Thursday, March 22, 2012
Okinawa: JAL City Hotel Naha and Its Wonderful Buffet Breakfast!
We stayed at the JAL City Hotel Naha which is smack dab on Kokusai Street, the shopping belt of the capital.
The hotel is clean, modern and well-appointed. Very decent Western-style business hotel, with English-speaking concierge staff. There's free wi-fi in the lobby (see above), and three computer terminals with Internet access for guests to use.
Hotels in Japan tend to be infamously cramped and small, but this one is quite decent.
The single bed I had was very comfortable. I also like the bedside alarm clock - it has a softly increasing ring that lifts you gently from slumber, instead of jarring you awake. First time I am seeing a comfort robe with buttons instead of a sash.
A writing desk/dresser and a lounging area take up the window end of the room. The TV is all Japanese though. There's some pay TV but it also looks to be Japanese only.
The closet is really tiny and is right next to the door/entrance. I guess it's convenient in that you can hang your coat straight away. They even have a room freshener in spray bottle for you. Nice touch.
The bathroom is easily three times the size of normal hotel bathrooms on mainland Japan. I was surprised when I examined the mirror - the section above the sink is heated, so you won't have steam condensation fogging up the mirror! So thoughtful!
I love Japanese bathtubs - narrower but deep - perfect for that hot soak. Add some bath salts and you can have your little pretend onsen at a temperature you can control.
I later discovered later an interesting booklet in the hotel room advising guests on various aspects of safety. Boring manual? Not in the least!
Cute illustrations accompany the gentle advice on various activities. There are also infectious disease and disaster response pages with emergency contact numbers.
Wow, check out the animals you might encounter! And what to do if you are injured/poisoned by them. Another reminder - no vinegar for sea creature stings. The "habu" or indigenous poisonous snake is particularly interesting. You'll certainly see lots of them. Not alive, but preserved in wine bottles. Will show you some in later posts.
The guide also tells you what animals are "Natural Monuments" - so you don't accidentally take home one of their prized creatures. As many tourists also do self-drive holidays (there isn't a developed rail system in Okinawa), some animals also get knocked down. Drive slowly!
I am a major wildlife fan, so I found all this quite interesting.
But for many of us, the biggest highlight of the hotel was the buffet breakfast at the "Bon Appetit" restaurant. Several of us felt it was often the best meal of the day.
The "Breakfast Viking" (Japanese use "Viking" to denote smorgasbord or buffets) runs from 7 to 10am. Most days we had to be down at 7am itself for breakfast as our itineraries start early (8am-ish), but the buffet was a great incentive to pull ourselves up from bed in the morning!
I zeroed in on the local items. Little did I know I'd grow to like them so much. The local food is generally quite healthy, but tasty.
There is usually a "champuru" (mixed stir-fry) of various vegetables, sometimes with egg and/or tofu. Here's one featuring "goya" the local bittergourd. Back home, bittergourd is not my favourite vegetable, but this goya has made me want to eat more of it.
Here we have papaya champuru on the left. It's interesting to note that papaya is eaten as a vegetable, and not a fruit in Okinawa. On the right, we have a dried Japanese radish daikon "irichi" - something like a braised dish.
This is a Kubu Irichi - kelp stirfried/braised with pork. Kubu is the local dialect name for kombu. I love this, I could just eat loads of it like a noodle dish!
And a bit of fish - salted salmon and grilled saba alternate on days.
There's also kamaboko (boiled fish paste) with hijiki (listed as edible brown algae). On alternate days, it has carrots instead. They taste a bit more chewy than regular fish cake, but are deliciously savoury.
I also enjoyed the okayu - congee or rice porridge - something I usually skip at hotel buffets, but this is such a traditional staple for breakfast in Japan, I was sure they'd do it well. They do. Here you can tell they use good rice, the texture is sheer comfort and there are lots of nice toppings.
You can choose from pickled vegetables and umeboshi or pickled plums (top), natto (middle), furikake with small bait, and shredded dried fish (bottom). I actually ate natto twice! What's happening to me?
You must get to know "andansu" (literally oil miso, but is a sweetish miso with pork bits), and "mozuku" (a stringy seaweed). The mozuku shown here is in dense clumps and intensely umami. There is another version with bigger strands served in sweetened vinegar near the salads. Super tangy, super delicious (although I heard a China woman complain it was too sour).
We also adored the special "mochi" tofu - it's akin to a springy mousse - like no tofu we've had before. I wonder if it's yushi tofu (oboro tofu) which is unsolidified fluffy tofu. Add some soy sauce, chopped spring onions, sesame seeds and enjoy.
If you fancy Japanese curry, you can have some with steamed short-grain rice or breads. There's a live station where they churn out the most perfect sunny side up eggs. The cook is rather shy and tried to escape my camera.
Of course they have Western items to cater to international guests - luxuriously creamy scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, blanched and pan-fried vegetables, but I think I still enjoyed the Okinawan items more.
Plenty of breads, croissants, danishes and rolls.
I love the blue cheese!!! That little innocent knob turned out to be one of the best I've had in a long time!
And the coffee is good. Milk incredible - so rich that a little splash will render your tea/coffee solidly opaque. Juices include that of shikuwasa - a local citrus fruit resembling the calamansi lime, but more fragrant.
Warabi mochi - oh my god, that's what good ones taste like! This beats all the versions I've had in Singapore, including those from high-end restaurants! This one is made with black sugar that the island is famous for.
The sweets section had no cake or heavy dessert but plenty of fruit - lychees, pineapples, bananas and oranges. There's yoghurt and cereals too, but I didn't try those. Lots of greens, salads, mixed beans and dressings.
But you know what? There's not a single deep-fried item in the whole line-up, and amazingly, you don't even miss it! Kudos to that!
The healthy offerings also allowed us to eat to our fill, and yet not feel heavy or satiated.
Eunice and I always made sure we had one full hour for breakfast. It was just too good to miss. Breakfast goes for about 1,800 yen (maybe 1,500 for hotel guests if they decide to add on). The restaurant also has buffet lunches, dinners and a la carte choices.
So yes, I'm very glad we stayed at this hotel. The only downside is the lack of wi-fi in the room. You only get free wi-fi in the hotel lobby, and I mean strictly the hotel lobby, not in the restaurant or any other public areas. There is however, highspeed Internet access via LAN cable in the rooms (bring your own cable or borrow one from the front desk). But if you want to play Draw Something or check WhatsApp on your phone, go downstairs to the lobby!
For shoppers, there is a Coach premium outlet store right at the hotel. My favourite shopping is still at the kombini (convenience store), and there's a Family Mart just a couple of doors away.
Online rates for the hotel go for 8,300 yen (single room, no breakfast) upwards. Prices are all inclusive (no service charge or taxes!).
JAL CITY HOTEL NAHA
〒900-0013 1-3-70 Makishi, Naha-shi, Okinawa
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