Tag Archives: sake

Hidden & delicious Osaka

I have a confession: this is maybe not the MOST unusual or hidden side of Osaka because, I mean, this city is pretty legendary in terms of WTF spots. However, since I didn’t do the usual Osaka circuit, I do feel I have a few new insights to bring to the table (haha, yes I’m that clever!). So pop a takoyaki in your mouth, and read on!

Takoyaki Baby

Ya, let’s start with takoyaki, because it’s Osaka. You can get them everywhere. You can BECOME a takoyaki if that’s what your heart desires. Since I’m currently trying to become a yuzu, I’ve settled for just eating them instead.

There was no way I was coming and going from Osaka without having their famous takoyaki, and so I initially settled on going to Hanadako near Umeda station. SPOILET ALERT: it never happened!

Oirginal with onions, mayo and ponzu.

It never happened because, NO THANK YOU Google Maps, we kept turning around in circles, always missing it by 10 metres. But happy accidents always lead to tasty discoveries, and that’s how we ended up at the closet sized Takoyaki Baby. It’s not far from Hanadako, it fits about 5-6 people (standing up) and is VERY delicious! We shared the classics with mayo and a mountain of green onions, as well as the cheese and ponzu sauce version. Those balls were HOT and HUGE, yes, you can insert a dirty joke.

Cheesy goodness topped with parmesan.

*Unfortunately I don’t have an address to provide, as it’s one of those hole in the wall finds BUT if you look for Hanadako, it’s close by.

Oui! Bar

2 Chome-4-11 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo, Osaka, Osaka

Osaka is THE party city in Japan, or so I’ve heard, since I was travelling with family I didn’t exactly get my freak on but, we did indulge in many a drink. Hey, we’re French, of course apéro is going to make an appearance here.

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I don’t know why but, we just kept flocking to closet sized establishments on this trip, and that’s exactly what Oui is. A delightful bar, whose owner is a Francophile and played George Gainsbourg for us when he learnt we were French; with room for about 8 people, and many a wonderful drink to offer. My highlights were the 2014 Umeshu national winner, a milky umeshu, as well as a coffee whisky.

To the right, the milky umeshu
The milky umeshu bottle, in case you wanted to try it

Now, you need to know, that we had a few drinks there as an apéro  before supper (which happened to be right next door at 串焼き バッテンよかとぉ アメリカ村店)* and we went BACK after supper for our digestif.

Yes yes, we do good things twice!

*See Izakaya, last piece

8G Horie RiverTerrace

〒550-0015 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Nishi Ward, Minamihorie, 1 Chome−5−17, キャナルテラス堀江

If you check out their website you’ll see the word “wedding” in there as well as pictures with foreigners. DO NOT BE ALARMED. Leave whatever building prejudice you may be having at the (restaurant)  door or else you’ll be losing out on a delicious experience.

Located in the rising hipster neighbourhood of Horie, the restaurant is a big black building that overlooks the Shirinashi river which means you’ll have a pleasant view during your meal.

Stairs leading to the restayrant are beautifully illuminated

The look of panic from the seating lady at seeing foreigners appear was the first sign that, if this is a touristy-place, it’s certainly not foreigner-touristy; having all the waiters AND chef in the open kitchen stare at us with outmost surprise seemed to confirm my theory. Luckily we had made a reservation so, everyone knew we meant to be there and didn’t just accidentally wander into the wrong building.

In a blissful haze of satisfied tastebuds!

You’ll get your own private room so as to enjoy your meal in utmost privacy. So let’s get down to the food shall we? Now pay close attention, this is VERY important: skip to the END of the menu, past all the individual plates, and order the menu of the day. You’ll be served around 7-8 courses, kaiseki style.

Starter course… tofu? Maybe? Forgot!!!
The BEST chawanmushi to date

My standouts were the delicate (seabream?) sashimi, dipped shabu shabu style into a broth that had yuzu jelly, the kalbi marinated beef that was both buttery and juicy, as well as the apple sorbet whose texture I’ve never before encountered! There was no ruggedness or flakiness to the sorbet, it just evaporated in your mouth. The fish, meat and a final rice dish, were all individually cooked on a mini stone oven, which added to the delight of the eating experience.

Sashimi waiting to be dipped, with a side of yuzu jelly that will melt into the broth
Delicate yet flavourful broth in a beautiful metallic nabe pot
Close up of our “oven” and grill, with our beef pieces waiting to be sizzled!
Mind blowing apple sorbet

Pablo cheesecake

They can be fluffy, they can be jiggly, they can be wiggly, they can be airy but they must ALWAYS be cheesy! Or so is my motto for Japanese cheesecake. There was SO much cheesy goodness, we went twice.IMG-0948

Hit up the location in Dotonbori so you can enjoy sitting down at their cafe, as opposed to just grabbing and going. Although you’ll probably wait in line, don’t be discouraged as it moves quite quickly; this despite being able to enjoy your time inside with no sense of rush or urgency. We went during the Christmas holidays between 4-5pm, thus avoiding the later afternooners and early dinner…ers?

