March 2011


Food: Asia and japan27 Mar 2011 02:05 pm

When it comes to sushi, Mike and I eat a lot of it, but we are kind of predictable and often just eat kaiten or conveyor belt sushi. It is easy, affordable and delicious… if you pick the right place.

Lately we have been eating at a chain called Uokura a lot. Sundays are the main sushi day at our house, but any day of the week is a good day to be honest. We flex between the Naha location and one three minutes drive from our house.

However, kaiten has limitations. Sometimes things get sloppy, and occasionally the fish is still too cold or even frozen. It is not a fine dining sushi experience.

For that, we recently checked out Sushi Jiro-Cho, a bit further from our house, in a beach town called Chatan. It was recommended by a student`s parents. I was further sold by this beautifully shot blog post on Little Miss Twig.

Uh oh.

Luckily, they are in a very foreign friendly part of the island, and had an English menu.

We started with a favourite; nasu, or eggplant. This was grilled and stuffed with succulent plump shrimp, piman peppers and sprinkled with sesame and bonito flakes.

We both got our own plate of sushi, both with different elements on them. All of the cuts and choices were fresh and delicious. My only complaint was that they seemed to hit my ikura, or salmon roe, with a double dose of wasabi, while Mike`s had none.

Still feeling a bit peckish, we ordered a few rolls, including this amazing tofu curd skin deep fried roll. The rice got very glutinous and a bit crispy, not oily.

We also got toro negi maki and ume, or plum roll. I found the plum a bit heavy handed, but really enjoyed the toro.

In addition to beer, there is also a large selection of awamori and, even more rare round these parts: a good fresh sake/nihonshu selection.

Although it was quite busy and we were unable to sit at the counter, we were still seated without reservations, and still got delicious meals. This is an excellent choice for non kaiten sushi on Okinawa. I look forward to eating more higher quality sushi here and at other sushi-yas in future.


Sushi Jiro-Cho
5:30pm – midnight
Closed Tuesdays
沖縄県中頭郡北谷町北谷1-12-8
Map

Food: Asia and japan25 Mar 2011 02:47 pm

It is nearing April and that means a new school year. Although this is a sad time of year when students and teachers alike leave the school, it is also a time of gatherings with great food.

I am a part of the ladies club at work, which as far as I can tell means we get together and eat fancy bento lunches together a few times a year. For this occasion, however, the club organizers arranged for the 20 or so of us to have a private dim sum Chinese style luncheon at a restaurant near the school called Shisa no Charou.

We got a set menu lunch which retails at about 1500 yen normally.

Shisa are an Okinawa mythical beast (ie., not real). They are lion dogs borrowed from Chinese culture, and they are meant to keep businesses and homes safe. They come in all varieties; cute, scary, ancient, new… this guy is definitely playful. Also useful, holding toothpicks like that. There were shisa all over, as the name of the restaurant would suggest.

We all started with a tower of four Okinawan amuse bouches. Braised root vegetables, bits of fish, tofu, miso… just enough to tempt your palate, not enough to fill you up.

Then a light soup with chicken as well as mushrooms and other delicate vegetables.

YES. A warm up for my upcoming trip to Hong Kong. Various dumplings featuring scallops, pork and shrimp. They were fresh and light, but a bit gummy and over steamed. I think this is because were a bit late for our 12:30 reservation.

Several shared dishes came out. As is Japanese culture, the most junior women at the table served a fair portion to each of us. This was karaage chicken in a sweet sour sauce. Karaage chicken is the bomb; dark meat, deep fried? Yes, please.

We also got a shrimp salad.

A gohan, or rice dish to help fill us up, with ham and vegetables on top. I noticed many ladies did not eat their rice though. This is pretty common, even at school lunches.

We then had some very tearful speeches from the senior teachers departing. This is a big year of change for our school. Of 40 something staff 22 people, including the principal, are leaving. It is hard to see them go.

Red eyes were dabbed and make up retouched before we moved onto dessert, which was a trio.

Almond, or annin pudding with azuki beans, mint and a strawberry.

Warm kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) tart with apple topping.

Beni-imo, or sweet potato ice cream. The desserts were all very Japanese… no, actually; Okinawan – ingredients.

A delightful lunch with some teachers I will miss.


