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Category Archives: food

Today is the day of the French presidential election. The future of Europe depends much on this result. Apt that we blog about France here aujourd’hui.

We spent a week on the west coast of France over Easter. On our drive towards the Atlantic from the Alps, Clermont Ferrand is roughly the midpoint after Lyon. Our  friends, Fa and An were heading in the same direction for their vacation. So we decided to drive together, two cars in tandem. Our first night was at Saint-Émilion.

Fa volunteered to find a good restaurant around Clermont Ferrand to make the boring drive more enjoyable (Google estimated that it would take about 7 hours). As he rightly said, it is not often that he or any one of us will likely pass through this part of France (Auvergne) in the near future.

He made a reservation at Le Pré in Durtol near Clermont Ferrand. The restaurant stops receiving diners for lunch at 1:15pm. To make it there on time, we had an excuse to drive rather fast (… I got a speeding ticket through the mail after returning to Switzerland).

The restaurant is in a modern building and the dining room and bar are located in the mid-section. We had a hard time finding the entrance in the beginning. As we arrived a little bit after our reservation time slot, the maître’d gave us the most frosty welcome. (This is not Switzerland, come on).

The main dining room was almost full so we had our private room. Hehe.

The chef of this Michelin 2-star restaurant is Xavier Beaudiment.

There are 86 two-star restaurants and 12 new ones in 2017.

He won his second star this year – that is probably why it was so full for lunch on a weekday.

There is a poached egg down there. Went very well with the white asparagus.

” … a unique menu elaborated according to the inspiration of the moment, with the complicity of a whole network of small producers and wild herbs in the region. A “kitchen of instinct”, allied to a true sense of flavors, …”  – The Inspector’s words (translated, courtesy Google)

We did notice unique flavors – clearly distinguishable and not muddled – which were much appreciated.

A detour to this restaurant took us off the monotonous motorway and we drove through the Auvergne regional park built around a long-dead volcano range – Chaîne des Puys.

The source of the international brand of mineral water – Volvic – is not far from the restaurant. And we were drinking the local water with our meal.

One of the dessert is all about chocolate – five or six ways of preparing it – I (Chris) am not a die-hard chocolate fan but really enjoyed it.

The bar/lounge area is nicely decorated. While the nice large windows give the space lots of light but there is not much to see outside. Suburban homes and the parking lot.

Quite a collection of cognac and armagnac.

Recommended.

In our bookstore tour of the world, we increasingly see the merger of bookselling with another retail concept – for example, the T-site in Daikanyama 代官山 in Tokyo and the Eslite Spectrum in Hong Kong – see our posts here and here. In Bologna, I (Chris) visited the Librerie Coop + Eataly Bologna – a combination that is more 50-50 than the earlier examples.

 

Librerie Coop is a chain in Italian bookstore with more than 30 stores.

 

Eataly is an international operator of food halls selling Italian food stuffs and restaurants – their stores are apparently wildly successful in NYC at first (that was after we left the city) and then in Chicago.

 

Admittedly, we have not yet been inside one in the US but we imagine them to be a kind of European imported food megastore with a high-end food court. The food halls of Harrods (London), Shinsegae (Seoul) and KaDeWe in Berlin (see post) come to mind.

 

The corporate parent is an Italian company founded near Alba and started first in Torino. Apparently, the two companies have collaborated at multiple locations in Italy.

 

The book-food store is located not far from Piazza Maggiore at Via degli Orefici, 19.

 

This location has a cafe, a wine bar…

 

a trattoria …

and an osteria.

I wonder if they will let customer take a book to the table to read while waiting for or consuming his/her order.

The bookstore floor space is tight, although it has several floors. Compare this with the oldest bookstore in Bologna, Libreria A. Nanni which I also visited – see post here.

The space feels intimate and cozy overall. Great idea, well executed.

