A Taste Of Japan At Shirokiya
Wednesday - November 19, 2008
For a man who spends much of his day eating, and more than 50 days of the year tasting his way through Japan, Eddie Wakida has a remarkably svelte figure.
Director of food operations at Shirokiya and the man responsible for everything from shrimp tempura musubi to ready-to-eat, deep-fried fish bones, Eddie’s the man who finds food crazes and puts them on display in Honolulu. I stopped by Shirokiya the other morning when the air was sweet with the smells of seaweed, pork shoga yaki bentos and grilled beef tongue.
“In Japan everything is seasonal,” Eddie explains, “so depending on what’s fresh, that affects what we will be tasting and considering for Shirokiya.”
Eddie usually starts his trips in Hokkaido and works his way down to the south of Japan, stopping at department stores and grocery stores along the way, looking for the next big thing in food. One of his sweetest successes is something you may remember, especially if you were one of the thousands standing in line for more than an hour a couple of years ago to taste a certain cream-filled pastry.
“That was a bit of a surprise,” Eddie says, laughing. “We thought that people would like the Beard Papa cream puffs, but we didn’t think that the word would spread so far.”
There have been food fairs at Shirokiya since the 1960s, but the live cooking demos with Japanese vendors began in earnest about five years ago when Eddie first began his travels. “This is the way they do it in Japan,” he explains. “We thought it would work well in Hawaii.”
What makes a trip to the food department at Shirokiya so intriguing is the authenticity of the ingredients.
“One of the things that people like about the food here is that it is exactly as you would taste it in Japan,” says Eddie. “We don’t change anything.”
The Shokoku Umaimono Fair runs until Nov. 23, and features a variety of briny, dried seaweed that you buy in bulk and reconstitute with water, as well as Sonoda Mame, prepared beans from Tanba, famous for their quality and flavor.
Ready-to-eat seafood, sweet rice balls on skewers, mochi made with bracken fern and grilled beef tongue bentos are just some of the fascinating foods on display this week at the Ala Moana store.
Beginning in December, the Tempura Musubi Festival should bring fans to Shirokiya by the thousand. “It’s one of the most popular events of the year,” says Eddie.
But if neither tongue nor tempura are to your liking, take the escalator down one floor where cream-filled mochi sit in a gleaming glass cabinet.
Well, truthfully, the ones on display are plastic - the real sweet treats are kept in the refrigerator. “People should eat these mochi cold to get the benefit of the mix of mochi and cream,” Eddie explains.
The bite-sized pastel balls come in sleek black boxes with designer appeal, and in dozens of flavors.
It’s only fair to warn you that you most likely can’t eat just one. In fact the cream mochi summed up for me what a food trip to Shirokiya is all about.
You arrive not knowing that certain foods exist, and you leave addicted.
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