Seoul: Galchi Jorim (Spicy Hairtail Fish Stew) Alley In Namdaemum

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I have been wanting to visit some of Seoul’s many food alleys – jokbal alley, gamjatang alley, nyaengmyeon alley, tteokbokki alley, kalguksu alley and many more.  As I was wandering around Namdaemum one cold wintry morning in early December last year, I had a craving for a bowl of spicy stew and decided to look for Namdaemun’s galchi jorim alley. The alley was tucked away in one of the many buildings in the market and it took me a while to locate it.

Unfortunately, I had chosen to visit the alley on a Sunday morning when most of the eateries in the alley were closed.  I entered the only eatery that was opened and ordered galchi jorim.   I had not eaten this stew before and was looking forward to trying it.

Look at the Korean ahjummas working in the kitchen, and chatting loudly with the customers sitting at the tables.

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So much food for just 8,000 won.  There was no way I could put away all that food and when I tried to tell one of the Korean ahjummas that I do not need rice, she glared at me and refused to take it away.

The galchi jorim was delicious, but you have to eat the fish very very slowly and carefully, ‘cos it has many tiny bones.  It is not for everyone – you really have to love eating braised fish and have the patience to remove the tiny bones to get to the flesh.  I loved the fried fish bones sidedish and steamed egg that came with my lunch.

Next food alley expedition would be to the gamjatang alley!

Crocheting: Rosette Granny Square Cushion

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Another cushion cover!

I have been seeing this beautiful rosette pattern quite a bit on Instagram, but I could not find any written instructions in English online.  After much searching, I found a video tutorial on a blog for this pattern.  Unfortunately, the instructions were in a foreign language – Turkish, I think – and not in English.  You can find the video tutorial on Gulay Degirmenci’s Youtube channel here.

I played the video forwards and backwards countless times to eyeball the stitches and after much hair-pulling, managed to figure it out.  It is quite an easy pattern to make and I have to find some time to write it down before I forget.

I thought it would be an overkill if I made a rosette on all the granny squares so I decided to alternate the rosette granny square with a plain solid granny square, and then made a lattice-style edging before stitching it to the fabric.

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Another milestone in my self-taught sewing lessons.  I made a zipper that is concealed.  It turned out quite well though the machine stitches could have been neater.

I love the print of this fabric which I bought from Sin Mui Heng at People’s Park Centre.  This is a lightweight and silky-smooth cotton fabric from Japan that costs $16 for a yard.  I could have bought something cheaper from Spotlight but I do not like the look and quality of their fabrics which are mostly from China.  I like going to Sin Mui Heng – most of their staff are elderly aunties who are helpful and polite.

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If someone were to tell me 30 years ago that I would resemble my mother 30 years later in that we both love buying fabrics (for making clothes in her case), I would say the person is crazy.

Tokyo: From afar 倉庫01Coffee And Tea

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From afar倉庫01 is a beautiful tearoom that I had seen in the Instagram feed of shewhoeats. Her Instagram feed is gorgeous – filled with photographs of cakes, pastries and desserts that she bakes and her travels.

We were heading to Asakusa for dinner at Otafuku Oden and decided to drop by From afar倉庫01 in Kurumae which is along the way to Asakusa.  Kurumae is an old Tokyo neighborbood that is situated along the Sumida River.  We alighted at the Kurumae subway station and walked along the Sumida River to get to the tearoom.  We have never been to that part of Tokyo and it was nice exploring a new neighourbood together.

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Wow. From afar倉庫01, part tearoom and part gallery space, is visually stunning.  It is located in a quiet alley off the Sumida River in what looks like a refurbished warehouse.  The calm but dim and edgy-looking interior is filled with beautiful wood furniture and pottery.

