Monday, September 24, 2007

Midori Sushi at Shibuya

This is the last entry for the Japan food trail. Midori Sushi has gained a reputation for excellent value-for-money sushi, and it would have been a waste not to try it. We checked out the Shibuya branch at Mark City. There is a perpetual queue outside and we even detected Singaporean accents further down the line. Fortunately we didn't have to wait long. And the minute you walk into the shop, you are greeted by the fresh scent of seafood that just makes you smile in anticipation.

The first thing I ordered was the five-piece aburi platter (only ¥819). I love the effects of the blowtorch on sushi, toasting and searing in fatty goodness on top but leaving the bottom half raw. This lends a multi-dimensional sensation for the tastebuds.

Here, I have to show you how nicely the toro is done. Yums.

One of the many sushi sets, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

There are many sushi sets to choose from (see their online menu). I went for the ¥1,680 set which arrived beautifully presented and with the seafood in chunky portions.

Another look at the sushi set, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Everything was reasonably fresh and delicious. The only taste I still haven't acquired is for uni, so I can't really tell whether it was good or not. The chutoro also was a bit sinewy but other than that, everything was fat and juicy. Just look at the beautiful slab of kazunoko (herring roe, bottom right piece).

Salmon nigiri, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

There is so much more salmon than rice that you have enough to wrap the fish all around the rice if you wanted.

California maki, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

They also do really good rolls. We went for an order of the California maki (since hubby doesn't take much raw stuff). Huge pieces with generous tobiko and avocado (some areas browning but it didn't affect the taste).

California maki close-up, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

This is the first time I've seen a rendition with a slab of raw tuna embedded though - it's sticking out like a cheeky tongue!

So there you have it. A most filling and fulfilling meal! Is it the best and most exquisite sushi you will ever have? Perhaps not, but it's certainly cheap and good. Check out other raves and photos about Midori at: Merry Man in Japan, Pig Out Diary, and Andrea Harner.

Dogenzaka 1-12-3, Mark City East 4F
Open 11am-10pm daily.
Tel: 03-5458-0002


Mo-Mo Paradise

After exploring the Ishibashi store at the BEAM Building in Shibuya, I saw that Mo-Mo Paradise was just upstairs! Ah, shabu-shabu - personally something I have never tried, as have found it too close to Chinese steamboat in the past (not a big fan of that either). But perhaps it's different in Japan.

Fortunately, the English menus are clear and informative. You have a choice of shabu-shabu broth, sukiyaki or a kimchi pot. If you have a larger group, you can opt for two types. They will serve beef or pork (add a small surcharge if you want both) with vegetables.

We had beef sirloin and Kaburagi pork sliced extremely thin that cook in a mere matter of seconds. Dip these in either of two sauces - gomadare (sesame) or ponzu (citrusy soy vinegar). You cook the vegetables last of all, after the broth has been flavoured with all the protein sweetness from the meat.

Mo-Mo Paradise (or Mo-Para for short) is a chain with nine branches in Tokyo. Again, as with most tabehodai (all-you-can-eat) places, it's immensely popular with students and 20-somethings with large appetites. I hear lunch deals are even more affordable at ¥1000 or less!

Address of Shibuya branch
Udagawacho 31-2, Shibuya Beam 6F.
Open 11:30am-2:30, 5:00-10:30pm daily.


Some Chuka-Ramen Joint in Shibuya

Back in Tokyo for just a day before we head home. We didn't really have lunch on the shinkansen - just some bites we packed from the very nice Kobeya Bakery from Shin-Osaka. So in the late afternoon, we randomly hit up this Chinese ramen joint at the fork of a road in Shibuya en route to the Ishibashi music store.

