Itameshi Love: Hamada-Ya Bakery

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Hamada-Ya Bakery inside Mitsuwa Marketplace in Torrance is my new favorite vender inside the Japanese food court.  Of all the trips my husband and I’ve made here over the years, I can’t believe this was actually my first time trying this Itameshi (“ita” is shortened for Italian, and “meshi” means food) place.  What a hidden gem!

This place is attached to the boulangerie inside Mistuwa (which bakes up amazing breads) and offers a colorful selection of cakes and pastries, in addition to Japanese style Italian plates.

Itameshi-style spaghetti with Bologne sauce has occupied a special place in my heart, as well as stomach, ever since I was a child.  I don’t know what’s so different about the Japanese meat sauce versus the traditional Italian kind, but the former is something I just can’t get enough of.  But I always overlooked Hamada-Ya Bakery because I always felt like I should try something I can only eat in Torrance (I can always make a meat sauce at home, whereas a bowl of ramen from, say, Santouka, is hard to come by) since we drove so far to get here.

Let’s just say I’m glad I decided to make a change on my last visit to Mistuwa.  I have to say that the food here is not extraordinary.  In fact, it’s just slightly above average, but it’s the closest thing to the plate I once enjoyed as a little girl in Japan, and that’s more than good enough for me and my hungry stomach!

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Omurice (ketchup-flavored rice covered in fluffy egg — the word omurice comes from “omu” shortened for omelette, and rice, well, that’s self explanatory) is quite delicious too.  And our daughter loves eating the spaghetti with her bare hands!

Hamada-Ya Bakery (Inside Mitsuwa Marketplace)
21515 S Western Ave, Ste 146-B
Torrance, CA 90501
★★★★☆

This Ain’t No Fear Factor

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I have a bone to pick with people who think Takoyaki, or octopus balls, are made out of octopus testicles and brag about eating them as if they were a contestant on The Fear Factor.  The octopus ball got the name from its round shape, not from the ingredients.  In fact, there’s nothing suspicious inside the Ebelskiver-shaped goodness – just a good old flour, eggs, dashi, chopped scallions, red ginger, and yes, octopus pieces. So, please don’t pretend that you triumphed on The Fear Factor, Man vs. Wild, or any other TV shows that make you eat some weird bizarre sh#@.

IMG_7657Oh, and Taiyaki, or baked sea bream, is not a fish dish either.  It’s a red bean dessert baked in the shape of a fish.

These delicious dishes are from a little shop inside Torrance Mistuwa Marketplace food court.  Sorry, I forgot the name of the place.

That is all.

Ramen Burger

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Cronuts are so yesterday. Ramen Burger is the newest buzz in the culinary world.

When I first heard that a mystery food called ramen burger was introduced in NYC — sandwiching hamburger patty between two “buns” made out of ramen noodles — I wasn’t really sure how that would work. Sure, the idea is noble – why not marry two of people’s favorite comfort foods for the ultimate East meets West deliciousness? But in practice? I wasn’t too sure.

Then, I experienced the original Ramen Burger made by creator and true Ramen fanatic, Keizo Shimamoto, and I finally knew what the buzz was all about!

I’ve been following Keizo’s ramen journey through his blog, Go Ramen, for many years.  Although I’m not a ramen fanatic myself, I love reading about his passion for the Japanese noodle dish.  In 2009, he quit his job and moved to Tokyo to work for a ramen shop across the ocean.  I think many of us dream about quitting our day job to pursue our dreams, but he’s one of the few that actually had the courage to do it.

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The Original Ramen Burger came to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Torrance a few weeks ago to serve up 500 of its now famous burgers to the So Cal food lovers. The last time they were here, the line wrapped around the entire building (check out the craziness here), so we were a bit scared what would happen this time around.

Kevin, Pon Pon and I arrived at Mitsuwa around 10:00 a.m. to get our wrist band (Pon Pon got one too so we can have the extra burger  lol ). Luckily, the line was still very short, with about five people deep, although it got really long in the next 30 minutes. The line moved pretty quickly, thanks to the kitchen’s efficiency.

