Foodie???

I do not actually have the mental capacity to write lengthy commentaries on the food I eat, nor do I feel qualified to meaningfully scrutinise institutions that have nothing to do with my personal fortes. The irony is that because I only ever post images of food on social media, typically from my bed while suffering from chronic insomnia, my friends introduce me as their “foodie friend” at every social gathering.

Granted, like many foodies out there I do take 4 hour train rides for ramen and I have crossed oceans for special meals. I am in awe of Rene Redzepi’s ability to orchestrate elaborate, ever-evolving tweezer meals and I feel grateful whenever I get to indulge myself with decadent omakase dinners at an elite ryotei . Few things on earth make my heart glow more than a perfect bowl of tomyum moosub or sizzling hot dwaeji gukbap. But honestly in my opinion, nothing has been more embarrassing than claiming to be a “foodie” since the 2010’s.

Context of this post: I have always loved food as a child, especially after discovering the Japanese variety bangumi “Dotch Cooking Show” where rivalling hosts presented spectacular renditions of ordinary dishes using top-notch ingredients procured from around the world. I was around 7 at the time – their culinary pursuits were so inspiring I began taking notes and drawing pictures of dishes I ate in a secret diary every time my parents took me out for food.

*Side note – I stumbled upon this diary when I was around 12 and was so appalled by my own grammar mistakes that I discarded it. I now regret this. At the same time I started a new food diary which was again, abandoned until I picked it up again at 16, when I felt just as embarrassed as I did at 12 but decided that it was okay to retain concrete documentation of my own failures because nothing really matters.

I have a cousin who used to tell me that if his mother did not tell him off for skipping family meals, he would have loved to just live on vitamin tablets. This degree of insipidity was incomprehensible to me and I found every meal shared with him remarkably joyless – sometimes even alienating. How can this guy make eating my favourite fragrant juicy Vietnamese fried chicken look like a punishment? Why did he make eating luscious gooey chocolate fondants look like a painful chore? Subconsciously I began categorising people around me based on their position in the spectrum of enthusiasm towards food. On one end of the spectrum were the gustatorily apathetic, people like my cousin, people who live in gastronomic dullsville and appear in Epicurus’s nightmares. On the other end of the spectrum were people whose eyes would light up the moment they heard the name of their favourite crêperie or steakhouse, that even when the restaurant was miles away, they would spend days researching other eateries in the vicinity, solidifying plans for special, envy-inducing gourmet trips months ahead of time. Typically these people were also avid home cooks, and were always keen to share good food. I enjoyed dining with them – if hunger is the best sauce, I would say that good company is perhaps the third best sauce, after chilli 🙂

I used to be a total loser who would eat shin ramyun in front of a computer with a youtube playlist called “ramyun” featuring a collection of Korean instant noodle ads before mukbang became a thing. I don’t know what it was, but that always made my bowl seem tastier. It was clear to me that a sense of connectedness with other humans enjoying food elevated my dining experience, so before 2010, all I meant when I classified someone as a “foodie” was that they were someone who would potentially enhance my meal whenever I felt social.

Fast forward to 2022, what I used to consider a neutral descriptor with a slight positive nuance that I would appreciate your company is now a pejorative term used to define a whole generation of self-professed gourmands, perpetually pitting against each other to see who has consumed the most Michelin stars within a week. To these present-day foodies (let’s call them, uh, poodies), reservations at highly coveted, introduction-only establishments equate to social currency, counting and maximising number of visits to Sushi Saito is a noble endeavour, and nothing exemplifies status better than being served “off-menu” items after becoming “BFFs” with a chef.

Poodies see themselves as preachers of refined taste to the poor, benighted, gastronomically deprived a.k.a. everybody except themselves. Interestingly from experience, they usually have a lot of argumentative stamina and willfully participate in tedious, 12 hour long debates about the origin of ramen.

