japan


Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan and simple japanese pleasures16 Jul 2011 01:16 pm

 

The words “wagyu” and “Kobe” incite many reactions in people. For some, it is the epitome of fine food. Expensive protein that is hand massaged, fed beer and lives a life of luxury so that it has the highest fat marble content around, all to make it better to melt in your mouth. For yet others, it is a waste of time and money – moment on the lips, forever on the credit card slips?

Diners are cautious because the high prices of this cattle have spawned many imitators and expensive but not legit knock-offs. Luckily, this does not happen as much in Japan. The Japanese dining crowd is extremely discerning and demanding, and there are a series of pieces of evidence that can be used to show a piece of wagyu’s legitimacy, including chips and barcodes.

Wagyu is a name applied to a wide range of about 130+ breeds of cattle, most of them named after the area they come from, such as Kobe wagyu. Wagyu just translates to “beef from Japan” but it is a title that is only bestowed upon cows that are 100% born from wagyu cattle and raised in Japan. That is why some beef in the States is “wagyu style” or “Kobe style” – it may be from a Japanese breed and raised in the same style, but it was raised outside of Japan. Very little of this beef is actual proper wagyu shipped from Japan. There are a number of other breeds that are not as well marketed in the west that some people say are better than Kobe. One of them comes from a little island not far from where we live, very close to Taiwan. It is called Ishigaki, and it looks idyllic.


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Here, the cattle eat very mineral rich grass (Ishigaki is very famous for salt, as well) and live lives of beachy luxury until their number comes up and they are served to mainland Japanese tourists eager to try some fine beef. I cannot state enough how huge food tourism is in Japan. Every area has a famous sweet, famous noodle style, even a very specific food item. So it is big business…a cash cow, if you will.

Mike had been craving a big old steak for a week or two now. We recently bought a grill to do chicken sticks and veggies on but he was eager to give beef a try. Normally I would think it ridiculous to home grill a piece of meat of wagyu caliber at home, but here it is actually feasible because the prices are okay instead of insane. However, the biggest problem was finding it. Most super markets sell very fine beef in very thin slices suitable for beef bowls, sukiyaki or at home yakiniku grilling, but very little is available in big American sized chunks. And if you do find it, it is most likely going to be Australian.

So I took to Google to find a butcher willing to help us out, and found a video posted on YouTube of a local butcher in a very touristy market in downtown Naha, Okinawa.

This gave me pause, since we had eaten at this market and it was, unfortunately, a real tourist trap. But, the meat looked like what we wanted and I had no other leads, so we gave it a try.

Maruichi turned out to be intimidating. They had huge chunks of meat that looked like they might be able to be cut to order, but we still lack the language skills to ask for that. Dejected, we wandered to the nearby Makishi Market to see what they had. Makishi is kind of a place people go to take photos at. They eat upstairs at the terrible restaurants, take a photo with a pickled pigs head and go back to their hotel.

Things seemed over priced and it just was not the same as other Asian markets I have been to. When we arrived most of the fish stalls were cleaning up for the day, but in the corner we found a meat stall. There, pre wrapped hunks of well marbled meat labeled with prices and Ishigaki tags. Cha-CHING!

I am not sure if the meat was frozen or not, and we did not ask on this trip. Chances of it being frozen are about 50/50…Japanese transport companies are amazing, and able to ship both frozen and chilled items to arrive the same day, so it could also have just been chilled since Ishigaki is a short plane ride away from mainland Okinawa. It came from a supplier called Yaeyama / 八重山 and they seem to be a big supplier of beef from Ishigaki.

We picked out some steaks and the guy shot the shit with us the best we could in our Japanese. He said he was surprised we were taking the steak home – most people eat it upstairs (at the restaurants who cook items from the market) he said.

We paid about $30 for 200g, and took our carefully cold packed meat home with us after stopping at a grocery store for some vegetables. On the label you can see the code used to identify the company and perhaps even the very cow the cut came from. They take this stuff seriously.

Mike did all the prep and grilling, which I appreciate. Perhaps he will chime in on his technique in the comments.

He coated the steak in salt using a new method he read about online. Luckily the butcher had given us some omiyage, or a gift, of Ishigaki salt. It was very fine and powdery.

