My mom’s homemade chili paste is comfort food to me. Growing up, there is always a bottle of chili paste in the refrigerator. I add her chili paste to almost every home cooked meal that I eat. I add this chili paste to bowls of rice filled with meat and vegetables (and mix it all up bibimbap-style), to noodle soups (because I like my food spicy) and even to western-style meals of steak and roast chicken.
When I decided to start documenting my mother’s recipes, this chili paste was right at the top of my list. Coming up next is my mother’s sambal chili, or rempah – the sort she uses to cook sambal okra, sambal kangkong, sambal eggplant and as a base for laksa!
160g Vietnamese chili padi, seeds removed, sliced
60g freshly squeezed lime juice
85g fresh garlic, sliced
Blend chili padi and garlic into a fine paste using a food processor into a fine paste. If you prefer, you could pound the chili and garlic using a pestle and mortar.
Add lime juice to the chili paste gradually and taste. Depending on whether you prefer your chili paste more tart or less tart, adjust the amount of lime juice according to your taste.
DO NOT ADD SALT to the chili paste.
To make the ginger-chill paste used as a condiment in chicken rice, add blended ginger and a spoonful of chicken oil to the chili paste.
I used to play the trumpet when I was in secondary school. I spent four years in the school military band. Those were the best years of my life – every day was filled with joy, purpose and camaraderie.
I did not choose to play the trumpet. I wanted to play the flute because the instrument looked so graceful and dainty. I was assigned the trumpet by my seniors and loved it from that moment onwards. The trumpet produces such sonorous and melodic sounds.
2. Teh Tarik
Piping hot Indian-Muslim frothy milk tea. Sweet and savoury.
Besides their bright yellow cheery-looking flowers, sunflowers remind me of my late grandpa and my childhood. He used to grow sunflowers in the garden of the house that we lived in. I used to pretend to harvest sunflower seeds by breaking off the flower heads and removing the seeds when the flowers were dry. Never failed to get a huge beating from my grandmother for destroying the flowers.
I belong to the generation where a childhood vacation meant taking the coach or the car to Genting Highlands or Cameron Highlands with the family. I made my first proper trip out of the country when I was 15 years old. I took a plane to Kuala Lumpur to attend a 5-day church camp without my parents.
I do not remember travelling anywhere with my parents except for the occasional trips to Johor Bahru to visit my dad’s childhood friend who ran a coffeeshop in the city. I was about 6 years old when we started going to that coffeeshop. I went wherever my parents took me during the weekends. I disliked most of the places they took me to.
I hated visiting the coffeeshop in Johor Bahru because the place was hot, grimy and crowded. The coffeeshop sold traditional coffee, dim-sum and noodles. I could not fathom why my parents would go to a place like that. It was no fun for a kid like me. I wanted them to bring me to a nicer place like McDonald’s for a burger and fries. If I told them what I preferred, it would probably attract the cane. I did not want to have cane marks on my legs, or made to stand in a corner of my bedroom as punishment.
As young as I was, I felt that I was living in a different world from my parents. I did not know how to communicate with them about what I wanted or needed. This feeling stayed with me till now when I am 45.
During one visit to the coffeeshop, I saw bags of meat dumplings stacked next to the dirty bathroom in the coffeeshop with flies buzzing around. I felt nauseous immediately. I had just stuffed a meat dumpling into my mouth minutes before going to the bathroom. I never ate the food in that coffeeshop again. I also refrained from drinking water because I did not want to have to use the coffeeshop’s dirty bathroom. No one had bothered to clean the bathroom – human waste was lying all over the floor.
I also recall that the coffeeshop had a red-and-white enamel spittoon under every table for customers to spit into. It was awful. I remember peering into the spittoon under the table out of curiosity and saw sputum, phlegm and goodness what else in the spittoon. I was traumatised. Afterwards, I sat on the chair cross-legged because I was so worried about my legs touching the spittoon or the floor. I was utterly miserable being in such an unhygienic place.
