Neighborhood Kitchens

A visit to Oishii

By Margarita Martinez

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Margarita Martinez enjoying soba soup at University Hall in Porter Square.  In this episode of Neighborhood Kitchens we showcase Japanese cuisine, from very affordable food court noodle shops to some of the best sushi around.

In our travels, I first visited University Hall in Porter Square in Cambridge. On the Lesley University campus there is a food court, open to the public, where one can get sushi and lots of other Japanese dishes including tempura, noodle soups, and adzuki bean sweet buns. The food stalls are set up in a way that makes you feel that you have been transported to a food court in Japan. Lunch at University Hall, also known as the Porter Exchange, is extremely filling and affordable. For under $10, I enjoyed shrimp tempura over soba noodles and vegetables in a delicious savory broth. It is no wonder that University Hall has become a destination for college students and nearby employees to get Japanese cuisine.

After filling up on noodles and shrimp, I met Chef Ting Yen of Oishii for something completely different. First, he took me to Stavis Seafoods, where he was picking up a 400-pound tuna. Obviously, this was not my average fish shopping experience! At the fish pier, Chef Yen's fish monger, Manny, educated me in what to look for in an excellent fish. He had a long hollow needle that he stuck into the fish in order to get a sample. Our tuna was particularly fatty, which indicated that it would be extremely good to eat. Let me tell you, when Chef Yen and I made our yellowtail maki sushi, he slipped me a few slices of the tuna and it was out of this world. Buttery, rich, and definitely something to savor on a special occasion. 

Margarita and Cheg Ting at Oishii in the South End After the fish pier visit, I witnessed the butchering of the enormous tuna Chef Yen picked up. The process required five people, a hammer, a butcher knife, a three-foot-long blade, and Chef Yen standing up on top of the table to get the right amount of leverage. What may sound like a violent process was actually done with the utmost respect to the fish. I felt as if I was witnessing a tradition and skill that had been passed down for generations. I love how Chef Yen says, “We talk to the fish.”

Chef Ting and his team butchering a tuna at Oishii restaurant In addition to witnessing the filleting of the almost 400-pound tuna, I received an education in Japanese cooking while visiting with Chef Yen. He schooled me on how to properly roll sushi with flare and he taught me three crucial elements in Japanese cuisine. One, always use the freshest and best ingredients, as evidenced by our fish pier visit and his restaurant's rice and seaweed. Two, find the umami flavor in every dish, which I learned while preparing the sweet miso sauce for our grilled black cod dish. And three, pay special attention to presentation. All of these elements fuel Chef Yen's immense creativity in the kitchen, yet presentation is where Chef Yen really gets to be a mad artist and scientist. Take a look at his coconut sphere dessert! This is not a dish you can attempt at home, unless you happen to have liquid nitrogen on hand in your kitchen, in which case spherical desserts can be a regular occurrence on your home menu.

Coconut Sphere prepared by Cheg Ting at Oishii While the coconut sphere is not a traditional Japanese dessert, and is in fact inspired by the Catalan Spanish chef Ferran Adria, Chef Yen is taking inspiration from the Japanese idea of culinary presentation and is merging it with Japanese and Western ingredients to develop an amazing treat that is candy to the eyes and taste buds. I had a blast in his kitchen using a torch, creating spheres with balloons and gas, and learning what ingredients give you that wonderful umami taste. I won't soon forget my true culinary adventure, based in the Japanese tradition, with Chef Ting Yen.


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About Neighborhood Kitchens

Building on a 35-year history of producing Latino and multicultural programming, WGBH’s award winning La Plaza team has a new offering — Neighborhood Kitchens, a series about the exploration of culture through food. Every week the show offers a unique window into immigrant communities in New England.

Saturdays at 4pm on WGBH 2
Fridays at 7:30pm on WGBH 44


About the Author
Margarita Martinez Margarita Martinez
Margarita Martinez grew up in the Bronx, NY and Ossining, NY with a Puerto Rican father and a Franco-American mother. She now calls New England home. Margarita has always had an insatiable appetite for travel and food. She made her first empanada as a teenager visiting Argentina, satisfied her sweet tooth with poffertjes and stroopwafels while studying in Holland, engorged herself on Thai street food for a month in Bangkok, and continues to search for authentic international cuisines in the Northeast. Margarita loves to discover new ingredients, flavors, and cooking approaches that she can bring to her own home kitchen.

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In each episode, host Margarita Martínez visits a different ethnic restaurant and learns three delicious recipes from the chef. She also explores the restaurant’s neighborhood, discovering hidden gems along the way. Join her as she learns about new ingredients, new cultures, and new neighborhoods. ¡Hasta pronto!

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Margarita's Neighborhood Visits

»Boston: Bristol Lounge
»Boston's South End: Orinoco, Teranga and Oishii
»Boston's Back Bay: Casa Romero
»Boston's North End: Taranta
»Roxbury: Merengue
»Boston's Beacon Hill: Scampo
»All Around Boston: Mei Mei Street Kitchens
»Cambridge: Muqueca, Oleana, and Sandrine's
»
Somerville: Dosa Temple
»Lawrence: Cafe Azteca
»Lowell: Simply Khmer

»Fresh from the Fish Market
»Jamaica Plain: Tres Gatos
»Dorchester: Pho Le and Cafe Polonia
»Medford: Bistro 5
»Portland, ME: Emilitsa
»Newport, RI: Tallulah on Thames
»Pawtucket, RI: Rasoi

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