Yong green food

Although gluten free and vegan foods are on the rise in Melbourne, it is surprisingly difficult to find a restaurant that offers a broad range of both gf and vegan options. That’s where Yong Green Food comes in. It caters to almost every dietary requirement under the sun, with a handy colour coded menu. The chilled ambiance and roomy tables also made it a great place to catch up with visiting out of towners and friends.

The Matcha latte was an incredibly bright green colour. Yong Green offers a wide range of milks, from dairy to soy, to coconut and almond at no extra cost! I was tempted by the almond milk but decided to play it safe. I found this to be more powdery and sweet than most matcha lattes, but perhaps that is due to the soy milk.

Ryan commented that the espresso wasn’t the best, and didn’t provide him with the caffeine boost he so desperately needed. Our friends ordered a chai tea and some of the cold drinks. These seemed to go down a treat.

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I ordered the Yin and Yang Charger. Initially, I was a bit dubious because it was one of the most expensive items on the menu. However, once this spread arrived in front of me I knew that I had made the right choice. Interestingly, the highlight wasn’t the fried mushrooms. Instead, I found the squash salad to be utterly delicious. It was cold, sweet, soft and just a touch stringy. The soup also had incredible savoury depth for a vegetarian offering.

yong green food japchae

Ryan and one of my friends both ordered the Japchae. I usually make my Japchae vegetarian so I had no doubts that this could be incredible even though it had no meat. I snuck in a bite and found it much less greasy than the usual japchae at restaurants but full of flavour. The vegetables tasted fresh and light, and noodles had good bite.

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My gluten intolerant friend ordered the chili. She commented that it had a good spicy kick to it that went well with the sour cream.

The Vegetarian curry was a very generous portion. It looked and smelled exactly like a beef Japanese curry.

The Katsu was a little bit more diminutive in size. I’m assured, however, that it was very tasty. Especially when mixed with the curry sauce. We all agreed that the biodynamic rice that came with a lot of the dishes was excellent.

The service was friendly if at times a bit scattered. They also pulled up tables for our group of 6, even though it would have been fine for us to squish together on the larger table!

Raw, organic, vegan, gluten free, no onion and garlic? Yong Green Food has it covered. More than that, it serves some straight up tasty food regardless of the labels.

http://yonggreenfood.com.au/

Yong Green Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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All C’s cafe

Did you notice that there’s a lot of tasty things that start with the letter C. For example, cake, cookie, chocolate, coffee, crepe and cafe? The people behind All C’s cafe were smart enough to pick up on this and run with it.

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Located on the second floor of a fairly non-descript building in Koenji, All C’s cafe also brings another C word to mind: Cute. The interior looks like the candy covered house in Hansel and Gretal bought to life. Every corner is covered in cute candy decor. You don’t need to go on this adventure alone either because there’s also plenty of cuddly bear friends. I named my new friend Alberto, even though I’m sure he already has a name.

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Ryan’s chai latte is one of the cutest drinks I have ever seen. The smiley boy surrounded by frothy milk was almost much too cute to drink. Ryan showed much more fortitude than I did, and tucked right in. It was pleasantly spicy, sweet and milky.

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For some reason, it seems like my standard tea order in Japan was almost always apple tea. This cup was so large it almost seemed like a bowl. Although it came with sugar, the fragrant apple lent the tea enough sweetness already.

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After some deliberation, we settled on the pudding trio. I was a little disappointed to see that they were using frozen fruit on the fruits pudding. However, this feeling quickly faded when I tasted the actual pudding. It was shockingly smooth, silky and just eggy enough to be full of comforting flavour, but not too much so that it tasted like scrambled eggs. My favourite was the slightly bitter walnut and shortbread topped pudding. The caramel was slightly more bitter and the crunchy biscuit and nuts provided a really good contrast to the soft pudding.

All C’s cafe also offers cookie decorating classes and party plans. I have a feeling that if I lived in the area I would be tempted to check them out! For now, I think it suffices to say that no matter where you are in Japan it’s possible to stumble into a cute corner like this one!

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Website

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House could be the most photogenic cafe in all of Tokyo. As the name would suggest Aoyama Flower market is actually a florist. They have locations all over Japan, but the tea houses are found only in Tokyo.  Every surface is adorned with fresh seasonal flowers that change weekly.

Aoyama

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From the outside, the original Aoyama Flower Market Tea House looks like any other florist. The only way you can tell that it’s a cafe is from the line of Japanese girls waiting to get in. I’ve heard that the line can be somewhat excruciating, but I was determined to wait it out and see this cafe for myself. Perhaps it was because we visited on a weekday, but a short but very warm 20-minute wait later we were promptly seated.

 

The weekly theme was delphiniums. Each table had at least one cute little pot next to or on the table itself.

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I felt like something light so the  Tea House Salad was my choice. Initially, I thought that the entire sprigs of herbs would be too overpowering, but after making my way through this plate I found the whole thing very well balanced. The creamy but tangy dressing really brought everything together. I do still question the inclusion of the biscuit pieces in the otherwise fresh salad.

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Ryan loves sandwiches. The Roast beef sandwich on the lunch menu jumped out at him. Perhaps it’s because western style sandwiches tend to be meatier and more substantial but Ryan wasn’t all that impressed with the actual sandwich. Instead, he really enjoyed the carrot salad on the side! No mean feat considering Ryan isn’t usually one to order salads.

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Vacation tea tasted of tropical fruits. Although no sweeteners were added I found that the fruity flavour didn’t need anything else to bring out the flavour. I can imagine myself sipping this iced or hot, leisurely by the beach in a tropical country. The Iced House Tea helped cool us down on a hot day but otherwise wasn’t as remarkable as the other drinks.

