Manga: The Embalmer

 photo 1_zps4ada2003.jpgI just read seven volumes of The Embalmer online, and am wishing that more volumes were available in English.  I love this manga!

It is about Shinjyurou Mamiya, a half-American and half-Japanese medical student who decides to abandon his medical studies and follow in his late American father’s footsteps to become an embalmer, a profession that is not highly regarded in Japan.  He sees embalming as a way of restoring the living appearance of the dead person so that their families can grieve properly and obtain closure.  Each chapter in the manga is a separate story about Shinjyurou’s experiences as an embalmer and the effects of these experiences on his life.  Through these stories, we get to know more about embalming as well as Shinjyurou’s background and his human relationships.

This is a really good slice-of-life manga if you do not find the subject matter too morbid.  

Kyoto: Tofu Dinner At Tousuiro (豆水楼)

 photo DSC_0996-140321-v2__zps802c870c.jpgWhen I was researching on what to eat in Kyoto, a tofu kaiseki meal kept popping up. So I wrote to Hotel Mume, the hotel where we were staying at in Kyoto, to ask them to recommend us a good tofu restaurant. They suggested Tousuiro or Okutan, and I picked the former because Tousuiro had a branch in Gion which is very close to our hotel.  Okutan is in the shopping streets near the Kiyomizu Temple and would be an excellent lunch spot if you are planning to visit the temple before or after lunch.

I know that Kyoto is well-known for producing excellent tofu, which is great for the husband’s tastebuds. He enjoys eating tofu while I am less of a fan. I was a little concerned that a tofu meal in a tofu restaurant would mean tofu being served in every course of the meal.  Thank goodness it is not the case in Tousuiro.

 photo DSC_0978-140321-v2__zps7328558f.jpgThe first course of our Yen 5,000 per head set dinner.  The baby squids were SO yummy.

 photo DSC_0982-140321-v2__zps828b1d04.jpgSashimi, my favourite course.

 photo DSC_0972-140321-v2__zpsa420e678.jpgMmmmm, no Japanese meal is complete for us without a flask of sake.  

 photo DSC_0984-140321-v2__zpsd92b79e1.jpgThis is how Tousuiro cooks their tofu at the table.

 photo DSC_0986-140321-v2__zps7dc9af56.jpgAnd you eat the tofu dipped in shoyu, a little grated ginger and chopped spring onions.  The tofu was quite yummy but being the tofu-plebian, I could not tell how good it was.  I ate one piece and let the husband savour the rest.

 photo DSC_0995-140321-v2__zpsdd0418f4.jpgAnother delicious course of vegetables and octopus.

 photo DSC_0988-140321-v2__zpsa1bb6a4f.jpgSome sort of fishcake-tofu in a broth with wakame.  I liked this alot.

 photo DSC_0992-140321-v2__zpsbbde9d15.jpgGrilled bamboo.  I lurve…!  Not so crazy over the mochi dengaku though. 

 photo DSC_0994-140321-v2__zps248befc1.jpgTempura.

 photo DSC_0997-140321-v2__zpsbdc31166.jpgRice, pickles and miso soup to end the meal.  By this stage, I was so stuffed and could not eat another bite. The wait staff was quite appalled that I did not eat my rice.  I felt bad about wasting food but I had absolutely no space in my stomach for a bowl of carbohydrate.

 photo DSC_0998-140321-v2__zps22f00de0.jpgSo grateful for hot tea to wash it all down.  Then we paid our bill, put on our coats and trudged back to the hotel, shivering in the cold weather.

Nameless Teochew Minced Pork Noodles At Tiong Bahru

 photo photo3-140527-v2__zps108eb6f6.jpgRecently, I discovered this stall selling Teochew minced pork noodles in a coffeeshop at Seng Poh Road in Tiong Bahru. Besides the minced pork noodles stall, the other occupants of the coffeeshop houses include the well-known Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice, a vegetarian food stall and a beverage stall.

Manned by an uncle in his sixties or perhaps seventies, the stall attracts a fairly long queue in the mornings. He told me that he has been selling noodles for 50 years in the Chinatown area and has a big group of regulars. I asked him if his stall has a name and he told me that he never thought to name his stall.