In those days, there was no smart phone for a kid like me to while away my time. I would bring along a storybook to read, and escape into a different world for a couple of hours while my parents hung out with my dad’s friends in the coffeeshop. I read voraciously as a kid. It was a cocoon to shield me from unpleasant experiences.
I don’t remember when we stopped visiting the coffeeshop. I suppose it was in the year I turned 10 – when my dad suffered his first stroke.
Our 13-day self-drive trip in late October took us from Nagoya to Nakasendo, Kamikochi, Lake Kawaguchiko and Tokyo. We were looking forward to seeing autumn in Japan but the season came very much later in Japan. While we didn’t get to see autumn in full bloom, we were treated to snippets of autumn foliage in the Kamikochi mountains where temperatures were much colder than the rest of the country and a very clear view of Mt Fuji at Lake Kawaguchiko.
We woke up to this beautiful view of Mt Fuji on our first morning in Lake Kawaguchiko. I snapped this photograph of Mt Fuji from the window of our room in a ryokan very early in the morning, just in case the skies become cloudy. We were really blessed to get this gorgeous view all day long.
After an excellent breakfast at our ryokan and snapping an insane number of photos of Mt Fuji from the ryokan, we left to go to the Kawaguchiko Forest Music Museum. It is a whimsical little place that is fun for both adults and children, where you can spend a good one to two hours depending on whether you are interested in their shows. Then we drove out in search of lunch, and saw the scenic Oishi park next to the parking lot.
We got to see the kochia shrubs in deep seasonal red at the Oishi Park. The park must be gorgeous in spring time when a large number of flowers are in bloom.
The weather at Oishi Park was blazing hot at noon – it felt like summer instead of autumn. We entered a cafe near the park to escape the heat and get some ice cream to cool us down.
This was excellent soft-serve that comes with a really cute Mt Fuji shaped biscuit.
We sipped sake and watched the sun go down at the balcony of our room. It was a lovely moment experiencing Mother Nature. The sun going up and going down is something that happens everyday that I take for granted. I rarely pause and appreciate the beauty that comes about with this natural phenomena.
Where did we stay in Lake Kawaguchiko that gave us this superb view of Mt Fuji?
We booked this ryokan from Agoda. Every room faces Mt Fuji – whether you get a clear view depends on the weather and your luck! The price of the ryokan includes an excellent buffet breakfast (served in the dining room at the lobby) and a kaiseki dinner (also served in the dining room). However, you can request for the ryokan to serve you dinner to in your room or in one of the private dining rooms in the lobby.
I love the spicy Korean seafood stew known as haemultang. Each bubbling hotpot comes with a chockfull of clams, mussels, octopus, prawns and tiny crabs. I don’t really care for the seafood. All I care about is the hearty and flavourful broth.
One of the places that I like to go to for Korean seafood stew is this small-ish eatery hidden in one of the back alleys of Myeongdong called Myeongdong Eomeonijip (translated as ‘Myeongdong Granny’s House’). We usually go there during dinner-time, the time when the eatery is crowded and jam-packed with lots of diners. We practically have to sit elbow-to-elbow with the diners at the same table as us.
Myeongdong Eomeonijip’s seafood stew is very yummy and reasonably priced for two persons. Besides the seafood stew, I also like to order my other favourite Korean seafood dish – cold marinated crab (called ganjang gejang) at the eatery. Their ganjang gejang is excellent, fresh and the crab comes with lots of cholesterol-laden roe.
I don’t really know how to describe the directions to get to Myeongdong Eomonijip. All I can say is that it is in one of the back alleys of the main shopping street in Myeongdong. Best to locate the eatery using Google Maps and look for the store-front in the photo above.
