As a transplant from California, one of the things I love most about living in the Pacific Northwest is easy access to two wonderful foodie cities, Vancouver and Portland. Just a few hours of driving north or south will get you to either of these destinations. Meanwhile, in California, driving a few hours will still likely get you to... more California.
I've been to Portland a number of times already, but with each visit I've been keeping tabs on my favorite places in the city. I've also been following a few accounts on Instagram as another way to remember where I'd like to visit during my next trip.
The opportunity for a food-filled day in Portland revealed itself when I realized that I hadn't made any plans for Memorial Day weekend. I immediately booked my train tickets for same-day arrival and departure.
So at 7:30 am, I boarded the train and waited in anticipation for three hours to get off and head over to my first stop...
PSU Farmers Market
The PSU Farmers Market is a lovely farmers market that takes place every Saturday near Portland State University. I've always admired Seattle's farmers markets, but the PSU Farmers Market takes things to another level in terms of not only the sheer number of vendors, but also the quality and diversity of vendors.
I was there for one specific purpose though - to grab a few beautiful desserts from Mio's Delectables, a vendor I've been following on Instagram for some time now. However, she had taken a few weeks off to take care of personal matters, so I wasn't going to be able to pick up her creations this time around. But no matter - I still grabbed a couple fantastic items including fresh strawberries, elderflowers, beetroot mylk and homemade tomato jam.
Shizuku by Naoko
After walking around the farmers market, I had worked up quite an appetite. Luckily, my next stop - Shizuku by Chef Naoko - wasn't too far away.
It's been about three years since I last visited Shizuku and I'd heard that they massively remodeled the interior. What I remembered about the place previously was that it was very homey but the food was far from homey. The last time I was there, I ordered a koji chicken bento which, as I mention in my bio, was so good that I can recall that this was the defining dish that really elevated my appreciation for Japanese food.
When I walked in however, I felt like I was at a completely different restaurant. The interior was stunning, no doubt. However, the prices had gone up. The menu was also completely different from what I remembered - gone was the koji chicken bento that I was so fond of.
I noticed a number of people in the restaurant were ordering the shumai, so I decided to get the shumai teishoku (meal set). Service was quick and the presentation of the food was beautiful. Despite my initial concerns, it was after my first bite of shumai that I remembered why I loved Shizuku so much. Everything was fresh, healthy and just so good. The shumai was unique in that, instead of being held together in rice wrappers, a mixture of barley and other grains acted as the wrapper. The zucchini and golden beet tsukemono as well as their hijiki salad were also worth writing home about.
After lunch, I met up with a college friend of mine who has been in the area for a couple of years. Another reason I decided to take a trip down to Portland was to check out the new MUJI and without even mentioning it, she recommended that we meet there.
Too in awe of the size of the store and too distracted by every single thing I wanted to buy, I completely forgot to take photos! Having been to multiple MUJIs in Japan, I will say this store was EASILY comparable to the ones there. This MUJI even had a cafe inside. The selection was amazing and I definitely did some damage there. And remember - for those who aren't familiar with Portland, this state doesn't have sales tax, so shop 'til ya drop!
After a whirlwind of MUJI shopping, to cool off, we walked over to Courier Coffee. Starting around May every year, the husband and wife team of Joel Domreis and Sakiko Setaka set up shop inside of Courier Coffee to serve beautiful kakigori (shaved ice) under the name ssshaved ice.
We ordered the Uji Kintoki, which came with tofu mochi and red bean. During my previous visit, I had ordered something similar. While this was just as good as I remembered it to be, for next time, I think I'd like to be a bit more adventurous and try a fruity kakigori.
I received a tip from some foodie friends that a new Japanese deli, Giraffe, had opened in Portland. Little did I know that it was embedded in a colorful and slightly eccentric imported goods shop called Cargo. Before heading to where Giraffe was, we took a look around at all of their trinkets, many of which were heavily nostalgic to me.
After some perusing, we walked over to Giraffe, which took up a small corner in Cargo. Don't be fooled by the description, though - this corner packs a lot. There was a fridge with a number of bentos and canned drinks to choose from; a heated display case of okazu pan from Oyatsupan Bakers, a local establishment for okazu pan; and the counter, where you can order made-to-order dishes from Kana Hinohara, co-owner of Giraffe.
My friend decided to order their curry, which veered away slightly from the traditional, sweeter version I'm used. From what I could detect in my two bites of her curry, there was some curry powder and cumin, among other spices. Nevertheless, it was delicious. Still slightly full from lunch, I bought a tsukune bento to eat later on the train ride home.
Behind the Museum Cafe
Last but certainly not least, I decided to take my friend to one of my absolute favorite cafes in Portland, the Behind the Museum Cafe which is, quite literally, located behind the Portland Art Museum. Here, you can order ceremonial matcha with wagashi on the side or a hojicha latte with a chewy matcha or hojicha brownie. Recently, they've added soft-serve to their menu. I haven't tried it yet but having been here nearly five times now, I have no doubt that it's delicious.
I had some time before I needed to head back to the train station, so we decided to plop down, order some drinks and snacks, and use their strong WiFi to get some things done. All and all, a lovely end to a full day in Portland.
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