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Japanese Home-Cooking in Vancouver

27 Feb

Don’t have a Japanese parent, but want to try some Japanese-style home-cooking? If you live in Vancouver, you’re in luck. Several restaurants serve the food that the Japanese really eat every day.

Jacket Photo

Black Cod at Hachibei

Done right, a real & traditional Japanese meal is the thoughtful preparation of the freshest (read: seasonal and often local) ingredients using one of several staple cooking methods. Each meal is composed of rice, soup, and several okazu (small side dishes) for a variety of textures, flavours, colours, and aromas. Often served as a set meal, or teishoku, you can find very good quality Japanese meals at the following locations in Vancouver:

Japanese Kitchen is on Commercial between 4th and McSpadden (where Clove used to be). If you want skillfully prepared REAL Japanese food using seasonal ingredients, this is the place to go. The chef applies impeccable cooking techniques to only the freshest ingredients and artfully presents your meal used to be head chef at Tojo’s and Blue Water Cafe before this venture. Attention to detail here is amazing: tempura is served on perfectly folded paper that is served to you with the pointy side away from your body (as per tradition), the “tsuma” (thinly sliced daikon radish) that comes with the sashimi is all hand-cut and not machine-shaved, they have even made the soy sauce themselves (don’t be deceived by the Kikkoman dispensers, they are just used because their design prevents drips on your clothes!) Don’t miss this place. It’s the REAL DEAL. While regular menu items are delicious, it’s the specials menu that is the highlight.

Van-Ya on Kingsway just east of Joyce. I highly recommend going to this little mom and pop establishment. Very small place with very delicious food.

Hachibei on 16th at Willow. (no reservations available) The teishoku here are a little bit more pricey than Van-ya, but probably the best I’ve had in Vancouver (so far…) The black cod is highly recommended, but everything here looks good. They also serve sushi, but if you’re going here, you should go for the unique dishes you can’t get at other restaurants in town.

Tenhachi on 12th at Spruce (no reservations available) is one I haven’t been to, but have heard amazing things about it. It’s the restaurant I’m most looking forward to visiting. However, they don’t take reservations, and I hear that you have to line up. They also serve a Japanese breakfast (similar to what we had tonight – grilled fish, rice, miso soup, etc.) which could be a fun experience if you haven’t had it before.

Aki on Thurlow just off of Robson is where we’ll be visiting next week, and functions more like an izakaya in the evening. However, it does serve teishoku  (set meals) at lunchtime. I haven’t had their lunchtime teishoku, but am sure it will be delicious and authentic, like their evening fare.

Hi Genki on Southoaks Crescent just next to Nikkei Heritage Society serves authentic Japanese food on a rotating menu. (Their menu is supplemented daily with specials, which is a sign of fresh ingredients and skill in the kitchen.) They also have a good selection of washoku (Japanese style food) and yoshoku (Japanese style western food).  Affiliated with the Japanese grocery chain Fujiya, it also serves as a restaurant to the seniors home at Nikkei Place.

Happy Forking!


Sushi Spots in Vancouver

17 Feb

Inari (fried tofu) sushi and Tamago (egg) nigiri sushi

I have the best job ever. I just got home from teaching the second class of the Japanese Culinary Arts class for UBC Continuing Studies, where my job is to essentially host an educational dinner party at a Japanese restaurant each week! Eat and talk about the food I love? I know, I have it so tough…

This week’s class was all about sushi, and so I followed up our delicious meal at Temaki Sushi (on West Broadway near Arbutus – don’t get mixed up with the all-you-can-eat BC Sushi nearby!), where the owner was kind enough to give us a really great deal on a fantastic meal. If you go there, ask for the aji tataki, which is served with the whole fish presented with shaved daikon radish and the slices of tataki. Then, once you’ve eaten the raw fish, the bones are taken back to the kitchen to be deep-fried for aji karaage. So tasty! Very well-priced for the quality you receive, do give it a shot if you live in the west side of town.