Fantastic gyoza at only ¥200 or ¥280 (can't remember!), for six pieces. Hubby enjoyed his soy sauce ramen but I didn't think much of my volcanic broth of tan-tan ramen. All washed down with beer.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Kin-Ryu Ramen in Osaka

When I first heard about the Kin-Ryu ramen in Osaka with a huge dragon mascot, I thought no way was I going to eat at such a tacky joint. But I was later lured by tales of a good tonkotsu broth. When I saw the actual place, it was much smaller and more humble than I expected. You dine al fresco on raised tatami platform seats surrounding the open kitchen. Menu choices? Only two - ramen (¥600) and ramen with extra char siew (¥900). You feed a vending machine your selection and join the queue. A waiter then hands you your table number.

Hmm, this is it for ¥600, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

OK, a very plain but huge bowl of noodles. I thought it tasted like instant noodle broth. Well, I do like instant noodles, so this wasn't completely objectionable. But I did think it was ¥600 too much. Hubby's reaction was worse - he took one bite and gave up. This certainly ain't no Kyushu Jyangara Ramen.

Well, if this is any consolation, you get refillable ice water and kimchi (pickled lettuce and pickled spring onions - bewarned, both extremely pungent), on a self-service basis.


Osaka - More Than Just Takoyaki?

Osaka turned out to be the surprise highlight of the trip. The city pulses with young energy, and is sleek, bold, chic and hip. Everything was larger than life - from towering neon ads to the huge mechatronic signboard gizmos. No wonder sci-fi writer William Gibson said that if you want to look for the modern and futuristic, you'll find it more in cities like Osaka and Kobe more than Tokyo.

Osaka is also known as the food capital of Japan. However, I find its cuisine not as varied or interesting as what you can find in Tokyo. But I'm sure I have not explored enough of Osaka yet. Anyway, one of the most famous icons of Osaka is the takoyaki (grilled octopus flour balls). We tried two kinds - one with sauce, and one without (see above). Tasty snacks indeed.

Takoyaki alone wasn't going to be enough for dinner. Since we already tried Osaka-style okonomiyaki in Kyoto, we opted for a mixed yakisoba (with pork, shrimp and squid). They bring the sizzling dish and let it finish cooking on the hot griddle at your table, so you can have some fun charring it to your heart's content.

Creo-ru, what an unusual name!, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

We ate at Creo-ru (don't ask me what it means!), which has both a takeaway takoyaki frontage and sit-down places to enjoy okonomiyaki and other dishes.

somewhere along Dotonbori, opposite Kin-Ryu Ramen


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rei-Chan Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima

Practically every travel guide tells you okonomiyaki is a must-try when in Hiroshima. Such joints are legion in the city, you'll have no issue finding one. Only trouble is - which one! As we didn't have that much time, we settled for something within the JR station (which is pretty huge itself). Near the delightfully named Asse Shopping Mall on the second floor, we found a row of restaurants. Rei-chan Okonomiyaki looked the most popular - so much so that they had two branches, and both were fully packed with customers!

Rei-chan has a lively atmosphere in all aspects of sight, smell and sound. It's fun watching the skilled and energetic ladies working the griddle while entertaining guests. The din of cooking adds to the irresistible aromas that pin you to the site. It's also a highly efficient place. They take your order even as you queue, and food arrives almost as soon as you are seated.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

So here it is. Hmm, I hadn't expected a foldover of a pancake but I guess it's so huge, it wouldn't fit on the plate unfolded. Hiroshima's style of okonomiyaki involves more layering of ingredients whereas Osaka's jumbles everything together. These two cities are fiercely loyal to their version, and God forbid you tell a citizen from one city that you prefer the other city's style!

Yakisoba, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

We also had a yakisoba (fried buckwheat noodles) which came with an overwhelmingly generous sprinkling of aonori (green seaweed bits). Tastewise, as with the okonomiyaki, was so-so. Perhaps we didn't order the right variant (many types of ingredients available). Something smelt really good cooking in that shop but whatever it is, it didn't land on our plates.

But I have to say the friendly ladies there were simply wonderful. They gave us a little calcium wafer bar for Nadine since she was too young to partake in the fried foods. So kind and thoughtful of them! I'll say it again, the Japanese really love children!

