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June 17, 2016

Travel | Kyoto 2016: Ramen- Impossibly large, delicious and firey!

Ramenso Chikyu Kibo

Our Airbnb host had kindly provided us a guide to the local area, and starred all the restaurants he recommended- this was the only one with three stars so we had to try it. If you’re anything like me and plan your trip around recommendations on the internet, you’d never end up at this restaurant (search the name up on google and you’ll barely find a mention). About the tiniest ramen bar I’ve been to, Ramenso Chikyu Kibo inconspicuously tucked away within the quiet residential area of Fushimi (not to be confused with Fushimi Inari).

Blink and you’ll miss it.

There’s no signage to the restaurant, nor is there any type of fancy décor. When we first walked past it before they opened, we honestly thought it was a warehouse. And we probably wouldn’t have realised it was the restaurant we had on our itinerary were it not for the line of people outside!

 

Before you hop in line, order from the vending machine- we’d used a couple of these before at other ramen shops so we thought we’d be fine…..until we realised none of the options were in English. Since the only word I could really read was “pork” and “noodle”, which wasn’t particularly helpful in this situation, we took a random stab at the machine and ordered two of the dearer options thinking it’s probably be more interesting than the cheaper ones.

The machine spits out coloured plastic tags instead of tickets, with a different colour corresponding to a different ramen (there were a couple of people in line with the same colour as me so I figured I was off to a good start). As the waiter informs us, the shop sells large sized ramen- so if you don’t think you can finish it all, add a peg to the tag to indicate you want a smaller portion. You’ll probably want to add the tag, even if you think you’re hungry, because if you order the regular size, you have to finish it all!

The restaurant is mostly self-serviced- there’s a little shelf at the entrance where you grab your heated hand towels, chopsticks and water. Place your tag on the counter and your ramen will be served. Hopefully you will be hungry too…..

Mystery Ramen #2 (regular size) 900yen

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In Japan, Travel on
June 15, 2016

Travel | Kyoto 2016: Matcha Desserts, Wagyu and Toursity Stuff

 

Fushimi Inari-taisha

 

If there’s one thing that screams Kyoto, it would be the red gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha. You know. The tunnel of red that’s on the cover of pretty much every guidebook that every existed. We’re not big on temples and shrines, but you can’t really tell people you’ve been to Kyoto unless you have a photo with the red torii gates to prove it!

The problem with visiting during public holidays is that there are too many people to take one of those signature shots with gates and nothing else in the photo, but I did manage to snap a quick one before the crowd got in the photo. I’m happy 🙂

The red gates line a pathway that goes some 4km or so up the mountain, with plenty of shrines on the way, but as I said, we’re not shrine people (and nor are we fit people) so we only went part of the way before heading back down.

I consider myself much more of a food person (if you haven’t figured out by now), so the market stalls selling food at the entrance to the shrine were of great interest to me!

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In Japan, Travel on
May 30, 2016

Travel | Japan, Tokyo: Pom Pom Purin Cafe and Midori Sushi

There is no shortage of good food anywhere in Japan, but when it comes to Tokyo- there is definitely way too many restaurants I want to try and not enough stomach space!

Following on from out adventure in Kyoto, we had caught the Shinkansen to Tokyo (and adventure in itself!) where we spent the remaining days of our Japan trip. We had done our fair share of sight seeing and other touristy things in Osaka and Kyoto, so we planned the Tokyo part of the trip around food. And shopping…only because we didn’t have enough stomach space to eat 24/7!

Ikkakuya ramen 壱角家 秋葉原店

We stayed in Akihabara, and although we did arrive late afternoon, our first dinner in Tokyo was a really disappointing sushi train experience so let’s skip straight to the morning!

When we first explored Akihabara at night, there were too many restaurants to choose from- not only were the streets filled with every type of restaurant you could think of, but the bright signs on the buildings indicated many times that number of restaurants in the buildings towering above.

Despite this, we found ourselves in the opposite situation when looking for breakfast in the morning as we struggled to find something that was open that was not KFC. We waited around until 11am for some ramen shops to open and after being shooed out of one despite us walking in some half an hour after their advertised opening times, we ended up at Ikkakuya ramen.

There was an overload of signs at the front, making it clear that they were published in magazines (as is every other ramen shop there ever was) and that they had English menus….so why not?

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In Japan, Travel on
April 5, 2016

Travel: Kyoto, Japan | Green Tea Desserts and Okonomiyaki

What’s a holiday without a bit of a adventure?

