December 2010


Food and Food: Asia and General and japan30 Dec 2010 10:18 pm

Our search for great dim sum on Okinawa continues. A few months back we made our way to a small Chinese restaurant in a very residential neighbourhood of west Naha.

Unlike Tong Tong, Eva Kui offers a more complete dim sum experience with special teas, the requisite lazy susan tables and offerings beyond dumplings. We got a set menu which provided tea, soup, salad, shu mai, har gao, sticky rice and pudding as well as sesame balls.

The server taught us the best way to brew our own tea after elaborately preparing the pot and cups for our golden liquid. I am not sure what kind of tea we got (perhaps pur-eh?), but it was a fine one, and beyond the norm. Not on the level of the Mariages Freres we had in Bangkok at China House, but still great.

We had a small pot of constantly hot water to make pot after pot of the tea with which was much more preferable than signaling down an always rushing server at a large dim sum restaurant for some bitter tea. Some would say that is the only way, but I liked having executive control over our tea.

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We started with a seafood salad, then moved onto a clear broth speckled with green onions. Then the steamed items came out, super hot and fresh; pork buns, har gao, three kinds of shu mai and a glutinous, flavourful steamed rice in banana leaf.

Tender, hot char siu bau, or BBQ pork buns. Three different kinds, at once dense and light, sweet and savoury. They are one of my favourite dim sum items. Unfortunately not every place decorates them to look like beautiful peaches, however.

This sticky rice was well balanced, and not too sticky and gloppy. It smelled of its leaf wrapper and was fresh and warm. Normally I think of this item as filler that is stuffed with sub par ingredients and MSG, but the rice at Eva Kui was amazing.

Some of the shu mai had little pockets of ginger in them, adding to the flavour explosion. Some were pork and others were shrimp.

Wonderful har gau, with tender wrappings and crisp plump shrimp inside.

Finally pudding and some molten, freshly fried sesame balls that crackled as you bit into them, giving way to glutinous bean paste filling. The greasy, cold gluey balls you get at most Asian bakeries and restaurants do not hold a candle to this. It makes me very excited to hop over to Hong Kong one day and get dim sum straight from the source.

The pudding is addictive, and there is never enough. It is often called tofu pudding, but there is no tofu in it at all! Almond based, it is silky and smooth and I have to scrape the bottom of the bowl every time I get it.

I highly recommend Eva Kui. There is very little English, but if you have an idea of what to expect from dim sum, you will know what to expect and will have a good idea of what should be coming out if you get a set menu.

The food is above average and the atmosphere is authentic, with emerald green carpet, large rosewood tables with glass lazy susans, jade scupltures and groups of Chinese ladies. It is worth the effort to find, and very affordable.

Eva Kui Taiwanese Teahouse
Oroku, Naha
沖縄県 那覇市 小禄 5-15-22
Map
Closed Monday, open 11am – 3pm, 6pm to midnight.

Food and japan26 Dec 2010 11:38 am

Although Christmas has come and gone here, Merry Christmas to all of you in North America, where it is just after Christmas dinner time. I hope you enjoyed whatever you ate today!

The days leading up to Christmas have been amazing here. The first amazing thing was not having to work on Christmas for the first time in a few years. I had never minded working in the newsroom on Christmas Day as it was always fun and we were fed, but it was nice to have a year off to do as I pleased here. Of course I only get this year and next off as Christmas falls on a weekend, but I will take them as I get them!

On the Eve of Christmas Eve, we began our final long bus ride up the Okinawan coast to pick up our car. It is life changing here, and the best Christmas present I have ever gotten…FREEDOM! I cannot even begin to describe how much more pleasurable it is to be at home and know that our car is steps away, ready to ferry us through traffic and heat and rain and cold (as the weather has been this weekend) to where ever we would like to go.

Minutes after buying it we headed to the Sunabe seawall to check out the ocean and watch the sunset. It was grand.

