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Thursday, September 22,2011

Going samurai at Alfalfa's

By Clay Fong

 

The standard-issue American breakfast of bacon and eggs traces its lineage back to its British ancestor, the “full English.” While some breakfasts may focus on sweet pastries and not much more than a tipple of coffee, the Anglo-American approach embraces both  savory flavors and hearty sustenance. The downside is that while a steady diet of eggs and bacon (or other porcine-derived product) is mighty tasty, there’s a whisper of a chance it could be detrimental to one’s health over time.

Consider the traditional Japanese breakfast.

Instead of pork products, the protein usually consists of heart-friendly fish like mackerel and salmon. Eggs appear, but in modest quantities. Steamed rice replaces hash browns, and there’s usually a smattering of land or sea vegetables. In short, this repast is a healthier alternative, and it’s the sort of fare that makes it easy for diners to imagine themselves as ronin pitting the town’s criminal factions against each another.

In the Bay Area, I was hard-pressed to find this breakfast outside of San Francisco’s Japantown, and it can be scarce even in the most populated metroplexes. Happily, the rebooted Alfalfa’s food court in downtown Boulder now offers this fare in partnership with Sushi Zanmai.

The breakfast menu here consists of three choices, including an $8.80 meatless option called the Shojin, or Buddhist monk, consisting of miso soup, rice, sea vegetable and pickles. On the upper end, there’s the $10.80 Obaa-chan, which translates into “Grandma,” but could just as easily be dubbed an Asian Grand Slam, since it comes with nearly everything.

There’s also the $6.80 Ochazuke, which gets the short end of the cool nickname stick, since this merely translates to “rice and tea.” Unsurprisingly, it’s rice in green tea broth, augmented by salmon. Natto, fermented soybean, is a $2 side, but it wasn’t available when friend Amy and I visited. Note that each meal is made to order, so one shouldn’t expect fast-food timing here, and seating is cafeteria-style.

The green tea broth in Amy’s Ochazuke was bland yet comforting, and the flavor was enhanced by the flaked salmon’s brininess and a dollop of wasabi. Taking a cue from the dashi playbook, the addition to the broth of sea vegetable would likely enhance the flavor, as would a shake of furikake, the spice and seaweed condiment. Nevertheless, this dish made for a healthy, clean-tasting breakfast.

The Grandma was worthy of the name, resembling something a doting older relative would feed beloved children. I encountered friends Lieko and Nils, who were also sampling this offering, and Lieko noted that the salmon portion was larger and less salty than that of a typical Japanese breakfast. Tamago, the layered omelet familiar to sushi bar denizens, complemented the fish, and here it wasn’t as sweet as other versions, which is fine by me. Besides the required bed of sticky white rice and miso soup, the sides included strands of tasty hijiki sea veggie and pleasingly earthy kabocha squash chunks.

Japanese breakfast at Alfalfa’s is truly a unique dining experience, and apparently this is the only retail spot in Colorado serving this meal. It’s definitely worth experiencing, especially if one seeks a healthier alternative to bacon and eggs.

Plus, breakfast here has the added benefit of making you feel like you are dining like a masterless samurai.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Alfalfa’s Market 1651 Broadway St. Boulder 720-420-8400

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