Flavors from the Land of the Rising Sun
Guam is awash with Japanese restaurants ranging from formal dinner houses and sushi bars to takeout joints. There are “izakaya” (pubs), grill-it-yourself “yakiniku” diners and chefs serving teppanyaki. A recent surge in ramen shops has even brought more upscale noodle houses like Misoya Ramen to the island.
Let’s face it, Guam has a significant number of Japanese residents, and nearly 1 million tourists visit from Japan annually – more than from any other locale. Is it any wonder that the quality of Japanese cuisine is on the rise and Japanese chefs and restaurants are taking center stage?
“Local residents really enjoy Japanese food, especially sashimi, sushi, teppanyaki, ramen, and ‘donburi’ (rice bowls),” says Ken Stewart, hotel and restaurant supplier and “The Guam Food Guy” behind GuamDiner.com.
According to Stewart, Japanese food is the most popular ethnic cuisine on Guam, based on the number of restaurants that serve it – nearly 78, with Chinese cuisine trailing a distant second.
“In retrospect, I believe that the residents of Guam have developed a deeper appreciation for Japanese cuisine since many Japanese restaurants were initially built to cater to the Japanese visitors and local Japanese residents,” he says. “And over time, the locals were able to discover the wonders of Japanese cuisine. Many local residents frequently visit Japan and many have lived there.”
Stewart reviews local eateries in his biweekly e-newsletter, Guam Diner Bytes, which also runs in Stripes Guam. He advocates that shy diners who have not yet tried Japanese food take advantage of being on Guam and get out to try some of the best the island has to offer.
“My best advice to people is to not be afraid to eat anything listed on a Japanese restaurant’s menu,” he says. “There are those who swore they would never eat raw fish but changed their minds once they discovered how to enjoy it! Enjoying Japanese food is a lifelong adventure and journey that I will pursue for the rest of my life.”
Most Japanese foods came to Guam by way of hotel restaurants, which catered mainly to Japanese tourists who flocked here in droves during Japan’s economic boom and bubble years from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s. Although some high-end Japanese hotels and restaurants such as Kurumaya and Fujita Hotel withdrew from Guam after the economic bubble burst, many of their skilled chefs and cooks stayed on, helping to nurture an authentic Japanese food culture among locals.
“I am very glad that skilled Japanese cooks remained on Guam and contributed to improving the quality of Japanese food here by training local successors,” says Toshio Akigami, vice president of Japanese Mikoshi-Festival Committee in Guam. “I think their efforts were fruitful, and today we can see skilled Micronesians and Filipinos proudly preparing wonderful sushi at local sushi restaurants.
“Just visit any Japanese restaurant on Guam and sit on the counter a couple of times,” he adds. “It will not be long before you find yourself enjoying their foods and atmosphere of the restaurant.
The hundreds of thousands of Japanese tourist that frequent Guam are a testament to the authenticity of this cuisine. Many, like Guam frequenter Yusuke Sato, come with finicky palates from a land where even foreign ethnic foods are expected to bend toward Japanese culinary sensibilities.
“While a lot of Western restaurants in Japan have become too westernized and have lost their Japanese flavor,” Sato says, “there are still many restaurants on Guam that offer a taste of Japan.”
Top 4 must-try Japanese eateries on Guam
Kai is a very popular “izakaya” restaurant run by the chef and owner, Hideto “Pancho” Yanase, and his family.
Its extensive menu includes sushi and sashimi as well as fried, broiled and grilled Japanese cuisine. The “hamachi-kama” (yellow tale head), grilled or as sashimi, is excellent when available, according to Guam.Diner.com’s Ken Stewart. The Salt & Pepper Tuna is a must. They have Asparagus Bacon and Inoki Mushroom Bacon appetizers that are amazing.
“Chef Hideto Yanase of Kai Restaurant will sing “Happy Birthday” and play his ukulele on your birthday,” Stewart said. “Since they are open seven days a week all year round, he and his wife Sue will decorate the restaurant during special holidays like Christmas , New Year’s, Halloween and Thanksgiving. While other restaurants may close on these occasions, Kai remains open for business.”
“Kai is popular among middle aged Japanese locals,” added Toshio Akigami, of Japanese Mikoshi-Festival Committee in Guam. “The father and sons of the Yanase family really entertain their customers.”
Blue Lagoon Plaza, Tumon; Tel: 646-0222
Izakaya Katsu (aka Green Door)
The chef and owner of Izakaya Katsu, Takeshi Soma, is famous for his panko-breaded fried foods such as fried shrimp, oysters and pork cutlets.
“Their Tofu Steak is their most popular item, which consist of a grilled block of firm tofu flavored it with mirin (sweet rice wine), miso, ginger, green onions, pepper and bonito (dried fish) flakes,” said Japanese Mikoshi-Festival Committee’s Toshio Akigami. “Their succulent ribeye steak delivers waves of flavor from Chef Soma’s special marinade. The Grilled Eel is another house specialty.”
“You can enjoy the best “tonkatsu” (fried breaded pork cutlet) at Izakaya ‘Katsu,’ which is also knonw by many people as the ‘Green Door’ and well-liked by locals,” he added. “This restaurant also serves extremely hot curry.”
Pale San Vitores Road, Tamuning; Tel: 646-8248
Kanda in the Plaza is one of the most popular eateries among senior Japanese who reside on Guam – or among frequenting tourists in the know.
“Mr. Kanda is known as a master of Japanese cuisines among local diners and I have repeatedly visited this restaurant, expecting a new menu which changes on a weekly basis,” said Japanese Mikoshi-Festival Committee’s Toshio Akigami.
“Chef Toshiaki Kanda surprised us on New Year’s Day while we were waiting for his signature “tezukuri” (handmade) tofu and his Tempura Moriawase (Kanda’s specialty tempura with more than 70 different dipping salts),” Stewart added.
“He created and served us a beautiful “osechi-ryori” (traditional New Year’s food). It had “kuromame” (simmered black soybeans), “kurikinton (mashed sweet potato and chestnuts), candied shrimp, “gobo” (burdock root) and pink and white “kamaboko” (fish cake). Each ingredient has a special meaning and signify good harvest, health, long life, prosperity and happiness.
“He made us happy with his kind gesture,” said Stewart.
The Plaza Shopping Center, Pale San Vitores, Tumon Bay; Tel: 647-7878
Sushi Ebisu Japanese Restaurant is operated by Chef Fumiya Nakamura and his family.
“Their (American style) sushi rolls are legendary and include the Rainbow, Alaska, Spider (with soft shell crab), Caterpillar (eel and crab), and Canadian,” said Guam.Diner.com’s Ken Stewart. “His Curry Yasai (vegetable) is superb as is their Yaki-Maguro (grilled-tuna) Garlic Salad (oil free).”
Ebisu has a unique smoked salmon that is used in all their sushi rolls and sashimi,” he added. “The Salmon no Carpaccio (thin-sliced raw salmon with Italian dressing) is a dream.”
In Tumon; Tel: 646-3735