January 2011


Food and Food: Asia and japan30 Jan 2011 01:01 pm

I tend to like planning more than actually doing things. It’s something I am trying to change, but for now it’s a sad but true fact. Maybe that is why I would make a great events planner or travel agent. I like engineering experiences for others to enjoy.

When my mom came to visit, I had pages of activities for us to do. From getting her help to design our sitting area, to checking out new shopping areas and of course meals out, I tried to leave little time unplanned. One of the best days was when I took a half day off of work and we went north on Okinawa to the Churaumi Aquarium.

It has been a pretty miserable winter on Okinawa. The thermometer rarely dips below 12 degrees celsuis but it always feels much colder as there is no central heating and the humidity hangs in the area like a cold wet cloth. And it is windy. BUT, the day I took off was gorgeous and we had a wonderful day.

I picked out three restaurants near the aquarium I have been wanting to check out, and they ranged in tastes so that my mom and Mike could pick the place they were most interested in. Both of them were really interested in having tempura. And I have to admit I have not been a true fan of tempura since I overdosed on it in Thailand when I was 12 years old. I just ate too much and now the batter can really turn my stomach.

But we agreed to try it and set off for Koki Tempura. It is known for its very fresh tiger shrimp tempura, which are farmed on nearby Yayagi Island.

Koki is in a great location; right on Wido Beach overlooking the East China Sea at the end of the expressway in Nago. We exited the car after a 90 minute ride and immediately ran to the sun drenched beach. Mike caught a crab, my mom touched the water and I took photos.

We walked back to the restaurant that features picture windows overlooking the beach, and found we were the only ones dining at about 2pm. In the corner sat a large kiddie pool sized tank with huge live tiger shrimp in it, and in the kitchen a very friendly server.

We all got set lunches, Mike getting a three shrimp lunch and my mom and I getting two shrimp lunch, both in the range of 1400-1600 Yen. We had no idea what we were in for. Even though we were all starving, we were defeated by our monster lunches. Even after hiking a path to view cherry blossoms and exploring the aquarium, we were still not hungry by 11pm!

Mike’s lunch had miso soup, pickled vegetables, side bowl of rice and various tempura-ized vegetables and of course the shrimp with tentsuyu dipping sauce. My mom and I got rice bowls topped with tempura, a small pot of tentsuyu sauce to pour over the tempura, miso soup and pickles. We could have used more pickles, in my opinion, but everything was great. There was just so much of it!

The vegetables included rings of goya, or bittermelon, eggplant, mixed “patties” of match sticked onion and vegetables, a delicate shiso leaf that highlighted the batter, pumpkin and green peppers. Everything was cooked but not too soft, and the shrimp was sweet and very juicy. The shrimp are farmed and it wasn’t until after that we realized we probably could have picked out the very shrimp we wanted to eat from the tank. Turns out the chef picked well anyhow.

Every area of Japan does tempura a little bit differently. On Okinawa, it tends to be very fluffy batter. I personally prefer the panko crusted style from other cities, but Koki does the batter well. It is light and flavourful without being greasy or heavy or masking the vegetables within. And of course, fresh from pan to table which is the best thing about tempura here.

Koki also does Okinawan donuts, or sata andagi, shrimp sashimi and BBQ shrimp if tempura is not up your alley. I know I have had my fill of tempura for some time thanks to Koki. Perhaps we will return the next time we head north.

Koki Tempura
所在地 沖縄県名護市幸喜137番地
11-20:00 daily
Map

Food and Food: Asia and japan29 Jan 2011 01:21 pm

Pork Satay from Kurukuma

Everyone raves about Cafe Kurukuma.

Everyone. The parents of my students. Fellow teachers (JETs and Japanese), parents of JET teachers, blogs, travel guides… the list goes on. With this much hype the restaurant had more expectations tied to it than my wedding day. Although Mike retained ownership of his pants and the temperatures were much colder, we reined in our expectations and headed off to dine at Kurukuma. We also brought my mom along, even though she will be eating legit Thai food for the next four months in Thailand.

Most people talk about the view when they talk about this restaurant. And, to be fair, it is pretty fantastic. Birds eye view of the Philippine Sea in all its glory. The sun even found it fit to peek out for a few minutes, creating some beautiful dappling on the water.

But the food…my god, the food.

