jap buffet, errands

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Mum and i went to a new ayce Jap place. More expensive than our usual but we agreed, it’s worth coming back even if it means we don’t eat out as often. The sashimi was super fresh and lots more choices. Our first round I didn’t even order salmon because there were hamachi, geoduck, scallop, two types of clams, two types of prawns and two different white fish. Uni sushi, the best grilled ox tongue, small sweet potatoes and lots more.

Dessert was the only slight disappointment even though it was fine. Ice cream, macaroons, panna cotta.

Then we went to the bank, the supermarket and finally home by dinner. Too full for dinner, which was fruit.

seared salmon sushi

Today it’s my day to teenager-sit my niece. Had a quick lunch with sis and went back to her place. Made lunch for my niece (pasta with tomato sauce and cheese) which she wolved down, it was good to see her eating.

She has taekwondo on fridays. We were very lucky to get a taxi quickly, although the traffic was horrendous due to an accident. She normally has one hour of lesson and the second hour she helps her teacher to teach younger kids. I followed sis’ routine while I waited for her: went to m&s to get snacks and drinks; the japanese supermarket to get sushi and waited at the bookstore until for a text. Grabbed a taxi, picked her up outside the library building and headed home.

Dinner was sushi, mainly salmon. They’ve been searing the salmon using a blowtorch so I tried the method out too. It’s so much fun. I tried to use the part of the flame just above the blue flame where it’s supposed to be hottest, but not always successful. That, and I had the blowtorch in one hand and the iphone in the other, hehehe.

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Tasted very good. Sis says gis normally only eats about 4 pieces; she polished off a good 6 pieces, plus a piece of scallop sushi and half the portion of okra I bought as the veg component of the meal.

I used to have a blowtorch, when I wanted to try making crème brûlée. Never got round to doing it though. May be I’ll get another blowtorch and do some searing. Sis used safety goggles, I suppose I should have too, I still have mine from the lab.

all-you-can-order japanese buffet

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aycejap03egg aycejap04pineapple

Mum decided we should have japanese for lunch. Casual japanese restaurants are almost all all-you-can-order buffets: they have a thick stack of order sheets for various categories of food and we just tick what we want. We had 3 platters of sashimi, some sushi, tempura, grilled food, salad, soup, grilled pineapple, ice cream mochi. Drinks included too, mum had soft drinks and my dad and I ordered loads of hot sake.

This type of buffet normally has a time limit of around 2hrs at dinner. At lunch, they gave us 3hrs. Even better.

The sake got my head spinning a little when I got home so I decided against going running. Too full for dinner, just had some fruit.

udon with egg, tofu sheet & scraps

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Spent almost all afternoon with mum getting her a new phone, changing her plan and going to the supermarket. We stopped for a snack at an udon place opposite the supermarket. I had udon with a soft boiled egg, mum had udon with tofu sheets—she gave me one sheet. We can add garnishes ourselves—ginger, spring onion and soy sauce: the usual suspects. In addition, we could also add scraps, or bits of leftover tempura batter.

I thought scraps (aka scrumps or batter bits) are more of a nostalgic northern thing, cos I don’t remember ever seeing them. It seems like they’ve been outlawed by Health & Safety. Spoilsports.

I should have known that the Japanese, with tempura frying, will save these delicious bits. Interestingly, the Japanese are also divided in the name of the product. Those in western Japan call it tenkazu and in eastern Japan they call it agedama. 

mum’s mother’s day birthday

chocpancakecake01 chocpancakecake02

Mum’s birthday coincides with US Mother’s Day quite often, and this year for added bonus it’s on a Sunday. The disadvantage is that many restaurants bump up their prices or force people to order set meals so traditionally we never go out on Mother’s Day.

For lunch I made some of Mum’s favourites: rack of lamb with carrot, parsnips and sautéed potatoes and mushroom. This particular rack wasn’t trimmed, which is fine because I can French trim it; but for some reason untrimmed racks still have the central bone which makes it very hard to cut when done. I was struggling with it and the presentation suffered. I got it nice and pink though.

For dinner we did find a restaurant that didn’t have any mother’s day special. It’s the yakitori place we go to regularly for happy hour. We reserved a private room last time I was there with sis and we all had loads of yakitori and sake. For dessert I brought the cake I made earlier—the restaurant didn’t charge us extra for plates and forks.

I saw a pretty picture of pancake cake and it reminded me of the cake we had in Hokkaido which was cream cake wrapped in a pancake. There’s a different taste and texture with the addition of the pancake. Instead of doing layers of pancake, I made a standard victoria sponge and alternated layers of cake with pancake. The filling is melted chocolate mixed with hazelnuts and whipped cream. Topped with shaved chocolate and strawberries. Looking at the picture I guess I should have sliced it in three instead of two so it doesn’t loook so uneven. Tasted good, everybody seemed to enjoy it.

#69: new restaurant sapporo: hanamaru

sap260hanamaru sap264hanamaru

Tasks #69-73 are to try 5 new restaurants in 5 different cities. This counts as the first one.

After an extraordinary busy day of travelling that brought us from jozankei to nikka distillery to otaru to sapporo, we checked into our airbnb apartment and thought about where to go for dinner. We had researched and seen the queues at the famous hanamaru conveyor belt sushi restaurant and thought we should see if the queue was a reasonable size. And because it was already past 8.30pm, there were only about half a dozen people in the line.