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It may sound a little strange to say this, but I felt like I was in Taiwan.  The tearoom has a strong Taiwanese vibe (as opposed to Japanese).  This place feels like it came out of a Jay Chou music video.  If you are a Jay Chou fan, you will know what I mean. 🙂

 photo IMG_9081-160221-v2__zpsjqpj3svg.jpg photo IMG_9068-160221-v2__zps0hjkjpln.jpg photo IMG_9080-160221-v2__zpsyqmucqpr.jpgThis is definitely what I would call an Instagram-worthy tearoom.

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I was attempting a “stylo-mylo” photograph of that part of the tearoom but since the man would not budge from the comfort of the sofa, he had to try to look the part.

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We ordered a slice of cheesecake, an iced Thai milk tea and a cappuccino and rested our feet from hours of walking since the morning.  The tearoom is highly recommended for those who want to get away from the crowded and touristy spots in Tokyo.  While it is a little off the main tourist route in Tokyo, it makes a good stop on the way to and from Asakusa or the Tokyo Skytree.

From afar倉庫01

Address: 東京都墨田区東駒形1-1-9 (〒130-0005 Tokyo, Sumida, 東駒形1-1-9)
Directions: Exit A2 of Asakusa subway station, or Exit 6 of Kurumae subway station.  See Google Map below for location of the tearoom.

Osaka: Dojima Roll Cake By Mon Cher Patissierie

In Tokyo, I satisfy my Japanese cake and pastry cravings at Harbs. Even though Harbs is also present in Osaka, I wanted to find out which are the other patisseries that I should visit.  One name kept popping up in my research – Mon Cher Patissierie’s Dojima roll cake.

I love love love roll cakes so I made plans to drop by their main outlet at Dojima in Osaka (which was a little way out from where we were staying).  Interestingly, the Mon Cher roll cake was created by a Korean lady.

 photo IMG_9261-160224-v2__zpsfszgaama.jpgAs luck would have it, I did not have to make my way to Dojima.  We were walking around in the Hankyu Department store in Umeda and saw a Mon Cher outlet in the mall’s food basement.  I hurried to the counter and stared at the roll cakes for a long time, struggling with the decision of whether to buy one entire roll cake back to the hotel, or be sensible and buy just two slices. We still had some Pablo cheese tarts sitting in the fridge in the hotel room!

In the end, good sense prevailed and I decided to get two slices of the plain roll cake.  By which time, the plain roll cake slices were almost sold out and only one slice was left if I wanted it.  Arggghh – the cost of indecision.  In the end, I bought the remaining slice of plain roll cake and a slice of chocolate roll cake.

 photo IMG_9279-160224-v2__zpscytitkaa.jpgThe roll cake was absolutely delicious.  The cream filling, made from Hokkaido milk, was very fresh, light and silky.  Mon Cher’s sponge cake was denser and had a more chewy texture, unlike the usual feather-light and fluffy Japanese sponge cakes.  I felt that bread flour may have been used in making the sponge, giving the cake its denser texture, which goes very well with the cream filling.

I should have just been greedy and bought the entire roll cake!

Crocheting: Citrus Vintage Popcorn Stitch Cushion Cover

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This is the third installment of my crocheting journey with the vintage popcorn stitch cushion cover.  I made one in a citrus colored cotton yarn this time.  The first two are in vanilla and taupe.

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The cushion inserts in the previous two cushion covers were sewn into the cover and cannot be removed.  For this piece, I decided to sew a zipper to the fabric so that the cushion insert can be removed.  It was my first time sewing a zipper and as you can see from the photo, it was not sewn straight even with the use of pins!  I definitely need more practice with the sewing machine.

I like the bright and cheery prints on this fabric that I bought in Japan.

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This time, I had a slightly easier time making a roll-hem on the fabric and sewing it to the crochet piece.  I can now see why some crafters use a plain fabric (as opposed to one with prints) so that you don’t have worry about the prints looking ‘crooked’ or ‘slanted’.

I am going to take a break from this popcorn stitch pattern for a while.  There is another 3-D rosette granny square pattern that I have been dying to try and have only recently found a video tutorial on it.