Mike and I have been dying for spicy food the last few weeks in particular, and so with great hesitation we ordered two “spicy” dishes; a red curry and the mainstay for us at southeast Asian restaurants, lahp. My mom got gai-yan (BBQ chicken), her go-to dish, and we got some pork satay to bolster what we expected to be a medium sized lunch.

What we got was amazingly prik, or spicy, and in near table-buckling amounts.

There was a mountain of pork lahp on top of lettuce. A deep dish of curry. Half a chicken on my mom’s plate. And then several skewers of pork satay. With an odd statement on their menu saying they did not allow salad takeaway, we ploughed through the fresh, kicky lahp, and saved most of the curry to take home.

The servings are huge by Japanese and standard Thai restaurant size measurements (cup of rice and half a bowl of curry, anyone?) and you can easily order one dish for two people. Although you will likely want to try many of the dishes, save them for take out or for future visits…because you WILL come here again.

Lahp

The lahp was definitely the spiciest dish, and although the curry was not mild to say the least, it was not the fiery hot you can expect from many red curries. There are a number of dishes with several chilis denoting heat, and I would say do not use your Japan heat meter as a guide when ordering here. Use your experiences in Thai restaurants on the streets of Bangkok instead.

The food came out lightning fast (creepily so) but I imagine this is to appease people who may have waited hours for a table. Yes, I have heard of people waiting hours for a seat at this restaurant. Luckily, there is an interesting display of fossils, an herb garden, and of the course the view to occupy your time. Or you can just go at an off time like we did and be seated and eating almost immediately. (TIP: That is Saturday afternoon at 2, on a very miserable winter day)

Kurukuma can be difficult to find, but with GPS on my phone and Google Maps, it was not difficult at all. The view is stunning, but the food is too, and this restaurant is well worth a visit for anyone spending time on Okinawa. Great for heat seeker and sunset watchers alike.

Red curry

Garlic chicken

Pork satay with two dipping sauces

My mom mastering chop sticks. Mike and I used the traditional Thai fork and spoon combination.

Mostly empty restaurant mid afternoon on a Saturday. Do not be deceived, I heard this place gets PACKED.

Post lunch photo.

There is a large garden and dinosaur fossil display set up to browse if your wait for a table will be a while.

Cafe Kurukuma (Cafe Curucuma)
沖縄県南城市知念字知念1190
Open 10-22:00, closed Tuesdays
(10-20:00 November until February)
Map

Food: Asia and japan and japanese vending machine drinks25 Jan 2011 11:23 am

My mom is visiting Okinawa right now, and the thing to do is visit the aquarium. It is about an hour and a half drive up the island, so we stopped in at our local FamilyMart for snacks and drinks for the road trip. Since we got a car I have not been as diligent in dropping in to see what new drinks the conbini has, and was happy to see this on the shelf.

After some deliberation between this and a white grape Fanta, I finally got the chocolate wonderland soda. It is a special limited edition release (of course) for Valentines Day. I am not sure what I expected, but I did not think it would be good. But it was!

The taste is shockingly accurate; like a fizzy cold cocoa. Very desserty. It is near colourless which really threw me, but the flavour is refreshing and nice, yet still chocolate rich. Would be great as a float, or as popsicles.

For other thoughts on Japan exclusive drinks, click here.

japan and Travels24 Jan 2011 09:29 pm

I am experimenting with processing more video while I live in Japan. It is a very slow process as I find I am really bogged down with stuff everyday still, but I am trying. I do not want to lose the skills I picked up in the newsroom, either.

Anyhow, here is a fun video I did about some of my favourite parts of the Osaka aquarium. It is not food related, but it is still of interest perhaps.

Food: Asia and japan20 Jan 2011 07:46 pm

I was alerted to this wonderful cafe by Ron, who happens to live in a nearby neighbourhood and knows all the happenings in Agarihama and Agarizaki in south central Okinawa. The cafe, called Moon Terrace, has all the hallmarks of a wonderful regular spot: steps from the beach, lovely comfortable decor, housemade desserts and Illy coffee. It is also really close to one of my favourite 100 Yen stores and a huge hardware/sundry items Kanehide store that I have taken to calling the Japanese Tire, because it is so much like a Canadian Tire store, only merchandised well and with pets!

Some other teachers and I went recently on a very glum rainy Monday and sipped up delicious lattes while snacking upon chocolates and light lunches. There was an exceedingly helpful member of staff eager to practice her English and provided English menus, and she told us they are trying to work on getting the most coveted of cafe offerings these days: Wi-Fi.