 

 

 

Flower Parfait is the piece de la resistance of the whole cafe in my opinion. Delicately flavoured rose jelly sits atop crunchy biscuits and granola. The top is liberally sprinkled with even more flowers and a scoop of ice cream plopped on top. This struck the golden ratio for parfaits. Each mouthful was a contrast of textures, flavours and temperatures. The somewhat unusual addition of jelly really made it stand out.

Akasaka

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Unusually for Japan, Aoyama Flower Market tea house in Akasaka has an abundance of alfresco seating. When the weather is good you can lounge around outside, in amongst the beautiful flora and watch businessmen and trendy Tokyoites pass on by. Whereas the Aoyama location is dominated by girls chatting, I feel like this could be the right place to go on a date. The almost European feeling outdoor seating and hushed interior warmed softly by a couple of street lights and recycled lamps are positively romantic.

Unlike Aoyama, this location also has a couple of more substantial dinner offerings and a dinner menu that offers a main, drink, mini dessert and a small bag of flowers to take home!

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Farm Bowl or perhaps more accurately translated as a field bowl. I would describe this as a healthier version of taco rice. Spiced minced beef with tomatoes is placed on top of a generous serving of rice. The real stand out of this dish was actually the vegetable leafs! They tasted incredibly fresh and provided a crisp and refreshing bite when mixed with everything else.

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Vegetable gratin or more literally, baked pasta. Ryan was super happy with this dish because it was covered in delicious melted cheese, which can sometimes be a bit of a rare commodity in Japan.

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One of the most popular choices at Aoyama Flower Market Tea House is the French toast. The Mini French toast is a good way to try it without having a whole serve. Although the small size doesn’t have the same fruits and flowers scattered atop the dish, the actual French toast is still a winner. It’s soft, slightly eggy and sweet enough even without lashings of syrup.

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Mini shortcake is much more normal as far as desserts go. The cherry on top was delicious as was the cream, but I expected a little more from the cake. It was soft and easy to eat but was a little bit bland.

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Fresh Herb Tea is one of the signature drinks at all the tea houses. To my understanding, it’s really just a combination of herbs steeped in hot water. I was a little surprised at just how much the minty lemongrass taste came through. Ryan had another tropical tasting tea with mango flavours. This was also another great choice.

As part of the dinner set menu, we got to take home a small bunch of seasonal flowers. I was so happy to get a cute bag of hydrangeas, as they really encapsulate the rainy season and are some of my favourite flowers. It was a real shame that we were flying back home the next day and couldn’t take them with us! I passed them on to the girls at the hotel reception desk instead, and they were very thankful!

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The decor and menu of both cafes are different enough to warrant a visit to both locations. However, if I had to pick just one I would recommend Akasaka. The late hours and spacious outdoor seating mean that you probably won’t have to wait in line for a table. The lack of other people also made for a much more subdued and relaxing atmosphere.

Tokyo has no shortage of themed cafes and restaurants. After going to a few you’ll see a trend. The more overt the theme is, the worse the food. In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting much from Aoyama Flower Market Tea House culinary wise, thinking that it would be more about the pretty decor. However, the food was almost as beautiful and tasty as the flowers were gorgeous.

English Website

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Ramen Trio

You would have thought that after eating ramen every day in Fukuoka we would be sick of it, but such is the variety and depth of ramen culture that even in Tokyo we managed to down a couple bowls. In fact, I think ramen ended up being our most eaten meal during this whole trip. Between us, we had 19 bowls of ramen over the course of 5 weeks! So, let’s get stuck into the final 6 bowls we had in Tokyo.

Fuunji
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Fuunji serves ramen, but its specialty is actually Tsukemen. That is, thick al dente noodles are dipped into a hot broth.

On any given night (or day) there is bound to be a line of people waiting outside. However, rest assured this moves rather quickly. The main chef is very charismatic seems to be something of a minor celebrity.

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The noodles are much thicker than your normal ramen. Each strand had a good bite and springy chewiness to it that made it a real pleasure to eat.

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We both got the special tsukemen with extra egg. The special elements comes from the powder sitting atop the thick dipping broth. This is almost concentrated bonito umami flavour. To be honest, this would have already had plenty of flavour even without the special flavour bomb, but this just took it to the maximum level. Perhaps I would have done better finishing my bowl if I had chosen to pare back the salt and intensity a little!

Tsukemen is one of those foods that you need to be able to eat ASAP to get maximum enjoyment. The noodles are served cold, to capture the perfect bite. The cold noodles and aircon mean that the broth can get rather cold if not slurped up straight away. This tends to make it a bit too salty and cloying to fully enjoy.

Once you’re done with the noodles you’re invited to add warm soup to the broth to thin it out and drink the remaining liquid. I actually liked this part best, because it added another dimension to the broth and warmed me back up all the way to my toes!

As a word of warning, DO NOT, get extra noodles and meat. It may not look it, but the tsukemen is incredibly filling. I think the noodles somehow expand in your stomach and take up more room! The normal tsukemen with no extra toppings is already a very generous serving that most people will struggle to finish. That said, somehow Ryan managed to finish his extra noodles, egg, and meat and helped me with mine. We staggered back home, literally weighed down by all the noodles and soup we had just consumed.

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Ramen Afuri
Website

Ramen Afuri is known as a popular spot for ladies. The airy white walls and locations, which are located in stylish shopping meccas like Shinjuku, Roppongi, and Harajuku, are worlds away from the somewhat brusque and masculine spaces inhabited by salary men and mostly male clientele.

