Sata andagi is a traditional, fried ball of sweet dough exclusive to Okinawa, an island of Japan located about 400 miles (644 km) from the country’s southernmost coast. This island's relative isolation resulted in a unique culture and culinary tradition. Okinawa has also been influenced by nearly thirty years of U.S. military occupation from the end of World War II to 1972. The deep-fried confection remains popular despite modern introductions such as cupcakes with icing.
In the nearly extinct native dialect of Okinawa, sata andagi means “sugar, fried in oil.” English, as well as Japanese, phonetic attempts at pronunciation may yield variations such as saataa andagii or anragii. The most accepted spelling reflects the stretched vowels, “saata andagii.”
Both prior to the War, and following it, Okinawa’s chief agricultural crop was sugar processed from cane. To aid in war-torn Japan’s recovery, the U.S. provided wheat flour among other forms of assistance. These are the two main ingredients of sata andagi.
Flour and sugar are mixed and incorporated into a coarse batter with the addition of eggs and a pinch of salt to make the dough. The consistency is similar to that of a thick cookie batter. Common variations of the ingredients include unprocessed brown cane sugar or a little addition of baking powder for a lighter texture. Creative additions may include pieces of firm fruit, or savory vegetables.
A ball of the dough, anywhere from golf ball to tennis ball size, is dropped into a pot or deep pan of oil. Canola oil, over relatively high heat, is typically used. Deep-fried, the ball quickly develops a dark brown crust. As its interior cooks and expands, the ball will often split open, resembling a tulip flower. When the exposed, yellow-white interior fries to a light, golden brown, it is removed, and excess oil is allowed to drain.
Unlike the pastry airiness of steamed buns or the light chewiness of a baked yeast bread, sata andagi has a texture similar to very dense cake, and is quite dry. Its nearest Western counterpart is the fried doughnut commonly called a fritter. By most confectionery standards, however, sata andagi is usually not very sweet. It is eaten either warm or cooled to room temperature.
In modern years, sata andagi has lost some of its popularity. It is somewhat negatively associated with the lean times of post-war occupation. Health conscious people may be somewhat hesitant about consuming a deep-fried dough high in carbohydrates. These are nevertheless a favorite, festive treat for people of Okinawa ancestry living in the U.S. island state of Hawaii.