May 2011


Food and Food: Asia and japan31 May 2011 07:04 am

This restaurant was one of the first I remember being very intrigued by when I arrived in Okinawa in August. I was wandering around Okinawa’s capital, Naha, and spied the restaurant’s window with three huge cow carcasses in it. When I got over I realized they were the ubiquitous plastic models Japanese restaurants love to use, but it was still impressive. I made a note of the restaurant and vowed to return. The only English on the sign was “From Farm” so we just called it that for a long time.

We finally got the chance in January when my mom visited. We wanted a yakiniku restaurant that was higher quality than average, but still good value.  So we headed to “From Farm.” We finally found last week that it is called yakiniku Wagyu Itoryuo, however. It is a great choice if you want a classier meat grilling experience. We struggled with the menu on our visit. It was was a daily special menu, hand scripted in an unusual writing style with no pictures so it was beyond challenging. But, we got through and my mom still talks about the best meat she ever had.

Daily menu…yikes!

What sets Wagyu Itoryuo apart is that it buys entire cows from ranches, mostly located in the Kyushyu area. It is kind of a wholesale restaurant, I guess. It is able to sell very expensive cuts at better prices because they do most of the work themselves. On the back of the menu they show the serial numbers and rancher’s name for the legit wagyu cattle they bring to the restaurant, so you know what you are eating. They then cut the cow up at the restaurant into the specials of the day and you order off that menu. It was very intimidating to people who do not possess strong Japanese skills such as ourselves, and so we returned with our Japanese tutors to treat it like a mini-Japanese lesson. Conveniently delicious!

Wagyu Itoryuo makes its own complimentary in house beef curry, out of the cows they use. It is really good, and I recommend trying it. At the front they show you the stock and bones and marrow used to make the curry.

We ordered a number of things, including kim chee, rice and noodle dishes, cuts of karubi or short ribs, a cut called zabuton (sharing a name with the japanese chair, but not a cut from the butt as you might think) tongue and so on. They have a guide in the menu that shows you where the cuts come from, which is very handy. You can see the Japanese butchers have way more cuts than North American ones.

Many items come on mixed cut platters so you can try a few things at the same time.

 

Things got smoky. Poor Kase-sensei!

Bi Bim Bap

This restaurant is really good. I hope we can return soon with our renewed confidence and order some new items. The staff are kind and friendly and put up with our Japanese tutors requesting they mostly deal with us for ordering. The booths are a bit narrow and tight for a group of four, but we managed.



Wagyu Itoryou Yakiniku

Omoromachi, Naha
沖縄県那覇市おもろまち4-12-9 SAIビル1F :: map
Open 6pm – 2am

 

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan29 May 2011 06:54 pm

Well we made it through the biggest typhoon Okinawa has seen in a number of years last night. It was a strange experience. Originally a super typhoon, the storm was downgraded late Friday night, so people were kind of low key about it. I was out drinking and having a good time with some girlfriends in my rainboots.

Come Saturday, I thought the storm was pretty slow to move in, and was underwhelming at first. People were still out walking their dogs and I could see some students returning home from sports at the school at 7:30pm. But by 9pm, I was white knuckling it and pacing the apartment, worried about windows breaking and the cracking sounds coming from outside the apartment.

When typhoon Songda got to Okinawa it clocked wind gusts at 175-200kph on the bases. Apparently if a storm approaches from the west side of the island, it places more damage on the areas to the northeast corner…which is where Okinawa was last night. Several friends around the island lost power, but we were okay. Our neighbours had something blow into their house and break a window, giving cause for the firefighters to come and help them at about midnight. I finally fell asleep around 1am, and when I woke again at 3, the storm was pretty much blown through. I spent the morning doing laundry and washing the macerated vegetation and other detritus off our windows.

The key thing for these storms is being ready. You often have a few days notice, so I went out and collected the things we might need, from instant noodles to imported beer. Gotta have the essentials! I love being prepared, so I had a full fridge and a few meals planned in case we were housebound a few days.

brothy pinto beans, pre-frying

Early Saturday morning I started some refried beans. I had planned to bring them to a friends party that night, but it was delayed due to the storm. Oh well – gave me time to perfect the recipe for when the party does happen.

I ordered the beans a few weeks ago from an imported food company here in Japan and used some spices I bought in Bangkok. I had never actually made my own refried beans before, so I was a bit nervous at screwing up. But they turned out alright, just like every other Rick Bayless recipe I have ever used.

Although this is very much pork country, I had trouble finding pork fat, and with limited time before the storm arriving I did not waste a lot of time looking. So I got some ground pork and used the drippings from that to add to the beans. Real rendered fat would have made the beans more awesome, I think. It took about two hours to finish the brothy beans, and then another half hour to turn them into refried beans.

 

Meanwhile I whipped up the taco fillings – guacamole, cilantro lime cream, beef and pork with peppers and fresh tomatoes.

I turned them into double decker tacos – soft tortillas wrapped around crispy corn tortilla shells. Best of all worlds – double the room for fillings, chewy soft tortilla and the crispy corn taco which is held together by the beans and tortilla. Spread the tortilla with beans, wrap around a crisp taco shell and fill the shell with meat and guacamole. Drink with beer, watch the rain fall and wind blow. They were fantastic.

 

 

It is hard to show the damage the storm caused in our neighbourhood since I did not take any good before photos the morning of the storm. The closest is the photo with the stuffed bear in it – you can see the field behind him is very green and lush. It was taken around 7pm. After is below, taken 12 hours later. The tender cabbage and corn plants were destroyed, leaving pretty barren fields. The sugar cane fields and banana plantation behind and to the left took a beating too. Poor neighbours. You can click the photos for larger versions.

