Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sinful Desserts: Pierre Herme, Sadaharu Aoki, and Kagizen Yoshifusa

In between our many many wonderful meals, we snacked a lot on desserts. Kyoto is well known for its own brand of traditional Japanese sweets, or "Kyogashi" while there has been tons written up about the stupendous french pastries in Tokyo.
In Kyoto, we hunted down an old shop, Kagizen Yoshifusa that is well known for its handmade moist sweet cakes - each selling at 400 yen (about SGD 6) each, and thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon slowly sipping bamboo whisked green tea and nibbling on the cakes.
While in Tokyo, I made it my top priority to seek out Pierre Herme's macarons at the New Otani Hotel, and slowly enjoyed the three that I bought, which cost about SGD 4 each. Really very affordable for a small slice of heaven. Of course, I realised later that I need not have treked all the way to New Otani Hotel as the wondrous Shinjuku Isetan supermarket had all the famous patissiers! This was where I chanced upon the marvellous eclairs from Sadaharu Aoki, which is also very highly rated by Chubby Hubby , we had the caramel with sea salt. Oh my goodness. I would happily eat this every single day for breakfast! Just too bad I realised at this juncture, 7 days into our trip, that we had to start watching our weight....

Shabu Shabu with Kobe Beef

This was really really great. Shabu Shabu with meltingly tender Wagyu beef, at Chinya restaurant, very near Sensoji Temple (just off the Karimon Gate that everyone takes a photo at) in Asakusa, Japan. We ordered the "lowest" grade Wagyu beef at 5,500 yen (about 80 SGD) per person, and it was already superbly marbled and melted in our mouth! The higher grades of Wagyu beef were just so unbelievably marbled. If you buy at the neighbourhood butchers, the price is actually very reasonable.

Tempura at Ten-Ichi, Tokyo

This place serves very expensive tempura - the cheapest sets start from 8000 yen (about SGD 120 a person) - it has served world famous leaders like Bill Clinton.
But oh! the tempura batter was so light and crisp, that it elevated the seafood to a different level, instead of just tasting the batter as you usually do. The scallop was the size of my palm! Warm, attentive service from your personal tempura chef. Definitely worth shelling out for at least once, so you know what really good tempura can be like.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Massive Queue for Red Bean Cakes in Tokyo

We were exploring an interesting little side street in the traditional part of Tokyo, when we came across this long queue of patient Japanese snaking out of a little shop and spilling out onto the sidewalk, and the most fantastic aroma of grilled cakes. Inside, one young chap was busily juggling long cast iron moulds, filling them with batter and red bean paste, and then heating them up over fire. Daunted by the prospect of waiting, we decided to pass by the next day to see if we could catch a shorter queue. The short queue didn't happen the next day.
So, when we passed by the same shop yet again on the third day, we decided to brave the queue with all the locals and see what the fuss was all about. The queue of half an hour wasn't that bad and I could see just why. For one, the cakes were piping hot and with just the faintest charring which added the most fragrant taste. Second, they were filled to bursting with red bean paste (more paste than batter?) with chunky bits, the way I like it. Third, these were really cheap - 130 yen (or about SGD 1.90) each. I really liked this little slice of authentic experience - made me feel like a traveller and not a tourist. The shop is somewhere along Ningyocho-dori, near to the Suitengumae or the Ninyocho underground stations.

Good Stuff to Buy in Tsukiji

Wasabi, uni, clams, scallops, sakura ebi, pickles, and more, at very reasonable prices and super fresh to boot ... I only wished I could have bought back more foodstuffs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Eating Sushi Breakfast at Tsukiji Market

How cool is this - after watching the tuna auction and browsing through the wholesaler stalls, you can actually enjoy eating the freshest sushi at the small stalls just outside the market? On two successive mornings, we tried out Sushi Daiwa, a small counter packed to bursting with a queue of 30 min just to get in and Sushizanmai, a less touristy outlet, and gorged ourselves on uni (sea urchin), otoro (fatty tuna belly) and aburi-toro (flambed fatty tuna belly). Overall, I think we had a better experience at Sushizanmai, which is far less packed and concerned about turning your seat around in 15 minutes, plus it has really good prices. Sushi Daiwa now charges 3500 yen (about 50 SGD) per person for a set which doesn't really give you a choice of what you'd like to eat, while you can take your pick at Sushizanmai (400 yen or 6 SGD for each piece of otoro or aburi-toro). Sushi heaven!

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji is the largest wholesale market in the world. It is gargantuan, leaving the first-time visitor speechless at the sheer scale, cacaphony, masses of seafood and farm products being fished out of the sea and packed into huge styrofoam boxes, and sold off within minutes. It is quite simply, the ultimate chef's dream.

Having missed Tsukiji when I first visited Tokyo 5 years ago, I put a visit on high priority (in fact, i went twice on this trip), walking the 3 km from our hotel to the market at 4 am in the morning cause there were no metro trains running at that time. Yes, I am that obsessed. What I saw was simply overwhelming and took my breath away. The tuna auction (starts at 5.30 am, beginning with the smaller tuna to the largest ones) is the sight to behold - as simultaneous auctions go on right next to each other, with the auctioneers shouting out the bids in the lilting sing-song japanese language. The tuna are thoroughly inspected (for flesh texture, using feel and torchlights, and even taste, as you will see in the video), before the bidding begins. One of the larger beauties can go for 15,000 SGD.

Tsukiji cannot be described, it can only be experienced.