The food menu is heavily European with many kinds of salad and pastas, as well as curries and fish dishes. The coffees and chocolate were divine, and I look forward to returning for lunch and a slice of their chocolate cake one day. Everyone complimented the lunches they had as well.

Soup and pasta specials for the day, including a kabocha/pumpkin soup and a pasta. The server translated everything for us, which was very kind.

Lots of natural light and a huge aquarium filled with tetras to watch. There is ample indoor seating, but also a large wooden deck that I am sure is absolutely charming on beautiful summer nights.

They have chocolates shipped from mainland Japan to them, but the rest of their desserts are housemade. I got the coffee set which was just 100 yen more than the coffee and included a dessert. I chose three chocolates, matcha, earl grey and cappuccino. I will return to try their tiramisu and chocolate cake though.

Dessert case

Ruth’s cheese and proscuitto ham salad. A good size for one person, we thought. If you wanted to split it, you should probably order something else as well.

Stacey got a salmon carpaccio salad with rice. It came with a bread basket…and a side salad. Ha!

We sat very comfortably along the banquette.

A book shelf full of current Japanese magazines, Japanese style and design books, English children’s books and other books.

Take-home merchandise included Illy coffee for at home, orzo, wines and panettone.

The chic Moon Terrace (which opened mid August 2010) has a lot to offer otherwise including a concert hall, clothing shop, beauty salon, restaurants… even a dog run! Lots of parking and easy access. Highly recommended. It is within a stone’s throw of Kira Kira beach.

Moon Terrace Cafe, Agarizaki
Nishihara, near Marine Plaza Agarihama, southern Okinawa
沖縄県中頭郡西原町東崎22-3

Food: Asia and japan19 Jan 2011 09:42 am

Mike and I eat kaiten (conveyer belt) sushi about once a week. We normally go to a place about 15 minutes on foot away from our home, but now that we have a car we are able to travel further afield to other places. You would never know this because other than our non photo documented trip to Sushi Imai in Kyoto, I never write about sushi! It is just such a part of my daily life I do not think about it that much, I guess. That is a good problem to have!

One of the places we visited most recently is in the swank area of Naha called Shintoshin. Next to a very luxurious looking dental office and in a neighbourhood where many import shops exist is Miyabi kaiten sushi.

We were seated right away at a counter despite a long row of seats  near the entrance that I imagine fill up quickly with people waiting for booths. And even despite using Japanese, the English speaking staff member was dispatched to wait upon us. Normally we have no problems spouting off Japanese sushi orders to the chef (even for my limited Japanese, I still know what I like to eat at sushi joints), so this was strange. Although it was nice to have an English speaker around, it felt very stilted and awkward as she checked in on us often, making sure we knew how to make matcha tea, how to order special rolls and if we were eating enough. Very doting, but also kind of forced and intrusive as this is not really the service you get here, and I felt bad that she had to work harder to serve us, when there really was no need.

Miyabi serves up more rolls than are normally available at most kaiten sushi places, and they have a wider selection of hot/fried foods like soups, croquettes and french fries. It is a good place to take someone who is not that into legitimate nigiri sushi and prefers cooked fish tempera sushi or vegetable maki rolls, as it is a stylish affordable place with a lot of non sushi selections.

Those familiar with kaiten sushi know that you just grab what you fancy off the belt as it rotates around you, and the plates are tallied up at the end. Miyabi has a two level belt system with sushi on top and tea mugs and shoyu dishes under neath. It is kind of fun to wait for “your mug” to come around. Plates run 130-390 yen at Miyabi, and each seat has a mostly pictorial menu to help you point and pick rolls from if need be.

There are also seasonal items, denoted by special signs heralding them on the belt.

The matcha powder. There were stir sticks, mugs and hot water spouts at each seat. You could drink as much of the nutty green tea as you liked.

“Second level” with mugs and soy dishes

Salmon, salmon roe and uni (urchin) special sushi whizzes by, 390 yen.

We can be so predictable when it comes to what we order off the hot item menu; almost always hot torched unagi and hot roasted nasu, or eggplant. This is not my favourite version…our mainstay restaurant grills the skin so it is crackly. 130 yen.

Very busy kitchen. In addition to a few taishos, or sushi chefs, there was a guy working fried foods, a girl on rolls, a guy on the blow torch and someone making insanely beautiful oyster displays you could eat.