Christmas eve dinner was at our favourite yakitori restaurant, where we had various cuts of grilled chicken bits, sashimi and a relaxed good time.

Christmas Day proper Mike had to meet with his new pottery instructors for a demonstration lesson and check out the studio, etc. I took off to the grocery store to get some items for the potluck dishes we were bringing to a party later. Pretty much a normal day here, except there is more fried chicken in the supermarket (it is THE thing to eat at Christmas time here) and there was no snow when I headed back out to the car with shopping bags and Starbucks in tow. No eggnog lattes at Starbucks, either.

Not only is this the only Rottweiler I have ever seen in Japan, it is one of the biggest dogs I have seen in my life.  He protects the pottery studio.

I made Nanaimo bars and roasted up some romanesco for the potluck, which was being held at the Eager Beaver, the Canadian bar in Naha. 1000 Yen bought us access to the spread, which included the showpiece turducken, which was amazing. The people were really great too and we met some new friends from mainland Japan, other islands around Okinawa and so on. As my dad says, expat Christmases are strange, but always memorable. This is not the first Christmas I have spent eating expensive imported poultry in a bar catering to expatriates. The first one was actually 20 years ago to the day, I realize!

A little bit of everything – food from the American bases, pastas, cakes, Jello shots, shepards pie, mashed potatoes, salads, ham …

We then came home and watched the Godfather (I had never seen it, can you believe it) and I called my mom early Christmas morning, and went to bed. Great success.

Merry Christmas, everyone, from your Ugly Christmas Sweater wearing blog author and her Ugly Christmas Sweater wearing husband.

Food: Asia and japan22 Dec 2010 05:21 pm

This post has been years in the making.

When Mike and I visited Tokyo nearly three years ago, there was a Freshness Burger location near our accommodation. We never got around to eating there, and the morning we left, Mike asked if we could dash in. I am a freaked out traveler and was too distracted by making it to the airport on time and I denied him his right. I also thought it was a half assed chain, not really worthy of our time. How wrong I was!

That mistake was corrected this year, and he finally got to go. I went a few weeks later, and immediately regretted not going the second I landed.

Freshness Burger is excellent. They live up to their name with fresh burgers, fresh high quality toppings and a great non fast food atmosphere. They offer up huge burgers, smaller burgers and a selection of non beef burgers like chicken, vegetarian/tofu, SPAM and even hot dogs.

Their beef comes from Australia, but all other items are domestically grown in Japan (kind of a big deal for a country that imports 60% of its food) and organic. Their buns (which are baked in store) are made from pumpkin and have a slight orange hue, but you probably could not tell when you ate one.

Onion rings

These seriously might be the best burgers on the island, but I am always open to trying new places of course. We have tried a few different places now, including A&W, MOS Burger and Jet City Burgers, but Freshness remains number one.

Mike reads one of the children`s books while we wait for our meal to be brought to us. How civilized!

Fresh flowers at a fast food restaurant? Don’t mind if I do!

Comfy seating

Freshness burger and I share a birthday!

Selection of hot sauces for your burger, including Cholula.

An even more pleasant surprise was how delicious their chai was. It was so good I returned there a few weeks later just to enjoy a cup and to write some postcards. They were sold out of the seasonal ginger milk tea both times, but I hope to try that soon.

There are two locations of Freshness Burger on Okinawa. One in the Shintoshin area of Naha and the other in Chatan, near one of the bases.

The one in Shintoshin also does delivery on these super cute delivery scooters!

On December 1, they just opened their first location in Singapore, adding to various Hong Kong and Korean locations.

Shintoshin / Naha branch
沖縄県那覇市銘苅1-3-6
Map
Monday – Friday 8am – 10:30pm
Saturday 7:30am – 11pm , Sunday and Holidays 8am – 10:30pm

Chatan / American Village branch
沖縄県中頭郡北谷町美浜15-69 (2nd floor)
Map
Everyday, 10am – 11pm

Food: Asia and japan21 Dec 2010 09:15 pm

Haebaru is pretty well equipped. We have more than a few great restaurants, which makes it easy to decide where to eat when we do not feel like cooking. Here’s a mini tour of some of them…

The hand hewn wooden keys for lockers used to store your shoes

One of our favourite go-tos is about 20 minutes walk from our door, and it is an izakaya called Anzuya.