It’s not just the way the restaurant looks that make it a popular choice with Japanese girls, but also what it serves. For the diet, conscious Ramen Afuri serves konnyaku noodles which are almost zero calories, and offer lighter more refreshing options.

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I picked the Yuzu shio ramen, hoping for as much yuzu flavour as possible. The yuzu wasn’t immediately apparent. The first sips revealed a comforting chicken broth taste. It was only after a couple of slurps that I got the fresh citrusy yuzu taste.

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Yuzuratanmen was Ryan’s choice. We’re both not sure how much the spicy chicken oil and yuzu worked together, but this is definitely a much more flavourful bowl. It’s got a little bit of a kick but would probably still be pleasantly spicy to those who don’t regularly eat hot foods.

Props to the charcoal cooked chasu in both bowls. It was full of rich smokey flavour and gave the otherwise light broths an extra something.

Ramen isn’t the most healthy of foods. As much as I loved the fatty and rich lip smacking tonkotsu ramen of Fukuoka, I struggled to finish it. The ramen from Ramen Afuri was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The freshness of Yuzu and light-handed seasoning meant that I probably could have had two bowls. Although lack of richness prompted Ryan to comment that this was his least favourite ramen on the trip, I have to disagree. This is a ramen that I could eat regularly, guilt-free!

As an added bonus Ramen Afuri one of the few places where you can get a vegan ramen!

Ginza Kagari
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I’ve saved the best for last. In my mind Ginza Kagari is to ramen, what high-end sushi-yas are to sushi. Much like kaiten-sushi, the local run of the mill ramen-ya is a great fuss-free option. However, to really get a greater understanding of the true depth and artistry of ramen, visiting a place like Ginza kagari is essential.

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Down a rather obscure and narrow alleyway in ritzy Ginza, is a small sign with the word ‘soba’ on it. This is Ginza kagari. In keeping with Japanese courtesy, there’s an umbrella rack outside offering parasols for the sun and umbrellas for the rain while you wait. Considering that it was sweltering hot the day we visited, this was most welcome.

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There’s no vending machine in sight. Orders are taken while waiting and everyone is seated at the counter at the same time for the same sitting. It’s a little bit cramped with big bags and not much elbow room but we all made it work.

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Ginza Kagari’s tori paitan is something else entirely. The broth is thick and creamy.  From the first mouthful, there is an incredible depth of flavour. I’m not sure how else to describe this other than chicken tonkotsu. The chicken bones lend a less fatty taste to the both but don’t sacrifice anything on flavour. Tender chicken pieces and fresh seasonal vegetables sit atop the noodles. This is some of the most beautifully plated ramen anywhere.

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It doesn’t stop there either. The extra plate features the gooiest and golden eggs and a side of roast beef and shisho on a charming wabi-sabi plate.

One taste of Ginza kagari was enough to completely blow away Ryan’s skepticism about chicken ramen. Days after we got back to Australia, he was still waxing lyrical about this place.

For the most part, all the diehard Japanese fans seem to tout ramen stores in far flung and obscure suburbs as the best of the best. With limited time on our hands, we ended up in places that were much more central and rather well visited by other tourists. That said, these places were miles ahead of anything back home in Australia. If you’re ever stuck for a meal, hopping down to the nearest ramen place with a line outside is almost guaranteed to give you a good meal.

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Berry Parlour by cafe comme ca: Ikebukuro

On previous visits to Tokyo, I’ve always liked staying in Ikebukuro. It’s on the Yamanote line, connected with a lot of major train lines, bustling with activity but not as overwhelming as Shinjuku or Shibuya. In some ways Ikebukuro is a perfect crossroads for tourists, it’s full of shops, themed cafes, entertainment and anime and manga goods.

More importantly, there’s also plenty of good food. It’s well serviced by heaps of casual eateries and ramen stores, but this time I had something sweeter in mind. Most people who are are familiar with the area will immediately think of Milky Way Cafe for cute and colourful parfaits. As much as I enjoy the galaxy themed cafe I was on the search for something a little more refined.

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Berry Parlour by Cafe Comme Ca isn’t the sort of place that you can just stumble upon while looking for food. It’s located on the 7th floor of the Seibu department store. In amongst a floor of expensive glassware and tea ware is a rather inconspicuous cafe.

The atmosphere is hushed. Most of the noise comes from the soft classical music in the background and the chit-chat of the sophisticated looking ladies enjoying their leisurely afternoon. If it weren’t for a single High School student and her mum also tucking into a parfait, I probably would have felt entirely out of place.

There’s a small selection of cakes, but I think everyone knows that the main drawcard is really the parfaits. These are some of the most beautiful fruit parfaits I have ever seen. Each piece of fruit is sliced meticulously to create an impression of blossoming flowers when looked down from above. The mango parfait, in particular, was almost too perfect to eat.

Perhaps as an Australian I’ve been spoilt. The mangos didn’t have the same fragrant sweetness as the mangos I’m used to eating by the boxful in the height of Summer. However, mangos are pretty rare for Tokyo, so for most Japanese people just being able to try this parfait would be a bit of a luxury.

That aside, each delicate piece of fruit was so consistent. There wasn’t a single blemish and each differently cut slice was so similar in texture it was almost crazy. The soft slightly sweet cream was a good addition that didn’t overpower the fruit or the crunchy cereal. The sour passionfruit coulis on the side was a pretty addition but not necessary.

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I’m going to admit that Mont Blancs are one of my least favourite cakes. They seem to be ubiquitous in Japan but something about the sugary chestnut paste usually puts me off. The strawberry mont blanc seriously made me reconsider my stance. The fresh berries and cream cut through the chestnut. This was especially good with the cereal, as each mouthful was crunchy, sweet and juicy all at once. The raspberry coulis could be added if at any point it got a touch too sweet or dry. As beautiful as the mango parfait was, I’m going to have to concede that this really was the standout parfait of the day.

