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Tokyo: Cafe Kitsune In Omotesando

 photo IMG_9631-160303-v2__zpswjmzkewx.jpg We visited Cafe Kitsune for the first time on this trip. The cafe is located at Omotesando – not Omotesando Hills but across the Aoyama main road, on the side where the Prada, Chanel and other branded boutiques are situated.  We had our morning cup of coffee before heading to Maisen Tonkatsu for lunch.  I make it a point to be at Maisen Tonkatsu 10mins before the opening time at 11am so that we are right at the front of the queue.  Very kiasu.

 photo IMG_0141-160303-v2__zps4jnh7a6g.jpgFashionably-dressed baristas.  Not surprising since the cafe is linked to the Kitsune boutique.  Love seeing men dressed in a preppy cardigan-and-tie outfit.

 photo IMG_0143-160303-v2__zpsq5yttn4y.jpgI could not resist the French toast baguette.  Coffee was good too, and I bought a bag of beans for a friend whose current interest is trying out various coffee beans on his coffee machine.

 photo IMG_0142-160303-v2__zpsuyfxoeon.jpgAll in all, quite a nice quiet cafe to hang out at if you are in that part of Omotesando.

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Osaka: Sushi Dokoro Isshin Hanare (鮓処一心はなれ)

 photo IMG_9190-160223-v2__zpskaac7zbb.jpgA friend recommended us to Isshin, a small local sushi joint that is yet to be discovered by foodie-tourists.  She tells me the food is excellent and the price is beyond reasonable for the quality.  I always trust her food recommendations in Japan – they have all been spot on for us.

We booked the place for lunch on our second day in the city.  As the restaurant is away from the main tourist areas in Osaka, I figured that we might have difficulty getting there and back if we had opted for a dinner reservation.  It turns out that the restaurant is located in a very convenient place (next to a Japanese shopping arcade) that is within walking distance from a subway station.  Isshin is a typical Japanese restaurant.  Tiny, beautifully decked out in light wood, it has a calming effect on the senses.  Manned entirely by the chef (and his wife chips in too), Isshin has space for about 7 persons, all at the counter.

The one thing that I enjoy most about eating in Japan – be it a simple ramen joint, or a more formal sushi restaurant – is the interaction with the chef.  You sit at the counter, watch the chef prepare, cook and assemble your food, perhaps have a chat with him about various topics, then have him serve you your food with a brief explanation of what it is all about.  The Isshin chef cannot speak much English but we managed to plough our way through the entire meal without too much difficulty in understanding each other.

We ate and drank our way through some 13 courses (excluding fruit) of appetizers, sashimi, sushi and 3 carafes of sake for approximately ‎¥‎10,000 per head.  For the amount of food that we ate and drank, the cost of the meal was very reasonable.  Isshin accepts only cash.  I am sure dinner will cost a lot more money but even then, we will be happy to fork out money for.    It would have cost us double, or even triple the amount to eat that quality of food in Singapore.

 photo IMG_9175-160223-v2__zpsn8yh7tq1.jpg photo IMG_9173-160223-v2__zpst5vpp3px.jpgOf the 13 items that were served to us, the kaisen donburi and shirako ponzu were my favorites.  It is wonderful to be in Japan during shirako season.  The kaisen donburi had all the stuff that I loveuni, ikura, ika, and the shirako was fresh and creamy.  Even the usually shirako-squeamish husband ate up all his shirako.  The chef served us more shirako in a sushi later on.  I was in shirako heaven.

There are tons of good restaurants in Osaka which we did not have a chance to try given the limited time we had in the city.  We were really glad to have gone to an excellent local sushi omakase place that is clearly off the tourist track..

Rest of the food photos are in the gallery below.

 photo IMG_9170-160223-v2__zpscjoutp4x.jpg
Sushi Dokoro Isshin Hanare
Address:〒530-0041 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Kita-ku, Tenjinbashi, 3 Chome−5−9
Telephone: (81) 06635217077

Directions: Take the subway to Minami-Morimachi station. Leave the station via exit #5 and walk straight ahead along the main Tenjin-bashi Suji road. Walk on the RIGHT side of the road and watch out for this restaurant called BUFF at a corner. At the next street after BUFF restaurant, turn right and walk straight ahead. You will cut through one of those traditional Japanese shopping arcade. Keep walking and you will spot a small park and some residential housing. Isshin is at the corner on the left of the small street. See Google Maps below. Enlarge the Google map and you will spot the Japanese name of Issin where the red marker is.

