The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Okinawan food in Tokyo

Cleaning is so much fun and I should do it more often! Not. Well, actually maybe I should do it more often so that it's not such a huge job like it is now. Just taking a lil break atm..

This last weekend was a long weekend in Japan, with Umi no Hi (Marine Day) holiday on Monday. I spent the time with Rob in Tokyo, but the typhoon headed for Japan for the weekend certainly made it a soggy long weekend. Of all days, why a weekend? Of all weekends, why the long weekend? Anyway, one of Rob's American collegues took us out to dinner in Roppongi, which is gaijin-central of Tokyo. Honestly, I'm not used to encountering so many different gaijins (foreigners) in one place! Even the trains to and from Roppongi were rife with gaijins!

The place we headed to was an izakaya called Teyandei. Rob's collegue had not been to this place before, and was bringing us there by another's recommendation. It was quite tricky looking for this place, and the rain did not help. Ringing the place didn't help much either as neither of us three had a good enough grasp of Japanese. So there we were, standing on one of the main roads of Nishi Azabu, looking like really lost gaijins when lo and behold, one of the staff from the said izakaya (in his apron and uniform) asked if we were looking for this particular place (I guess it helps that we were looking lost). So this guy leads us back to his izakaya, but it was actually quite a trek from the main road. We kinda felt bad that he had to walk in the rain to look for us, so far away from his workplace. But that's Japanese hospitality for you :)

It was past 7:30pm when we came in, but the place was quite empty. It did fill up by 9pm which shows that it is quite a popular place despite its relatively obscure location. Teyandei specialty dishes are from Okinawa, the subtropical islands located to the far south of Japan. The staff are very friendly and helpful, which more than compensated for the lack of English menu. We stumbled along just fine with our fledgling Japanese and their limited English, and ordered unusual Japanese dishes such as Goya Champuru, a 'war bird' dish, horse sashimi and Ashi Tebichi (pig's feet). We ordered many dishes, most of them based on me asking "Osusume wa?" ("What do you recommend?") since I've never encountered most of the dishes before and had absolutely no idea what would be good. They were all pretty good, and it is quite obvious that modern Okinawan cuisine has quite a bit of American influences. I was told that Okinawans are the longest-living people in Japan, and that is attributed to their diet which frequently features pork.

Here are some shots of the more unusual dishes we had (forgot to take a photo of the pig's feet):

Tamago (egg) roll stuffed with unagi (eel) - good combination; Croquette with nama tamago (raw eggs) as a dipping sauce - also pretty good, using raw eggs to add a Japanese touch:

Goya champuru (stirfried bittergourd with horsemeat) - I like bittergourd so I enjoyed this simple dish; Pork tsukune (meatball) - the tsukune tasted very Chinese and it reminded me very much of Chinese pork dumplings without the wrapper:

Avocadome (dome of avocado with tuna and mayo stuffing) - another simple but rich dish, the combination of avocado and tuna went well together; Shamo aka 'war bird' - it tastes similar to chicken, but a bit tougher in texture, perhaps closer to pork. Rob and I agreed that it had a very familiar taste, like something we've eaten before, but we couldn't pinpoint exactly what:

Uma (horse) sashimi - included pieces from the neck fat (the white pieces), fatty ribs and shank. The meat in general was quite mild tasting, and the texture was chewy. I didn't try the neck fat, but the others say it doesn't taste very fatty at all, and that it was best eaten with the raw sliced garlic. Horse meat is quite palatable, and should perhaps be used more often worldwide:

Interesting experience. Since Okinawa is one of the two places left on my list of must-see place in Japan (Hokkaido is the other one), this gives me a taste of the type of food that I can expect to try when I visit :)

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