Monday, October 31, 2011

2011 Hiroshima Food Festival

The weather was really blah, but I didn't care. It was the final day for the Hiroshima Food Festival. I wasn't about to let a little bit of rain stop me from enjoying some great eats!

Headed to the train station, met up with some friends, and then headed to Hiroshima. An hour later we were there and couldn't wait to get to the castle grounds area. was raining a little harder than I had hoped, but I had an umbrella. Besides, it's just a little water. Right? It wasn't like I was going to melt or anything. We got off the tram and started walking towards the park. Once we got there I was overwhelmed by all of the food tents set up on the castle side. Where to begin?? We went to the left and I immeditely saw a sign that said, "soba." I kind of glanced at the other tents as I walked as fast as I could to the soba tent. Now, let me tell you, it was not an easy trek. There were a lot of people and most of them were carrying umbrellas so it took some maneuvering, but I made it. It was really cool because you could watch them make the noodles by hand. I would have taken a picture, but was raining. I paid my 500yen and they handed me a hot bowl of soba. Mmmmm......I walked off to the side to get out of everyone's way and then I stood there. I looked down at my waribashi (wooden chopsticks) lying across my soba bowl and wondered how in the world I was going to break them apart so I could eat my noodles. My umbrella was not cooperating. When I tried to hold it with my head and shoulder it just fell backwards. So, I closed it and then I had to find some place to set down my bowl so I could pull apart my chopsticks. It was raining pretty hard at this point, but I didn't care. I wanted to eat my noodles! And I did. In the pouring rain. With no umbrella. Oh, it was good. It was also hot. Once I finished my soba and threw my bowl away, I opened my umbrella up again and decided that from that point on I could only purchase food items that only required one hand to carry and didn't need utensils to consume. I was wet and cold, and the rain didn't show any signs of letting up. I didn't care though! I was at a FOOD FESTIVAL! Those two words should always be together! Okay, maybe I was re-thinking this decision a little bit. I was wet and cold and having a hard time holding my umbrella while eating. Then, we started walking and I looked over to the left. The park across the street was FULL of white food tents. It's a pretty big park too. All doubts left my brain as soon as I saw that park. All I could think about was the amount of food we were going to find over there.

We followed the crowd and crossed the street. Wow. I was amazed at how crowded it was. I thought the rain would keep people away, and it probably did keep some away, but a lot of people still came out to enjoy the Food Festival. A lot! We got to the entrance and we all stopped.

It was like a huge mud pit in there.

What a dilemma. It smelled so good though. It's just mud. Dirt and water. Mixed together. What kind of a foodie am I if I let a little mud get in the way of some amazing food? Then, someone saw a green carpet-like thing on the ground. We could walk on that! So, we started walking on the green carpet and it didn't take long for us to find an interesting food tent. There was a huge piece of meat (like, half of a cow or something) hanging and there were some huge steaks on a grill next to it. They were selling cut up steak for 500yen per serving. We lined up and bought us some Hiroshima steak. I took one piece and! It was so tender and so good!

We saw a couple of these steak tents selling local beef.

We saw a Turkish Kebab food tent too. And not only did they have kebabs.......they had stretchy ice cream!! That's what the sign said in Japanese.....well, it sounds a little different in Japanese I guess. I tried to get a picture of the guy dishing up the ice cream, but there were people standing in front of him each time and I was trying to hold my umbrella and take a picture at the same time. This was the best I could do -'s just the kebab tent.

Finally, we came to the end of the mud pit and saw a grassy area with more food tents. It was like food heaven! As we made our way over, I saw a group of Japanese people square dancing. How awesome is that?! They were dancing in the rain.
Not the best picture ever of the square dancers, but it's all I got.

Then we saw an Indonesian food tent with some very friendly people and some yummy looking satay chicken that I had to try. There was a wonderful peanut sauce all over it. Mmmm....

At this point we decided we were done. I wanted a nice, hot cup of tea and I wanted to drink it sitting down......somewhere dry. We headed back towards the mud pit. On the way there, we stumbled onto this little fishing area set up for the children.
Very cool! I wanted to fish! But that cup of tea was calling my name.

Despite all of the rain and the mud and the cold, I had a really good time at the Food Festival. If you missed out on the it this year, there's always next year. I know I'll be there! I just hope the weather is better.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I have to warn you that the quality of pictures and number of pictures for this post are not so great. It was raining too hard on Friday night for me to lug my Nikon around so I took all of the pictures with my phone. And I kind of forgot to take a picture of the outside of the restaurant. Did I mention that it was raining REALLY hard that night?

