One of the great joys of being a Sailor is the chance to sample local cuisine when you’re ashore. If you’re a Yokosuka Sailor, then you’ve got access to great food.
For starters, Japan is famously obsessed with freshness and quality. Whether you’ve gotten something from the land or sea, it is all but guaranteed to be at peak freshness.
In creating this list, I deliberately excluded classics such as ramen, soba, and sushi. These are popular foods that can that can be found throughout Japan. Instead, I wanted to focus on regional foods that have a special tie to the Sailor way of life. After all, Yokosuka is a Navy town.
The best parts of living in (or visiting) Yokosuka? You don’t even have to be a Sailor to try these fabulous foods.
At first take, “octopus balls” do not sound very appetizing. Rest assured, my friend! The sexual organs of an octopus are not part of the ingredients. If you hear the term “octopus balls”, it refers to the shape the octopus and dough are baked into.
They’re incredibly tasty. Takoyaki are usually are sold as a cheap street food in packages of six. However, you can also find them in the frozen food aisles of supermarkets and konbini (convenience stores). Even microwaved takoyaki are superb. Although they are a little too hot for me to enjoy during the hot summer months, takoyaki is a warm and cozy treat once the weather cools.
Shirasu translates to whitebait fish. ‘Tiny’ does not begin to describe their size. Typically, the fish have a length less than 2 centimeters. Nothing makes you feel as reassured about your place in the food chain as swallowing hundreds of tiny fish in one gulp. My favorite place to eat this unique treat is at nearby Enoshima Island.
There are many different ways to enjoy shirasu. My personal preference is to have it baked. (Because its flavor is mild and delicate, chances are you won’t even know you’re eating it). However, it is also popularly served atop pizza, in your pasta sauce, or raw. If you’re feeling particularly bold, why not try it sprinkled on a soft cream cone? While green tea soft cream topped with hundreds of baby fish might not sound that great, it does not taste like you’re eating fish. Rather, it tastes like a nice ocean breeze.
Those daring enough to try this are guaranteed bragging rights and impressed looks from passersby!
3. Fresh Strawberries
The practice of ichigo gari – strawberry hunting – is something every Sailor should try before leaving Yokosuka. Ichigo gari is especially popular between January and May. Because the strawberries are carefully nurtured inside greenhouses, every strawberry looks like it came straight out of a magazine.
Beyond being beautiful to look at, strawberries offer nutrients to keep Sailors healthy. The fruit is chock full of Vitamin C – an excellent way to ward off scurvy!
Although perfectly ripe strawberries are abundant in supermarkets, it is much more fun to pick your own. Those in the U.S. are likely to have paired their strawberries with fresh cream or sugar. However, in Japan, strawberries are accompanied with sweetened condensed milk. Rest assured – the combination is HEAVENLY.
4. Kaigun Curry
Kaigun (Navy) Curry is a must-try Japanese classic. Its history comes from the old days of sailing. While Western Sailors died of Vitamin C deficiencies, many Japanese Sailors suffered from a Vitamin B deficiency. A famous Japanese physician solved this diet problem by observing what British Sailors consumed at sea. However, the taste of Indian curry did not suit the Japanese palette, and they modified the recipe aboard their ships. When they returned home, Japanese Sailors introduced their recipe to their local communities. In time, Kaigun curry’s popularity soared.
The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force consume Kaigun curry aboard their ships every Friday. Fun fact: every ship takes great pride in having their own secret recipe.
Kaigun curry is milder and sweeter than Indian curry. In Yokosuka, the dish is often served as a set for nutritional balance. In addition to rice, expect to see a small fresh salad and a glass of milk.
5. Navy Burger
Please hear me out on this one! Burgers are not what usually what people think of when they picture Japanese food. However, I kid you not when I say that, as with Kaigun curry, the city of Yokosuka lists the “Navy Burger” as one of its tourism destination dishes.
The humble burger qualifies as an authentic Sailor food on two counts. Firstly, just as the JMSDF eat Kaigun curry every Friday, every American Navy Sailor who has deployed aboard a warship can tell you that they [have the option] to eat burgers every Wednesday. Secondly, many American Sailors living in Japan after World War II missed the familiarity of U.S. comfort foods. Many Japanese restaurant owners made successful businesses out of serving burgers.
During a visit to downtown Yokosuka, you are guaranteed to see restaurants serving succulent and highly creative burgers. One of the most popular burger restaurants, Tsunami, serves burgers inspired by U.S. Presidents and aircraft carriers.
6. Cherry Cheesecake
Cherry cheesecake was presented to the city of Yokosuka as a gift from the Fleet Activities Yokosuka commanding officer. It was a gift intended to celebrate two different cultures. The dessert consisted of a New York-inspired cheesecake + sweet cherries (which honored the rising sun on Japan’s flag). The city of Yokosuka graciously accepted the cheesecake and went to great pains to ensure it was treated with care.
The Japanese do not mess around when it comes to food representation. Restaurants who apply to serve the Navy cherry cheesecake receive visits from city officials to verify it is properly prepared.
I kid you not – cherry cheesecake is a Yokosuka tourism destination item. And it is excellent!
7. Tomago (Egg)
For obvious reasons, it is super hard to get real eggs when you’re out at sea. (Live chickens aren’t allowed on warships.) It is therefore a genuine luxury to see an egg and crack it open.
Why not enjoy it in an unforgettable way? Many konbini (convenience stores) offer a packaged egg with a pack of light soy sauce. Crack the egg in the container, pour the sauce, and slurp it down.
Voila! You’re ready to start the day feeling like a warrior.
As a Sailor, there are so many things I am going to miss when I leave Japan. Access to high-quality, super fresh food at incredibly reasonable prices is high up on that list. It’s been so much fun to experiment with new foods and flavor combinations.
If you’re staying in Yokosuka, you have plenty of delicious international options to choose from downtown: Peruvian, Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Italian. Food is a beautiful reminder that regardless of what uniform you wear, what nation you hail from, and whatever your beliefs, we all need to eat.
Here’s wishing you a safe and happy adventure!