It was the end of a long day dealing with hordes of Christmas customers, but closing came bit earlier due to the cold, rainy weather. Several of my fellow aikido practitioners were gathering at Honda-ya in Tustin for a late night munchie after class. For us, it was still early enough to join them without having to start eating as they were ending. But did we really feel like being social? I’m not exactly a social butterfly, but an evening with friends is always a pleasure, plus Honda-ya has been one of our favorites since we discovered it 10 years ago. So, after a few moments of debating should-we-stay-or-should-we-go, we decided to join the feast with the many who toss me around at the dojo on a regular basis.
For those who haven’t experienced Honda-ya, you pull into a quiet plaza in Old Town Tustin where everything sleeps except for the one corner which Honda-ya occupies. There you’ll find groups of friends, smoking & waiting the customary 1/2 hour minimum wait after they’ve signed in on the list. The time of night doesn’t matter, nor does the day, there is always a wait. Some days will just be longer than others. Upon entering, the world changes from a quiet, old town antique/country clutter plaza, to a rustic Japan’s working class, yakitori bar/cafe. Inside this bustling izakaya, English suddenly seems like the secondary language. The rooms are filled with everything from the 20 somethings gathering rowdily, to the proud salaryman winding down after a long day, to the old Japanese couple savoring a bite of home. If the Japanese had a version of Toby Keith’s “I Love this Bar”, it would be the theme song for Honda-ya.
The food includes the usual ramen, some sushi and tempura offerings, but more importantly, the menu includes a nice range of Japanese bar and street foods. These are the perfect dishes to order in plenitude and share amongst friends, which is exactly what we did. Everyone picks out a few cravings or explorations, and like a big family, grab and pass. “James, what is that?” “How do you say this?” “Send down the swine.” The sharing of food this way always seems to quickly break down the formality of merely courteous friendships and your companions suddenly feel more like siblings. Although practicing aikido together stimulates a trust and form a closeness, sharing a meal together in a place like Honda-ya further evolves that friendship beyond what the dojo has already created. The importance lies not merely in eating together (as in, everyone eating only what they have ordered), but in sharing each other’s dishes. Any traces of selfishness are quickly (if only temporarily) washed away and the sense of “what’s mine is yours”evolves. One person’s favorite dish becomes a new discovery for another. Or the willingness to experiment leads to the finding of a new tasty treat. Who knew that the usually slimy okra could be so good when grilled? Or that the stewed pork’s fat could melt in such a way on your tongue. Have you ever seen someone’s eyes light up over raw, sweet shimp. However, someone at the table did cringe at the thought. It was a fantastic way to eat and be with friends, and we are glad we didn’t go directly home. James, Wes, Melissa, Heinz, and Jerry, thanks for spending the evening’s meal with us. T & D.