Japan in a dash

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A week ago I just finished a Kaizen healthcare tour in Japan. It’s not a holiday event, It’s a business trip. But, I managed to take a few of quick shots of food collages we’ve been tasting.

Unfortunately some of my foodgasm experiences I couldn’t get my phone fast enough because it reached my mouth  first. I tasted some of the best sushi in my life from just by the corner cramped between offices building at Shinagawa. The sushi master served me the best eel sushi I’ve ever tasted in my life. I usually think of eel as a so so dish. And some of japanese restaurant in Indonesia served grilled unagi that are good. But this mind blowing-ly excellent. I didn’t remember if what I eaten what fresh water eel (Unagi) or sea water eel (Anago). I’m sure the waiter told me in Tarzan style sign languange (she didn’t speak english. But said yes when I ask “Is this eel?”), or but maybe I’m too hungry to listen. Okay, back to the Unagi/Anago suhi I had. The eel flesh is so fluffy, not oily at all (It usually is at regular sushi in Indonesia) and the most important thing the seasoning was so mild and balanced (usually it will be too sweet for me). Oh my God! It’s like eating cloud on the bed of vinegar rice. Totally foodgasm experienced. And I went there twice, still forgot to click my phone. The tuna, salmon, shrimp and octopus sushi also very very good. When I told the other tour participant about this, some of them said they also experience A++ sushi at other neighbourhood at Shinagawa. So, look for teeny tiny sushi restaurant when visiting Shinagawa for mind blowing experience. Oh the price isn’t that expensive either. My colleague and I ate a big plate of assortments sushi, plus two extra shrimp, a grilled tuna cheek, a bowl of salmon sashimi and four extra eel sushi and I payed for both of us for 4800 Yen.

So here are some pictures of the other food experience I had while dashing through Japan in between heavy schedule of the tour. Enjoy!

1. we had vegetarian lunch

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The veggie appetizer

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veggie main (rice with veggie croquet and salad)

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veggie dessert (rather awesome sponge cake with ice cream)

2. Izakaya style dinner

 

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Appetizer 1 cold tofu with dressing

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appetizer 2 tuna and white fish (forgot the name)

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tapas style main 1 a little of everything from fish, egg to seaweed. The main 2 course is mushroom rice, forgot to photo but it’s the best food for that night

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forgot what it was

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roasted tea ice cream for dessert. like a frozen smoke but sweet.

 

 

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Do you need diet friendly but tasty snack? My Spicy Baked Spring Rolls

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Spicy baked spring roll, No dipping sauce needed

Spicy baked spring roll, No dipping sauce needed

Baked spring roll, no extra oil from deep frying

Baked spring roll, no extra oil from deep frying

I was cleaning my refrigerator and found left overs of pickled octopus I brought from Japan months ago and last night baked calamari. A little bit surprised and felt guilty, since I insist on buying the octopus and happy with them as I posted then here.

I have to make something tasty out of it. I can’t let any food wasted without trying to save it or add more values to it. So, I search for inspiration from the rest of my fridge and I felt a light bulb went on in my head.

I rinsed the pickled octopus, to reduce the acidity and pungent smell then chopped it finely. I took my calamari with the rest of baked garlic and ginger then chopped all of them finely too. Now, I got tinny calamari and octopus bits.

I cut half of plain white cabbage from refrigerator and sliced them into thin narrow stripes. I was thinking about adding extra spiciness to compliment the natural acidity and fishiness of both seafood. I had ready to use Sambal Terasi (fish paste based Sambal), that add saltiness besides spiciness.

As my favorite teve chef Jamie Olliver said, taste it! taste it! and taste it!. A couple pinches of sugar, balance everything and the mix was ready to go. I got left over spring roll pastry and then used it to wrap the mix into neat packages. Well, some of them weren’t that neatly wrapped, since I had to put the mix as much as I can into one sheet of pastry, so everything will be ready to bake.

Light brush of last drops of olive oil, continued with margarine to my cookie sheet and the spring rolls. I put them in the oven and left it to do other chores.

When I smell something delicious, that remind me of  grilled fish or grilled calamari, I turn the oven off and let everything still inside the oven. When it’s the time for lunch, I took my spring rolls out and taste them.

To be honest I didn’t think it will taste than great. Fortunately It was delicious. I ate three of them straight away. The pastry become so crunchy without the greasy after taste.