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IMG_9198-160223-v2_ IMG_9191-160223-v2_

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Tokyo: Toranomon Koffee In Toranomon Hills

 photo IMG_9055-160221-v2__zps5ymqye7w.jpgAt Toranomon Koffee (previously Omotesando Koffee) at the swanky Toranomon Hills tower.  Pity that the charming machiya at Omotesando has been demolished.

 photo IMG_9046-160221-v2__zpsjqajutyn.jpg photo IMG_9047-160221-v2__zpsutlttwhe.jpg photo IMG_9048-160221-v2__zpsnazfcjug.jpgThe ambience of Toranomon Koffee has a slightly different vibe compared to its predecessor, but no less charming, I like their new digs at Toranomon Hills.  The building is gorgeous, the cafe has plenty of sitting space and there are two barista counters instead of one (so the waiting time is shorter).

I ordered one of the iced cappuccino even though I was so cold from walking to Toranomon Hills from our hotel in Shinbashi.  I love their double iced cappuccino.  It is so rich, creamy and intense.  In addition to their famous baked custard cube, I also ordered an almond financier and a matcha financier.  Oh, they were so yummy.

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Seoul: Cha Masineun Tteul Teahouse In Bukchon

 photo IMG_6976-151127-v2__zpsjuvv1oyz.jpgI enjoy walking around the Bukchon and Samcheong-dong area, looking at the old hanoks, some of which are still residential property while others have been converted into shops.  It is a place where the old juxtaposes against the new – you can look down into the hip and trendy Samcheong-dong while walking along certain stretches of Bukchon.  The walk can be a bit of a strain as it involves climbing a fairly steep hill from the street level up to Bukchon.  Makes me wonder how people in the Joseon days do it.

I like going to this shop in Bukchon called Granhand that sells handmade perfumes, scents diffusers, room sprays, aromatherapy oils.  I went there recently to stock up on their lovely Vivian Ward grapefruit-scented diffuser and room spray.  On the way down to Samcheong-dong, I visited a beautiful teahouse called Cha Masineun Tteul (which translates into “a garden where people drink tea”).  I drink way too much coffee whenever I am in Seoul, and it is a nice change to have some tea.  This is the first time I have been to Cha Masineun Tteul even though I have read much about it in travel blogs.  I usually visit my regular teahouse in Insadong for a piping hot cup of ginger tea.

 photo IMG_7003-151127-v2__zpswjxjpuvo.jpgThe teahouse is very pretty.  The sitting area encircles a little courtyard garden, offering guests a view of a lily pond and plants while sipping a cup of tea and nibbling on Korean snacks.

 photo IMG_6975-151127-v2__zps9gm6rxex.jpgI don’t really appreciate Korean snacks so I ordered a cup of ginger tea to warm myself up as the weather was very cold.  I love the lily-shaped cup that the teahouse used to serve the ginger tea!

Cha Masineun Tteul
Address: Samcheong-dong 35-169, Jongno-gu

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Osaka: Biotop Corner Stand

 photo IMG_9119-160222-v2__zpsc2impp4i.jpgA beautiful cafe along Orange Street that feels like a lush floral wonderland similar to Blute in Seoul.  Biotop is a concept store, with a cafe and nursery in one room and clothing, accessories and toiletries retailing in the next room.

 photo IMG_9120-160222-v2__zps793ulkfu.jpg photo IMG_9128-160222-v2__zpsyjxnyb7w.jpgI really like the idea of a nursery-cum-cafe concept.  How is that no one in Singapore has thought about setting up something like that?

 photo IMG_9127-160222-v2__zpsyooxmvdd.jpgBiotop sells drip coffee, pizzas and some baked goods (I think).  I would have liked to sit outside at the corner stand with my coffee but the weather was too cold to do so. This is a pretty place to hang out at while shopping in Orange Street, but if you want really good coffee, better to head to Granknot further down.

Biotop Corner Stand

Address: 1/2/4F, Meburo16kan, Minamihorie, Osaka
Opening Hours: 9am – 11pm
Nearest Station: Yotsubashi/Shinsaibashi

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Osaka: Granknot Coffee

 photo IMG_9219-160223-v2__zpsiodardrh.jpg

If you are in Osaka and want some good coffee, drop by Granknot near the Yotsubashi subway station.  Or you could easily walk to the cafe from the Dotonburi area, the cafe is in Orange Street (which makes it an excellent stop after shopping in the boutiques and shops in Orange Street).