Shisa no Charou
/  シーサーの茶樓
沖縄県島尻郡南風原町津嘉山1740-3
Map

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan24 Mar 2011 11:04 pm

Just some items I saw in the grocery store or market this week and used to springboard into meals. This is the way I shopped back home, but it is not really advisable here. Although having a smartphone makes it easier to look up recipes on the go, it can still be an expensive endeavour because I end up buying emotionally and spontaneously this way. So I am trying to be better about it. I am certain I blow at least half my paycheque on food, both eating in and out.

Market item: tomatoes and basil became…


Ina Garten’s Creamy Tomato Basil Soup with cheesy garlic toast. The hand blender was the best thing my mom could have bought us while she was visiting. The gift that keeps on giving!

 

Market item: cilantro and radishes on sale (UNHEARD OF!) became…

(Unidentified white fish) Tacos with lime-cilantro cream, cabbage, avocado, etc etc.
We may or may not have been made hungry by watching fish at the Churaumi Aquarium all night. The bluefin tuna were, how shall we say… inspiring.

Food and Food: Asia and japan20 Mar 2011 05:21 pm

One of the hardest things about going out and partying with some of the other foreign teachers here is not the morning after…it is the late night talk of favourite foods to eat. Sometimes someone will bring up Chipotle, and I start drooling. Huge fresh tortilla stuffed with tender pork, rice, beans, sour cream, fresh pico de gallo and guacamole? Yes, yes, YES! A million times yes.

Lucky for us, there is a restaurant chain (Obbligato) on Okinawa run by a family who do a pretty good job at recreating Mexican food here. Of most note is the fact that they make their own tortillas though. We often buy some for at home wraps, tacos and quesadillas. The family just opened a restaurant with more of a fast food style approach to Mexican, and dare I say it, it is a decent kick at recreating Chipotle.

We met with friends Tony and Stacey there recently and all of us got the combo meals, which come with a scant four housemade tortilla chips, a bowl of minestrone or taco soup (spicy and pretty good) and a large wrap for about 700 yen. They do their items in a bowl or wrap format just like Chipotle, and have a few things with a more Asian twist like the Asian beef and seafood wrap.

Unveiling the beast

Tony and Stacey

I wish their chile sauce/salsa was better. It mostly tastes like tinny tomato sauce with tabasco added. Fail. The soup and homemade chips are still good though.

Now, of course it is missing some key Chipotle-style things, like beans, very friendly servers (maybe we just got them at the end of their day?) and the quirky mottos, but they use decent meat and offer fresh guacamole and other fillings in their Chipotle sized, freshly made wraps. I am not saying it’s perfect, but it is a good substitute in a moment of desperate craving

We enjoyed our meal there quite a bit, although we really did miss the saucy beans. Why are they so expensive here anyhow?

Tortilla Factory
Daily 11am – 11pm
沖縄県宜野湾市 新城2-39-20
Map

Food and Food: Asia and japan19 Mar 2011 04:57 pm

After carrying on here about the fabulous burgers at Japanese chain Freshness Burger, friend and fellow blogger Ron casually mentioned we should “check out Gordie’s sometime.” Eventually we got around to visiting a few weeks ago, and I really wish we had taken the advice seriously and jetted over there as soon as possible. Gordie’s is great.

The restaurant has a surfside cottage kind of feel, full of whitewashed wood, old windows and vintage touches in the decor…including the very blender I think my parents owned for a few decades.

My modest burger and…

Mike’s monster burger, replete with bacon hanging out like a dog’s panting tongue.

With a modest selection of burgers, hot dogs and the traditional accompaniments such as onion rings and shakes, Gordie’s keeps it simple.

We ordered a couple of burgers, a side of rings and I got a shake. The burgers came out quickly, smelling meaty and delicious. The shake took a few more moments; they seemed to be fighting with the thick drink in the blender. They added some ice and it had not crushed properly, so inbetween slurps of cookies and cream shake there were chunks of ice to spit out.

Luckily this was the only off thing about the meal. The burgers had homemade buns, and an array of delicious mayos and sauces in them. The patties were a fresh, if coarse grind. But they really hit the spot. The rings were salty and crispy, made fresh as well.

 

Gordie’s got the thumbs up from the resident burger expert, and so a new number one burger on Okinawa was crowned.