I don’t even need any dipping sauce. It salty, It sour, crunchy and slightly sweet. I love it! It only veggie and protein! Okay some carb too, but It still healthier than deep fry spring rolls.

My lesson from today is:

Baked spring roll with any left over vegetable from the fridge will be my to go food when I crave for crunchy salty snacks.

Look what I found! Japanese summer snacks (2)

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I found the sweet ones on the same shops. A rather large shops (compare to the others) at Ameyoko market. One thing I could say about this shop, it’s adorable but quite busy. I don’t catch the name, but it near the cherry vendors. The front part of the store are piles of crunchy snacks, followed with spreads of sweet treats. All kind of mochi cakes; in square, round, rectangle, character shaped; translucent or colorful type; regular red bean paste filling or chocolate, almond, strawberry, pineapple and a whole lot more. The spongy cakey snack like Kastella, Dorayaki and others with red bean paste fillings. The assorted packed, contain the salty crackers and sweet treats. The next shelf is my target, all things chocolate.

They have so many varieties of chocolates truffles with different fillings in different brands. I’ve tried some of them at my previous visit, quite soapy and not very good. I’m sticking to my plan, buying as much as Kit Kat in different flavor I could find. Unfortunately, there were only two flavors available: Green tea and Dark Chocolate. I grab a bunch of those  and put it to my cart. Since then, every time I can find snack shops or Konbini, I always look for different Kit Kat flavor. Unfortunately, can’t find the summer special flavor or package yet.

Ooops, I forgot. I found a few of funky flavor at one of the corner of the Tokyo central stations. It’s a Cantaloupe,  chocolate orange dan strawberry. But the price they tagged on it, Oh my God! unreasonable. The smaller package size with the one I bought from Ameyoko for 215 Yen, they charged 800 – 1200 Yen. I think, for a tiny chocolate wafer with uncommon flavor, It’s not worth the money.

Moons stone on ceramic jewel box

Moons stone on ceramic jewel box

I’ve seen this at Singapore before. Looked a colorful tiny bevel for aquarium, they called it Moon stones. It really is a milk chocolate in candied colorful shell, carved like stones. It quite tasty and cheap too, I bought it in a huge plastic package to share with my niece and nephew back home. By the way, the ceramic case is actually a jewel box given by  a friend of a friend as memento from Japan.

There are a whole lot more snacks, food and spices at stores and stall in Ameyoko market. If I could, I want to bring a sample of every one of them, but that will cross my budget limit. At least I have my personal mementos from Japan, salty and sweet eatable nick nacks.

What’s your most interesting food/beverages mementos from traveling?

Damn, I miss the spring and can’t meet the summer!

Last chance blossom
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Have you ever have had a vacation in the middle of two season?

You must know what I’m talking about. Its the end of Spring, where all the flowers tired to bloom and already start to wrinkled hanging on a thread before fall to the ground. The temperature isn’t rising yet, so there are still coolness. But the rain and wind also accompany them.

Last tree with cherry blossom @Tsuruma Park

Last tree with cherry blossom @Tsuruma Park

Specially when your destination is Japan. A favorite place for all kind of storm; typhoon, cyclone, etc. Rain drops playing your mind everyday: “Maybe just quick sprinkle this morning”, “Oh it’ll rain heavily all day!”, “Probably there will be huge storm and earthquake tonight”. Those lines are something you don’t want to hear on your vacation week. Even though you are getting transportation and accommodation at the lowest fare you could imagine. Apparently, money speaks with mother nature about this.

Foggy day at Kanayama

Foggy day at Kanayama, I’m hiding at my Hotel

If you are looking for the regular touristy experience, June will be the wrong time to come to Japan. It’s all the above situation happen, adding extra mental burden and anxiety. But, if you are looking for holiday in  bargain, then this is the perfect time. Don’t forget to bring umbrella, raincoat and extra socks. Oh and a huge pile of good mood too. So you can still smile under your umbrella during heavy rain when you visit the theme parks.

