Wandering Tokyo, part 1

My childhood friend Melissa Wong Kamakawiwoole now lives in Japan, and she came all the way out from Kakegawa to hang out with me in the big city. Since we only had a couple of days, we did some whirlwind touring jumping on and off the trains/metro to cover as much ground as possible.

If you have Asakusa on your schedule, combine it with a visit to Ueno, which is along the way — although you could easily spend a whole day in either town. In fact, you can probably spend a half day in Ueno station alone! My social media friend Yoshiko Hino had the day free so joined us once we got to Asakusa.

Here’s a look at what we saw, which is quite a bit for one day.

Aloha Tokyo!

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When in Japan, try their parfait-like desserts called anmitsu. This is pumpkin anmitsu and matcha (green tea) anmitsu, which include mochi balls, warabi mochi, and azuki beans.

 

Be sure to follow me @Melissa808 on instagram and twitter to keep up with my trip!

Up next: Tsukiji Market to Kyubei sushi!

Aloha Tokyo! A night out with Hawaii friends

Aloha Tokyo!
It’s always fun to meet up with a friend or two from Hawaii, living in a destination you visit. You get to hear about how they live and work, and eat food that is very local to the area — in places that a tourist might not normally go.

I had the opportunity to meet up with a bunch of Hawaii ex-pats, even a few who have lived there about 20 years, thanks to Kurt Saito (who has lived there for four). It was so interesting to hear about how much they love living there as well as what you have to go through to get to live there in the first place. You have to be serious about moving to Japan and have people vouch for you, and in the process they have to open up all of their personal records. It’s not an easy or quick thing, but once you get there, it’s apparently a really great life (especially if you’re a guy, but that’s another blog post for another day).

Also, you’ve heard about Japanese people working long hours. Did you know that they are obligated to stay long at work even if they’ve long finished? That’s their culture — they show their loyalty to their company by staying late at the office. “They don’t work hard, but they work long,” observed one ex-pat.

Nonetheless, it was nice to meet up after work with the Hawaii peeps. We went to Noboru, a multi-level bar in Ebisu that offers all you can eat and drink in two hours for just $28. It’s super local and and fun, and decent bar food. Here’s how the night went:

Aloha Tokyo!

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Here's the group of (mostly) Hawaii ex-pats that I met up with in Tokyo. There's a large group that gets together regularly and they are a community-within-a-community. Kurt Saito (far right) coordinated this gathering.

Big mahalo to Kurt Saito for getting the event together and introducing me to the gang from Hawaii!

Up next: Random wandering through Tokyo. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @Melissa808 if you want to get the most current updates!

Aloha Tokyo!

Chihiro and Sean Shinshiro at Sean's Kitchen.

Chihiro and Sean Shinshiro at Sean’s Kitchen.

If you follow me on social media, you’ve already seen shots of my trip to Tokyo. Why am I here, anyway?

My classmate, Deb Aoki, always takes fantastic trips and finds the quirkiest things along the way. Whenever she travels, I follow her on instagram and shake my fist at my phone, wishing I could be there. I finally said, “The next time you go on a trip, I’m going with you!” She let me know that she was headed to Tokyo in November for an anime conference, and I invited myself along.

I arrived a few days ahead of her to visit with other Hawaii people who live here now. Through these people, I learned a lot about Japanese culture and mindset, and I hope you do, too.

The first person I visited was classmate Sean Shinshiro (right), who has lived in Japan for 10 years and has owned a restaurant in Urayasu (near Chiba) for about four. Sean’s Kitchen is known for its Hawaiian style food, with popular items like garlic shrimp, lomi salmon, kalua pig, and even laulau. Many times, he even has poi on hand.

Once a month, the little restaurant has a pa’ina, with all the local favorites and live music to boot. If you’re in Tokyo and feeling homesick, this is a great place to get a taste of Hawaii and talk about all kine local stuffs. Plan ahead, though, as Urayasu is about an hour or so out of the city.

Aloha Tokyo!

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The first thing a tourist does upon arrival in Shibuya: Take a photo with Hachiko, the famous loyal Akita.

Up next: more Hawaii peeps in the Big Mikan!

