Hearth: A Cafe for the Cool Cats

Sunabe Sea Wall on a  Beautiful Okinawa Winters Day.

Sunabe Sea Wall on a Beautiful Okinawa Winters Day.

Okinawa winters are generally rainy and grey, almost resembling the “soft days” of English autumns. You know, the sort of day that makes you want to curl up like a cat in a warm duvet and watch Hitchcock films and drink tea. Yet every week or two you get blessed with a beautiful, sunny, “Indian summer-esque” weekend and the first impulse I have is to run down to the seaside and sit in some beach-shack cafe. Someplace I can get simple, local, delicious food, a glass of wine and luxuriate in the sun while listening to the waves. Lucky for me I have the perfect spot! Hearth Cafe on the Sunabe sea wall!

A great hangout!

A great hangout!

The shabby-chic, shack-like Hearth sits on a corner at the very end of the sea wall road, with a lovely outer deck, an inside patio area and a small interior seating area. The menu is pretty simple, but offers everything from Breakfast to Dinner. Pancakes, chorizo, eggs and bacon grace the breakfast menu while the lunch and dinner menu offers beautiful, creative dishes. Sandwiches like the Aloha Sandwich which consists of avocado, shrimp, cream cheese and lettuce all brought together with a luscious nut cream dressing, scrumptious.

Taco Rice a la Hearth

Taco Rice a la Hearth

The California Surfer’s bowl is chock full of healthy tuna, egg, daikon, sprouts and seaweed, and of course their quality, delicious take on the usual Okinawan suspects like Loco Moco, Taco Rice, and other rice bowls. There is an entire page of specialty coffee drinks, like the chocolate cream latte Jason procured, and another page of teas, and yet ANOTHER page of smoothies.

Fancy a fancy coffee?

Fancy a fancy coffee?

And not to be missed, along with their desserts, is the famed “Hearth Toast” which is essentially a riff on french toast served as a stack with your choice of fruits and toppings including whipped cream, caramel and ice cream. It’s a diabetic nightmare!

In the foreground is Jason's Teriyaki Chicken Bowl.

In the foreground is Jason’s Teriyaki Chicken Bowl.

I mainly hang at Hearth for a late lunch and have tried many of their great lunch sets, which…heh heh heh…include a free glass of wine or beer if you so desire! Yesterday my husband and I had a wonderful lunch. I tried the B.L.T.C Sandwich that was stuffed with thick cut, local bacon and drizzled in cream cheese and mayo.

Bacon Lettuce Tomato and Cheese Sandwich! Soooo good!

Bacon Lettuce Tomato and Cheese Sandwich! Soooo good!

Jason dove head first into their unbelievably decadent teriyaki chicken bowl. The meals came with onion consomme and a shredded cabbage salad.

As we sat in the sunshine, enjoying our slowly filling bellies, we were greeted by two of the local stray kitties that wander the sea wall. This area, full of restaurants and bars, with access to the tide pools make Sunabe a feral cat paradise. If you know my husband and I, you would think that this would result in a new adoption every time we ventured to the area, but the cats are remarkably healthy, little fat and happy kitties, and are considered essentially part of the neighborhood. The mama and her little one that came to have lunch with us I had already been acquainted with on my last visit, and it was amazing to see how big the baby had grown….stuffed with Hearth scraps, no doubt. And with food like this, I imagine we all are fat, happy cats when we leave.

Mama Cat: Welcome to Hearth. I shall be taking your leftovers, thank you!

Mama Cat: Welcome to Hearth. I shall be taking your leftovers, thank you!

Check out their website for phone number and directions at http://www.hearth-cafe.com/

Enjoy!

Love,

Tashie

 

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A Solstice Feast; or, Don’t Worry, Yule Survive 2012!

Yule is upon us and the other night I had the pleasure of hosting my First Annual Solstice Celebration with some great friends and some very scrumptious seasonal foods!

My lovely Solstice Guests: Drew, Rob, Jake, Mae and Becky!

My lovely Solstice Guests: Drew, Rob, Jake, Mae and Becky!

This time of year, as we move into the longest night, the winter, away from the abundance of the harvest, the Solstice is historically a time to prepare for the prospect of surviving through winter. Livestock were slaughtered so that they did not use up precious grain stores, so it was the one time of year that fresh meat was abundant. Wine and beer made throughout the year was fermented by this point and ready for the guzzling. The death of the year was observed, but more importantly the birth of the new year, the coming of the sun and the anticipation of spring was celebrated.