Ishigaki salt

After the grilling came the hard part – the resting. Finally, I sliced into the steak with a butter knife and sat and savoured in silence. I could barely speak. It was tender, buttery, meaty… wonderful. I found the fat rind around the edge a bit overwhelming, but I did eat most of it in a gluttonous way.

The veins of fat throughout the meat had dissolved into the protein, and it was light and buttery, not heavy and greasy. I have found Kobe to be overwhelmingly fatty sometimes, but not so with Ishigaki. Maybe it is Okinawa pride speaking, but I do think it is the superior meat. I have had it at restaurants and at home now, and it is wonderful.

Looks kind of grainy and maybe even tough in this shot, huh? It wasn’t. The fat rind is closest to the camera in this photo.

Sauteed some mushrooms and grilled some zucchini, okra and eggplant on the grill after.

Here is a video cut I made of us slicing through the meat. Meat porn!

We grilled some of the remaining fat up on the grill afterwards to char it a bit more. Fat popsicle, anyone?

 

 

Food: Asia and japan and simple japanese pleasures15 Jul 2011 12:48 pm

Japan, especially Okinawa, has a strong drinking culture. There are countless pubs, bars and restaurants in any neighbourhood to cater to work groups, friends and family looking to gather together and be social while drinking and eating. But, sometimes drinking out can be expensive. Hell, even beer at the grocery stores in Japan is quite pricey because of the taxes imposed on the higher malt content of the beverage. So what to do when you just want to have a drink after work, but not think too hard about it, or spend too much money?

My friend, the chu hai/chu hi is waiting for you at your corner store.

Chu hais are a kind of cocktail that get their name from combining shochu and high ball. Shochu is a kind of Japanese distilled alcohol. It is not quite as strong as vodka and has a bit more flavour, but is similar in many ways. You can drink these cocktails in many flavours at izakayas, but much easier and faster is the canned version.

Keeping to the high ball formula, chu hais come in many flavours and are mostly carbonated and fruity. Their alcohol content ranges from 3 to 9 percent (STRONG varieties feature higher booze numbers) and can be night destroying if you drink too many of them, especially from supercans. There are sugar free versions, those combined with favourite sodas, seasonal kinds… the flavour possibilities are endless.

In the photo, a variety of chu hais including two only in Okinawa summer limited edition flavours, pineapple shikwasa (a kind of citrus found on Okinawa) and acerola pineapple (acerola is a tart berry.) Back in the white can is a white soda chuhai, one of my favourites. It is a kind of tangy milky yogurty flavour. All very refreshing on a hot day.

Click here for more simple Japanese pleasures.

Food: Asia and japan and simple japanese pleasures12 Jul 2011 03:08 pm


Ice Zenzai from Fujiya

 

I should really rename this entry “simple okinawan pleasures” because iced zenzai is a very Okinawan thing. People often note the similarities between Hawaii and Okinawa – both are part of a bigger country, but maintain a very different culture, identity and lifestyle than their mainland. They also have very special food items, their own language and lots of beaches. The list goes on, actually.

Perhaps because of these similarities, Hawaii and Okinawa have shared a lot over the years. I have heard that many of the somewhat rare Japanese expats are from Okinawa and live in Hawaii. So there has been a lot of cross over between food and culture over the years. One of those things is shave ice, which may be thought of as being Hawaiian, but is actually rooted in Japan.

Zenzai is a sort of strange dessert common in Asia. It is a bit savoury, sweet and full of strange texture. It is also very filling due to it’s fiber content. Zenzai is basically red azuki beans served in a sweet syrup, usually eaten hot and sometimes with mochi, or pounded rice balls. Okinawa has combined shave ice with this classic Japanese winter dish called zenzai and made a power house of a dish, I think.

It is nice hot, but I LOVE it over shave ice as a summer treat. It is refreshing and savoury and sweet and cold and chewy and crunchy and filling and… well, it is a simple (but complex) pleasure one can only find on Okinawa.

Fujiya is a very famous iced zenzai producer, and they ship all over Okinawa and Japan. It comes in little cups that look like Cup Noodles, not quite as pretty as the above picture.

Here is a cute Fujiya refrigerated zenzai delivery truck I saw on Sunday.