Granknot
Address: 1-23-4, Kitahorie, Nishi-ku Osaka-shi, Osaka.
Closed: Wednesday

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Osaka: Hanamaruken Ramen & Other Ramen

I love ramen but with age, I don’t eat it very often because I can’t eat the amount of carbs in a bowl of ramen, not counting the slurp-worthy broth that is packed with so much calories.  However, it was hard not to eat ramen during our recent trip to Osaka.

We stayed in a hotel that is just a street away from Dotonburi and every time we turned a corner, we were bound to see a ramen shop, or a takoyaki stall, or an okonomiyaki restaurant.  I don’t really like takoyaki or okonomiyaki, so it was fairly easy to ignore those.  But ramen, tough.  So over a 2.5 day period, we ate 3 bowls of ramen (plus another 3 in Kyoto and Tokyo) which is quite a feat for us.

Kinryu Ramen

 photo IMG_9193-160223-v2__zpscua47ogx.jpgI read online that Kinryu ramen is one of the popular ramen chains in Osaka.  There were at least three Kinryu ramen shops near my hotel in Dotonbori – you can’t miss the chain’s impressive dragon signage.  I think Kinryu (and probably most of the other ramen chains) is open 24 hours, as we saw plenty of Japanese eating at the shops early in the morning.  Slurping ramen for breakfast?  Yummilicious.  So we had a bowl of Kinryu’s tonkotsu ramen for breakfast one morning, which was really nice in the cold weather.

 photo IMG_9239-160224-v2__zpswbu2nzcm.jpgLooks spectacular right?  I liked the thin Hakata-style noodles but the pork bone broth was not particularly memorable.

Ichiran

This is my second time at Ichiran, the first was in Shimokitazawa in Tokyo.  I hear that there is always a long queue for Ichiran ramen in Tokyo, so when we saw that the queue at this Dotonburi outlet was fairly short, we decided to join the bandwagon.

Ichiran’s thin noodles are great but I thought the broth in this Osaka outlet was a little too salty for my liking.

 photo IMG_9150-160222-v2__zpsyo2jhmpt.jpg photo IMG_9166-160223-v2__zpsovdlspps.jpgWe went to the Ichiran outlet along the Dotonburi river which seems to have a queue at all times of the day (probably because of its very prominent location), but there is another shop tucked inside one of the Dotonburi shopping arcades just 2 minutes away that does not usually have a queue.

Hanamaruken Ramen

I spotted this tonkotsu ramen in one of several shopping arcades that run perpendicular to Dotonburi and decided to pop in for afternoon tea.  I ordered the Double Happiness bowl and it was fabulous.  Definitely my favorite bowl of ramen amongst the three. I loved the tonkotsu-shoyu broth – the flavor was rich, intense and full of umami! Just look at the color of the broth!

 photo IMG_9268-160224-v2__zps8sk1sg0b.jpgI forgot to take a photo of the shop-front, but if you Google Hanamaruken, you will see many blogs featuring a photo of the shop.

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Punch Cafe At North Canal Road

A new cafe at North Canal Road from the folks behind The Plain and Ronin.  I have been to The Plain many times, but not Ronin.

 photo IMG_8796-160131-v2__zps4p4hqk4c.jpg photo IMG_8595-160131-v2__zps5i2hi1gy.jpg photo IMG_8794-160131-v2__zpsslnbmpey.jpg photo IMG_8793-160131-v2__zpsh071hipl.jpg photo IMG_8602-160131-v2__zpscmjq9uib.jpgPunch has a beautiful space, with a courtyard and a green wall, which is spacious and airy.  We had coffee, and because we liked the warm hospitality showed by the folks (very rare in Singapore), we extended our stay with two glasses of white wine. They let us try their cookie-brownie sandwich filled with an expresso buttercream which was really nice.  Next time, we will try their casual-dining menu.

There is a place I can now go to for coffee after eating beef noodles at North Canal Road.

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Seoul: Gwangjang Market

 photo IMG_7114-151128-v2__zps1bzmpxwj.jpgSo glad to be typing away in this blog again.  Something went wrong at the back-end of my blog on Christmas Eve and it has taken me over a month to get it up and running again, including moving the website to a new web-host.

Seoul has got some really interesting markets where stall-holders sell cooked food, fresh food, dry goods, kitchenware, clothes, fabrics and all sorts of stuff for the home (like bedding and curtains).  The market that I frequent whenever I am in Seoul is the Namdaemun market.  I like to visit the stationery shops to pick up crafting materials and haberdasheries for ribbons, buttons, fabrics and what-not.  If I feel sufficiently hungry (or greedy), I would visit one of the cramped and narrow food alleys in Namdaemum for a meal of kimchi jigae or a bowl of kalguksu.