‪Gordie’s Burgers
open 11am – 10pm daily
中頭郡北谷町字砂辺100-530‬
Chatan, Okinawa
Map

Food: Asia and japan12 Mar 2011 01:30 pm

If you look long enough and can read a bit of Japanese (katakana atleast, the alphabet reserved for foreign words) you can usually find most things you need here in grocery stores. But, things come in smaller sizes. Cheese, sour cream, baking ingredients are notable items that come in tiny, tiny amounts. That is why I love A-Price.

First of all, you can find things that can be hard to find in one convenient place. Some baking goods, party supplies, flavoured syrups.

Secondly, they come in bulk sizes, mostly. The sour cream is a few hundred yen more, but is double the size of the normal grocery store size. Vegetables are in double packs for close to the same price and baking goods are in larger bags.

Thirdly, the prices are really good. This is as close to Costco as we get on Okinawa without having to order through an internet service on mainland Japan.

Frozen fruit, perfect for smoothies and out of season produce.

HUGE bags of shredded cheese. Prices are still a big sickening though. 1kg for about $14. And it is not the most amazing cheese, either.

English on baking ingredients? Awesome. So useful. I still do not know what the difference between powdered sugar regular and “non-wet” is though.

In case you need to buy supplies for your kids camp…or something.

Monin syrups are great for cocktails and Italian sodas.

Decent booze availability, too. Prices and selection are not as great as places like Altec, but if you just want to go to one place ahead of a party, it’s convenient.

Anyhow, it is one of the places I visit every few weeks to stock up on big things, and not feel like I am buying joke food in small packages from time to time. Locations all over the island.

Also, because it is topical, I just wanted to point out that we are, in fact, very far from the quake on mainland. Tsunami waves were a concern for a short time, but they have been minimal, thankfully. Thanks to all who have contacted us in the past day or so. There are some tough days of recovery ahead for the country, and the disaster has pointed out some big holes in my own earthquake preparedness plan.

Food: Asia and japan06 Mar 2011 12:14 am

Today’s post is a guest post (of sorts) from my friend and ramenfreak, Kate.

She posted such a wonderful entry on her blog on a ramen restaurant that Mike and I went to the restaurant that very night. Granted, it does not take much for me to go eat noodles, but her explanation and writing really sold it to me. One of the awesome benefits of working with people drafted to be English teachers is their wonderful ability to write. I love many blogs penned/typed by co-JETs.

As we ate at the restaurant, I took photos, but already knew I was going to ask her to borrow her post, since I would say the same things, only less emphatically. The girl knows noodles.

I’ll let Kate tell the story… (all photos by Kate, be sure to visit the original post on her blog for more photos)

Okinawa ain’t got much going for itself in terms of ramen. That is because instead Okinawans take pride in their soba, a noodle soup dish indigenous to the islands that is nothing like the thin buckwheat noodles that you’re probably envisioning. But the topic of soba we’ll save for another day. Right now, it’s all about the ramen.

Even though I do like Okinawa soba, a friend and I were lamenting a few weeks ago how much it sucks that ramen isn’t the big deal down here that it is in other parts of Japan. While there are surely a significant number of mostly chain (but entirely oishii) ramen restaurants here–which you better believe we make a point to hit up on a regular basis–there are just so many more awesome spots to try on “the mainland,” encompassing a wider range of variety as well. To learn all about the delicious world of ramen, I suggest starting here at my friend Keizo’s blog, which documents his journey from LA native to ramen chef/connoisseur in Tokyo… the man literally does not go a day without eating at least one (but perhaps two or three) bowls of ramen!

Anyway, though I’m no expert on ramen I do have to say that I like it quite a lot. It rained again tonight (one of those crazily-windblown evenings where rain somehow manages to fall from every possible direction), and thus the second best alternative to sitting at home listening to the rain was to grab a bowl of steaming noodles and broth with some buddies! We met up, umbrellas in hand, at Kouryu Ramen in Naha, my favorite ramen-ya (ya = restaurant or shop in this case) on the island so far.

Kouryu specializes in Hakata ramen, originally from the island of Kyushu, which has a scrumptiously thick tonkotsu (pork bone) based broth, slurpaliciously thin, straight noodles, and an additional splendidly spicy sauce that gives everything even more of a kick. But the best part about the place is the degree to which you can customize your ramen–while many ramen-ya allow you to do so, Kouryu definitely takes it to the next level by letting you choose every last detail of your bowl. How do they do this? Read on!