2F JR Hiroshima Station (two branches)
also other places near the station


Friday, September 21, 2007

Lovely Italian at Ante Caffe

Ante Caffe at JR Kyoto Station, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

This was another random find and turned out to be one of the better Italian meals we've ever had. The 11F of JR Kyoto Station has so many eateries, it's hard to decide which to try. We pretty much just wanted a place we could chill at casually, mainly to escape the heat of midday. It's so near autumn, and yet Japan is uminaginably hotter than Singapore!

I saw many of these plates of cold tomato in a cold display case, and they looked so tempting and delicious (and I'm not even fond of tomatoes!). They come with the three-course pasta lunch sets (fantastic value at ¥1050) that we went for. And yes, they were wonderful! Laced with tart dressing and sitting on top of a some creamy bite-size salad. Just the thing for scorching summers!

Service was prompt and friendly. You also get to choose three breads - regular baguette, walnut bread and foccacia - however many you like. All of them were nice. Nadine relished these.

I had to take a pic of this peperoncino olive oil. Most of the time Japanese palates don't take well to spicy hot flavours, so we were surprised to find this kick-ass tongue-burning delight at our table. I gotta try to find it in Singapore!

Caesar Salad, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

The pic doesn't look like much, but the Caesar Salad was very refreshing, made all the better with Parmesan shaved onto it right at your table out of the biggest cheese wheel I've ever seen.

Garlic vongole spaghetti, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

My garlic vongole spaghetti was just the way I like it - simple yet well-executed. Most importantly, the noodle texture was properly al dente. Fresh clams, chopped chili, garlic and chives made a lovely symphony with the spaghetti. I finished every strand (and secretly wished there was more)!

Lasagne, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Hubby took the lasagne, which came with the cheese bubbling hot - it was rich, savoury and filling, without the overload of tomato that a lot of restaurants do. Very tasty indeed!

Some milky pudding dessert, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Dessert was a milky vanilla pudding garnished with bits of fruit and mint. Again, something simple but delightful. We also finished with coffee and tea. They served real cream for the coffee, and fresh milk for the pot of tea which also came with a small hour-glass timer (for those who really don't want their tea over-brewed)! Classy touch.

What can I say? The Japanese do a wonderful rendition of other cuisines, and sometimes they even take it one step better. Thumbs up for such culinary skill and dedication!

11F JR Kyoto Station
Open 11am - 10pm
Tel/Fax: 075-342-0025


Nadine and the Nihonjin

Nadine in Japan!, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

The Japanese (Nihonjin) *LOVE* children! The number of smiles and "kawaii!" ("so cute!") exclamations upon seeing Nadine has been amazing. Schoolgirls and grandmotherly ladies alike can't help but coo endlessly, peppering us with adoring questions (mostly about how old she is and her emerging teeth). Even men in spiffy suits start clowning with her. One guy on a bike literally stopped to pat and gush over this little girl!

Nadine herself was super-sociable, waving and smiling at everybody. Even on trains, she will always engage the person next to her (or persons sitting in front and back).

We saw at least four other youngsters with Down Syndrome in Japan - two playful teens in a Tokyo train station, one toddler at Kiyomizudera, Kyoto and one child near the Aquarium in Osaka. Actually we saw other people even less fortunate - in wheelchairs and oxygen masks! But what's great is that they are out and about, enjoying life!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kushiya Monogatari

Kyoto's famous dining alley Pontocho looked really gorgeous with soft-lighting riverside dining. However, most of the restaurants seemed a bit too intimidating for us, so we didn't try any there. Gion itself was a major letdown, just a seedy strip (with no geishas in sight, of course). We didn't stay long there.

Kushiyaki Monogatari, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

We ended up back near Teramachi, and out of tiredness, settled for Kushiya Monogatari for dinner. It's a casual all-you-can-eat place where you deep-fry skewers of food at your own table - choose from various meats, shrimp, scallops, vegetables, mushrooms, even gyoza, rice cakes and cheese sausages (refillable batter and breadcrumbs provided). Salads, desserts, fruits and other fillers (rice, udon, soba) also available.

