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Mikawaya Coffee on Kure’s Nakadori: Haven of Gastronomic Time Attacks

We’re all familiar with the sweet traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day, which has its origins in Western civilization, and the Japanese spin-off White Day is also widely observed nationwide, but have you heard of the South Korean phenomenon known as Black Day? While not an official holiday (and definitely not celebrated in Japan), Black Day is a type of Singles’ Awareness Day held on the 14th of April, in line with White Day on the 14th of March and Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February. Personally, I believe Black Day should be a thing in Japan (not as a public holiday, of course) on account of fewer Japanese people getting into relationships than they used to. Plus, celebrating one’s single status would spell increased profits for stores and restaurants, especially those that sell sweets, alcohol, or all-you-can-eat anything. I know of a few restaurants in Hiroshima that let patrons eat to their hearts’ content in the form of a buffet or gargantuan portion size, but one café in Kure goes the extra mile by slapping time attacks on their gastronomic gauntlets: Mikawaya Coffee.

Though Mikawaya Coffee has become a local chain, the original store sits on Nakadori, Kure’s quiet equivalent to Hiroshima City’s Hondori, and it’s only here that diners can take on the monster mealtime attacks for at least three different food items. I visited this quaint establishment several times over the course of several months to try out some of their most popular foods, but I only had the budget (and the stomach) to tackle one of their gastronomic time attacks (more on that below), and I’ll never do that again. Each time I visited Mikawaya Coffee, I always sat at the same table off to the side, close to the water server and the restroom just in case I needed them, but not so close that guests would constantly pass by me chowing down.

Currying Favor

My first visit ever to this café was when I was participating in the Kaiji Curry Rally back in February, just to scope out the place before committing to an eating contest here. The Kaiji Curry recipe of every participating restaurant is named after a historical Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) or Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ship, and the curry at Mikawaya Coffee is named after the JS Bungo, a modern minesweeping vessel. When I purchased my curry at the counter, I was given a sticker to prove that I tried the Bungo Kaiji Curry, and in fact, this sticker was the first one I received before tackling the other curry joints from the Kaiji Curry Rally article.

Mikawaya Coffee sells the Bungo curry in full-size and half-size versions, but I got the half-size serving to save room for other curries I would devour that same day. The full-size curry comes with a side salad and drink whereas the half-size portion does not, and tacking on a salad and drink to the half-size curry only saved me a little bit of money so it wasn’t cost-effective from a food-per-yen perspective. The mildly spicy roux was filled with tender beef tendon and ground beef, accompanied by a soft-boiled egg and some Japanese pickles for a balance of flavor. It was fairly decent, and looking back, I really should have ordered the full-sized plate, so I guess that means I’ll have to drop by again next time I take the Kaiji Curry Rally challenge. The salad was your typical green salad but I thought the size of the drink was rather generous, which gave me a good impression and helped me decide that I would indeed take on a food time trial here.

Can’t Wait to Get a Mouthful!

Mikawaya Coffee offers at least three gastronomic gauntlets based on their most popular items: waffles, omelet rice, and shaved ice (this challenge can only be attempted in the summer). I opted for the waffle challenge since I visited in the spring and felt my odds were better trying to wolf down dessert. The waffles are soft but the challenge is hard: the challenger is given twenty minutes to finish four, hearty waffles and one liter of whipped cream (yes, finishing all of the whipped cream is a requirement too). The challenger is granted one drink of choice (unsweetened tea may be the best for counterbalancing the overwhelming sweetness), but cannot have any more liquid after that, not even water. In addition, the challenger is also not allowed to use the restroom during the challenge (to prevent cheating, I suppose), so be sure to empty your bladder beforehand. Syrup is available for flavoring the waffles, but neither the syrup or mint leaf on top need to be finished. Challengers pay for these enormous portions at the register, but if they complete the challenge within the allotted time, they will be refunded in full.

When I first found out about Mikawaya Coffee on Kure’s Nakadori and its eating contests, I started planning and mentally preparing myself for this so-called “Death by Waffles” by determining how to pace myself, accounting for all the whipped cream that must be finished, and watching a couple of videos of others doing the challenge to know what I would be up against that fateful day. Those people in the videos made the time trial look a lot easier than it actually was, and long story short, I failed the challenge, miserably. I couldn’t even finish the second waffle by the time the twenty minutes was up, after which point I ditched the whipped cream and focused solely on the waffles. One drink was far from enough for me to continue, so I threw in the towel and asked the staff to pack the waffles for me to finish at home later. I used none of the syrup and left the remaining whipped cream at the restaurant, but for what it’s worth, I did eat the mint leaf that wasn’t part of the challenge. The restaurant manager is a good fellow, so he came by to have a chat with me during and after the challenge to pick my brain. He assured me that finishing the challenge is the exception rather than the rule (otherwise he’d go bankrupt) and that challengers starring in those online videos just have freakishly large stomachs. Upon leaving the café, I was given a discount coupon for a drink on a future visit as a consolation prize, so I felt like I at least gained something besides weight.