I read in the news that Eataly will open a food theme park – Eataly World – in Bologna in 2017. It will convert 20 acres of old warehouses into 25 restaurants, 10 classrooms, a convention center, farms, and labs. Buono appetito. Looking forward to it …

Ciao

Spanish cured ham (Jamón Ibérico) is well known worldwide. They are sold and consumed in specialist shops – Jamonería – in Madrid.

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One such store situated just off the Puerta del Sol named itself Museo del Jamon.

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Its location suggests that it is a touristy place, but surprisingly, it was packed with locals or domestic tourists.

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One can have a sandwich with any ham in the shop.

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Platters with specific kinds of ham (jamon iberico, jamon serrano, lomo etc), sausages and cheeses.

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There were many kinds of ham and various price points.

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It reminded us a little bit of the sausage shop on the top floor of the KaDeWe in Berlin. Click here to see 100’s of sausages on display.

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The whole leg of ham is typically placed horizontally on a Jamonera and thin slices are hand cut and lifted individually.

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The little inverted umbrellas collect the fat dripping off the leg of ham.

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We saw several jamonerias in central Madrid but wondered if they are also set up in other parts of Spain.

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This is a big one and does not appear to be touristy.

Adios.

 

We spent a weekend in Verbier during the summer this year and luckily it coincided with the annual Alps en Fête where we saw the Bataille des Reines, see the post here.

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The event was held at the Alpage des Grand-Plans, Les Planards, an alpine pasture above Verbier that was reached by public bus and a minibus operating for the day. The scenery is very much like “The Sound of Music” which is really Austrian.

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A road led us up from the bus stop to the pasture where the event was held. The road continues, sloping gently upwards. Along the way, there were two restaurants/lodge. They appear to rent out rooms.

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One of the restaurants is called La Marmotte. It was nearly full with people sitting on the outside taking in the sun, breeze and view.

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We were lucky to be offered a table with a view under a sun umbrella. After we ordered, we were served a free simple starter – olive paste on crispy bread.

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We had a generous portion of tomato soup …

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… and assorted mushrooms (mostly girolles and possibly some other kinds) in creamy sauce and a puff pastry. The Swiss likes to gather wild mushrooms.

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We also had a beef tartare and fries.

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All were excellent. The service was friendly and we had great seats facing the wide open space. Looking up, the nets set up to prevent avalanche and/or falling rocks were clearly visible (not in the photo), as are paths that lead up to the top.

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The view here is stunning, blue sky with a few clouds – the entire community of Verbier below –  the pastures on the other side of the valley, fresh air …

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Climbing wall for the energetic.

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The inside of the restaurant was open but no one wanted to be indoors.

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But we can imagine this wooden lodge, now in December with snow falling outside, it must be very cosy. A classic alpine mountain experience (if it is open).

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We said we would come back summer or winter.

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Highly recommended.

Pintxos and tapas are usually eaten in bars or taverns as a small snack while hanging out with friends or relatives; thus, they have a strong socializing component, and in the Basque country they are regarded as a cornerstone of local culture.

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It is also very convenient for tourists too. Our previous post (see part 1 here) showed various platefuls of pintxos we had along our way to some sightseeing destinations – a market here and a museum there.

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The photos shown here were all taken during one lunch period at the bars and taverns located in the old town (Parte Vieja) of San Sebastián-Donostia.

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The area is a bit touristy but it became famous partly because of the pintxos bars here. The beach, waterfront and some of the city sights are just a few minutes away.
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We were doing a kind of bar-hopping, except that the main objective was to try different kinds of pintxos.

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If you search, there are lists of the best pintxos-tapas bars in this part of town online.

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We stopped by Ganbara which is one of the better known tapas/pintxos bar. It was packed and nearly impossible to place an order.

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Cool sparkling white wine on a hot day.

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Ganbara piled their special ingredients on the counter – mushrooms and peppers.

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We ordered their famous mixed mushroom with egg yolk. It is so simple and delicious that we have made a note of the idea and will try to replicate the dish at home.

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We had jamón ibérico in croissant – it was light and yet fatty, salty too.

