Renny Braga grew up on the southernmost Japanese island of Okinawa, born to a Portuguese father and a Chinese mother. (Phew, if there was ever a recipe for a delicious culinary heritage, that just might be it.) As a kid, he helped his grandmother prepare nightly dinner for their family — a memory fondly recollected in his project description for its profound influence on his future food aspirations: "I would always watch intently and ask questions about her recipes. Whenever I cook those dishes now, I try to reproduce the same wonderful flavors that my grandmother created. I love to cook, and even more I love to see people enjoy my food." Renny lives in Florida these days, but he's still making the unique, local dishes of his beloved island home, and his cheerily named food truck, Oki Doki ("Ask me how I'm doing!"), will help him share those flavors with others.
After falling in love with his project, we reached out to Renny for some insight into his delicious food. "I don't have exact 'measured' recipes that I could share," he wrote back. "But I love talking about the food I plan to make." Sounds good to us! You can check out Renny's project here — we recommend his ultra-charming project video — and browse the stories behind his three, favorite dishes below. Yum!
The first dish is the Chuka Soba which is a cold noodle dish, the noodles are a special Japanese noodle specifically for this dish. The noodles are cooked and then quicked cooled in an ice bath, then mixed with a dressing made of soy sauce, vinegar, mirin, and a dash of sesame paste, then topped with steamed, cold chicken and fresh vegetables such as carrots, cucumber and bean sprouts. My Chinese grandmother used to make this for me when I was growing up. As in many Asian households we had three generations living in our home. My grandmother did a lot of the cooking for us and I loved to watch her and learn her recipes and techniques. To this day I owe most of my inspiration to her.
The second dish is the Okinawan Soba topped with Rafute (braised pork belly). The soup is a traditional Okinawan dashi made primarily from pork bones and bonita flakes. The Okinawan soba noodles are cooked, the broth is added to the bowl of noodles, and topped with the pork belly that is slow cooked and braised with the soy sauce and rock sugar glaze and sliced. This is a very traditional way to eat soba in Okinawa. Everybody that has spent any time on the island will be familiar with Okinawan soba, and most likely love it! We used to sneak out of school at lunch time to the local "sobaya" to eat soba for lunch, and often times would run into teachers doing the same. We would just pretend we didn't see each other and go about the business of slurping down that delicious, comforting soup. It truly is comfort food for me and I can't wait to share it with others that have never tried it as well as those that are excited to have it again!
Lastly is the gyoza — known to most people as "potstickers" or "dumplings". These are made with ground pork and vegetable mixture. There are many little restaurants in Okinawa that you will find selling these. When I was there they were an inexpensive place to have a great meal. When my wife and I were dating, I could give her a taste of the local flare, for not too much money! There is a true art to wrapping the gyozas and then they are pan fried and steamed in a two step process and served with a soy/vingear dipping sauce. And the spring rolls are also made with pork and cabbage mixture but seasoned differently from the gyoza. After the spring rolls are wrapped and sealed they are deep fried in a hot oil and served with sweet and sour sauce. Both of these dishes have origins in China, however, Okinawan cuisine is a unique blend of influences from both China and Japan. That's what makes Okinawan food special and of course so delicious! We had a very popular restaurant on Okinawa, believe it or not, called "Pizza House." Everybody ate there and the most popular item was their spring rolls. I spent many years perfecting the spring rolls I make to mimic theirs because they were so delicious and very popular. Pizza House brings back fond memories for anyone thats ever spent time on that little island.