Berry parlour is just one of the many Cafe comme cas in Japan. Whereas the other cafes tend to focus on tarts and cakes, Berry Parlour’s short menu has parfaits front right and centre. Sophisticated but not unapproachable, Berry Parlour is the perfect introduction to high end Japanese fruit, high end Japanese parfaits and fancy knife work.

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Japan Travel Diary 2017 2 weeks in Tokyo

Tokyo

Sometimes I find it difficult to describe Tokyo. What is the real Tokyo? Is it the crowds scrambling across the road in Shibuya? The carefully tended gardens of the Imperial gardens? The frantic energy of shop girls as sales season descends upon Harajuku? The moments of reverie found in the temples and shrines dotted everywhere? Or the uniform steps of salary men and women making their way to and from work?

Although Tokyo is commonly known as a city that never sleeps, to me it is also a city of dreams. I think that I am so enraptured by this metropolis because it is all of these things that I love, all at once. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences and I will be among the first to tell people that Japan has its fair share of seedy and downright disturbing. Even then, Tokyo has an almost electrifying magnetic pull. I know that it won’t be too long before I return again.

It took me a few visits to Japan before I eventually got to my favourite places in Tokyo. Even then I am still constantly discovering new suburbs, restaurants, and shops that I can’t help but effusively gush over.

I won’t be writing a day by day run down of my two weeks in Tokyo. Instead, this post is just the start of a long list of places that I visited and enjoyed. It’s a little haphazard, but do check back as I hope to update often.

To do 
One Piece Tokyo Tower
Imperial Gardens and Palace
Asakusa
Tsukiji markets
Ghibli Museum
Temari no ouchi cat cafe
Koenji
Jiyugaoka
Shimokitazawa

To eat

Sweets 
Hidemi Sugino
Echire
Berry Parlour (cafe comme ca)
Patisserie Paris S’evile
Kao san
Patisserie Dominique Ansel
Salon Bake and Tea
Takano Fruits parlour
Pierre Herme
Patisserie Bien-etre
Parfait run down

Fine Dining 
Jimbocho Den
Le Sputnik
L’effervescence
La Table de Joël Robuchon
Beige by Alan Ducasse

Cafes
All C’s cafe
Potato Cream cafe
Aoyama flower market tea house (Aoyama / Akasaka)
Tolo Bakery and Cafe
Salon Ginza Sabou
Cafe du Lievre

Casual Eateries 
Sushi Midori
Sushi Zanmai
Sushi Dai
Yutaka
French Curry Spoon
Soup Curry
Seirinkan
Fuunji
Ginza Kagari
Ramen Afuri

Drinks 
Sakurai tea house

If you have any recommendations please let me know! I can’t wait to discover your version of Tokyo as well.

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Japan Travel Diary 2017: Nagoya

When I told my friends about my Japan itinerary half were puzzled by the seemingly random zig-zag I was making around the country. Whereas the other half commented that I was visiting all the places with good food. I think that throwing Nagoya into the mix definitely made people think that this was just one big foodie trip! With that in mind, I made it my goal to eat as many regional dishes otherwise known as, meibutsu as I possibly could.

Nagoya Day 19

After a few weeks of travel, we decided to sleep in and have a late start. It was already roughly a 35-minute journey from our apartment to Tokyo station. By the time we finally arrived at Nagoya station it was already lunchtime!

On the train ride, I spent my energies describing the foods that my friend Steph had taken me to eat whilst we were both on exchange. Visions of Miso katsu, tebasaki wings, noodles and hitsumabushi flashing through my mind, I looked up where to eat and consulted with Steph via line.

Misokatsu yabaton was an obvious choice. It was conveniently located in Nagoya station but there are branches all over the city. There are a couple of nonpork-based dishes, but I think almost everyone was there for the signature miso katsudon. A thick sweet and salty miso sauce is liberally poured over freshly fried pork cutlets. Ryan decided to compare the miso sauce with a simpler Worcester. The consensus was that the miso sauce was much better. The red miso was jam-packed with umami flavour and made it so easy to finish my rather generous bowl of rice.

As we’ve previously established, Ryan loves trains. Especially Japanese trains. It seemed like a given that we would visit SCMAGLEV and railway park while in Nagoya. The closest station: Kinjofuto is fittingly, a bit of a train ride out of the city centre.

The actual station is in a newly developed area right on the port. The bright blue sea and even brighter sky prompted me to rummage around in my bag for the camera. It was at this moment that I realised I had left it behind in the restaurant! You’ll have to excuse the lack of photos because of this.

At this point, I decided to head right back to Nagoya station to see if I could find the camera! I urged Ryan to head on into the museum without me. I figured that I would find the camera and celebrate with some shopping. Alternatively, I wouldn’t find the camera and instead, spend some time talking to station attendants and the restaurant staff and then try to lift my spirits with some retail therapy.

With considerable relief, the restaurant had found and kept the camera for sake keeping. After shooting a quick message to Ryan I went off on my merry way to do a spot of shopping. Violet Blue was surprisingly fruitful. I picked up several accessories before walking over to Osu Street.

Osu Street is a pretty typical Japanese shoutengai. In many ways, that means that it is less glitzy than the shopping malls and almost all about street-level shops. There were a few rather charming furniture and nic-nac stores and generally more of a bohemian fashion vibe. The biggest point of difference for this shoutengai is just how many food options there were! Contrary to usual Japanese etiquette people weren’t hesitating to eat whilst walking. At the end of the shops, there’s a rather impressive temple as well.