Click for more from the Simple Japanese Pleasures series

Food and Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan10 Jul 2011 02:36 pm

 

We tend to eat sushi out once a week at our favourite easy kaiten (belt) sushi chain restaurant, and it is excellent for the old favourites and some maki choices, but sometimes you like to eat your own creations full of your favourite ingredients. Also, maki sushi is quite different from the nigiri sushi that is often at these restaurants, as it combines many ingredients.

One of the best things about the local supermarket is the fish section. It is stocked with various cuts and preparations of the many kinds of fish, from classic favourites to seasonal varieties. There are packages of pre cut slices for sashimi or nigiri sushi, long pieces for grilling… you can really go to town.

On this occasion, I bought a few things:

  • two kinds of nori seaweed, one for hand rolls and one for the longer maki rolls
  • premade rice (almost as fresh as homemade, but more convenient)
  • salmon, crab and maguro
  • burdock root, and some vegetables

Crab sticks. Not imitation, although that is also available.

Burdock root, or gobo

This mixed pack of sushi grade maguro tuna and salmon was about $5.50

At home I already had what I needed to flavour the rice, as well as cream cheese and various kinds of pickles and other fillings to put in the rolls.

 

As I have mentioned before, I think the rice is one of the best things about living in Japan. My favourite is sushi rice with a lightly flavoured taste of vinegar, sake and sugar. It is tangy and delicious.

I made my own sushi vinegar to add to the rice by combining these items:

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (you can use rice vinegar too)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 table spoon of mirin or sake/nihon shu
  • 1/2 tablespoon of salt

Combine these in a small pot on the stove until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Will flavour about 4 cups of rice.

Combine into warm rice by folding it in, being careful to not crush the rice.

Buying rice is a bit of a cheat since the flavour is better when the rice is turned into sushi rice when it is warm and fresh.
You cannot substitute any other kind of rice, or turn arborio or Thai sticky rice into sushi rice by making it gooey and mushy, so please do not do this.

 

Assembly is easy. I did not want the rolls to be too filling because we wanted to try many different combinations, so I did not push the rice to the edge of the nori. Normally you would, otherwise you get…

…sad looking rolls like this. These deflated looking things were really good though.

You can mix and match each rolls. Here, toro chopped and mixed with soy, negi or green onions, crunchy Niigata Prefecture miso daikon pickles that were a present from our Japanese tutor, burdock root dipped in the same sushi vinegar mix I made for the rice and a cucumber. You want to combine the things you like, thinking about taste, smell, texture (crunch!) and color.

There are sushi mats you can use to roll up rolls, like inside out California rolls, but I just hand rolled these nori wrapped rolls. The sushi mats help the rice from sticking and keep a uniform size and look, if presentation is important. But we are rustic here at the ZeeCall household, and we are not so picky.

I also made some salmon, negi, cream cheese, sesame seed and cucumber rolls.

Finally, even more customizable, the hand rolls. You just stuff and fill the little squares of nori with rice, then the fillings you want, roll up and eat.

Crab, cucumber, negi and cream cheese.

Fun and easy!

 

 

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan and simple japanese pleasures09 Jul 2011 03:07 pm

 

I have decided to start a new series of posts on simple pleasures I find here in Japan. Most are food related, but not all. There are just so many interesting somewhat single use experiences that are relaxing, enjoyable and often delicious in their own right, so I thought I might expose a few of them to you.

First up is a food item often found at yakitori restaurants. Yakitori is almost always completely protein based – there are very few vegetable or rice dishes, so they are more of a drinking place with meat on sticks as opposed to a dinner location. Although we have definitely turned our stops at these places into meals, for sure.

To balance this out, there is usual a token item on the menu – yakisoba for instance, or fried rice. But my favourite is the simple grilled onigiri, or yaki onigiri. Onigiri are pressed cooked rice balls – round, triangular, square – they come in all shapes and sizes. They sometimes have fillings, or a nori seaweed wrap. They are a quick and easy snack if you need something while on the go.

Yaki onigiri are a plain pressed clump of rice, grilled over dry heat til it gets a crispy shell, then it is brushed with tare (sauce, usually thick and kind of sweet) or butter and salt. We recently got a grill for at home (more on that later) and we can now make these babies on our own.

I often thing about the food thing I will miss most when I leave Japan, and I think the answer is easy – the rice. Even prepared in such a simple manner, it really stands out. Especially in yaki onigiri.

