Food and Food: Asia and japan19 Apr 2011 11:58 pm

Flyer from the Miyazakiya blog. I love that the name in Japanese for these food trucks is Neo Yatai, which means New Food Stall.

There is a small band of roving food trucks here on Okinawa that seem to be at festivals. They also seem to be everywhere I need them to be at the right moment. The one I have visited the most has been this nikumaki-onigiri truck called Miyazakiya.

Different flavours available. They also accept dollars!

The first time I came across it, I was soaked and miserable. I had been in Okinawa a few weeks and decided to go downtown to look at English books. Along the way it started raining and I was not prepared, blah blah blah… this truck was waiting for me and my cold wet feet and empty stomach right by the Miebashi monorail station in Naha.

The second time was when Mike and I were furniture shopping very, VERY far from our home. We were grumpy and tired, and hungry after riding the bus for a long time to get there, since these were the days before our car. There, as if by magic, was the Miyazakiya truck. Wonderful.

Nikumaki-onigiri are a dish originally from Miyazaki prefecture (hence the name of the truck), and it is essentially pork marinated in a special sauce, then wrapped around glutinous rice and grilled. I know, it sounds too simple, but it is really good. The name translates literally to “meat wrapped rice ball.”

The truck uses a little blowtorch to heat up the rice balls and they come out soft, moist and savory…yet a bit crispy. Especially satisfying on bad days. Believe me.

They come in a few different flavours, with wasabi, cheese and so on. I hope to find this truck again this summer, along with his friends selling Indian food, rice bowls, uh, whatever this stuff is and melon pan. The trucks tend to appear at festivals and in somewhat random places in between, so keep your eyes peeled.


Food and Food: Asia and Travels16 Apr 2011 05:20 pm

Hong Kong update to come soon.



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

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
Chatan, Okinawa

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. 😉

Food and Food: Asia and japan20 Feb 2011 10:44 pm

Every week, Mike and I have an hour and a half long Japanese lesson at our tutor’s home. They are exceedingly generous hosts and in addition to Japanese instruction, there are always many cups of tea, copious Japanese snacks and candies, fruit and sometimes, dinner. This past week they made us a kimchi based nabe, or “one pot meal.”

K-sensei says that she considers one of her hobbies to be stripping bean sprouts of their root. I do not believe her, but, this is not the first time I have seen her sat down with a bag of sprouts to strip.

Nabe is a large pot with vegetables, meat and various other additions simmered in broth. It is a communal pot meal, where everyone waits for the items to cook, then they pluck out the items they want to eat when they are done. We were treated to a spicier than normal kimchi-based broth, because they know we enjoy spicy food.

Inside the pot, bean sprouts, cabbage, spinach, tofu, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, shirataki noodles, pork, all sorts of good stuff.

Normally nabe is done in a ceramic pot, but we ate out of a copper one.

All in all, a delicious home cooked meal. Nabe is an experience, and it really bonds the people together who eat it. It done during winter when the nabe pot warms the room and the people eating it. We had a lovely time. I hope we can do our own nabe before it starts to get hotter here on Okinawa.

Food and Food: Asia and japan14 Feb 2011 05:42 pm

Although this is more personal than I typically like to get on my blog these days, Mike and I started officially dating on Valentines Day 5 or 6 years ago. Neither one of us is sure, so that is how I know it is true love. Of more excitement is the fact that this is our first celebration of that momentous occasion and first Valentines Day in Japan!

Valentines Day in Japan is a, you guessed it, odd affair. On February 14th, it is mostly men who receive chocolates from women. Then, a month later on White Day, the favour is returned to the ladies.

I braved the crowds recently to go to one of Okinawa’s ritziest department stores and buy some chocolates for Mike. If this person is your TRUE love you are supposed to handmake goodies, but I made him nachos  and cinnamon buns earlier in the weekend, so I think we are square.

One of the many busy chocolate counters at the depachika, or department store basement food hall I visited

Handmade chocolates fall into the “honmei-choco” category; or chocolate for your true love. There are also pricier chocolates that are fancier and more individualized to the man’s interests and hobbies which could be given in this instance. The best of these probably come from department stores.