First, as is typical of most legit ramen-ya, when you arrive at Kouryu you choose your order from a ticket vending machine. Here, the machine is actually outside, before you even enter the restaurant. You pop in your cash, select your order, and the machine spits out your ticket (unless you have exact change, make sure to hit the change button/lever when you’re done).

The abundance of pictures on Japanese menus has been so key to me not going hungry in this country! Here’s my friend Guranto picking out his self-customizable bowl of ramen.

Next, you enter and sit down. Some ramen-ya have counter space only, tables, or both; Kouryu in Naha (Kokusai Street location) is tiny, so there’s just a counter.

Oftentimes there will be a basket, shelf, or at Kouryu, hangers, in which to store your stuff. I forgot a jacket, so I just hung up my purse.

Once seated, the staff take your tickets, which look like this:

Now, here’s where the staff might ask you how you’d like your noodles cooked, how oily you want your broth, etc (hopefully you know Japanese if this is the case). However, at Kouryu, because their M.O. is all about having your ramen “your way,” they make this process even easier by equipping us with detailed personal order forms.

And then, they make it even EASIER for bad foreigners who haven’t been studying their Japanese…

(click to make bigger)

… by providing an English key to the order form!

Now you can specify EXACTLY how you want your completely personalized bowl to turn out simply by circling your choices. Here’s what I ended up choosing this evening for my work of art: thin noodles, cooked very hard, “normal” sauce, normal oil, “you betcha” to leeks, 3x the spicy sauce, hai to roast pork!

And it doesn’t end there… next, as long as you chose the correct option back at the machine, you can select four MORE toppings of your choice (“from 8 kinds of food,” hehe). Tonight I went with the mustard greens, cloud ear (a stringy brown mushroom), a perfectly boiled egg (so delish), and garlic chips. I also like getting bamboo shoots sometimes. Of course if you’re a fan of green onions, you can add double the leeks; if you’re a pork fan, an additional slab of stewed pork is a good option too.

Hand the sheet to the cooks, and in no time (especially if you chose ハリガネ noodles, “like sticks,” in which case they just barely soak them) they’ll be handing you back your bowl of delicious ramen, 100% made-to-order.

Here’s what some other people got. Tsukumen ramen (the noodles and other contents are separate from the broth, in which you dip the noodles…

the broth can be either hot or cold and ra-yu ramen, sans the broth but chock-full of flavorful chili oil that had my friend Oz sweating up a storm.

Oftentimes, ramen-lovers will be so enthralled with their noodles that they slurp them all right up, and there’s still a ton of soup left. Solution? Kaedama, or a second serving of noodles (costs about 1-2 bucks). Most of the time you just “sumimasen” the staff for this, but Kouryu has these gumball machine-like contraptions at the counter for you to stick your coins into if you’re still hungry. The lantern lights up, and they bring you more noodles. Genius, right?!

I’ve definitely been known to get kaedama on several occasions, but I passed tonight, since instead in the beginning (in my starving state) I also got myself a side order of gyoza (also known as “potstickers” or simply “dumplings”). With a spicy oil added to the dipping sauce is best. Oishikatta! It was delicious.

Gochisousama! That was certainly a feast.

There you have it, another solid chain here in Japan. It really blows my mind the quality you can get even at super mega chains in this country.

Thanks so much Kate! Kouryu Ramen is certainly a little bit further than FuFu Ramen from our house and parking is a bit more limited which makes it hard to get to, but we enjoyed our visit to the location in Matsuyama in Naha.

It is so awesome to be able to control what you are eating. I think that is partly why I am such a fan of places like this and CoCo curry. I was not really a picky eater in Canada, but I did appreciate being able to tell someone what I wanted and did not want in a dish if need be. This power has been taken away with my inability to communicate in Japanese here, so I really enjoy places that let me control my meal. I cannot wait to return…or better yet eat mainland ramen.


Kouryu Ramen (2 locations in Naha)
Open 11am – 7am

Kokusai Dori location
Matsuyama location

Look for this noren/awning:

Food and Food: Asia and japan02 Mar 2011 10:36 pm

Another “had to buy them”…though not immediately. I saw these the other day and thought about them for a full day before I finally purchased them out of curiousity market research.

