Winter is the time when you are more likely to get sick than during any other season. This winter is shaping up to be no less unforgiving with a highly contagious variant of COVID-19 adding another hurdle to the already difficult season.
Although winter weather hits the Japanese mainland, Okinawa, where I live, is not free from seasonal problems. Although islanders enjoy a year-round subtropical climate, sensitivities to lower temperatures and a cold or flu are still possible during the winter season.
If you get sick in Japan, the good news is that there are plenty of delicious foods to help you feel better in no time.
You can have your own list of comfort foods when you’re feeling down, but below I’ve shared some of my favorite Okinawan dishes that I choose when I’m feeling sick. Some of them are traditional, while others are more what you might call “prepared dishes”. Either way, these aren’t difficult to cook or prepare. They can help you nourish yourself and feel better without too much cost or effort.
Shinjimun, or decocted soup, is a hearty Okinawan dish. According to Hiroko Shou, professor emeritus of Ryukyus University, this local food represents the idea of ”Yakushoku Dougen (medicine and food have the same origin)”, which is based on Chinese medicine. Common ingredients for Shinjimun are pork, fish, and vegetables. In particular, a decoction of pork liver soup known as “Chimushinji” is valued as a powerful revitalizer.
Shinjimun is at the top of my list when it comes to what to eat to beat a cold. I usually top it with lots of grated garlic, which naturally adds a strong spiciness.
This is another very nutritious Okinawan soup, but much easier to prepare than Shinjimun. To prepare this broth, all you need is a handful of dried bonito flakes and a spoonful of miso paste in a bowl. Pour boiled water over it and you have an instant soup ready to boost your energy. “Kachuu” means bonito in Okinawan dialect.
Considering how little effort it takes to cook this soup, its taste can come as a big surprise. It should be mentioned that this soup is arguably one of the best ways to taste the “umami” of bonito flakes and enjoy their aroma.
Okayu (rice porridge)
Like people in other Asian countries, Okinawans (and Japanese) eat rice porridge, especially when they have a cold. This makes perfect sense because this food is easy to digest and can help you replenish your diet quickly. I often take it with umeboshi (pickled plums).
“Eiyou dorinku”, or energy drinks, are very popular for those looking for a quick recovery after a long day at work or a long night of partying. However, eiyou dorinku are also handy when you have a cold or flu. Of the plethora of energy drinks available at the convenience store or grocery store, my favorite is “Lipovitan D”. All because of his TV commercial with the slogan “Fight Ippatsu (one-shot)!”, which was often broadcast when I was a kid. I always want to sing the catchphrase when I have a hit of this age-old drink.
Instant noodles may not be much of a diet aid, but this guilty pleasure may at least make me feel better. In fact, it’s one of the few things I look forward to when I have a cold. Although I would normally opt for spicy noodles, I go easy on my stomach when I’m sick by choosing those with mild flavors such as “Nissin Chicken Ramen Noodle” or the original “Cup Noodle”.
Make Shinjimun, kachu-yu and okayu at home
Ingredients (for 2 people)
Pork (lean meat, 460g)
Garlic (one bunch)
Garlic chives (appropriate amount)
Miso paste (two spoonfuls)
1 Trim the fat from the pork and cut it into small pieces.
2 Heat water (1400ml) in a saucepan over medium heat. Place the sliced pork in the pot.
3 Pick up and remove the foam.
4 Loosely cover the pan with a lid, leaving a small space for steam to escape.
5 Cut a carrot into small pieces and add it to the pork in the pot.
6 Cut the potatoes into small pieces and rinse with water. Add them to the mixture in the pan. Loosely cover the jar with a lid.
7 Separate the head of garlic and peel the cloves. Add half to the mixture in the pan. Grate the rest of the garlic cloves and set aside.
8 Cut the garlic chives into small pieces.
9 Once the pork and potatoes in the pot are cooked through, add the miso paste, grated garlic and sliced garlic chives.
10 Mix the soup and ingredients over low heat. Turn off the flame before serving the soup in a bowl.
(Cooking took about 45 minutes)
Kachu-yu (for one person)
Dried bonito flakes (a handful)
Miso paste (one spoonful)
1 Put the dried bonito flakes and the miso paste in a bowl.
2 Pour boiled water over it.
3 Cover the bowl with a plate.
Ingredients (for two people)
1 Heat the rice and water in a saucepan over high heat. Cover the pot with a lid.
2 Remove the lid and see if the water has come to a boil.
3 Replace the cover, leaving a small gap. Set the heat to medium heat.
4 Stir the rice occasionally to prevent it from sticking together. Replace the lid.
5 It’s ready when the rice softens to the core.
* Customize the flavor with various ingredients like umeboshi, adzuki beans or seasoned cod roe.