While I love spending an evening out with my co-workers, I don't like it when it's to farewell one of them. So it was with mixed feelings that I went to dinner Friday night. As always, we had a great time and there was lots of laughing going on. G.Labo is one of my favorite restaurants for parties. I called and made reservations for our group and pre-ordered a set dinner course. It was 2,800yen per person for the meal and then some people opted to do the all-you-can-drink for 2 hours so they paid an additional 2,000yen. I didn't take pictures of the drinks, but I did get some shots of all of the wonderful food that we consumed.

First, they brought out this dish.
It was salmon on top of potatoes and it had some type of sauce mixed into it. They drizzled pesto around the plate and served it with some little pieces of crusty bread. I thought it was so yummy that I had three helpings of it!

Then they brought out the garlic bread......their garlic bread is really amazing.....I could just sit and eat the bread all night. Seriously.

When they told me they were bringing this out, I almost jumped out of my seat (maybe I did ... a little) with excitement.
For those of you looking at this and thinking, "Is that pumpkin there on the left?" Why, yes. It is! Chunks of heavenly pumpkin that we dipped in the this creamy, amazing cheese that was still bubbling like crazy when they brought it out to us. Ohhhh.......I'm going to start drooling all over my Macbook. That pumpkin.....and that cheese.....mmmm.......Alright, moving on.

Oh. I'm sorry. Did I just add another picture of the amazing fondue? Can you see how it's still bubbling? Okay. I'm really moving on now. I promise.

The next dish they brought out was this wonderful mushroom salad.
The mushrooms were delicious and the dressing was really good too. It had a little bit of an orange flavor to it.....a very slight taste.

Then, it was time for some steak. Typically, they serve their steak medium. I didn't think about it when I made reservations and pre-ordered for our group, but I definitely could have asked them to cook them medium-well or whatever our group wanted.
The steak was pretty tasty, but I wish they would have cut them into smaller pieces, or given us steak knives. The pieces were really big and I couldn't just bite a piece off. Now, how sexy is that image of me biting off a big chunk of steak? So glad I wasn't on a first date.

It was finally time for some pasta. At this point, I am feeling kind of full and I'm not sure if I can continue with this food mission.
What? There's mushrooms in the pasta? Well, okay.....I guess I can eat a little bit more. This pasta was pretty light and yummy. It was just tossed in oil and seasonings. Now I REALLY thought I was done.

But....then they brought this out. Oh my gosh. Shrimp in a creamy tomato sauce?? Why, sure! I can still fit some more food in my tummy.
This pasta was a little on the heavy side (must be the cream sauce), but it was good.

Our dinner also came with a choice of coffee or tea, and you they serve it hot or cold so you can choose. I got the hot tea and it was a perfect ending to a yummy dinner. But then they brought out the dessert. They brought out a platter of desserts for each table so we could choose what we wanted.

This wonderful pumpkin goodness was kind of like a pumpkin cheesecake in a cup, with a heavy pumpkin flavor. It was very creamy and very yummy. Unfortunately, I am trying to cut white sugar out of my diet completely (I's can call me crazy) so I just had a very small bite. It's pumpkin and I HAD to taste it.

The chocolate cake looked very dense and very rich. Not sure if it was a big favorite at our table.

This white chocolate raspberry cheesecake was definitely a hit though. It looked really good and sounded really good. And it even came with a small scoop of ice cream on top.

I felt like we definitely got a lot of great food for our money. They do have a regular menu that you can order from. You definitely do not have to order a dinner set.

Definitely a great place for a group outing, or a date night, or even lunch. They are open for lunch and they offer some decent lunch sets. They are closed on Tuesdays so keep that in mind when you plan your lunch or dinner date. For reservations, please call (0827) 21-7916. They do get booked up pretty quickly in the evenings so even if it's for a small group, I recommend that you make reservations.

To get to this lovely little restaurant, go out Main Gate. At the intersection after the railroad tracks (Four Corners), turn right and head downtown towards the train station. At the rotary (the big round-a-bout in front of the train station), turn left. At the first light, turn left and then make the first right. Park in the pay lot on your left (or any of the lots right there). You should see a covered shopping area if you stand with your back to the main road. Go into the covered arcade and go to your right. Walk for a few minutes and you should see G.Labo on your left. It is the last restaurant on your left before you leave the covered arcade (some people call the covered arcade the "Yellow Brick Road").

Enjoy and please let me know what you think!

