A Taste of Japan in our Backyard

The Japantown malls are one of our favorite places these days.   So much to do with the kids and they usually aren’t crowded during most days.  A life-saver for those foggy days when you can’t figure out where to take the kids and cannot bear to spend anymore time at a kids’ museum.  For me, Japantown is a throw-back to my childhood in Singapore when I was a “mall-rat”.  The food, the shops, the intriguing Asian/Japanese toys, stickers, pencil cases, bento boxes, cute erasers….the list of kitchsy items goes on.  You can tell I never got past this stuff. 🙂

Some of our favorite stores are the Sanrio/Hello Kitty store right by the indoor koi pond (which in itself is a great attraction).  We were there for a summer playdate recently and the girls LOVED the “Hello Kitty” store and the wall of stickers in one the stationery stores. Connect seamlessly from one mall to the next and you can spend hours there.  You can also a spend a good amount of time at the Japantown Peace Plaza courtyard chasing pigeons.  Ria and her little buddy Jay spent an inordinate amount of time chasing pigeons.  There seems to be theme emerging here with kids and bird chasing.

Our favorite store is Ichiban Kan (“Different Things”) – they sell anything you could possible ever need at ridiculous price.  We always leave this store in a happy mood as does everyone who has ever gone with us.  We have picked up some super cute lunch bags, bento boxes, reusable lunch containers and Japanese snacks here.  Japanese snacks are a wonderful little treat to pack in a school lunch box and we are running low on our supplies, so we have to head back soon.  The worst part of these store is that the little ones will whine and ask to be bought things and you will cave because everything is so inexpensive.  If you are trying to declutter your home, do not go to this store.

The other star attraction at these Japantown malls is the food.  Of course, you won’t find Ria and me where there isn’t the promise of a food ‘venture as well.  Japanese food is extremely kid friendly – chicken katsu, noodles, teriyaki chicken with rice, in addition to all the bakeries and crepes at Sophie’s Crepe house.  We have started making more Japanese food at home as a result of our frequent adventures to Japantown (stock up at Nijiya Market).  Plus, there is all that display plastic food which always gets the kids’ attention.  There are restaurants a-plenty and the toughest part is choosing one to eat it.  Pick one of the larger ones if you are there with your kids vs. the little hole in the wall ones.

The last time we were there, we ate at Benihana which serves Japanese teppanyaki.  The food is made right in front of you on a large hot plate by “showmen-chefs”.  The kids, all three of them were mesmerized and didn’t budge or whine while watching their lunch being made.  It isn’t the tastiest Japanese food I have had but for entertainment value and decent food at a very reasonable prices at lunch, it is worth a visit.   Putter around and, like us, have a tough time deciding where to eat.

We also had some very yummy fish-shaped Taiyaki for dessert.  This is another one of those things I grew up eating and was more excited than the kids to (re)discover.  Taiyaki is a Japanese fish shaped, pancake-like hand held treat filled with red bean, chocolate and a variety of other fillings.   Take some home and re-heat for a quick and fun treat with a glass of cold milk.

We have been here several times and still feel like we have tons to do and tons we want to do again.  Time flies while you are here.  Kids are in wonderland and the parents have fun too.  Going to Japantown is like a visit to Japan without the airfare.  A mini-vacation in our own city and a chance to expose the kiddos to a whole new world of fun and food!

Teriyaki on Everything!

I recently made a batch of teriyaki sauce at home and we have been putting it on everything.  This is all part of our Japan obsession and of course, we are most obsessed with the cuisine.  This recipe is an amalgamation of several recipes out there with a little “Simran-touch” (this usually means chilli flakes), hence I think an original.  This keeps pretty well, so make your own and there will be no need to buy pre-made teriyaki sauce.  Once you have it ready you can make meals in a flash.

A great source for Japanese ingredients in San Francisco is Nijiya Market in Japantown.  This market has inspired me to try Japanese cuisine at home and Ria is loving it.  For those lazy or busy days they sell a bunch of prepared food and also pre-marinated meats that just have to be stir-fried or thrown on the grill.

Teriyaki Sauce


1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup mirin

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp grated ginger (optional)

pinch of chilli flakes (optional)


In a small saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes till reduced and has a thicker consistency.

Teriyaki Chicken

You can substitute tofu, beef, pork or pretty much anything that catches your fancy or whatever you have lying around.  Serve with your favorite simply steamed or stir fried veggies and some steamed sushi or thai jasmine rice.  Kids love the saltiness of the soy combined with the sweetness of the sugar and honey.  Very kid-friendly combination of flavors.

1 lb chicken breast or thigh, boneless, skinless and cubed

1-2 tbsp vegetable oil

3-4 tbsp teriyaki sauce


Heat oil and stir fry chicken for 3 – 4 minutes to get a sear on it.  Add the teriyaki and continue to stir fry for another 5-8 minutes till you get the desired caramelization on the chicken and it is cooked through.