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There is good reason why there is a permanent queue outside. The food is fantastic. Fresh and simply delicious. We asked for an english menu and quickly figured out how to order like a local. We had uni, squid, ikura, ikura soy, crab roe, salmon, blue fin tuna, medium tuna, scallop — total stack of 14 plates. It was a feast.

hokkaido day 5: jozankei, nikka, otaru, sapporo

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Another early wake up day to soak in the spa, we went back to the outdoor one. Breakfast was as delicious and as extensive as dinner. Salmon, rice, tofu, egg and bacon cooked at the table, natto, soup and orange slices. We said goodbye to the proprietors, who were so fantastically hospitable and old fashioned they waited till we were in our car and bowed goodbye to us.

Our last exploration in Jozankei was the small shiraito waterfall the hotel was named after. Very small falls, and the bridge was not accessible because of snow. A very pleasant half an hour walk before we left for our next destination.

nikka008building nikka027distillery

About 1.5-2hrs’ drive brought us to the nikka yoichi distillery where they make, duh, single malt yoichi. What a magnificent distillery. Architecturally looking like a distillery in Scotland, with many of the same features and equipment. We were free to walk around the grounds ourselves to see the mill, mash ton, fermenter, pot stills and warehouses. A series of videos in various languages inside many buildings gave commentary on the whisky making process.

nikka106tastebar nikka116taste

The walk ended in the tasting room where we sampled yoichi 10, tsuru blend and an apple wine. Beautiful view of snowy mountains from the tasting room, it gave the whole tasting an unforgettable atmosphere.

We had lunch at the onsite restaurant. Lamb shabu shabu in two broths — whisky and red wine. After lunch we went to the museum bar for more selection. We picked special ones and were pleased that the bartender was generous with his pours:

  • yoichi single cask 15 — cask strength, quite strong
  • yoichi 20 — slightly peaty, smooth
  • yoichi apple brandy barrel — bit rough, not our favourite
  • taketsuru 21 — no wonder it won all sorts of awards
  • taketsuru 25 — brilliant, brilliant blend, at ¥1600 for a shot pretty expensive but top quality

Spent a lot of time at the shop deciding on what to buy. They had everything and we wanted to buy everything. Had to balance want against space in our luggage. In the end I bought:

  • yoichi 20 — one of the ones on my list
  • single cask 10 — small 180ml bottle
  • single cask 15 — small 180ml bottle
  • single cask 20 — small 180ml bottle
  • yoichi 10 small 180ml bottle — may be for silent auction
  • taketsuru 17 small 180ml bottle — also for silent auction
  • taketsuru 21 4x180ml bottles — worked out to be cheaper than 700ml

otaru004canal

On the way back from yoichi to sapporo we passed otaru and we couldn’t resist stopping. It was around 5pm and many shops were closed or were closing so it was just a short visit. Went to the canal to take night time pictures as we had never been to otaru after sunset.

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By the time we got back to sapporo it was dark. Luckily the gps found our apartment easily, we double parked while we unloaded. I found this apartment on airbnb, on the 10/F of an apartment block near hokkaido university. Quite dorm like the building and the apartment, which was very small with a tatami room, a kitchenette and tiny bathroom. We went back downstairs and spent a little time trying to find an overnight car park. The saving grace was the pocket wifi that came with the apartment which meant we could use google maps.

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sap275ikurasoy sap271bluefintuna

After we got sorted and parked it was around 8.30pm already. We headed to 6/F stellar place to see if the famous hanamaru conveyor belt sushi. We only had to wait for about 10mins because it was late. No wonder there is a permanent queue outside. The sushi was fresh and fantastic. We observed other customers who didn’t take their plates from the belt, instead ordered freshly made by writing their order on an order sheet. Undeterred, we asked for an english menu and were happy that it came in 5 languages. We were able to copy the mainly kana (as opposed to the more familiar kanji) characters from the menu to the order sheet. Elated when the chef delivered our plates, meaning they understood our writing, yay! Okay, mm did all the writing, but I contributed by helping to read the menu. We had uni, squid, ikura, ikura soy, crab roe, salmon, blue fin tuna, medium tuna, scallop — total stack of 14 plates.

Did some basic grocery shopping at the station kiosk — milk, coffee, snacks. Negotiated the tiny shower and went to bed, another happy day.

hokkaido day 4: jozankei, shikotsuko

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Woke up at 7am to soak in the other onsen at the hotel. They switch in the morning, so this one was the male onsen at night. Two indoor spas, an outdoor one and a steam room. I like this outdoor one, the temperature was perfect. We tried them all before breakfast.

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Lots to enjoy at breakfast too. Salmon, stuffed squid, rice, soup, fish balls and freshly squeezed apple and vegetable juice. We weren’t in any hurry so after breakfast we decamped to the lounge to chill before it was time to checked out. After we paid our bill we even managed to fit in a visit to the shop and bought massage pillows. Then it was off to explore the Jozankei area for the day.

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First stop was the dam, which also had a viewing platform over the valley. Unfortunately it was still closed for the winter. We could see how the area had much more snow than in Sapporo proper. The roads were all ploughed, but the packed ice at the side was quite thick. There was also an extremely loud continuous announcement that sounded ominous — probably telling whoever was in the area that the dam was closed, or perhaps it was so loud to scare off the bears, who knows.