Food stalls like this one, run by the older generation of Singaporeans, is a fast-disappearing scene in Singapore.

 photo photo1-140606-v2__zpsa89bd8fd.jpgI have been back many times. My usual order – a bowl of dry minced pork mushroom mee kia with chili and additional vinegar. Yummy $3 bowl of noodles.  Closed on Thursdays.

Kyoto: Omotesando Koffee At Shijo-dori

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Update: Omotesando Koffee is no longer operating in Kyoto.

We came out of the Nishiki Market, strolled along the shopping streets along Shijo-dori and saw the words ‘Omotesando Koffee’ on the window of a department store.  We sailed into the store.  After several days of drip coffee, we were craving for a cup of expresso.

Omotesando Koffee is not a sit-down cafe, but a coffee kiosk on the ground floor of United Arrow department store in Kyoto with only standing space.  Having been to the main kiosk at Omotesando Hills in Tokyo, both kiosks share the cube-like frame where the barista prepares a cup of coffee wearing a light blue lab-coat.

 photo DSC_0230-140323-v2__zps40e2aecf.jpg photo DSC_0234-140323-v2__zps38b4bbb7.jpg photo DSC_0228-140323-v2__zps6ea70b20.jpgI wanted to try these delicious-looking cubes of caneles but I was just too full after the eating tofu doughnuts and soy milk ice cream.

 photo DSC_0227-140323-v2__zpsf85c02d6.jpgDeftly filling the portafilter and tamping the coffee powder.

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A really nice cup of doppio expresso that made the husband grin from ear to ear.  I don’t really know how to describe the flavor of Omotosando Koffee’s expresso except to say that I liked it.  It was on the acidic side, which is not usually how I like my expresso, but this was balanced by a strong and slightly bitter taste which made the expresso smell very good (but the reflective metallic cup and saucer gave me a slight headache).  I tried the doppio cappucino at the kiosk at Omotesando Hills and it was FABULOUS.  More about that later.

Omotesando Koffee Kyoto 

12-1 Tachiuri Higashi-Cho, Shijo-Dori Yanaginobanba Higashi-Iru, Shimogyo-Ku, Kyoto
(Note: UNITED ARROWS is located on the same side of Shijo-dori as the Nishiki Market.)

Kyoto: The Nishiki Market

 photo DSC_0206-140323-v2__zps31e20904.jpgAt the famous Kyoto Nishiki food market. The market is a long, narrow, and covered walkway flanked by little shops selling cooked food, fresh, frozen and pickled food, Japanese snacks and groceries on both sides.

We visited the market on a Sunday, after a long day out at the Fushimi-Inari shrine and the Sanjusangendo temple. By the time we got to the Nishiki market and saw the crowds, we were tempted to cross out the market on our itinerary, turn back and find a place to sit down and rest our feet. After a moment of hesitation, we decided to brave the crowds. Let’s get this over and done with.

 photo DSC_0202-140323-v2__zps4074bf89.jpg photo DSC_0219-140323-v2__zps6664ea72.jpg photo DSC_0208-140323-v2__zps3abe824d.jpg photo DSC_0213-140323-v2__zps2bab6946.jpg photo DSC_0214-140323-v2__zps414e2a03.jpg photo DSC_0216-140323-v2__zps9129bbf3.jpgMid-way through the market, we REALLY wanted to turn back.  Had we been in the mood to enjoy the wares peddled in the market, there were way too many people for it to be much fun.  I felt like I was being mobbed…

 photo DSC_0217-140323-v2__zps4f8c0cd2.jpg… then I saw THIS!  The first thing that perked me up. Skewered marinated octopus stuffed with a quail egg!  I love marinated octopus and this is one of the items that I usually pick up at the conveyor belt sushi places. 

 photo DSC_0218-140323-v2__zps0daf0c20.jpgWhile waiting for my turn to place an order, several Caucasian guys stopped at the stall and started making gagging noises at the skewers and you could hear them say things like  “disgusting food”, “how revolting”, “octopus…gross” in loud voices.  I felt like elbowing them and them to stop being such sissies, and have some respect.  If you don’t fancy the food, please go away.  No-one is forcing any down your throat.  