To sum up, poodies have hi-jacked my definition of of the term foodie and I now need a new word to address companions who elevate my dining experience.

Sein zum tode & Lethal births

“there is no cure… you have 1 week to live.”
Now if the doctor tells you this at your next check-up, would it make you feel better if you had 2 weeks? A month, a year? What about 2 years?
3? 4? 5?

Not trying to revisit the Sorites Paradox from philosophy 101 but it seems to me that there is no phenomenological difference between having another 2 weeks or another 80 years. We are never guaranteed a future in any sense of the word, yet we are all accustomed to thinking about the “future”. The only reason for that is because we have to – we diet and exercise to look better in the future, we work our asses off to earn our next vacation also in the future – so long as our lives are governed by the principle of causality, this is how we must think in order to make sense of day to day actions and micro-actions.

There is a sense of inconsistency in the contradictions we make between how we behave and what we know. The really important fact is that most people hide from their own death – they literally turn around when they see it and say “I’m not thinking about it.” And that is the delusion. A delusion I also find myself living in. Sometimes. What a lot of them don’t realise is that EVEN IF they are lucky enough to go 100 years without dying, they will eventually have to face their own death. Once they do, they will be shattered. Everyone is shattered when they are told they are going to die soon. The point then, is that once you truly know you are going to die, it tears away the illusion of life.


By illusion of life I mean what a person immersed in day-to-day activities thinks about – money, jobs, the future, pleasure, pain. If you ask someone oblivious to death what life is, they will tell you about those distractions. They will think about “the future” and think “if I do this now, how will this lead me to where I want to go?” That feels intuitive, but once you are presented with a set of affairs that forces you to realise that that is nothing but a delusion, you don’t even have the option to think that life. If you are diagnosed with cancer, you don’t get to think like that any more. And then you realise that was always the case. All you ever had is the present. There is no past, nor future. The past is nothing but a memory experienced in the present; the future is nothing but a feeble, and often cynical, imagined set of affairs… also in the present.
Perhaps to even begin, you have to essentially experience a level of suffering that is so intense that it shatters the illusions of the way you used to live. Once you suffer enough, and are presented with a state of affairs you can’t control – e.g. You are going to die, soon, there is nothing you can do about it, you might start to appreciate the present in its truest form. Eat that cake.

Kakigori in Tokyo

Kakigōri is a Japanese dessert made of shaved ice, traditionally flavoured with syrup, condensed milk or an, a sweet bean paste.

In Japan it is considered a fuubutsushi, a term to designate items that evoke memories of specific seasons, in this case Summer. Other edible fuubutsushi representing Summer include sōmen (thin noodles made of wheat flour), hiyashi chūka (chilled ramen noodles) and watermelon.

There is an abundance of Kakigori shops in Tokyo so choosing my top 10 was difficult, but here they are, in alphabetical order.

  1. Bum Bun Blau Cafe with Beehive (Hatanodai)
  • A range of relatively light kakigori to match their famous spirolina infused ramen.
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Avocado, soy milk & caramel
  1. Cafe Lumiere (Kichijoji)
  • Flaming Kakigori with a baked Alaska exterior! I personally love the one with lots of berries in the centre, served with condensed milk, chocolate and berry sauce on the side.

image1Flaming mixed berries

  1. Gari-Garilège (Gaienmae)
  • Although this shop only operates when owner chef Kawate is out of town, I had to include it in my top 10 because Horio-san puts patisserie level cookies & meringue in the kakigori and the Florilège counter is, without doubt, the most beautiful spot you will ever find for the icy treat.

image1Pumpkin & Caramel sauce 

  1. Haimuru Coffee (Musashi-Koyama)
  • Another spot I frequent because I often want some hot, soupy & savoury ramen after consuming kakigori.

