No Wrong Turns: San Francisco’s Japantown

Winding down the coast led us to San Francisco, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. It has a great vibe and extremely friendly people. The freeway was crazy but we managed to cross the Golden Gate Bridge into the city. The first night we decided to stay in a nice hotel, as it was my birthday (so we thought, but it was actually the following day, I guess we really lost track of time). I chose Hotel Kabuki, a Japanese-style hotel, for my so-called birthday treat. Tom and I lived in Japan for a year and I often miss the oddities that I discovered while living there.

The hotel is located in Japantown. Japantown in San Francisco is one of the oldest settlements of its kind in the US. It was apparently much larger at one point but after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were put into camps by the US government leaving the neighborhood vacant and open to others looking for a place to settle. Though many Japanese returned to the area it was never to be the same. The area has recovered well and offers a vibrant little community teaming with sushi restaurants, shops, izakayas, and all those cute characters like Hello Kitty.

Hotel Kabuki was nice though not very Japanese. The décor was an eclectic mish-mash of Asian cultures with a few Japanese traditions thrown in the mix. But the king-size bed and fancy sheets won us over in the end.

Oddly enough we ended up eating Chinese food that night, even though sushi was the plan. It was one of those nights where Tom and I performed the “I dunno where do you want to eat?” game for about half an hour before the hunger pangs were no longer bearable. Then San Wong’s popped up before our eyes and Chinese food suddenly sounded better than anything we had ever heard of. Trying to hide the growls escaping from our stomachs, we ordered seven or so dishes. I expected them to be the comparable to those at home but this assumption was way off. We could have fed my entire family, including my 17 year-old brother who eats anything that moves, with our meal. It was so embarrassing because we barely put a dent in our dinner. We both hate to waste food and did not want to insult the restaurant staff. To make matters worse I ordered noodles with plum sauce, which turned out to be noodles with blackish sauce, and a very…shall we say, distinct taste. I tried a little and Tom did too but it was not at all what we expected. So we did what anyone else in our position would do, we exploited Tom’s accent. He politely explained he was from New Zealand and did not know that dishes were so huge in America and apologized. The servers giggled and told us not to worry. Whew! If you are strapped for cash in San Francisco this is the place to eat. The best deal on the menu according to Tom….a gigantic bowl of steamed rice for a dollar.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.