Today I learned a word in Okinawan that pretty much sums me up: Jakuburi. It roughly translates to “too much going on in your mind makes you crazy.” Jakuburi. I looked it up in Urban Dictionary but they have no reference so this has got to be one of those true Okinawan words that is never really used off this rock. That or Yashi-san was fucking with me.
I doubt that. However the day I have had has been full of one unexpected surprise after another, each gift being given when my inner cynic was truly expecting the worst. I was suppose to go to work today to do a voiceover for a Sesame Street commercial, it was put off. I was bummed, but then the free time allowed me to accompany my husband to get our new car. I was SUPPOSE to go see my new friend and first “accent reduction” student, Chiharu, at her work as a server at the Breezy Cafe, to find she was out sick and replaced with, what I thought at first was a typical Japanese man who would just ignore me. Instead I was greeted with bright eyes and a cheerful “Natasha-san!? Chiharu-san told me you would come.” And thus ensued an hour and a half long, fabulous conversation ranging all subjects but circling, most importantly on…yes, you guessed it….food.
Yashi-san, it turns out, is actually a chef at a very obscure, anachronistic (I think I will use this word a lot on Okinawa) group called the “Double Decker,” which has it’s origins in one cafe, built into and out of an “old school” London Double Decker bus, but evidently has branched out to restaurants and bars all about Chatan Town. As for Breezy, I will review it another day, for this little number is not about a bar in a posh beachside hotel, oh no. This is a review about grilled bits……but wait for it….
So Yashi-san, my new friendie in Chatan has spent the past hour with me, nattering away together about food and restaurants, festivals and culture. When I ask him the inevitable question I ask any local anywhere, “Where is your favourite restaurant?” he replies immediately, going on about some fabulous sushi place that is the best on the island. He brings me a map, he tells me of the delicacies that await me and I am totally desperate for this magical eatery by the time Jason shows up, ready and willing to venture to said glorious fish place.
Yeah. It doesn’t exist.
Ok I am not certain of that, but we did walk around for quite awhile, and followed the map, asked locals, no one seemed to know of this amazing place….yet there it is on the map. Hungry, hungry, truly and completely burned out on the rainy night search we simply decided to follow our noses. We did not find “epic raw fish joint,” but what we did find was the final, glorious button on an interesting day of fate’s intervention: Yakitori Tenkai.
Tenkai sits on a back alley street right near the ocean, but humbly enough, well…you can’t actually see the ocean. It is a total “locals joint,” but unlike many of these establishments, we were not only welcomed, but the owner, Kenzo Kanamori himself opened the door and ushered us in. Kenzo-san was quite, well, obsequious. He fawned all over us, even more so when I asked if it was ok to take pictures. Perhaps he thought I was a real food critic and not just some hack with a blog. Or maybe he was just very proud to show off his amazing food to some odd, very obviously appreciative and excited Americans.
And he should be proud. The food was more than amazing, it was surprising. Up until now my experience with yakitori (which basically mean “grilled on a stick) was merely yummy chicken sticks that you get at say, the Orion beer festival, after you have imbibed entirely too much beer, which as we all know, makes you want to cook, fry and eat anything in your path. To me, yakitori was drunk food….well, by the looks of all the drunk, happy, laughing Okinawans that surrounded us in Tenkai, I think this is still a valid assessment. What shocked me, however, was how incredibly gourmet food on a stick could be!
We started with Buta-bara, which is pork short loin. It was…well, like bacon dipped in crack. We were given condiments by the way, a gorgeous miso paste and bowl of halved shikwasa (Okinawan lemony citrus fruit) and lime pepper, Japanese hot pepper and of course soy sauce (which I never used.)
Kanimiso followed, which is crab meat in a miso sauce. This, amazingly, was my least favourite, which is odd because I adore crab. Something about it just tasted a little too…fishy? But what was brought to us after that was nothing short of a miracle from God…well if God was an seasoned Okinawan man with false teeth and perfect Engrish. Tsukune: Chicken balls floating in miso and raw egg yolk. I could eat this velvety goodness for breakfast everyday for the rest of my life! I think at this point Jason and I both were making yummy sounds a la “What About Bob,” and Kenzo-san was standing in the door of the kitchen laughing and grinning brightly, so pleased, so proud.
Next, YES NEXT, we were served exquisite slow cooked baby back ribs, follwed by chicken hearts, known as Hatsu, seasoned to perfection, Hotate (sea scallops) which were perfect with the shikwasa, Uzura which is quail eggs wrapped in bacon (another breakfast staple for me now I think) and Enoki mushrooms….yes, wrapped in bacon. I think the Okinawans understand that you can make everything better by including part of a pig.
To top off the evening we had the Gyu-niku cheese, which is essentially sliced beef wrapped around cheesy, melty, gooey-ness. Hey, who says dessert has to be sweet? To be be honest, after this meal, although they were basically Japanese size appetizer portions, I couldn’t have handled a dessert anyway.
We left in the warm Okinawan Autumn rain, feeling like we had perhaps, found the holy grail, I guess, if the holy grail was filled with lots of meat on a stick. We were fulfilled on an almost spiritual level, as only great dining experiences can do, whether they are picnics on the beach with sand in your toes or a waitlist, 3 star Michelin bistro with a celebrity chef that you have a crush on. Yakitori Tenkai is a GREAT dining experience, one that helped me leave behind my inner Jakuburi and be grateful that fate took the time to intervene in my life at all.