What’s up, Nomsters! Having grown up in San Francisco and being part of the Japanese community, Japantown was like a second home to me. So when I heard about Tabemasho, the largest fundraiser event for The Center – a non-profit organization which strives to meet the evolving needs of the Japanese American community by offering programs, affordable services, and administrative support and facilities for other local organizations – I was super excited to contribute and see what it was all about! The Center does such amazing work sharing, showcasing, celebrating, and preserving, the Japanese American culture and community, so we couldn’t be more excited to show our support.
Tabemasho is a Japanese word that translates to “let’s eat,” and there was definitely enough food to feed the whole gymnasium full of people! There was tons of seating in the middle of the room surrounded by food and vendor stalls along the perimeter featuring restaurants, artists, and vendors from the San Francisco Bay Area, Hawaii, and even Japan. In addition to all the delicious food, there were two women from Japan – one making beautiful custom-designed uchiwa (Japanese hand-held fans), and the other crafting awesome traditional Japanese footwear called geta. More on them later, but first let’s jump into the food!
Trifecta Cooks – Zuke Nigiri
Located in San Jose, Trifecta Cooks is comprised of three former Morimoto chefs, and they prepared their Zuke Nigiri for the Tabemasho event, which is marinated ocean trout. It was fresh, had a great fish-to-rice ratio, and was a nice, light way to start the evening. I’ve never dined with them, but after trying this, I’m definitely curious to look more into it!
JapaCurry – Curry Rice
JapaCurry is one of my favorite food trucks in the city, which provides amazing Japanese style curry dishes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had their katsu curry for lunch while working in SoMa. But it’s for that reason that I was pretty disappointed that they decided not to include any of their meats or tofu in their bowls at Tabemasho. It was still good, but probably not the best way to show off their food to a room packed full of potentially new customers. I hope some people still enjoyed it enough to give their actual food truck a try because it’s totally worth it!
La Mar – Cebiche Nikkei
La Mar is an upscale Peruvian restaurant located on Pier 1 1/2 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. They brought their Cebiche Nikkei, which is crafted with ahi tuna, red onion, Japanese cucumber, daikon, avocado, nori in a tamarind leche de tigre. This is another restaurant that I’ve never been to, but after trying their little sample dish, I’m super intrigued! It was refreshing and didn’t have the same strong flavor that many ceviches have. “Nikkei” is the Japanese word for a Japanese emigrant, and Japanese flavors tend to be more subtle compared to other cultures, so it’s possible this was a part of their thinking when creating this dish. But either way, it was really enjoyable!
The Lunch Spot – Takemoto’s Pork Tofu w/ Shiitake Gohan
This one kind of broke from the normal dishes we were seeing as we made the rounds. The wonderful people from The Lunch Spot came all the way from Honolulu, HI and we’re glad they did! Like much of Hawaiian cooking, they’ve taken influences from many cultures and made it their own. This dish was kind of reminiscent of an ochazuke without a lot of tea, and with a bunch of complimentary ingredients on top. It was definitely comforting and actually reminded me of some of the family recipes from the Japanese side of my family. My Japanese fam is originally from the suburbs of Hiroshima, and so our recipes tend to be more stewy and mixed together as apposed to the stuff you usually find at a typical Japanese restaurant in the US. If you’re in Honolulu, check them out!
Takahashi Market – Bacon/Spam and Portuguese Sausage Musubi
Spam musubi is SUCH a comfort food for me. I grew up eating it all the time, especially while playing in an Asian basketball league in the Bay Area where they would always have trays and trays of Spam musubi at the tournaments we went to. The type I’m used to is just made with regular Spam, so it was really cool to try this version from Takahashi Market (which has been around for over 100 years!) in San Mateo with some different flavors! I’m probably a little biased when it comes to this stuff, but I thought it was great and would recommend it to anyone looking to broaden their horizons!
Rintaro – Hirame No Kobujime
Rintaro, on the northern edge of San Francisco’s Mission District, is an Izakaya-style restaurant with a very cool Japanese vibe. They prepared their Hirame No Kobujime, which is konbu-cured San Francisco Halibut Sashimi, with a bit of citrus from the lime slices on top and it was fantastic. It was light, summery, and perfect for the warm weather!
Ryoichiro Enkawa’s Hand-Crafted Hita Geta
This is a food blog and, obvi, we’re serious foodies here at Nomtastic Foods, so we had to highlight the noms first, but as mentioned briefly at the beginning of the post, there were two traditionally trained artists from Japan who were selling their custom-made products at Tabemasho! The first was Ryoichiro Enkawa who is from Hita, which is one of only three areas in Japan that still makes traditional geta. These are a traditional style Japanese footwear made out of wood with colorful straps. They’re kind of like wooden flip flops, and their distinct sound brings feelings of nostalgia for many Japanese people as it brings thoughts and memories of old school Japan. It’s a very specialized craft, and there are claims that geta are actually better for your feet than modern shoes because they let them breathe and they strengthen your arches and toes! I might start rocking these in the city!
Rihaku Inoue’s Custom Uchiwa
The second artist was Rihaku Inoue who is originally from Nishinomiya and specializes in the art of traditional Japanese calligraphy. She started studying when she was just 7 years old and eventually went on to get her Calligraphy Master License in college. She’s taken the art form to new heights by creating pieces with color and images in a more 3D style, which breaks from the mold of traditional calligraphy and really sets her apart. At Tabemasho, she was making custom hand-held Japanese fans called “uchiwa” and incorporating a personal message as requested by the customer. She also designed and created the Tabemasho banners that you can see behind the stage in the photos at the beginning of the post! So her work spans from tiny works to a much more massive scale. She’s seriously talented and definitely worth looking into if this sort of thing interests you!
I seriously recommend Tabemasho, an amazing cultural and foodie event, to anyone who wants to explore Japanese and Japanese-American heritage and cuisine from all over. As far as the food goes, you get to experience a taste of how Japanese flavors have influenced restaurants around the Bay Area and Hawaii, and hopefully you’ll discover some new spots to add to your bucket list along the way. And bringing the traditional artists from Japan to the event and giving everyone a chance to speak and collaborate with them to create pieces that are truly one of a kind and yours to keep is such a unique opportunity. Be sure to look into it in the years to come! Till next time, Nomsters!