Sawa Japanese Restaurant
A Taste of Ginza in Kaohsiung
Beth Fowler

Leave behind the grit and humidity of the city streets and open the door to Sawa Japanese Restaurant.  Enter a world where the cool mint walls are accented with a bright red noren (curtain), and a bouquet of pink blossoms are reflected in the mirror. Meet owner and chef,  Mr. Gomisawa who immigrated to Taiwan over three years ago and opened this intimate-sized restaurant about a year and a half later. Mr. Gomisawa learned the art of preparing Japanese cuisine while working in Japan's renowned Ginza district of Tokyo.

Superb Japanese chefs follow three basic rules. FRESHNESS is paramount. Foods harvested fresh from the sea or the earth are used in lieu of frozen or out-of-season foods. SIMPLICITY is important. Rather than smothering foods in heavy sauces, healthful ingredients with complementary flavors are combined. VISUAL APPEAL is mandatory. Foods are arranged to gratify the eye as well as the palate.

"Itadaki masu!" meaning roughly, "I'll start eating with gratitude to all that has made this possible," marks the beginning of a feast, but first drink a cup of green tea to prime the taste buds. Petite handcrafted earthen bowls and plates, works of art in themselves, are set upon wooden trays.  Start with a few bites of lotus root and carrots in a nutty-spicy sauce, move on to green beans in a delicious sesame sauce and try the bright orange sea urchin. While tasting these appetizers, staff quietly and quickly refilled your teacup.

Marvel at the nonsymmetrical ceramic bowl that resembles a flower in bloom. Within its petals lies an exquisite composition of mountain taro, fish roe, beans, nori (dried seaweed), pickled vegetables, wasabi (hot radish) and raw tuna. In another tiny bowl is a swirl of squid coated with a lavender sauce on puréed daikon (mild white radish). Next, a waiter rearranges the crockery on each diner's tray to make room for chawan mushi, a light, warm custard served in a cheerfully colored cup. Shrimp, mushrooms and other morsels hide in the silky custard - but not for long, as this is delicious.  So too is the soup with hardy chunks of beef, carrots and other root vegetables. Carefully lift the lid off the glossy bowl to release the savory aroma of miso (fermented soybean) soup and raise it to your lips to drink the last drop. Settle back into the chair and mentally prepare yourself for the challenges of workaday world out there and . . . wait! What's this? More food?

The waiter brings a crescent-shaped dish upon which barbecued fish rests on a fern leaf. Another dish with eggplant, fish and pumpkin tempura arrives with curry powder and green tea powder for dipping these lightly battered treats into. At this point, one could conceivably expect a geisha wearing her elaborate finery to glide in and nod elegantly.

A dessert soup of azuki (red beans) garnished with a pillow of o-mochi (sweet rice) is the signal that perhaps this set meal is coming to a close. Ah, the final course, two segments of honeydew melon arrives.

Gratitude for having enjoyed an enchanting meal is expressed by saying, "Gochisosama."

The traditional Japanese set meal described above costs about NT$490 per person. The small dining room accommodates a dozen people. The sushi bar rseats 7 and offers 30 kinds of raw seafood.