When I received my skewered octopus, I waved it in front of them and said: “This is delicious, try it if you dare!” and walked off. 

 photo DSC_0222-140323-v2__zpse4f9245e.jpgAfter enjoying the octopus, we walked on and nearing the end of the market, we arrived at Sakaimachi-dori and saw this shop selling tofu doughnuts and soymilk softserve ice cream.

 photo DSC_0224-140323-v2__zps5169d9c9.jpg photo DSC_0223-140323-v2__zps37b23f3b.jpg photo DSC_0220-140323-v2__zps0556422a.jpg photo DSC_0221-140323-v2__zps0f40dacf.jpg

Judging by the queues outside the store, this has got to be good.  So I ordered a soymilk ice cream in a cone.  It was so GOOD, I wanted to order another one so that the husband could have his own cone.  I went back to join the line and walked away with a bag of small tofu doughnuts instead.  Oooooh, best doughnuts I have eaten.  We wolfed down the freshly made, piping hot doughnuts so quickly, I forgot to take a photo of them.

Boy, was I glad that we made our way to the end of the market.  Eating the soymilk ice cream and the tofu doughnuts made jostling in the crowds worth it.  After leaving the market, we turned a corner….and stumbled onto OMOTESANDO KOFFEE, the Kyoto branch.  An excellent cup of expresso to end our day.

Cabbage Rolls

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I was inspired to make these cabbage rolls after watching Kekkon Dekinai Otoko (“The Man Who Cannot Get Married”) for the umpteenth time. The dish appeared in a scene and it looked soooo delicious, I searched for a recipe online and found one on JustBento.

I made the cabbage rolls using ground pork marinated with minced onion, grated ginger and some soy sauce.   These cabbage rolls were then simmered in bonito broth over low fire. The hardest bit for me was in wrapping the pork balls in steamed cabbage leaves. I just couldn’t get them into neat little packages. We ate these cabbage rolls with udon in bonito broth.

Kekkon Dekinai Otoko is one of my favorite Japanese dramas. It is a super fun drama! I have watched it countless times, and I never get tired of it. How can one get sick of Abe Hiroshi?

Kyoto: Parfaits At Gion Koishi

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Visiting a dessert shop in Kyoto was one of the things that I wanted to do. It was right at the top of the to-do list. Unfortunately, due to the long queues, our experience with these dessert shops was not exactly a positive one.

I planned to visit the two popular dessert shops in Kyoto – Gion Kinana and Gion Koishi. However, there was almost always a LONG queue outside both shops. We visited Gion Kinana in Hanamikoji Street on a weekday and the queue was horrendously long.  Same goes for Gion Koishi.  No matter how much I wanted to eat a parfait in one of these parlours, joining a queue was not an option for me. Not when I am on holiday.

I had already given up on visiting one, when we managed to get a table in Gion Koishi on our last morning in Kyoto, while we were on our way to Arashiyama. At 10am when the store had just opened for business. I ordered a matcha parfait and TBH chose a hot zenzai.

Cravings satisfied. A tick against my to-do list. The parfait was scrumptious. But definitely not worth queueing up over an hour for.

Shaanxi Hand-pulled You Po Mian (油泼面) In Pearl’s Centre

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I saw a photo of hand-pulled Shaanxi noodles from a Chinese noodle joint (called Xi An Xiao Chi Chuan Mai Dian) in Pearl’s Centre in my Instagram feed and I just had to go and try it for myself!  I love eating handmade noodles like ban mian and kalguksu.  

I have not stepped into the somewhat dodgy-looking Pearl’s Centre for more than 15 years, and this old building will soon be torn down to make way for the MRT line.  Located on the ground floor of the building, the hole-in-the-wall eatery is helmed by a cheery Chinese lady and was filled with Singaporeans and Chinese nationals almost immediately after I sat down at an empty table.  Just 5 minutes later and I would be forced to sit at the narrow counter facing the wall.  The eatery’s menu is pasted on the walls, and its small repertoire of noodles dishes included pork ribs la mian, beef la mian, zha jiang mian, dao xiao mian (“knife-cut noodles”), you po mian (loosely translated as “oil-sprayed noodles”) and a couple of other Chinese-style items.  

After much indecision, I finally ordered the you po mian, which is pappadelle-style noodles, hand-pulled by the cook just before throwing them into a big pot of boiling water.  The noodles were tossed in an appetizing concoction of soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil, crunchy bean sprouts and some greens.  Well-coated with the slightly tart sauce, every bite of the broad, flat noodles, doused with plenty of chili, was delightful.  I ordered a small portion but I could only manage to eat half it.  

