Today's one of those rare calendar occasions when the "1s" are uniquely aligned as "11-11-11". It will take another century (11-11-2111) for this to recur!
Today's newsletter will feature a few local restaurants along with our first segment of my recent Okinawa travel adventure, which will be covered in several editions, as we did for our Bali tour.
As you will see, there is much to appreciate and enjoy about our northwestern neighbor, the closest Japanese destination from Guam, now served by a direct flight with United Airlines. The food alone could extend your life to 100 years!!
One of the great things Guam shares with Okinawa is that both are tropical paradise destinations, with distinctly different cultures. I believe many people will be absolutely amazed by the variety of attractions and activities available on Okinawa, which has developed into a world-class tourist destination.
It's another wonderful place for a short family holiday without having to endure a long flight. We are blessed to live in this marvelous Western Pacific pond which afford us the opportunity to travel to wonderful destinations so easily!
Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"
Island Sunrise Cafe
286 Chalan Canton Ladera
"If you find it, you WILL eat!!" You may have heard a little about the Island Sunrise Cafe in Talofofo, as I did a few months ago when I was listening to a call into Ray Gibson's K57 Breakfast Show. I missed the KUAM TV interview back in July, when the cafe just opened. I had promised to go and since the weather was rain-free this past Sunday, we traversed the island down Rte 4 to the three-way intersection above Talofofo Bay. Turn right and go up the hill past Notre Dame High School and drive past two bus-stops (both on the right), then turn right at the Island Sunrise Cafe sign (you'll see signs guiding you along the way). You'll find this lovely hideaway perched up on the cliff line offering one of the island's most breath-taking coastal vistas, from Ipan all the way north to UOG!
Owned and operated by Mike & Diane Leon Guerrero, one of the cool things about this little cafe is they serve breakfast all-day (8am-8pm) every day except Wednesdays.
It was past noon so rather than go with breakfast, I ordered one of the Weekend Special plates, a BBQ Chicken & Ribs Plate ($7), which includes a lot of Red Rice, Potato Salad, and Corn. I should emphasize "a lot"! Zee ordered French Toast ($2) with a side of Chamorro Sausage ($2.50). We also ordered Shrimp Fried Rice ($6.50), which was a towering mound of rice filled with shrimp. The pork ribs were baked and finished with a tomato-based bbq sauce. These were meaty and pretty tasty.
I really wanted to get their House Specialty, which is the Dinanche Burger ($5.50, w/cheese $6), so I ordered it. There is a 20 minute wait for this as it is cooked in a Nuwave oven, which reduces the fat without compromising the flavor. It also is a big plus that they use Certified Angus Beef. They make their own dinanche and give you a nice red juicy tomato slice, crisp lettuce, and onion. I had them toast the bread. This is a great burger and really under-priced. I also wanted cheese so I was able to have a photo with and without cheese.
The portions are really large here. We took most of our red rice and nearly all of our Shrimp Fried Rice home. Breakfast prices are quite affordable, with prices starting at $4.for any starch & meat choice with two eggs. Two-choices will cost you $5, and three-choices are $6.
Home made cheesecakes are also available by the slice for $2. They have soft drinks and coffee, with no beer or wine. Truly, you really don't need anything stronger to drink as the view alone will give you a buzz high!
Take the trip to Island Sunrise Cafe - you'll be pleasantly surprised by this outside dining treasure!
Sea Grill Restaurant
It's a new day at Sea Grill Restaurant, with new management and a new executive chef. Daya Stryker, formerly of PIC, is the new G.M., and Rey Dasalla, former Executive Chef at PIC, is now holding up the toque as Sea Grill's new Executive Chef.
I had the opportunity to stop by and try out two of the Chef's Business Lunch Specials. The special (priced at $16.95 plus 15% service charge) includes an unlimited salad bar featuring crisp greens, grilled vegetables with balsamic vinaigrette, seafood pasta salad, assorted fresh fruits, and island-style pickled fruits and vegetables, such as papaya and onions. There was even chicken kelaguen! In addition to the salad bar, Chef's Business Lunch Special offers a choice of three entrees and a dessert of the day (a cream caramel with orange segments at this meal) along with bottomless Pepsi beverages. The menu will change every two weeks.
Of course the view is magnificent at lunch time from the Tale of the Whale. I was up against the window and framed my food shots with the Pleasure Island backdrop.
I ordered Grilled Sirloin Loco Moco (half-pound ground sirloin patty over garlic fried rice topped with two eggs over easy and chipotle mushroom steak sauce with tomato concasse and green onion). This was great and a lot of food to eat. I worked my way through the meat and tried to minimize the rice. I still had the Grilled Atlantic Salmon on its way!!!