Bento lunch on the Shinkansen

We travelled from Kyoto to Tokyo on the super fast Shinkansen bullet train, which went up to a speed of 260 km/h (we verified this using our handheld GPS navigator) and got us to Tokyo in 2 and a half hours! The Shinkansen is very expensive, about SGD 150 per person, but I think it was worth paying this amount for the sheer comfort and efficiency. The "normal" limited express train would have taken 6 - 7 hours. We were even lucky enough to get a beautiful glance of Mount Fuji from the train (earlier picture posted), which is usually shrouded in mist / clouds.
I insisted upon buying bento boxes to eat on the train (when in Japan, do as the Japanese do) for 1000 yen (about SGD 15) each, and we had lots of fun eating it on the train. My favourite Japanese pickle - umeboshi or preserved plum - is hidden somewhere at the bottom of the bento box.

Hyotei, Kyoto

Hyotei is a 300-year old restaurant in Kyoto, near the Nanzenji temple, originally set up to cater to pilgrams visiting the temple. Tempting as the thought was, both E and I decided that we would not shell out $400 per person for their kaiseki, but to go for the relatively more affordable Shokado-Bento at $70 a person instead, in the modern new annex building ("bekkan"). Click on their website to feast on the marvellous pictures. I liked the food served at Hyotei, but I think the kaiseki experience at Minoko was much more memorable. We peeped inside the Hyotei (with only 5 private tatami rooms) garden and it was utterly charming, so those with deep pockets should give it a go.

Japanese Sweet Potato and an Adventure in Nara

Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan (not for long though, only about 70 years) before the capital was established in Kyoto for more than a thousand years, and is where Buddhism was first established in Japan. It is a 40 minute train ride away from Kyoto, and we spent half a day there exploring the ancient city, which apart from its many temples, is also famous for its free-roaming deer in the Nara park. I bought a Japanese sweet potato which smelled so good steaming over a wood-fired oven (check out the first picture) and got chased by hungry deer while trying to eat it. Quite the little adventure.

Humble Roadside Yakitori in Kyoto

A humble roadside yakitori shop for dinner turned out to be quite the experience as the menu was completely written in Japanese and the operators also did not speak any English. So we ordered the "set" for a really cheap price of 1000 Yen each (about SGD 15) which came with chicken meat, parts (like heart, liver, skin, cartilage?). It was really yummy and good atmosphere, especially as the night wore on and the small shop started filling up with hungry salarymen having a quick bite and a drink of beer.

Minoko, Kyoto - Kaiseki

Minoko is a beautiful villa near Gion, the old part of Kyoto. Just stepping into it makes you feel like you're savouring a slice of Japanese culture and history, especially when you are served with green matcha tea and lovely sweet cakes in a tatami room. We had the mini-kaiseki (10,000 yen or SGD 150 per person) comprising 9 absolutely delicious courses, in our own private tatami room (thankfully, with leg-wells) overlooking a small garden. It was all wonderfully fresh, lovingly prepared, and stunningly presented. I highly recommend Minoko if you're looking for a special experience to remember. But be sure to reserve in advance as they don't receive walk-in customers.

Misoka-An Kawamichiya, Kyoto

This is a fantastic little place (off Fuyacho-dori in Kyoto) which serves their own hand-made udon and soba. The noodles were extremely good, smooth and firm. They have a lovely little courtyard and little cubbyhole rooms which fit just two persons in a squeeze. We had the Hokoro - a hot pot with lots of vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, fish cakes and of course the wonderful noodles. The Hokoro costs 8000 Yen (about SGD 115) for two persons but you can choose to order the noodles at more friendly prices of about 1000Yen (about SGD 15) per serving. For the quality and ambience, it's really worth it.

Wonderful Gastronomic Experience in Japan

We've finally come back after 9 days of eating (and sightseeing) in Kyoto and Tokyo. It was truly breath-taking to say the least. We had so much good food that it was unbelievable. Kaiseki in a beautiful old villa, shabu-shabu in the heart of old Tokyo, to cheap yakitori at a simple roadside shop, to refined kyo-gashi sweets in Kyoto, fresh sushi at dawn in Tsukiji market, piping hot red bean paste buns eaten by the roadside, and Pierre Herme marcarons. Of course, the beautiful scenery, gardens, temples, and neon lights of kyoto and tokyo, where we were extremely lucky to catch the first blushes of the cherry blossom season. This has been a one-of-a-kind journey indeed.
More details to come in the next few posts.

Monday, March 17, 2008

We're Flying to Japan!

Feeling pretty excited. E and I are flying off to Kyoto and Tokyo tonight for 8 days of eating, feasting and shopping. I have already planned a detailed eating itinerary, will post plenty of updates when we get back.
posted from Changi Airport Terminal 3

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Seafood overdose at The Line

Long lunch with colleagues at The Line, Shangrila hotel. The buffet spread at lunch has a large selection, though there was nothing really different from the usual buffet spreads. What was nice though, were the fresh shellfish and the different types of clams available. As usual, I overindulged in oysters. I didn't care for the sashimi though, which was surprisingly not that fresh tasting. Nice place, but you need to eat a lot to get your money's worth.

Red Bull ice cream, any one?

This is quite hilarious. You know how some gelato shops display a sample of the fruit that they use to make the gelato? Well, this particular outlet has a special flavour called Energy Gelato, made with Red Bull drink. Sample it at Gelatissimo, Shaw Centre ground floor (outside Isetan).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Food Cravings

I have not been posting for a long time, due to work overload. That doesn't mean i've not been eating, thinking about food, or cooking. Problem is, one can't eat too much after 30, as the metabolic rate nosedives dramatically. These are the places that are on the top of my mind at present, hopefully sometime in the near future I can try them: Jaan, Borgo, Gunther's, Iggy's...

And, I would like to have enough space to revisit Tomo, Sushi Yoshida, Nanbantei, Senso, and more... See, I am such a glutton.