Yasaka no To Pagoda 

Our next stop on our Japan trip is Kyoto, only a short train ride from Osaka plus a taxi ride to our guesthouse. We split between two taxis as we had two big luggages, but it wasn’t until we got onto the taxis and that we realised how little known the location of the guesthouse was. Neither of our taxi drivers knew where it was!

Having the address in Japanese and a screenshot of Google maps seemed little use and we thought for sure that we’d be stranded (separately too as the taxis had each taken their own routes) until luckily we caught a glimpse of the other taxi and decided to follow behind. Eventually we made it there, by which time our stomachs were grumbling so took the 30 minute walk back down the hill to find food.

 

Mendoraku dai 麺道楽 大

There wasn’t much within walking distance of the guesthouse- a small sushi train, a bar and a noodle restaurant. We’d chosen the noodle restaurant but because of the confusing signage, we walked into bar instead of the small stairway down into the noodle bar and embarrassingly walked out ten minutes later.

Mendoraku dai sepcialises mostly in Udon, and the English menu mostly covers just that (the Japanese menu seemed a little longer). The tempura udon is quite impressive, and easily our favourite with a selection of light and crispy mixed tempura, just as we like it.

Despite the cold weather outside, the cold udon was very welcoming as their heating was on full blast. The dish comes with noodles only, served on ice with a side dipping sauce. The focus is on the noodles, which are the perfect mix of chewy and bouncy. There’s no meat or veggies with the noodles, but we don’t find ourselves missing anything as the sauce imparts just enough flavour.

We were a little disappointed when the curry udon came in a thin soupy stock rather than the thick Japanese curry we were expecting. Tastewise, it was a sort of a cross between curry and the usual udon broth- I can’t say we were particularly big fans of this version

 

Umezono Kiyomizu 梅園清水店

We spend the remainder of the day strolling down Kiyomizu-Zaka Street- a tourist strip lined with plenty of shops and food. And being in Kyoto, we just had to try matcha desserts somewhere, so after walking up and down the street a few times, we decided choose somewhere that appeared popular…..

…..which is how we end up at Umezono Kiyomizu, a small dessert cafe with what appeared to be a never ending line at its entrance. The cafe specialises in matcha, adzuki and mochi, with a rather interesting variety of desserts- matcha parfait is nowhere to be found on the menu.

Instead, there is a selection of sweet adzuki soups with mochi balls and fruit. We weren’t too sure we’d like the combination but we’re quickly sold after a few spoonfuls. It’s quite unlike Chinese red bean soups, this one being more smooth and not overly sweet. There’s a great balance of sweetness between the soup and the fruit (which is sweeter than expected).

We also order dessert set which comes with a little bit of everything. We love the cute mitarashi dango- minature sized mochi lightly grilled with a sweet soy based glaze.

The set also comes with a matcha mochi and a couple of mochi based sweets which we can’t figure what they are as well as another red bean soup which is quite similar to the full sized version we ordered, only with a splash of matcha as well. It’s pretty awesome.

The anmitsu is essentially the same as the other desserts, minus the soup plus a few more varieties of mochi but tastewise quite different and perhaps my favourite. There’s a side of black sugar syrup but I find I only need to add a little since it’s quite sweet in itself. The (peeled!) mandarin slices are rather intriguing as they tasted strangely like lychees.

 

Okonomiyaki Kiraku

 

There was a ridiculous amount of traffic back down the hill when we were wanting to leave so we decided to walk towards our guesthouse and see what kind of restaurants we stumbled upon for dinner. We’d wanted to try Okonomiyaki in Osaka, but unfortunately didn’t get the chance to, so when we walked past this restaurant it was an easy choice.

It’s an interesting set up, with the large teppanyaki grill in the corner of the restaurant where all the food is cooked, and each table with its own hot plate to keep the food warm. We were lucky enough to snag the last available table right next to the large grill, where we witnessed the chefs make okonomiyaki after okonomiyaki.

We ordered the set menu which inlcuded a bit of everything- and at ~3000yen for two is great value. Yakisoba is extremely fun to play with and we wasted no time in getting our spatulas to show off our awesome cooking skills. The noodles had a nice char (not our doing of course) although we weren’t sure if we were served two different versions or if the chef was more generous with the soy sauce in one batch compared to the other.

The omelette was cooked beautifully, having a nice soft texture and plenty of flavour in the mostly vegetable based filling.

The grilled nagaimo looked rather much like scallops, but tasted anything but. I’ve only ever had nagaimo prepared the Chinese way- sliced thinly and stir fried in a flavoursome sauce such that the nagaimo is really more there for texture more than taste. In this version, it is cut into thick chunks, grilled and lightly scattered with some chilli flakes, bonito and seaweed such that the focus is on the gentle flavour of nagaimo.