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So, the flavor – delicious.  Absolutely delicious!  The burger was more like a deconstructed ramen, as opposed to a fusion burger.  When you bite into it, the noodle, which is perfectly cooked at al dente, falls apart nicely in your mouth, creating the illusion that you just slurped a good bowl of ramen.  The beef patty adds a nice volume to the spicy arugula and crunchy scallion.  But the real hero here is the sauce.  I was expecting a teriyaki-like sweet flavor, but this tastes just like the perfectly salty, umami-packed, condensed version of a shoyu ramen broth.  When you close your eyes, you’d think you’re eating a real bowl of ramen.  Aaah, I salivate just thinking about it.

I think there are lots of ramen burger knockoffs everywhere now.  I don’t blame people for wanting to imitate Keizo’s creation because it’s so money, but I hope you get to experience the original version.  You can really taste his love and passion for ramen in this little, heavenly morsel.

For more ramen goodness, check out his documentary, Ramen Dreams. While you watch this, please help me answer the question that I’ve never been able to decipher:  How can someone who eats so much ramen stay so slender?  I’m jealous.

Hokkaido Fair at Mitsuwa

Kevin and I went to Torrance to check out Mitsuwa’s Hokkaido Fair last weekend!

We actually decided to skip the limited edition miso ramen from Ezofukuro, and went straight to Santouka. We’ve been disappointed with the over-hyped special ramen from the previous food fairs (it’s such hit and miss), so we decided to stick to the guaranteed goodness of Santouka’s tonkotsu ramen.  This is my second favorite ramen shop in Los Angeles, after Daikokuya, and we didn’t have to get in a long line!

Kevin ordered the combination, with ramen and pork chashu bowl.  It was so delicious!

We were so looking forward to the soft served ice cream made from the luscious milk from Hokkaido but I am disappointed to report that it was not as good as I remembered. The ice cream machine wasn’t working properly and the cream had already melted by the time we got ours (it started dripping right after we snapped that photo). I remember it being so much richer and silkier … but this one tasted no different than any other soft served from fast food joints. It so want my $3.00 back so I can go to Pinkberry! 😦

We were already full by the time we finished the ramen and the ice cream, so we took some of the fish cakes home and enjoyed them with the family for dinner.

We got some yummy croquettes too!

Childhood Memories: Tonkotsu Ramen and Takoyaki

I was born in Tokyo but spent most of my childhood in Fukuoka, before moving to the states in the mid-80s. My old neighborhood where I spent the first seven years of my life in Japan is also the birthplace of Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, a Japanese noodle bowl in a milky broth made out of cooking pork bones for days. That may be the reason why I love this type of ramen over any other kind, even the more popular shoyu (soy sauce) version. Although I don’t remember eating much ramen growing up, it’s embedded in my DNA to love tonkotsu. It takes me back to childhood.

On a random note, my mother loves ramen but can’t stand the tonkotsu broth even though she had lived in Fukuoka for many years. Back when my father was courting my mother, he took her to this ramen shop in Hakata known to serve the best tonkotsu ramen in the area to impress her. The chef prided himself in the soup so much that he told my mother that she could not leave the restaurant without drinking the last drop of the soup. She was already full but had to force herself to eat the entire bowl and got really sick afterward. The experience traumatized her so much that she hasn’t been able to be near tonkotsu since. Poor mom!

Now back in the present day, my boyfriend and I found ourselves in Mistuwa market in Costa Mesa last weekend, to check out the Gourmet “Umaimono” Food Fair which featured yummy umaimono (translates to “delicious things”) from Japan, from the northern part of Hokkaido all the way down to Kyushu in the south, including tonkotsu ramen from a highly acclaimed ramen shop, Hakata Ippudo (now also in New York). We tried the ramen, and unlike my mother with her delicate stomach, I slurped down to the last drop of the broth with no problem! The ramen was good, and I particularly enjoyed the combination of oily, rich broth with grated garlic, shredded meat (in addition to a piece of very generously cut chashu pork) and beni-shoga (red ginger), but the dish didn’t blow my mind like I was hoping it would. I think I’d much rather prefer a bowl from Daikokuya or Santouka … they were 10 time better.

Takoya Kukuru‘s Takoyaki, a savory Japanese version of a Danish doughnut Aebleskiver, was, however, amazing! The literal translation of this dish to English is “Octopus Balls” because each “ball” that’s made out of vegetable and batter has a piece of octopus in the center, but some people think it’s a dish with octopus you-know-what and run the other way. Please rest assure that there are no Rocky Mountain Oyster things happening in takoyaki and you can enjoy this famous Japanese fair / carnival food in peace. Each takoyaki ball was very soft and creamy and the sweet sauce, mayonnaise, and a sprinkle of aonori took this snack to another level.