I thought it quite appropriate that I found myself preparing my first Solstice party on the day the so-called apocalypse of 12/21/12 was suppose to obliterate life as we know it. Or whatever. The ULTIMATE metaphor for the holiday! So as loads of people around the world were stock-piling water and freeze-dried food, hunkering down in their bunkers or whatever brilliant plan they had for the “End of Days,” I was happily spending my “last days on earth” doing one of the things I love best…prepping food for dear friends and family!

The menu was a conglomeration of traditional Solstice fare and local, seasonal Okinawan harvests from the farmers in my village. I wanted to utilize my knowledge of the gorgeous meat pies and mulled wine that I came to love during the holiday season in London, incorporating the luscious pig and Kobe cow and the fragrant, hearty root crops of my island home. And my husband’s amazing Hot Buttered Rum. Classic!

The whole feast was about a 3 day process, as I like to let certain things set for a day or two to allow them full opportunity to get down and dirty and marry the flavors together. I started with my mushroom soup (which you can read about in my article https://gratuitousgrub.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/mushroom-soup-with-a-small-side-of-rant/) It is definitely mushroom season on Okinawa and the pickins were plentiful. I think I used about 15 different types of mushrooms, including oyster, shiitake, button, cremini, porto, enokitake (long, white and stringy),  matsutake (hearty, fat pine mushrooms) and so on. This first course was excellently paired with my Mulled Wine, which was made in a crockpot for several hours, blending ginger, cinnamon, clove, orange peel, lemon peel, satsuma, chunks of ginger, a touch of brown sugar and fresh scraped vanilla bean.

Kale and Pomegranate Salad

Kale and Pomegranate Salad

The next course was a nice wintery kale salad . The trick to this yummy puppy was to marinade the kale overnight. I made a dressing of white wine vinegar, local honey, minced shallot, olive oil, salt and pepper and tossed the kale in it, covered the bowl and let it set for 24 hours. I decided, on a whim, that pomegranate seeds would be awesome in this, and I was lucky to have my friend Becky show me the easy trick to getting the little slippery, red jewels out of their cocoon in no time at all. I added some Romano cheese shavings, dried currants, toasted pine nuts ( a little over toasted…eeeep! Mulled wine to blame!) and almonds. It went over pretty well, I think.

Making Cottage Pie

Making Cottage Pie

Mains were a Pork and Beef Cheesy Cottage Pie made the potato mash topping loaded with aged cheddar, habanero jack cheese and lots of good butter and cream ( even made it look really posh…check it out!) a Steak and Guinness Pie, and a side of Roasted Purple Oki Sweet Potatoes and Kabocha Squash with Raspberry Bellavitano Cheese. Also, I must add, that my wonderful husband, anticipating the little, young guests at our party (our surrogate nephews, Warren and Jake) decided to throw together two beautiful crockpot game hens, stuffed with raisins, satsumas and lemons and rubbed with a sage and rosemary herbed butter topped on a bed of root veggies! And to top it all off, Becky brought us the most amazingly moist, delicate yet hearty apple filled cupcakes with cinnamon frosting! The feast was complete, complimentary and plein de cœur! (Ok give me hell….I wanted a c word for heartwarming!)solstice1

The purpose of Solstice was invented to gather together, enjoy the fruits of your labor and celebrate that you are in a community where, in the long, wintery roads ahead, you got each other’s backs. The beautiful people I celebrated with have been some of the longest friendships and the most fiercely devoted that I have had since I moved to this island. Sadly, this will be our last Solstice together on Okinawa. Both families are heading off into their bright new chapter of life, somewhere on that horizon. But with the magic of this Solstice night, I can feel comfort that the sun will greet them cheerfully and that they will have crops a-plenty, cornucopias of luck and hopefully a LOT of mulled wine!

MERRY YULE!!!!

MERRY YULE!!!!

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We PAID for that Laxm-ative!?

The Goddess Laxmi

The Goddess Laxmi

The Hindu Goddess Lakshmi (aka Laxmi) has long since been one of my favorite deities. The embodiment of beauty and prosperity, she is said to bring good luck and protect her devotees from misery and sorrow. You can imagine my surprise when I sat down to dinner at Laxmi Curry House and found myself suddenly thrust into a misery of gastronomical bad luck and culinary sorrow.