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We also had the spider crab baked tart and chorizo sausage roll. The idea of the tart sounded more interesting than its taste. The rolls were however divine.

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All were accompanied by skewers of something sharp and salty – olives, pickles and anchovies.

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One of the other places where we stopped do not display the tapas dishes on the counter. At Borda Berri, another well-known tapas bar, the items were all listed on a board. As far as we saw, few items were served on a stick here.

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We ordered the mushroom risotto – Arroz “Bomba” con hongos.

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We also tried grilled octopus – Pulpo a la plancha con Membrillo.

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And we ordered Oreja de cerdo con romescu (pig’s ear). The photo looked rather dull so we are skipping it here.

It was fun eating lunch this way, albeit a bit hectic. Everything tasted great here.

 

 

While visiting Northern Spain, we had several opportunities to try pintxo. A pincho (literally “thorn” or “spike”) or pintxo (Basque) is a small snack, typically eaten in bars, traditional in northern Spain and especially popular in the Basque country.

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The first place we went was in Bilbao which is not a touristy spot. There, we paid 1 euro per piece.

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Pintxos are related to tapas, the main physical difference being that pintxos are usually ‘spiked’ with a skewer or toothpick, often to a piece of bread.

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They are served in individual portions and always ordered and paid for independently from the drinks. The main differences, apart from the local ingredients, is that in southern Spain one would get a tapa for free with a drink, while one pay for pintxos in the North.

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We also had a few sticks of pintxos at a cafe, sitting in the middle of a square in San Sebastián-Donostia. These were really disappointing – for a start, the bread were not even toasted !

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We also had a snack of pintxos at the cafe inside the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao (see photos below).

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Each item had an explanation of what were in it, in Basque, Spanish, English and French.

White tuna and vegetable pasty – 3 euros

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Anchovies with Bilbao-style ratatouile – 2.5 euros

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Stuffed egg and prawn – 2.5 euros

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Roll with goat cheese, celery and sofrito – 2.6 euros

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The other place where we had pintxos was in Madrid. Lizarran is apparently a chain of restaurants specialized in tapas/pintxos.

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It was located in a touristy area and the prices were almost twice or 3x that of the other place in Bilbao.

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We wondered if tapas is free and pintxos are not, does it mean drinks are more expensive or smaller in southern Spain ?

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More pictures of tasty snacks to come.

 

 

San Sebastián-Donostia is well known for its collection of Michelin-star restaurants (at least 16 stars in one city, just behind Kyoto – see our visit to Arzak here).  It also has a fair share of popular fun restaurant such as Va Bene, just a couple of blocks from where we were staying.

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It’s a burger joint. Va Bene sounds Italian to us but it might also be Spanish (feel free to comment below). Its full name might be “Va Bene Disco Burger” (see sign below).

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Behind the red bar is a DJ setup and racks of vinyl LPs – may be it turns into a disco after dark.

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There is a disco across the street, we imagine these places would be packed after dark.
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The interior is mostly painted firehouse red and packed wall to wall with American signs from the yesteryears. Norman Rockwell posters galore.

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They have a Coca-Cola bottle dispenser and assorted vintage knick-knacks, except everything looks shiny and brand new.

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This is really a complete package of Americana that is designed to create that warm and fun environment.

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The menu is extremely flexible, every ingredient can be combined with every other ingredient in different combinations.

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One of us tried the white toast with Spanish ham and cheese.

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We went during lunch. It was not busy but a stream of people kept coming in.  This place is not far from the beach so this kind of American fast food must be popular.

Gastronomy is a major reason to visit the northern coast of Spain. At Donostia-San Sebastián, we tried the restaurant Arzak.

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Arzak received and held onto three Michelin stars since 1989 and is ranked no. 21 on San Pellegrino’s world 50 best restaurants (in September 2016).

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Juan Mari Arzak earned the stars and is now joined by her daughter Elena who won San Pellegrino’s Best Female Chef award in 2012. She came to our table and chatted with us for a bit.