I pored over the chocolates left at the department store, looking at chocolate golf balls, truffles, liquor chocolates…I finally settled on something I know Mike loves; animals.

There was a line of “zoology” chocolate (“Zoology, The Chocolate World” from Matsukazeya company), with beautifully realistic looking chocolate animals. The detail was mind boggling. There were crocodile sets, including “eggs”, full zoo sets with stats on the animals and beautiful miniature solid turtles, gorillas and chimpanzees. Unfortunately by Saturday the coolest sets were gone, but I got some awesome little pigs for Mike, and a pack of chocolate “cigarettes.”

Mike said the chocolate was pretty good. I was just happy the department store wrapped it all up for me. They do such a great job.

There are also less expensive and impressive obligation chocolates, or “giri-no-choco.” These chocolates are mass produced and are given to men you have a working relationship with (hence the “obligation” part.) So in my case, I gave small pre-wrapped chocolates from the grocery store in little decorated baggies to the men of my school. These are not meant to indicate anything other than mutual respect or friendship. Although I felt foolish giving my “giri-choco” out, I am glad I did. They seemed well received.

That’s it for this Valentines Day…

…maybe next year I will be able to secure something even tastier and amazing from a Tokyo chocolatier. I am already thinking about it…

Food and Food: Asia and japan13 Feb 2011 07:50 am

I am alternately excited and nervous when I am invited into the personal home of a member of the community here. It is no small gesture, and I often feel like I need to prepare for the event.

For Chinese New Year, we were invited to the home of one of Mike’s pottery teachers. The house was full of people of all ages coming and going, beer, oranges and food. Lots of food.

Just photos this time. It is really interesting to see how people eating sushi at home serve and eat it. There was a mix of seafood, vegetables and pork, as well as Okinawan favourites and more classically Japanese dishes.

Crab and vegetable salad to start

Mixed platters of scotch eggs, maki rolls, atsuage tofu (bricked tofu, fried), tempura, root vegetables.

Vinegared sashimi in the center, ringed by sashimi.

An Okinawan nimono, or simmered dish of pork and daikon.

Maki rolls of tofu, root vegetables such as the very delicious burdock root and vinegared rice.

Later, there was hot zenzai, a dessert dish of savoury fibrous azuki beans in a sweet syrup with glutinous mochi balls, and an agar agar based jelly dessert with fruit. For the kids, roasted soybeans for mamemaki or a ritual this time of year meant to drive out evil from the new year and bring luck in. The kids throw the beans at a member of the family dressed up like a demon to symbolize this. The members of this house also ate the number of beans equal to their age.

It was a nice way to ring in the Lunar New Year.

Food and Food: Asia and japan12 Feb 2011 12:59 pm

When things started to cool off here and turn to fall, I remember hearing a horrible wail in the streets. It was like the sound someone made when they are in deep mourning, praying, crying, voice strained against the pain within. I could not decipher any of the words being said. I looked out the window expected to see a sort of funeral procession, perhaps. Elections had just wrapped up and so I even though it was one of the candidates taking to the streets in a van with a loudspeaker as they love to do here.

But, all I saw was a small truck that appeared to be selling something. Chestnuts? I thought. I went back to huddling under blankets and thought no more of it.

Then a few weeks later, the sound returned, louder than before. I looked off the patio, camera in hand this time, and saw the little truck again. As my language skills duplicate weekly here (do not get excited, 2 words doubled is still only 4 words) I could barely make out the song being sung…but I heard “…-imo, yaki-imo…” which I recognized from school; baked sweet potatoes and potatoes!

Although I had just eaten dinner and was not hungry, I would have liked to indulge in one of the fresh hot potatoes that are cooked OVER OPEN FLAME in the back of the truck. Safety conscious? Not so much. Delicious? So I hear. Especially during the cold winter months.
Here is a recording of the truck’s wail. If you listen carefully you can hear the kids riding by the bikes at the start singing along with the truck. Still creeps me out to hear this song though. The one played in super markets is much less…menacing.