Discovering Hilo’s gravy burger

If you’re From the Big Island (FBI), you’re either reading this in disgust because I’m so late to the party, or getting a hankering for one of your favorite meals (or snacks, depending on how much you eat). Yes, I finally discovered the thing that Hilo residents have been eating for generations: the famous gravy burger.

I was on assignment this week and stopped in at Verna’s to help Olena Heu get a photo of their shoyu chicken plate for her Top 5 blog. I Instagrammed a photo of the sign, and it set off a storm of posts commanding me to get a gravy burger. A what?

Remember, FBI peeps are the ones who gave the world the loco moco, that belly-busting meal (or snack, depending) comprised of rice, burger patty, brown gravy and egg. This is like that. It’s a burger patty in a bun, smothered in gravy. Some places have the burger swimming in the gravy until it’s served, too. Amazingly, it wasn’t as messy as I thought it would be. To be fair in my research, I bit two.

Verna's III

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If you're from Hilo, you know Verna's. Some people say the gravy burger is their favorite thing there. You can get a gravy burger, gravy cheeseburger, double gravy burger, or double gravy cheeseburger. And then I guess you can say goodbye to your arteries.

Verna's III (1 and Too are in Kona)
1765 Kamehameha Ave.
808-935-2776

I understand there are several places in Hilo that feature the gravy burger, and have for decades. Okay, okay…I hope to try them someday. Now, can someone please tell me who invented the gravy burger? And why do Hilo people like to gravy-fy everything?

Mahalo to Sherrie Holi from Big Island Candies for buying me the Kawate gravy burger!

Something new: Pinwheel Hawaii

Stephanie Nomura with her ice cream sandwiches at Fresh Cafe.

Stephanie Nomura with her ice cream sandwiches at Fresh Cafe.

Who doesn’t love ice cream sandwiches? Two Punahou grads, Angela Shiraki and Stephanie Nomura, have kicked up our childhood favorite a notch with some unique flavors at their new company, Pinweel Hawaii.

Shiraki is a graduate of Kapiolani Community College’s culinary program, and went on to work at Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room for a few years. As life would have it, she eventually had a baby and became a stay-at-home mom. She continued practicing her culinary skills on her friends at home, and recently Nomura convinced her it would be a good — no, great — idea to start a handcrafted, homemade ice cream sandwich company using her talents.

The two launched their company online in August and just announced they have their first retail outlet out of Fresh Cafe Downtown. You can buy their sandwiches ($3.50) at the coffee counter or in the restaurant.

“We called it Pinwheel because it evokes feelings of nostalgia,” Nomura explained. “The name, and the ice cream sandwiches, remind us of our childhood.”

The ice cream sandwich flavors are updated every month, but they can accommodate special orders for previous flavors with enough notice. Each sandwich cookie is carefully matched with the ice cream, and they have perfected the recipe and size to ensure the ice cream doesn’t shoot out of the cookie when you bite it (as you probably have experienced with other sandwiches). Each flavor has its own distinct shape — hearts, circles, leaves, etc. — which lends to its homemade appeal.

I took a bite out of five of the sandwiches yesterday to get a taste of what they’re doing. I regretted having lunch, because I would have wanted to eat a whole sandwich if I could! The cookies are sweet (but not too sweet) and the ice cream is less sweet to balance it. I liked that the sandwich cookies are a little more like cake, so they are just soft enough to bite while everything is still very frozen.

sammichesThe flavors, clockwise from top left:

Strawberry surprise: a strawberry cake topper with strawberry ice cream, but this has a rich flavor of strawberry milk. Definitely one of my favorites.

Cho-coco: chocolate brownie topper with haupia ice cream. This was good, with local flavor.

Blonde Bombshell: based on Punahou’s “caramel cuts,” this has a butter caramel blondie topper and vanilla ice cream. Another favorite.

It’s Your Birthday: birthday cake topper and cereal milk ice cream. Yes, you can imagine what that tastes like. The flavors were subtle in this one but nice. Very close third place on my taste buds.

Oreo Twist: “cookies n’ cream” cookie with mint oreo ice cream. It was nicely chocolatey with a zing of mint. It was good, but not as good as my favorites listed above. I think once I tasted the others, this was just way too familiar!

Nomura said they still take orders through their website and can do large, custom orders for parties or fundraisers.

Pinwheel Hawaii
via Fresh Cafe Downtown
1111 Nuuanu Ave.