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joz193shikotsuko joz198shikotsuko

Drove about an hour to lake shikotsu 支笏湖. When we rounded the corner and saw the lake for the first time we said “wow” at the same time. So beautiful. It’s the second deepest lake in Japan and is surrounded by 3 volcanoes. There is a small touristy development with hotels, a visitor centre, some restaurants and in the summer there are paddle boats and sightseeing cruises. Not a lot open at the off season, still nice to walk around the breathe crisp fresh air.

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joz237tempura joz252owlcafecoffee

Lunch was tempura and soba at one of the few restaurants there. Simple family style restaurant producing quality food. Stopped off at café owl for coffee and tea. Another small quaint place we had the whole place to ourselves. Ah, that’s the life.

joz289hotelroom joz295spa
Drove back to Jozankei and there was enough time to explore the park and part of the river. There was a suspension bridge over the river but access was blocked by ice. So we went ahead and checked into our next hotel, shiraito onsen, a small family-run ryokan. It was funny, communicating with the elderly lady who ran the place. Mostly using sign and body language.

The tatami room was more basic than at the shogetsu grand, as was the onsen. The so-called outdoor spa was one bath probably max 3 people with a glass door opening out to a courtyard. Enjoyed the soak though.

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Another fabulous kaiseki dinner, and we realised we were the only guests at the hotel. Lovely dinner, huge menu with course after course after course served. Starters, salad, sashimi, chawanmushi, tempura, soba, rice, soup, a gigantic platter of grilled crab, fish, ribs and finished with yuzu ice cream.

Tried the indoor onsen after dinner — two spas that were quite, quite hot. Long day, quite tired so we turned in early. This hotel was small enough not to have wifi, so it was a good excuse to get some rest.

hokkaido day 3: sapporo, jozankei

Woke up to mm wishing me happy birthday, yay. Breakfast was a the café denmark inside the station shopping complex — egg curry roll, brioche and I had a royal milk tea which was basically normal tea made stronger than their normal weak standards. Checked out of the hotel, not before trying the free massage chair at the lift lobby and also discovering they had a lounge with free coffee. Ah well. Had some difficulty finding the car rental place, we were a little confused with google maps before realising that the office was next to Sapporo subway station and not the JR station. It was actually just a couple of blocks from our hotel on the same side of the street. Ah well.

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Drove 20mins to curb market and found a parking space around the shops. Unlike the covered nijo market, curb market had seafood shops lining both sides of a stretch of the road. Lots and lots of crab, crab and more crab. We had lunch at an upstairs restaurant, which we remember from last time. Uni & ikura rice, grilled cuttlefish, grilled corn and a bottle of beer to share. Yummy. Dessert was melon slices from one of the shops on the street.

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After lunch it was off to leg 2 of our trip, to Jozankei onsen. It’s only about 45mins’ drive from Sapporo, on a regular main road. Small village with several hotels, a couple of shops and some cafés. It was too early for check in so we stopped at a traditional café. Tea, coffee, toast and pound cake. Very quaint and European style, down to the delicate china and wooden tables.

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We were staying at two different onsen hotels at Jozankei. The first is the Shogetsu Grand, a more commercial and larger place. Lovely view of the river valley from our tatami room. We unpacked and made our way to the lounge for tea, coffee and to sample their honey bar. They had something like 15-20 different types of honey to try, from flowery ones like lavender and rose to fruity ones like apple and pomegranate to odd ones like sunflower and something woody. Crackers and yogurt were available to go with the honey. So relaxing, just sitting there at the lounge.

joz065spa

joz070spaoutdoor joz072spaoutdoor

Even more relaxing was the onsen itself. A very large spa with 3 indoor pools at different temperatures, an outdoor spa and a steam room. Obviously you’re not supposed to take pictures in an onsen, but we sneaked them while no one was around. Great soak for about an hour until it was time for dinner.

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joz115riceeggsoup joz122dessert

Dinner was amazing. It was served in our room, and like all kaseki meals it consisted of neverending courses. Umeshu appetiser with small plates of starters, fish, sashimi, pork meatballs cooked in broth at the table, pumpkin and pork rib en papillote, chawanmushi, flavoured rice, soup and a seasonal sakura pudding with blueberry vinegar. Even though we were full it wasn’t the type of bloaty fullness associated with overeating. Most of the dishes were vegetable or seafood, only a small amount of red meat.

After laying around and allowing the food to digest, we headed down to the onsen for another soak. The relaxation was topped off with 10mins at the massage chair (¥100) and then it was time for bed. What a great day.

30in30 #20 mm birthday treat

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Task #20 in 30 in 30 is to treat mm for her birthday.

Our Hokkaido vacation is partly a treat for both our birthdays. We arrived at Sapporo and checked into the hotel late afternoon. First order of business was to find dinner. I’d already suggested that our first dinner here would be at yakitori, so we could enjoy a drink and order a bunch of skewers. We got a restaurant map at the hotel and found a small but popular place about 10mins walk. We both had umeshu and we ordered mixed chicken, vegetables, grilled fish, sashimi, tofu. Made a toast for her birthday, a great start to our vacation.

why japanese food is better

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Only ten days till our trip to Hokkaido. Yay! This time we are not being overly ambitious and just staying in and around the Sapporo area. Every time we go to Hokkaido, we land at Sapporo then travel immediately to elsewhere on the island and miss that area completely. We’ll still have our onsen experience, with 2 nights at Jozankei, which is 75mins away by bus; and Otaru / Nikka whisky distillery, only 30mins by train.