Anzuya is owned by a larger group that runs a few izakayas, yakiniku joints and various other restaurants around Okinawa. Although the yakiniku place (Jack’s) is alright, we definitely prefer Anzuya.

Like many izakayas, it is popular with groups and fills up quickly. We prefer to sit at the counter so this normally does not bother us, but we have even had to wait for that once or twice.

Unfortunately, Anzuya has a mostly non-pictorial menu. This made ordering a challenge the first few times, but now with rudimentary literacy and an idea of what is good, we can shape together a good meal. Sometimes we go out on a limb and are shocked by what we get, like the huge cauldron of soup we once got at the very end of our meal, or a heaping serving of Korean bibimbap rice.

Cabbetsu! Salt and dressing and cabbage. It is so addictive.

It’s not an izakaya without beer.

Yaki udon…or soba. I can’t quite tell.

Delicious pork and pork innards salad

Yakitori

Bacon wrapped quail eggs are always a favourite

Some favourite dishes include yaki udon, fu champuru, cabbage with sesame dressing, yakitori and, of course, their drinks. We ate there for my birthday recently and were very pleased to see they were now offering 100 Yen drinks between 5 and 8pm. What a birthday present!

Another great restaurant I have yet to visit with Mike is Kachaya Bambino. It is a lunch spot only, so it makes it difficult to get there with him, as I prefer to stay at work for lunches.

I went on my very first full day of work with my supervisor back in August and was very relieved to find a decent restaurant a stone’s throw from our place. Happily, other restaurants have joined the list, but in the early days it took very little to please me.

The salads available


Several kinds of tea and ice coffee (we visited in August, when it was hotter than Hades on Okinawa)

The pastas available that particular day were a chicken carbonara, some tomato sauce based pasta and then the “Popeye” dish. The ladies I did lunch with described it as Popeye, which I took to mean it contained spinach. It was, and I definitely made the right decision. It was swimming in vegetables.

Salad plate with potato salad, Japanese kabocha pumpkin, various other greens with ice coffee and vegetable soup

Kachaya Bambino does what could be affectionately be called “Japanese pasta.” That means it can be very soupy, and is usually served as a set. So for our meal, we got access to a salad bar, a cup of soup, a choice of various teas and coffees, three main dishes to pick from and then a piece of house-made cake to close out the meal. It is extraordinary value, and you really get the full meal deal.

This style of restaurant is widely known as a ladies restaurant, due to the number of women who attend for the healthier, weight maintaining offerings of salad and pre-sized set menu portions. At first I thought that was kind of sexist, but then I realized that Japanese women from age 25-40 typically know the best restaurants in town since they work a lot and like to have good lunches.

Then again, maybe it is not truly a ladies restaurant if they sell such delicious cakes…

Beautiful housemade cakes

Tenma is our bread and butter. For Mike’s “Welcome to Okinawa” party, my supervisor asked us to meet her at Tenma. It is a yakitori izakaya, and is really delicious. It is a very popular restaurant with the Haebaru town staff and teachers due to its location, which is very closer to the town hall, and the schools.

We are slowly working our way through the menu with the help of the ever patient staff. Every time we go we are pleased by the awesome classic and 80s rock music (giving us more than a few songs to bank for our next karaoke session) and surprised by our “service” dishes. We often get some free dish whenever we go, with the explanation: “SERVICE!” which means free in Japanese restaurant culture. Who are we to complain? If tipping was acceptable we certainly would.

We normally go once a week, and would go more if they were open on nights other than Wednesday through Saturday.