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He is one of the heros of the region who started the Nueva Cosina Vasca (New Basque Cuisine) movement in the late 70s.

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They have interesting ways to serve appetizers.

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We were lucky to get a table only a few days before that evening.

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We all chose the 7-course tasting menu (excluding various amuse bouche and desserts).

Scarlet prawn with krill

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Fish of the day with patxaran and purple corn

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Red space egg – one of the famous dishes here.

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Monkfish Cleopatra (hieroglyphics in pumpkin and chickpea)

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The idea of printing edible hieroglyphics is laudable but it was not that special tasting.

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Lamb with cypress aroma

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At this point, none of the dishes stood out as particularly memorable.

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Square moon

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Additional desserts

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Overall, it was very delightful and delicious, lots of imagination has gone into creating the dishes. However, given a certain degree of anticipation, none of us was surprised or overwhelmed by the dishes.

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Check out their pretty and dynamic web site here.

We arrived at Madrid in mid-afternoon and missed lunch. So we settled for a snack at this hotel situated in the same plaza as our apartment. This was in June 2016.

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The eatery is located in the ME Madrid Hotel Reina Victoria situated in the west end of Plaza Santa Ana.

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There are several different areas – upon entry there is a bar.

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The eatery’s front door faces the plaza in the heart of the Literary Quarter (Barrio de las Letras).

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… then there is a lounge area for reading or surfing …
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There is a restaurant at the back that looked decent.

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We sat in an area where they served us snacks.

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It was really relaxing as we can watch the activities in the plaza, while sitting in the shade under a ceiling fan with a cold drink. It was sunny and quite hot outside.
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Our snacks were standards with a slight twist and they were tasty. Do not remember seeing tapas/pintxos on the menu – may be because the real kitchen is closed.
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We had quite a few of these dishes as we were hungry.

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As it got later at night, there was a velvet rope scene outside for the roof top bar next door.  But this place was packed. There was a DJ spinning, facing the plaza, so it was very lively in the evening – almost too noisy for we had an apartment facing the plaza.

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Plaza Santa Ana reminded us of Washington Square Park in NYC.

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Definitely worth stopping by for a drink, especially in the evening.

 

El Caldero is situated in a central, pedestrian-only touristy area of Madrid. It was only one block from Plaza de Santa Ana where we were staying.

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It was founded in 1973 and specializes in Spanish rice dishes – paella.

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Their signature dish is rice cooked in a cauldron (more like a bucket) as illustrated by this painting – which is much deeper than the pan typically used in cooking paella.

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We ordered the paella and the “bucket” of seafood-flavored rice.

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The waiters distributed the food on our plates – so we did not have to scoop the rice out of the bucket.

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We came here towards the end of our trip and at that time during the trip, we have not even touched rice once, having been focusing our attention on tapas/pintxos.

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According to their website (click here), which is quite colorful, they follow the cooking traditions of Murcia – which might explain the sauces, not sure if this is true.

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They claim to combine the ingredients from the Mediterranean and the Spanish interior to make the dishes –  Murcia as a province, has a coast and a vast interior land mass.

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Dessert drinks on the house !

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We enjoyed our meal there. Recommendable.

After all that Russian art that came before this post, we thought a post about a hearty meal is apt.

El Asador de Aranda is a chain of steakhouse in Spain that are well-known for their suckling lamb roasted in clay oven. We went to the one in downtown Madrid on Calle de Preciados. Given its central location, it is a bit touristy but we were hungry and a bit intrigued by its appearance.

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We suspect the restaurant wants to replicate the ambiance of a castle and therefore surrounded the entire dinning space with heavy wooden panels – the kind one expect to see in a church or a court of law.

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The almost-medieval decor gives the impression that the restaurant takes its food seriously, the old-fashioned way.

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We trusted their statement despite its touristy location.

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They claim to have over 50 years of experience in slow-roasting suckling lamb – their slogan is “el cordero como ya nadie lo cocina” (lamb like nobody cooks it anymore).