I am gonna make a return visit soon, to try their beef noodles.

Kyoto: Sanjusangendo

 photo DSC_0180-140323-v2__zps9516208f.jpgThe Sanjusangendo temple.

It is famous for housing a very large statue of the Goddess of Mercy surrounded by 1,000 smaller, but nearly life-sized, statues of Goddess of Mercy (bringing the total number of statues to be 1,001). The main hall of the temple is a very long wooden structure and its name literally means ‘a hall with thirty-three spaces between the columns’.   When visiting the main hall, visitors have to take off their shoes and change into indoor slippers provided by the temple.

 photo DSC_0164-140323-v2__zpsd07f43f5.jpg photo DSC_0185-140323-v2__zps8cf5a003.jpgThe view of the statues in the main hall is very impressive.  Pity photography is not allowed in the main hall.

 photo DSC_0157-140323-v2__zpscb395206.jpg photo DSC_0162-140323-v2__zps9f34923f.jpg photo DSC_0169-140323-v2__zps37c230bd.jpgThe picturesque temple grounds were accentuated by cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

 photo DSC_0168-140323-v2__zps13297478.jpg photo DSC_0177-140323-v2__zpsb8c14bba.jpg photo DSC_0173-140323-v2__zps887d4d8e.jpg photo DSC_0179-140323-v2__zpsaad84b60.jpg photo DSC_0199-140323-v2__zps4496fc63.jpgHaving finally been to the Sanjusangendo, I feel that it should be a compulsory stop in anyone’s Kyoto itinerary.  You will be blown away by the sight of the statues.

Kyoto: The Fushimi-Inari Shrine

 photo DSC_0091-140323-v2__zpsd82e7378.jpgGosh, it is almost coming to the end of May and I am still blogging about the Japan trip which ended in the first week of April.   I reckon that by the time I am done with all these posts, it would be autumn.  You will be seeing photos of the cherry blossoms in Tokyo possibly only in November, just in time to start planning for another spring trip to Japan.

There are soooo many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Kyoto that you could spend days doing nothing but hop from one temple to another shrine. In our previous visits (this is my third visit to Kyoto and the huband’s second), we had already seen the highly popular Kiyomizudera temple, the Kinkakuji, the Ginkakuji, and some others, we skipped those this round and visited several others that we have not been to. This time, we went to the Chion-in Temple, the Fushimi-Inari Shrine and the Sanjusangendo.

 photo DSC_0093-140323-v2__zpsb4a5bcb5.jpgThe Fushimi-Inari Shrine, with its stunning orange-red Sen-bon torii gates, was at the top of my to-go list.   It is the head shrine in Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, at the base of Mount Inari.  What is Inari? Inari is the Japanese Goddess of rice, responsible for protecting the rice fields and ensuring fertility,  and foxes are her messengers. 

(The Japanese anime, Inari Kon Kon Koi Iroha, has a backdrop in Fushimi-Inari Shrine.  The story is about a high school girl called Fushimi Inari who rescues a fox pup belonging to the resident kami of the shrine and is given the powers by the kami to transform her appearance.  The artwork of Fushimi-Inari in the anime is beautiful.)

 photo DSC_0092-140323-v2__zps750a83d3.jpgTo hike from the main temple complex, through the torii gates, to the top of the Mount Inari takes approximately two hours.  I read that the best times to do the hike are during the early morning hours or in the late afternoon.  The temple and its surroundings are said to very quiet and magical then, while others have described the place to look rather eerie at that hour of the day.  Going by what I see of the temple in Inari Kon Kon Koi Iroha, the temple is stunning when the sun sets.

 photo DSC_0100-140323-v2__zpsbc531412.jpg photo DSC_0099-140323-v2__zpsf8bec85c.jpgTogether with hoards of visitors, we started making our way up the Sen-bon Torii from this torii gate with the guardian fox statues.  

 photo DSC_0115-140323-v2__zps80e19d6f.jpgShortly after, we arrived at the widely-photographed twin entrances to the densely packed torii gates.  It was way too crowded for me to take a good photo of the entrances ‘cos everyone had the same idea as me.  