Now if you are a follower of my little page here, you know I rarely like to wallow in the negative and haven’t yet written a bad review, but this place was SO BAD that I had to share the laughable experience with you! Like many situations in my life, when I wait a long time to do something, it ends up not living up to the expectations I created in my head, whereas when I just jump out spontaneously, it normally involves some great adventures! Sadly, my record was not broken by this slop of an “Indian” joint.

I, as you may know, love my Indian cuisine. I have since I was a little girl. I grew up with primarily north-western and Punjabi dishes through many family friends. Of course I lived for years in London, a place that takes it curry VERY seriously. I can say I make a fairly mean keema, a decent lamb korma and my tikka masala is reaching expert level…for a gori, I mean. I am starting, with the help of my friend Reepu, to study different regional recipes and branch out in my skills. I look forward to my trip to India where I can really get deep and PARTICIPATE in the succulent food culture that I love! But I digress…as usual….

Curry House Laxmi

Curry House Laxmi

So my husband and I have passed Laxmi Curry House countless times over the almost 3 years we have lived in the Okinawan village of Kitanakagusuku, and always said “We’ve got to go there someday!” Upon finding Bollywood Dreams (of which I wrote about in “I Dream of Bollywood, or ‘Oh Wow, Curry'” https://gratuitousgrub.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/i-dream-of-bollywood-or-oh-wow-curry/) we hadn’t really branched out to very many other Indian restaurants on the island. But as our little neighborhood has started becoming a tiny mecca of new cafes, izakayas and restaurants, and as we have been walking out quite often nowadays, we thought we better finally try out our local Indian.

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?

Laxmi, from the outside and interior, seems adorably quaint and cozy. There are wooden booths with beads and curtains allowing some privacy and a little bit of chintzy “exoticism.” Of course the obligatory statues of gods and goddesses, elephants etc. I thought, “Hey, this seems like a curry house in Hounslow. I can dig this!” The place boasted “authentic” Punjab curry, pontificating profusely that it was not made with flour or water, but with onion and tomatoes (well duh) and the menu went on and on to talk about their curry curing and preventing sickness. I was excited to order the “White Curry with Spinach” which, according to a review on Okinawa Hai, was a ‘specialty of the chef,’ and Jason procured the “Keema with Mushrooms and Cheese.” The meal set came with salad, drinks and dessert, which seemed a good bargain for the price of around 1,200 yen each, but when my chai arrived 20 minutes later and the saccharin, cloying, yet terrible weakness of it trickled down my throat for the first time, I knew we were in for a trying night.

The service, although quite friendly, was slow, and when our food finally arrived I couldn’t believe the state of it! As Gordon Ramsay would say “it looked like a cat got sick on my plate!”

Cat Sick Curry

Cat Sick Curry

It was sloppy, tasteless, greasy and essentially overworked with too many ingredients and yet somehow bland. All of it. The naan was chewy and banal, the cheese, which I assumed would be paneer, was actually just the usual plastic type processed stuff you find in a Japanese supermarket, the salad was gritty and the rice was flavorless and overcooked. But the biggest surprise, the biggest slap in the face to the goddess Laxmi herself was that my “White Curry”  actually contained BEEF! There really isn’t much I can say except that I was speechless. Now I, myself, love beef, but there was something so sacrilegious, so uncomfortable about eating beef in an Indian restaurant that I just felt DIRTY! Like I brought bacon sausage rolls to a bris afterparty or something. Do they have after parties for a bris? Hmmmm….

Anyway….I informed my friend Reepu about the beef situation and I was, in fact, right to feel awkward. Incensed actually. She rattled on about how it was a DISGRACE to the goddess’s name. I thought I had much more to be incensed about. I’ve never had curry so bad! I wouldn’t wallpaper my house with that glop!

Jason tries to figure out what this cheese is all about!

Jason tries to figure out what this cheese is all about!

As for Jason, he just kept laughing. It was a ridiculous meal to be presented with. Like something made by a drunk Englishman who hasn’t been well acquainted with a stove, comes home from closing down the local and had a crazy, booze induced idea to make a curry! I can just picture him, stumbling about, grabbing yoghurt and some curry powder and some old chicken biryani leftovers, an egg, some tomato paste and some cat food from a tin. Yeah…when seen in that light it’s pretty damn funny. And to top it all off, for desert we got the pleasure of some scrumptious, prepackaged, frozen cheesecake and chocolate “gateau.” Yay for us!