image2Strawberry Valentine’s 

  1. Kooriya Peace (Kichijoji)
  • The kakigori here are often a little too sweet for my taste but sometimes they do incredible flavours like the Orangette one pictured below, where you get a refreshing, tangy orange sauce with slight bitter tones, sweet light airy cream, orangette like strips of sunshine in chocolate coated candy form – truly a dream come true!

image3Orangette

  1. Kuriyakashi Kurogi (Hongo-Sanchome)
  • Michelin starred Jun Kurogi’s wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop designed by famed architect Kengo Kuma. Beautiful, massive kakigori that never fail to elicit equally massive guilt.

image1Mori-matcha

  1. Mamatoko (Nakanoshimbashi)
  • Run by a young kakigori loving lady. Portions are relatively small, which is great when you want to try a few flavours at once! Love the kinako & miso cream.

image1Kinako Miso Cream, Kuromame 

  1. Mayoor (Miyazakidai)                                                                                                                A little far out but if you enjoy milky kakigori, this is the place to go.

image1Sesame & Avocado milk 

  1. Minatoya* (Sasazuka)                                                                                                    Decadent oimont-blanc, portmanteau of Japanese “oimo” meaning (sweet) potato and “mont-blanc” available here alongside a range of fresh fruit kakigori and takoyaki for savoury breaks.

image2Oimont-blanc

  1. Shimokitachaen Ooyama* (Shimokitazawa)                                                              Matcha lovers should visit for the signature matcha espuma kakigori. Sakura is also a seasonal favourite in Spring.

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Sakura

Thanks for reading and I hope you get some nice kakigori this summer.

Ohtanawanoren 太田なわのれん @ Hinodecho

There are days when all I want to do is eat meat.

In Japan, I mostly find myself craving for yakiniku on meat days but sometimes when I am simultaneously craving egg I would go for sukiyaki. I can never resist a TKG (tamago-kake-gohan, or egg on rice) after a beefy meal at i.e. Imahan! After a busy week at work, I felt the need to treat myself a little… so today I decided to get out of the city for a particularly special sukiyaki in Hinodecho (not far from Yokohama). IMG_6085

Now if you are wondering why this sukiyaki restaurant is special, it is not because they use particularly good beef, nor is it particularly expensive, nor is it visited by a lengthy list of V.I.P.s. It is, however, supposedly where the dish “sukiyaki” originated from.

Ohtanawanoren was established in 1868, the first year of the Meiji period when meat eating was still not a common practice in Japan. At the time, the owner of Ohtanawanoren came up with using miso to hide the taste of meat which was actually considered unpleasant to common people at the time. As you will see in this post, the “original” form of sukiyaki was known as  “gyu-nabe” (beef pot) , and was completely different from how sukiyaki is generally prepared today.

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Before coming here I did not actually expect the interior of the restaurant to resemble a high-end kaiseki ryotei. Was quite happy that there were individual rooms for us to play stupid games that I would rather not talk about on here. IMG_6127

Ohtanawanoren opens for lunch only on weekends (and for dinner it is open everyday except monday). There is a special lunch course that also includes their signature butsukirigyu-nabe at a slightly cheaper price. Our group of 5 ordered one of them today and had a-la-carte (with higher quality, shimofuri beef from yamagata) for the rest of the meal. The lunch course first came with a small, cold chawanmushi (steamed egg) with ikura.

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And then this little beef & lettuce appetizer

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Also a sashimi salad with varied fish & black caviar from the a-la-carte menu for starters.IMG_6093

A clear soup with shrimp paste and mochi under a blanket of sliced daikon also came with the lunch course. This was pretty standard. IMG_6097

Not to forget some sake to go with whats to come…!  yuki no maboroshi IMG_6091

Our 2 servers began bringing in the bits and bobs required to set up our sukiyaki meal. First the tea and eggs…IMG_6099

Then the veggies..