If you’re looking for other places, though, here are a few more:


I must confess that my knowledge of downtown sushi joints is pretty poor. I tend to avoid evenings out in downtown, unless I’m riding there on my bike. So here are the two top places I’ve been to, but I know there are many more!

  • Kaide: On Richards near Pacific, this one is hard to spot, but is a shame to miss. Fresh fish, and a chef who knows what he’s doing. It’s in a part of downtown that is a little out of the way, so it’s a great place to get away for a downtown lunch.
  • Honjin: Tucked in the corner of a complex in Yaletown, Honjin has Sushi Shooters that are creative and delicious. They tend more to fusion sushi, but the ingredients are fresh and well prepared.

Central/East Vancouver

  • Zipang: Another reasonably priced location on Main street, I recommend their non-sushi dishes, such as their grilled eggplant, which is one of the best I’ve ever had. They also serve takoyaki (octopus balls) and Okonomiyaki (although you’ll be able to make a better Okonomiyaki with your experience!)

Kitsilano/West Side

  • Octopus’ Garden: A pricier option on Cornwall, this might be one of my new favourites. For this year’s Dine-Out Vancouver, this restaurant provided me with one of the most creative and delicious meals I’ve had in this city. Definitely a place to bow to the chef’s choice and go for something special.
  • Kibune: On Yew near Cornwall (just beside the Happa Izakaya) is a small and really great little sushi spot. Also not super cheap, but a more financially accessible than Octopus’ Garden, the sushi is very authentic and they also have tofu dengaku (grilled tofu with a miso paste). Delicious!
  • Ajisai: Upstairs from London Drugs in Kerrisdale (on 42nd) Ajisai is the top pick of many a Vancouverite (and many Japanese Vancouverites) for high quality sushi. No tempura served here, they are about fresh fish and healthy choices. If you are going to go choose only one restaurant on this list, I know a lot of people who would say this should be the one. Read a review here:

South Vancouver


  • Gyo-ou: An interesting approach to sushi – some deconstructed offerings at this new place just east of Aberdeen Centre on Sexsmith. They also have dishes like takoyaki. Check out their exciting menu: Brought to you by the Gyoza King owners. They also own a ramen shop in the same complex that is VERY authentic –

I’ll be heading to three more restaurants for this course, so please stand by for more recommendations – and please do share your favourites, too!

Happy Forking!

South Vancouver

· Shimaya: If you want authentic at good prices, without the crazy line-ups, try this place on Victoria drive at 39th. I think it’s equal to Shiro and Toshi in terms of quality, just a little further out of the way.



· Gyo-ou: An interesting approach to sushi – some deconstructed offerings at this new place just east of Aberdeen Centre on Sexsmith. They also have dishes like takoyaki. Check out their exciting menu: Brought to you by the Gyoza King owners. They also own a ramen shop in the same complex that is VERY authentic –

Rice Balls! Making Onigiri with Shinmai

2 Nov

Balls of good firmness with some of salt taste

Remind me the traditional times grains

Using time of new rice to eat fresh balls is enjoyment of fall season

Onigiri with furikake seasoning and a piece of nori

It’s the season of shinmai (new rice) and when rice is this fresh and delicious, the best way to eat it is the simplest way. Plain. With a little salt and wrapped in a piece of nori (seaweed). The amazing blog Just Hungry featured this article in the Japan Times, which gives a run-down on shinmai as well as a recipe for the delectable onigiri (rice ball). (For more on balls, click here for two of my fave.)

Happy forking with balls!


13 Aug

Fits into hand with ease, pleasant shape of balls

Have you enjoyed balls, lately?


What do you like to forking put in your mouth? How about some balls? Although they’re not something that comes to mind right away when I think of what to eat (most things I put in my mouth are longer than they are wide) I encourage you not to leave your balls out in the cold.

Let me introduce you to two of my favourite balls.