Naturally we felt ill for the next 8 or so hours, spent some quality time in the toilet and cursed the place, followed by days of Jason, whilst driving us to lunch or dinner, quipping “Well we can always just go to Laxmi!” Cheeky bastard. I suppose we can call this just one big joke. I mean it is essentially just a silly, cheesy, awful restaurant that I think has the best of intentions but no talent. However, the thing that  still REALLY gets me about this whole hackneyed attempted at Asian epicur-iosity is the fact that I read several reviews online that actually touted this as GOOD FOOD! Okinawa Hai, albeit a volunteer website, has absolutely no taste sometimes when it comes to restaurant culture and good damn food. So many times I have been steered into what sounds like a great place to chow down and in the end I walk away cursing the reviewer. Of course, anyone reading my review might go to Laxmi and really enjoy themselves, love the food and have a wonderful time. Please, go ahead. But if you do, change your readership to Okinawa Hai instead. They might be more your speed.  Oh, and stock your toilet with magazines and prepare yourself for your Laxm-ative!

Happy Diarrhea Dinner!

Happy Diarrhea Dinner!

Posted in Curry, Drunk, drunk food, Okinawa, Okinawa Restaurant Review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ocean’s Pizza

Now I know that I owe you all a big, juicy article about my adventures with Iron Chef Morimoto, and really guys, I DID write it, but due to the sometimes abhorrent cruelty of technology, after I worked for 8 hours on said literary tome, I managed to lose the damn thing between the “Preview” and “Post” part of the experience. Exasperated beyond belief, I chucked my computer into it’s case, poured a glass of wine and gave up for a few days.

So here’s what we’ll do…

You like this view….feel like looking at that while you eat? Read on!

Inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Hannah, I will give you a little restaurant review and get my juju back on and THEN I will tackle the epic tale of Natasha and Morimoto, okay?

And without further ado, let’s talk about a little place called Ocean’s Pizza!

The back entrance to Ocean’s Pizza, just off the Salt Factory gift shop.

Allow me, for a moment to get a little cheesy (pun totally intended) and make an analogy. I am an actress and director and consider myself fairly well versed in the cinematic arts. I love foreign films as much as I adore an aged french cheese. I can speak about The Criterion Collection as well as I appreciate the rustic blends of Grenache, Cinsault, Mouvedre and what-have-you in a gorgeous bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  I can be as picky and discerning about my film viewing as I am my food. But sometimes a girl just wants to watch “Ocean’s Eleven.” Really. Some pretty men, cheesy dialogue, fun romp through Vegas and sticking it to your enemy! It’s ENTERTAINING. I don’t watch films like that all the time, but I sure do love them when I want to. Similarly, I don’t eat pizza all the time, but on occasion a girl just is desperate for a little greasy, cheesy decadence. Of course, living in Japan, you wouldn’t think there were many places to procure such lovely guiltiness. In fact, even on the American military bases, where junk and fast food abound, all you really get is Pizza Hut. (This I would maybe compare to something Vin Diesel was in. Or Steven Seagal…ehhh ick!) So when I awakened one beautiful, breezy, late Saturday morning with a craving for some “pie” I wanted to find a place that would allow my husband and I to hang out by the water and enjoy fresh, gorgeous pizza that didn’t come from some corporate warehouse in the states. Where did we find such a specific piece of heaven? Yomitan.

Yours truly on an ancient ruin in Yomitan!

Yomitan is a fairly rural area heading north from central Okinawa on the western side of the island. It is loaded with remote beaches, one of which is located right down the cliff from Ocean’s, and Yomitan is also, interestingly (and in some ways tragically)  the site of the initial landing of the Allied Forces in the Battle of Okinawa. This is also the area I wrote of in my piece about making your own sea salt https://gratuitousgrub.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/the-first-extravagance/  and if you are thinking of popping in to enjoy this incredible, fascinating experience, make sure to have lunch at Ocean’s Pizza which is literally right next door!

Yup it is THAT brand of fun cheese!

The buffet!

Ocean’s was bustling when we arrived but the efficient and creative kitchen kept the dishes parading out! The pizzas were all so very different.

Fresh Veggie Pizza, Four Cheese and Pineapple with Local Ham and Sausage.

Some covered with different local veggies, some with all sorts of cheese, pineapple and local ham, sausage and ham, jalapeno chicken, teriyaki, and my favorite which was a strange mayo-cheese-ham covered in what would normally be the toppings to a taco rice. I know, I know it sounds strange, but it was amazingly good!