Thursday, October 13, 2011's Udon season in Iwakuni

I finally did it! I went to the awesome udon restaurant that everyone has been telling me about for months! And by everyone, I mean my parents and Courtney. My parents alone can count as "everyone." It's not that I didn't know this place existed. I have seen it many times, and everytime I drive by it I say to myself that I am going to go there soon and get some udon. And then life takes over or I forget about it. Now that the weather is getting cooler though, I have udon on the brain ALL of the time. Thank goodness my monthly lunch with Danielle and Courtney was coming up. We all decided to go to the awesome udon restaurant this month. Woohoo! I was so excited! Am I the only person who gets this excited about food? I know. Silly question. it? I'm not sure if people realize just how excited I get. I get REALLY excited. Like, jump up and down and do a happy dance excited.

We get there and walk into the restaurant. Wow. It's very cool. As soon as you walk in, you see the fresh udon noodles.

They quickly handed us an english menu. I was too busy trying to take pictures so I didn't really look at the menu. Super happy that they have an english menu though. Even happier that it has pictures! It's kind of like a cafeteria style place. You grab a tray and you order your udon. They also have sizes. We all got medium. Once they give you your bowl with noodles, you keep moving. Here comes the best part! You are now entering the tempura zone!

Oh my gosh! The selection of tempura is amazing. Is there a better word than amazing? Because that's what the tempura selection would be. It would be the word that's better than amazing. The only bad thing about this is that I can't decide what to get. I really wanted to get one of each, but I knew that was just crazy. So I stood there and held up the line trying to decide which tempura goodness I was going to have with my udon. I could only pick one because by now I have noticed the rice balls that are next to the tempura. And they look good! Okay. I pick up the shrimp tempura and put it on my plate. It's okay. I'll be coming here often, and I will try all of the tempura. Oh, yes I will. I finally move down to the rice balls. Again, so many choices! I choose the seaweed (konbu) rice ball, and then I move to the register to pay. My total is 530yen. Yes. 530yen. I know. I stood there in shock for a few seconds. I thought I heard wrong. Really? 530yen? Wow. I pay and then go to the next stop. This is where you add your soup and toppings.

That's it. I haven't even sat down and tried any of the food yet, and I'm in love. I am in love with this restaurant. The staff is really nice and they all look so happy. AND they only charged me 530yen for a bowl of udon, a huge shrimp tempura, and a konbu rice ball. 530yen. I'm sorry. I just can't stop talking about the price of my lunch. I think I'm good now. Mentioning the price 5 times is probably enough.
What I got for 530yen.

The restaurant is pretty roomy. They have tables and counters.

I made my way to one of the tables with the tray. If you want some water, they have water stations set up in a couple of places. They also have hot tea. I took pictures of our food while Courtney and Danielle kindly went and got some water for us. I was having a little bit of regret as I looked at Courtney's and Danielle's sweet potato tempura. It looked so good. I think I already know what I'm getting the next time I eat here.
Doesn't the sweet potato tempura look good????

Courtney also got this yummy looking veggie tempura. It looks like onions and carrots, and it looks good!

Alright, now for the real test. Cheap is nice, but if the food doesn't taste good then I don't care how cheap it is. I'll pay more for good food. I put my tempura in my udon (that's how I like to eat my udon....with shrimp tempura in it), and started eating. Mmmmm.......the udon was really good. The shrimp tempura was REALLY good. Then I opened my rice ball and yes, the konbu rice ball was also very good. Well, this foodie was super happy. Good food that's very reasonable is hard to come by sometimes. Especially with this cruddy yen rate. Did I mention that my lunch was only 530yen?

I have to warn you, this place gets very busy. Now I know why.

For those of you who have never tried udon before, please don't expect it to taste like ramen with fat noodles. The noodles are completely different and the broth is different. Definitely worth trying! If nothing else, the tempura alone is worth going to this restaurant for.

To get to this wonderful udon restaurant, please go out Main Gate and go straight through the light until you get to three corners (T intersection). At three corners, take a right. Go straight on this road until you come to the intersection that will put you on Route 2. It almost looks like a T-intersection, but it's not. At this intersection, turn left. You will pass McDonald's on your right and then Fresta on your left. The udon restaurant is on your right and it's just a couple of minutes after you pass Fresta. They have a huge parking lot so there is plenty of parking. P.S. Is it really bad that I went back there again for lunch today? Two days in a row. I'm in udon heaven! I do want to post one picture from today. Jason got the special udon. It was beef with burdock and partially boiled egg.