With a spring in my step, I made my way over to Sakae. Whereas Osu street is more traditional, Sakae is the true downtown of Nagoya. The wide boulevards and streets are blocked off from cars on weekends. Strolling across the wide streets and into an array of department stores may not be for everyone, but there’s a little bit of everything here, from shopping, restaurants and even a small amusement park. Sakae Nova was my favourite building if only for the Jane Marple and Innocent World stores. I arranged to meet Ryan here while I window shopped my heart out.

By Ryan’s account, SCMAGLEV and railway park was amazing. He was particularly taken with the large-scale dioramas that showed a full days worth of train networks in Tokyo and Nagoya. He also highly recommends trying to get a ticket to run a train simulator. Even the simplest of the trains was a cacophony of buttons and levers that would confuse almost everyone.

After spending our whole commute to Nagoya telling Ryan about all the tasty foods in Nagoya I managed to convince him to give Histumabushi a try. Hitsumabushi Bincho Lachic branch just happened to be nearby.

To describe hitsumabushi as unagi-don (eel on rice) would be a complete understatement. The process for eating Hitsumabushi is almost ritualistic. The rice and eel are portioned into quarters. The first portion goes into a small bowl to be tried on its own. To the second portion, one adds garnishes such as wasabi, nori and green onions. The third portion is had ocha-zuke style. That is, a mild dashi and green tea broth are poured on top of everything. I like to add a bit of wasabi at this point too. The fourth and final portion is left for you to have whatever way you liked best.

Before we left Nagoya station I quickly nipped into the souvenir store and picked up another Nagoya specialty: kishimen. Apparently many travelers and salarymen pop off the train at Nagoya station just to slurp down a quick bowl of kishimen before continuing their journey.

We weren’t able to try the real deal whilst in Nagoya so we settled for the next best thing: a comforting bowl of kishimen cooked up in our Tokyo apartment. I think Ryan described this best as flattened udon noodles. The slightly sweet broth that was included in the packet had just enough flavour to stand on its own, but mild enough to go with all the ingredients we chucked in.

Tips
With a JR pass, it is very easy to take a day trip from Tokyo to Nagoya. From Tokyo station by shinkansen, it only takes around 2 hours. However, once you get to Nagoya, JR lines are hardly used. Instead, it is well serviced by the metro. Depending on how much you plan to travel it may be more economical to buy a one day pass. I found that the walk between stations in downtown Nagoya was very manageable with plenty to see along the way. Getting downtown from the station might be more of a trek.

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Please look forward to my next post. I’ll be changing things up a little when it comes to documenting my time in Tokyo and also going back to regularly scheduled food blogging!

Japan Travel Diary 2017: Kyushu to Tokyo overnight

I was a bit hesitant to write this post up. There’s so many posts up about overnight trains in Japan and I’m not sure what else I can add to them. However, for the sake of completeness I thought that it would be a good idea to add this in.

Fukuoka – Tokyo day 17

Remember the castella from Nagasaki? Turns out 4000 yen goes a long way in castella buying. In the name of science, I thought that it would be a good idea to taste test these two different castellas. The one on the left is the standard castella from Bunmeido, whereas the one on the right is the premium castella from Fukusaya. The standard castellas was roughly 1000 yen whereas the premium was 3000 yen.

Honestly, I was already a little bit in love with the standard castella when I first tore into it in Nagasaki. Therefore, I was pretty dubious as to how much better the more expensive castella could be. My first bites left me unconvinced. Successful tastings would later tell me that the premium castella was a little less sweet but with a stronger honey flavour, a touch eggier and with no artificial taste in the slightest. Just writing about these cakes is making me salivate right now.

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While we were in Japan it was the midst of basketball season. Being the NBA fanatic that he is Ryan set up at Wired cafe for the morning to stream the games live. I choose to fill out my dairy and go shopping in JR Hakata city instead. After getting lost a few times, buying enough sunscreen and makeup to last for the rest of the trip and some meandering around we met up again, only to plan to eat even more food.

We had eaten ramen every day we were in Fukuoka and we weren’t going to stop now. Luckily Ramen issou was almost right next to the station. This store is known for its slightly frothy looking tonkotsu soup broth. Though less oily and salty than Hakata Daruma, the broth had a deep pork flavour. Instead of overloading the senses with richness, this broth had a few layers to it. There was a slight sourness to it, which had me going back to the bowl for taste after taste.

Unfortunately, after this ramen, Ryan and I took turns in feeling unwell. Perhaps it was the combination of hot sweaty weather and blasting air conditioning or all the fatty ramen we had eaten in the past few days but the next few hours were spent in a slightly painful stupor. Somehow, we managed to gather all of our belongings and make our way over to Okayama in anticipation of a very exciting trip.

A little-known fact about Ryan is that he loves trains. Perhaps he has spent too much time reading ‘Night on the galactic railway’ as it’s always been one of his dreams to take a sleeper train in Japan. On our previous trip, we had researched the possibility of taking the Cassiopeia sleeper train all the way to Hokkaido. It turned out that taking a plane was simply more cost and time efficient so we gave the whole thing a miss. Naturally, he was devasting when the Cassiopeia was discontinued before we got a chance to ride it. This time he couldn’t afford to miss taking the Seto sunrise from Okayama to Tokyo.

It’s clear from the outset that the seto sunrise is worlds away from the smooth and sleek shinkansen. The train rocked a hell of a lot. You’ll have to excuse the somewhat blurry photos! Our tickets were for the cheapest seats. I would describe these as an open capsule hotel type arrangement.  There’s nowhere to store luggage, so you’ll have to sleep with your bags. I can sleep almost anywhere and in any situation so this wasn’t really a problem for me.