I have been meaning to visit Gwangjang market – possibly one of the most famous food markets with tourists due to its regular appearances in Korean reality shows – and finally got there this time.  Gwangjang Market is quite near to where I stay in Myeongdong – a couple of stops on the subway or a nice stroll along the Cheongyecheon stream.

 photo IMG_7116-151128-v2__zpsvovdcxzq.jpg photo IMG_7096-151128-v2__zpspqtcoftc.jpgI arrived at the market around 3.30pm and well, I do not know what I was expecting, but I certainly did not expect to see the market packed with people at that hour of the day.  The non-food section of the market was fairly quiet but the food section was so crowded I had to literally push my way through.  There was no space for me to compose photographs using my iPhone, and I just snapped whatever photos I could without even looking at the iPhone screen.  Glad that I managed to capture several decent-looking photos with random snapping and people pushing me from behind.

The food section of the market was separated into different alleys specializing specific types of food. Such as bindaetteok which I learnt is Korean mung bean pancakes containing spring onions, kimchi, ground pork. I like eating jeon but have never tried bindaetteok, only because the sight of pancakes frying in oil makes me less inclined to eat it.

 photo IMG_7115-151128-v2__zps2seuwk21.jpgMost of the food stalls in Gwangjang have a small counter where you can sit down and eat your food, provided you can find a seat and do not mind being squashed between strangers.  The above stall sells street food such as gimbap, odaeng, tteokbokki and soondae.

 photo IMG_7159-151128-v2__zpswytp8zcq.jpgPiles of kimchi.

 photo IMG_8770-151128-v2__zps9q7sak8k.jpg photo IMG_7108-151128-v2__zpsaxrsk569.jpgI was not particularly hungry but I just wanted to eat S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G, to further soak in the experience of being in the market.  I walked past alley after alley but could not find a seat anywhere, until I got to a kalguksu stall where I spotted a lady vacating their seats.  I maneuvered myself  with some difficulty into the narrow space between two ahjummas, and ordered a bowl of kalguksu.  I love Korean hand-cut noodles, especially the ones cooked in a clam or seafood broth, and I eat them with lots of kimchi.

 photo IMG_8771-151128-v2__zpsh8qx8lqv.jpg photo IMG_7326-151128-v2__zpsdiwzwkxe.jpg

Look at that pile of mandu.  I was very tempted to order some to go with my bowl of kalguksu but having eaten like four meals during the course of the day, it was not a good idea to consume more food.  I was so stuffed from eating the kalguksu, I had to take a 30-min walk back to the hotel, which would have been a lovely thing to do if not for the fact that I was getting a bad case of indigestion from over-eating.  I nearly wanted to buy a pin from a shop in the market to pierce my finger to relieve the discomfort, like how you see Koreans do it in Korean dramas.

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Seoul: Namusairo Coffee in Gwanghwamun

 photo IMG_6931-151127-v2__zpsziv0eqj8.jpgIf you are in the Gwanghwamun/Gyeongbokgung neighborhood and looking for excellent coffee in a charming hanok-setting, Namusairo Coffee is the place to head to.  I love the vibe of this space, and the wood-panels are gorgeous.  

I was so charmed by the inner courtyard, I forgot to take photos of the front of the cafe.  

 photo IMG_7642-151127-v2__zpshbutl0gg.jpg photo IMG_6932-151127-v2__zpsdeqjrrkd.jpgThat’s me, trying to style my photo with fallen gingko leaves. This is a great coffee stop, in between the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Gyeonghuigung Palace, if you are doing the palace rounds on the same day.

Namusairo Coffee
Address: 71 Naesu-dong, Jongno-gu.
Hours: 10am to 10pm
Directions:  Exit #7, Gyeongbokgung Station (orange line), or Exit #8, Gwanghwamun Station (purple line)

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Seoul: Chawoongga In Hongdae

 photo IMG_7656-151128-v2__zpssybivgzy.jpgI had lunch in Chawoongga,  a restaurant housed in this beautiful hanok  with a courtyard garden in hippy Hongdae.  The restaurant serves traditional Korean food such as bibimbap, soups and stews.   