The biggest draw for going to Japan is the food. Not just the fresh seafood — king crabs, snow crabs, scallops, sashimi — but also the fruits. Sweet melons are a speciality of Hokkaido, and the beautiful displays at the shops!

I’ve been reading a lot at medium recently, and was interested to see this post about why japanese food is better. Sound arguments:

  • there is no need for special “organic” labels because most food is organic, seasonal and often sourced locally
  • simplicity — most dishes are cooked and presented simply and separately, no overcrowding a plate with 20 ingredients; there may be many, many small dishes, but they are intended to be enjoyed on their own
  • presentation is everything — each dish is treated as an artform, down to the pattern on the bowl to the placement of garnishes
  • and most of all, they respect food and treat food as part of life

Yep, agree with all these points. Japanese food is fresh, tastes clean and looks enticing. Definitely prepared with respect and pride. Yes, it’s still regarded with suspicion by some (“raw fish, ewwww!”) but as more people try it, I challenge anyone NOT to fall in love with it. There’s more than raw fish, sushi can be prepared with cooked ingredients, and what about yakitori, tempura, teppanyaki, ramen and don’t forget the yummy sesame dressing they use in salads. Plus, I’m trying to introduce US friends to delicious tasting, oddly named Japanese chocolates and sweets.

happy hour robatayaki

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Met mm for a quick happy hour at the robatayaki place near the office. Their happy hour (less than £6!) is one drink plus a choice of 4 skewers. I had sake and she had umeshu, then we had quite a feast of grilled skewers of chicken, pork neck, mushroom, bacon wrapped cherry tomato, quail egg and grilled rice balls. Also ordered thick cut ox tongue and eel on the side. Convenient place, good value.

japan trip day 2 part 2

shirahama — coastal sights, sunset, onsen

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After a leisurely lunch, we drove south along the coast to see the sights there. First it was a brief stop at the marine lookout tower. Just a quick snap from the entrance. Then it was sandanbeki 三段壁 which means three parts cliff. A short walk brought us to a lookout platform with 180° views of both sets of cliffs. There was a tunnel inside one of the cliffs that led to underground caves, but we didn’t have time to explore them.

Parking at the cliffs was ¥500, which would be refunded if we spent at least ¥1,000 at the shop. Thinking that we didn’t have anything particular to buy, we thought we’d walk around the shop anyway. Ha! Ended up spending over ¥4,000 on a bag of green satsumas and bottles of blueberry vinegar. At least the bottles were plastic, our liquid haul was beginning to build up. We had 30kg allowance, but we were still relatively restrained in our shopping, there were still whiskies to buy.

Another few minutes’ drive from sandanbeki was senjojiki 千畳敷, flat slate-like rock formations on the coast. Worth spending a few minutes taking pictures and walking down to the bottom. No car park fees or shop temptations.

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We had a voucher for one of the public onsens, and we had about 1.5-2hrs till dinner back at the hotel. We had assumed that everything was provided for, but forgot towels. Ah well, ¥250 on a towel souvenir is okay.

This onsen was spread over a large hill, with spas at different levels. We started with the indoor one next to the showers and quickly moved onto a secluded one outdoors. That one was very nice and peaceful, sitting in the hot spring we could hear the wind through the trees and birds calling too. Well, until the peace and quiet was shattered by a group of mainland tourists. Ugh. These idiots are everywhere, can’t escape them.

We changed back to street clothes and went to explore the spas at the upper levels. What a shame we didn’t have time to try them out, some had great views and seemed a lot quieter than the main ones downhill. What we did manage to catch, with perfect timing, was the sunset. Spectacular colours over the bay witnessed from a wonderful vantage point, it was fate.

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Dinner back at the hotel was sukiyaki tonight. A huge platter of one small lobster, a variety of fish, squid, pork, chicken, beef, mushrooms and green vegetables. Sashimi, small plates and pickles at the side of course. There was enough for 4 people, especially if we took up the offer of additional rice. Could only try a small amount of udon at the end. Umeshu with the meal, as usual.

After dinner, we re-organised our bags. It was funny, we didn’t discuss it, didn’t agree on anything, but as soon as we got back to our room, we went to our respective corners and started the repacking process. It was a good use of the rest time between a meal and going to the onsen.

We didn’t have exclusive use of the onsen tonight, a few other people came and went. One woman brought her baby to shower and soak in the indoor spa for a while. We still went through each of the spas, even when it started raining we stayed at the outdoor one. Didn’t want to leave the comfortable hot springs, a bit sad, our final night at the onsen.

japan trip day 2 part 1

shirahama 白浜 — beach, engetsu island 円月島

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I’d set the alarm for 7am, our breakfast was at 8am. We went to bed around 10pm last night so we got a decent amount of sleep, hopefully catching up on lost sleep because of the red eye flight. One thing we had been looking forward to very much was Japanese breakfast. We were not disappointed. Another splendid selection — 6 small dishes including salmon roe, mashed potato, pickles and small mushrooms; pickles, grilled fish, salad, rice, miso soup. On the table was also the small grill on a stove from last night, already with slices of ham and sausage. Next to it was an egg. Aha, we were to make ham and egg ourselves, loving this cooking yourself business. A small bowl of yogurt and a slice of orange to finish.