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Whatever your choice, don’t bypass the original taste in favour of the other fancy flavours. Just go twice! It comes with apricot jam and ice cream, the jam being a really good pairing with the cheese. Oh and you’ll probably end up sharing it because that cake is RICH. CHEESY. GOOEY. All around goodness oozing out of a buttery and flaky crust. We tried the original flavour as well as matcha, and chocolate-cognac; the last two not being of the runny kind, but just as delish.

Matcha cheese tart
Chocolate cognac cheese tart

Izakaya

串焼き バッテンよかとぉ アメリカ村店

Osaka is foodie heaven, and we hit up so many izakaya that were all so delicious and had their own stand out dishes, but this one holds a special place for my no doubt liquored up taste buds.

Closet sized yet delicious

Allow me to praise the house made kimchi from 串焼き バッテンよかとぉ アメリカ村店 as well as both their chicken liver and tongue yakitori; melt in your mouth tenderness, with none of that overly strong offal flavour. If you’ve finally convinced yourself to go for those funny bits, let your first time be there. I’m really not a potato person, unless it’s sweet or fried, so if I praise ANYTHING with potato, you know it’s damn good. Such is their potato salad. Usually a bland mayonnaise mess, this is anything but! Last but not least, try the seemingly bland an uninteresting nagaimo (long mountain potato), grilled and topped with soya sauce and katsuoboshi: crunchy, starchy, salty, a surprising delight.

Best kimchi experience in Japan so far
Unexpectedly good potato salad
Unattractive grilled nagaimo, try it before you judge it!
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Okayama Pt 2 : Eat… and eat, and eat!

Admit it, this is really the main post you wanted to see about Okayama! Of course we filmed our indulgence, so check out the videos.

WARNING: do not read this before dinner (or doing groceries), you may not be able to control the impulse to indulge in #nom.

Parfaits (ice cream y’all)

Okayama is famous for producing their parfaits so fork out that ¥¥¥ and dig in!

We had a black sesame & soybean flour with mochi, chocolate cake, anko, whip cream and pudding parfait (and an extra 10 pds!) at Korakuen garden, but we also had a decadent budo grape parfait in Kurashiki at Momoko.

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I will never get over this parfait!
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Worth every penny in grapes.

There were 3 kinds of grapes and they ALL tasted different. The green one was fresh and citrusy, the red one was… well, like a grape, and the purple one tasted like red wine. Yes, yes, red wine!

Here’s more recommendations for your taste buds:

Contents Cafe

HOTEL GRANVIA OKAYAMA Café Restaurant Olivier

Kibi dango

Okayama is, after all, the city of Momotaro, legendary peach boy! As the story goes, his adoptive mother gave him kibi dango to take on his journey, he shared it with his friends (dog, monkey and bird), and together they defeated monsters!

Let me tell you, the dango here do NOT disappoint! They are light and fluffy, not dense, and are so fresh they only “keep” for 20 days. The peach dango actually tastes like REAL peach and there’s a harder to find, but totally worth it, chocolate & sea salt kibi dango.

So how can you get your hands on either or both of these delicious treats? The easiest is at Okayama station, right in front of the Central Exit.

Koeido has multiple flavours ranging from white peach to brown sugar and soybean flour; you can easily spot their colourful boxes covered in onni (monster) faces. Walk straight out of the Central Exit to the shops in front of you, the first one on your right should be Koeido. * There’s also a Koeido in Kurashiki.

岡山名物“きびだんご”。お子様からお年寄りまで愛され続ける日本一の桃太郎の“元気の素”です。
Photo curtesy of koeido.co.jp

As for the shio choco kibi dango (chocolate & sea salt), you can also find them at Okayama Station just off the Central Exit. I think… they where in the store on the right of the Central Exit? If not, just circle the omiyage shops until you spot them.

4. Best Buy in Okayama: Shio Choco Kibi Dango
Photo curtesy of allabout-japan.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oyster okonomiyaki

Along with fresh fruits, oysters are another BIG food feature of Okayama so YOU BET we were gonna lay our hands on some oyster okonomiyaki! Kamon okonomiyaki is close to the train station, so once you found your kibi dango, you can reward yourself by stuffing your face nearby.

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Oyster okonomiyaki

We got 8 giant oysters and nothing else (save the basics that come with) because we wanted to taste them pure. They were juicy and fresh, really delicious. But if I’m totally honest… I most fondly remember the grilled mochi and cheese okonomiyaki. This is my new favourite combo! The grilled mochi has a satisfying chewy, soft texture, and coupled with the cheese #perfection.