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We ordered the touristy basics – started with sangria and gazpacho.

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All good.

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The steak was good. Probably because they showered it with salt flakes just before serving.

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We order their specialty – a leg of lamb  – which they show you and then cut up into pieces. It was certainly very tender, but the steak was better if you ask me.

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Here is the clay wood-burning oven and somebody’s order of steaks and half a lamb.

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We are so used to going to the supermarket instead of the butcher – it is a bit startling to see a whole animal on a plate.

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Reliable and recommendable. The chain’s website is here.

They have quite a few restaurants around the country, three in Madrid, three in Barcelona, and three in Aranda de Duero (a small town just north of Madrid) where they started.

 

 

The earlier posts in this series are all about authentic Japanese foods that we have been eating some exported versions outside Japan (Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry, and part 4 is about wagashi.

Japanese snacks is an entire world of new experiences – fun or luxurious packaging, interesting ingredients, traditional or modern tastes – sweet, salty, spicy, fishy, in myriad combinations, or all at once.

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Our bag of crackers came from a supermarket nearby.  This slice of squid caught our eyes.

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Some pieces looked like fossils of ancient crustaceans recovered from an archaeological dig.

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Marbled with seaweed, they are tasty.

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We must be mad – taking portraits of rice crackers.

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well, after a long day of trekking around Tokyo …

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In addition to these supermarket products, we tried some fancy shrimp crackers that come in a gift box, ten individually wrapped and cost almost $20.  (we ate them quickly and are not shown here)

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While eating salty crackers, you might want something to drink. Not a problem around here. The street corner at the end of our street has ten vending machines !

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The machines sell mostly soft drinks, but also cigarettes.

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Pepsi, no Coke. Buying drinks this way is really inexpensive, most are about 120 to 140 yen.

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Marlboro and Lark.

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One machine sells alcohol, Asahi, and Kirin beer, sake and even whisky.

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The vending machines also sell warm/hot drinks – tea and coffee but also this warm sweet corn soup. It was quite tasty and felt nourishing – IT’s fav. There are more than 60 different kinds of drinks available from these machines.

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This is my favorite, Green DaKaRa – a watery juice mix or multi-flavored water. I(Chris) cannot describe it. One can work it out by deciphering the icons … ok, it has various citrus fruits, tomatoes, grapes, aloe, honey, white substances, black beans, diamonds and a gold bar ?!

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One of Sue’s fav is the peach water below.

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On the way to the airport, we bought all these drinks with the lose change in our pocket … before security check, without thinking … meaning we had to finish them while waiting in line !

The earlier three-part series of posts are all about authentic Japanese foods that we have been eating some exported versions outside Japan (Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, and part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry).

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This post is about sweets – the traditional wagashi 和菓子.

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The specialist shop – Wagashi Mame まめ – is situated just around of the corner of our apartment in Minato-Aoyama 南青山 和菓子の「まめ」. Their webite is here.

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Although we pass it every day, it appeared to be closed most of the time.  Perhaps it only opens briefly and closes when everything is sold. On several occasions, when it was opened, there was a short queue outside.

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There are several different kinds of mochis and daifukus on offer. This one looks like a giant virus.

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They all came with nice packaging.

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苺大福 strawberry daifuku

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Nice and soft.

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Boxed ready to go.

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The olive color leaf is shiso.

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Perfect to go with tea.

DS picked this shabu-shabu specialist in Akasaka, not far from her office. The restaurant is situated on the 5th floor of a building with a McDonald downstairs.

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Definitely not a easy place to find, but it was full soon after we arrived. It is unlikely that any one would stumble into this restaurant by chance.

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It is a small cozy place, all the customers sit around a circular bar. In front of the customers cut into the marble are individual mini stoves where a pot of soup can be heated for cooking.

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We ordered the special dinner set which includes sashimi and additional seafood for cooking.