Modern Korean At Meta Restaurant In Keong Saik

It has been a while since the husband and I dined out at a nice restaurant on our own. There are so many new restaurants popping up every month, we are spoilt for choice whenever we want to splurge on a meal.

I came across Meta Restaurant when I was browsing around in Chope. The website introduced the restaurant as one that serves modern cuisine with an Asian (Korean) influence. The chef is Korean who was trained in French cooking. I was intrigued by the chef’s profile, especially after visiting Jung Sik Dang in Seoul, as it is not usual to see modern cuisine with a Korean influence. You see quite a number of restaurants serving modern food with Japanese flavors; not so much Korean.

Meta Restaurant has only a fixed price menu that changes every season.  We had their Spring menu. I thought the restaurant was a tad cheeky in how they displayed the price of dinner.  At first glance, the menu showed 9 courses for a price of $118++ per head.  However, if you look again carefully, of these 9 courses, 3 courses are supplementary courses (ranging between $20 – $28) that would increase the cost of dinner incrementally depending on the number of supplementary courses you pick.

In other words, the price of $118++ per head is for only 6 courses displayed on the menu, and if you pick all 3 supplementary courses, you would add an approximate $70++ to your dinner bill.  A whopping $190++ per person (excluding drinks) if you eat every item printed on the Spring menu.

Mega OUCH.

Well, the menu and prices are published on the restaurant’s website, so you cannot say that you have not been forewarned before making a dinner reservation.

We opted for the full menu and a glass of wine each.

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Clockwise: (1) Meat wrapped in a cabbage, pickled cucumber, kimchi puff balls (amuse bouche); (2) Irish oyster in a gingery broth with pomelo (supplementary); (3) Hokkaido scallop in a yuzu-shiso dressing; (4) Bibimbap with sea urchin; (5) Squid and sea snail fennel Korean pancake; (6) Seabass in a clam broth with daikon and fregola (supplementary)

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Clockwise: (7) Quail with burdock, Jerusalem artichoke and carrot puree; (8) Lamb with doenjang and celeriac; (9) Wagyu striploin with tendon, shitake and potato; (10) Mango ice cream with passionfruit, toffee and coffee (supplementary); (11) Bingsu; (12) Cookie frozen in liquid nitrogen (courtesy of the chef)

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The food was beautifully executed and very good.  Every course had ingredients that were creatively put together, the presentation was visually interesting, flavors were balanced and very tasty.  You do not even have to like Korean food to enjoy the food because the Korean ingredients used are very subtle, not strong and overwhelming like how we know traditional Korean food to be.

We liked everything that we ate – the panfried seabass and quail were my favourites.  The sea bass was fresh and very sweet, and the quail was delicious without being too gamey.

The chef came over to say hello.  He speaks English fluently having spent some years in Australia, but with a Singaporean accent (you can definitely hear the Singlish tones), has a Singaporean wife and enjoys chicken rice and kway chap.

I would recommend Meta to anyone who is interested in modern cuisine, particularly one with a Asian/Korean twist.  But the price is the only drawback here.  I find it is too expensive for most people I know given the numerous dining options available in this city, and for us to make a repeat visit when they change their menu next season.  Pity, ‘cos the meal was so enjoyable I would like to know what else the chef has to offer in his next menu change.

Meta Restaurant
9 Keong Saik Road

BAKE Hokkaido Cheese Tarts

 photo IMG_0776-160501-v2__zpsghultuup.jpg I don’t usually queue up for food but I had some time to kill while waiting for a hair appointment, so I joined the queue that had formed outside BAKE about 15 minutes before the shop’s opening hours.

These cheese tarts were quite tasty.  The crust was crispy and the cheese filling was moist, rich and runny.  But at a price of $3.50 each, I find them a little small (you could eat one in two big bites).  I prefer Pablo’s cheese tarts for its larger size, better taste and texture of the cheese (firmer, less runny).

