Adventures in Japanese Dining

July 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’ve mentioned before that finding a restaurant to eat at is difficult in Okinawa. Either the signs are in Japanese, making it a guessing game for us if the venue even is a dining establishment and impossible to determine what type of cuisine is served, or the signs are in broken English, meaning that the place will be filled with loud Americans and the prices will be heavily inflated. Bryan was feeling guilty that I spend all day cooped up in our (amazing) house, studying, surfing the net, and entertaining myself with the casual yoga DVD here and there, so tonight he took me out to dinner. Normally I research possible locations on OkinawaHai!, a website run by Americans with blog posts all focused on life for Americans living on Okinawa, and then force Bryan to drive through heavy traffic to the place I have chosen. Tonight, however, I knew that he would be tired after a strenuous week at work (photographer didn’t show up to the goodbye dinner for the old Commander, leaving Bryan, who was supposed to be a guest with me as his date, to take all the official photographs with his Nikon D40; change in Command today…hence, long week), so I decided that we should try a place very close to our home.

We had driven past this establishment multiple times, and I could tell by the exterior that it was a restaurant (signs picturing raw fish and beer). The only problem was that there was NO English on any of these signs, which generally means that the menus won’t be in English either. But being the adventurous couple that we are, we decided to go for it. We walked in to the restaurant and were greeted by the customary exuberance that is the norm in Japanese restaurants and shops. We were shown to a table, on top of which were multiple (literally, 10+) various menus and menu inserts. That is one thing that I have noticed about Okinawa–there is never just 1 menu at a restaurant. Menus are laminated stacks, usually with separate tablets for the regular menu, English menu, sushi menu, drink specials, Happy Hour specials, dessert menu, kids menu, etc. The only thing missing tonight was the English menu. Luckily, every Japanese restaurant we have been to so far has had a menu with many, many high-quality photographs. I guess the managers have realized that, short of hiring a translator, photos are the only things that will get Americans to spend their yen.
Our waitress was a high school girl with a huge smile and little to no confidence with English. We perused the menus and pointed to the photographs that looked the best. We ended up with, in order: egg omelet squares decorated with catsup and mayonnaise, gyoza (nom nom), beef stir fry for Bryan, and then…my entree. I love sushi. Bryan hates sushi. This was my big chance to order sushi at a restaurant Bryan could also enjoy. The sushi menu was entirely in Japanese, so we pointed out something that looked like a mix plate with 8 pieces of sushi, and hoped for the best. My food came last, after I had already eaten the egg and gyoza, and Bryan had already finished his beef stir-fry (mediocre). At that point we were presented with what can only be described as a platter decorated with seaweed (copious amounts), lettuce, cucumber, and giant stacks of raw fish. Now I have had ngiri before, and while it’s not my favorite, I can do tuna and even salmon ngiri raw with no rice. But on this plate were stacks of fish with the skin on, shrimp with heads and eyeballs, octopus with tentacles, shells, and other things I can’t even describe. Luckily, Bryan had already finished his food, or a trip to the bathroom might have been in order.
I, never one to send a meal back to the kitchen, especially if the mistake in ordering it was mine, settled in to at least sample the various slabs of raw fish that I had unwittingly ordered. I smoked a cigarette and finished my beer before starting in. The raw tuna and salmon was familiar and pretty good. The tasted the tiniest bite of octopus (the only bite I could find with no suckers on the end of its tentacles). Bryan returned from the parking lot with his camera and I started in on the fish with its skin still attached (shiny). Some of the variations were tasty, skin and all, while others were far too chewy for my taste. Bryan showed me how to removed the heads from the shrimp and I even tried one of those. In all, I tasted every single type of raw fish on that platter (okay, so I also ordered a bowl of rice and used it as a chaser). When I was done, with summoned the cheerful waitress, who spoke at least a little English, and asked her if the symbol following the number 8 on the menu actually meant people. She laughed and nodded. Either she didn’t understand our question, or she did and was laughing at us for ordering a platter of sushi meant for 8 people. I’m going with the latter.
I felt guilty sending the platter, of which only 1/4 was eaten, back to the kitchen, but there was just no way that I was going to A. finish it, or B. ask for a doggy back and then throw it away (our garbage still hasn’t been collected, don’t even get me started on that). All in all, this is a restaurant that we will be returning to. While our sushi adventure was a failure, we noticed an insert picturing some tasty looking sushi rolls on our way out. This place (we don’t have a name for it) had great service, a huge menu, and some tasty gyoza. We will definitely be returning…despite my sushi for 8 mishap.

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