In spite of the rocking we explored almost every nook and cranny. The actual cabins are fairly small. There’s not much room to move, but it appeared that there were slippers and bed sheets. Thoroughly exhausted from the heat of the day I nodded off quickly. I woke up a few times throughout the night because I found the air conditioning a bit too cold. However, for the most part I slept pretty well! My scarf doubled up as a pillow and warm blanket!

Tokyo: Day 18 morning

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Bleary-eyed we pulled up into Tokyo station. The seto sunrise seemed to be a bit of a treat for Tokyoites as well. Locals on the platforms outside were snapping pictures of the train as we started getting ready to disembark.

Riding the seto sunrise was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. It’s definitely not the most comfortable form of transport or accommodation. However, as sleeper trains become a form of luxury travel it felt a little surreal to be taking the last of what was once a dense network of night trains. Perhaps one day soon this train will also be discontinued and replaced with another luxury train. Until then, this is as close to a night on the galactic railroad I can afford.

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Tips
If you’re not in Japan for a long time it might be hard to catch the seto sunrise. Tickets can only be bought at JR stations in Japan and they only go on sale a month in advance. Although we booked two weeks and a bit in advance we weren’t able to get tickets next to each other and the station attendant told us that they were, in fact, the last tickets left!

The train provides some simple bedding but not much else. There’s a vending machine to buy rather expensive drinks but no food. It’s a good idea to stock up at the convenience store beforehand. There’s also a shower station, but if you want to freshen up you’re going to have pay. Tickets are purchasable from a vending machine in the train cabins. A ticket will give you 6 minutes of water but unlimited time to towel off and get dry.

This link provides a pretty good explanation of the different seating arrangements for each cabin and what the interior of the train looks like.

Japan Travel Diary 2017: Kyushu

Years back when I was in Japan on exchange, I became good friends with a girl whose hometown was Fukuoka. Whenever I was lost with tea ceremony club her smiles and encouragement were always there for me. A long way from home, she would sometimes show me photos of the sites and tell me about the foods that she missed. The brief tid bits she shared with me about her home instantly piqued my curiosity and with each anecdote, Kyushu rose higher and higher on my list of places to visit.

Fukuoka Day 15

My friend had recommended Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine as a bit of a day trip from the centre of the city. The whole strip of stores up to the temple and the temple itself was a lot more touristy than I expected. For visitors from Korea and China, this seemed to be the first (or only) temple they would see on their Japan trip. This makes sense considering the close proximity of Kyushu to these countries, but also took me by surprise as I wasn’t expecting this to be such a crowded area.

Somewhat unhelpfully there was very little English signage. We were a little lost at what it was that we were meant to be appreciating. However, a quick google search revealed that this temple is dedicated to a very famous Japanese scholar. Consequently, throngs of Japanese students head to it, hoping that they will be granted luck on their entrance exams. While we were there it felt like there was a whole platoon of students streaming through the whole time.

A little put off by the crowds, we made our own fun by mucking around in the amusement park nearby and observing everyone around us. I briefly pondered going for a hike in the area, as apparently the trails are very beautiful but the humidity and inappropriate foot wear choice meant that instead, we headed back to Fukuoka city.

Usually, I’m not one for themed cafes. However, the Tower records cafe x Sumikko gurashi was too cute to resist. It also helps that I have a weakness for the cute little corner dwelling mascot characters. I admit that I hugged almost every plushie that was in sight. The food was surprisingly tasty and filling for a themed cafe. The drinks, cute as they were, were definitely on the over priced side.

Ryan ordered the avocado and beef from the regular menu. He had an emotional moment as he ate chunks of meat again for the first time in days. I had to have something from the themed menu. Penguin’s locomoco was cute and delicious when doused in the delicious brown sauce on the side of the plate. The drinks, cute as they were, were definitely on the over priced side.

A little bit stuck on what to do we ended up taking the train to Ohori Park. All the online descriptions state that this is a Chinese style garden, with a pagoda and lake in the centre, but that really doesn’t do the park justice. Our little jaunt around the park ended up with a swan boat ride in the middle of the pond. While paddling and wandering we saw a multitude of wildlife and joggers making their way around.

The next stop was Momochihama Beach. As someone from Darwin Ryan loves the beach. He was pretty excited at the prospect of the finally being able to go to a beach. However, when we got to this man made beach he couldn’t hide his dissapointment. What greeted us was a sliver of sand with half set up volley ball nets and food stalls. Most of the Japanese people were sitting around on the beach and mucking around as opposed to actually swimming.

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Since it was in the area we quickly dropped into Robosquare. Admission to this little exhibit is free. Almost all of the robots are Japanese language operated, so a basic grasp of Japanese certainly helped in enjoying the interactive displays.

We made it back to Canal City just in time for a special interactive light and water show. I know almost nothing about One Peice, but Ryan is a massive fan of the series. He watched on enraptured by the special effects and story line.

Fukuoka may be famous for Hakata ramen, but there’s actually a lot more variety. Kurume ramen is the predecessor of the more well known Hakata style ramen. Instead of making new stock and adding fat to it, Kurume ramen builds from older remaining stock for their ramen broth. Located in Ramen Stadium (or the rather comically misspelled raumen stadium) Honda Shoten is one of the most convenient places to try this style of ramen.

The normal ramen was definitely very porky, but not nearly as fatty as the ramen we tried the day before. This was actually a touch on the lukewarm and overly salty side. If I was in Melbourne I would be ecstatic to find ramen of this quality anywhere, but in Japan this was an average but satisfying bowl.

The special chilli ramen was a little bit more unique. On the spoon was  a little ball of fat, for extra richness and flavour. When it was all melted the broth was definitely oilier and stuck on the lips a little bit more. It was also surprsingly spicy!