For a few more details about what it was like enduring the storm on a smaller island, check out fellow JET teacher Zamami Dave’s blog.

Food and Food: Asia and Travels26 May 2011 10:16 am

 

My favourite meal in Hong Kong was the one we had quite a distance out of the main city core. We originally traveled out to eat some authentic bamboo noodles at Ping Kee noodles – a place, yes, featured on Anthony Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations where he went to Hong Kong.

 

After a 30 minute train ride and ten minute walk, we reached Tai Po market. It was a large four floored concrete building with many vendors. There was not a lot of English, and I could not recall through my flu fogged haze what the stall looked like on the episode. Additionally, I did not have 3G connectivity for my cell in Hong Kong. Gahh!

Eventually we found a wifi signal and we sussed out which stall was Ping Kee…only to find out it was closed for some reason. I am still not sure if it was a regular holiday or closed for good. There seemed to be a lot of junk in the stall, which makes me worry that it is closed for good.

 

By this point we were ravenous. I started to feel the pressure of three hungry bellies plus mine and was not sure where to go next. Then I remembered I had also noted a BBQ restaurant nearby. The name? Yat Lok. Another Bourdain favourite, this restaurant was a short jaunt from Tai Po market, and happily still had a table available even though it was pretty damn close to lunch and it was far from empty in the restaurant.

Since he was an incredibly kind man, the owner/chef came out to help us with the menu (since it was all in Cantonese) and explain some things in English. We all ordered different kinds of meat, but mostly pork and goose. As we waited it got busier and busier, the ladies behind the counter hurling out cups of milk tea, and the sound of the cleaver on wood and meat at the front becoming more frantic.

Our meals came out quite quickly and were…delectable. Some of the best meat I have ever had, with apologies to my father, Guy Savoy and the Salt Lick in Texas. Mike and I both got mixed plates to sample the pork and goose, and I am happy we did. The crisp sweetness of the skin on the goose gave way to a shimmering layer of fat, and tender meaty protein. I shifted back and forth between the goose and the char siu, unable to determine which I liked best. My appetite was not up to full speed so I did not eat that much rice and I have to agree with Bourdain – there was no need for the rice. Just a plate of meat would have been the best. Additionally the owner sent out some soup on the house. What a great man.

Alas a woman cannot live on meat alone. Although I would, especially if it call came from Yat Lok.

Goose on the left,  char siu on the right.

Why did I wait so long to post about this? It is only making me crave it more. Good thing we had a really delicious yakiniku meal last night.

While I am not sure I would have gone out of my way initially to eat at Yat Lok (I had planned on eating BBQ at another restaurant closer to Hong Kong) I certainly would now. Recommended.

Ping Kee bamboo noodles
2nd Floor Tai Po Cooked Food Market

Yat Lok BBQ
5, Po Wah House A, Tai Ming Lane
Exiting the MTR, follow the signs towards “Tai Po Market.” After a jaunt, you will see Tai Po market infront of you. You’ll get to an intersection with a large building, which is Tai Po Market. To get to Yat Lok, though, head down the street to the right to an open square market kind of area. Yat Lok is on the square there.

Food and Food: Asia and Travels14 May 2011 07:29 am

High tea was definitely on my list as an experience to have in Hong Kong. I enjoy that it is relaxing, provides a nice light snack and feels…historical.

Corniness aside, Hong Kong has a wide selection of places to enjoy high tea, with some hotels even offering two high teas at two different dining establishments on the property. With all this selection, I am really sad we ended up where we did.

Sigh. Oh well.

Hullett House is located near the largest shopping center in Hong Kong, making it a perfect post shopping break for us. Mike and I arranged to meet our parents at Hullett House later – a mistake. I thought it would be easy to find. I suppose it is, if you are coming from the right angle or have a map, but from the place we were coming from it appeared to be hidden inside another building. That is the case, in a matter of speaking, as it is located in 1881 Heritage, a high end historical shopping area. My parents were unable to find the building, but both my dad and I groaned when we drove past the location the next day in a cab and saw a huge sign (think 10 foot letters) advertising Hullett House on the opposite side of the complex.

 

The building Hullett House is in was the former Marine Police headquarters, and is one of the oldest buildings in Hong Kong. As such, it is colonial in style and is very different from the sleek glassy Vuitton and Gucci outlets just across the street. It is quite charming, actually, and as we finally found our way in and ascended the steps, I was looking forward to the atmosphere.

 

 

We arrived minutes before the last call for high tea, and the hostess seated us with a comment about it being last call. Yeah, thanks lady, we’ll hurry. Just the way I like to enjoy high tea.

The patio of the Parlour restaurant was quite empty, save for another couple, and there did not seem to be a lot of staff. Something that become painfully clear when we sat…and sat…and sat. Maybe they were not in such a hurry for last call after all?

Finally we got a server to come over and ordered the high tea set. A three tiered silver server came out with scones and sweet treats, and a plate with savoury sandwiches. The food was okay, with most of the highlights being on the dessert tier, including an airy lychee, fruit curd and whip cream heart cake, a crunchy praline finger and warm flaky scones.

My tea was fine, but Mike said he thought his tasted a bit off. I had to ask for cream, and was brought ice cold milk. At the end of the meal would could not find any servers to bring us the bill, so we went to the front podium where the hostess stood with her back to us, rifling through papers. I think I finally said excuse me and she turned and gave us a blank look/stare, then said “Good bye.” I actually had to ask for the bill.

So despite the key location, high quality pastries and a beautiful patio, the experience was, well, bitter. We should have gone to the Peninsula instead. I would have gladly braved the zoo there if I knew better.

Food: Asia and Travels07 May 2011 02:59 pm

A week in Bangkok was good for my soul, stomach and photo skills.

 

Okay, maybe not that last one so much.