For hearty, homestyle Okinawan cooking, check out Chanpuru-ya, an underground izakaya in Ginza.
Rafute, a braised pork belly dish. This is detailed in a paragraph below. - image © Florentyna Leow
Ginza is where you go for the expensive branded goods. But there’s much more to Ginza beyond the glitz and glamour of the main shopping avenues. Wander just a minute off the main streets and you’ll find Chanpuru-ya, a raucous/rambunctious/lively underground izakaya serving up hearty Okinawan fare. It’s a stone’s throw from the Apple Store too.
The view from exit A9. - image © Florentyna Leow
Take Exit A9 from Ginza Station.
The Apple Store. - image © Florentyna Leow
When you’re above ground, walk straight until you see the Apple Store. Cross the road and turn left.
Turn right on this street with a cafe on the second floor of the corner building. - image © Florentyna Leow
Two streets down, take a right turn, and walk for around a minute. You’ll see Chanpuru-ya on your right.
The entrance underneath the red signboard is Chanpuru-ya. - image © Florentyna Leow
Strangely enough, there are two Okinawan restaurants on the same street within a minute’s walk of each other. You want to find the entrance that looks like this.
Look for this cute shisa! - image © Florentyna Leow
It’s easy enough to spot, since there’s a very cute carved shisa marking the entrance. Shisa are a Ryukyuan mythological creature, somewhere between a lion and a dog, and functionally similar to gargoyles or wards.
The entrance to Chanpuru-ya in the basement. - image © Florentyna Leow
Walk underground to the strains of Okinawan folk music.
Don’t be fooled - this place filled up within the next half hour. - image © Florentyna Leow
It’s a popular place, and you may want to avoid coming in on a Friday night by yourself unless you’re there around half-six like I was. Even then, you might just have an hour for dinner. Priority goes to groups of two and above at busy times, and especially for those who have booked in advance. However, they’re also open for lunch and serve set meals then, which makes it a great choice if you’re shopping in the Ginza area.
The Japanese menu page for Okinawan soba, which specifies half-size (ハーフ) and full-size prices. - image © Florentyna Leow
There is also one English menu for the entire restaurant, so you’ll survive without Japanese. It’s less extensive than the full gamut in Japanese, but there’s still plenty of dishes to choose from. The only caveat I would add is that you can order a half-sized soba rather than a full bowl - it doesn’t say so in English, but it’s an option.
Appetizer of the day. - image © Florentyna Leow
It’s also an izakaya, so a few things to remember: there is a cover charge (of JPY324) and they will bring you a small appetizer, which changes daily. Today it was simmered winter melon in a light starchy sauce. It’s also not explicitly stated but they do expect you to order at least one drink per person.
A tangle of sea grapes. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you’re new to Okinawan food, start with some classics. I love kicking off a meal with umi budou, a kind of soft seaweed known as “sea grapes” or “green caviar.” As the names suggest, these soft, succulent seaweed strands are caviar-like, covered in tiny, mildly salty bubbles that burst in your mouth. The Okinawa style sees them served with a tangy dipping sauce reminiscent of ponzu. It’s refreshing and extremely moreish. Another dish that people often order at an Okinawan joint is jimami tofu, which is a delicately-flavored, lightly sticky tofu made from peanuts. Chanpuru-ya's version is not particularly memorable; but I also don’t love this kind of tofu.
You could share. Or you could eat it all by yourself. - image © Florentyna Leow
Then there’s goya chanpuru, or bittergourd stir-fry. Vegetables tend to be underrepresented on izakaya menus, so if there’s a hearty, vegetable-heavy dish I tend to jump right on it - this is one of those times. No two renditions of goya chanpuru are ever exactly alike. It lends itself well to riffing. At Chanpuru-ya, they nail this dish by paying attention to the important details. The thin slices of bitter gourd are just bitter enough, still retaining a little snap and bite. Together with the hot, creamy scrambled egg, and thick fingers of mystery Spam (for hits of salt), if your mother was from Okinawa this is what your childhood would taste like. They serve this as part of a set meal at lunchtimes. It would be fantastic with rice.
Another dish I absolutely love at Okinawan restaurants is rafute, pictured at the top of this post. This is traditionally made with skin-on pork ribs, but it takes the form of thick slabs of belly pork here. If you are fastidious about fat, this dish is not for you. The belly fat here melts in your mouth and heads straight for your arteries. It’s very similar to a Chinese-style braised belly pork dish such as dong po rou or red-cooked meat. Chanpuru-ya’s rafute has perfectly gelatinous skin. It’s not at all gristly, striations of tender meat with wobbly fat. One piece is usually enough. You may want two to yourself.
A bowl of soki soba - one of the variations on Okinawan soba on the menu. - image © Florentyna Leow
After all of these home runs, the Okinawan soba is the only disappointment. The broth is eminently drinkable, with the benishoga (red ginger) adding a pleasant zing. But the wheat noodles I find a little too stodgy for my tastes. I would skip this dish.
For the curious, in the Japanese menu there are two varieties of soba: soki soba and Okinawan soba. The only real difference is in the meat used. “Soki” refers to braised pork rib, and the other bowl is served with three slices of pork. I ordered the braised pork rib, which was well done - I do love a tender piece of cartilage-rich rib - but not enough to order this again.
Don’t forget to take a free sweet from the pot when you leave. - image © Florentyna Leow
Chanpuru-ya does classic Okinawan dishes well, and they’re obviously a well-loved local restaurant. If I worked in Ginza, I would probably end up at Chanpuru-ya most days for their goya chanpuru alone.
Name in Japanese:
B1, Sunny Building, 3-4-16 Ginza, Chuo 104-0061, Tokyo Prefecture
東京都中央区銀座3-4-16 銀座サニービル Ｂ１Ｆ
Yes (separate areas at lunch)
Ginza (Exit A9)
:: Read customer reviews of Chanpuru-ya on TripAdvisor
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