Buddhist flavor boosts buffet


POSTED: Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I hadn't been back to Tsukiji Fishmarket since it opened in Ala Moana Center's Hookipa Terrace two years ago, but was drawn by the temporary addition of the Annon Cafe, Buddhist vegetarian offerings added to the regular buffet.

You have only a week to enjoy the offerings, part of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii's 120th-anniversary celebration, which also commemorates founder Shiran Shonin's 750th memorial.

Hawaii diners wasted no time visiting on day one of the special menu last Friday. There was a line to get in, all but two of the tables were full — I got the second to the last off to the corner of the bar area — and there was another line to get at the vegetarian food, whereas the rest of the buffet (except for the sushi area, which was always about four or five people deep) was wide open.

I jump whenever I see vegetarian fare because there simply isn't enough of a good variety of choices in Honolulu. On top of that, I'm getting ready for New York Fashion Week, so I saw the opportunity to eat lighter food as a way of shaving some excess fat. I learned quickly that you can pig out as easily on vegetables as meaty dishes, and leave just as stuffed. The only difference was that I still felt awake and energetic after the meal, not lethargic.

The temporary restaurant is part of a fair that continues through Sept. 17.

Before or after your lunch, you can explore a world of Annon (meaning peace or tranquility) organic handmade soaps, eco bags and chocolate, as well as books on Buddhism.

When you're ready, the food will be waiting, clearly labeled with ingredients so you know what you're getting, demonstrating respect for both plant and person.

The textures of the root vegetables in the nishime and other dishes such as miso eggplant with a touch of shiso, and steamed kabocha, are incredible. They're not so over-manipulated as to turn into mush so you can meditate on their fresh-from-the-earth essence. Many an okazu-ya would have you OD'ing on sugar and salt, but you don't get that here. Buddhists teach balance in nature and man, so it makes sense to apply that principle to food. The concept works as a philosophy as well as from culinary standpoint.

Annon-dofu, or macadamia tofu, was at the front of the line but might have been better placed at the end of the line.

It drew a mixed reaction from my table mates, who loved the subtle mac nut flavor, but where they were expecting tofu, they were surprised by squishy, mochilike texture reflecting its main ingredient, sweet potato powder. They couldn't get beyond the texture, but it was fine if you think of it as a dessert.

Meanwhile, tofu poke drew raves, tossed with Maui onion, cucumber, edamame, tomato, seaweed and a little bit of chili pepper, flavored with light soy sauce and sesame oil.

To accompany chunkier dishes like the eggplant and kabocha, there is chirashi zushi, the vinegared sushi rice stirred with aburaage, shiitake, carrot and renkon, or lotus root.

If you prefer noodles, there's a hijiki (black seaweed) and soba salad tossed with watercress, onion, radish sprouts and soy sauce with a bright spritz of lemon juice.

Vegetable coconut curry containing oyster mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and coconut milk was milder than any you've probably encountered. There was plenty of curry flavor but not much fire. I like chili peppers, but I guess they're potent enough to disturb your body's equilibrium in some way. Eating this dish will also make you realize how much sodium is in a typical curry dish. This was to be accompanied by pineapple chutney, but I missed it in the line. The sweet-sour flavor might have perked up the dish.

I have to admit I did “;cheat”; a little by having two pieces of spicy ahi sushi from the regular buffet. The idea of shojin maki, vegetarian sushi of gobo, kanpyo, tofu and cucumber just didn't appeal to me.

That is one great aspect of the buffet for the nonvegetarians. I like good vegetarian fare, but true balance, for me, involves eating meat protein.

I don't think Buddha would come after me for eating the equivalent of two ounces of fish.

For dessert there was a mock pineapple upside down “;cake”; with a base of baked tofu, but here I also ventured to the other side of the buffet, to small slices of raspberry and banana-chocolate cake new to Tsukiji, from Palme D'Or.


Nadine Kam's restaurant review appears every Wednesday in the Star-Bulletin. Restaurants are reviewed anonymously. Meals are paid by the Star-Bulletin.





        At Tsukiji Fishmarket, Ala Moana Center » 237-5444

        Food ;* ;* ;* ;*

        Service ;* ;* ;1/2

        Ambience ;* ;* ;* 

        Value ;* ;* ;*

        Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily through Sept. 17 only Cost: $18.95 per person (includes selections from entire buffet)

Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good; exceeds expectations
        ;*;* - average
        ;* - below average.