Fukuoka – Kumamoto Day 16

Perhaps it was the humid Kyushu weather but we had a few late starts while in Fukuoka. Our first stop of the day was a pasta restaurant in Hakata central. I was on the search for anything with mentaiko and this pasta was sadly the closest that I got.

As soon as we got to Kumamoto station we saw Kumamon left, right and centre. It’s safe to say that this ever popular bear mascot can be found almost everywhere in the city. I’m very fond of the derpy looking Kumamon and I will readily admit that it’s only thanks to him that I know what and where Kumamoto is.

It seems that in the South of Japan trams feature much more heavily. In Kumamoto the trams have a lot of rustic charm, and actually vaguely reminded me of the city loop trams in Melbourne.

Our first stop was Kumamon square. This was actually one of the most crowded areas we went to. Tourists from Taiwan, Hong Kong and an array of other Asian countries were all cooing over the cute goods available. Kumamon even found a new fan in Ryan, as he appreciated all the collaboration items and variety show specials in the area.

We somehow lucked upon advertising for local school’s cultural festival. For those that don’t know, Japanese high schools and middle schools hold cultural festivals every year. These are almost like big festivals that are open to the general public. the classes and clubs put on various stalls, stores and performances for those visiting. As part of the advertising we managed to see these talented kids performing all over the shopping district.

We couldn’t go to Kyushu and not try the local delicacies. Yokobachi is a bit of an upscale izakaya where there’s a bit of everything Kyushu. Of particular note was my first taste of basashi and  motsunabe. I pleasantly surprised by the clear mostunabe soup which reminded me of traditional Chinese broths.

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We actually didn’t visit any of the historical attractions in Kumamoto. The closest we got was seeing Kumamoto castle in the distance. Even if we had wanted to I’m not sure if we would have been able to see all of them, as they are still repairing after devastating earthquakes. That said, I dare say we stumbled upon something even better and more memorable.

If you’re even in Fukuoka at night, you have to go to a Yatai. Although Japan is an eater’s dream I find that there’s not much in the way of street food. That’s where Yatai come in. Originally found Japan wide to feed the hungry working classes at all times of the night, Yatai are now almost exclusive to Fukuoka.

Vendors set up their tiny stalls as evening falls, and a mix of locals and tourists all cram in together to enjoy the food. By daylight, everything is all cleaned up, and it’s as if no one was ever there. We had already eaten earlier that day in Kumamoto but Ryan couldn’t resist ordering a ramen. I settled in with a high ball, apparently the drink of choice at a Yatai and dug into some mentaiko and grilled skewers.

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When I told locals that I was going to Fukuoka they would always mention that the ramen was top notch and so were the girls! I’m sure that’s a winning combination for almost everyone.

Tips

If you’re interested in seeing Kumamon in Kumamon square he is in his office on certain days. Check the website for the times and dates to see him! There is a warning on the side of the website saying that it might be really crowded and visitors restricted.

When taking the tram in Kumamoto it is possible to switch trams and just pay for the one fare. Make sure you talk to the tram conductor and they will issue you a ticket, which allows you to make a transfer within 15 minutes without paying extra.

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Japan Travel Diary 2017 Hiroshima

Japan Diary 2017 Hiroshima

Onomichi – Hiroshima day 11

At this point, Ryan and I split. He took the camera to the peace park and peace museum whilst I decided to head into town and go shopping. Although I decided to give the museum a miss this time, I urge you to visit it if you haven’t already. It is a very sobering and sombre experience. The peace park and A-bomb dome take on so much more meaning after visiting the museum. Even just walking through the park gives you a moments pause.

The park itself is very serene and easy to stroll through. You’ll see Japanese people and foreigners alike paying their respects at various monuments. The children’s memorial dedicated to Sadako is always very popular. I remember learning about her story in library classes. The hope and futility inherent in her actions as she prayed to get well always stuck with me. Numerous cranes from around Japan and the world are sent to this very spot, so to see them all gives a real sense of our shared humanity and the solidarity that should be taken in opposing atomic warfare.

On to less serious things, shopping in downtown Hiroshima (Hondori) was surprisingly fruitful! I don’t have many photos but shopping in Hiroshima was very fruitful. The wide streets and street level shops of the shoutengai made it easy to browse even for unfamiliar.

I picked up some really cute Tokimeki Gabriel necklaces from the chouchou ange shop in Sunmall. If you’re into anime merch or alternative fashion Sunmall is probably the best place to shop. The 3rd floor onward was dominated by Lolita, anime, doll and second-hand goods.

On the other hand, PARCO is a mix of more mainstream brands and a lot of the most well-known gyaru brands as well. I managed to snag some bargains here as well! Ryan found something that he liked as well: a Gundam model exhibition that happened to be on while we were there.

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Dinner wasn’t too far away from the Okonomiyaki mura is less of a village and more of a building. From the second to the fourth floor, there are numerous okonomiyaki stores, all specialising in Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. It is fairly touristy and I can’t vouch for it being the best okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, but I doubt that you can really go wrong with any of the stalls inside. As a bonus, it seemed like most of the stalls were pretty English friendly.

On this visit, we tried Momotaro okonomiyaki located on the third floor. According to the guide outside, this store has been run by the same people for over 50 years and the taste hasn’t changed since! I’m a big fan of Hiroshima okonomiyaki. Seeing all the layers gradually being built up and then cooking down is a fun process is also incredibly appetising.

Ryan’s okonomiyaki had extra pork, cheese, and mochi, which is my recommendation if you’re hungry and after something a little bit different. The cheese and mocha both melt to create a chewy and stringy mouthful.