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Then ta-da! Here’s the shimofuri yamagata-gyu nabe

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And this is the less fatty butsukiri-gyu-nabe with beef from Iwate. Despite being the slightly cheaper option, I personally prefer this after a couple pieces because too much overly fat wagyu can get sickening very fast. So having a mix today was indeed, perfect!IMG_6102

That concentration

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Sizzle sizzle

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Glass noodles were also put in to soak up all the miso goodnes

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And topped with some shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves) … one signature element of gyu-nabe that is still prevalent in modern sukiyaki.IMG_6114

Bubbles

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Finally, served in a bowl of raw egg. Absolutely addictive with rice

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After a while the beef was transferred onto another pan to avoid being overcooked. IMG_6120 IMG_6125

Towards the end of the meal, a lot of miso is left in the egg, creating an awesome mixture for pouring over hot rice 😀 IMG_6124

Aaand dessert was melon sorbet

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Goodbye Ohtanawanoren

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And here’s a small exhibition of their fuku-chan mascot goods

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Ohtanawanoren 

Address :  Sueyoshicho 1-15, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi Kanagawa-ken

〒231-0055 神奈川県横浜市中区末吉町1-15

Phone: 045-261-0636

Website: http://www.ohtanawanoren.jp 

My favourite CNY snack – Arrowhead Chips

Happy year of the HORSE!  I know Chinese New Year celebrations are over but I’d just like to drop a little post about what has become my favourite CNY snack for the past few years. For most of my life, I had always looked forward to munching on crispy shredded taro balls (wu har/芋蝦), homemade pan-fried radish cakes and  nian gao every CNY. Nowadays, the one thing I cannot spend new years without is arrowhead chips. More specifically, Da Shi Jie’s arrowhead chips.
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Now what on earth are arrowheads? The chips look like they can pass off as potato chips. In fact, undiscerning tasters may even think they are just eating potato chips. However, the arrowhead is actually a flowering plant with edible tubers that the Chinese decided to deep fry into chips. They have a fancier name called Sagittaria sagittifolia, but in China they are called cí gū 慈菇, which literally translates to “benevolent mushroom”. I’m not too sure why they are called mushrooms, though they do have an earthy aroma that is redolent of mushrooms. The reason I love them is that they are super crunchy, with a woodsy bitterness that makes them seem like extra-refined, sophisticated potato chips.
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Some people might still prefer supermarket potato chips for the variety of flavours – these arrowhead chips are hardly seasoned! Regardless, that is exactly how I like to savour their superior natural taste. At HKD 118 per pack (easily finished in 3 minutes) they are on the expensive side, but afterall they are not potatoes.

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Mind you I do normally fancy my mass produced, MSG covered potato chips from the supermarket. But when it’s Chinese New Year, I think it’s only right to spoil myself with superior snacks like benevolent mushroom chips.

These Da Shi Jie arrowhead chips are orderable online at  http://www.dashijie.com.hk  just before and during CNY.  GET’EM NEXT YEAR if they’ve run out this year!  Just FYI, Da shi jie, whose real name is Mak Lai Man,  is a food loving lady from Hong Kong who quit her big shot job back in 2007 to start making yummy seasonal food (particularly from the Canton region) and to write foodie articles in local papers. Big ups to the lady running for dreams and spreading love for wonderful food!

Ottolenghi – Demonstrating Organic + Orgasmic

I’ve always been an avid meat-eater, but a fair portion of vegetables is pretty much compulsory for the sake of keeping my palate balanced. At times, after having too many meat-heavy meals in a row I would feel the need for a 100% vegetarian day. I’ve been eating a lot of korean BBQ, meaty Italian dishes and steaks lately so on this sunny November day in London, I decided to visit Yotam Ottolenghi’s Islington deli  to get my #fitspo food fix.  (yeah and so that I can post pictures on instagram with tags like #eatclean #instahealth #fitstagram)

😀

Ottolenghi, also known as “the man who sexed up vegetables” (only found this in wikipedia, hah), is an Israeli chef specializing in middle eastern cuisine that draws influence from around the world. My good friend Eiko told me about his fresh and flavourful salads a while back, so I had to seize the opportunity to try them out whilst in London.