Left to right: Jalapeno Chicken Pizza and Blue Cheese Salad. The “Strange Mayo etc” Pizza with assorted pastas, egg salad, potato salad, and muffin.

To compliment the pizzas the chefs also provide a buffet array of pastas, soups, muffins, and salad fixings, along with coffee, tea, and soft drinks. There is a margarita of the day, which I am assuming is good because I couldn’t actually procure one as they were already sold out!

The view from the porch dining area is lovely, looking out over majestic turquoise sea and a special fixture of your experience is that you might, just might, get a visit from the sweet little cat that I nicknamed Lucky Kitty because he not only loves his pizza, but he gets to be fed by suckers like us all day and will take as much as you choose to give him and give you lots of soft and meows in return!

Lucky Kitty wanders off to find more pizza!

To get to Ocean’s Pizza check out their English language website http://www.oceanspizza.com/ It seems to cater to Americans, but when we were there it was full of locals…always a very good sign. So take a break from being pretentious (or eating Steven Seagul…*shudder*) and go sit by the beach, have a little guilty pleasure with “The Ocean’s Eleven” of pizza joints!

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Season of Mists and Not-So-Mellow Fruitfulness

Autumn is here on Okinawa, and by Autumn I don’t mean my belly dancing, hippie girlfriend from Arizona. I mean Keat’s “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun,” my favorite season of the yearly cycle. That time of year when Earth begins to prepare for the winter slumbers. When the days get shorter, the chill tickles the air, and our produce usually changes from the vibrant, delicate fruits and veggies of summer to the more hearty, rustic fare of the fall. Even on Okinawa, tropical and lush as it may seem to visitors and newbies, it is a very obvious change of season. Off go the air conditioners and the windows and doors fly open, letting the cool breeze in. The air begins to smell of burning crops, the farmers preparing their fields for the winter, and the harvest being brought in changes from that of the summery bright green goya to the purple Okinawan sweet potato.

Oki sweet taters! Mmmmmm!

In every Konbini (convenience store) they begin to serve Oden, a warm soup-like meal made with soy and dashi broth and served with your choice of anything from boiled quail eggs, daikon, rice noodles, tofu, fish cakes, sausages, pigs feet and so on. You basically choose whatever you want and pay per ingredient.

Oden with Quail Egg, Tomagi, and Daikon on Sunset Beach!

 

 

 

To celebrate the start of Autumn I recently picked up my first Oden of the season and headed off to the almost vacant beach to enjoy the quiet solitude that “cold weather” affords an Autumnal beach-goer. I mean WHO in their right mind would be on the beach when it was only 70 degrees F???  Teehee!

Along with the subtle entrance of Autumn comes a gaggle of holidays and events staring you right between the eyes, challanging you to a financial, gastronomical, and social duel to the death. My first challenge this year has been a desperate attempt to FINALLY throw “The Great Okinawa Halloween Party,” but due to the chaotic flip flop that has occured with so many of my friends this year, be it loss of a job, illnesses, or just plain being out of the country, I am afraid tomorrow night’s Karaoke Kostume Party will be a bust, which is sad after all the effort I have put into it. At least I didn’t cook this time! Still, the hardcore, motley crew will be there and you can be sure that we will make the best of it. To be honest, I was pretty not-so-mellow..ok pissed off, that this was yet again, the third year in a row, that my dream Halloween party was not to be, but like the Fall Season itself teaches us, we must let things go, let them dry up and float away on the wind, or at least sweep them off our doorstep! Samhain, after all, is a very special holiday to me on so many levels, and I intend to enjoy myself, be grateful for what I do have and not be a greeding Gus and envy all the other kids for their candy!

And what is next? Thanksgiving.

It is a silly, silly holiday.

I have never been much of a fan of the “origins” of this holiday, especially since I have lived so long “abroad.” But this year I think I might just go hog wild and roast a whole pig or something. Ok forgive the pun, but I mean it! My brother in law will be on island and my various assorted wayward friends may all need a place to call home for the day, and this is what I can absolutely provide. And I love doing it.
I have only just now realized that, perhaps, the reason I love the fall and winter so much is that because there are so many excuses to get together with people and feast, which I am going to assume was the historical point of said holidays to begin with. The harvest is brought in, and when it is bountiful, much celebrating was in order!

Feasting in the day!