While American friends enjoyed funnel cakes at a carnival, we Japanese chomped down on Takoyaki. I love Takoyaki so much, it’s one of my favorite food of all time. You can take the girl out of Japan but you can’t take Japan out of a girl, I guess. 🙂

Hokkaido Gourmet Food Fair: Mitsuwa Market

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As much as I love food, I am not usually the one to drive hours and hours for it (I may wait in a long line because I’m a culinary ambulance chaser but driving is a different story altogether). My boyfriend, however, is, so I was not surprised when he asked me to go to Hokkaido with him for a bowl of ramen. Thank goodness Hokkaido came to Torrance this weekend, instead of us having to fly over to the northernmost island of Japan.

When we got to Mistuwa Market, one of the hosts of Hokkaido Gourmet Food Fair (others were at its Costa Mesa and San Diego locations), at around 11:30 a.m., we made a beeline to Ramen Shingen for the limited edition, salt-flavored ramen. The line was about seven people deep when we arrived and by the time we started eating, the line had extended all the way to the other end, about 30 people! Although I am not a huge fan of ramen, particularly shio ramen, I found this to be pretty refreshing with light broth and thick noodles. And the fatty chashu was out of this world.  (You can see more yummy pictures at Keizo’s blog here, at  Go Ramen.)

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My boyfriend could have been happy with the bowl of ramen, but my day was not going to be complete until I explored all the other delicious offerings. Right after lunch, and after grabbing several fish cakes and croquettes from the deli sections to take home for dinner, we walked over to the other side for crepe. The price was pretty steep at $5.00 a pop (for something that takes 25 cents to make) but I was happy with the green tea crepe that had whipped cream (Hokkaido is known for wonderful milk products and although I don’t like whipped cream in general, this one was different in a very luscious way), a good chunk of sweet anko (red bean paste) and a sprinkle of green tea power wrapped in air thin, chewy crepe dough. It was fun watching the crepe maker busy at work!

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The highlight of the day, for me, was definitely the freshly made Shiro Taiyaki. Regular yaikyaki (translates to “baked bream,” because of the shape) is made out of yellow waffle-like batter but this special, Hokkaido kind was made out of rice flour, which gave it a more sticky and chewy texture, like mochi. For a die-hard mochi and anko lover, this one made my eyes roll backward.

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In addition, we enjoyed ohagi, sweet mochi rice wrapped in anko (which was absolutely divine), curry pan (fried bread with velvety Japanese curry in the middle) and vanilla and French pear soft serve ice creams which added the delicious exclamation point to this wonderfully satisfying afternoon in Hokkaido. 🙂

No Friend of Mine: Captain Kidd’s Seafood

a-kidd-counterTo this date, I cannot decipher Jennifer Aniston’s soaring popularity. Is she adorable? Absolutely. Talented? I guess. Fashionable? No doubt. But the most beautiful? And the Hollywood “it” girl? Hmm .. I’m not too sure about that one.

For me, Captain Kidd’s Seafood in Redondo Beach is like America’s favorite girl next door. While everyone and their mothers seem be smitten by this cozy, waterfront joint, I’m baffled by it all. The place and the food, I thought, were pretty ordinary — no different from any others alas Gladstones (more casual version, of course). I admit, that the service here is relatively quick, the food is affordable, and you can pretty much find anything that live under water here. In addition, they’ll cook it to your liking whether you prefer fried, sautéed, grilled or broiled.  But I certainly could not figure out what the hype was all about.

a-salmon-kiddI ordered the grilled salmon sandwich accompanied by a scoop of cole slaw and hush puppies. You can tell that the fish was fresh and nicely grilled but the slaw was bland and hush puppies … very rubbery.
Maybe I didn’t give Captain Kidd’s a fair chance. Because I was there during the Southern California fire, the experience was out-shadowed by the smuggy sky and the fishy air (yikes).

a-scallop-kiddMaybe if I return when the sky is clear and the air is fresh, I may have an entirely different experience.  And maybe try the crabs that they’re famous for too.  But to be frankly honest, I have no desire to even do that.  Does this make me a bad person to dis everyone’s best friend like that?

Captain Kidd’s Seafood
209 N. Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach, CA 90277
★★☆☆☆