Address: 100-809 11-6, Myeongdong 8-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
Cafe-hopping is one of the things that I do a lot whenever I am in Seoul. I usually make repeat visits to some favourites (Namusairo and Coffee Lab) and check out one or two new places. Some of their themed cafes like the Hello Kitty cafe are really cute and fun to visit.
I read about C.Through Cafe and its barista’s (Lee Kang Bin) marvellous latte art online. I started following the barista’s Instagram account where he posts photos of his videos of latte art demos. His 3D latte art creations and 2D latte art illustrations never fail to amaze me. I call his Instagram feed ‘latte-tainment’.
Isn’t this cup of beverage too cute to drink? I have tried a couple of the cafe’s coffees and other beverages but photos didn’t come out well enough to post here. I have to make many more visits to C.Through to try all the barista’s creations.
C.Through is located on a hilly part of Noksapyeong in Itaewon and getting there requires one to walk up a very steep slope. I usually pant my way up the hill but the thought of sipping a cup of visually and gustatory appealing coffee keeps me going.
The Noksapyeong area has a nice European vibe with gastropubs selling Korean-fusion food and quirky-looking shops interspersed with local eateries and residential apartments.
I have often gone to Noksapyeong for coffee at ChanBros Coffee but never realised that there are these interesting streets just round the corner from the cafe.
On my way down the hill, I like to wander around in these streets just to enjoy the vibe and people-watch. Each and every shop has its own distinct look – you can tell that the owners had put in lots of effort to ensure that his or her shop looked different from the one next door and across the street.
The goma ice cream served by Gomaya Yuki is the best that I have eaten to-date. Smooth and creamy with very intense sesame flavours.
On the shop’s recommendation, I ordered a scoop the Triple Rich black and a scoop of the Triple Rich white, drizzled with sesame oil and topped with black and white sesame seeds. You can find Gomaya Yuki’s menu here.
If I had ever thought it odd to drizzle sesame oil to ice cream, I no longer do. The sesame oil enhances the flavours of the goma ice cream and makes it even more delicious! I also tried the tempura ice cream which I didn’t enjoy as I found it too oily and messy.
Gomaya Yuki is hidden in one of the Omotesando alleys along the main Omotesando boulevard. Just type ‘Gomaya Yuki’ on Google Maps and it will lead you right to the shop.
Offal. Tripe. Horumon. Gopchang. Kway chap. I simply love eating offal. I haven’t come across an offal dish that I don’t enjoy.
Take me to a Korean BBQ and I will be ordering the beef intestines instead of meat. In a yakiniku restaurant, I would be eating gyutan instead of wagyu beef. In a dimsum place, the dish that I enjoy most is braised chicken feet.
OK, gyutan and chicken feet aren’t exactly offal but what I am trying to say is that I enjoy all the ‘odd’ parts rather than the actual meat.
I came across Tsukiji Kitsuneya on the Internet when I was Googling for horumon BBQ restaurants in Tokyo. Braised beef tripe on a bowl of rice sounded too awesome to miss out on. I had to give this a try. Tsukiji is pretty close to the hotel so off we went one morning for a horumon don breakfast. Eating braised tripe first thing in the morning was not the better half’s idea of breakfast but he didn’t protest.
Tsukiji Kitsuneya is located at the outer market area and we found the shop quite easily. I read about the queues in the morning – fortunately for us, there was no queue on the morning we visited. The old lady at the shop (I presume she is the owner) was constantly stirring a giant pot of mouth-watering horumon. I tried to take a photo of the pot with my iPhone but she shooed me away with a flick of her hand.
Kitsuneya is a tiny place with very little seating space. Except for three to four seats at the counter, the other options are two standing tables outside the shop, which was where we plonked ourselves at with two steaming bowls of horumon don and cups of tea. I think Kitsuneya has other horumon options on the menu but I can’t recall what they are now – my entire mind was focused on getting a bowl of horumon don.