The Grilled Atlantic Salmon was a beautiful filet of Atlantic salmon grilled to perfection on a roasted garlic potato puree topped with bacon caper vinaigrette and grilled asparagus. I did eat most of this and was pleased with the various tastes in the dish - it was quite creative. The third entree choice sounded equally creative, Miso Teriyaki Glazed Rib Eye Steak, and certainly of the standard that business types enjoy. We're looking forward to more innovations at Sea Grill as time goes on!
Tour South East Asia with Scott - Award Winning Recipes by Chef William Scott Sibley
This coffee table collectible is a recent creation by Scott Sibley, whom we know as the GM of the Guam Marriott Resort & Spa. What you may not know is that he was a chef by profession, with his career taking him from New Jersey, to Florida, California, Hawaii, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Australia, Dubai, Korea and Guam. While he was Executive Chef at the Maui Marriott in the early 90's, he was able to create several award winning dishes in competitions like the Taste of Lahaina and the Hawaii State Seafood Competition. This book showcases a range of creative recipes and superb color photographs of food and great destinations. It's a culinary legacy by a visionary whose tastes spanned this glorious part of the world known for its diverse cuisines.
We will be posting two of Scott's stellar recipes to the GuamDiner.com website: Opakapaka and Maui Corn Chowder with Dungeness Crab and Black Pepper Sesame Seed Crusted Char Siu Rack of Lamb with Shiitake Mushroom Kim Chee.
Autographed copies of this limited edition ($40) can be purchased at the Avenue Gift Shop in the Marriott, the Avenue Shop in the Nikko, The Honolulu Coffee Store in the Plaza, The Paris Hilton/Honolulu Coffee kiosk in the Micronesia Mall, Creations Hair Salon, and the Coffee n Cream kiosk at GPO. Bravo, Scott!
Okinawa Travel Adventure - "Destination Okinawa!"
On the fourth weekend of October 2011,I participated with other media on a familiarization, commonly referred as a "fam", tour of Okinawa, a recently-added direct flight destination of United/Continental Airlines. I had not been to Okinawa since 1974, so I can categorically state that Okinawa has achieved an astonishing transformation into a world-class tourist destination, without compromising its culture. Quite the opposite, as Okinawa has discovered more and better ways to celebrate it! As the Guam Food Guy, I also discovered a fantastic cuisine and food culture with amazing health benefits known to extend human longevity, and I fell in love with a small, sweet-tasting black pig called shimabuta with a charming face and reduced cholesterol meat!
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
Marvelous, enchanting amazement! That's the indelible impression that was made as I gazed at the huge Whale Shark glide effortlessly through the blue depths of the Kuroshio Sea tank, the largest of 77 tanks in this massive Aquarium. There are three whale sharks in this tank that also houses a variety of Manta rays and an assortment of other fish including yellow fin tuna. It's simply mind-boggling to watch this procession of sea creatures swim in wide circles, dwarfing tourists who are taking endless photographs and video clips. The tank is 10 meters deep, 35 meters wide and 27 meters long. An event we missed was the feeding of the Whale Sharks, which literally stand up to feed!
This four-level aquarium has many attractions, including a Touch Pool , an Ocean Planetarium, the Deep Sea that includes giant king crabs and fish, tropical fish, an Aqua Lab and a Shark Research Lab. Churaumi means "beautiful ocean" in the Okinawan dialect. This aquarium showcases these denizens of the deep with pride and caring stewardship.
Nago Pineapple Park
Wow! You don't know how much fun you can have when travelling around in a pineapple cart! Nago Pineapple Park opened in 1992 and is also a full-fledged winery. I didn't know pineapples could be so exciting! The free 10 minute tour takes you through a tropical garden and open fields where pineapples are grown. Inside the winery building, you can sample (and purchase) fresh pineapple wine, fresh pineapple, sugar-free canned pineapple, candies, pineapple cake, and other products, like Shikwasa Juice (tastes like a blend of lemon and calamansi).
There are incredible displays of seashells and corals in several rooms within the complex. Needless to say, there are countless souvenirs and many opportunities to sample and taste. This is certainly a place for those who love eating and shopping! Just try one of those refreshing pineapple ice cream cones!
It was time to eat some serious food, and we'd been talking about traditional Okinawan cuisine during the first part of our day. We were scheduled to eat Soba at Ufuya, which translates as "big house" in the Okinawan Hogan dialect.' The owners of Ufuya also own the Nago Pineapple Park, which is just a few minutes away making it a convenient stop.
