When it comes to culture, climate and scenery, the contrast between Mainland Japan and Okinawa is clear from the second you arrive. That goes for cuisine too\u2014so if you\u2019ve prepared yourself for the usual Japanese foods, you\u2019re in for a surprise. If you\u2019re anything like me, you\u2019ll want to know what something is and how you\u2019re supposed to eat it long before it\u2019s placed expectantly on your table. You\u2019ve come to the right place for the full dish on Okinawan food! Chanpur\u016b Okinawa\u2019s signature dish, chanpur\u016b is so popular you\u2019ll find some version of it in almost any Okinawan izakaya (Japanese-style pub) or restaurant. The dish consists of stir-fried eggs and tofu, usually with beansprouts and other veggies. Every eatery has its own variations and toppings, but the most popular are goya (see below) and SPAM, which became an Okinawan favorite after American GIs distributed it as a cheap meat substitute. Goya A renowned Okinawan powerhouse of a food, goya (sometimes known as bitter melon) has a wide range of alleged health benefits. The bitter taste is no joke. I can\u2019t say I find it especially delicious, but it\u2019s interesting and I don\u2019t struggle to eat it. The most accessible way to try it is probably as an ingredient in chanpur\u016b, but you\u2019ll see it in many forms throughout Okinawa. Rafute Rafute is pork belly cut into cubes and cooked slowly in a mix of soy sauce, sugar and often awamori (an Okinawan liquor\u2014we\u2019ll get to that). That explanation fails to capture quite how delicious rafute is. The slow cooking process makes for a melt-in-your-mouth flavor explosion. A portion is usually a couple of pieces, so order accordingly if you\u2019re in a big group. Sometimes you\u2019ll get a small smear of mustard to the side of the bowl. Don\u2019t get cocky with it\u2014it\u2019s pretty intense! Tebichi If you\u2019re squeamish about bones or strange textures like skin, these pigs\u2019 feet are not for you. They\u2019re stewed in a sweet, salty broth until the collagen starts to dissolve and the meat is practically falling off the bone. Best enjoyed as a soup to share, alongside veggies such as daikon, carrots and kombu (dried kelp). Shima rakkyo Described as shallots, these are a lot smaller and milder than you might be used to. They\u2019re often served lightly pickled or fried and topped with katsuobushi (bonito flakes) as a snack. Some people pour on a little soy sauce for extra flavor. Try not to go too wild\u2014it\u2019s easy to drown out the taste! Sukugarasu Sukugarasu is more or less exactly what it looks like\u2014tiny fish, served on a cube of tofu. The saltiness of the fish goes well with the otherwise bland tofu. These are best eaten in one bite, as the tofu tends to crumble if you mess around too much with it. Awamori Okinawa\u2019s iconic alcoholic spirit, awamori is (usually) clear and always fermented using rice. At between 30-40% alcohol it\u2019s reasonably strong, so a small bucket of ice and a jug of water to mix it with are normal. I\u2019m generally a little intimidated to try drinks that come with additional steps, but this is fairly straightforward\u2014just add the ice and water to suit your taste. If that\u2019s not your style, it\u2019s also used in mixed drinks in the same way shochu is. Beni imo This purple potato variant is known for its sweet taste and vivid purple flesh. It\u2019s another alleged health food\u2014but as if to offset any health benefits, you\u2019ll generally find them served either in sweet desserts or fried. They\u2019re denser and chewier than your average potato, and delicious sprinkled with a little salt. Taco rice Apparently created for American military personnel, this very rough approximation of the taco has become a mainstay of roadside cafes and diners. The combination of taco meat, American cheese, lettuce, salsa and rice makes for satisfying lunch. If you\u2019re lucky you might get a couple of tortilla chips too. Ditch the chopsticks, use a spoon. Tofuyo Something for more adventurous diners, this fermented tofu product is served in a vivid pink, awamori-laced pool. Don\u2019t be tempted to one-shot this like some other tofu dishes\u2014it\u2019s strong stuff. Expect to see toothpick-like sticks, which you can use to slice off and skewer a small piece at a time. Umi budo Commonly called sea grapes or green caviar, these clusters of algae are popular for their unique popping texture. They\u2019re tasty on their own, but they\u2019re usually served with a thin vinegar or soy-based sauce. Pick up a bunch with your chopsticks, dip it, and eat the whole thing, vine and all. Okinawa soba Soba in Okinawa is very different to its mainland cousin. Using wheat-flour noodles instead of buckwheat, Okinawa soba more closely resembles some kind of ramen\/udon mashup. The broths and toppings vary between shops, especially between islands. Soki (boneless pork ribs), pork belly and pigs\u2019 feet are all popular. Koregusu See that condiment bottle with little peppers in it? That\u2019s koregusu\u2014an Okinawan chili sauce. The liquid is awamori, not vinegar as I initially expected. It\u2019s a little spicy and a lot boozy. A splash adds some warmth to soba, chanpur\u016b, or pretty much anything else. Mimiga Pigs\u2019 ears. The final proof that no part of the pig goes uneaten in Okinawa. A popular drinking snack, the cartilage in mimiga makes for an interesting combination of crunchy and soft textures. Sata andagi Often known as Okinawan doughnuts, these guys are little cakey balls of dough. The simplest coating is sugar, but there are more elaborate versions. Ideally, you want them fresh\u2014slightly crispy exterior with a soft interior. Pre-prepared ones can be closer to stale pound cake. Orion No guide to Okinawan cuisine would be complete without mentioning Orion beer. While the rest of the country chugs Asahi, Sapporo, Ebisu and Kirin, almost every Okinawan bar stocks Orion. These days you\u2019ll occasionally see it in Mainland Japan distributed by Asahi, but it really is best enjoyed in Okinawa alongside any of the above dishes! For more dining ideas, read Japan For Foodies: 47 Prefectures, 47 Must-Try Dishes.