My first impression of Kitsuneya’s food is that the braised tripe tasted bland. I reckoned that I am too used to the stronger flavours of our local braised meats and tripe cooked with star anise, cinnamon stick and five spice powder. But as I shovelled more and more of Kitsuneya’s tripe into my mouth, I began to appreciate the subtle flavours of the sauce and the offal’s chewy texture. Best eaten on a cold wintry morning. It was such a satisfying breakfast for me. I am definitely heading back again when I next visit Tokyo.
Ristorante 245 Gion in Kyoto is one of the best recommendations given by the owner of the boutique hotel that we usually stay at in Kyoto. The restaurant serves Japanese-Italian food using plenty of fresh seasonal Japanese ingredients. They serve an omakase menu at both lunch and dinner.
245 Gion (which is how we call the restaurant) is a small cosy place that can seat about six to eight persons around a bar counter, and it also has one private room that can seat approximately 4 to 5 persons (I think). The restaurant is very conveniently located at Shinmonzen Dori, which is a couple of streets behind the main stretch of downtown Gion.
We made our third visit to Ristorante 245 Gion in Feb this year. Since we first visited some years ago, we have always made it a point to stop by the restaurant for dinner whenever we visit Kyoto. I wrote about our first visit here. We have always enjoyed our dinner at the restaurant. The Japanese-Italian menu is interesting, flavours are light and clean. Most of all, we like the warm cosy atmosphere in the restaurant.
The chef is a young chap in his 30s, and mans the kitchen single-handedly. He has one assistant who helps to plate and serve the food, clear the plates and pour the wine. Both the chef and his assistant speak passable English, nothing too complicated but enough to explain the ingredients in each course. The bar counter provides a good view of watching the chef and his assistant work behind the scenes.
We have never gone there for lunch so I am not sure how many courses are served at lunch. Our omakase dinner is usually a standard 10-course meal including an amuse bouche and dessert. It is a big meal so we usually ‘starve ourselves’ on the day that we are dining at 245 Gion. By ‘starving’, I meant that we abstain from having afternoon tea!
As the chef cooks using seasonal Japanese ingredients, the courses featured in the Japanese-Italian menu changes depending on what is available. In all my three visits, we have been served new items as well as repeated items.
The fish en papilote is a course I have eaten in all my three visits. It is one of my favourite courses at Ristorante 245 Gion.
The smoked quail egg and egg is also a repeat course which the husband is happy about because this is his favourite course at the restaurant.
Both the cold and warm capellinis were new to me. They were not served one after another in case anyone is wondering why a chef would serve two pasta courses one after another. My photos are just not posted in the same order as the courses. I wanted to put these two new courses in the same collage.
Both the husband and myself loved both courses. The cold capellini was very refreshing. I can’t quite remember what was in the sauce but it was very yummy. The caviar was wasted on me ‘cos I am not a fan of the delicacy.
I liked the warm capellini better than the cold version. It was served with buttery leeks and topped with a super delicious shirako tempura. The shirako tempura was cooked perfectly – crispy on the outside, moist and creamy inside. One of the best shirako tempura I have eaten.
Absolutely loved all these courses, especially the massive salad with a miso paste! The colourful salad is very delicious but it fills me up completely by the time I am done with it. The clam and Japanese cabbage gratin is so good that I want to eat another portion.
The chef usually finishes dinner with a last course of rice with Thai curry and fish. It is Japanese tradition to finish off a meal with a bowl of rice or porridge. Here, the chef does it with a twist using Thai flavours. The Thai curry looks mild but it is incredibly spicy by Japanese standards. Not exactly Japanese-Italian but very yummy.
Just us and dessert. Dessert was homemade ice cream (coconut flavour I remember) composed with sliced oranges and kumquat. I have a tendency to forget what was served for dessert as I would be in a semi-food coma by the time dessert comes around.
I don’t usually post photos of us but I needed a second picture to make this collage so here is one of us at the start of dinner.
Will we go back to Ristorante 245 Gion a 4th time? Definitely.