These are part of a “PariPari” variation limited edition release from snack maker Calbee in conjunction with Yuichi Kimura, a Japanese comedian and actor. He has two flavours out, an azuki bean matcha cake variety and the odder mocha cocoa kind. Other kinds in the series have included yakitori, ceasar salad, plum leaf, honey parsley lemon butter (yes, all four flavours together), plum kimchi, ponzu, fried egg…

I got the mocha cocoa ones. I think the weirdest thing about these chips is the texture. They are not real potato slices, the texture is more like Pringles; reconstituted potato mash formed into chip like shapes. They taste and smell sweet, but there is a coffee coating on them which hits your tongue with a bitter snap. So, they are bitter and sweet as he proclaims on the package. The first chip was really weird, but then I got into them. Now I have had atleast 10 and my stomach is kind of doing flips, and not in the good way. I gotta stop eating them…they may keep me up all night!

Here is a bit of background on them and short videos with Kimura hawking his chips.

 

 

Food and Food: Asia and japan01 Mar 2011 09:31 pm

* Here is the other curiously unpublished post. Sorry!

I have made a few new friends since moving to Japan, and one of those fine friends is a girl named Kate. We share many of the same interests; blogging, drinking tea, fashion, improving and adapting to our new jobs, and food…including ramen.

I am definitely not an expert. I just know that I like savoury broths and noodles. Hell, until last week I had not even had actual ramen in Japan, just soba and udon. Kate promised she would take Mike and I to a “really good” noodle joint halfway between our homes. And also near to one of the freakiest pachinko parlours on the island.

Eeek! This thing haunts my dreams.

However, it was Valentines Day, and it was a cold one. We rushed inside to the steamy ramen parlour and embraced the heat and warmth. Kate gave us a run down on her recommendations. She got a set, with some delicious fried rice (it is called chahan here) and some gyoza, as well as the big bowl of shoyu ramen.

I followed suit and got a deep bowl of shoyu ramen, but not as a set.

The broth was earthy, tangy and meaty, clearish and quite light, based on soy sauce (hence the name.) Fufu also has shio or salt, tonkotsu (not to be confused with tonkatsu) and miso broth. 

In addition to the discs of pork and sprinkling of green onions, there were some crunchy bamboo shoots and nori floating around. And the noodles were very fine indeed, freshy and tender, with a bit of spring.

This was Mike’s deluxe bowl of poko (we think?) ramen. It had a breaded pork piece soaking in the broth, and a rich egg. This is right up Mike’s alley. I will be surprised if he ever order anything else there again.

Condiments to adorn your meal with, although I did not feel my bowl needed anything.

Simple menu with the main ramen types across the top; tonkotsu, shoyu, miso and shio at the end.

Fufu is great value and very delicious. It is also wonderfully warming on cold nights, and I felt toasty warm and cozy all night after inhaling a bowl.

I am excited to try a few other kinds of ramen from around the country soon. I heard Sapporo-style is great, and that ramen jiro is in a class all unto itself. But until then, there is Fufu. We ate there twice last week.

Food and Food: Asia and japan01 Mar 2011 09:29 pm

* Author’s note: I could have sworn that this post already went up, but for some reason it is in my drafts pile. Strange. So I am republishing it and another post.

Yesterday I went for a run down the fields that held sugarcane just two weeks ago but are now dotted with cherry trees in full bloom. It is an otherworldly experience. However, the sad news is that the cherry blossoms have already started to fade here on Okinawa. We are the first spot in Japan to start to see the phenomenon, and the blooms continue traveling north into the colder regions later in the spring.

The madness is starting to spread though and as Valentines Day has ended, cherry blossom decorations and food items have popped up virtually everywhere, overnight. This morning I noticed Starbucks had their sakura items out; mugs, tumblers, macarons, cake…and the Sakura Latte. I got one very small one in addition to my regular Saturday morning indulgence, just to try it.

The verdict? Ugh!

In past years, this was called the Sakura Steamer, and I think it should return to being called that, because that is what it is. There is no coffee in this, it is a cinnamon dashed fruity (cherry, I suppose) flavoured milk beverage. Maybe better as a frappuccino? I am not a fan.

Although I find the baked goods at Japanese Starbucks to be far superior to those in North America, I did not try any of the special cherry blossom cakes or sweets. I did, however, stop at a new bakery nearish to our place, and they had some amazing pastries, including TWO kinds of croissant. Suck on THAT, Duchess. 😉