The Other Kind of Okonomiyaki

I’ve covered Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki store Ganbaru-tei before; it’s only one of several places around Gumyoji to get your fix. In the same week, I accepted an invite from one of my dormmates to go to another restaurant, the one I’d been to before: Yocchan-tei. This store also serves up okonomiyaki on plates right in front of you, so it’s perfect for escaping from the cold of autumn and winter by ducking in and having a steaming hot grill to warm your hands up with by hovering them above.

Whereas Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki features layered ingredients, this more traditional style of okonomiyaki features them mixed up. Yocchan-tei actually has people mix the ingredients themselves (they’re served in a bowl for you to do so); I imagine they do this so you can get the consistency you like. (If you don’t want to, or if you don’t know how, they’ll also be happy to do so for you — but it’s not as fun, I think.) Spatulas are also provided, for shaping the mix afterwards.

Despite how similar everyone’s okonomiyaki looks, as the name implies (okonomiyaki can be translated as what you like, fried), you can choose from a variety of ingredients. They’re traditionally served with seafood inside, but there are also other options at most places, it seems; mine, for example, had bacon, cheese, and garlic inside. Then, you can top it off with whatever toppings you’d like: pictured above are the three okonomiyaki we ordered, with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, katsuobushi (sliced bonito flakes), and aonori (seaweed flakes). Slice the finished okonomiyaki into quarters with the spatula(s), and you’re ready to eat! ◆

Pesto, Cheese, and Salmon on Rice

Caution: writing this post made me super-hungry. Reading this post may make you super-hungry and/or in a mood for sushi probably more expensive than this. You’ve been warned.

This weekend’s been quite packed with a major event falling on each day: on Saturday, the Japanese culture class’ trip to Sankeien garden (words cannot describe how beautiful this place is so I’m installing a gallery plug-in instead for the post I hope to up); and on Sunday a trip to go see traditional horseback archery in action at Zushi (also to be covered in a future post). But once was all said and done with the yabusame, my group — having replaced not having had breakfast with a light lunch consisting of a frankfurter sans bun and a bottle of ramune — decided we’d eat at Sushiro, a restaurant a train stop away from Yokohama Station. Sushiro’s notable for being a restaurant that sells all of its plates of sushi at 105 yen (100 yen + 5 yen consumption tax).

Sushiro is a kaiten-zushi (“revolving sushi”) place, where sushi simply rides a conveyor belt tempting customers. But, for those who don’t readily see what they want, they have touchscreen menus that you can order anything with, including non-sushi items such as udon, karaage, French fries (?!), desserts, and so on. When they’re ready for you, the chefs will place them on the conveyor belt and the menu gadget will signal to you that your food is coming; your order is served on top of a stand indicating that it’s for your table. Most sushi platters come with a dab of wasabi on the inside by default, denoted by the yellow plate it’s served on; certain other sushi types (such as tamago, egg) do not, denoted by the white plate. (The touchscreen has a small button allowing wasabi-less order of items that come with wasabi.)

As I’d thought, Sushiro focuses more on nigiri than on the rolls popular in Western sushi restaurants (though they do serve some); and, of course, some of the things popular with American sushi lovers aren’t to be seen here (good-bye, California roll, good-bye!). In lieu of that, there are a pair of other dishes that caught my eye —

The first one is the salted beef kalbi sushi, perhaps the closest analog I can find to American teriyaki chicken sushi. Not as cold as the more fishy offerings, but just as melt-in-your-mouth delicious. No wasabi option available (though I suppose you can attempt to add some). As shown above, it comes with a light garnish of onions to accentuate the flavor. An interesting thing I noted is that the beef sort of seemed to taste like pepperoni…I’ve not had kalbi here yet, so I’m not sure what’s up with that, but I can at least tell you I don’t have as much of a craving for pizza as I did two days ago.

The second is their basil salmon sushi, which is actually an upgrade of their cheese salmon sushi (not pictured). The green topping there is a basil pesto sauce, the likes of which I sadly hadn’t seen in a while. It’s quite nice, actually — it takes the taste of salmon and instead of stopping there finishes off with a creamy pesto flavor. This is a dish I kept on returning back to — a third of what I ordered consisted of plates of this — so I was a bit surprised that I was the only one chowing down on this.