Ristorante 245 Gion (Japanese-Italian menu)
Address: 245-1 Nakanocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0082, Japan (Click here for Google map)
Reservations: This is a must. You can make a reservation on Gurunavi but instructions are in Japanese.
Kagari Sapporo was the best accidental find during our trip to Hokkaido last year. I have always wanted to try the famous Kagari chicken paitan ramen in Tokyo but never managed to do so before the shop moved out of its previous premises in Ginza.
Despite reading of Kagari’s new premises on the Internet, I still haven’t located the ramen shop in Tokyo. Anyone who knows of the location, please drop me a note!
While we were wandering around in Akarenga Terrace, a office-cum-retail complex two streets away from our hotel in Sapporo, I was attracted to a restaurant poster advertising mizutaki (Japanese chicken hotpot). I love Japanese hotpots and mizutaki is one of my favourites, the other being motsunabe. So we went into the restaurant for mizutaki.
It was only when I flipped through the menu did I realise that chicken paitan ramen is the restaurant’s main fare. Then it dawned on me that this shop had the same name as Kagari in Ginza – os this a Sapporo outpost of the famous Ginza chicken paitan ramen shop? I managed to converse with the chef in a smattering of Japanese phrases and he told me that they also have an outlet in Ginza, Tokyo.
My husband ordered the chicken paitan ramen and I went with the mizutaki for one person. No indecisiveness there! The ramen broth was fabulous – unctuous, creamy and so full of flavour. It was utterly delicious.
The mizutaki came with loads of vegetables, chicken meat and chicken meat balls. The chicken broth in the mizutaki is a lighter version of the paitan ramen broth. The restaurant also served a small jug of chicken broth on the side that is a heavier and fuller version which you could add to the mizutaki to enhance the flavour. Naturally, I added the entire jug into the mizutaki. Can’t let any of that good stuff go to waste.
The mizutaki was excellent. I liked it much better than the paitan ramen, only because I love mizutaki. The vegetables were crisp and fresh, and the chicken meatballs were bouncy and sweet. We enjoyed our meal at Kagari Sapporo so much, we went back two more times during that trip. I am not sure if Kagari serves mizutaki all year round, or during specific seasons. My Japanese was not good enough to ask such complicated questions.
Kagari is definitely going to be on the itinerary the next time we visit Sapporo. It is totally worth a visit and very centrally located too! Just a short walk away from the Sapporo JR Station.
Address: 〒060-0002 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Kita 2 Jonishi, 3 Chome−1-7 (札幌フコク生命越山ビル)
The restaurant is located in the basement of Akarenga Terrace.
The ubiquitous kimchi jigae can easily be found in most eateries in Seoul. It is such comfort food especially in cold weather. The stew’s savoury-tart flavour is very appetising – my favourite way to eat the dish is to mix the rice together with the pork-flavoured broth.
Before one of my trips to Seoul, I was Googling for ‘where to eat in Seoul’ and I came across very good reviews of Gwanghwamun Jip.
It was not easy locating Gwanghwamun Jip. The restaurant is hidden in a back alley and its entrance is not obvious – the door looks like a back-door and not the main entrance. The signage of the restaurant is hung quite prominently above the door. Unfortunately, I cannot read Korean, so it took me a while and several trips up and down the alleyway to figure out that this door is THE entrance to the restaurant.
The restaurant is literally a hole in the wall that is run by several ahjummas. It is a tiny place that holds about 4 to 5 small tables and serves mainly three items – kimchi jigae, gyeran mari (rolled omelette) and jeyuk bokkeum (spicy stir-fried pork). We were there after the lunch hour and got a table immediately but I imagine that queues could get rather long during meal times.
We decided on the kimchi jigae and rolled omelette, and gave the spicy stir-fried pork a rain-check. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to eat dinner! As expected, there was simply too much food on the table. The kimchi jigae came in a big bubbling pot for two persons, the rolled omelette was massive, and there was banchan and rice.