Click for more from the Simple Japanese Pleasures series

Food: Home Cookin' and japan01 Jul 2011 10:10 am

 

Generally, because it is so accessible, we often just eat Japanese food while we are out. However, because I have such seriously easy to access to some Japanese ingredients I may never see again in my life, I have decided to try cooking more Japanese food at home.

I already have a good yakiudon recipe and Mike knows how to make gyoza, or potsticker dumplings, but beyond that the choice is overwhelming. So I started with an ingredient that I want to use more, but am not sure how to.

Shirataki noodles are made of konjac, a very starchy plant. They are really low calorie and high fibre, so they are a popular diet food here. I remember a source referring them to “stomach brooms” for their ability to, ahem, “clean.”

Konjac does not taste like much however, so you have to use seasoning to help it out.

The noodles come in a big bag, and are available in many different diameters. They kind of smell funny when you open them, and they should be blanched to take away the bitter taste that may exist. They are super slippery and kind of get tangled, but do not really break down when you boil them.

They just look like any other kind of noodle, right?

I wanted to make a variation of a healthy Japanese dish called chirashisushi, or “scattered sushi bowl.” It is basically raw ingredients on top of rice. Pretty easy. I picked up this really nice looking salmon specifically made for chirashisushi at the supermarket for a few bucks. It is a little thinner cut than most sashimi you can get.

I also made a citrus soy ginger dressing with some new soy sauce. I let the noodles soak in this before we ate, to give them some flavour.

I added some shiso sprouts for peppery flavour, various vegetables (cucumber, avocado, cabbage and grated daikon) and we ate. A super fresh light summer meal, and healthier than the same dish made with just rice.

Food: Home Cookin' and japan26 Jun 2011 10:25 am

Alright, another weekend ruined by another typhoon. This one was not quite as bad as the last one that rolled through, but I welcome the chance to work on cooking, which is something I seem to find myself doing when we are housebound during these storms.

This time, pancakes. Or as they call them in Japan, hotto-keki (ホットケーキ). The recipe is a McCall family secret so I am not able to share it with you, but trust me – these pancakes were delicious. I experienced some humidity related problems, but all turned out well. Double baking powder and sifting the flour were key. I have only sifted flour once for a recipe and that was macarons, which demand it, so it felt weird doing it for such a basic recipe.

A little whipped cream spun up, some sweetened blackcurrants and bam – I predict a heavy downpour of delicious pancakes.

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan24 Jun 2011 09:01 pm

I knew one of the best things about moving to Japan would be the food. And my weight gain in the past year has shown that to be true.

I also knew that one of the hardest things about moving to Japan would be the food. I knew I would miss so many things – experimenting with baking, farmer’s market foods and the treats from back home that I liked to indulge in. (Elm Cafe lattes or nachos from Hudson’s, anyone?)

Luckily there are ways to adapt here. There are many import food services which we have used a few times. It is otherworldly to order cheese and other cold products and have them arrive at your door fresh and cold via a delivery man in a refrigerated truck. The prices are high, but you will pay. Yes, you will.

Okinawa is a bit of an odd beast since the American influence has brought a few products to grocery stores that might be hard to find in other parts of Japan. While we do not have access to on-base (military) food, it is also there. It is a bit complicated and I seriously could not be bothered to ask someone to go through that for me, although parents of one of my students have offered. You need US cash, you need someone to shop with you, escort you in…it is like bringing someone into Costco, only harder.

So, I rely on the local grocers, and big suitcase allowances when I come home from vacation in other cities. Luckily there is a selection of stores that offer up some amazing finds. I am trying to cook with more Japanese ingredients at home, but sometimes you just want chili or a plate of nachos, dammit.

First up is Jimmy’s. There are a few different locations of this Okinawan chain around the island. The first few I went to were just tiny bakeries, with stale “American Taste” cookies and tasteless pies. However my birthday cake was from Jimmy’s, so it is not all bad. I just thought every location was as sad as the one nearest my home.

But when we got a car and my mom came to visit, we stopped in at a larger location – one with a grocery and cafe on top  of the bakery. I was blown away.

 

This is the Jimmy’s just north of Naha on the 58. Very easy to find, even by bus. Just take any bus going from the Naha bus terminal to Chatan, and look for Jimmy’s on the right about 20 minutes out of Naha.

While I tend to order tortilla chips from aforementioned foreign food supplier, it is nice to have expensive emergency chips if I need some guacamole dippers. Most of these bags run $3-7.