Although June is supposed to be the early phase of Summer, but the holiday isn’t started yet for Japanese. If you like to dressed up in “holiday outfit” like me, then you’ll see the difference with everybody else in the subway. Yeah, they all still wearing suit and formal shoes. The women still keeping their bamboo woven bags in the closet. Stockings and leggings are applied with shorts or skirts. Mean while yours truly, only bring all summery outfit. Sheer and cool shirts, summer skirts, shorts (with no legging) and absolutely no jacket. You can imagine how I feel in the middle of extra breezy day.

Rainy afternoon by Sumida River

Rainy afternoon by Sumida River

That doesn’t mean you can’t having fun or enjoying the vacation. Because everybody else still working, you won’t get long line of queue in tourist destination. There are lower price everywhere, additional bargain on weekdays. Museums, theme parks, certain trains and busses, hotels, traditional markets, arts and crafts, everywhere. Street food to gourmet food, still at “before holiday” price. You can also see the hustle and bustle pre-summer excitement. Advertisement for summery products; from clothing line to beauty products, vitamins even teas. It’s all fun to watch.

Left over from last night storm under cleanse blue sky, the holiday must go on!

A pile of wrecked umbrellas, left over from last night’s storm under cleanse blue sky. But, the holiday must go on!

Although I won’t lie that I feel a bit sad when my holiday over, I have to come home when everybody else just about to start the cheerful summery holiday.

Last chance blossom

Last chance blossom, traces of Spring

My Japanese Culinary Guru … Manga books

Watching street vendor in action
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Chibi Maruko-chan house displayed at Odaiba Bo...

Chibi Maruko-chan house displayed at Odaiba Bouken-Oh 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

During my first visit to Japan, I am a sucker for everything and anything related to street food and snacks in Japan. The excitement   makes me becoming those kind of tourist. You know, the ones that aggressively cheerful that almost fainted every time see something a tiny bit interesting? Yeah, sure you do.

 

My travel compass during that time is ….(I’m a bit ashamed telling you this) … my memory. No, not because I’ve been there before. Well, it might be more suitable if it called: My Impression. Slightly posh and sound sophisticated, right? Not really.

 

I’m scheduling my travel based on the Impressions I got from Japanese comic books and movies. Okay, now you know one of my humiliating secret. Apparently, I am quite shallow and peachy for the pop culture. No matter how many and travel articles about Japan I read, the comic books giving me the most impressive information.

 

Since my early teen years, I’m a big fan of Japanese comic books. Back then in Indonesia, we don’t called it manga, just comic books. Starting from girly and romantic stories like Candy Candy, Sailor Moon; to thriller like City Hunter, Yugi Oh, Detective school Q, Kindaichi case files and Detective Conan. And then I need quick stress reliever in humorous manga such as Shin Chan, Kobo Chan, Chibi Maruko Chan, Kariage Kun, Doraemon and Dragon Ball. I often getting in and out reading food related stories too; Yakitate!! Japan and Born to cook are just to name a few.

 

Now, I still read comic books but limited only to my all time favorites: Kariage Kun, Kobo Chan and Detective Conan.

 

 

I gathered fractions of Japanese culture and subcultures from those comics, fragments of events-locations-food from it story board. Since I don’t trust most of popular Japanese restaurant in Indonesia serving the authentic flavor on it dish, I’m dying to sample Nippon culinary. From the most traditional ones to the newly found or trending ones. I’m an omnivore eater, I eat everything except pork and expensive food. Yeah, I do come with string budget. Therefor, I’m prowling every street vendors (with price tags under 500 Yen), station’s mini markets and local markets to taste what I read-heard-imagine from the comic books.

 

Every afternoon, sometimes even at 8 pm, finishing my trip for that day- I always went to the Konbini. It was a convenience store that opens 24 hours and loads with affordable food, also snacks. Japanese town, from urban cities to it’s rural areas, are flooded with modern mini markets. Lawson, Seven Evelen, Family Mart are the most popular ones. Everytime I see those harshly lit store, at night or day, I must come in and take a look. When I see food that intriguing, I buy and tried them. Some are ‘Okay’; the other just plain Horrible; but there are few of them that are great.

I’m scanning the ready to eat cold food, just observing the different range of Onigiri and Bento available. I’m starving for Onigiri since I saw it on Kobo Chan and Detective Conan books. I know how rice taste like, I know how Nori sheet taste like and I’m familiar with some of the filling. But the experience holding the triangular or round shaped Onigiri with your fingers, biting the pickled Umeboshi or Kombu in the center are unimaginable.

