Makabe Chinaa (茶処真壁ちなー) is a 120-year-old Okinawan folk house that has been renovated and changed to a restaurant. It’s located in the suburb of Southern Okinawa, Itoman city. The house was built in 1891 and designated as a registered tangible cultural property in Japan. The house has quite a history, which had survived the fires of war, but still standing strong today. The red roof tiles and the wooden framework inside adds a touch of Okinawan and nostalgic feeling to the restaurant. It made me felt like returning to my grandparents’.
The front “gate” is quite small and subtle that we didn’t really notice until a group of customers walked out from it. They are open for lunch only, and closed on Wednesday, so plan accordingly!
It’s surrounded by farm lands and houses, which can be a bit tricky to find. However, the GPS will definitely guide you to the right place. I couldn’t tell that the house was that big from the entrance at all. Without the sign at the front door, it looked just like any of the houses.
There are only 6 tables in there, and on tatami only. At first, I thought “oh man, need to take of my shoes again”, but as soon as I walked in, it’s a charming space. One of the old ladies made a gesture to inform us that we can sit anywhere we want.
They have quite an extensive menu. Luckily, we got to try different things. From the simplest and most basic, my dad opted for the Okinawa soba, which is a classic at Makabe Chinaa. It may look simple and very minimalistic, but packed with flavors. The broth was clearer and light than the Okinawa soba we had on the first day. With an obvious bonito flavor soup base, it was hearty and savory! They ordered the noodles specially from a noodle maker, which have a very chewy and springy texture. The pork belly was beautiful, evenly layered and braised. It’s interesting how the pork in Okinawa doesn’t have a scent. They are also extremely tender and the fats just melts in the mouth.
How to elevate the dish? Add some Okinawan chili oil! It’s the secret weapon to get some extra kick.
My brother got what I originally wanted, “Yasai-soba”. It’s an Okinawan noodles soup with stir-fried vegetables and pork. It was loaded with vegetables, and the bean sprouts were fat and crisp! Why I specifically pointed out the bean sprouts? Because most of the bean sprouts that we have in North America are wilted and soft for most of the time. The light broth was bonito based, but also have the sweetness from the vegetables have infused into the soup.
I had the “yushi tofu” soba. This dish is very simple yet hearty! The only seasonings were the green onions and toasted bonito. Yushi tofu is one of the Okinawa specialities. It’s a very soft tofu, not silky, with a consistency similar to that of yogurt or pudding. Like regular tofu, it is made from soy. Nigari, a type of tofu coagulant from seawater, is added to allow the curds to form, but it doesn’t set like firm tofu. After it coagulates, simply scoop it out into the bowl using mesh spoon. I thought I was eating puff of clouds! It just slipped down my throat.
We also shared a “hirayachi”, which is an Okinawan style pancake with tuna and basil. It was thin, soft, and chewy. However, I really doubt that there was basil and tuna in there? Those two ingredients have its distinct and strong taste, but I couldn’t taste it at all!
Saving the best for the last. Out of all the dishes, this was my favorite. It’s quite an unique dish. First, I still don’t understand the fact that Japanese like to have two carbohydrates sources on the table. They pair everything with rice, even noodles! My mother had the “nikumoyashi-soba set”, and you can choose regular whole grain rice or “jushi”, which is Okinawa rice mixed with various ingredients. Normally, it’s made with Japanese mugwort as a hidden flavor, but Makabe Chinaa use herbs picked from their own garden (keeping up the the “farm to table” trend?)! It’s fun to see some plants that are specific to Okinawa being grown in the garden and on the table. Thought the rice was the highlight? Nope! The soba was the bomb! It’s Okinawan noodle soup with pork and bean sprouts, finished with chunky garlic chili oil and sesame oil. Compared to the other 3 noodles dishes that we had, this was a heavier dish, but the most comforting one. The flavors were built based on the bonito broth, which the garlic chili oil and sesame oil elevated it to a higher level.
After a satisfying lunch, my mother really wanted to have their red beans soup with mochi. These red beans were perfectly cooked through, soft yet still remained as a whole. It’s a very homey dessert.
As for my brother, he opted for red beans shaved ice. The red beans and mochi were hidden under the shaved ice. I thought the mochi would be harden, but they were not! They were still quite chewy!
This spot turned out to be the most memorable meal out of the entire trip for my mother! The variety of food choices and ambiance were perfect. A laid back Okinawan meal in an antique Okinawan folk house is exactly what we needed.
Makabe Chinaa (茶処真壁ちなー)
233 Makabe, Itoman-shi, Okinawa
Tel: +81 98-997-3207