We were in no hurry to go out, so we tried out the foot spa in our balcony. It was just above lukewarm and quite relaxing. Would have been great to enjoy with a cup of tea but I didn’t have milk.

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The hotel had valet parked our car safely in one of the covered spaces next to the entrance. We got the key but our first destination didn’t need the car. In advertisements and on tripadvisor we read that the hotel was 3 minutes from the beach. It’s an exaggeration! The beach is literally across the road so no more than 1 minute away. Perhaps the 3 minutes refer to actually hitting the sandy part and not just the pathway. Anyway, pedantic.

The beach was a revelation. Research before the trip had registered that there was a beach, but we did not expect the pristine white sandy beach and a sweeping secluded bay that greeted us. Not too crowded on a Saturday morning either. There were palm trees and tree parasols. There was even a public onsen with views across the beach. We walked all the way to one end and walked back, it was so pleasant.

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Coming out from the beach, we continued exploring the shopping streets behind the hotel but it seemed like it was off season as most of the shops were closed. Not just closed for the morning, but closed for a longer period. We visited a family mart opposite the hotel and a small shop selling fish cakes and sweet biscuits. Bought coffee, tea and coke zero at the former and biscuits for souvenirs at the latter.

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Back in the car, we drove north to see Engetsu island 円月島. A natural arch located along the coast, apparently sometimes the sunset hits it just perfectly at the arch. At the coastal point closest to the island were a couple of parking spots, but they charged money so we parked at a nearby small shop. The mean granny defending the shop wasn’t all that pleased at our presence, even though we ended up buying things from her. This was the only unfriendly Japanese person we met on the whole trip. Strange woman.

We tried to drive further up the coast but there was nothing more to see. So we headed back towards town in the direction of the market. But not before finding a wine shop and having more tasting. This time, we couldn’t get away from the Japanese insistence on no drinking for the driver so only mm was able to taste the sake and umeshu offered. She sneaked me a few sips when the shopkeeper wasn’t looking though. Ended up buying honey umeshu, so much choice.

shirahama — toretore market 南紀白浜 とれとれ市場

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shira110tuna shira101sushi

shira135juice shira141salt

Toretore market was exactly the huge food market we expected. It was full of people and full of great stuff. Seafood stalls selling fresh fish, prawns, lobsters, crabs, oysters and even whale, some of the food were for cooking at home but a lot of it was packaged and ready to be eaten as sashimi or sushi straightaway. Fruit and veg. Pickles. Juice. Sweets. Wine. Cooked food. Cans and jars. It was foodie heaven. We even managed to catch the fishmonger cutting up a whole tuna, down to gouging out the eyes and the delicious cheeks.

shira151lunch shira156uniroe

We bought a large selection of sashimi for lunch — fresh whale, which I’d tried in Bergen but mm has never tried. Large scallops, white fish and fatty salmon. Chirashi of salmon roe and uni, two of our favourites. Got a cup of umeshu each from the giant glass tank displayed at the shop.

Would have been great to find space to picnic, but the available tables and chairs were part of existing eating establishments. So we made the quick and easy decision to head back to the comfort of our hotel room, only 10mins away. What a life, eh.

japan trip day 1 part 2

wakayama 和歌山

waka006market waka037grapes

I managed to nap for a few minutes while mm drove us from Yamazaki distillery to our next destination, Marina City at Wakayama 和歌山. A longer drive than from Kansai, about 2.5hrs.

We were aiming for the Kuroshio market that supposedly had a tuna cutting demo everyday. We knew we’d miss it, but was hoping to see stalls with seafood, sweets and local produce. True enough, there were stalls at two buildings — the fruit and veg nearest the car park was full of delicious looking fruits, juices and jars of honey. The main market building was a bit deserted, some of the fish stalls were closed for the day already.

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It was almost 2pm so the first order of business was to find lunch. Disappointed that the only restaurant that seemed to be still open wasn’t serving anymore but very grateful that the fast food section was still open. One stall selling grilled food — raw seafood and vegetables, that customers grilled themselves. The other was the typical Japanese fast food of seafood rice bowl. No brainer in terms of choice. Sushi wins every time. We had salmon, salmon roe and uni chirashi, and although not the best we’ve ever had, it hit the spot.

For drinks we each ordered a umeshu, famous local plum wine. I had a mature umeshu and mm had a yuzu umeshu. The mature umeshu was sweet, just how I liked it. Again, perfect for the time and place.

The good thing about an almost empty market was that we were free to wander around. Bought some sweets and visited a umeshu shop. They charged a nominal amount for a small sample and we tried umeshu flavoured with honey and another flavoured with tea. Bought a few bottles too, the start of our bottle-collecting holiday.

shirahama-kan onsen hotel 白浜 館

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shirakan004room shirakan010tatami

I took over the driving to Shirahama 白浜. We’d been awake since 5am after 2 hrs sleep so it was a long, tired 2.5hrs on a highway that was peppered with tunnels and tolls. The GPS brought us to the back of the hotel and it took us a few minutes to find the entrance. An old fashioned, rather basic hotel, it was well tended and we liked our room. Japanese style room with tatami floor, the living area converted to futon beds at night. A small balcony looked out to the main road and there was even our own private foot spa on the balcony.

