A little piece of Japan pops up in Porter Creek

Behind the grand Victorian facade at 56 Almond in Porter Creek, there's hand-drawn calligraphy, pickled Japanese plums, tatami mats and a savage massage chair shipped over from Tokyo. The smell of gobo fills the immaculate kitchen.

Behind the grand Victorian facade at 56 Almond in Porter Creek, there’s hand-drawn calligraphy, pickled Japanese plums, tatami mats and a savage massage chair shipped over from Tokyo.

The smell of gobo fills the immaculate kitchen.

Reiko Tanaka learned to make the savoury Japanese radish salad from her mother and grandmother.

Now, it’s one of the breakfast items on offer at her new bed and breakfast.

Tanaka is not new to the Yukon.

For the last two years, Carcross schoolchildren lined up every day at lunch to buy her onigiri, a salty rice ball wrapped in dry seaweed and filled with smoked salmon.

Served from a tiny trailer plunked on the side of the road in Carcross, Goldrush Sushi dished up traditional homemade Japanese fare for tourists and locals alike.

But the children got a special deal, just $1 per rice ball.

This year, Carcross children won’t be so lucky.

Tanaka’s partner has switched jobs and no longer drives to Carcross everyday, so the little sushi shack is shuttered.

Whitehorse already has three sushi restaurants, and with the new bed and breakfast, Tanaka wasn’t really considering putting on her chef’s hat full time again.

But then an opportunity came up at the Fireplace Cafe on Centennial in Porter Creek.

Tanaka was there as a customer and the owner recognized her and offered to share the space.

“And we have very different customers, so there’s no competition,” said Tanaka.

Although sushi guests will sometimes top off lunch with some pie from the cafe, or families will come and the kids will get sandwiches, while the parents opt for sushi.

On Wednesday, Tanaka had a crock pot of miso stew simmering behind the counter.

Unlike most restaurants, she doesn’t use powdered miso stock because it has MSG in it – a salty, chemical seasoning linked to cancer.

Instead, Tanaka soaks shiitake mushrooms to make a soup stock, and adds a splash of savoury, salty water from a tub of soaking seaweed.

“It smells like the ocean,” she said, opening the lid a crack.

Besides the tempura shrimp sushi and elaborate combo rolls, Tanaka whips up tomato, coconut curries and Vietnamese glass noodle rolls with peanut sauce, all from recipes passed down through her maternal lineage.

She wants to cook more varieties of Japanese food, maybe yaki soba – fried buckwheat noodles with a teriyaki-type sauce – or okonomiyaki – a Japanese crepe served with egg, shrimp, potatoes, pickles and cheese.

Tanaka will open for dinner too, if there are reservations.

But so far, the new sushi restaurant has been relatively quiet.

“It’s hard in Porter Creek,” said Tanaka.

“At lunchtime, most people work in the city and they don’t want to have to drive here.”

Deliveries would work, but at this point, it’s only Tanaka running the show.

“If I could hire a delivery person, I’d have a very successful business,” she said with a grin.

Tanaka misses the children of Carcross.

She even misses the cramped trailer where she used to make rice balls for her onigiri club.

The new restaurant is so spacious by comparison, it’s hard to keep track of all her ingredients.

“Before everything had an exact spot and was one step away,” she said.

Tanaka makes Japanese breakfasts too, but only for her B&B guests.

The bed and breakfast was a dream that Tanaka hoped would materialize 10 years from now.

But when she saw 56 Almond, she fell in love.

Since moving in, one month ago, everything has been a whirlwind.

Tanaka opened her restaurant at the same time and has been creating immaculate bedroom suites with down-filled comforters and organic, biodegradable toiletries between batches of miso soup and California rolls.

Most rooms feature four-poster beds and modern amenities, but one is barren.

The floor is lined with nothing but tatami mats – hard-packed grass that weigh more than floor tiles and smells like fresh-mown hay. Tanaka had them shipped over from Japan.

“And the shipping costs more than the mats,” she said.

On the tatami mats, a thin futon is folded beside a low table. A piece of simple calligraphy hangs on the wall.

The room is a work in progress.

Tanaka points to a fringe curtain hanging over the window. It’s a remnant of western decor left over from the previous owners.

Tanaka wants to slowly shape the bed and breakfast into a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, although she also plans to keep some Western rooms.

The ultimate acquisition will be a cedar bathtub, to act as a centrepiece for the ofuro, or Japanese bathing area.

But shipping costs are astronomical.

In the main sitting room, an alcove houses that violent massage chair, also shipped in from Tokyo.

The beige piece is for B&B guests, and is part of Tanaka’s ryokan experience.

Tanaka pushes some buttons on the chair’s electronic keypad, which is in Japanese, and the chair suddenly clutches the sitter, pummelling their neck and back. Despite its aggressive tricks, the chair is relaxing, a perfect finale after a hot bath and a decadent Japanese dinner.

Tanaka also has kimonos on offer for photo opts and is happy to teach calligraphy to interested guests.

But so far, she’s only had one – a Japanese military specialist taking a break from his post in Kabul, Afghanistan.

He opted for a western-style room.

Western breakfasts are an option too, because some people aren’t ready for salted smoked salmon, rice, miso soup and pickles first thing in the morning, she said.

Tanaka also offers her guests homemade natto – slimy fermented soy beans with a pungent taste.

Tanaka’s mother sends the special bacteria to ferment the soy beans into natto over from Japan.

“It’s good for your stomach,” she said.

And it’s all part of the authentic Japanese experience now on offer in Porter Creek.

Goldrush Sushi is open from 11:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. To make dinner reservations, or for catering call 333-9456 or visit www.goldrush-sushi.com. To take a peak at Tanaka’s B&B, called Bluejay Suites, or to stay the night, also call 333-9456. Suites start at $149 a night for two and German is spoken.

Contact Genesee Keevil at