I shudder to think of eating such MSG salt laden fat popsicles, but I cannot deny that being overseas does weird things to people, and there may come a day when I crave these Johnsonville “sausages.” These are about $8.50

Lots of baking ingredients. When I made nanaimo bars at Christmas it took me a few weeks to source and buy the products. If we had a car at that time, I could have been done in about 15 minutes.

Everyone will tell you how hard it is to find pit stick in Japan. EVERYONE. However, I have been seeing it everywhere recently, although not all places have as good a selection as Jimmy’s.

Huge bags of baking soda for cleaning and deodorizing.

TimTams. Oh god, TimTams.

It is weird to say this, but maybe I can because I once worked in a grocery store – but the store is merchandised in a more western way which is oddly comforting. It is a little cramped and busy on the eyes. Maybe because they have so many products.

Some okay pies from the bakery. They are good, but missing the zazz my mom’s pies have, in the form of cinnamon and other spices. It is weird to eat an exclusively all fruit apple pie.

There is also Mitsukoshi My Kitchen. Mitsukoshi is a well known and respected department store in Japan. It got started in 1673 selling kimonos. They know their shit. In Okinawa they have a formerly glitzy department store with a smallish depachika (basement food hall) in downtown Naha and this really nice grocery store called My Kitchen, on a manmade island.

Hahahaha! I wonder how many Canadian JETs wasted their baggage allowance on bottles of maple syrup as gifts. (Not me, I just brought maple candy. Score!)

Bakeries are abundant in Japan, and Mitsukoshi has some fine vendors. This is a  bamboo charcoal bread loaf.

Some nice looking fresh soba noodles.

They also host cooking lessons, but my Japanese is no where good enough to go yet and not be a burden.

Obviously a great fish selection.

Again, lots of well marked baking products. It was a challenge before I could read to find out what these things were, so I appreciated any bit of English to help decipher the numerous white powders and flours.

How dare you, no I did not. I did kind of love that it was with the legit Italian pastas, though.

Lots of imports – from southeast Asian, Italy, Germany and England. And also some Japanese onigiri kits.

This is the peanut butter we bought before I started ordering in Costco sized jars from the foreign food club.

Mitsukoshi is also a great place to buy cheese and deli meats. One of my favourite memories this winter was coming home from school lunch to have a charcuterie plate instead.

Candy cigarettes!

As if anyone eats potato chips with tongs.

There are also  a few other more common grocers who carry a few different items. You just need to remember where you saw what when the time comes.

You can also check out my post on A-Price, another store that carries western imports, in western sizes.


Mitsukoshi MyKitchen

Tomiton, Okinawa
沖縄県豊見城市字豊崎1-411
豊崎ライフスタイルセンターTOMITON 1F
Map and more

Jimmy’s
locations all over Okinawa

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan21 Jun 2011 08:00 pm

There is a lot of weird candy here in Japan. I have a number of care packages waiting to go out from here full of the weird stuff. I am just waiting on that Canada Post strike to end. I hope it is okay sitting here in the heat and humidity…

However, one of the newest fads in kids candy – one of the weirdest sectors of the Japanese candy market – is “at home cooking.” It is effectively molecular gastronomy for children.

The series of Popin’ Cookin’ candy has a bunch of different items you make at home using water, gelatin and sometimes your microwave. These include ramen, gyoza and even sushi. I found this video recently which gives an absolutely amazing look at the packages.

I did not care to drop $3 on sugar and water that I might not be able to prepare properly because of my illiteracy, but after watching the video I might give it a go. How the ikura or salmon roe is prepared is gobsmacking.

postscript: I just have to revel in my slowly decreasing level of illiteracy actually. I just read the title of the sushi box and it translates to “enjoy mr. sushi” or “tanoshi sushi-ya san”

Food and Food: Asia and General and japan08 Jun 2011 10:12 pm

When I was about 7 years old, my parents started a birthday tradition of bringing me to the Japanese Village in downtown Edmonton for a little teppanyaki fun. The last year I went – the year I turned 10 – the staff took a Polaroid of me wearing a huge Japanese wig hairstyle thing…and that was the end of that tradition. Partly because we moved to the UK and partly because even at age 10, the idea of wearing a wig thousands of other of people had worn and “wearing” an experience thousands of others of people had turned me off. Yes, I was a snob even an an early age it would seem.