Damn, it was a sunday afternoon but I did not expect the line to be this long. I stood there waiting for over half an hour before I got seated.
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Whilst waiting in line I noticed that despite being famed for veggie dishes, the cakes and pastries looked highly appetizing as well. Queueing up next to the heavenly spread of goodies pictured below (imagine the beautiful smell as well) while being hungry for lunch was both mentally and physically tormenting. The queuers infront of me were unable to withstand the torture and called for some pastries from the take-out counter whilst waiting to be seated. I, however, knew that if I were to do that I would not be able to stop myself from eating too much before sitting down so I refrained from doing so.
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Ahhhhh…. these cupcakes!!!
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For lunchtime, everything on the menu is already laid out at the front of the deli. Pumped up by the sight of all the colourful salads, I had already planned in my head to get a portion of everything.
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Just for reference, here is the menu of the day 😀
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And finally I got seated inside.

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I ended up getting a portion of every single salad for my table of 3, sharing also a platter of Ottolenghi breads and 2 main courses. I did not care much about the main courses as I really only came for the salads, and yum! Every salad was prepared with noticeably fresh vegetables, bursting with bold, exotic flavours. The only dish that could have been better turned out to be the char-grilled brocolli  with chilli and garlic,  which was in fact the first thing I picked from the menu because I’ve always been a fan. The brocolli  here was slightly too hard and dry for what I expected; perhaps chargrilling for less time would have been better? (btw I subsequently had a wonderful brocolli salad at Bea’s of Bloomsbury).
IMG_3234One of my favourites turned out to be the roasted aubergine with black garlic yoghurt, fried chili, caremelised hazelnuts and herbs. The unique combination of flavours complimented very well with the perfectly roasted aubergines, which were neither too chewy nor mushy.
IMG_3236 The roasted sweet potato with ginger yoghurt, lemon, pickled red onion, black sesame seeds and parsley were also delicious, despite looking like a giant mess. This was probably the most addictive of the salads.IMG_3237 The potatoes with Jerusalem artichoke, ras el hanout, almonds, sultanas, chilli and preserved lemon was less interesting in terms of flavouring. Simple and good, nonetheless.IMG_3238 And here’s the mixed peppers and brown bulgar tabbouleh with mixed nuts, red onion and pomegranate seeds. IMG_3239And of course, hummus! Ottolenghi’s special butterbean hummus with roasted mushrooms cumin, cinnamon, chilli & parsley

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The two main courses we went for were the filo parcels with burnt aubergine, feta, parsley, walnuts and sweet basil yoghurt and the free range chicken with cloves, cardamom, garlic, preserved lemons and turmeric. I had fairly low expectations for these so was quite happy to find that the chicken was not as dry as it looked and that the filo pastry was not oily at all. IMG_3245      IMG_3249

The Ottolenghi bread platters are prepared at a tiny corner inside the restaurant – each plate consisting of freshly baked & cut sourdough, cornbread, Italian white and focaccia.

IMG_3257 All served with some extra virgin olive oil of course.IMG_3258The dishes were actually presented in a style reminiscent of what I used to get at the college canteen – large spoonfuls of each salad/main course piled onto plates, like this 
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this,IMG_3259and this. IMG_3261Anyway, I left Ottolenghi feeling like a satisfied cow that just devoured a nice, organic, healthy meal. I’ll probably come try dinner next time (which I believe is served much more formally).

