there is only one real industry on island (okay, three if you count drug and people smuggling, but let's not, hm?) and that is tourism. guam gets anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 visitors a month visiting our sparkly shores, and of that, 85 to 95 per cent are japanese tourists (the rest is comprised of chinese and korean nationals, with a wee smattering of european and australian folk who are probably
lost on their way to somewhere else). because of this, there is a definite japanese influence on many aspects of island life, not the least of which is the food industry. i live in the main tourist zone, the village of tumon (we live in villages! my village has high rises!), which probably has more japanese and korean signage and businesses than english ones, and the highest concentration of japanese restaurants (36 at last count, all within walking distance). in fact, there are more japanese restaurants on island than any other cuisine (if you discount speciality fast food concessions and bakeries from the 'american' category, that is).
i never really thought about it--it was sort of a given all my life that there were a crapload of japanese restaurants on island--but really, if you are japanese tourist on island, do you really want to be eating japanese food that is probably not as good as the stuff you can get at home? my informal survey of trying not to stare down the patrons of all the japanese restaurants i've visited produced evidence to suggest that perhaps no, they really don't want to if there's a tony roma's next door and $1.50 drafts. at the very best (restaurants and scenario-wise), maybe a quarter to a third of surveyed restaurant patrons are japanese, although not all tourists (the local population accounts for less than ten per cent--maybe less than five--of the total pop., although i don't know the exact number). i can only conclude that for the most part, most of the japanese restaurants on island are here to cater to us, the local folk. yay. we love our japanese food, yes we do. it's all about the j, baby.
one of the most popular restaurants (j or otherwise) has got to be genji, in the hilton hotel. it was forced to close after a successful twenty-odd year run, when it was damaged by several supertyphoons; after extensive remodelling, it returned at the end of last year. genji was one of the most popular teppan-yaki-style restaurants (teppan-wiki), but has transformed itself not only as a vast teppan-yaki emporium, but also a sushi, sake and shochu bar, with private dining rooms available. most japanese restaurants in the local hotels are well-populated, but mostly at lunch, as the dinner menus are exorbitantly priced; genji is no exception. the cheapest of the set menus is a local special at $45, and the rest can top $100 or so (read guam food guy's dinner review). i'm a bit loathe to pony up the cash for din-din, even if it might be an amazing food experience (hey, i've got payments), so like my friends and neighbours (who i always run into there), i opt for the lunchtime extravaganza which consists of one of a number of entrees from the grill or kitchen, along with an all-you-can-eat appetizer bar, dessert bar, miso soup, bowl of rice, and the obligatory unlimited supply of ice tea that i swear is making this island more hopped-up on caffeine than any coffee chain would ever do. all for the relatively reasonable price of $24.
at lunch, the sushi/sake bar is cleared out to hold a good array of salads (green, pickled vegetable, and meat), sushi, sashimi, and a couple of hot appetizers like chawan-mushi (a savoury custard), fried meat bits (usually chicken or fish), grilled meat bits (also usually chicken or fish), and lately, a rather curious deep-fried sushi roll that is squiggled with generous squirts of tomato ketchup and kewpie-style japanese mayonnaise. i know they are probably hiding inferior grade tuna in those tempura-battered rolls, but the general rule holds true: deep-frying makes food tastier. if you are so inclined, you can eat your weight of this stuff, but local experience (myself and others) is that you should probably take it easy as the entrees tend to be generous; you can always go back (after the entree, and after the dessert, too).
if you have never been to a teppan-yaki restaurant, this is what usually happens: you sit at a long bar that is fronted by a large stainless-steel grill (and hopefully topped by a very powerful but quiet exhaust system), and a nice asian man who acts as your cook/dining companion/mealtime entertainment. chances are that if you live in the mainland united states, you'll have more of a show than you would here, courtesy of the benihana chain; teppan-yaki is more commonplace on island, so folks would rather spend the time eating than hoping that cheffie inadvertently slices off an ear. the grill is heated by powerful propane tanks underneath, and your choice of meat--usually chicken, steak, prawns, or fish--is sliced and diced in a butter/oil/garlic/sometimes onion combination, and plated alongside similarly treated bean sprouts and other veggies. this takes a matter of minutes, and is a relative fail-safe meal--it is very difficult for even the most modestly trained grill cook to eff-up a piece of meat and two veg. or, as the plate above shows, a medium-cooked rib-eye steak, several prawns, filet of salmon, and two veg.
there is usually some sort of tempura set available to the non-grill lovers, along with other items from the kitchen. one of the most popular is the wagyu steak with japanese truffle sauce (wagyu-wiki). i don't think it's a sauce from japanese truffles so much as a sesame- soy sauce-based sauce laced with truffles. it is only very mildly fungal, and if it hasn't been oversauced in the kitchen, the main flavour comes from the meltingly soft, juicy beef. very delicious.
the desserts are curiously pallid and american, considering it's a japanese restaurant with mostly filipino and micronesian cooks, in a hotel reknown for its european baked items. the selection is almost always the same: assorted fresh fruit, a very custardy flan, apple or pecan pie bars, brownies, and the omnipresent red gelatin cup (i think there's only one restaurant in the whole hotel that doesn't serve this, but i'll bet they'd get you one if you asked). eh. there's always room for jello. and the brownies--dense, walnut-studded chocolate slabs further enhanced by a drizzle of chocolate sauce--are pretty darned good.
on my most recent visit, it was at the tail end of the lunch service and not particularly busy. teppan-yaki guy was done with grilling my meal, and whether out of boredom, hunger or for practice sake, started pulling some interesting items out of the refrigerators below the grill--shiitake mushrooms, green onions, cream, parmesan cheese(! is there much call for parmesan cheese in japanese restaurants?). i asked him what he was making, and he said it was a florentine: a piece of rib-eye steak was sliced and cooked in typical fashion, but with the addition of mushroom along with the garlic/onion combination, then drizzled with a garlic butter cream sauce, and topped with parmesan and green onions. he so generously offered me a sample of his proclaimed fusion creation; it was delicious. now if it was only on the menu.