Cool bubble wall

Tuna roll with ume; plum powder, plum leaf, lettuce and sesame. A really delicious roll. Although this is probably not one of them, Miyabi has several rolls and nigiri pieces that will appeal to vegetarians.

While Miyabi is a little out of our neighbourhood, I could definitely find myself returning if I was stuck in Naha without dinner one night and was too hungry to find a new place to try. However, I think we will stick to our local kaiten sushi restaurant. Not everyone knows our name there, yet, but I hope they do soon.

Miyabi kaiten sushi
Shintoshin, Naha (2 other locations, one in Tomigusuku, one in Oroku)
沖縄県那覇市銘苅2-4-48
11am – 11pm, everyday
* They do process credit cards.

Food and Food: Asia and japan17 Jan 2011 09:33 pm

Okinawa is known for the famous Okinawa diet. This diet was popular a few years back when a doctor revealed the long lives of Okinawan residents, and the healthy foods that they tend to eat. One of these things harvested locally is mozuku seaweed.

Konbu seaweed is perhaps the most well known Japanese seaweed, but I think mozuku is growing in popularity in the west. Mozuku is a very stringy thin brown seaweed of the Nemacystus genus, and is often served in a vinegary dressing to eat before dinner or between courses. It looks and has the texture of the things of nightmares for small children. It is not a pretty vegetable, and some people even liken the texture to snot when it is wet. It is really awkward to eat with chopsticks, that is for sure. You kind of scoop suck it into your mouth. We get it for lunch at school about twice a month.

However, it is very high in vitamin C, calcium and iron, and is currently under investigation for its possible cancer fighting properties. It has also come to light that the vinegar marinated in mozuku kills E. coli.

Mike, a friend and I hit Kunatou up for lunch one day to try the local specialty. Although you can find mozuku on most Okinawan restaurant menus, I recommend Kunatou because they use mozuku in all of their dishes, from appetizer to dessert, and it is very fresh.

The view is nice, but nothing to write home about. It overlooks a small island called Ojima, which is well known for its sashimi and tempura. The mozuku is harvested from the flats not too far away. I have heard you can go and scoop the gooey stuff up yourself if you so choose. A little different than U-pick strawberry fields.

The noodles are made with mozuku! Little pieces riddled the chewy glutinous noodles.

Mike and I got set soba lunches, with mozuku soba noodles with soki pork, vinegared mozuku, mozuku on its own and mozuku jelly for dessert. The soki looks so dry and leathery in this shot, but it really was not.

We also got an order of mozuku tempura which is a MUST order. It was so light and salty and delicious… after that, the soup and the mozuku jelly were probably the standouts. The other two dishes were not personal favourites.

The lightly citrus mozuku jelly

Least favourite mozuku iteration. Kind of cold, kind of rubbery and tasteless. Next time I would probably dump it into my soup. This photo of it brings back memories of the worms my Gran would fish with actually: red wrigglers.

Lots of outdoor seating, if you get lucky on the first sunny day in three weeks like we did. Made for nice sun dappled shots, too.

As we were leaving a large tour bus pulled up, so it seems that this place is a mainstay with tourists… do not be surprised if there are large groups there when you arrive. There is also a shop selling all sorts of mozuku products when you leave.

Kunatou Mozuku Soba
沖縄県 南城市 玉城志堅原 460-2
Map
Open 10-7pm everyday

Food: Asia and japan03 Jan 2011 10:36 am

Hana is a special yakiniku place. You see yakiniku joints are a dime a dozen in Japan. Some are low end all you can jam down your throat places, others are a little more upscale, and some are the cream of the crop.

This is definitely one of my favourite meals on Okinawa so far. It wasn’t cheap, but the service was good and the food was fabulous. I know some people will automatically be saying “I cannot believe you paid that much to cook your own meat,” but if you have any inkling about what you like your meat to taste like and have a rough idea of how to cook it, you will love it. Ultimate control over your umami.

While you can order by the piece, we both got a different set menu. We thought this would be the best way to sample as many items as possible, and avoid complications on what to order.

The meat they use is amazing. Everyone has heard about Kobe beef from Wagyu cattle by now. The meat they use at Hana is actually Ishigaki beef, which comes from an island close to Okinawa. It is another kind of Wagyu cattle.

I have had Kobe beef and other kinds of Wagyu (and Wagyu-style beef), but Ishigaki is my favourite so far. I have found other kinds to be really REALLY rich; the intense fat almost overpowering the delicate beef flavours. Ishigaki is still rich, just not as stomach turning as I find too much of the other breeds can be.