Looking at this bubbling pot of kimchi jigae with aged kimchi is making me drool. The flavours of this stew were really good – rustic, spicy and comforting. The rolled egg omelette was SO tasty and satisfying. As much as I would like to, it was impossible for me to eat kimchi stew without rice so I gobbled up the entire serving of rice.
Gwanghwamun Jip is totally worth the trouble that was involved in locating it. I cannot recall how much the food costs now, but it is definitely inexpensive!
Address: 110-071 12, Saemunan-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday, closed on public holidays.
Directions: Take the subway to Gwanghwamun Station and leave the station by Exit 1. Walk towards the cross-intersection where you will see a GS25 convenience store. Enter the alley at GS25.
One of the things that I like to do in Japan is to visit a special Starbucks property if there is one. Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka is one outlet that has been on my bucket list for a long while. I have seen plenty of photos of the outlet which is housed in a machiya located in the historic Ninenzaka on social media and blogs.
This is the second unique Starbucks property that I had the opportunity to visit in the same trip; the first being the property in Uji, Kyoto. The other Starbucks property that I really like is in Dazaifu, Fukuoka. The one that was previously along Shijo-dori, Kyoto had a lovely view overseeing the Kamo river. Sadly, the outlet is closed.
Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka occupies two floors of the machiya. The first floor is where customers queue to buy and collect their beverages. The second floor is divided into several self-contained spaces for customers to sit down and enjoy their drinks.
I would have liked to sit at this tatami-style seats but was concerned that I would have difficulty getting up afterwards.
The interior of the machiya is not big but very nicely done up – nice modern feel yet quaint, all within the space of a very old building. We took a turn round the second floor and found a spot to sip our drinks and enjoy the space.
My view from where I was seated. I can imagine how pretty this view would be when it starts snowing in winter.
This is definitely worth a visit if you are in the Kiyomizu area, even if you are not a fan of. Starbucks. When I next visit, I am going to come by very early and get myself one of those nice chairs where I can sit down with a book.
I have been seeing photos of the beef version of tonkatsu from Gyukatsu Motomura floating around on Instagram for the longest time but was never convinced to give gyukatsu a try. I like tonkatsu but the idea of deep-fried beef cutlet felt weird to me.
During one night on our trip to Tokyo in February, we had no dinner reservations and was thinking about where to go for dinner when we decided to check out the Shimbashi outlet of Gyukatsu Motomura which is near our hotel. We have heard about the long queues at Motomura and were quite prepared to queue. Luckily, we managed to get a table in approximately 10 mins. The Shimbashi Motomura is a very small basement shop with plenty of fumes from the kitchen.
Gyukatsu Motomura sells only gyukatsu sets (so don’t go there if you don’t eat beef). The menu offers sets comprising different quantity of beef, with or without nagaimo, and an option to upsize the beef further. The set also comes with rice, shredded cabbage, miso soup and several sauces. I took the 130g beef set with nagaimo only because I love nagaimo. If you don’t like gooey shredded mountain yam, there is no need to order it because the nagaimo does not enhance the flavour of the beef.
The bowl of rice came with a small serving of mentaiko which made me really happy – I love mentaiko. As my better half doesn’t eat mentaiko, I ate his serving as well. Warm Japanese rice with mentaiko and nagaimo is so delicious.
I took a bite of the gyukatsu and couldn’t understand why I ever thought deep-fried breaded beef was weird. It is SO delicious! I like it better than tonkatsu now! Gyukatsu Motomura provides every customer with a small grill so if you find the gyukatsu too pink for your liking, you can just cook it a little more on the grill.
I am definitely making a return visit to Gyukatsu Motomura when I next visit Tokyo! You can find the list of Gyukatsu Motomura outlets on their website here. They have more than 10 outlets in Tokyo and a couple in Osaka.