Let’s Talk Food: A foodie in Tokyo 2018

  • Walter Cho eating a grilled oyster. (Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson)
  • Sashimi salad. (Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson)
  • Yokohama Chinatown. (Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson)
  • Pufferfish on the grill. (Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson)
  • Fried saba. (Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson)
  • Fresh sashimi. (Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson)

Whenever our son, Reid, asks us to go with him to Japan, we usually don’t hesitate.

Going to Tokyo from Kona is so easy on Hawaiian Airlines. The 5 p.m. flight takes you to Haneda Airport, an award-winning, state-of-the-art facility, the next day. Immigration is very easy and takes about 10 minutes, unlike many other countries. Three months ago, when we went to Portugal, going through immigration took an hour.

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The train station is in the airport, so you can take the train into Tokyo and you can get to your hotel in less than 30 minutes.

We went to Akasuka, where there is lots of shopping, restaurants and a temple. It was on Sunday and the place was wall-to-wall with people going to the temple for the new year. We stood with everyone asking for a good year and then bought an “omamori,” or good luck charm — something we try to do yearly.

One of my favorite places to go is an “izakaya,” or an informal gastropub. The setting is very casual and popular for after-work drinking, which is common in Japan. It is similar to a tapa or pupu bar. You can order several items, which will give you a variety of dishes to enjoy with your drinks. Then, before you leave, you can order either miso soup or “chazuke,” which is tea and rice, to warm you up before going out to 30- to 40-degree weather.

We went to Isomaru Suisan Izakaya in the Asakusa District. The Rotary Club of South Hilo’s exchange student of 10 years ago, Nana Ishikawa, joined us. She was 17 years old when she came from Japan to stay in Hilo, so it made me feel old when Nana had a few beers with us. We ordered ahi “kama,” or collars, a sashimi platter with the freshest fish, pufferfish, which we grilled, and little saba, fried.

Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest fish auction with a name that literally means “reclaimed land,” was once lowland marshes along the Sumida River delta. It was filled in the Tokugawa period to create waterfront commercial endeavors and housing. The fish auction is open early in the morning and only to commercial business. The 2017 auction could be the last at the current location as it will tentatively move to a new location in November, if the toxic contamination at the new site can be taken care of. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said maybe the move could be delayed until this spring, “depending on results of health and environmental tests.” But she also maintained the possibility of scrapping the relocation altogether if the problem cannot be resolved.

The surrounding shops are rows of stalls selling everything from fish, shellfish, seaweed and kitchen supplies to knives and knife sharpening. There seemed to be more shops that cooked the seafood, so you can eat while shop. Our friend, Walter Cho, a member of a family of fishermen from Kona, ate a fresh oyster that was grilled for $7 each. It was sweet, fresh and so ono. He also had a grilled clam with miso (the innards of a crab) with pieces of fish on top. That was also to die for.

The self-proclaimed “Tuna King,” Kiyoshi Kimura, paid $636,000 (74.2 million yen) for a 467-pound bluefin tuna at the first auction of the new year at Tsukiji Fish Market. After he purchased the fish, Kimura and his sushi chefs sliced it up at one of his several restaurants in the Tsukiji area, Sushisanmai. So we had to eat lunch there even if the most expensive ahi was already consumed by customers who were there during the first week in January.

The raw sashimi was definitely fresh and the kampachi collar, miso butterfish and black cod was delicious.

A quick 20-minute train ride got us to Yokoyama Chinatown. It is, by far, the cleanest Chinatown I have ever seen. You can find every type of Chinese cuisine in the many restaurants that line the street. There also are many gift shops from which to choose.

There is so much to see in each prefecture and city in Japan. No matter how many times we go, we still find something that is new to us.

Japan is certainly a yearly destination.

Foodie bites

The Hawaii Community College Culinary Program’s Bamboo Hale started last week Wednesday. This the last semester before the second-year students graduate, so is their opportunity, through the Bamboo Hale, to work front and back of the house. Please support these second-year students and give them the experience needed to go out to conquer the world after graduation. Your tips are important to support these students for their annual Oahu trip during spring break.

The complete schedule for the spring semester is as follows:

• Today through Friday: Americas standard menu and the cuisine of Peru.

• Jan. 30-Feb. 2: Americas standard menu and the foods of Mexico.

• Feb. 6-9: Americas standard menu and the cuisine of New Orleans.

• Feb. 13-16: Asian standard menu and the foods of India.

• Feb. 21-23: Asian standard menu and the foods of Thailand.

• Feb. 27-March 3: Asian and the cuisine of the Philippines.

• March 6-9: Asian standard menu and Chinese food.

• March 13-16: European standard menu and Spanish cuisine.

• March 20-23: European standard menu and French cuisine.

• March 26-30: Spring break; no school.

• April 3-6: European standard menu and Italian cuisine.

• April 9-13: Hilo Classic Food Show (in preparation, Bamboo Hale closed).

• April 17-20: European standard menu and German cuisine.

• April 24-27: Hawaii and German food.

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Hope to see you at the Bamboo Hale.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.