I had a regular okonomiyaki with extra squid. We both chose soba noodles, as it is more traditionally Hiroshima style, but udon noodles are also an option at many places. The addition of noodles in Hiroshima style okonomiyaki means that just one of these is a very filling meal in and of itself. I usually ask for less noodles, which most stores are happy to oblige with.

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After the hearty meal, and a quick game of Taiko drumming we wandered back to our apartment. Hiroshima at night is very relaxed. Wandering away from the city centre, most everyone was making their way home and locals were perched in bars, enjoying their weekend.

Hiroshima – Miyajima day12

If you look up things to do in Hiroshima, most everyone will tout a trip to Miyajima. The scenic views mean that it is a popular spot with both Japanese people and international tourist alike.

We had a bit of a sleep in and a late start, so we didn’t arrive in Miyajima until almost 1 pm Even on the ferry over to the island it is easy to catch sight of the giant red tori gate for which Miyajima is famous. From the port, we were greeted by many hungry and sleepy deer. Unlike the deer in Nara, the deer in Miyajima are fairly gentle and docile. Although they approach people for food, they don’t tend to head butt or chase people for more and they are very comfortable with being touched gently. That said, my selfie attempts with them weren’t all that successful!

The typical tourist path in Miyajima is fairly linear. Numerous stands and shops lead the way to the shrines and mountain walks. We couldn’t resist making a few stops to try the local specialties. Above are an oyster curry pan, (that I accidentally dropped some of onto my white shirt!), a plate of oysters, yaki momiji manju (my favourite flavour is cheese and Ryan’s is custard), normal chocolate manju and sakura ice cream monaka.

We arrived a little past high tide, meaning that the water didn’t come all the way up to Itsukushima shrine. Although we may not have seen the shrine at its most picturesque, we happened to stumble upon a Shinto wedding ceremony taking place. I love just how different traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies are, especially the bride’s white gown and some of the guests decked out in their kimono.

A visit to Miyajima just doesn’t seem complete without seeing the views from Mount Misen. The ropeway up to the peak seems to be a bit of an attraction unto itself! The very steep ascent had me and some of the other people riding the rope way a bit freaked out. No time to rest though! From the final cable car station stop, there’s still a bit of a hike up to the very highest observatory tower. I won’t say that it was the easiest thing to do under the heat but the view was well worth it. It helps that at the observation deck there are places to lie down and just admire the view.

I reasoned that since we were both wearing runners it made sense to walk back down to the town. All things considered, I think we had a pretty good time with all the nature, water and stairs.

As soon as we got back into town, in Ryan’s words, I got suckered into buying something. Caskera tea latte from Miyajima Itsuki Coffee ended up being one of my more delicious impulse buys. As a bonus, the takeaway cup ended up being a great prop for photos with the Itsukushima shrine at low tide.

Last time I went to Miyajima, we just missed low tide. It was still a bit marshy and I couldn’t go straight up to the gate. However, this time we had timed our descent perfectly and managed to walk through the gate and straight to the sea!

After all that walking we couldn’t resist treating ourselves when going back through the town. Yaki moiji manju ice cream, anago manju and fried chikuwan were the order of the day before heading back to the mainland.

In a bid to get to the Jump store before it closed so that Ryan could show me some shirts he wanted her rushed over to downtown Hondori. This ended up being a bit of a fruitless exercise as it was already shuttered by the time we arrived. Nevermind, not too far away is one of my favourite cafes in all of Japan!

From the outside, Chano-ma looks like it could be any other decent Japanese style café. The inside is a completely different story. For the most part, the open dining space is made up of pillows. The walls are likewise lined with even more pillows! Dinners are invited to sit down on the futon like floor any enjoy their meal surrounded by soft fluffy pillows. You could even lie down as you tuck into something delicious and no one would tell you off.

I enjoyed the variety on offer with the deli set. In particular, I enjoyed the pork miso soup which had a nice depth of flavour and spiciness from shichimi. The hayashi rice had a strong tomato flavour and was likewise excellent. The mango, mint and rosemary parfait was definitely one of the stranger combinations that I tried while in Japan but somehow it worked out to be pleasantly refreshing and easy to eat.

To be honest I wasn’t really looking forward to Hiroshima. In my previous visit, I had already been to all of the main attractions that interested me and I wasn’t really all that sure what else the city could offer. In spite of this, I had an amazing time. Precisely because I didn’t feel the need to fit in all the typical tourist sites it felt like I had time to enjoy the general vibe.

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Tips

The peace museum is currently undergoing renovations and won’t be fully open again until 2018. When I visited in 2014 the whole museum was open and there was so much in the compact space that it was simply overwhelming. According to Ryan even with most of the wings closed, you can spend a long time in the museum going through the exhibits and watching the testimonies of victims.

There are a few different ways to get to Miyajima. See Japan Guide. If you have a Japan rail pass I highly recommend taking the rapid train from Hiroshima station to miyajimaguchi and then riding the JR ferry over to Miyajima.

Although we took the ropeway up to Mount Misen, walking up and down is definitely doable if you factor in enough time for it. I recommend going up the Omoto or Daishoin path as the incline is more gentle and there are fewer steps. Going down I recommend the Momoji Dani path. It has more stairs and is considerably steeper but only takes about 50-60 minutes to go all the way back down to the town. As a side note, I’m of good health but not very fit at all, so don’t worry if you’re not fit either.

The final ropeway down ends rather early, so make sure you can catch that if you’re not keen on a walk back. In fact, most of the shops in Miyajima close fairly early. When we got back to the pier at around 6 pm and almost all the shops were either closed or closing up for the day already!

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