Demolished fish

Cassis orange cocktail. Their Moscow mules are better.

“Service” item of some local veg made into tempura

Chicken skin, hearts, livers, meatballs … it is all good here.

Beer, bell and piman, or bacon wrapped miniature hot peppers with cheese. God, the salt and the crunch and the spiciness and… these are amazing.

Yakitori stick catcher, available at all yakitori restaurants

Tenma salad, another service item.

Bonchiri, or chicken butt

Yaki soba

Back in the days when we did not have any internet, Mike and I hung around an area of Naha where the nearest internet cafe was. It also happened to be where there is a high concentration of small bars and non-chain izakayas. These “indie” izakayas have a special name: akachōchin

One sign that enchanted us was the one for a place called Commune. It also hosted a rather uncommon feature for Japanese restaurants: an outdoor eating area. It was enough to catch our attention and we cautiously entered one night.

The kitchen seemed to be run by two guys who alternately shared cooking, taking orders, making drinks and making small talk with the bar patrons.

They had a wide ranging wine and cocktail menu and offered up many kinds of awamori I have not seen elsewhere.

Beautiful wooden bar

Locally harvested agu pork and sweet potatoes

Apple, brie and honey pizza with ice cream

Sardine in olive oil, herbs and peppercorns

Again, they helped us through the menu, but the item we were most pleased by came out of the fully visible cooler case, and we just pointed at it. It was some kind of sardine, prepared in a very Spanish tapas style, with olive oil, pink peppercorns and herbs. We also had a small apple, brie and honey dessert pizza cooked in their pizza oven served with ice cream, and a dish made from locally harvested agu pork loin and roasted sweet potatoes.

I really wish we lived a stone’s throw from Commune, but sadly it is about 20 minutes away on the bus and now that we have internet at home we do not get up to that neighbourhood as often as we used to.

There is more to come in this series including a soba restaurant hidden in a residential home and beautiful garden less than 2 minutes walk from our front door, a yakiniku place and our favourite cheap sushi joint.

Anzuya (Ichinichibashi location in Haebaru)
那覇市上間270
Map
(there are locations all over Okinawa)
Sunday through Thursday, 17:00 – 02:00
Friday and Saturday, 17:00 – 05:00

Kachaya Bambino
near to 沖縄県島尻郡南風原町字兼城686番地
Haebaru, Okinawa
Map
11:30 – 14:30 for lunch only, Monday – Saturday
Closed Sundays

Tenma Yakitori
near to 沖縄県島尻郡南風原町字兼城686番地
Haebaru, Okinawa
Map
17:00 – 02:00, Wednesday through Saturday

Commune
沖縄県那覇市古波蔵 2-24-22
Map
Naha, Okinawa
18:00 to 02:00, closed every 4th Sunday

Food: Asia and japan06 Dec 2010 12:13 am

Keeping with the booze theme I seem to have going on lately, another bar post!

After having dinner one night in Naha, Mike and I were not quite ready to go home, so we went to check Bar Owl out.

This sleek, chic little bar is known for its fresh fruit cocktails. When we entered there was another couple enjoying their drinks, so we took some seats further down the counter, opposite a huge line up of various kinds of fruit.

Every fruit and vegetable under the sun was on the bar it seemed; goya, apples, chestnuts, dragonfruit, avocado, starfruit, lychees, passionfruit… unbelievable.

In addition to the bar, there are many little seating areas and cozy couches.

The bartender was extremely gracious and friendly even with the language barrier, and helped us decipher the seasonal menu, for which I was happy as I ended up ordering off of it. There were PAGES of cocktails, showing the type of glass they were served in and the base alcohol.

There was even a Cor Cor page…but we could not bring ourselves to try one of his versions. Perhaps we should, to get some ideas for this swill.

I ordered a kaki, or persimmon cocktail, as the fall fruit was just coming into season then. Mike ordered simply by naming a fruit; kiwi, and the bartender came up with a drink for him.

