Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gyozas @ Ohsho - And Some GF Talk

I still get butterflies taking my newish GF out to eat. I think I mentioned before? So versatile and talented my beautiful and compact Lumix GF1... What?? ;)

This day at the rather dimly lit Ohsho in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo. After seeing a television special of the expanding Japan based mega chain despite the economic down turn, I was so curious that I actually asked a friend to do a reconnaissance visit for me in the past. (Thanks again guys!)

Ohsho pumps out furiously fast but cooked-to-order Chinese food through a Japanese taste bud filter. The category called Chuka that I have a label tag for. The very obvious roots of the Gyoza is from China, the concept and even name derived from the Jiaozi.

I find Japanese Gyozas generally thinner skinned and also feel preferred with a higher filling ratio of meat-to-wrapper. It's what I grew up with and it's what I like.. *shrugs*

Gyoza no Ohsho (full name) makes these handmade daily from scratch with unfrozen ingredients. I'd like to call it the In-N-Out of gyozas cause they're just as cheap as they are fresh too. A plate of six perfectly pan fried beauties here went for 231-yen (~$2.31). And they're crispy juicy garlicky delicious!

Cost Performance wise I'm well in agreement that Ohsho's gyozas are a good established base to measure Japanese gyoza quality. A conversation can go as.., "Your Gyozas were delicious? How much were they?" And also.. "Your Gyozas were cheap? Was it as good as Ohsho??" Simple stuff.

The rest of the menu while decent unfortunately seems not at the same level. There wasn't much to complain about my half han-chan fried rice which was OK for the price (included soup for 261-yen). Similar comments from friends who had a much wider spread.

I still use the GF1 mostly on Auto and still trying to figure out all the bells and whistles. The pancake 20mm (40mm SLR equivalent) is a very fast 1.7 lens that gives you that often used trick of shallow depth of field in food photography. Though I'm not against it I do feel it tends to be overused. I just think there are appropriate times to use the technique and I get annoyed when people assume it's the sign of good "professional looking" food photos. Anyway if you feel suffering from tunnel vision and slight discombobulation from today's set, again sorry about that, my camera was on Auto. Still figuring how to adjust aperture on the fly. Sometimes I like to remember what was on the rest of my plate!? ;)

Restaurant Highway Drive-In - Another Timeless Shokudo

My mission to find and re-experience old meal haunts, I managed to hunt down Restaurant Highway Drive-In a good mile further down the busy artery street past Koza Four Corners than I had previously thought. Funny how your memories can play tricks like that, I was so sure of the location!

There's some parking adjacent to the building but barely, and if you can tell by the looks obviously no car hops, haha. So despite the naming it's a bona fide Shokudo. Shokudo - loosely defined as a type of very accessible Japanese diner.

Humble, but a place that exudes an older style of class where cooks still wear crisp white starch pressed shirts and hats with pride and reserved waitresses are genuinely nice despite the lack of any culture of tipping.

Their soup which comes with most meal sets is pretty well known and popular. My description would be a sort of a light potage but thickened not with pulverized starchy vegetables and cream but with instead some flour (a guess). As with any good soup it has a proper stock as a base but the subtle floury flavor would be something once attached to you'd be hard pressed to find a similar substitute anywhere else.

As how Marunaka's was the B-Set, here at HWDI the C-Set would be where it's at.

A pork katsu, scrambled egg and hamburg patty protein trio (with rice, salad, soup) that would cost a mere 580-yen (~$5.80).

And you really can't go wrong with anything else on the menu either.

The crisp and tender Pork Katsu was typical Okinawa shokudo wider and thinner. Fluffy scrambled egg folded with a nice light brown sear, and the oishii hamburg as with the house soup, simple but delicious, made with sauteed onions and simple spices.

My first meal of the day this hit the spot like Gushiken's southpaw. Too bad I had other agendas or I could've happily eaten here throughout my short week stay. The guy next to me pouring shoyu on his cast iron platter sizzling butter wafu steak looked like something I could really get into while I found out about their White Curry online too late.

Unlike other popular shokudos and restaurants plastered with autographs you won't find any here, at least not yet. Highway Drive-in may not have a celebrity following at the moment but I was glad to see it still loved by the locals and doing strong. Someone's gotta keep making that soup!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hanagasa Shokudo - Heiwadori And Makishi Public Market

Off busy Kokusai Street in Naha City, Okinawa, there is the Heiwa-dori indoor shopping arcade. Name translating to "Peace Street," I'm guessing it was created sometime after the war but in any case the nicely aged patina of the place you can sense it's been around forever.

Through one of the many tiny side alleys is a Shokudo as old as the arcade, the Hanagasa Shokudo. The Hanagasa in Okinawa is a very large bright colored festive hat worn during certain Okinawan dance performances.

I remember my mom performing in one during her learning of Ryukyu Odori phase. The Hanagasa is one of many ubiquitous icons to Okinawan culture next to the Shisa guardian dogs and Goya bitter melon.

Hanagasa's location and the fact that they've been around so long, I noticed they've become somewhat touristy. From experience usually not the best sign for having the greatest food but they do offer many classic island dishes. My friend and I decided to hop in for old times sake.

I got the Tebichi set which is stewed pigs feet. (You can read about my great Tebichi Soba at Hanaori Soba here.)

In contrast my friend's very ordinary Yakiniku set. Looked a little dry.

Man this Tebichi was super old school. Very pale colored and lightly flavored. These days they're seasoned a little stronger and stewed to a bit darker coloration.

I'm not sure if it's the copious amount of Awamori sake or the use of a pressure cooker (probably a combination of both) but Okinawan Tebichi is almost always fall apart tender. The completely rendered gelatinous skin will wiggle like jello and the meats can be easily chopsticked through without much trouble. These were no exception and despite the fleshy, slightly unappetizing look, were quite good.

We shared a side of Rafute (sometimes spelled Rafti), stewed pork belly. The meat layer was on the tougher side and so we had better renditions but it was flavored nicely (lightly sweet soy sauce) and was covered in a tasty miso glaze.

If you're here the visit to the Makishi Public Market which is contained within the confines of the Heiwadori maze is a must.

Pork rules in Okinawa. I doubt I have any vegan readers so I'm going all out with photos.

Peace brother...

There's also a fish market side... Ise-ebi lobster, some Uni a must. :)

Many local exotic looking fish. Here is the Irabuchi.

This can be had as sashimi or cooked most any which way. It's hellish to fillet though, I've watched a fisherman once and he used a pair of blunt nose pliers to skin certain portions.
On the other hand the bright pink Gurukun below is a popular prized sports fish.

I don't know what's next to it. My fond memory of Gurukun is going offshore fishing with my older cousin and getting really really seasick, haha. Upstairs is a giant food court where you can try many of Okinawa's delicacies. Was a little empty this day but it was also December, not prime tourist season for the subtropical island.

When is San Diego getting their own awesome indoor market?? I feel the SD Farmers Market off Imperial has potential to be so much greater. Anyone agree?

Anyhow hope you enjoyed these. Ah, seems like it's going to be another beautiful Sunday. :)