Obviously, upon stepping out the door I had to grab a few of these treats to make myself stay fat ‘cos you know, I love being fat. IMG_3269 Well not really … I’m on a diet to be honest but who can resist stuff like this!! IMG_3270

Ottolenghi Islington

287 Upper Street

London N1 2TZ

Tel: 020 7288 1454

Website :  http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk

Xi’anese Food @ 有緣小敍

Went on a weekend getaway in Xi’an last month and was majorly disappointed with most of the food I had there. Despite the research efforts I put in my quest for the best pao mo, rou jia mo, dumplings and noodles in the city, the best thing I had turned out to be the knife-cut noodles they offered for breakfast at the Shangri-la.

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Perhaps Xi’anese food is just not for me.

However there was one dish that I did not have time to try while I was in Xi’an, and this was the Biang Biang Mian (Biang Biang noodles). Whatever “Biang” means, I don’t know. I don’t know anything about it apart from some vague, guessy explanations on Wikipedia. What I do know is that the chinese character for “Biang” looks crazy, with 58 strokes.

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Being a big fan of noodles of all sorts, I felt that I had to do Xi’anese food justice by looking for this Shaanxi region specialty in Hong Kong. I made a quick search for “Biang Biang noodles” on openrice.com and found a little shop in Jordan. I have actually never been to Jordan before but coincidentally I had an errand to run there that week so it was perfect timing 🙂

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The shop is tiny with only one large table and a few seats facing the the wall. As expected, most people were having the infamous biang biang noodles. I also noticed that at the side of the table there stood a few mini terracotta warriors.

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I have a habit of drinking soy milk whenever I have spicy chinese food, so I started off ordering these to drink. If you are fussy about soy milk then you will not like these at all. They taste disappointingly artificial so if I ever come again I will definitely opt for cola. On the other hand my shredded potato appetizer was delicious! It smelled so good I would have liked to eat one whole portion or even two myself.

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Soon after I devoured the shredded potatoes the first bowl of biang biang noodles in my life appeared infront of me. I ordered my bowl with some fennel dumplings and donkey meat.20131105-185816.jpg

Yes and this was the donkey meat. I believe this was also my first time eating donkey. It was slightly smokey and seemed like an extra gamey version of turkey. To be honest I only ordered this because I never had donkey meat before and after eating one slice I did not want any more. It was dry and quite bland. 20131105-185841.jpg

And so I started mixing the noodles to let the spicy sauce cover every milimetre of chewy noodly goodness.20131105-190419.jpg

The fennel dumplings were also nice, though I don’t normally like fennel. The reason I ordered these was that I did not know what “fennel” in chinese was and just pointed at whatever my mom did not order because I knew I would steal some of her lamb dumplings anyway.

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And here is a pic of the same biang biang noodles, but with lamb dumplings. 20131105-185833.jpg

I actually liked the lamb dumplings better than my fennel dumplings.  As a dumpling devotee I believe that the texture of the dumpling’s skin makes the dumpling. Although most of the time people rave about “thin-skinned” dumplings which are smooth and chewy at the same time, the skin here is on the thick side. However, this is the way Xi’anese dumplings are supposed to be and the thickness here is in fact what makes the skin extra chewy (in a good way) and is still very smooth.  I would describe these as having the perfect dumpling skin to meat to veggie ratio. 20131105-190444.jpg

At the end I also ordered the roast lamb flavoured with cumin. At 180 HKD this small portion seemed a little expensive for a restaurant like this, but I’ll admit that it was one enjoyable dish. In conclusion, although I would not travel all the way here again just for this meal, if you ever want to try Xi’anese food in Hong Kong or just happen to be in the area, I’d recommend this place 😀

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Address :

Shop 3, G/F, Keybond Commercial Building, 38 Ferry Street, Jordan  (P.S. this place does not seem to have an English name at all so you will just have to go by this address if you don’t read chinese!)

佐敦渡船街38號建邦商業大廈地下3號舖

Link: http://www.openrice.com/english/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=47432

Yakiniku Jumbo Shirokane

I have been trying to go on a diet lately.

Purposely failing every single day … because what the heck I live in Tokyo and there are temptations everywhere.

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it… everyone knows Oscar Wilde speaks truth !