I should also add that we got there at around 12:20 and the place was pretty packed!

I feel like I may need to join an udon eaters anonymous group or something........

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Restaurant tips

I notice when I go out to eat that some of the restaurants don't have English menus, and a lot of the people who work in the restaurants don't speak any English. I speak Japanese so I have no problem, but I thought about most of the people on the base and how they don't.What do they do? Charades are a lot of fun and can make for an interesting dining experience, but sometimes it just doesn't work.

So, I'm going to share some important phrases and tips to remember when dining out in town.

If you want some water, you say "Omizu o kudasai" which translates to "water please bring me."

When ordering one of something, you say "hitotsu" which means "one". There are different ways for saying one, depending on what you are using it for. When ordering a food item, it's "hitotsu" (sounds like hetoetsu). Two would be "futatsu", three is "mitsu", and four is "yotsu". If the menu has pictures, you can point to the item and say, "Kore o hitotsu kudasai" which literally translates to "this one please give me." You just ordered one of what you pointed to.

Another important thing to know is how to order beer. Not for me because I don't care for beer, but it is one of the things I am asked about a lot. Apparently some people are more concerned about how to order beer than they are about how to order food. Beer in Japanese is just "beeru". "Bin beeru" is bottled beer and "nama beeru" is draft. When you order a nama beeru, they might ask what size you want. The beer mugs come in different sizes at some places. "Dai"is large, "chu" is medium, and "sho" is small.

I'm sure most of you have already noticed this, but there is no tipping in Japan. In Japan, the servers are paid a decent salary so it's not necessary.

Another thing I get asked is, "what are they saying when you walk in?" They are saying "Irashaimase" which kind of means "welcome" or "please come in". You'll usually get that when you walk into any type of a business. They will also usually say "Arigato gozaimashita!" when you leave. I'm sure most of you already know that this means, "Thank you very much!"

Also, some places will give you a check to take to the register, but some places don't. Usually, the ones that don't have the table numbers programmed into their register and they just punch in your table number.

On that same note, some places are very nice and will let you pay separately. Each person can just go up and tell the nice person at the register what they ordered. Some places will not let you do that though so please be prepared to just pool money together to pay the bill and then figuring it all out later. A lot of izakayas are like that. That's why for izakayas, I just split it evenly between the number of people in my party. You still have to pay it all at once and they usually won't break bills for you. The ramen places and Maple City are wonderful about letting each person pay for what they ate. Actually, now that I really think about it, I think almost all places except for izakayas will let you do this. To ask them to write separate checks or ring you up separately, just say "betsu betsu" This means "separate" or "not together."

If you need a fork, most places have them. Sometimes the forks they bring out are super small, but they do the job. Fork is just "foku" in Japanese. So if you say "foku o kudasai", you are saying "fork please bring me."

Looking for some ketchup? Ketchup is "kechyappu"

When you are at the conveyor belt sushi restaurants, please do not pick up an item and then put it back because you decided you didn't want it after all. This is considered rude in Japan. Once you pick it up, it's yours.

If you make reservations at an all-you-can-eat restaurant for 10 people, please make sure you show up with 10 people. They prepare and purchase food based on the number of people you made reservations for so if you only show up with 7, they are sometimes stuck with extra food. Some places will let it go, but there are some places out there that will make you pay for 10 since that is what you reserved for. I usually collect the money from everyone ahead of time and tell them if they don't show up, they don't get a refund. If you call and change the number in your party ahead of time then it is fine, but try to let them know at least 24 hours prior. Even if call them the day of, it's better than not letting them know at all.

And when you are leaving, if you want to let them know you really enjoyed the food there make sure you tell them "arigato" which is thank you or "gochisosama deshita" which is something Japanese people say after a good meal. It's kind of like a thank you for the wonderful food....or that was really good food. It's a compliment to the restaurant though and they love to hear it.

This one is very important. Not all restaurants take credit cards. It's always a good idea to make sure you have enough cash on you when you go out to eat.

I hope this helps some of you as you venture outside the gate for some great food. The important thing is get out there! Most of the people are very friendly and helpful out there. And if you do have an encounter with someone who wasn't so friendly and helpful, don't give up. Try one of the places I've blogged about.