 photo IMG_7655-151128-v2__zpsb74t44jh.jpg photo IMG_7657-151128-v2__zpsr8kvskoo.jpgInitially, I wanted to brave the cold and eat my meal in the beautiful courtyard, but just standing there for 5 minutes snapping photos was enough to give me stiff fingers.  So into the restaurant I went.

 photo IMG_7658-151128-v2__zpsiaqhwbxs.jpg photo IMG_7659-151128-v2__zpsyruldaqo.jpgI am not such a cam-whore that I take photos in lavatories, but I couldn’t resist snapping the above when I was using the bathroom.  This is the pretty picture that you see while sitting on the toilet-bowl.  LOL.

 photo IMG_7650-151128-v2__zpskqunsr80.jpg photo IMG_7660-151128-v2__zpslwfn4gs5.jpgView of the courtyard from the inside of the restaurant.  Imagine how pretty it would all look if it had snowed then.

 photo IMG_7652-151128-v2__zpsdfjfuilr.jpgI ordered the sea squirt bibimbap.  The meal was served and elegant copper bowl filled with loads of fresh vegetables, omelette and what looked like alfalfa sprouts (yucks!).  The bibimbap tasted so fresh, crunchy and wholesome, and I was so pleased that they gave me acorn jelly as ban-chan.

 photo IMG_7653-151128-v2__zpskxobbd2s.jpg photo IMG_7654-151128-v2__zpsmzrrgfol.jpgToss it all up and tuck in.  Piles of sea-squirt.  My first time eating this and it was quite tasty.  Not as strong tasting as sea-urchin but with a similar texture.

 photo IMG_7651-151128-v2__zpssibshk4i.jpgI think this is a good place to rest your legs and fuel yourselves up with simple yet refine Korean food before you explore Hongdae.  

Chawoongga
Address: 20-12, Jandari-ro Mapo-gu Seoul 121-893 Directions: Take the subway to Hapjeong Station, exit #3., or Sangsu, exit #1 and follow the directions in the map below.

Opening Hours: 12pm to 10pm.

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Seoul: Yukdaejang In Myeongdong

 photo IMG_7645-151130-v2__zps7tgnbr1k.jpgI am so pleased to have found an excellent yukgaejang restaurant in Myeongdong (near the main road where Shinsaegae is).  I love eating Korean spicy beef soup, especially the wild vegetables that go into the soup.  I have not tried a yukgaejang in Seoul that wasn’t hearty and tasty, but Yukdaejang’s is the best that I have eaten so far.  

 photo IMG_7646-151130-v2__zpsdilhgfbe.jpgWhat makes Yukdaejang’s spicy beef soup different from most of the others is the creamy texture of the soup.  I would describe the taste as a spicy version of seolleongtang that is very smooth, creamy and flavorful.  A bowl of yukgaejang costs W8,000.  It is a huge bowl with generous portions of ingredients.  I declined the bowl of rice that comes with the meal because it was impossible to find space in my stomach for rice.

Yukdaejang
Address: 45, Myeongdong 8na-Gil, Jung-Gu, Seoul, Korea
Directions: Exit #5 at the Myeongdong Station and walk straight, along the main road till you see a side road which is Myeongdong 2-gil.  Turn right into Myeongdong 2-gil and walk until you see a 7-11.  Turn left onto Myeongdong 8-gil and Yukdaejang is on your left.

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Seoul: Coffee Libre In Hongdae

 photo IMG_2723-150530-v2__zpszecv1x8i.jpgI have finally tried the coffee from Coffee Libre after putting it off for a while (‘cos it is quite a hike away from the popular area in Hongdae). It is not an easy place to find and I got lost trying to find my way there. Coffee Libre is not the usual hip and cool cafe. It is very tiny, with hardly any sitting space, and looks like a storage room more than a cafe.  Not surprising since its main business is coffee roasting.

 photo IMG_2726-150530-v2__zpsaoyjhx1d.jpgThe cafe does not offer many options – just expresso, Americano, latte, Dutch coffee and hot chocolate.  I was torn between the expresso and Dutch coffee, and went with expresso in the end.  Expresso was very good – very smooth and not too acidic.  I managed to squeeze myself into a small empty space on the bench at the front of the cafe.  It was rather uncomfortable, but it beats standing. 

 photo IMG_2730-150530-v2__zpsn20dakz0.jpgThat is how the rest of the cafe looks like.  Messy, with paint peeling off the walls and boxes and cartons stacked on the floor.  Not a place for hanging out at but definitely worth a visit.  

Coffee Libre
Address: 27-15 Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Direction:  Exit 3 at Hongik University subway stop and follow map below.

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