I have never tried DIY kushiage before, so this was interesting. Food is not the point here, I think. It's more of a social activity. Massively popular with groups (especially boisterous schoolkids) but they do set a time limit (90 mins) for about ¥2,500. There's an all-you-can-drink option (¥1,050) too, you can add on to the meal.

After a while, most of the fried stuff ends up tasting the same. But they have cleverly provided more than a dozen different dipping sauces and flavoured salts to vary the taste.

I think we counted 58 skewers in the end, but all were bitesize portions. Strangely enough, I liked the fried rice and noodles quite a bit, and the salads provided a refreshing change in between oily bites.

Check website for locations all around Japan
(psst, there's a coupon for 500 yen off on the site)


Desserts at Lipton Cafe, Kyoto

Five-berry tart, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

We were quite amused to see Lipton cafes in Kyoto. But the dessert showcase they featured was no laughing matter. Everything looked fabulous! After the Katsukura lunch, we adjourned here (just next door!) for a sweet bite or two. The five-berry tart laden with luscious fruit tasted as good as it looked. Not achingly sweet, thankfully.

Strawberry shortcake, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

The strawberry shortcake was very delicate and tasted much more refined than the versions in Singapore. My only grouse about the desserts here are that they are served too tiny a sliver. Gimme more!


Katsukura - Holy Grail of All Tonkatsu!

Tonkatsu 120g (¥1,050), originally uploaded by Camemberu.

We saw some nice food photos outside this little nondescript door along the Sanjo-dori shopping arcade. The door opened to an atmospheric pebbled alley, and led to a gorgeous restaurant. We loved the strong air-conditioning, the impeccably friendly service but had no clue about how good the food really was. Until we saw what the next table was having. Oh my, everything looked good, even the generous mound of shredded cabbage!

Hubby chose a regular tonkatsu (he doesn't like Kurobuta, which they also offer). It was cooked just right, wonderfully tender without any strong porky taste. Very thoughtfully served on a wire platter above the plate, so the bottom part doesn't get soggy with trapped heat/condensation.

I went for a five-piece prawn set. Oh my, how well they were executed - breadcrumbs flaring out in angry, crisp formations. The prawns were very fresh and large - I ate even the tail shells. The most amazing thing about the food here is - you don't get that greasy satiated feeling even after downing such fried food. I almost felt like ordering more!

There are a couple of nice practices here too. Before your food arrives, you are given your own personal suribachi (mortar) and surikogi (pestle) along with some freshly roasted white sesame seeds. You grind these (releasing lovely aromatic fragrance) and add these to your sauce (I preferred to dip my item into the sauce first and then coat lightly with these). They serve huge pots of Katsukura special tonkatsu sauce, yuzu dressing and pickles. The shredded cabbage becomes a most delicious and refreshing salad when you pour yuzu dressing on it. They also top up more cabbage for you if you so desire.

I love a hearty miso soup that's chockful of ingredients. The one here does not disappoint. Even the tub of rice they provide with the set meal is very satisfying - I think I ate every grain!

A name to remember, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

I don't care how reputable Maisen and Tonki are...after tasting Katsukura, this gets my vote for best tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and well, breaded fried anything in Japan! OMG this ranks as one of the top meals we've had on our trip and I guess it was extra nice because it was a sheer fluke discovery!

Various locations in Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka


Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Nishiki Market in Kyoto, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Dubbed the "Kitchen of Kyoto", Nishiki market carries all kinds of fresh and processed foods in a narrow shopping alley just one block north of the busy Shijo-dori thoroughfare. It stretches nearly 400m to Teramachi and showcases over 100 shops selling fish, seafood, vegetables, fruits, pickles, tofu products, wagashi (Japanese sweets), dried goods, snacks and ready-to-eat food. I'll let the rest of the photos speak for themselves.

Appetisers of all kinds, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Fried croquettes, ready to eat, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Vegetables - pickled, I think, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Grilled skewers of seafood, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Grilled omelette rolls?, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Miso-marinated vegetables?, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

Colourful pickles for sampling, originally uploaded by Camemberu.

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