Thanks to social media, the recent boom in plant-based meats and dairy alternatives are surely catching attention. Millions of people worldwide are making the switch to a vegan lifestyle. According to The Vegan Society, "The number of vegans in America grew by 600% from nearly 4 million in 2014 to 19.6 million in 2017."

So, while finding vegan products in grocery stores across Europe and the Americas are commonplace, how about Okinawa?

I had the unique opportunity to be both a meat-eater and a vegan in Okinawa. While I highly enjoyed the taste of meat-based dishes, I was having health problems related to a heavy meat and dairy-based diet. I began a year-long journey discovering what it means to be, and how to be vegan right here in Naha city.

The Okinawans could be considered almost vegan as their traditional diet is made up of 90% plant-based food.

Most Okinawans view meat as a spice or flavor enhancer in cooking.

Unlike western food where each person receives a serving of meat, Okinawans prefer to share one serving of meat with the whole family. This idea of sharing saves money and contributes to their overall health.

The Okinawan vegan has many products—that are not labeled as vegan but still uphold the vegan values—to choose from. Including all the local vegetables such as goya, tougan, eggplants, etc.; rice; grains; and of course, my favorite, soy products.​

A photo of cut tougan and goya

Some of my favorite go-to items are soy milk, soy yogurt, and tofu.

Soy, if you’re not allergic, will be your greatest friend at the grocery store. It's budget-friendly and readily available. In fact, you can find all three items at any food store in Okinawa like MaxValu and San-A to name two of the most popular ones.

Soy milk is extremely healthy with zero cholesterol, vitamins, and protein. Additionally, it mixes well with tea, coffee, or matcha!

Reading soy milk: there is sweet and unsweet soy milk. The unsweetened has a very strong flavor and is good for soups or baking. Sweetened soy milk is best for drinking as is. Personally, I tend to like the latter better, and it shows as my partner and I can easily drink 2-3 bottles of soy milk a week!​

Sweet and unsweetened soy milk

Soy yogurt is excellent for a healthy gut! It can be used in vegan smoothies, home-made ice cream, and on top of fruits for breakfast. Most soy yogurts have a mild and smooth taste.​

Soy yogurt brands that can be found in Okinawa

Tofu can come in all textures, but the most common and cheapest in Okinawa is shima doufu (島豆腐).

The Okinawans will typically say doufu instead of tofu. Shimadofu is the Okinawan's way of making tofu. It's mild in flavor, and one of the hardest types of tofu. It has a similar texture to a chicken nugget which makes it an ideal choice for a plant-based meat alternative. It holds it shapes even when you cut it, add it to soup, or fry it.

A popular Okinawan dish is fried tofu (shima doufu age, 島豆腐揚げ) which you can find pre-cooked in the bento section of the store.​

Shima dofu & fried tofu

If you stick to the basics—vegetables, fruits, rice, and soy products—you too can slowly enjoy your own journey to becoming vegan in Okinawa.​
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