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Mochi okonomiyaki

Chocolate & fruit jelly

My life is now richer, for having eaten too much chocolate and for having discovered that Rokumeikan exists. Everything looked so good from the outside and this was day 1 of vacation adrenaline rush, so naturally we just had to buy their chocolates… and jelly… and cookies #foodie. The chocolates have very interesting flavour pairings (shout-out to the champagne!) and the jelly is like the most perfect gummy bear. I recommend both for self-indulgence and as a gift.

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Image curtesy of Rokumeikan

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Image curtesy of Rokumeikan

Izakaya

Being the intrepid walkers that we are, and fearless adventurers, we ventured out into the unknown for an izakaya! Right in front of our Air BnB to be exact, at Nojika .

Can’t remember what sake we drank, but it was a tall glass and it was GOOD. They had Yuzu wine, but tragedies of tragedies they were OUT… so they kindly made us a yuzu sour on the house! * Apparently that wine was from Hiroshima.

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LOOK at that sashimi!

The standout dishes were an octopus salad entre, assorted sashimi and ochazuke. And I won’t snub my nose at the fried chicken, daikon soup and chicken stock onigiri freebies we got! Besides the food, the chefs behind the counter were very friendly and it made the experience that much more enjoyable.

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Octopus salad

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Royal milk tea pudding

Fruit liqueur etc.

Okayama is fruit heaven and white peach as well as budo grape are the shining stars. You can find sake, wine, liqueur and beer featuring their flavours. I enjoyed both the peach sake and liqueur and would recommend them as a gift. You can find them in any omiyage store, grocery store or specialty sake store.

Image may contain: drink and coffee cupStarbucks

… let me just hang my head in deep, deep, DEEP shame. I am NOT a Starbucks afficionado, I only go back home if it’s on a roadtrip of some kind with friends or as a meetup point, and I NEVER get the flavoured/seasonal coffees. But FOR SOME REASON, in Japan… they’re very enticing! I live in the deep inaka remember?

We were in Okayama right before the Christmas season so the Gingerbread latte, Pistachio candy latte, and Rasberry mocha were the featured items. Yes I tasted them all, yes they’re surprisingly delicious! Not sickeningly sweet, not syrupy, not articifial in taste (although they clearly are). It’s a good thing we indulged here because the week after, both the Pistachio and Rasberry mocha were mysteriously out of circulation. Thankfully the Gingerbread latte lingered on until mid-December.

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Rasberry mocha
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Pistachio and gingerbread lattes

Okayama Pt 1: See & Do

My good friend was visiting Japan and, since I live in the middle of nowhere, I sort of randomly picked an accessible, not too expensive in train fare, meeting spot: Okayama. What a lucky random choice! o(^▽^)o Read on OR skip the text and watch our travel video.

*** I’ve got so much to share I couldn’t possibly do one post, so I’ve split it in two with food in Pt 2. ***

Okayama castle

Monday – Sunday 9AM – 5:30PM

2 Chome-3-1 Marunouchi, Kita-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken 700-0823

Also known as Crow Castle, it’s a striking black and gold edifice, unlike your regular white castles. Sure it was destroyed in 1945 (like everything else!) but its replica is apparently #onpoint, since the original blueprints were used. Bonus free kimono photoshoots are available on the second floor.

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Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, outdoor, nature and waterKorakuen garden

Monday – Sunday 7:30AM – 6PM

1-5 Kōrakuen, Kita-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken 703-8257

Not gonna lie… day 1 we decide to skip this… 400¥, are you crazy! Ya, we were just THAT stingy. But then we spent 1700¥ on a parfait so, we re-evaluated our life choices. Cough up that 400¥, it’s worth it! Dating from 1700, it hasn’t changed since the Edo era; waterfalls, tiny shrines, teahouses, miniature maple forests, a lotus pond, and rare red-crested white cranes. But the BEST feature? The nameless (as far as I can tell) teahouse that has DECADENT parfaits!

Image may contain: plant, tree, grass, outdoor and natureImage may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and waterScenic bike rides

If you check Wikitravel, it’ll recommend doing a scenic 17 km Kibiji cycling trail. We did it and it was AWESOME… we also got lost at night time and needed the help of lovely 7/11 ladies BUT we made it home in one piece! Having survived the trail, here are my words of wisdom:

  1. Start at Soja and finish at Bizen if you’re based in Okayama, makes getting home faster. Basically, do the trail backwards.
  2. Make this a day trip. Yaaaaa you can do it in half a day BUT you’ll enjoy stopping at shrines a lot more if you’re not worried about getting the bike back in time.
  3. There are signs for the biking trail… most of the way? Sometimes the signs just drop off… which is lovely. Pull out that fully charged mobile and get back on track!

