Popular Japanese snacks or street food such as tokoyaki balls and baby castella with custard and chocolate are within arm’s reach at Ura-Ya located at the porch of Salty’s Bar and Grill in Garapan. Owner Naoki Oura, who has been on Saipan for 18 years, recounts that these snacks are popular all over Japan and it originated from his hometown Osaka.
Takoyaki balls consists of pan-fried balls that are made with a savory mix of batter, pickled red ginger, and pieces of octopus. “My family and I have a long-standing tradition when it comes to making and serving takoyaki balls to family and friends back in Osaka. When I was young, it was a tradition every Sunday to make takoyaki balls at home so the texture and flavor that I serve here at Ura-Ya is authentic Osaka takoyaki style,” he said.
“Hot off the griddle, I use sauces that gives a tangy taste, Japanese mayo, and sprinkle it with katsuobushi fish flakes. I get all my ingredients from Japan and I use ‘dashi’ which has dried seaweed, fish, and herbs that adds flavor to the takoyaki balls,” he added.
Baby castella is a Japanese sponge cake that you can serve with cream or chocolate syrup but eating it plain is already a delight. “It is considered a dessert and very visible especially during Japanese festivals. Here on Saipan, we serve them fresh during the Japanese Matsuri Festival in Garapan and Christmas season at night at Paseo de Marianas and the community loves it,” Oura said.
“In the future, I plan to use local octopus and put coconut to add local flavor to the baby castella. I like the idea of merging Japanese food and local food because it always produce great flavor… the food that I serve is Japanese quality,” Oura added.
Ura-Ya became Oura’s second business after temporarily closing his karaoke bar, The Old B Bank. “With the current curfew in place, it is hard for businesses like I have to survive because karaoke is usually enjoyed past 10pm by friends and family. If it is a restaurant it is fine because people will be coming for dinner and drinks early,” he said.
“Putting up Ura-Ya has given me a source of income during the pandemic and even if it’s a small business, we follow health and safety protocols such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and the items come in containers or paper bags… part of my future plan is when I am making enough is to donate takoyaki balls and baby castella to our front-liners at Kanoa Resort. They work hard and it is me and my family’s way of thanking them,” he added.
Takoyaki balls is only $5 for six pieces and baby castella is only $3 for 10 pieces, $5 for 10 pieces. Ura-Ya is open from Monday to Friday, 11am-4:30pm. For orders, call Naoki Oura at (670) 287-0086.