Living in Japan has its challenges. One thing that is never a challenge is finding a delicious place for dinner. However quality and delicious food that is not Japanese that could be considered by most metropolitan standards as “exotic,” that however is much harder to find. Luckily the great city of Kanazawa has a few “exotic” places buried amongst the dark alley ways filled with Izakayas and McDonalds.
SaiPe is a Tongan restaurant, and one such hidden treasure of Kanazawa. Located near the Central Post Office (中央郵便局ーChuo Yuubinkyoku) in between the Station and Katamachi (map) this little restaurant/bar is not your average Japanese affair. Finding this restaurant is relatively easy if you have a map or directions and easily accessible from Kanazawa station on foot (walking directions from the station are posted below). If you are driving, things get more complicated as the restaurant has no parking of its own and really strict neighbors when it comes to parking. There are several places around the restaurant that offer pay parking and people driving to this restaurant should use them, or else you might leave the restaurant to find out someone called the cops… not that I would know from personal experience or anything…
SaiPe is owned and operated by the Fujimori family. Both Fujimoris have spent a lot of time outside of Japan in various places, but they spent most of their time in the little island nation of Tonga. For those worried about their Japanese, do not fear as both Mr. and Misses Fujimori speak very good English, and recently took some time out of their busy schedule to translate their entire menu into English. Many times I have found myself going to SaiPe to start a night out on the town only to find that instead of spending an hour at dinner, i spent half my night there chatting the night away with the Fujimoris and other customers debating everything from English slang, Japanese curse-words and cross cultural exchange.
So what about the food? and what exactly is Tongan food? To be honest with you, I am not quite sure, but every time I go into SaiPe I am greeted by an arrangement of delicious dishes that range somewhere between Thai (their-curry dishes), Indonesian (their rice-based dishes) and Hawaiian (their meat-based dishes). Many dishes use some form of coconut milk in their preparation and would resemble Thai food if it wasn’t for the spices. However, this isn’t to say that Tongan food doesn’t have its own unique taste. But if you are like me and never had Tongan food before, it might be a good idea to think of SaiPe as a Thai/Indonesian place with a twist, with an overall pallet that is more sweet and less sour than Thai and Indonesian. With that said, the greatest thing about SaiPe is their flexibility. If you want something made a certain way or with certain ingredients you only need to ask. One night after a few beers I explained my love for Wendy’s chili cheese fries. A month or two later the Fujimori’s told me they could now make their own special “chili cheese fries” for me after they made a field trip to the local Wendy’s before it shut down, and man was I blown away, Wendy’s chili cheese fries are good, but SaiPe makes them better. Besides the original Chili cheese fries made especially for me, the Fujimoris have a knack for experimentation and have created some dishes that are uniquely Saipe (one such dish, the corned beef piman is delicious…)
Everything I have had at SaiPe has been delicious, but for those starting out I recommend something off their lunch menu like the Lua Mua a Tongan lamb dish where the lamb is cooked in a mixture of coconut milk, spices, and vegetables served with a side order of rice and a salad. If you like dessert, I recommend you finish that off with their fried ice cream. If you are not full from the Lua Mua, or if you are brave, ask them what they recommend for that day and be prepared for a journey. If you are in the drinking mood SaiPe is one of the few bars/restaurants in town that also serves up Nihonkai beer from the Noto. But, if you don’t drink I can also recommend any one of their delicious fruit milk shakes made from scratch.
Official website: (japanese only)
Kanazawa-shi Housai 1-4-35 (Near the Tamagawa Library)
Open 11:30〜15:00 18:30〜24:00 (last order 23:30)
Closed: All day Thursday, and Wednesday after lunch.
Simple Directions: From the east exit (東口） of Kanazawa Station (with the big glass cover and the giant wooden tori gate) take a right down the main road. You will pass the Central Post Office on your right at the next intersection 三社 （Sanja）take a left. SaiPe will be on your right about 100 meters from the Sanja intersection.
Travis is a fourth-year JET in Ishikawa.