Onigiri gallery at Konbini

Onigiri gallery at Konbini

I’m directing my steps to the bread and cakes aisle, hoping there will be Dorayaki cakes with fillings other than red bean paste. By the way, I knew about this cake from Doraemon movie and comic books. There also a whole lot other cakes that taste quite similar with Dorayaki with red bean paste, such as Anpan, Daifuku and Taiyaki. The Japanese sure like their red bean paste, because you can find it in most deserts and sweet snacks. Hot and cold.

luxury dorayaki, more bean paste!

luxury dorayaki, more bean paste!

When Yakitate!! Japan manga featured Yakisoba sandwich, I’m curious. In my mind, I can’t understand the concept eating fried noodles between two slices of bread. After I tasted it, I can relate to the umami taste and filling sensation. It remind me the time when I feel bloated after eating french fries sandwich. Carb on carb with carb sauce. Triple threat meal!

I sample Takoyaki everytime I see them sold by the street. I even sample the re-heated version ones, and never want to again. Ever. The best one composed from freshly made batter, good chunks of octopus in it and flavorful mayo with green onions sprinkle on top. I got the best ones at Osaka by the Dotonbori alley. I’m craving for Takoyaki ever since I read about Octopus Ball snacks eaten during summer or at high school bazaar from romantic manga. When Kariage Kun posed as Takoyaki seller, it reinforce my will to sample it as much as I can.

Waiting for Takoyaki

Waiting for Takoyaki

The next of my list are a long line of noodles in a bowl. I’m salivating when Kobo and his family eating Ramen, when Kariage Kun sit on Soba restaurant and slurping cold soba. I envy Kobo’s father when he eats hot udon with a lot of chill flakes to keep him warm during winter. I’m imagining different level of chewiness or al dente within different Soba made from variety of flour.

To keep it concise, I’m hooked with a bowl of noodles concept. Served hot or cold, with or without protein. I went to ShinYokohama Ramen Museum and Momofuko Ando Instant Ramen Museum, motivated by my passion for that concept. Unfortunately, since most of ramen using pork, I must extra careful. But that won’t make me down, because I can splurge with Soba and Udon. I sampled it in standing restaurant at train stations, at underground pedestrian at regular restaurants. I can’t find any foul in a bowl of hot Soba or Udon with Sweet Tofu or Tempuras. Every merchant served good broth, hot-clear-savory soup with a hint of sweetness. I often put a lot of chill flakes, since I like spicy food. I also like the cold udon or soba in a hot day. But the hot ones are the best.

More chilli flakes for my Udon please ..

More chilli flakes for my Udon please ..

One of Kariage Kun story board shows him eating Soba while waiting for the train. He wasn’t finish eating the whole bowl yet, but his train arrived so he must run for it. After work, he come back to the restaurant and asking for his left over bowl. The merchant gave him puzzled look. That what came across to my mind, when I found this vendor literally by a hole in the wall. Crammed at the side of stairs in subway stations. I have to try it. Eating while standing, slurping the hot noodles as fast as I can while balancing my self between the second and third steps of the stairs. It was delicious.

Soba from a hole in a wall

Soba from a hole in a wall

I also tried variety of crackers similar they showed it on manga book. Rice crackers with nori, black sesame flavored crackers, assorted nuts in different flavors. Variety of sodas, canned and bottled drinks often featured in romantic manga. Well, I’m taking it further more. I sampled most of vending machined drinks from tea to coffee, from ordinary juice to amino acid power drinks, except the one with alcohol.

Speaking of drinks, I forgot about iconic summer treat: shaved ice. Kobo likes it, Kariage use it to tease his boss, K On girls enjoys different flavors of it. So when I have saw a vendor, I must tried it. My first time sampling Kakigori was at Disneyland. It was hot afternoon, I’m a bit noxious with overflowing plastic joyous around the theme park or just having mild heat stroke. I saw a small cafe-like merchant under the shade. Hiding from the sun, I enjoy the large portion Kakigori with matcha syrup and ice cream. It was delightfully refreshing. Bring all my sanity back and ready to be cheerful again, patiently waiting for the Disney night parade. The next time I saw another vendor, I tried different flavor such as cherry, lemon and blue hawai. I recommend to stay away from blue hawai, food with color you can’t find in nature is better to avoid. The other ones are tasty.