Post-Meal Walking

After that ordeal, I didn’t want any more waffles for a good long time, and at the time of writing, I haven’t had any waffles since finishing the above leftovers. It took a great deal of effort to rise from my seat and leave the store without puking, and in that moment the top priority was walking somewhere, anywhere, until the sickly feeling went away. I was so bloated I couldn’t think straight, but my first instinct was to head for the little park on Kuramoto-dori where the Illumination Road was held back in January. The winter lights were swapped out for blooming wisteria hanging from the lattices, which I thought was a bit premature, not that I was complaining. More importantly, there’s hardly ever anyone at this park even on a Sunday, which gave me plenty of tranquility and solitude to take deep breaths until my nausea eventually faded. The first thing I did was capture these beautiful wisterias right before my eyes, but after that, I headed southwest and crossed the street to find the Water Plaza.

The Water Plaza is a long display of waterworks that depicts a microcosm of Kure City, the nine peaks that surround it on three sides, the crimson Ondo no Seto bridge in Kure Bay, and the Seto Inland Sea beyond. These stones representing the city streets and mountains were a sight to behold and I squatted there for a good long while trying to capture the best photo of it possible. During the time, locals constantly walked past, and though they may enjoy the sight, nobody save for me stopped to admire the abstract design (they’ve probably done so too many times already). After about fifteen minutes of patience, I snapped a picture of a pigeon coming in to roost on the structure, which made all that time staying stationary worth it!

My post-meal exercise took me back by Kure Station and to the JMSDF Museum, where I tried the Akishio Curry on a separate adventure. Around this time, the museum had a special exhibit detailing the International Fleet Review that was held in 2022, in which the navies of roughly a dozen foreign nations participated. It wasn’t just ships that strutted their stuff either; the US Navy and the French Marine Nationale also had their aircraft flying over the boats to show off their nations’ military might.

As I only recently found out, the 26th of April is in fact JMSDF Day (for which I took an additional trip to Kure), and on that day only, the JMSDF Museum’s rooftop terrace—which is at the same height as the top of the Akishio submarine—is open to the public. They were passing out free clear file folders to visitors on the first floor, and there were also employees on the roof explaining all that can be seen from the terrace. Apparently, that day, some of the usual ships weren’t moored in the harbor so we had a rare, clearer view of the bay than one usually would get. The terrace itself was rather humble, with two tables and eight chairs total, but that’s enough for tourists to take a breather before continuing their Kure day trip or heading home.

Moment of Joy: I’m A Pigeon

I was feeling all sorts of bad when I initially got the waffle challenge over with, but one thing that managed to amuse me during my recovery in the park was the sight of these two pigeons having a moment. The expression of the pigeon on the left mirrored my exact mood at the time, and I was so glad these birds stayed long enough for me to take this video of them.

Of course, the minute I tried to approach them, they stopped their moment and flew away, but if I could fly, I would’ve done the same. That funny bit plus the fresh air in the park helped me to forget about my waffle-filled belly and continue my walk through the city.

Back to Regular Food

It was the 14th of April (Black Day) when I attempted the waffle time trial, and on account of the occasion I thought I could complete it, but I have since learned my lesson. On future visits to Mikawaya Coffee on Nakadori, I simply got regular portions of their all-time favorites like their omelet rice lunch special (pictured above). The lunch set came with a side salad and a choice of drink like most cafés in Japan would offer, but Mikawaya offers bigger portions of food than your average coffee joint, which was just right for me. I even saved room for dessert: peach-flavored shaved ice with evaporated milk, and thankfully, with it being April, there was no eating contest available to tempt me.

Would you believe that this big baby was the smallest size of shaved ice they had on the menu? There actually is a time trial available for the small shaved ice; a couple of regular folks have actually been successful, and the current record is held by a high-schooler. I for one am done with gastronomic time attacks, and will stick to racing the clock in the mountains like I’m used to doing. As if the mint leaf and the sweet, fruity syrup on top weren’t yummy enough, I laid eyes on a special surprise when I encountered chunks of vanilla ice cream embedded deeper within the shaved ice.

Whether dining in Kure to create happy memories with loved ones or the eat the pain away in solitude, Mikawaya Coffee on Kure’s Nakadori is a trusty choice for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea (er, coffee), or dinner. Do note that the challenge foods (stack of four waffles, monster omelet rice, towering shaved ice, or small shaved ice) don’t necessarily have to be tackled by one person, for an entire group can gather around the same plate so long as they pay and aren’t hoping to get their meals comped. That said, it’s worth it to try any of the ginormous items if you can bring your family, some friends, or a significant other with you. If not, do what I did and take home what you don’t finish; leftover waffles combined with convenience store chicken patties are a match made in Heaven! Mikawaya Coffee on Nakadori has always been a reliable joint for Kure locals to eat and drink on any day of the year (not just for romantic occasions), and due in part to the fame generated by the food challenges, visitors from all over Japan including yours truly have also been drawn to this quaint café. If the way to your heart is through your stomach, you’ll fall head over heels for Mikawaya Coffee in a heartbeat!

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team