 photo DSC_0119-140323-v2__zps5ffb7511.jpg photo DSC_0122-140323-v2__zps7fc3611f.jpgThe side of the torii gates where the characters were painted on them. Each torii gate bears the name of its donor on one side.   The view through these torii gates is really beautiful.  The path looks quiet and peaceful in this photograph.  From these photos, you cannot tell how crowded the path was.  I had to wait for the moments when the crowds have dissipated to click the shutter.  I had to be quick ‘cos before you know it, another large group of people would appear…

 photo DSC_0124-140323-v2__zps75d54f73.jpgAt the other end of the torii gates. Then we continued to march on through another stretch of less densely packed torii gates, slowing making our way up to the mountain.  

 photo DSC_0130-140323-v2__zps929fea9c.jpg
 photo DSC_0132-140323-v2__zps4b8aa32e.jpg photo DSC_0137-140323-v2__zpsf141e3ae.jpg photo DSC_0142-140323-v2__zps919935e3.jpgMidway point.  The Okuno-sha shrine, with many miniature toriis on display.  Where we turned back and went down the same route to go back to the temple complex.  Then to lunch!

Suncheon: Open Film Set

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I visited the Suncheon Open Film Set several years back which I have not blogged about and I just feel like doing so now!  Lots of my friends like to ask me for recommendations on where to go outside Seoul, besides Jeju and Busan.  I always say ‘Go to Suncheon!  It is a really nice place’.  So far, no one I know has taken me up on my suggestion. Boooo.

After going to the Suncheon Bay, Songgwangsa Temple and Seonamsa Temple, I had a spare morning before heading back to Seoul.  I was torn between the Naganeupseong Folk Village and the Open Film Set, and had only time for one.  I picked the latter because the city bus schedule to and from the folk village was not good for me.  No regrets ‘cos the Open Film Set is one of the most interesting places that I have been to.  Highly recommended especially if you are a photography buff.   

I took a cab to the Open Film Set (it is just a short ride away from the Suncheon city centre).  The location is a little out of the way to hail a cab back to the city centre, so what I did was to ask the staff of the ticket office to call a cab for me when I was ready to leave.  I have done this many times while visiting out-of-the-way places in various parts of Korea and the Koreans have always been very helpful in getting me a cab.  There is a small entrance fee to the the Open Film Set, though I cannot remember how much it is now.  

 photo DSC_0092-2-101121-v2__zps5b659fac.jpgThis film set is fairly huge and very nice.  They re-created the streets of Korea from the 1950s to the 1970s in this place.  It is akin to being in an open-air historical museum, and  a good place for young Koreans and foreigners to learn more about the history of the country.  I remember being glued to Sandglass, a highly popular drama set in the 1960s and 1970s, portraying the political situation in Korea at that time including the events around the Gwangju uprising.  

There were several groups of photography buffs taking photos with their friends posing with the buildings.  I was alone so I tried to snap photographs whenever someone in this group posed for a photo; otherwise, I would only have photos of the buildings and streets.


The Bakery Chef At Bukit Merah Central

 photo BakeryChef-140520-v2__zps71109388.jpgAfter doing my marketing at Tiong Bahru market one morning last week, I decided to check out the Bakery Chef at Bukit Merah Central (Blk 161 Bukit Merah Central), which is just a short drive away from where I was.  I had signed up for two baking classes with Ming Kai, a baker with The Bakery Chef, over the last two weekends and he asked me to visit the bakery whenever I am in the vicinity.  A friend who works in that neighbourhood also tells me that their cakes are very good.  

The Bakery Chef is located in a row of HDB shophouses next to the Bukit Merah Library, with plenty of parking lots in the open-air carpark behind. A cosy and unpretentious bakery with sit-down space.  I love those paper pom-poms hanging from the ceiling.  I ordered a slice of Rainbow cake (that’s my latest craze even though it has been around for quite a while) and a cup of expresso, and enjoyed them while reading a book with the rain pouring outside.  

The bakery’s Rainbow cake is slightly different from the version made by Lynn’s Cakes & Coffee.  The sponge cake layers are moist, infused with a fragrant passionfruit flavour, with each layer separated by a thin layer of pastry cream and topped with a generous amount of mascarpone cream. Scrumptious.  I also took away their plain croissants (I like to freeze croissants and have them warmed up in the oven for breakfast) and macarons.  They were very good too.  I would have to go back with some friends to try more of their cakes and pastries.

I have just checked out their Facebook page and it seems that from time to time, they have dessert buffets and high tea buffets (with two seatings). Interesting.

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