They also use another local product, Okinawan aguni salt, as well as a sun dried rock salt from another Japanese island.

We enjoyed some local liquor: awamori. It came in a charming Ryukyu glass decanter with matching pitcher and tumblers.

Wonderful accompaniments; kimchi, namul (bean sprout salad), spicy daikon, and other Korean pickled salads.

Various “horumon” or innards, organs and offal. Crunchy, chewy and savoury. They really weird people out, but I think many people would enjoy them if they tried them.

Sirloin steak?

Gyuniku sashimi, or Japanese beef tartare. Raw meat with apple matchsticks, sesame and a quail egg. We received a mix of items meant to grill and some meant to eat raw. The staff was gracious enough to make sure we understood what to do with each course.

Salted Ishigaki beef tongue (tan) and diaphragm or harami, at the back.

We were also given some local Agu pork to try. I think the cut was karubi, or short ribs.

The table was PACKED. We got various salads, sauces, cabbage, laver or nori seaweed, meats, soups and special Koshihikari rice from Niigata prefecture in Japan, widely considered one of the finest rices available. The service is quite fast – I recommend pacing yourself here, and allowing atleast 2.5 hours for a set course dinner if you go that route.

One can expect flare ups when grilling such rich meat. The intense built in ventilation takes care of any flames and most of the smoke though. I am certain they use a particular kind of charcoal, but I could find no information on it. Restaurants are sometimes quite protective over their charcoal choice, believing that it gives them the edge over other yakiniku restaurants for providing a certain flavour.

We ended with a small dessert of yuzu sherbert. Just sweet enough to close the meal, but not too sweet or heavy.

Hana will run you a pretty penny, but I think it is a must do if you come to Okinawa, for the ability to eat so many fine local products. The atmosphere is refined and private, and yet very comfortable. Highly recommended.

Preset courses run 5800 Yen – 15000 Yen. A la carte service available.

Yakiniku Hana
1st floor, 那覇市松山1-12-5 パステル八重洲
Map
Monday to Saturday 17:30-24:00, Sundays and Holidays 17:30-23:00

** There is a limited English menu.

Yakiniku Hana may be a bit difficult to find parking for. I recommend the monorail then traveling on foot or in taxi from the nearest station.

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan02 Jan 2011 10:50 pm

Alright. With the car arriving last week, it has been a stellar week for food in the McZee household. I was able to finally get to the farmer’s markets/co ops, hit some of the harder to get to grocery stores and just generally live it up this week.

I went to two farmer’s markets, one very near to our home and one a bit further away. The one near our house had a little petting zoo with this super cute pot bellied pig.

GREENS! GREENS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE! And cheap, too. Salads at the regular grocery store are not inexpensive, and I do not like buying pre-prepared salads anyhow. You cannot know how excited I was running around this place. Local! Cheap! Fresh!

It was nice to buy more than two sprigs of herbs for $3. I got a huge bundle of cilantro for $1 and a bunch of dill for a buck too.

Not so much on the fruit side of things. I hope this improves when spring rolls around.

There was also a pretty decent fish market. These crabs are about $13?

The farmers markets will undoubtedly get a more detailed post, but that is just a general overview.

This week I successfully made and consumed several things. We ate at home a lot this week, mostly because of uncertainty over what would be open over the New Year holidays. Almost everything, it turns out, but this is the first week we have eaten more at home than out since leaving Canada.

Moussaka. This was my first time making it, EVER, so I was really pleased at how well it turned out. Almost exclusively composed of farmer’s market items, too, even the pork in it.

God, the best BLT I have had in ages. The bacon is not very smokey here, but it does the job. Trying to find some better stuff.

AME (rica) chips from Daiso, the 100 Yen/dollar store. I bought them out the last time I saw them, and I think I may never find them again. They are some of the best chips I have had period, let alone in Japan. LOL at the snack pack size though. Also at being made with “America Round Potato”

Then the crowning glory, fajitas on New Year’s Day. Fresh guac with the bundle of cilantro I got, sour cream, beef and fried onions and bell peppers. The tortillas are not cheap, but everything has trade offs. Trying to source cheaper ones online. Best meal of the year, IMO.

Things are looking up. Which is good. My mom is due to arrive in a week or so, and I do not want her to have to eat out all the time.

Happy New Year, guys. I hope yours started off as well as mine did.