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shirakan040beef shirakan043beef

shirakan044tempura shirakan046rice

Dinner was included, and it was a fantastic spread that greeted us when we were shown to our table. Not quite kaiseki style, but close. Lots of small dishes already set out — starters, sashimi, pickles, vegetables. We ordered more umeshu with the meal, mm had one with soda and I had one on the rocks. The dishes were delicious and intricate, small bites and portions of food that is now familiar to us.

Hot dishes included tempura and the meat / seafood course we cooked ourselves. They provided tiny grills powered by burning fuel blocks and we had a few small slices of beef, prawn, seafood and vegetables. Nice to cook food ourselves and to be able to control timing and flavours. The rice was flavoured with mushrooms and vegetables; it too cooked in its pot at the table.

shirakan016onsen shirakan024onsen

By then we were tired so we couldn’t wait to go to the hot springs. Japanese styled, so segregated by gender and no clothing or towels allowed. Not our first time at onsens so we weren’t bothered. After showering, we visited each spa in turn. There were 4 different ones: an indoor one next to the shower area, a semi-outdoor “longevity” one, an outdoor one underneath trees and a tall tub accessed via a wooden staircase. Our favourite was the outdoor one underneath the trees — enough seclusion from the elements but with fresh air and breeze that made the hot water even more relaxing.

Needed to do some research on where to go and to get phone numbers for the GPS. No internet in our room (our biggest complaint) and even worse, the advertised internet in the lobby didn’t work. I couldn’t connect on either the iphone or the mba although somehow mm got through on her iphone 3GS. Says something about older models. I was too tired to function and was very grateful when she took advantage of the small window to gather much needed information. Was out as soon as the lights were off and my head hit the pillow.

bbmm japanese dinner

papa2013bday005sake

It wasn’t until 5.30pm that mm was able to come and pick me up. It would have been nice to go exploring, hiking or cycling but it was too late in the day. We drove over to the AYCE Japanese place where I had dinner with my parents on my dad’s birthday. The restaurant was opposite to where mm’s sis lived, it was a memory for us. It’s been years and years, I almost didn’t remember which direction the flat faced. Walked around the area a bit, then settled in for dinner. Not a lot was open when we finished, so we just went home.

papa birthday part 1

papa2013bday001sushi papa2013bday005sake

It’s my dad’s birthday. I went over for lunch, then in the afternoon made a chilled cheesecake. It used to be a signature dish of mine, I need to make it more.

Dinner was at an all-you-can-eat Japanese place that my parents came across. They eat half price, so it’s a good deal. Quite a bit of a trek, long bus ride followed by more walking. To order, there is a huge stack of different coloured order slips, each with a different type of food like sashimi, tempura, yakitori, noodles. We ordered lots of sashimi and Japanese salad: crab roe, seaweed, whelks. Skewers, vegetables and a little tempura. Drinks are included, not only soft drinks but beer and sake. We polished off a couple of servings of warm sake.

japanese dinner

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I can’t remember when Japanese food became so popular. To show my age, it wasn’t widely available when I was younger, and now it’s everywhere. It’s one of my favourite cuisines. Can’t go wrong with fresh fish, tempting tempura and yummy yakitori. I have missed Japanese food while I was in Chicago and London. Spicy tuna rolls, while very nice, aren’t Japanese food. And in London I stuck with yo!sushi which again, not quite authentic.

Always happy to have Japanese. Quick dinner with mm, fresh prawn, salmon, squid, sea urchin sushi with steamed tofu. And I had a draught beer too. It’s all very fresh.

nanami japanese dinner

nanami03porkchop nanami02yakitori

nanami01starter nanami04custard

Went with sis and gis to a small, family styled japanese restaurant for dinner. Only a few tables, patchy service, but very sincere. I had one of the set: selection of small starters, deep fried pork chop with chicken rice, honey custard pudding. Sis had yakitori and udon. Gis had pork chop and rice, no set. The set came with sake, plum wine or calpis soft drink. We had the sake, one hot and one cold.

saboten tonkatsu

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Lunch at Saboten, a tonkatsu specialist. Tonkatsu is fried pork chop, although they also have chicken and prawns. Lunch set consisted of 3 different pieces — regular pork chop, pork with cheese and crab cake. Came with miso soup and unlimited rice, salad and pickles. The rice was either normal white rice or brown rice; salad was shredded cabbage that came with the exquisite sesame dressing.

wii, japanese food

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My niece was already up when I woke up. We had lunch at home (ahhhh, so great to eat some simple home cooked food) and then spent the afternoon playing on the wii. Mostly, she played and I joined in a little, in between uploading pics.

They had to go home for dinner so it was just me and my parents. We went to another all-you-can-eat Japanese place. Sat at the sushi bar and ordered our little hearts out. Soft drinks and beer were free. We ended up having a ton of sashimi, a handroll each, some beef sushi, tempura, grilled vegetables, salad and ice cream. My favourites were sashimi and the whole sweet beef tomato. Not a lot of meat, just fish and vegetables.

After dinner, Mum and I went to the computer centre to get some flashdrives. We also went to the “sneaker street” but I was so disappointed. Nike Free 2.0 and Lunarglide 3 were more expensive than if I used a coupon at runningwarehouse. No Sauconys in sight whatsoever. Of course it means I have to be in the US to pick up the delivered shoes.

eating day

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Originally we were going to a Japanese restaurant at the Peak, but sis called when we were waiting for the bus to say there’s a change of plan and we were going to saikou at LKF. It’s a new place, and we all ordered the mini rice set — choice of 2 small bowls from a selection of 6-8. I had uni fried rice and one with uni and salmon roe, it’s a uni type of day.

