesson. She carries a bag of groceries and has her 7 year old son with her. We’re delighted that she has brought her son and in spite of the age difference the two boys have a good time together. John shows off his beetle “Frack” and they play “Mario Brothers” on a Nintendo D.S. game console that he has brought along. Narumi shows John how to play their version of solitaire and the two boys play cards. After the kanji lesson I get a cooking lesson.



I’ve written about the goya in other blog entries. It is a popular Okinawan vegetable. It’s translation in English is “bitter melon” and is thought to be one of the secrets of Okinawan longevity. It is a member of the gourd family, shaped a bit like a large fat ridged cucumber. It has high vitamin C content and a bitter taste. Goya Champuru (stir-fry) is a traditional Okinawan dish that up until now I have done my best to avoid. This funny vegetable has become an Okinawan icon. Every tourist shop sells green plastic goya key rings, costume jewelry and goya printed T shirts with silly slogans. This healthy and unsuspecting vegetable has been given a face and often wears a hat and shoes. Think of it as the Okinawan version of Mr. Potato Head. Today, I meet Mr. Goya on a different level.

After slicing Mr. Goya in half lengthwise, Narumi shows me how to scoop out it’s pithy pulp and seeds. I cut thin slices from both halves and sauté the crescent slices in olive oil over a high heat. Narumi sprinkles salt and brown sugar (to offset the bitterness) into the frying pan and stirs with chopsticks. I mix two eggs in a bowl and when Mr. Goya is too limp to complain, we pour the beaten egg over him and cook a little more.

Next,Narumi shows me how to make “Hiraya-chi”, a savory Okinawan crepe with leeks. The recipe is simple, 2 eggs, 2 cups flower, 2 cups water, diced leeks and a pinch of salt. I mix and she ladles the mixture into a hot oiled skillet. Within a minute the crepe is ready to be flipped, and in another minute it’s ready to be served. She cuts it into quarters, squeezes okonomi sauce onto the crepe, and tops it off with dried mackerel shavings. (Okonomi sauce is a bit like a sweet, thick Worcestershire sauce.) In the interim, Narumi has filled 4 cups with dried mackerel shavings, a tablespoon of Miso and sliced leeks. (Green onions.) I add boiling water to soften the dried fish and we let it steep. We serve the boys on our small coffee table. Her son eats three servings of the Goya Champuru. (I am sure he will live to a very old age.) John is a good sport and eats a small serving of the goya, a quarter of the crepe and all of his fish soup. Narumi and I sit at our kitchen table and eat our lunch. I am surprised how good the goya is. In the past, I found goya very bitter, but with the addition of brown sugar and mixed with egg, it is quite tasty. The savory crepes are wonderful, but I prefer them dressed with just soy sauce rather than the sweet okonomi sauce. (Thank you Narumi, for taking the time to share your recipes; I will look for goya back home and cook both of these dishes for my family and friends!)

It’s Wednesday as I write this blog. We spent Monday and Tuesday mostly at home working. Yesterday, the weather was blustery and rainy, but this afternoon the sun is blazing and after finishing another wax design, I urge John to levitate from the couch and go to the Tsuboya district with me. We decide to walk, not wanting to battle the bicycle helmet issue. We are both in good spirits and wander down the covered Heiwadori market together. John is surprisingly patient as I poke into tiny shops. Our destination is Tsuboya, which begins at the end of the Heiwadori arcade and our first stop is the Tsuboya pottery museum to see a special Shisa exhibit. On our many visits to Okinawa, John and I have grown very fond of the Shisa, a guardian that is neither lion nor dog, but a creature unique to Okinawa. The exhibit has a small but special exhibit of a few very fine and unique Shisa and I am inspired. When we exit, we walk along the historical and picturesque street, stopping into every shop along the three block stretch. We admire the many Shisas, in all sizes and qualities but always in pairs, one male with mouth open, and one female with mouth closed. There are several Shisa studios in this district where you can watch the artisans create these magical creatures or create one of your own. Every artisan and studio has its own unique style of Shisa. We purchase two tiny turtle soy bottles and catch a taxi back home.

At noon today, Art went to a “Spa Symposium” to learn about the spa industry and to promote his website. He is back from his day when John and I return and we make a quick turn around to go out to dinner. (I have been cooking half our meals at home, but our cupboards are empty tonight) I ask Art if he has money, and sling my camera over my neck. I have taken to traveling lightly and seldom carry a purse. It’s nearly 7:00 P.M. and the evening light is magical. We walk towards Kokusai Street, full of energy and with a particular restaurant in mind. We have been walking for 15 minutes when Art suddenly halts, his hand feeling his back pocket. He has forgotten his wallet. We have no money and must walk back to the apartment. This puts a kink in our carefree evening and by the time we have retrieved the wallet our spirits are not as light. It’s nearly dark and we catch a taxi, but don’t know the name of the restaurant. Art directs the taxi driver as best as he can with one eye on the meter but we are driving around in circles and traffic signals and one way streets loom at every intersection. Art asks our confused taxi driver to stop and he lets us out on a dark street, alongside a park and we hoof it from there, past several homeless men, pop out onto the brightly lit street and come upon our restaurant