You’ll find the spice hihachi, which is not unlike black pepper, in Okinawan soba restaurants. Also called pipāchi, pipātsu, or fifachi, its name in standard Japanese is hihatsumodoki, and in English, it’s known as the Javanese long pepper. It’s in the piperaceae plant family alongside black pepper. In Okinawa, you’ll also often find it served alongside koorēgūsu1. Hihachi has a unique fragrance which is not quite so piquant as pepper, and for whatever reason, it goes great with soba. Additionally, it’s also often found in Okinawan soups like nakami, sooki, and hījā, and it’s even used to flavor sweets like nantoomisu2. Normally sold already ground into a powder, hihachi is a little on the pricier side—a small bottle for the table will run about four hundred yen, roughly four dollars US3.
The hihachi’s creeping vine originates in southeast Asia, and it grows wild in Okinawa. Once you’ve learned to recognize its countenance, you’ll notice it growing everywhere. It’s particularly eye-catching against the blazing white of Taketomi Island’s late afternoons or scattered on the ground after a big typhoon sweeps over Kudaka Island.
The hihachi vine is particularly fond of growing up stone walls, and the sight of the little pepper pods poking proudly out three or four centimeters from between the glossy green leaves is quite humorous. As they ripen, the pepper pods turn a brilliant orange, but if you want to use them as seasoning, you must pick them while they’re still green, dry and roast them, and then ground them into powder. Dried hihachi stalks and leaves are also used medicinally for headaches, stomachaches, and coughs, and occasionally we also fry the leaves for tempura.
- Koorēgusu according to the Okinawan Language Dictionary.
- Also called nattoonsū.
- This article was written in 1998.