Every time we visit Japan, we always visit Aya’s friend Kio. They met way back in the fifth grade and have kept in contact all these years. She was even one of Aya’s bridesmaids in our wedding. I find that quite impressive considering the long distance between. It would have been very easy for them to lose touch with each other. Through their friendship I met Kio’s mom, Izumi, at our wedding party in Japan. And with the power of Facebook, her mom and I are now “friends.” She doesn’t speak very much English and I don’t speak Japanese, but we both understand the same language; FOOD.

Ever since I became friends with Kio’s mom on Facebook, I drool over all of the food photos she posts. I can never read the descriptions, but I like what I see. She bakes her own breads, cookies, pies, and cooks the most delicious looking food. Some is Japanese, and some isn’t. She always tags her photos “at Hula’s Kitchen.” I told Aya that when we visited Japan next that we had to go to Hula’s Kitchen. I thought it was a restaurant. It’s not, it’s Kio’s mom’s house. And after three years of waiting, we finally got to go to Hula’s Kitchen!

She is a lover of Hawaii, so that’s the inspiration for the name, which you can easily tell by looking around the apartment. If the sea turtle motifs on the bathroom towels didn’t give it away, the Hawaiian print apron would. Or the big sign that says Hula’s Kitchen. Or the Hawaiian CD collection on display. You get the idea.

When we arrived to Kio’s mom’s house, we were greeted with warm smiles and Hawaiian print guest slippers. This was Hula’s Kitchen after all. As we turned the corner, there it was. I saw the table I’ve seen on the internet a million times. But instead of oogling over food pictures from the comfort of my home, I would be sitting at the table and eating a feast.

I’m not exaggerating when I say feast. The main dish she made was okonomiyaki. They are pretty much Japanese pancakes. Except instead of butter, syrup, and a fruit topping, these have cabbage inside. And shrimp, and squid, and oysters, cheese, pickled ginger, green onions, and bacon! You top it with a BBQ-ish sauce, mayonnaise, and dried fish flakes (katsuobushi). I guess besides being flat and round, they really aren’t like pancakes at all. Either way, they are delicious, but that was just the beginning!

There was prosciutto wrapped persimmons, and Minnie Mouse kamaboko. Kamaboko looks like it would taste sweet, but don’t let Minnie Mouse fool you. It’s made out of fish and tastes that way too. We also had a roasted squid and celery salad with a lemon and olive oil dressing. Sounds weird (to me), but was very delicious! Rounding out the sides was a big salad with homemade roasted chicken slices, eggs, tomatoes, and a homemade citrus dressing.

In addition to the okonomiyaki as a man dish, she served nimono (I was very excited about this because I’ve actually made a version of this at home before). This was daikon radish, various fish cakes, and ground pork simmered in a broth. After seeing hers, I’m excited to make it again at home.

If that wasn’t enough, she also made fried almond chicken. Are you full yet? Because there was more.

Knowing that she’s a great cook, I came prepared to ask a lot of questions. And when I asked about tempura, she said she’d whip some up, and that’s when I got a behind-the-scenes look into the kitchen. She was the teacher and I was the student. The secrets I learned I will not share until I am able to go home and try them out myself (something tells me she made them look easier than they are).

As if we couldn’t stuff anymore food in our bodies, it was time for dessert: chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter cookies, fig, cheese, and pepper scones, and apple pie. All of which were homemade from scratch. I was especially excited about the cookies because I’ve never seen peanut butter anything in Japan. I’ve seen almond paste, sesame paste, etc. But no peanut butter. They have a million different Kit-Kat flavors here ranging from soy sauce to ginger lemon, and everything in between except for peanut butter. I was excited to confirm that peanut butter does exist in Japan.

My dining experience at Hula’s Kitchen was no disappointment. The food satisfying and the environment inspiring. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

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