An American in Okinawa...Cooking Greek!

An American in Okinawa...Cooking Greek!

When we set out to showcase Global Greek Gastronomy, little did we know that one of Greek cuisine’s most enthusiastic ambassadors would be a wild & crazy American woman on the Japanese island of Okinawa.  But thanks to the wonders of social media, we discovered Little Greek Kitchen - no, we haven’t visited this outpost of contemporary Greek cuisine, but Pamela’s story was so intriguing and our conversation with her so much fun that we just had to write about it.

Pamela deepest immersion into all things Greek came from a high school job working for a Greek-American woman.  From the language to the food to the relatives visiting from Kalamata, she was surrounded by Greek everything. “Going to work for her destroyed my life!”, she only partially jokes.  Pamela dreamt of leaving the San Francisco Bay Area for Greece but a twist of fate took her to Japan for fifteen years, where she raised five children and developed a successful nail salon business.  Divorce and the desire to start a new chapter gave Pamela the chance to finally move to Greece in 2004 - and what a new chapter it was, as her Japanese-American children learned Greek and Pamela took her nail business to Athens.  A flash of nostalgia led her to move back to California after four years (“the biggest mistake I made in my life!”), but two years later, Pamela was drawn back to Greece again.  Needing a new job, she decided to leverage her love of cooking.  “My first experience in a kitchen was in an Athens yacht club, making sushi dressed in a kimono!”, she says with a laugh.   

As the Greek economic crisis set in, however, and she felt her children growing apart from their Japanese heritage, Pamela made the difficult decision to return to Japan in 2012.  A close friend, who would eventually become Pamela’s business partner, encouraged the family to settle with them in Okinawa….but where do you find real feta and Greek yogurt for your kids in Okinawa?!  Ever resourceful, Pamela decided to learn to make it herself and, thus, the Greek culinary adventure began.  Her homemade cheese and yogurt led into a successful catering business, Little Greek Kitchen. “I always liked to make things from scratch,” Pamela told us.  “I make my own filo for my spanakopita, I love making pastitsio and youvetsi, my kids’ Greek comfort food, I gather grape leaves for my homemade dolmadákia...”

 

Thanks to the positive response, both from the local Japanese and the island’s sizable American population, Pamela and her friend made the move to start a proper restaurant in the bustling neighborhood of Yomitan.  With a gorgeous view over the bay, she offers each afternoon and two nights a week a fixed menu of her mezédes (appetizers), real Greek salad topped with her homemade feta, and two of her favorite main dishes.  But don’t be late to Little Greek Kitchen - the meals are served at a set time and if you’re late, you lose!  “Can you imagine, my meat is coming out juicy, my pita is fresh and warm, and you’re going to be late?!”

Maria asked Pamela how she reconciles what seems to be a chaos and abundance that goes into Greek culture and cooking with the apparent perfection and simplicity that is seen in Japanese cuisine.  “I always say that Greek food is about the ingredients, it’s not about the architecture, like French or Japanese food.  Still, I love plating and I want my dishes to look attractive.”  

Pamela has kept close ties with Greece and the friends she’s left behind.  “I want to help these people that stood behind me, that gave me so much.”  She brings pomegranate jam and dried oregano from a close friend’s farm and she is determined to spread her love of fresh, real Greek food in Japan through her work.  Local media have helped, as they can only be curious about this blonde American ambassador of traditional Greek cuisine.  This October Pamela will enter a national cheese competition with her “Yomitan-tiri” (“tiri” being the Greek word for cheese, since she can’t use the protected name, feta).  We wish this passionate, zealous Artisan the best of luck and hope to someday try her food.  Until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with following her on Facebook and Instagram  :-)

Try Pamela's recipe for gluten-free, village bread, "horiatiko psomi"!

 


Zelos is passionate about Greek food and Global Greek Gastronomy, that fusion of traditional and contemporary Greek cuisine that has spread across the world. In this special section of our blog, we want to promote the people and places that we believe are pioneering this trend. Full disclosure: we DO NOT gain anything from these posts, we are not paid to advertise them; rather, we are honestly sharing our personal favorites for you to enjoy!



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