God, I love Yakiniku.

Here’s Yakiniku Jumbo Shirokane, one of my favourites these days.

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Started off with the yukhoe (ユッケ).

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This was well received because unlike at many other places, the sesame oil did not overpower the flavours of the fresh raw beef at all. 20140608-130740-47260432.jpg

Then I had my favourite noharayaki – a signature here at Yakiniku Jumbo. Basically 3 pieces of this thinly sliced sirloin and a bowl of rice is all I need to get a glimpse of heaven. I meant this literally and this means quite a lot for a physically bound human being.20140608-130741-47261451.jpg

 

The noharayaki is grilled and then dipped in egg, eaten like sukiyaki but probably better than most sukiyakis 😛 20140608-130741-47261787.jpg

The harami was also of very good quality – good for those who prefer beef with a bite over buttery beef. This contrasted nicely with the noharayaki which pretty much evaporated as soon as I put it in my mouth. 20140608-130740-47260762.jpg

The Tongue was also one of the best I’ve had in Tokyo so far 😀20140608-130741-47261099.jpg

Also had kalbi, sankaku, etc. etc. My dad ordered some pork knuckle dish which I did not take a photo of because I found it slightly gross. 20140608-130742-47262124.jpg

And the meal ended with a soothing gukbap. I prefer gukbap authentic Korean style but still have a habit of ordering gukbap after all my yakiniku meals. Anyway, I absolutely loved this place and would definitely come back again! IMG_5363

Yakiniku Jumbo 

Address:  Dai-ichi Azabu Bldg. 1F, 3-1-1 Shirokane, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Telephone: 03-5795-4129

Website: http://www.kuroge-wagyu.com/js/

Shirohige’s Cream Puff @ Shimokitazawa

Who didn’t love watching Hayao Miyazaki’s most famous, most kawaii masterpiece Tonari no Totoro? OK, for the heartless folk who don’t melt inside when they see Totoro or want to give it a big hug, you should at least enjoy this – eating it 😀

So after a nice afternoon stroll in Shimokitazawa (Tokyo’s hipster district), I found my way to Shirohige’s Cream Puff Shop, slightly isolated from the rest of the vintage stores being part of the more residential side of Shimokita. IMG_5795.JPG Cuteness Overload.IMG_5797.JPG Totoro decorations abound, this is 100% a destination for Miyazaki fans.IMG_5792.JPG I started off with a berry drink.IMG_5798.JPG

As a savory > sweet person I had to get this Naporitan pasta (NOT to be mixed up with Neapolitan! the Naporitan is a Japanese specialty). I’m normally not a fan of Naporitan but this turned out to be a homey, hearty dish, without green peppers that overpower the flavours of tomato and cheese (my main reason of disliking Naporitan in many cases).

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Finally … my SHIROHIGE CREAM PUFF!! This darling was not only cute but very delicious too. IMG_5801.JPG

The custard cream inside was only subtly sweet – just the way I liked it and the puff itself was incredibly light – a fabulous afternoon treat! : ) IMG_5808.JPG

Address: Setagaya-ku, Daita 5-3-1 東京都世田谷区代田5-3-1 1F・2F Phone: 03-5787-6221 Website : http://www.shiro-hige.com/

Tamawarai 玉笑

‘Twas a drizzly evening in Tokyo and for some reason, everytime it rains I feel compelled to reflect on life (notice how in music videos, there is that cliche depiction of a contemplative subject staring out the window? It always happens to be raining too). Inevitably these reflections include some less philosophical revelations such as the amount of fat I have accumulated from festive feasts consumed in the past few weeks. Over some serious sensations of guilt, I decided that for one night at least, I must not succumb to that evil glutton in my mind who keeps drawing me away from foods that are (relatively) low in calories and fat. And that is how I ended up trekking my way to Tamawarai, a small soba shop buried in one of the most inobtrusive streets near Harajuku.
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The restaurant was a little difficult to spot because the entrance to Tamawarai was anything but ostentatious. I eventually found my way with the help of Google Maps and this lonely looking little lantern.