What else do you want to know about eating out in Japan?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ramen no Ichotei

Another wonderful ramen place I like to go to is located on Route 2. Their soup and noodles are a little bit different from Nagahama Ramen, but theirs is yummy too.
I went to Ramen no Ichotei for lunch a few days ago and they were pretty busy. We got one of the last tables available.
The menu is not in English, but they do have pictures!!
They have a set menu too. You get ramen and whatever item is pictured for the price below the item. For instance, you get the gyoza that is pictured and a bowl of ramen for 880yen. You also get a bowl of rice and they have Japanese pickles you can get. The pickles are to your left when you walk in and you can take as much as you want.
They don't speak English very well so you might have to do some charades with them. Charades are another wonderful part of the dining out in Japan experience.
They also ask how you want your noodles. I always say "futsu" (normal) and it is perfect to me. Not too hard, and not too soft. I don't like mushy noodles.

I ordered the fried chicken set. Because they were so busy, our server told us it would take a little while. We told her that was not a problem.
But our food only took about 15 - 20 minutes. Not bad. I guess it is a long time for ramen, but we didn't care.
If you do not like pork, or you can't eat pork, they will gladly make it without the big slice of pork that's usually on top. Just tell them when you order.
My fried chicken. It was a little greasy and a little fatty, but it tasted good. Maybe I should have went for the gyoza....
Someone else ordered the gyoza set and it looked pretty good.

It's pretty roomy inside. They have a decent amount of tables (I think about 8). They do get pretty busy at lunch time. I always take that as a good sign because that usually means it's good.

Once again I forgot to get a picture of the outside. Goodness......sometimes I want to sing that song from The Wizard of Oz...."if I only had a brain...." I'm just very easily maybe I need to find another song.

Now that it is getting cooler, it is ramen and udon season! I love it!!!!!
To get to Ramen no Ichotei, go out main gate and go to 3 corners. Turn right and follow that road all the way down until it takes you to the light that turns onto Route 2. At that light turn left and go straight for a little while. You'll pass McDonald's on your right and Fresta (wonderful grocery store!!!) on your left. Keep going. After a few minutes, you will see a nursery (plants and flowers) on your left. The ramen place is right across on your right. I think the sign is black and red.
I think I said this in my post on Nagahama Ramen. You should definitely try a few places before you decide on a favorite. Everyone has different tastes and you might like this one more than Nagahama, or you might have a place you already go to that you prefer.
Please come back and post a comment if you decide to check out Ramen no Ichotei! I want to know your thoughts.

Mike's Tex Mex

Okay. I can hear some groans already. Stop it.

I have lived in Southern California so I do know what good Mexican food is. And I do agree that Mike's Tex Mex isn't as good as the hole in the wall places in the Oceanside/Camp Pendleton area, BUT it is the best Mexican food you're going to get around here. Don't go there with super high expectations and you should be just fine.

Some of you may remember when Mike's first opened in Iwakuni. It was a very small space across the street from Andersen Bakery. I was so excited that there was finally a Mexican restaurant in Iwakuni! I was really missing all the good mexican food I used to get in California so I couldn't wait to go.
Once I got there, I couldn't decide what to get. I finally decided to get a combo platter and then patiently (okay....maybe not the right word to use...I TRIED to be patient). It was pretty busy so it took a little while (FOREVER! ....40 minutes is almost like forever when you're hungry) for the food to come out. When it did, I couldn't wait to dig in. I took my first bite and .......well..... I was a little disappointed. It wasn't awful. It was okay. Maybe even a little bit better than just "okay". I just had super high, Southern California expectations. Once I remembered where I was and how it was awesome that we finally got a Mexican restaurant here, it tasted even better. So, if you are familiar with how wonderful mexican food is in some places in the States, erase that out of your mind before going to Mike's. I think you'll have a better experience. I have heard quite a few negative comments about Mike's from people, but some of them were comparing it to that great place they always went to in Oceanside, or in Texas. So go with an open mind and enjoy!

I went recently with the guys from the office for lunch. I ordered the enchillada lunch set. It's funny how the guys now know to let me take pictures of their food before they dig in.
They even hold their plates up for me. My co-workers are pretty awesome.

Their menu is in English and they have staff that speaks a little bit of English. They also have parking which is always a plus! They didn't have parking at their old location.

This is another place that is great for parties. I've celebrated some birthdays at Mike's and they let us bring in a cake (we did ask ahead of time). I said, please do not go there expecting the wonderful food you had while you were in California, or any other place in the States that has good Mexican food. I know. It's hard to do. I have a bad habit of going into places with high expectations and then I am disappointed.
If you get in the mood for some Mexican food, give Mike's a try and then decide for yourself. Please come back and post your thoughts and comments on my Facebook page or comment on this post.