There was no being out of doors, especially in places like England and “The New World” where such traditions originated and thus any excuse to party like it’s 1699 became a tradtion. Alright so Okinawa isn’t as dire as all that, but I can argue that November marks the end of Typhoon season and after the past…what? seven, eight typhoons this season?…I am ready to throw down a harvest feast and dance around a bonfire like a wild woman! More on this subject, no doubt, shall grace the “pages” of this anecdotal hommage to life and food, in all it’s seasons. Until then, Happy Autumn, blessed late Mabon, early Samhain and most importantly, may your cornacopia brim over!

Happy Autumn!!!

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You Can Cantonese On Me

Chinese food.

These words, for most of the Western World, evoke an image of take-away boxes full of greasy kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork or deep friend wontons delivered to your doorstep and munched in front of the tv, or perhaps the all-you-can-eat buffet (adored by my father) with the dubious beef and broccoli and piles of fried rice. And while this is sometimes a fun and silly meal, it is actually NOT authentic Chinese cuisine.

With all of the political awkwardness going on between Americans and Chinese at the moment, I think that it is high time the barrier to cultural understanding gets a little crack or two in it, and while I have been feverishly desiring a holiday to Macau, the first thing, I always believe, to busting down ethnocentrism is really diving in and spending some quality time eating how and what said culture does! (See my earlier blog about Korean BBQ!) Yeah, yeah…you can always count on me to take a meal to a sociological and marginally utopian level.

Lucky me! My neighbors, Henry and Lieu, are from China and invited us to a premiere AUTHENTIC Chinese restaurant inside the Coco Garden Resort Hotel. This beautiful place is located on a quiet and secluded hill in Ishikawa with an incredibly view of Kinbu Bay.

View from the Coco Garden Resort Hotel Restaurant!

The aesthetic almost reminded me of the resorts in Sedona, Arizona, with it’s lovely distressed rose, burnt orange and golden colors, the fun nuances and art on the walls, as well as the interior wood work and lighting.

Henry get’s us all settled.

Henry, our smiling, all-too-happy-to-please host, Lieu, his sweet, shy wife and their slightly mad children led us to the table and promptly told us that we were to order one of everything on the menu….each!!!! Take that, American Chinese Buffet. And while we WERE presented with menus in English that we were meant to tick off quantities of our SELECT choices, Henry insisted that we enter 2 in each column and call it a day. His reasoning “So you try everything and know what you like best!” You can’t know if you like it without trying….which I would like to say is a good metaphor for cultural relativity. Jus’ sayin’.

Henry, Koyo, Ying, Kogang, Lieu, Me and the BEGINNING of lunch!

Before we knew it a barrage of dishes came barreling toward us! Soups, rice porridges, hot entrees, salads, cold meats, gyozas, dim sums, baozi or “bun bao,” fried dumplings and spring rolls, and ending with a heap of desserts!

All in all we were served about 40 courses! I am not kidding 40!!! Of which I tried around 38. I missed out on the pan fried turnip cakes and subtly did not try the shark fin dumpling for political and ecological reasons. Don’t worry, no one noticed. I would never be rude to my hosts.

Obviously listing the ENTIRE menu would make your brain feel overwhelmed and busting as my gut did so I will just give you a few of the interesting, delicious and awesome delicacy we tucked into today! I hope, at least, that this might entice you to try some of these dishes and give you a jumping off point for Cantonese Cuisine…although, maybe not all at once like we did!

Starters

We started with some amazing pork and veg soup (also on order was egg drop soup) and these lovely sesame donuts that were stuffed with Beni-Imo paste, which is purple sweet potato, also used natively in Okinawa and filled with antioxidants. It is sweet without being cloying and normally not a starter but as it was Lieu’s favorite I followed her suit!

Cold meats!

Next course, cold foods. There was a seaweed salad, chicken in ginger sauce, and roast pork with honey.

Next up, fried rolls and dumplings!

The fried gyoza plate. From top right clockwise: Spring Roll, Shrimp and Sweet Rice Dumpling (my fav!) Shrimp Gyoza, Taro Dumpling, Shrimp Spring Rolls…err triangles. Most excellent!

Steamed Beni-Imo Dumpling. So beautiful and delicious!

Prawn in Mayo Sauce.

The special of the day was brought out. A beautiful, fresh prawn salad with a lemon-mayo sauce. Gorgeous fresh tomatoes, shredded cabbage and lettuce and lemon slices! Decadent!

Sauteed Seasonal Veggies

Very verdant and so elegant, this fresh, hot sauteed plate of seasonal veg, below, changes with what is available at the markets throughout the year. This was Bok Choy, Leeks, Mushrooms, and Bamboo.