1. Octopus Balls – Takoyaki

A relative newbie to the Vancouver/Richmond night market scene (stalls have popped up over the past couple of years) takoyaki are balls of savoury dough, grilled on a special teppan of half-spheres. Batter, green onions and/or cabbage, and sometimes tenkasu (bits of fried tempura batter) and/or beni-shouga (red ginger) are poured onto the teppan, and a piece of octopus is plonked in the middle. Once mostly cooked, the half-moon is deftly turned in its place with a long skewer and fried into a spherical shape. Topped with a Worcestershire-based sauce (creatively named takoyaki sauce), Japanese mayonnaise, aonori (seaweed powder), and katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes), this Osaka treat is a big hit, as indicated by the huge line-ups at the night market stalls.



Not had the chance to put these balls in your mouth yet? Try eating octopus balls in the Vancouver area at:

  • Zipang (3710 Main Street, between 21st and 22nd Avenues)
  • Richmond Night Market (12631 Vulcan Way)
  • Bakudanyaki: Named for their incredible size (Bakudan = explosion, or bomb) these baseball sized “explosion balls” are so potent, you need only one. (7100 Elmbridge Way, just off of the Gilbert Road bridge on the south side of the river)

Be careful not to burn your mouth – these balls are hot!

2. Rice Balls – Onigiri

The ideal way to use up the last of your rice, and the easiest meal to take for tomorrow’s lunch, onigiri are the perfect way to satisfy your hunger at mealtime or as a snack. Available in abundance in convenience stores in Japan, I can’t imagine why this treat hasn’t caught on in 7-11s across the globe. Tasty, healthy, and available with a variety of fillings, I would argue that onigiri, Japan’s sandwich, outshines the bologna tossed between two slices of white bread that most North American children call “lunch”.


Onigiri - a versatile ball

How to Make Onigiri (Rice Balls)

  1. Cook Japanese rice, using only white rice or a mixture of white and brown rice. (Onigiri requires the rice to stick to itself, so be sure to mix in at least 40% white rice to get this to work! Also, make sure you use Japanese rice – other types aren’t sticky enough.)
  2. Allow the rice to cool at least a little bit. As delicious as they are, onigiri are not worth losing the skin from the palms of your hands. Once lukewarm or cool, you can sprinkle in your favourite furikake (literally “shake and sprinkle”) seasoning (available at most asian supermarkets) leftover bits of flaked salmon or other fish, leftover edamame beans (minus the pods), or gomashio (a mixture of sesame seeds and coarse salt). Plain rice is fine, too.
  3. Shape the balls. Wet your hands and sprinkle them with some salt before scooping about one rice-bowls worth of rice into one hand. In the centre, spoon in a small dollop of the filling of your choice, such as a piece of leftover salmon, a chunk of tuna, a piece of daikon radish pickle, soft nori (seaweed) paste or an umeboshi (pickled sour plum). Shape the rice as you wish (triangles are most popular, followed by flattened circles, but try your hand at hearts and stars if you dare!) and wrap with a piece of crispy ajitsuke nori (seasoned, roasted seaweed) as enjoyed in western Japan’s Kansai region or yaki nori (dried plain seaweed sheets – used when making sushi) as they prefer is in the eastern Kanto region.
Konbini Onigiri

So convenient, onigiri is a Japanese convenience store staple

Onigiri holder

Hate squashed balls? Try an onigiri-holder!

Onigiri mascot

Already an expert onigiri-maker? Don't let it go to your head

Wanna try an onigiri before making it on your own? T&T Supermarket (179 Keefer Place in Vancouver, 21500 Gordon Way in Richmond, and 15277 100 Avenue in Surrey) and Konbiniya  (1238 Robson Street in Vancouver) sell pre-made onigiri. Check out their ingenious packaging, which keeps the nori fresh and crispy until the moment you eat it.

Let’s enjoying the balls together for two times of fun when next forking time!