dressing up shaved ice

dressing up shaved ice

Mochi, one of the iconic cakes of Japan. I tried the big ones, the small ones, original red bean paste flavor, fusion kind ones with kinky flavors (chocolate, strawberry, coffee, green tea, sesame, etc). I also sample the grilled version on a skewer and dipped into sweet-savoury sauce. I don’t like it. Kashiwa mochi featured in one of Kobo Chan books. He likes it so much that he almost eat the one prepared for his grandma. I imagine it would be so delicious that little boy would want more. Well I sample one at Shin Osaka stations and it taste similar with regular mochi with a hint aroma from Kashiwa leaves. I guess the symbolic meaning from the cakes that make it appealing more than just the flavor

Kashiwa mochi for Child's Day

Kashiwa mochi for Child’s Day

Reading about Conan Edogawa riding Shinkansen with Ran Mouri and eating bento, I’m salivating. More over, the case he tried to solve related to victim’s bento box. The picture showed beautifully arranged food in a box. So, every time I’m taking Shinkansen train I always buy bento box. Since it kind a bit pricey, I have to pick the cheapest one and not contain any buta aka pork in it.

bento untuk makan siang

bento untuk makan siang

I noticed even in the cheap ones, they cut the vegetables neatly. Every slice of anything on it is flavorful. Some even bother to give extra soy sauce or fish souce in cute package. I tried ordinary rice bento, soba bento and unagi rice bento to name a few. For my palate, all those bento are too sweet. It taste one dimension. Savoury with a touch of sweet. So, I often add my secret weapon. Sambal (hot sauce) in sachets. A drop of spiciness bring the food to the next level or more enjoyable.

Until now, I still reading manga books. The subtle humor in satire like Kariage Kun and innocent like Kobo Chan just fit me right. Less violent picture and scientific text-book style explanation from Detective Conan never bored me. Some people may call it pop culture, un sophisticated and for the low end taste level. I don’t care. I like it and it makes me learn about different culture from daily life activity in fun way.

 

 

 

Pretty little liars ….

Konyaku flare
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Frozen juice drops; gives new attitude in (synthetic) juice drinking

Frozen juice drops; gives new attitude in (synthetic) juice drinking

You could never found food  with sloppy presentation in Japan. Most of them are very neatly shaped, packed and arranged so beautifully that burning the flame of desire to buy and tried it. But, here’s the fact:

The more beautiful and complicated wrapping the food has, it most likely have the most unpleasant flavor. Either too sweet, too salty or too fragrantly and too ‘chemically’-taste.

Let me show you some of them.

The frozen juice drops are hitting Konbini hard during the summer. It was one of the few purchases at Kobini that ends well. Although the juice alone has that artificial taste, but if you enjoying it cold  and frozen, it almost unpalatable. The genius concept of this product is, the capability to provide multi flavor fruits in small amount. It has the right element of surprise. When my teeth biting the frozen ball, inside the hard shell- the granita juice are oozing out. Literally burst of flavor.

The snacks also infiltrate formal seminar, one of my colleague attend. To company their coffee (or tea) break, sweet treats are provided. They all are looking gorgeously colorful, even humorously cute. Unfortunately it didn’t taste great. At least not to our palate. The rainbow squares are Konyaku. It has firm jelly consistency with sweet flavor. The problem is not about the consistency. I like gelatinous food like tendons, cartilage, agar and jelly. It’s the bland sweet that bugs me the most. It felt cheap, synthetic (again) and annoying. No matter what color you have, its all taste the same. Cold flat bland chemically taste -squishy sweetened food.

Konyaku flare

Konyaku flare

The other cakes, although have different textures and shape, have similar flavor. Its the red been paste. The thin and round one has crunchy crepes sandwich with the paste in the middle. The puffy and square one is like dry sponge cake filled with the red bean paste. Usually, I like red beans. I’m addicted to red bean and shaved ice desserts from Palembang, Indonesia. But God, there are just too many sweet snacks with different names, shape, color and textures using same red bean paste.

Enough is enough. I feel violated, betrayed and cheated on. We do have certain expectation when we saw cute packaging, beautiful colors and creative arrangements. When the taste not meet the expectation, we are dealing with liars. Those cute snacks are just Pretty little liars.

sweet and tea

sweet and tea