More FOOD! Gah! Unbuttoning trousers….

So next we have Sauteed Beef in Oyster Sauce accompanied by a thick, savory Pork in Black Vinegar Sauce. I MUST find a recipe for the pork, as the concept of black vinegar is fascinating to me.

Shrimp in Chili Sauce

The spiciest meal on our adventure through Cantonese yummies was the Shrimp in Chili Sauce, perfectly seasoned and cooked to perfection. Shrimp in a sauce like this can be tricky because over-cooking can make it chewy. This was EXQUISITE.

More dumplings!

Of course the towers of dumplings continued. Next up, amongst many, were the creamy, buttery scallop dumplings and some made of pork and Mozuku Seaweed, a lovely tasting thin-like-spaghetti, dark green seaweed with a tart taste, also used in salad or eaten on its own. Really, really grand, and so good for you! Also loved by my Goddaughter, Neva!

Ahhhh it never ends!!!

This is one of my favorite type of gyoza, Pork with Green Onion and Garlic. Variations on this theme were brought over to Oki years ago and I try it where I find it!

 

The last dumpling and steamed goodies I tucked into was the sweeter, more dessert versions. To the left is a Azuki, or Sweet Red Bean Paste Bun Bao, or Baozi.

It’s kinda like biting into a sweet, hot cloud! To the right, Beni-Imo Mochi, a squishy rice cake made of sweet rice, pounded into paste and molded into the desired shape. This one was stuffed with purple sweet potato paste! So delectable!

Whilst the capacity I have to put away THIS MUCH FOOD is pretty low, I did truly enjoy the experience of trying so many new foods and learn so much about Chinese culture.

Henry serves more delicacies, with the help of precocious daughter Ying, who plays piano, speaks three languages and writes for her school paper…as well as thinks I am the weirdest, most fascinating thing on the planet. Or so it seems! LOL

For instance I learned that where Henry comes from, in the south, the food resembled what we had on our plates, fresh, flavorful but subtle in seasonings, whereas Lieu, coming from the north, favors Szechuan style food, which is incredibly spicy. Another interesting conversation we had was concerning the freshness of the cooking itself. Henry waxed enthusiastic about how, when eating true Chinese food, he can taste the difference between the flavors of a dish that is even an hour to a half an hour old. He said that you must always eat the food as soon as it is delivered to your table so that you get the full experience of what the chef (from Hong Kong) intended. (Of course when all the food comes at once and can feed an ARMY this is difficult!)

The Chef at Coco Garden, making everything fresh and made to order.

The best part was a game that Lieu and I created where I would guess what item from the menu I was eating and she would confirm or essentially just laugh at me, depending on my outcome. To be honest I did quite well! The laughter at the table, however, provided the last great seasoning to a perfect meal and I left feeling that, after knowing these lovely people for almost 3 years,  I finally really knew them and was on a path to understanding their world so much more. That, and a path to go jogging…..MAN THAT WAS SO MUCH FOOD!!!!

Cantonese Culinary Madness!

To Get to Coco Garden Resort Hotel head out Gate 3 of Kadena and head straight until you hit a “T” intersection to turn left on 329 (right after the big J/A) and head toward Ishikawa. In around 8ish km you will hit a small bypass and you will turn left and then immediately right to take that over the 329. Drive around 400 m and then veer slightly right. Another 300 m will take you to “Hill House.” Turn left and you will see a sign for Coco Garden. Park to the right where the big old “P” sign is and walk on through. OR….just put their phone number into your GPS or iPhone map. 098-965-1000 or visit them at http://www.cocogarden.com/

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Fry It Up!

Life on Okinawa is amazing, especially from a foodie point of view, and most of the time I feel I can have it all when I want it…even if it takes some serious foraging through markets and Japanese restaurant guidebooks. One thing I have missed dearly, however, is a good old fashion English Breakfast Fry-up.

Behold! The reason the British were once a Superpower!

Now I have spent a lot of time living in, traveling around and missing my beloved Britain, and a great deal of culture has rubbed off on me. Non-Anglo-ish friends laugh at my usage of the words like “loo,” “queue,” and “tom-AH-toes.” My husband, the night he met me, thought I was insanely affected because, when I have a few too many, my stupid fake British accent actually inadvertently pops out like Madonna at an awards show. I love British TV…well who doesn’t? I am a FEVERISH football fan (not throwball, you American muppets!) and can pour, pound and get snooty about a pint as good as the next bloke or bird. And contrary to popular opinion, I think English cuisine is fantastic. It is warm, hearty and sticks to your ribs. Consider this…America’s favorite foods on Thanksgiving and Christmas…the turkey and gravy, the potatoes, the stuffing….this, inevitably, is all based on English traditions that were brought over and cultivated. I love this, and heading the list of satisfying comfort food to emerge from this cold gray-green island is the stout and hearty Full English Breakfast, or “fry-up.”