Afternoon was spent as Sis’ place sorting out her mbp. She says it’s old but it’s newer than mine, but she upgraded to 10.6 and it’s been slow. I was thinking it’s to do with all the files she has, I did disk utility, fixed some permissions and showed her how to organise her iphotos. She also wanted me to set up a fb account for her so she can try it out.

Dinner was with mm’s family, her mum’s birthday. At the usual restaurant and everything specially made by the master chef. I had a couple of bottles of tsingdao, heehee. I’m at mm’s tonight.

first day

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I woke up at 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep again, blah blah. Lunch was at Wa Sa Mai Japanese restaurant. The story is that Mum called mm for a recommendation, as they all know I wanted to have Japanese food. So mm recommended this one, and got invited to lunch. Okay, is it freaky that my mum asked my gf to go out to lunch with the family? Heh. I had the sushi set and it was brilliant, came with appetiser, salad, miso soup, steamed egg and dessert.

Afterwards we went to get new glasses, it was just me, mum and mm. I was all done, picked my frame, got my eyes tested and all. They were still at it. Jetlag caught up with me and I fell asleep in the chair. Eventually they took pity on me and finished quickly. Quick dinner with Mum and I can’t be happier to be getting ready for bed.

#67(6) new restaurant in new york

nyc127nobu

I went to nobu. I think I can stop writing now, the place speaks for itself. This one, nobu fifty seven, at 57th and Fifth, isn’t one of the michelin-starred locations, so I can’t claim that. I sat at the sushi bar, and had an impressive chef’s selection of sashimi and sushi which the chef made in front of me. Everything was fresh and savour-worthy.

Needing more, I ordered a king salmon nigiri, japanese uni sushi and a salmon skin roll. I would have tried the hot food but I was pretty full already. And mindful of my wallet. The bill, plus a sake, would feed me for 2 weeks. Heehee.

Was it worth the hype? The dishes were indeed good, but I’ve also had fish cheaper and equally fresh. I guess you’re going there for the brand and the location and all that. It’s a special meal type of place.

home leave day 13 | food

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The eating continues. I’ve been over my calorie goal, and no exercising, for more than 2 weeks. But, I’m on holiday, right?

Went with parents to the café marco for lunch buffet. Seniors get a discount so there were quite a few there taking advantage. It was well worth even the full price. Everything was so well done — salad, seafood, sashimi, 3 hot dish stations, extensive desserts, chocolate fountain, movenpick ice cream. Amazing.

After all the gorging, Mum and I spent our energy hunting for a wii. Went to the golden arcade, but the ones on offer there were too “fixed” — she couldn’t use regular disks, had to download into a flashdrive — I didn’t know where to do that. So we went back to 188 and got the proper version for a higher price. I got a couple of games myself too — lego star wars and sports resort.

Dinner with sis and my niece at tokio joe. I was stuffed from lunch but couldn’t pass up more fresh delicious japanese food.

food i miss (2)

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It isn’t exactly the food, although it does taste nice; what I miss is going out with mm. Aside from people at work, my family and the very occasional social event, mm is the only person I go eat out with. I’ve learned that I dislike eating out alone in a restaurant — I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done it, and all of those occasions I was on a business trip. Fast food, or even casual buffet, is fine. Restaurant? No way.

Japanese food is our favourite, and second will be Korean food. The clay pots, bbq beef, a whole table of side dishes. Yum.

food I miss (1)

wsm04chirashi

So it hit me suddenly today how much I miss Japanese food. It’s been far too long since I’ve had decent Japanese food. Sorry, but the sushi I’ve had at the restaurant at PT and at the buffet at Sears Tower are okay in an Americanised food sort of way, but at best they are a poor relative to the real thing.

Sigh.

I don’t even want to think about how many more weeks I have to wait. In the meantime I have all these pics I can look at.

at corner: tomato dessert

hea02seafood

Went to this modern Japanese restaurant with SC and AK last night. Skewers and drinks are 50% off on Mondays and Tuesdays. They served the typical luxurious Japanese cuisine — we had a seafood platter, a bunch of skewers and a beef udon.

The highlight was one of the dessert. It’s the one in the background. Tomato with champagne jelly.

hea04dessert

I have a recipe for caramelised tomato but this was different. Seems that the tomato has been poached in sugar water to strip out the vegetable taste. The texture isn’t lost and it was altogether something special.

I tried looking online for a recipe but failed short. There was a thread on ask metafilter that pointed to some interesting tomato dessert but not this one. The closest I could get is a Japanese site that has a recipe for tomato compote as part of a dessert.

In any event I intend to bring mm to this restaurant. I hope I get a second chance to taste this really awesome dessert.

#67(4) new restaurant hong kong

tokoro003chicken

tokoro

Tokoro at the Langham Hotel HK opened earlier this year to much fanfare. It sells itself as The Spirit of Roppongi where the theatre of robatayaki and the flavours of authentic Japanese cuisine come together. A robata is a busy open space where a team under chef Takanori Hirayama grill the freshest of seafood, meats and vegetables.

mm and I went with a friend who suggested this place. We started with a supreme 18-piece sushi plate and a lobster salad. Fairly standard cold appetisers, fresh and crisply prepared.