And I found that I really enjoyed this version!

Being an okonomiyaki restaurant, if there’s one thing they do well it’s the okonomiyaki. This version is nice and fluffy with a decent serve of veggies- you get not only plenty of cabbage in the okonomiyaki itself, but also a very generous sprinkle of shallots. There’s also plenty of sauce lathered on, although we couldn’t help experimenting with the condiments which included seaweed and bonito!

And no meal is really complete without dessert so we opt for a soft serve which turns out the be exactly the same matcha soft serve that we had earlier at the Kuromon Ichiba Markets!

Mendoraku dai
Japan, 〒605-0965 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Imagumano Ikedacho, 4−14, B1

Umezono Kiyomizu
3-339-1 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0862, Kyoto Prefecture

Okonomiyaki Kiraku

Seawife geo-Shimizu, Kyoto 1F, It is ru 562, Yuugyoumaecho in Gojo, Higashioro, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 605-0864

In Japan, Travel on
March 13, 2016

Travel | Japan, Osaka: Kamukura Ramen and Kuromon Ichiba Markets

We wish we had spent a little more time in Osaka, as we found there was not only lots to do, but so much good food that we wanted to try!

Kamukura Ramen

There’s something particularly inviting about this ramen shop, we’re not sure why- but after walking past it the first time, we’d decided we’d find a time to try it out. So after searching for breakfast with no avail, we decide on waiting around for Kamukura to open (they opened at 11am).

There’s two ordering machines outside- one traditional one in Japanese and one fancy touchscreen one with multiple languages. We couldn’t figure out how to work the touchscreen menu so we resort back to choosing of photos on the traditional machine.

Gyoza (280yen)

The restaurant is set up with a large open kitchen in the middle and bar seating surrounding it. Everything is impeccably clean and organised.

The menu offers some “meal deals”, which come with a side and interestingly a plain onigiri. I thought we were big eaters and all, but a bowl of ramen, side and a large ball of rice seems a bit much! We do enjoy the sides though- especially the gyozas, which have beautifully cooked golden crisp bottoms. We also tried the deep fried variety, but we’re much more of a fan of the soft delicate skins on the pan fried version.

Karaage Chicken (300yen)

Perhaps not so much a breakfast food, any time of the day is a good time for fried chicken for me. Light and crunchy without being greasy, we wolf this down in no time.

Oishi noodle (650 yen)

And of course, the ramen.

Kamukura specialises in Shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, and we realise that the three different ramens that we ordered were all essentially the same, only with different toppings. The shoyu soup base is rather light, with the soy adding a light saltiness, without overdoing it. The Oishi noodle is the most basic ramen, with a topping of mostly chashu (barbecued pork) and a generous serving of Chinese cabbage that makes it rather reminiscent of a bowl of Chinese noodles.

Kuromon Ichiba Markets

We’d purchased an Osaka Amazing Pass (would definitely recommend for anyone visiting Osaka!) so we spent the day doing all the touristy stuff. But of course, I like to plan the day around food so we made a point to visit the Kuromon Ichiba Markets for lunch.

The vibe is quite touristy, with many more locals than tourists. There’s a little bit of everything sold here from second hand electronics to homewares. And of course seafood. Lots of it too!

But before getting into the seafood, do try this soy milk store for a really unique soy milk. Quite unlike the soy milk we get at supermarkets here (which I find rather watery) or the Chinese soy milks (which are quite sweet), this soy milk is very thick, not sweetened and has a really strong fragrant soy flavour.

There’s plenty of seafood stores to get your seafood fix but not all have seating. With plenty of tasty options everywhere, we had originally intended to buy a little here and there and eat them at the designated seating area. But finding a seat, even one, was like trying to find a parking spot in Sydney. Impossible.

So plan B it was- visit a store that had available seating!

Scallops (800 yen)

The grilled seafood stores are particularly enticing, with their display of fresh seafood. Scallops and oysters are priced according to size and we almost bought some massive scallops, but the last two were snagged by some other customers so we went to the store across for some big, but not so massive ones.

You can choose to have your seafood raw but most prefer grilled, which is done on a charcoal flame in front of you. The scallops are grilled with a squeeze of lemon juice and a light sear before being served. They’re nice and fresh, but we can’t help but think that the ones we had in Dotonbori the day before had a nicer taste and texture.

