Mid Autmun Festival is upon us, and although it’s not a massive celebration, it’s quite hard to miss, with big bright boxes of mooncakes filling the entrance of most Asian grocery stores for months in the lead up.
If you’re a fan of matcha, and live in Sydney, you’ll no doubt have heard of Cafe Oratnek (or Cafe Kentaro) in Surry Hills and their matcha lattes, lamington, tiramisu, donut etc etc etc.
Let me try again. If you’re a fan of matcha, you’ve probably visited Cafe Oratnek and tried them all.
Unless you’re like me of course, and tend to like visiting after the hype has died down, once everyone’s moved on to visiting other new and exciting places, in hopes of there being less of a crowd!
So I did eventually visit this cute little cafe, although I still didn’t avoid a bit of a wait around the busy lunch period (but I guess that’s a sign that it’s actually good!). And I did manage to try their delicious looking Matcha French Toast, which was every bit as amazing as I had imagined it to be!
Cafe Oratnek’s version is quite a unique creation- thick slices of rye sourdough dipped in a matcha egg batter, served alongside a creamy dollop of matcha cream, strawberries and banana chips, all sprinkled with a layer of matcha coconut.
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!
What’s a holiday without a bit of a adventure?
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.
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
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.
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!
Japan, 〒605-0965 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Imagumano Ikedacho, 4−14, B1
3-339-1 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0862, Kyoto Prefecture
Seawife geo-Shimizu, Kyoto 1F, It is ru 562, Yuugyoumaecho in Gojo, Higashioro, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 605-0864
Another torturous two weeks of exams are over, and there’s not much to report back from my months of absence, in terms of food anyway (as I haven’t been venturing into the kitchen much). The most exciting thing that’s happened is that I bought sheet gelatin for the first time (yay!)- something I’ve wanted to buy for a while but have never known where to get it from.
It turns out that if I’d been looking hard enough, it wasn’t actually that hard to find as Harris Farms stocks it…..Not that I knew of it’s existence near my uni (and it’s literally a 5 minute walk) until my friend, who’s only been in Sydney for a couple of months, notified me of it and the fact that they have gelatin leaves 🙂 I really ought to explore my own city more!
Interestingly enough, the week after I bought them, Aldi started stocking gelatin leaves too…..
Another new ingredient to my pantry is green tea powder- something I know I definitely did not look hard enough for. I’ve been sort of wanting to buy green tea powder ever since I started this blog (some 4ish years ago!), specifically to make green tea ice cream, and have never really ‘found’ it despite the fact that probably every Asian supermarket stocks it. That, and the fact that I’ve been told plenty of times which specific Asian supermarket you can get green tea powder from and I still didn’t manage to find it.
I’ll have to explain though- I keep looking for it in the tea section, but they put it in the Japanese section!!
So once I finally got my hands on a packet of this stuff, the first thing I made was green tea ice cream (surprise surprise)!! I used my usual ice cream recipe, substituting the fruit for green tea powder mixed with water, and the results were quite good, though I found the ice cream to be a bit too bitter for my tastes. But I really dislike tea (yes-even green tea) so it might be a personal thing- most other recipes I’ve looked at so far have roughly the same amount of green tea powder.
I’ll definitely be tweaking the recipe soon-ish to make it more suited to my tastes so look out for matcha ice cream part 2 in the near future 😉
3 tsp green tea powder
3 egg yolks
1.Mix the green tea powder with about 3 tablespoons of water to make a thick paste (you might need to add a little more hot water if it’s not making a paste).
2. Put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk together until pale and mixture leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted. Slowly add the milk into the egg mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon. Transfer to a saucepan or a double boiler and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring all the time, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil or it will curdle. Remove the custard from the heat, mix in the green tea paste (from step 1) and leave to cool for at least 1 hour, stirring from time to time to prevent a skin from forming.
3. Whip the cream until it holds its shape.
4. If using an ice cream machine, fold the whipped cream into the cold custard, then churn the mixture in the machine following the manufacturers instructions. Alternatively, freeze the custard in a freezer container, uncovered, for 1-2 hours, or until it begins to set around the edges. Turn the custard into a bowl and stir with a fork or beat in a food processor until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream. Return to the freezer and freeze for a further 2-3 hours, or until firm or required. Cover the container with a lid for storing.
Note: I’ve only made this recipe using an ice cream machine- if making manually without a machine, you might want to have a look at some other instructions on making ice cream without a machine as I get the feeling that mixing the frozen mixture once will not result in a very creamy ice cream! 😉