With sushi (albeit 100-yen sushi) crossed off my Japanese food list, I’ve got plans to hit up a yakiniku place with some friends next week. Do look forward to the ensuing post and complaints about my food coma! ◆

Hamakko Doushi: The Water: The Musing: The Blog Post

Out of all the “Yokohama goods” that seemingly exist, I’ve only come across one consumable — a brand of water labelled “Hamakko Doushi The Water“. Hamakko refers to Yokohama natives; doushi refers to Doushi Forest (道志の森) — a forest in neighboring Yamanashi prefecture from which the water’s supposedly sourced — but also can be a reference to the word doushi (同士) meaning fellow. Not quite sure how to compare the taste of this water with everything else I’ve had (I mean, come on, it’s water), but I thought it sort of interesting.

Also interesting is the fact that on the way to the station, nearly every vending machine carries this as their sole water option at 120 yen (~$1.50) a bottle, save for one that mysteriously sells it for 130 yen. Well, since a part of the proceeds go to “support volunteer forest preservation activities as well as African nations”, I guess there’s an option to donate just a bit more. ◆

The Japanese Food Top

While I was having breakfast today, I noticed that the pack of bread I’d bought* had a food balance guide panel — the first of its kind I’ve seen during my time here, and the first non-American one I’ve seen. The USDA food pyramid was an oft-ignored staple of my childhood, and is the one a handful of my friends and I recognize the most (newer ratio-based “portion plate” be damned). So, when I saw this, I was actually rather intrigued what Japan had to say about balance in food intake. Here’s a quick and dirty translation of this daily food intake “top” and its descriptions (notes, commentary, and reference to the rough equivalents on the old US food pyramid are in italics):

  • Top “Handle”: Water/Tea ~ Top Momentum: Exercise
  • 5-7 servings of Staple Foods (US: 2-3): one slice of loaf bread, 2~3 bread rolls, etc. (Pictured: sliced bread, rice, noodles, rice ball.)
  • 5-6 servings of Vegetable Sides (US: 3-5): a big plate of vegetable salad, a small dish of sautéed spinach, etc.
  • 3-5 servings of Main Dishes (US: 2-3): A sunny-side-up egg, a small plate of sautéed weiners, etc. (Also pictured: stuff like fish and hamburger steak.)
  • 2 servings of Dairy and Dairy Products (US: 2-3): Half a cup of milk, a slice of cheese, etc.
  • 2 servings of Fruits (US: 2-4): an apple, an orange, etc.

The rest of the display naturally talks about the importance of breakfast (“Breakfast begins your day”), and encourages people to follow the top. It also gives a link to, which, in an odd twist, redirects to an English booking site for Balearic hotels. I guess if you’re dancing in Ibiza all night you’re definitely fulfilling the whole exercise and momentum thing, right? ◆

* Now that I’ve determined that 4-slice loaves are awesome I’m now fine-tuning my preference in Japanese bread. This particular pack is a bit more dense than the last, which I quite enjoy.

Hot Hiroshima-Style Yaki-on-Yaki Action

On an impulse, today for lunch I swung by Ganbaru-tei, the local Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki shop. Okonomiyaki, for those who don’t know, is a mishmash of things fried together and shaped into a sort of a pancake/pizza-ish shape (you might have heard it referred to as “Japanese pizza”). Hiroshima-style refers to the kind of okonomiyaki that, among other things, adds a layer of yakisoba underneath. Now, although I’ve had okonomiyaki twice since coming here, they were of the traditional potato/yam kind — wonderful, yes, but as a sucker for the Hiroshima style (and for noodles in general), I’d been meaning to go here for a while.

Above is their negi/soba okonomiyaki (~800 yen), listed on their specialty menu, which forgoes the common filling of cabbage with several healthy handfuls of bannou negi (“all-purpose leek/onion/chive”). Despite that, the flavor of the dish wasn’t terribly unbalanced (even if it did skew toward the onion flavor). ◆

Slices of Life

Something I would probably never think to do at home: realize thirty minutes to midnight that I don’t have bread for breakfast tomorrow morning, then fix that instantly.

So, I’ve got this sort of experiment going, of buying progressively thicker slices of bread. It’s amusing, really. The bread I just bought has slices twice as thick as bread back home (the volume of manga in the picture above is my attempt at illustrating this terribly), which I think is sort of awesome. In order to get this bread, I used my commuter pass to hop down one stop to visit the supermarket at one of the exits, then catch the next train back — something that I also think is pretty awesome.