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Unlike the Chinese/Southeast Asian style hotpot/steamboat, we were provided with three separate dipping sauces –  ponzu, soy and a garlicky sauce.

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The beef comes in three grades priced accordingly. One can also order pork.

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The beef are freshly sliced from a block which is frozen. I(Chris) appreciate a bit of the extra fat in the more expensive grade of beef but not the highest grade which consists mostly of fat.

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At the end, we were asked if we wanted to finish the soup with rice or noodles.

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We were given shredded nori, scallion and miso to accompany the noodle or rice.

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It was a relatively simple but very satisfying meal.

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The restaurant was founded in 1973 and their website is here.

Recommendable.

This is part 3 of a series of posts which is about re-acquainting with the authentic tastes of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan – all in the one week we had in Tokyo. Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, and for more traditional meals (click here and here to see those posts).

Part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry – staple foods of the Japanese.

On our first day in Tokyo, R and H came to meet us at Haneda airport where we were staying for one night in transit. Haneda was renovated a few years ago and has a collection of restaurants on a mezzanine just above the check-in counters. It is set up as a traditional village street with restaurants on both sides.

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We went to Kushinbo 串の坊 – a chain from Osaka specializing in deep-fried bits of food served with various dipping sauces, lemon and sesame salt. The concept is a bit like McD chicken nuggets.

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Everything they served were on a skewer (except the poached egg) and used the kind of panko that covers tonkatsu (not the type for tempura).

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They served the skewers one by one and as we finished each skewer, they served another of a different kind.

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During the week, we had dinner at a tonkatsu restaurant.

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Sue ordered a curry with hers. Simple but tasty.

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And then we had a curry dinner. I had the curry with tonkatsu. This curry restaurant Temma is on the corner of our street and the main thoroughfare Aoyama dori.

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I did not take any photo of the food itself because it was eaten quickly. But I took pictures of the plastic versions of their menu while waiting for Sue.

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I must say the skill of the artist who created these plastic dishes must be congratulated. Curry is not something that can easily be reproduced in plastic and look palatable. It could look crappy literally.

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Although we did not try it, the curry puffed pasty looked really good.

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This is part 2 of a series of posts which is about re-acquainting with the authentic tastes of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan – all in the one week we had in Tokyo. Part 1 is about noodles, and for more traditional meals (click here and here to see those posts).

Part 2 is about drinks and snacks.

We spent half a day at Skytree with CK from the US who happened to be on vacation in Japan. Skytree is Tokyo’s main broadcast tower, completed in 2012, with a commercial center on the east side of town. There were of course all manners of shops and restaurants, and also a world beer museum.

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The “museum” is really just a drinking place with several bars decorated according to some notion of what bars in other parts of the world look like.

Northern UK pub ?

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German

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We ordered german sausages as snacks.

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We chose a range of Japanese beers none of which we had heard before – Coedo, Baird, Mongozo (Mango), White by Hitachino and one that mentions red miso on its label.

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Izakaya居酒屋 is a type of informal Japanese gastropub, casual places typical for after-work drinking. Think of it as a tapas/pintxos bar if you like.

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After a hard day of walking and shopping in Shibuya, we wandered into 鶏屋 – 東方見聞録 (“chicken house – il milione” or “Chicken house – The Travels of Marco Polo”) –  it is one of seven in a chain of izakaya owned by Sanko 三光 (click here).

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This izakaya is located on the fourth floor of a building packed with restaurants – two minutes from the Shibuya JR station.

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It is a chicken house, hence, a parade of BBQ or deep-fried chicken.

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Finger-licking good.

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Since we were not able to use the tablet to order the dishes (the food is meant to be eaten slowly and ordering on-demand while drinking), we ordered everything in one go and ended up with more than what we expected.

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We even managed to order a couple of rice dishes.

tokyo food 2-8Can’t believe we ate it all.

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Kanpai !

 

On this trip, we wanted to re-acquaint ourselves with the authentic tastes of various genres of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan. More traditional fare, we had during our ryokan stays (click here and here to see those posts).