Oysters (400 yen each)

The oysters on display were pretty large too, so we decided to try them raw- which was not the best idea as they tasted rather fishy, especially in the belly area. Might give oysters a miss next time- I much prefer Sydney ones!

Salmon Nigiri (500 yen)

There’s also quite a few sushi and sashimi restaurants and stores in the market, but this one drew large crowds when the manager came out with price reduction stickers. Oh the perks of coming in the late afternoon!

We grab a box of salmon nigiri, which has been marked down by 200 yen. It’s nothing spectacular, but you can’t really go wrong with salmon.

Assorted Sashimi (700 yen)

The assorted sashimi is great value, especially after having been marked down by 300 yen, and comes with some salmon, kingfish and scallops. Although it’s probably been there since morning, it still tastes quite fresh with a nice delicate texture.

Tako Tamago (250 yen)

The tako tamago is something I’d been keen on trying in Osaka since reading about it online. Literally a quail egg stuffed inside a baby octopus and cooked in a sweet sauce- don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to try it too?

Unfortunately, this one I tried was cold and the octopus rather firm chewy. Can’t say I’m sold.

Honeydew Melon Soft Serve (300 yen)

I am however, completely sold on these soft serves that I had almost daily in Japan. These come in individual tubs, and are pushed through the soft serve machine which magically turns them into a nice and fluffy soft serve. We tried the honeydew and green tea and loved both of them!

Strawberries

There’s plenty of fruit shops in the market too, but like everywhere else in Japan, fruit is so expensive!

There’s also a supermarket, which sells just about everything (they have a large seafood section of course). We spied these cute pre-packaged burgers and am wishing that we had bought one for taste testing purposes!

They also have an extensive range of bento boxes- and they’re ridiculously cheap too!

Dotonbori Zero Cafe

We were keen on trying Japanese cafes, but they were quite difficult to find in the Dotonbori area, which has many more restaurants than cafes. We spot a large glowing sign for Dotonbori Zero Cafe and decide to give it a try.

Hazelnut Latte

It’s located up narrow hidden staircase right across from an Indian restaurant. The cafe itself equally as narrow as the staircase but is small and cozy with coathangers for coats, and a nice collection of wine and figurines as decor. To make use of the narrow space, most tables are small and set for 2. Perhaps it’s because we visited during quieter hours, but we’re surprised to find that the whole place is run by one guy.

The menu is your typical Asian cafe fare- your standard coffees plus some Asian flavours, some cakes, desserts and light bites as well. We had high hopes for the coffee after having an amazing one at Gigi’s but are disappointed to find it rather watery and bland.

Mixed Mushroom Omurice

We are however, pleasantly surprised at the omu rice, which comes with the rice under the egg rather than being wrapped in it. The egg is amazingly soft and fluffy, and the mixed mushrooms in gravy is seasoned perfectly to accompany the rice and egg.

Strawberry Parfait

The strawberry parfait looks quite extravagant, with the strawberry ice cream served in a cone on top! It’s quite fiddly to eat though and we’re not sure if it’s supposed to be eaten together but it was much easier for us to pull out the cone and have them as if they were two separate desserts. The strawberry ice cream is nice and fresh, but we’re not too fond of the parfait bit which has a little too much cream and strawberry sauce for our liking.

McDonald’s

We’d attempted (and failed) yet again to find a good place to have breakfast, so the only choices we had were either Burger King (with no brekkie menu in sight) or Maccas. Nothing particularly interesting to report on Japanese McDonald’s- the breakfast menu is almost the same as the Aussie version, only less than half the price. Oh and there’s also green tea latte on the menu too (it tasted pretty bad).

We also spied lots of super skinny Japanese people eating ridiculously large amounts of food too. Who needs eating challenges when you can eat to your heart’s content at Maccas eh?

The so called “Big Breakfast” was easily the most disappointing meal of my entire Japan trip- but then again it’s Maccas- what did I expect? Essentially a deconstructed Sausage & Egg McMuffin, minus the cheese, with scrambled egg instead of fried and a side of jam all thrown into the box. Because plating is overrated.

But that’s okay- at least it made more stomach space for more good eats once we got to Kyoto. More on that in my next Japan post!

Kamakura Ramen Shinsaibashi
Japan, 〒542-0071 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, 中央区道頓堀1丁目7−25
+81 6-6211-3790

Kuromon Ichiba Markets
2 542 0073, 2 Chome-4-1 Nipponbashi, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0073, Japan

Dotonbori Zero Cafe
1 Chome-6-14 Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, Japan
+81 6-6213-7643