(One might ask, why didn’t you just go to the FamilyMart next door? I did. They were out of stock of four-slice loaves.) ◆

Ramen Jiro, Round One (Or: Mattie vs. Japanese Sizes, Part 3)

One cold Saturday morning, right after the first trip I took to Tokyo, I’d decided that finally having real ramen for the first time was a good idea. See, I’d had at least eight varieties of the instant stuff (my current favorite being Nissin’s original Chicken Ramen above), and I’d had shio ramen from one of the cafeterias on campus, but I’d never actually gone to a true ramen place.

I’d had two suggestions thrown at me thus far: an old high school friend suggested I try Yoshimura-ya, by Yokohama station; and, an acquaintance on Twitter suggested I go to any one of the Ramen Jiro stores around the Tokyo area. Both have excellent reviews and ratings on Tabelog (the Japanese analog to Yelp); Ramen Jiro, being the higher-rated (and the closest) store, won my vote.

Looking up the closest Ramen Jiro was a cinch: the Kannai one happened to be a short walk away from the Isezaki-chojamachi subway station. The place opened at 11:00; when I got there slightly past 11:30, there was already a twelve-person line waiting outside of the packed shop. The shop itself was quite small; it featured only one counter, two cooks, and some fifteen-odd seats.

Eventually, I got to the front of the line; one of the staff confirmed that all of us here in the front wanted small (sho) sizes of ramen. Continuing my bad habit of simply replying “hai” to everything, I confirmed, then realized what he was saying, somewhat begrudgingly went up to the food ticket vending machine and hit the respective button.

After sitting down and once again reflexively saying “hai” to “ninniku irimasu ka”, I traded my ticket for this:

Turns out, ninniku irimasu ka is sorta translated into English as “should I put garlic in?” And while that lump of garlic on the side might seem innocuous, it ended up destroying me — never before had I had any sort of broth with an garlic flavor as intense as what I got served at Ramen Jiro. It was so strong that there were still remnants of this garlic in my mouth the next morning.

The ramen noodles, by the way, were fantastic; they had a rather firm yet chewy texture. The bean sprouts and cabbage added a nice fresh crispness to the texture and taste of each bite — yes, even through the garlic, but boy, oh boy that garlic was nuts. And it’d be hard to forget the two slices of chashu that came with my order; they were really tender and melted in my mouth.

I’m also glad I got the “small” — because the noodles were nice and dense, they were very filling; I was struggling to finish this bowl (I’m sure the garlic didn’t help things, either). In retrospect, I was very, very glad I didn’t opt for the large size; that would’ve turned into a waste of good ramen right there.

I definitely want to go back. The mission plan for next time: get a small with extra pork, hold the garlic. Or maaaybe put just a little in. Chotto dake. ◆

Pepper Dinner

Pepper Lunch is a Japanese fast food chain serving a good chunk of Japan, a good chunk of Asia otherwise, and one lone shop in Milpitas, California, USA. I’d somehow completely overlooked the Akihabara branch right next to one of the three or four Sega arcades in the area, but thanks to a friend and his trusty smartphone-plus-data-plan, I finally had the opportunity to visit one of the chain’s Japanese shops for a quick dinner.

Above is the large version of their signature menu item, the Pepper Rice plate (780 yen), served on a sizzling platter that cooks your dish and keeps it hot. In America, there’s far more meat on the perimeter than what you see here, but I actually don’t mind having less meat — the rice is far more flavorful than I remember it. One might say they definitely put more pepper into the Japanese pepper rice.

By the way, those familiar with the Milpitas Pepper Lunch branch: you know that special sauce? There are two varieties in Japan: sweet (which the US has), and spicy (which the US doesn’t have). The spicy sauce’s spice is just barely within my limit. (For reference, I can’t handle too much spice.) ◆

Excuse Me, I Need A Moment

So I went to Tokyo for the first time since landing here to visit a couple of friends…and coming back to the dorms has honestly been a profound experience. I mean, yeah, I’d realized I was a stone’s throw away from the world’s largest metropolitan area, but I think the realization sort of actually hit me when I stood in trains for an hour while taking two JR lines and a subway to get back.

And as I was standing in front of the dorms, that feeling sort of developed — my dorms aren’t just a hotel or anything. This is my home for ten months, and I’m just getting started. I mean, when I start saying “it’s good to be back” when I’ve just gone to Tokyo for an evening…yeah, there’s something happening.

Oh, and Akihabara hasn’t changed one bit from when I last visited in 2008, I swear. Just replace the advertisements and goods for the anime and games of 2008 with advertisements for the anime and games of 2012. Makes sense. ◆