Food and Food: Asia and japan11 Feb 2011 08:45 pm

Full disclosure:

CoCo is a very big, very popular chain restaurant in Japan.

And: I wanted to hate it!

Now that I have that off my chest, I feel I can write about this place.

I pretend not to be a food snob, but the reality is that I sometimes am. More so in North America where I feel I can effectively judge a restaurant’s food by several factors before dining there  (another blog post, another time) but here, in a foreign place with little to guide me I tend to throw caution to the wind and experiment A LOT more. And so my mom, Mike and I found ourselves at an outpost of the popular CoCo Ichibanya one evening to dine on Japanese curry.

I know this looks like a dog’s breakfast (and it kind of is) but stay with me now.

Japanese curry is in and of itself a special thing. It is a bit like Indian curry in that there are occasionally potatoes and vegetables floating around, and there is a cumin and curry spice mix in it. But it is very soupy (like Japanese pasta), looks like gravy and, yes, even unappetizing at times. It is also served with the very moist, sticky Japanese rice which makes for a different experience from long grained basmati rices traditionally served in Indian curries. The most familiar of Japanese curries to westerners is probably Glico curry.

I cannot speak for everyone living abroad, but personally I become exhausted by the thought of eating here once a week or so. On these nights, I do not want to think about where to get ingredients for things I am craving. I do not feel like deciphering menus in other languages with hand written scripts that are difficult for even native speakers to read. In fact, sometimes I would rather not eat than figure stuff out, and I get extremely testy when asked “What are we having for dinner?”

You do not know the true freedom of pouring your own water until you come to Japan

CoCo is a great option on nights like this I think because it has the holy grail for restaurants for foreigners in Japan.

  1. not only an English menu, but a multilingual, regularly updated menu
  2. many locations
  3. western sized AND half sized portions at affordable prices
  4. a personal carafe of water at your table.

Add to this the ability to highly customize your meal, and the place is down right addictive. No wonder it is so popular with the US military members living on the island.

You could eat a different curry every day for a year. (Well maybe not, but I forget how to do permutations) You can pick the curry base (pork or beef) and the choices are nearly endless from there, from spice to rice amount and toppings.

So what did we get?

This first photo is my mom’s dish. Level of heat was a 0 (on a scale up to 10) and she got the lightly fried crisped chicken, not to be confused with straight up fried chicken, because they have that too. She got no toppings.

Meanwhile, I got the same base meat (the deliciously light, juicy crispy perfect chicken) at a spice level of 2 and went nuts on the toppings, getting cheese, eggplant and garlic bits. I drew the line at spinach, but I did add the free pickles they have at the table.

Off. The. Hook.

I was so pleased by my choices. The curry was slightly cinnamon-y and cumin-y, just hot enough for me, and my rice was not drowning in sauce as it had the toppings to help soak it up…yum.

While Mike contemplated the seasonal special of deep fried oysters, he ultimately went with the same thing my mom and I did: lightly crisped chicken, with a side of a soft boiled egg. He got a spice level of 4, and said it was fairly spicy. I agree; I could never finish a plate by myself. The spice levels are so subjective you naturally could never get it right on the first try, but if you have a tongue for spicy curries straight out of Thailand, you will likely be satisfied with a 4 as as a starting point.

Allergy restricted menu and the main stay when eating spicy foods: milk!

What more is there to say? CoCo is quick, fairly fresh for fast food and tasty. They even have low allergen menu items, which is something that can be very difficult for people with eating restrictions (egg, milk, wheat, nuts etc) to manage when in Japan. I would not say it is worth wasting a dinner on if you are only in Japan for a short vacation, but is great if you are stuck, overwhelmed or just need a safe English harbour in the storm of Japanese.

I’ve gone on long enough. CoCo is just kind of a cool place. Both Mike and my mom woke up in the middle of the night with heartburn, but oddly enough I was fine, even though I have a very touchy stomach at times.

CoCo “Ichi”

Various locations all over Japan and Asia
open late to 24 hours depending on the location
Multilingual menu (English, Russian, Arabic and others)

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