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SASEBO, Japan — Visiting a food market in Japan reminds me of grocery shopping when I was 5, in the golden years before my mother banned sugar-coated cereal from our cupboards.

Her plot only partially worked, because instead of spending upwards of an hour trying to choose between fruity puffs and chocolately flakes, I now find myself drooling over the choices of crispy vegetable and meat tempura pieces cooked fresh daily at my neighborhood market.

So when a new group of friends in Sasebo suggested tempura for lunch — with actual dinnerware and napkins — my heart flew. We went to Nakamura Tempura Restaurant, a cozy room in downtown Sasebo that offers fried foods to order. What could be better?

The restaurant looks like an American coffee bar, but instead of watching the barista steam milk, the barside dining lets you watch the cook carefully batter and fry your meal, piece by piece.

But don’t be fearful that this is a time consuming endeavor. The cook fries up your meal — fish, chicken, shrimp, squid or vegetables — as fast as you can eat them. He parcels them out, piece by piece, so that you won’t have to wait for the next batch.

We went at lunchtime, when set meals range from 780 yen to 1,500 yen, or about $6.50 to $12.50. Each set includes rice, miso soup and pickled vegetables.

I went for the cheap plate, the lunch set that included two pieces of chicken, one piece of fish, one piece of squid, and green beans, pumpkin, eggplant and mushroom. The meal also came with dipping sauce and lemon and green tea flavored salts. I’m still full, and still wishing for more.

See previous After Hours reviews here.

Nakamura Tempura Restaurant

Prices: Items between 480 yen to 1,500 yen. Most set meals are from about 800 yen to 1,500 yen.

Specialties: Tempura.

English menu: Yes.

Dress: Casual.

Clientele: Mostly Japanese, but foreigners are welcome.

Directions: From the bridge in Nimitz Park, walk straight until you hit the covered shopping alley. Turn right, and walk three to four blocks. Turn right again at the Rikitake sign. Nakamura is on the right, at the end of the block on the corner, second floor.

Web site: None.


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