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor, nature and waterImage may contain: sky, tree, grass, outdoor and natureKurashiki area

Only 10 minutes away by train, the main draw is the Bikan Historical Quarter. Honestly, it’s like stepping back in time and being suspended in a nostalgic bubble! The streets are cobble stone and the weeping willows lining the canal make for a scenic half day excursion. It’s also where you can find delicious fruit parfait, but more of that in Pt 2! Check out Ohashi house while you’re there, a typical wealthy merchant town house with tatami floored rooms, elegant sliding doors and hanging scrolls.

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Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, child, sky, tree and outdoorOkayama, initially a random choice, turned out to be a hell of a 4 day weekend! It’s also a great base to explore Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.

BUT Estelle… what… what about the food!? Pfffffff as if I could forget. Get yourself to Pt 2!

Kyoto Part 2: Soba by day, sake by night.

What better way to kick off part 2 of my Kyoto adventure than with some #nom food, delicious sake, and David Bowie. I (didn’t) know much about sake but, I wanted to delve deeper into it; little did I know I would get a 2 for 1 deal since this establishment I found doubles as a soba restaurant during the day and a sake bar by night!

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Tooru soba restaurant during the day
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Yoramu sake bar at night

So let’s kick off with the soba first! Soba is Japanese for buckwheat but refers specifically to these thin noodles that can be eaten hot or cold in a variety of ways. Soba has been a popular dish since the well known Edo period, in fact many establishments doubled for soba and sake… just like this one! The restaurant is small, serving maybe 10? The chef is welcoming but busy as it’s a popular destination. The menu is short and sweet, as it should be; I decided to go ahead with the classic mori soba (chilled soba noodles served on a flat basket). Open from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm, there was a constant flow of local traffic, looking to slurp down the delicious chewy goodness that are these hand cut soba.

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Mori soba, plain and simple!

 

tooru soba restaurant knives
The master’s tools resting in the back.
tooru soba restaurant soba water
When you finish your soba, you will be served some soba water to drink; add some of the mentsuyuu for added flavour.

It’s funny enough that I should choose to eat soba in Kyoto because it’s known as a typical Kansai dish, meaning it’s more popular in Tokyo (for example). It’s also a staple New Year’s eve dish that I’ve been fortunate enough to have in the past for that very occasion.

Now on to the sake! As I mentioned earlier, the establishment is shared and turns into a sake bar at night. It’s open from 6 pm to 12 am, from Wednesday to Saturday. If you do decide to go, I suggest reserving ahead of time as it’s quite popular and small. Why is it popular? Well it might have something to do with the owner being able to speak English (Yoram is not Japanese, he hails from Israel originally) AND him being very well versed in the ins and outs of sake.

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A small sample of the selection offered by Yoram.

Sadly I don’t remember the names of what I tasted BUT I did take pictures of the bottles I liked with my phone so I’ll include them below. First important element of note: We’ve all been drinking sake wrong! Following Yoram’s instructions you must take a sip, keep it in the front of your mouth for at least 5 seconds and then swallow. IT. CHANGES. EVERYTHING. To be honest, before this I’ve always found my sake experiences to be very hit and miss and quite frankly it wasn’t really a go-to drink of mine. With this method however, you can really appreciate the individual and unique flavour that lingers in your mouth and doesn’t burn you in the back of the throat. Really eye opening!

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Who knew sake could take on an amber tone.

Second important element of note: sake is not always pale or clear in colour! The reason behind this is of course oxidization, however it is not an indication of the age of sake. In fact, sake changes overtime in the bottle and doesn’t necessarily reach a cap; that is to say it can go from good, to bad, to good, to bad and on and on.  Unlike wine, sugar is not responsible for the change in flavour, but rather the amino acids. Sake is produced by a brewing process similar to that of beer, where starch is converted into sugars which ferment into alcohol. Tasting sake through time is how to know if it’s ready to be consumed.

Last important element of note: warm sake is not of superior quality to cold sake. Yes temperature does have a role in the overall flavour, but to say warm sake is superior is equivalent to saying white wine is inferior to red, or white Porto to amber (for example). So drink up and enjoy!

Yoramu was attentive and kindly answered the many sake questions that were thrown his way. But his most important quality? He’s got good taste in music! I spent a delightful evening noming on grilled mochi (with butter and soya sauce) and yuzu chrysanthemum petals, sipping wonderful sake, all to the tunes of David Bowie. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Sake Bar Yoramu

Nijo-dori east of Karasuma, Nagakyo-gu, Kyoto

Tel: 075-213-1512

Email: yoram@sakebar-yoramu.com

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Grilled mochi, humble yet delicious!
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Who knew you could eat chrysanthemum petals!

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