A taste of Okinawa: Goya Champuru

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Basic Needs Initiative team partnered for the semester’s final Cooking with CSUMB virtual demonstration on April 8. Highlighting assistant professor Dustin Wright’s recipe of Goya Champuru, the event was filled with a powerful Japanese history lesson. 

Wright – who teaches courses at CSUMB in Japanese culture, language and food – shared the process of making goya champuru at home. Deriving from Okinawa, champuru is a traditional stir fry dish often consisting of tofu, egg, spam and vegetables. Wright – who did scholarly research of Japanese military involvement, particularly in Okinawa – has had the opportunity to take students abroad and embrace the culture of the blue zone. 

“Spam went with the U.S. military in World War II,” Wright said. “It was going along with U.S. soldiers who were consuming it, but it was also staying behind where battles occurred or the U.S. built bases.”

Opening the container of Spam, Wright divided the meat in half and proceeded to dice it in slices. Wright then cut four medium-sized goyas, which are a kind of bitter melon, gutting their middle sections and chopping them into bite-sized pieces. He set these aside for later.

Heating around 1 ½ tablespoons of oil in a wok, Wright tossed in the Spam to sizzle and fry the sides. Since Spam is already cooked, one could eat Spam out of the can but frying adds additional flavor and accentuates the textures of the stir fry. 

“The goal (of frying the Spam) is to get a color change,” Wright said. “The Spam will start to turn a golden-brown color and it will get a crunch.”

After reaching a seared consistency, Wright took the Spam out of the wok and added in the goya and large slices of a yellow onion. Dashing two pinches of kosher salt and some pepper, Wright simmered the vegetables in the oil, allowing the goya to cook through and soften.

“Goya is an ingredient that is very popular in Okinawa,” Wright said. “It’s packed with nutrients. That bitterness you taste is a lot of vitamins.”

As the onions become translucent and the goya softens, Wright scrambled an egg into the stir fry mixture before adding large chunks from a tofu block to prevent over-breakage. Once the tofu is hot, return the spam back into the wok and let the ingredients marry each other for a few minutes before serving over rice. 

Making enough for around two portions, the meal requires little preparation and doesn’t stretch a student’s budget. Be sure to check back in the fall for more Cooking with CSUMB faculty and staff recipes with hands-on, guided cooking demonstrations.

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