“Chi” is “yellow”, and “dēkuni” is “radish” in the Okinawan dialect; hence “chidēkuni” would translate as “yellow radish” but this actually means carrot. They can also be spelled as “yellow carrots.”
Okinawan native carrots are yellow, long, and thin (Eastern Ryukyu carrots), and it is said to be the sole type existing in Okinawa pre-War. Chidēkuni is believed to be the name given to this species. As time passed by, red carrots (Western carrots) arrived on the market. Today, chidēkuni refers to either the native species or carrots in general.
As chidēkuni now implies carrots in general, yellow carrots are recently referred to as the island carrots. Island carrot is not a bad name, yet chidēkuni contains “yellow” in itself. I would prefer to differentiate the two by calling the yellow native carrots “chidēkuni”, and the red ones simply “carrots.”
Not to mention its color, its tenderness and scent are also distinguishing. They are cultivated in Nakagusuku, Oroku in Naha, and Itoman, appearing on the market from December to March.
These days, many vegetables ignore the seasons. Gōyā (bitter melon) or nābērā (luffa,) which used to be summer vegetables, can now be purchased even during the winter. It is a joy to still be able to sense the season with chidēkuni.
During chilly winters when I feel a bit of a cold, I make soup with beef and chidēkuni. I eat it while blowing on the hot soup, making myself warm to blow off the cold. Indeed, it is a delicious soup filled with ishoku-dōgen—a Chinese idea that food and medicines share the same origin.1
- In 2018, Nakagusuku has set the 12th of December as the “day of Island carrots.” In 2022 today, chidēkuni is mainly produced in Nakagusuku, as well as in Itoman and Tonaki.