Sausage Party

8 Aug

Feeling of many happy memories come with eating of it – tube of meat.

Friends should enjoying together the pork. Come on!

It's a party - and your sausage is invited!

Throughout 15 years of vegetarianism-turned-pescatarianism, I had often speculated about sausage. Not just any sausage, though. A particular, nostalgic treat of German weisswurst sausage with hot mustard and sauerkraut. The kind of sausage that my father used to bring in off the grill on hot summer evenings. The kind of evenings where the doors are left open and you can hear the neighbour’s children laughing and enjoying a late run through the sprinkler, their little dog nipping at their heels. The type of summer vacation evening when you can’t remember the last day of school and haven’t even started thinking of the first day of the next school year. The type of summer evening where a piping hot, juicy pork and veal sausage arrives at the table, perfectly browned on the outside and literally bursting with flavour – the emerging white flesh speckled with aromatic herbs and ready for a dollop of hot mustard.

Clearly, it was time to give in and get porked. Time for a sausage party!

How to throw a sausage party:

  1. Determine an appropriate location for your sausage. My nostalgic sausage requirements called for a nostalgic location – my parents’ backyard.
  2. Invite your friends and their sausages. And their friends with sausages.
  3. Prepare a variety of sauces and other goodies for topping. Go beyond the standard, and lay out some sauerkraut, sliced olives, shredded cheese, hot peppers, shredded lettuce, sauteed and fresh onions, sliced pickles, a variety of mustards, and sriracha and other hot sauces. For a Japa-dog experience, I recommend also providing grated daikon radish, ponzu sauce, shredded nori, chopped green onion, japanese mayonnaise, and teriyaki or okonomiyaki sauce.
  4. Get your sausages hot over a flame. And while they’re heating up, warm up your buns with a quick visit to the oven.
  5. Insert pork into bun, and top with your flavourite combo of sauces and dressings.
  6. Get porked!

Toppings Galore

Chris' Sausage

Lucy's Sausage

It can't be all about the meat all the time. Have a salad to wash down that pork.

And how did I fare at the sausage soiree?

Longing for that nostalgic German wurst, and yet crazily curious about Japadog’s daikon oroshi dog, I opted to honour my roots and go for a half and half compromise.

Sausages: they bring countries together

Just look at the innocence in my smile only moments before I gave in and succumbed to my long-unfulfilled desire for a porking. An innocence that will never return…

And here’s how it went:

After a little trepidation, I decided to take a little lick…

Testing the waters...

and decided it was safe to give it a go.

Here goes...

and the result?

Hey - I like it!!

Pretty forking good!

The texture was even better than I had remembered! Spurred on by the success of my sausage (but afraid of a tummy-ache) I tried small bites of others’ sausage. All rather good, but my wurst was by far definitely the best.

My conclusion? No horrific stomach tremors or digestive disasters that evening led me to finish off two leftover sausages (baked into a savoury bread pudding) over the next 4 days. I have to admit that the novelty quickly wore off, and the non-weisswurst sausage just didn’t capture my tastebuds enough to warrant the slaughter required to create them. Nope, I’m not turning back to the dark side.

Well… except for possibly the occasional visit to the weiss side…

Forking at the Festival

2 Aug

Street Food as it should be - Imagawayaki

Every year since I was a kid (and since before I was a kid), the Powell Street Festival has happened at Oppenheimer Park in the area known as Japantown in Vancouver. And every year for the past few years, I have missed it.

But not this year! This time, even my annual summer trip to Japan couldn’t get in the way – I was determined to go and eat Vancouver’s version of Japanese summer festival fare and reminisce about a time when I danced on the stage in my yukata (summer kimono) with the other girls from my Japanese language school – the only brown hair in the bunch.

It lived up to my anticipation. Not only were there lots of cute little (and big) halfers roaming around, making me feel like I belonged to a secret club, but there was food, glorious food – festival food! Join me on a culinary tour through Vancouver’s longest running community festival.