The drink making process was a bit long and involved, but was all classy showmanship as he peeled the fruits, mixed them and coaxed the flavours out of them. It is a bit like the bar Anthony Bourdain goes to in Tokyo in the tv show “No Reservations”, where he gets the fresh fruit cocktail that looks more like art than a drink.

There is no way to describe Bar Owl other than it being a bespoke bar. Everything can be made to order, and I have the feeling that if you asked for anything, the bartender would do his damnedest to provide it for you. The man is excited about fruit and excited about booze. What more can you ask for? I know I can never go back to watery, too frozen, tasteless cocktails again.

Hell, if he helps me enjoy Cor Cor, I will eat my hat.

Mike’s kiwi cocktail

My persimmon blueberry cinnamon mint cocktail. I know that sounds like a lot going on, but it was fantastic. It came with a beautiful sphere of ice that melted more evenly and slowly than regular ice without diluting the fabulously fruity cocktail.

Bar Owl was wonderful. We had to leave after one drink because we had to catch the last bus home to our neck of Okinawa, but hope to return one day.

The prices were high, but good value for what was offered, I think. There is also a bar charge, but you get a nice little bar snack of fresh apple and yogurt as you wait for your drink in return.

Bar Owl
Naha, Okinawa
沖縄県那覇市久茂地1-8-7 カネトモ産業ビル 2F
Near Kenchomae monorail station in Naha
19:30 – 02:00, Closed Sundays
Map

Food: Asia and japan04 Dec 2010 10:25 pm

As in horrible.

Oh, I wanted to like it. Mike and I were excited when we bought Cor Cor. The idea is so charming! Local Okinawan rum? SURE! We will try anything. Rum is something we are just getting into, so we were happy to give something local a try.

Cor Cor is a white sugarcane rum made on the small Okinawan island of Minamidaito. From the outset it sounded like cachaça, or fermented Brazilian sugarcane rum, and that is actually why we bought it. Some friends on the island were having a party and we thought it would be awesome to bring some sort of alcoholic cocktail, like caipirinhas, for instance.

But then we opened the bottle.

The bottle with the label that reads:

Bats, dancing in the night sky
Suspended magic, falling in drops
These are the things
That make men and women covet love
This is the magic of rum
a sugarcane love potion.

My question is; potion, or poison?

Cor Cor (red box) has a very…distinct aroma. I did a bit of reading about this after the fact (we bought it on the spot at a supermarket without doing any research on it) and it would seem that the red variety may be made with a black mould to ferment the sugarcane, giving the booze a very powerful scent.

Even now, as I smell it as I write to try and put it into words, I am having a hard time. I want to say paint thinner, but that is such a cop out when you describe an alcohol you do not like. Perhaps rotten vegetation soaked in turpentine? Cripes, I have no idea how to frame this one. It smells. Period.

We abandoned our plan and brought a bottle of nihon-shu instead to the party.

To get through the rather large bottle which cost a fair amount (3100 Yen), especially considering how cheap alcohol can be here, we have tried mixing it with everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Fresh lime juice. Shiquasa (Okinawan citrus) juice. Pineapple juice. Soaking fruit in it. Tried to recreate the popular Hemingway daquiris from our wedding afterparty. Colas and sodas of all varieties. Coffee. Even as shots straight up…

There is no covering or masking this stuff although I think mixing it with coffee might be my favourite. It remains sharp and wince-inducing even when heavily mixed. There is no getting around it; Cor Cor is pretty awful compared to most rums I have had.

Turns out Cor Cor comes in two varieties, a red box (industriel/industrial/molasses based) and a green box (agricole/agricultural/fresh cane juice). Some people have said the green box is a lot more palatable. I guess we picked poorly but I sure as hell know we won’t be trying a big green bottle anytime soon. Maybe a sampler or at a bar. MAYBE.

Anyone have any ideas for trying to plough through the rest of this stuff, besides using it to clean my toilet?