Located at the base of a forested hill, Ufuya is comprised of three restored Meiji era buildings that have been converted into an acclaimed Soba restaurant. The dining areas (one is open air and the other is enclosed) have views of the verdant forest going up the hill where one can see waterfalls turning into streams. These heritage buildings have old wooden beams and pillars (no nails are used) and ceramic tiles on the roof, preserving the architectural and construction traditions of Okinawa. One large area near the entrance of Ufuya has a room filled with barrels of pineapple vinegar being fermented. That's something I'll have to try next time.
Before sitting at our table in the enclosed dining room, we removed our shoes and had to sit down while crossing our legs to get them under the table. At my current size and girth, this was somewhat entertaining!
There were several entrees and specials on the menus (in English and Japanese) and I ordered the Noodles with Agu Pork (¥1575), which has traditional Okinawa steamed rice, cut white radish and seaweed stir fry, bean curd, and papaya kimchi. Okinawa Soba noodles are made with 100% white flour vs. Japanese soba which is made with buckwheat flour.
Now about the pig! The Agu pig is smaller than regular pigs, and was imported from China over 600 years ago. Would you believe that these pigs were nearly wiped out and Okinawans worked hard to create a Hybrid Ryukyu Agu Pig? It's a cross-breed of a Yorkshire and Lard Breed from Europe. The hybrid is more durable with sweeter meat that has 25% less cholesterol. And, it has three times more glutamic acid and more than double the amount of amino acid compared to ordinary pigs, which accounts for their uniquely tasty flavor. The meat doesn't have the usual porcine odor and when it is boiled it doesn't give off that greyish-scum that usually collects when you boil pork. The combination of this soft tender meat and the sweet taste is truly a gustatory delight!
The soba was very satisfying and I enhanced the taste by adding a little bit of the "Okinawan finadene", which is a vinegar infused with chili peppers and Shikwasa, local lemons with a sweetness of calamansi.
One thing I wanted to mention before going on to dinner at Fenutin Restaurant is the ever present appearance of "Shisaa", which is a Ryukyuan (Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu archipelago, with over 160 islands, most of which are uninhabited) decoration. Usually in pairs, these are statues (statuettes) that are a cross between a lion and a dog. They are on roof tops or at the gates of homes or buildings. Shisaa ward off evil spirits and are used to protect families and people.
At Fenutin, we had a private room. There were six of us and we started off with Orion beer. Some of us also tried the traditional Okinawan shochu called Awamori, which is the oldest distilled liquor in Japan. Made from Thai rice and rice malt, it was introduced in the early 15th century by the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand). Would you believe that researchers have discovered that Awamori is rich in a thrombolytic enzyme that keeps blood vessel open? It is said that Awamori contributes to the longevity of Okinawans since it helps to prevent heart attacks and arterial sclerosis!
We were told we had a 12-course meal coming, which was probably true if you break down some of the different items included on a large black plate.
Our meal started off with a cold dish of Konbu Irichi (thinly sliced konbu seaweed pan-fried, then simmered with bits of pork belly). This was in a clear bowl and resembled green ramen. The broth was lightly sweet and refreshing.
We were then presented a large black platter that had Sashimi with Umibudo (sea grapes), Goya (similar to bittermelon- very nutritious and ever-present in Okinawa meals), and Shima Rakkyo(Okinawan shallots). We had vinegar, soy sauce and ponzu for dipping. I think the last item was a type of seaweed.
Next was Simmered Seaweed with Pork looked like green bean noodles (they had the texture of green beans) and the moist, flavorful pork chunks mated well.
Then came one of the cherished dishes I'd been craving. Called "Rafute" and pronounced "raffte", this is a Okinawan delicacy imitated all around the world but not duplicated! It is thick-sliced pork belly slowly simmered in soy sauce, brown sugar, and awamori! So very delicious!
Just when I thought I'd exceeded my pleasure, we were brought out an indescribably delicious plate with a few pieces of BBQ Pork Rib. I don't think we'd ever tasted a more flavorful pork rib, grilled in a hibachi oven or something similar. this was "dream food"!!
Another great Okinawan traditional food came next Tofu Champuru. Champuru means to mix and blend together different ingredients, and there are several types of Champuru dishes. Tofu Champuru includes tofu, pork, eggs, salt, and soy sauce. This is the meeting place of "nutritious" and "delicious"!
The Jushi (rice dish) followed late in the meal as is typical here. This was fried rice with pork, goya, carrots, and mugwort ("fuchiba"), another nutritious ingredient. Mugwort helps the body as a natural antidote!
A soup made of Asa (sea lettuce) made a dramatic appearance in a bright red bowl with tofu cubes. Tasty and not overtly seaweed in flavor, this warm soup broth is just another revealed secret of Okinawa's famed longevity.
The Ube ice cream dessert provided a traditional ending to a fantastic dining experience on our first night in Okinawa after a full day of adventure touring!
Stay tuned for our next segment on "Destination Okinawa!"