Twenty years on I think I have returned to my roots. While themed restaurants are not my first stop, I am less likely to turn my nose up at them. Perhaps out of nostalgia or out of expat desperation. While looking for a fun experience for my mom’s last night on Okinawa back in January, a friend suggested taking her to one of the restaurants in the Sam`s Group.

These restaurants (owned by three American brothers) tend to be teppanyaki restaurants. As the idea of a chef  “performing” just for us cooking frozen seafood likely imported from another country made me cringe more and more, I decided to take one for the team and see what it was like.

Seafood display at the front of the rather large restaurant

I might be able to sit at that bar for hours if it had the right view

 

I was pleasantly surprised. The Sam’s Group has been on Okinawa since 1970, and they know what their patrons want. They mostly appeal to young American military families going out for special occasions or entertaining and to tourists from mainland Japan looking for an American experience in Japan. It is a really weird contrast in diners.

The location we went to, Sam’s by the Sea Awase, was one of the original restaurants. It is loaded with tiki torches, moais, outriggers, rattan furniture, shells, and all sorts of fun Hawaiian bric-a-brac. It could be tacky and gaudy and messy, but somehow it isn’t.

I think the there were three factors in a great experience at Sam`s.

  1. my expectations were low. I was not expecting much from an Americanized Japanese restaurant idealizing America in Japan. (wrap your head around that one)
  2. we chose to visit the one restaurant in the group that served entrees as opposed to teppanyaki style
  3. we had a coupon and dammit, we were going to use it

Nerdy fun with GIFs and my shark mugs.

The drinks were really good, and we walked away with four free themed cups which brought me more joy than you can imagine. One man’s junk is another woman’s treasure, I guess. My mom got a margarita and Mike got a pina colada. As I was driving, I stuck to the virgin drinks.

I’m not kidding when I said besides my mom visiting and some tacos I made on New Years Day, these cups were the best part of my January.

We started with escargot and cheese tempura. The escargot were fresh, garlicky and buttery. They could have come with a bit more toast for sopping up the butter in my opinion, but they were still delicious. The cheese tempura were basically glorified cheese sticks. But when you have not had cheese in some time, you take what you get.

Then a small salad that was alright, served with our choice from four different dressings. Following that, a bowl of housemade piping hot Indian curry soup. People rave about this on Okinawa web forums, trying to figure out the recipe for when they go home. I thought it was alright – better and more unusual than most standard complimentary restaurant soups.

Finally, our entrees.

Going all out I got the theatrical sounding “flaming sword shish kababs.” Out came the chef with a sword laced in … fuel, and placed my rare steak chunks and veggies on my plate. It was a nice experience, but I wish I had just gotten regular steak after tasting my mom and Mike’s beef. My meat had a sweet marinade on it which was good, but I really love the taste of just straight up beef.

I’d place the steak on a level above the Keg but below Carnevino in Vegas, which was the last truly awesome steak I had in North America. It is probably unfair to even make that comparison, actually. But, this is better than average steak for a restaurant, and the presentation and fun atmosphere make it a great destination restaurant.

With a last minute change of order, I switched my side of bread to garlic rice, at an extra cost. I am glad I did, and recommend it to others, even if you are “riced out” – a situation that does not happen to me often here as the Japanese rice is so good. Sam’s rice was tender and flavourful. The bread was decent at Sam’s, but the butter was tropical fruit infused and was a bit sweet and fruity. At first we thought it was the bread itself, but that was not the case.


Chevron-shaped impressively high coconut cream pie…sadly not as good as I had hoped.

We closed out with a piece of mile high coconut cream pie. I had been eyeing it across the dining room, but it was probably the weakest element of the meal. The meringue was a bit sticky and soggy, not fluffy and light. I would probably forgo dessert next time and just get another tropical drink.

Sam’s has been around on Okinawa for over 40 years, churning out steak, seafood and classic cocktails to soldiers and tourists alike. They are good at what they do, and I know we will return there again sometime in the future.


Sam’s by the Sea, Awase
(other locations in the chain, visit Sam’s Group for more info)

ps: while my photography on the blog is normally standard at best, thank you for sticking through this substandard stuff. Not my best. It was part of the reason I delayed this entry so long, actually!

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.

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