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Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Wīchōbā is the Okinawan term for fennel. Okinawans consume many herbs and vegetables with healthful benefits, and fennel is one of those plants. It’s good for digestion and is also effective in reducing coughing and mucus production, so much so that it’s a component in the traditional Chinese stomach medicine, Anchusan.
 Fennel plants are not found in every Japanese supermarket, but if you visit the city market in Naha, you’ll find high-quality, hand-raised fennel. The stems and leaves are often prepared in tempura or added to soups.

Young fronds go particularly well with fish preparations. Yoshimoto Nanako once told me about a restaurant in Naha called Hateruma1 where, after gutting a white fish, they stuff the fish’s cavity with salt, pepper, and plenty of wīchōbā and then steam the fish whole in a pan. The depth of flavor in the fish’s flesh harmonizes perfectly with wīchōbā’s distinct aroma, creating a truly delicious dish. I do hope those who enjoy fish will give this delicacy a try.

Editor’s Note:

  1. Hateruma has relocated from Naha City to Iriomote, where it now operates under the name Awanami to Shima no Aji Hateruma (Surf and the taste of the islands, Hateruma).