We had just about a week in Tokyo and managed to eat ramen, shabu-shabu,  tonkatsu, Japanese curry, izakaya dining, yakimono, localized Italian and French. First up is ramen. Our first bowl on the trip was eaten at the Kagoshima airport. Nothing special.

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It so happened that a few of our friends just finished skiing in Nagano and were on their way back to the US. Before they got on the Narita Express at Tokyo JR station, we met for a couple of hours and suggested that we go eat tsukemen つけ麺  at the food street (ichibangai) beneath the station.

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We heard of this noodle place – Rokurinsha 六厘舍 – through Lucky Peach, a magazine/webzine edited by David Chang of Momofuku fame in NYC.  There is a world of information and insight on ramen on Lucky Peach – start here.

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The line for the restaurant wrapped around the corner. We waited patiently for about 15-20 minutes and bought our ticket at the machine.

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The concept of tsukeman is simple: one bowl of intensely-seasoned broth and one bowl of plain boiled noodles. You dip the noodle in the broth before slurping it up.

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At Rokurinsha, they provide a small heap of ground katsuobushi (dried fish flakes). They also consider dipping and slurping as something difficult to master without making a mess – they gave us tourists paper aprons !

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We encountered a branch of Rokurinsha at Skytree – a new cultural/shopping centre on the Sumida side of Tokyo. If you want to see more about tsukemen, watch The Mind of Chef – season 1, episode 1 – in which David Chang talks about ramen including tsukemen.

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Our next ramen stop was at Ippudo 博多一風堂 –  it was a late night dinner around the corner from our apartment in Aoyama. The restaurant is located in the basement of a building with another noodle restaurant on the top floor (but it was closed).

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Ippudo is probably quite familiar for folks from New York. We tried their first store near Astor place in 2009. They have now opened a second store in midtown near where we used to live.

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Founded in 1985 near Fukuoka, they appeared to have branches in major cities all over the world – London, Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.

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We tried different varieties of ramen and were happy with all.

ramen-11Chinese-style, spicy.

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Chris asked for extra noodles.

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They seem to provide a lot of extras (8 items) on the table to customize your noodle experience.

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Last but not least, in Shibuya, Chris had a bowl of udon with oyster tempura, oysters happened to be in season.  It was delicious but the deep-fried nature of the oyster was lost in the clear soup.

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Well, our noodles experience has been limited to chain restaurants thus far – we have to return and try the masters.

We had about a week in Tokyo and wanted to reacquaint ourselves with as many different genres of authentic Japanese food as we can. We managed to have sushi (see below), yakimono, wagashi, ramen, shabu-shabu, tonkatsu, localized chinese, french and italian, japanese curry and izakaya snacks (see later posts). We had lunch with IT’s friend who made the reservation at Matsue.

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Matsue is a serious sushi place without the high-end Michelin prices. Like many of the famous sushi restaurant, it looks inconspicuous on the outside. Matsue is within easy walking distance from the Ebisu station.

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Founded in 1966, the restaurant is a little larger than some of the most exclusive sushi places (that we saw on TV), but still tiny compared to restaurants in the US or Europe. Reservation is a must here, apparently according to Tripadvisor.

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We sat at the counter facing the chef who spoke some English. Very friendly and attentive service. Sue and I ordered omakase.

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Unlike many other sushi restaurants, there was no refrigerated counter separating us and the chef. None of the fishes was on display.

Octopus and abalone.

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The chef advised us not to use soy sauce as the pieces are all appropriately flavored.

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We started with some warm dishes, like this slightly charred scallop which was to be wrapped with the toasted lightly salted seaweed, and eaten like a sandwich. It was divine.

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We can see tiny flakes of salt in a few pieces. And no soy sauce was needed.

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It was more than 10 years ago when we last visited this metropolis. The Tsukiji fish market 築地市場 was not a tourist hotspot at that time, and now it needs crowd-control measures every morning. There we had the reputedly freshest sushi in Tokyo. 