The grilled foods included the chef’s special minced chicken skewers, scallops with mushroom in its own juice, tempura and kurobuta pork chops. Kurobuta pork is the pork equivalent of wagyu beef, coming across as slightly crunchy and well marbled.

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Dessert was a tofu mousse with red bean, green tea and lime cremes, and an fantastic apple sorbet. I couldn’t help it, I kept taking spoonfuls of mm’s sorbet. Hee.

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They even had wine flights — we shared a pinot noir and a chardonnay selection of 3 glasses each. As an indulgence I even tried a sake cocktail — sakarina was made with sake, lime juice and a little sugar.

reminder of good food

I finally downloaded the pics from Mum’s camera. Naturally I only took pictures of food, heehee. I forgot to take pictures of the fantastic grilled kobe beef we had on Thursday but remembered on Friday and Saturday.

First it’s the sushi we had at this place in Shinjuku. I honestly can’t remember its name and I have only a faint idea of its location. It’s pretty popular, we got there before 7pm and lucked out with a table but couldn’t get seats at the counter. People coming in later had to wait. We ordered à la carte and everything was fresh and delicious. From the top: crunchy roe, scampi, daily special white fish, cooked prawns, crab, uni, toro, salmon, sardines, ebi.

sushiselection

That was Friday night. Saturday lunch we went to Ginza Tenkuni, a tempura restaurant that began as a small street stall in 1885. There’s a reason why this place has been successful for so long — the best tempura! Mum had the bamboo set which consisted of 2 different kinds of prawns (regular and king prawn), squid, fish and vegetables. The set came with tuna sashimi, tofu, pickles, miso and rice.

tempuraset

I had the bento which had fewer tempura pieces but also included a piece of grilled salmon, egg, grilled skewers, different types of vegetables, sashimi, pickles, soup and mushroom rice.

tempurabento

Here’s a picture of the poster menu. They also had a seasonal mushroom tempura dish as well as smaller sets that was just tempura on rice — kinda like chirashi but with tempura instead of sashimi. Definitely a place worth returning to.

tempuramenu

 

japanese breakfast

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I like traditional Japanese breakfasts, even though it’s not the type of breakfast I’m used to. This is what we had this morning at the hotel: warm pickles, grilled salmon, fish, rolled egg, more pickles, slimy seaweed natto stuff, miso and porridge. I can see why — hot food that fills you up but doesn’t make you feel bloated. Like most traditional Japanese meals it’s not a large portion, more vegetables and easy on the carbs and proteins.

Oh, taken on my cellphone camera because i didn’t bring my camera.

early birthday food

Since I’ll be traveling next week, my parents and sis took me for early birthday lunch today. It was at a Japanese restaurant about 20 mins walk from where I live. It’s a conveyor belt sushi place, more posh than some of the others, on Sunday brunch they do a AYCE buffet. I had mainly sashimi, didn’t want to stuff myself with rice though their sushi rice was of very high quality. Had some dumplings and tempura and cold soba too. Quite nice though I’d prefer more choices and definitely more hot food.

Sis and baby had a painting birthday party but Mum and I did some food shopping for dinner and went back to sis’ apartment. I played with her laptop all afternoon, doing the same stuff I’d be doing at home. I also downloaded firefox, an anti-virus and an anti-spyware program for her. Ran the virus check, it was fine; the spyware program unearthed the usual list of squatters.

They came back around 5.30pm and we had dinner at their place. After dinner we had the Haagen-Dazs ice cream cake that they bought me, very nice.

I haven’t been eating a lot recently and now I’m very full.

our canteen

We’ve been going to this Jap restaurant near her place for a long while now, usually we have the set dinner that includes live fish sashimi. The first time we had it, it was quite scary, the fish, with flesh all neatly cut up and arranged, was still twitching! So ever since, we’ve called it twitching fish. The prices have gone slowly up, but it’s still value for money. We’ve been there 3 Sundays in a row, and the set lunch is cheap.

They have a set dinner Mon-Thurs only, so we took the opportunity tonight. Twitching fish, sashimi salad, pumpkin cake, udon, then the bones of the fish to make soup. The soup is a favorite and they always do it nicely, rich and creamy.

Except tonight, it was like broth. Not enough taste, like flavored water. We told the waitress. Apparently the normal chef is on vacation. Ahh! We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They’d better do better next time.

it’s a habit

It’s the second Wednesday of me staying at her place. It’s becoming a habit, yay.

Bonus communication today. Remember last year? I had no expectations, and even though it was less, I was happy.

This year’s bonus was higher than last year’s, and I got a 3% salary increase, which was unexpected. I’m happy. I know other people probably got more, but I’m still happy with what I got.

So we went out to celebrate, for a Japanese meal. Twitching fish, fish soup, extra sashimi, grilled fish. I had a choya.

It’s a good feeling, hope it can become a habit.

casual Japanese

We went to a Japanese restaurant that an acquaintance opened, well he seems to be one of the people behind the scenes. There were 12 of us and we had a sectioned off room. It’s interesting to hear about how the place was decorated and using what materials. Like the cushion covers were made from bin end kimono cloths, and how they had someone come in especially to design the lighting, so it’s dark but no dark corners, and the lights all shone on the tables and not on the customers. Little things like that go a long way to a better dining experience.

Food was good, usual sashimi, grilled food, salad, they even had spaghetti done Japanese style.

Worth going again.