Day 26: Modan-yaki

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I went out for okonomiyaki* with my host mother and father. It was DIY okonomiyaki, pretty common in Japan, where you mix the okonomiyaki batter at the table and cook it yourself over a teppan grill set into the table.

The menu was several pages long, with different combinations of okonomiyaki filling – mochi and cheese, seasonal mushroom, kimchi and squid – but what first caught my eye was the Hiroshima-yaki, a variation on okonomiyaki with noodles I’d had ten years ago on a student trip to Hiroshima.

Beneath the Hiroshima-yaki I saw something called modan-yaki that I’d heard of, but never tried. Both had noodles, and filling, and egg. What’s the difference? I asked the waiter. He explained: Hiroshima-yaki is made differently, with a thinner batter, and you add the ingredients in layers. Modan-yaki also has noodles, but the batter is like normal okonomiyaki batter, with the fillings mixed in. Plus modan-yaki comes with extra eggs.

Yep, sweet, sold.

The tray of ingredients arrived and the steps were as follows: heat oil on the teppan, place noodles on the teppan together so they form a roughly circular shape. Mix the batter well and pour over the noodles. Cook for five minutes, flip, cook another five minutes, flip, cook another five minutes. Crack the eggs on a clear surface of the teppan and transfer the noodle-crusted pancake on top of the eggs. Fry briefly until eggs are set. Slather with okonomiyaki sauce, give it a squirt of mayo, sprinkle over plenty of aonori and katsuobushi and eat.

It was good, solid (two-carb), tasty food. To be honest I don’t think it differed too much from a normal okonomiyaki because the noodles sort of embedded themselves in the batter and were only really discernible by their texture (slightly chewier than the rest of the batter). Still very good though. I love okonomiyaki, I love noodles, really this was an ideal dinner.
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*a savoury Japanese pancake of sorts, with fillings like cabbage and squid and ham and green onion, cooked and then topped with a thick, sweet(ish) okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and aonori flakes (a bright green, dried seaweed) and shaved, dried bonito flakes. It’s the kind of Japanese food even a rice- or fish-hater can get on board with. It’s very good.

Day 9, Part 2: a party for Murata-san (Noodles with strangers, #2)

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At lunchtime, mum got to talking to Wayama-san, the owner of the mozuku soba place. Usually we’re closed at dinnertime, he said, but tonight it’s the birthday of one of our regulars, and he’s shipped in all this steak: (he showed us a room full of boxes and boxes of meat), so we’ve invited some friends for a party of sorts, it’s 1500 yen per person (about NZ$25), you two should come along, it’ll be fun, I’ve prepared plenty of beer, wine and awamori.

So after an afternoon of swimming at Furuzamami beach we showered and went over to the mozuku place where, sure enough, a crowd had gathered, a barbecue of sorts had been set up in a big metal drum, the aroma of grilled meat wafted through the air, drawing us in.

It quickly became clear that although they were collecting money this wasn’t a party for just anyone; these people all seemed to know each other, either through living and working on the island (plenty of dive instructors and lifeguards) or because of friendships they’ve made by coming to Zamami again and again.

It was Murata-san’s birthday and he was the one who’d sent down about NZ$1500 worth of steak to Wayama-san, asking nothing in return except a party everyone could enjoy. Murata-san comes to Zamami to dive five or six times a year, and seems to know everyone there. The gathered crowd burst into a cheer when he arrived: Murata! Murata!

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There was barbecued steak, served Korean-style with spicy sauces and gochujang and lettuce leaves to wrap it all, there was kimchi-cured dried squid that Murata-san had made himself, there was chicken and sausages and stir-fried vegetables, fried egg with agu (what’s agu? I asked the girl sitting next to me. Agu is pig, she said, Okinawan pig, and it’s really really good. She was right), and, for the tenuous link to this blog, there was yakisoba. Not the light, almost-delicate yakisoba of the night before, but the kind I’m more used to: thick, strongly flavoured, almost gluggy with a sweet soy sauce, noodles almost overcooked, served with plenty of shredded nori and red pickled ginger, it matched perfectly with my beer.

There was a birthday song, and a birthday cake, with candles the wind kept blowing out before Murata-san could. There’s no cake shop on the island, someone said, so one of the young mothers (lots of kids at this party) made it from scratch. It looked and tasted exquisite: light and fluffy and full of whipped cream and fruit.

The mayor of Zamami was there. He said the challenge for him is to keep people on the island, because there’s no high school so a lot of the time when the oldest kid in a family reaches high school age they’ll either go to the honto themselves and rent an apartment in Naha, or the mother will go with them, taking the younger children along, leaving the father behind. And most of the time when they go, they don’t come back, it’s more convenient, more exciting in the city after all. Do you have kids, we asked. Yes, he said, and his oldest’s gone across to Naha for high school, she’s in an apartment by herself, as a parent it’s hard. He wants to set up a system, maybe a dormitory or something in Naha for the kids of Zamami so that whole families don’t move across, so that the island population doesn’t dip even lower. But there’s a lot of red tape, he said.

After that there was too much Orion beer and awamori and chilled red wine and resulting nonsensical conversation for me to write down all the details here, but here are some photos I took:
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Day 8, Part 2: squid ink yakisoba

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This plate of yakisoba was at a little local izakaya / restaurant in the little town on Zamami island*. The name of the place is Umi-batake which translates to “sea field” or “sea farm”. During the day they’re a noodle shop and at night they turn into an izakaya with lots of little dishes to choose from,** including a full page of different variations on yakisoba.

On the owner’s recommendation I got the ikasumi yakisoba, a plate full of stir-fried squid ink noodles, vegetables, the ubiquitous spam (Okinawa is practically Hawaii or a Pacific island in this regard).

Visually, the dish was striking – a stark contrast of the inky black noodles against the white bean sprouts especially, but also the rest of the only lightly cooked, still just-crunchy vegetables – onions, green capsicum, thin strips of shaved carrots.

The noodles themselves were thick and flat, linguine-like; I suspect they’re the same noodles used in Okinawa soba. They were perfectly cooked – just a little chewy – and I thought I could detect a little brininess in the flavour, though it was hard to tell.

Some yakisoba you get in Japan can be really strongly flavoured, with soy sauce or a thick, sweetish yakisoba sauce. This one, though, was what you’d call assari – lightly flavoured with just a little salt (and perhaps just a bit of soy sauce), almost refreshing. It was really easy to eat. Oishikatta!
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*it was really surprising that a place as small as Zamami (island population 645, no idea about the actual village but somewhat less) had so much really good food – we weren’t disappointed the whole time – but I guess there is enough diving tourism in the area to support all the restaurants and izakaya.

**other things we had, and really enjoyed: daikon salad, cucumber and local (raw) octopus marinated in kimchi, mozuku (a type of local sea vegetable) in a light rice vinegar, rice cooked in squid ink. All very, very good.