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In November 2016, in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the Tsukiji market will be closed and moved out of central Tokyo. It is the loss of a landmark for Tokyo. Several local magazines are publishing special issue to commemorate its closure, given its operation since the 1930’s. 

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The luxuriating texture of uni (sea urchin).

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This restaurant liked to use the torch on its sushi.

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Their rolls were particularly tasty as they paired the fish with some subtle pickles – excellent, never had this before.

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IT ordered a piece of unagi (eel) but it looked rather pale compared to those we had before (not grilled ?). Apparently it was great.

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We were probably the last customers to leave the restaurant. The chefs were cleaning and preparing the pieces for dinner – we saw many kinds of seafood, including snow crabs.

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Matsue was definitely an experience that cannot be had without local guidance. Highly recommended.

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FYI, Matsue has a newer restaurant of the same name at Roppongi.

 

Jomon no Yado Manten (JNYM, 縄文の宿 まんてん) was our lodgings for 3 days on Yakushima 屋久島. It is 1-minute walk from the airport, basically just across the 2-lane main road that circumnavigates the island. The airport is really an airstrip and it closes after the last flight left or landed in late afternoon.

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Between the two ryokans that we stayed, Yakakutei in Kirishima and JNYM, the onsen is hotter in Kirishima. Both had an open air section. Which is better ?  It is down to personal preference.

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JNYM has better atmosphere in that the inn is more spread out, closer to nature, and feels sunnier overall. We enjoyed staying at both.

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Like Yakakutei, we had a meal plan with this ryokan – breakfast and dinner. This option is more critical here because there is not even a 7-11 in sight – only a few vending machine at best.

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At JNYM, one of the dinners is a proper casual kaiseki.

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By this time, we were quite spoiled and expected nothing less every day.  =P

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Being on an island, the fishes were unquestionably super-fresh.

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Whole flying fish deep-fried.

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Seaweed, sour – cleansed the palate it certainly did.

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Pretty.

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Yes, we know what you are thinking, but this is how it was presented to us.

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Strange looking shellfish which we found in our soup. Never seen them before.

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Nabe

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To be fair, in our opinion, Yakakutei provided better food. Click here to see Yakakutei. But this was more than adequate.

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Since this place is catered to hikers, the meals were less elaborate or fussy, and more Western, especially in the morning.

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They even gave us packed lunch one day for our hiking. We enjoyed our time there and are happy to recommend JNYM.

With this level of service and food, why would we want to stay in a regular hotel ever again in Japan ?

 

 

During our 2-week vacation, we stayed at two ryokans (traditional inn). The first is Yakakutei 野鶴亭 (wild crane pavilion) located in Kirishima霧島 (literally, fog island) in southern Kyushu. Half-board is usually the only option for staying at a ryokan and we were happy to indulge ourselves.

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And indulged we did. Every night was a kaiseki-ish feast. Not only we ate what was set on the table, we were served a few more additional dishes, typically ending with a rice and miso soup. By that time, we could barely get up from the floor.

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On the right is a little stove for making shabu-shabu or nabe.
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Another elaborate meal.

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There were 11 courses one night. Below are the dishes presented at a casual kaiseki.

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We will not bother to translate the menu which was printed onto gold-flecked paper.

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These three dishes were brought on the same tray made of woven bamboo and a wooden frame.

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.

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.

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Two plates of fishes – this one being quite sour …

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… and sashimi

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There was chawanmushi.

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Tasty stewed meat dish but we cannot describe what the flavor was.

kirishimadinner-29 Grilled fish – yakimono (焼物) – pretty plate !

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Something crunchy

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Personal shabu-shabu – a shiizakana (強肴)

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… started by cooking the shimeji fungi

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Salad ?  Su-zakana (酢肴)

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There were barely-cooked tuna hidden underneath the vegetables.

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Finished with mouchi and fruits. Mizumono (水物)

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The snacks and meals we had were the highlights of our trip. More posts about food to come.