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It was only 5:30 pm and I was the first customer of the night. IMG_3696

For a traditional soba-ya, the glittery silver menu was rather flashy, with a calligraphic drawing of the lonely little lantern at the corner. The main food menu was divided into three sections – Otsumami (snacks, generally eaten as accompaniment to alcohol), soup soba, and cold soba.IMG_3700

The first thing I opted for was an otsumami, the grilled kuruma-ebi. Since I hate peeling prawns I just ate the entire thing, shell included. This could have been unpleasant at other places but the shell of this prawn was so thin and crunchy that I felt more like I was just snacking on a prawn shaped, prawn flavoured crisp with real prawn flesh inside! This was fantastic with my ume-shu (Japanese plum liqueur). 20140120-123005.jpg

My next otsumami was the dashi-maki tamago (dashi as in fish stock, maki as in roll, and tamago as in egg. In short, a fish stocky roll omelette). Nothing can go too wrong with dashi-maki tamago!  This was standard in a good way; huwa huwa (the Japanese expression for soft, fluffy things) in texture, served while it was still piping hot. IMG_3709

My final otsumami was the misoyaki which was basically a perfectly circular smear of delicately flavoured miso paste containing small bits of spring onion, grilled and served on a hot metal plate. IMG_3711

Finally, oh star of the night – my natto soba! I’m aware that there are many natto haters out there (both in and out of Japan) who find the pungent smell of fermented soybeans vomit-inducing, but seriously, natto is one of the things that truly taught me what an acquired taste really means. In my opinion, acquiring a taste does not necessarily require repeated exposure, nor does it have to be a slow developmental process that needs to be nurtured intentionally unless you are actually neophobic. Sometimes, all it takes is a situation that triggers an urge to give something one more try. For example, I always hated natto as a kid – but it was when I saw a random woman eat natto on rice as though it were the most delicious thing in the world that I felt impelled to give the smelly beans one more chance. This opened my gustatory senses to a whole new world of different types of natto, which might not have been possible had I not been in the particular situation. So, natto-rice woman, thank you for appearing in my life that day!  (I’d also like to thank my dad for making durian appear to be exotic ice cream)

OK, back to my bowl – The natto beans here were very large compared to the standard sized natto commonly found in supermarkets. Also on the soba were seaweed, spring onions, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and the obligatory raw egg in the middle.

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Neba-neba! (That’s the Japanese onomatopoeia for sticky, stringy, slimy things)

Having been living in Oxford where my closest source of artisanal Japanese noodles was udon from Koya in London, and then Hong Kong where the sushi and ramen trends have overtaken the Japanese culinary scene, I have not been having brilliant soba for a long, long time. I couldn’t help smiling as soon as I had my first bite of this nicely firm, aromatic soba.

The tsuyu sauce had an elegant flavour that was suitably strong without overpowering the soba’s sweet buckwheat taste; its refinedness also allowed the freshness of all other ingredients to shine through. Definitely a well-crafted bowl of soba that can only be the product of some very skilled hands.

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My mom ordered the tempura soup soba that I also tried a bit of. Whilst the tempura was not particularly commendable, the hot soba, which was significantly thicker than usual soba, had a chewy, grainy texture that was just as impressive as the cold natto soba I had. IMG_3718

As usual the meal ended with soba-yu (hot water used to cook soba) poured into the remaining tsuyu after all the noodles were eaten. A wonderful meal that did not make me feel too heavy afterwards, yep

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Tamawarai 

Address: 5-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

東京都渋谷区神宮前5-23-3

Telephone: 03-5485-0025

P.S. Whilst looking for their precise address online, I realised that Tamawarai actually received its first Michelin star last year! I’d say that was well deserved 🙂