I actually can’t recall my first fry-up. I think I was 18 and in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but I can’t be sure. I do have loads of memories around them though. I remember my first apartment in London, just after 9/11. It was in Bayswater, a dive of a bedsit on the first floor, with wallpaper that was very, very pre-Blitz. The landlady included breakfast in the rent, and as a starving actress who wasn’t sure which end was up, this was amazing. She fried up eggs and streaky bacon, ham, beans, blood puddings and toast with mushrooms and gorgeous tomatoes. It kept me going all day!

Another great memory is taking my husband for his first fry-up…this was technically called “Irish Breakfast,” but it’s essentially the same, just served in an Irish pub in the East Village of NYC. He had never witnessed the glory of so much rib-sticking food at one breakfast sitting and perhaps because  I brought him there after making him get up at 7:30 in the morning to watch an Arsenal game at our local football pub and had henceforth been knocking back Smithwick’s, he fell in love with it!

So a few days ago, both of us having a massive craving and with no pubs open for lunch and an impending typhoon, I decided to try my hand at a fry-up all on my ownsome. What really blew my mind was that, aside from the baked beans, which I had to get on a military base, I was able to procure everything I needed locally and pretty much organically. This makes the idea of a fry-up a little bit more heart friendly…sorta. Well….you can pretend.

Eggs, mushrooms, beans, bread, cheddar, bacon, sausage, “butter,” tomatoes and of course the obligatory Bloody Mary to drink whilst cooking.

So I achieved the most beautiful cherry tomatoes, so red they could be made of rubies. Traditionally, a plum tomato, or a beef steak is used, but these looked luscious and I had to have them!

Tomato Rubies!

I bought a variety of sumptuous Japanese mushroom in place of the usual button or cremini mushroom, again because I was searching for the best produce possible at my local farmer’s market.

Fresh baked bread.

Myself and the Amazing Vic in our heyday in London!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For bread, naturally I slipped happily into my favorite bakery, sniffed around the fresh baked bread and discovered a beautiful loaf of what we would call in England “brown bread,” which is essentially whole wheat bread. But THIS was lovely, fresh and smelling radiant. This would be used for my amazing “Beans on Toast,” a special version of this Brit student’s food my dear friend Vic taught me when we were both pretty much homeless and sharing the living room floor of her brother’s house and trying to find our place in London. She taught me that the secret to a great “beans on toast” is to add Irish Cheddar to the beans. Simple, easy and AMAZINGLY delicious!

We found locally cut fresh streaky bacon, which is what Americans would just call bacon. And I opted for local sausages, which turned out to be phenomenally tasty. No surprise there. The Okinawans do pork like the french do cheese and the Koreans do dog. After a massive search I found Irish Cheddar and of course I bought eggs that had just been laid, because I can and will. It just tastes freaking WONDERFUL!

And thus, with the typhoon raging outside, I set to work recreating, in a slightly healthier manner, the fabulous Traditional English Breakfast…minus black puddings, because at the last minute, with the typhoon so close, I could not procure the blood used to make it! The range of emotions, memories and overall feelings of happiness that washed over me when I properly took my knife in my right hand and my fork in my left and cut into my perfect beans on toast was overwhelming. I thought of late mornings, walking down The Strand, with a head on myself like a drunken sailor. I thought of my friends in London and all of our fabulous struggles, exploits and adventures of our early twenties.

The London Gang…back in the day!

I thought of all the hooligans I used to hang out with at Nevada’s in NYC, watching footie, getting tipsy and stumbling up the street for a fry-up. And I thought of the future, and whether or not I would be returning to London anytime soon.

I consider myself a gypsy. Nomads, my husband calls us. Vagabonds and world travelers. No matter how much to you love moving on sometimes something gets into your blood and stays with you, follows you, adding to your caravan. In food, I am afraid, it tends to happen more often than not. The English (or Irish) fry-up is one of these somethings, and I am pleased to know that even on a small tropical island in Asia, I can still call it up once in awhile.

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