Inari Sushi

Inari Sushi

Inari sushi – Sweet, fried tofu sheets filled with rice.



Okonomiyaki – Literally, “grilled as you like” these are savoury Japanese pancake/omelettes, usually topped with a Worcestershire-based sauce, mayonnaise, aonori (a type of dried seaweek) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). Yum!

Spam Omusubi

Spam, anyone?

Spam Omusubi – A fusion of war-time rations and omusubi (a.k.a. onigiri), the Japanese sandwich (a rice ball), Spam omusubi is a food that I’m not sure I can endorse. Although my Japanese and Korean friends swear by Spam, I can’t quite imagine what grilled ham, sandwiched between two pressed blocks of rice and wrapped in seaweed tastes like. By this gentleman’s face, I imagine it can’t be that bad, though!

Spam Sushi

Spam Sushi

… just in case you didn’t get enough Spam.

Takoyaki in Vancouver

Takoyaki in Vancouver

Takoyaki – Octopus balls! The longest line-up at the festival for sure, the next time you see these, run to the queue and dig your heels in. Don’t give up – these balls of batter filled with seafood (and yes, octopus) are worth the wait!



A round take on Tai-yaki (the fish-shaped version), Imagawayaki is essentially a sweet pancake filled with sweet red beans. In Japan, you can also get white beans or custard in the middle. mmmm, custard…

Sawagi Taiko

Sawagi Taiko

Okay, you can’t eat this, but I just had to highlight these amazing women. Sawagi Taiko is an all-female taiko drumming group based here in Vancouver. If you’re interested in taking a one-day workshop, they are offering one in September! Check out their Facebook Page for more information on how to register. See you there!

There’s still one day left, if you’re reading this on August 2, so get out there and,

Let’s Forking at Festivals with our community members!!

Forking in Japan: Highlights from Days 3 – 10

11 Jul

It’s been 10 full days since I arrived, and so far, it has been a whirlwind of forking delights. Here are just some of the forking highlights from days 3 – 10:

Tororo Soba

Tororo Soba: Cold soba noodles with a soy sauce and fish stock based sauce, topped with grated yamaimo and nameko mushrooms, garnished with shiso leaves and nori. Made by my host, Masayo.

Bukkake SomenBukkake Somen: Cold somen noodles with a stock-based cool soup, topped with tempura. Made by Mayumi, wife of a former co-teacher.

Takana Cha-hanTakana Cha-han: Fried rice with takana pickles and jako (baby sardines). Made by me. And if I do say so myself, sooooo forking yummy.

AwabiAwabi: Like an oyster, but larger, delicious raw with a squeeze of lime juice and accompanied by thinly sliced myouga (fresh ginger shoots)

Yomogi MochiYomogi Mochi: A sweet, pounded sticky rice treat filled with red beans. The mochi in this case is pounded together with yomogi, a medicinal herb, which lends the mochi its green colour and a special flavour.

BeekariiPanya-san: Or, in English, the bakery. Filled with goodies such as mentaiko french bread, chestnut “cherry blossom” shaped buns, custard-filled cornets, and many, many more soft, white, buttery breads. Definitely not a place for the gluten intolerant or anyone with any hope of sticking to the Atkin’s diet.

and only in Japan…

Coffee and CigarettesCoffee and Cigarettes: When was the last time your coffee was presented to you with an ashtray?

Rusk lineHayari-mono: Things in Japan become fads, or hayari-mono, very quickly and with a degree to which wouldn’t be seen in North America. We stood in what would have been an hour and a half (we wouldn’t have made our train) for what appears to be a sweet version of dried out, toasted french bread – “Rusk” (

Pon de Ring

Maccha Pon de Ring donut: Ah, Mr. Donut, the Tim Horton’s of Japan, where you can get a mochi-textured (chewy) maccha flavoured donut, filled with condensed milk and dipped in maccha chocolate.

mmmmm… Japan is forking delicious.