Having tried both Pablo and BAKE, the husband and I like our local old-school egg custard tarts better.  I love the ones with a wobbly egg custard and melt-in-your-mouth pastry crust from Tai Chong Kok Confectionary at Bukit Merah Lane (in one of the shophouses opposite the Alexandra Village Food Centre.

Crocheting: (More) Vintage Popcorn Stitch Cushion Cover

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After pondering about it for some time, I finally went out and bought a Brothers sewing machine.  It has been nearly 20 years since I touched a sewing machine in school during Home Economics class.  Although the very helpful sales assistant at Courts gave me a 30-minute crash course in how to operate the sewing machine, but unfortunately, less than 30% of what she said stayed with me.  She also gave me her mobile number, just in case I needed “SOS” when using the machine, but I am glad that I have not had to call her yet.

I am not one to read the operating manual of a gadget from start to end.  The best way to learn something (at least for me) is to jump right into it and start doing it.  I decided to sew the fabric piece to another cushion cover that I had completed crocheting.  The last vintage popcorn stitch cushion cover that I had hand sewn together is here.

I watched a couple of Youtube videos on how to hem the edges of the fabric and make seams using the sewing machine, took a deep breath, and turned on the machine.  I managed to thread the sewing machine and wind the bobbin, hem all four sides of the fabric after re-doing it several times.  I could not really control the pedal well so the stitching came out looking uneven and very messy!  Sewing the crochet piece to the fabric was quite challenging because the thread in the bobbin kept getting caught in the machine which meant repeated un-picking and re-sewing.  After what seemed like ages, I finally joined 3 sides of the cushion cover using the machine.  All I had to do was stuff the cushion insert into the cover and hand-sew the last side (which led to even more messiness).

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Quite decent for a first effort but lots more practice is needed in using the machine.  For my next cushion cover, I will learn how to attach a zip to the back.  This is really fun.  🙂

Kyoto: One Michelin Star Sushi Gion Matsudaya

 photo L1001718-160228-v2__zps4ifrlvmz.jpgWe wanted to eat sushi in Kyoto and asked Hotel Mume for recommendations.  They recommended Matsudaya, a one Michelin star place that serves Edo-style sushi, and got us a lunch reservation on a Sunday.  I have never tried Kyoto sushi but hear that it is on the sweet side and tastes different from the Edo-style sushi that we are used to eating.

Matsudaya, located in Gion, is about 10 minutes away from Mume by foot.  We took a walk along Shijo-Dori overlooking the Kamo river, and wandered around the side alleys off Shijo-dori to work up an appetite for lunch.  We were mindful that we also had a potentially huge dinner at Restaurant 245 that evening.  Two huge meals in one day were a bit worrisome for my stomach.

 photo IMG_0463-160413-v2__zpsi4cqp61j.jpg photo IMG_0461-160413-v2__zpsneccbnul.jpgThere really was no need to be concerned about being too full after a sushi meal at Matsudaya.  We did not feel overstuffed at after consuming some 16 courses and 3 carafes of sake over lunch.  The Japanese have a knack of feeding you a lot of food in portions that are just right.  I even had a Tsujiri parfait immediately after lunch.

We liked Matsudaya.  It is a tiny place, with about 7 seats at the counter, manned by the chef (who speaks English) and a helper (his wife I think).  The sushi was excellent and unlike some sushi places which tend to be quite formal and stern, Matsudaya is fairly casual and comfortable.  The chef chats with the guests while preparing the sushi and you can talk with your companion without feeling the need to keep quiet and pay absolute attention to the food, and only the food.

Sushi Gion Matsudaya
Address: 570-123 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0074, Japan

Kyushu: Nabegataki Falls In Kumamoto

My heart goes out to Kumamoto and the people living in Kyushu who are deeply impacted by the earthquakes. We visited Kumamoto late October last year and it is hard to imagine that many areas of the beautiful prefecture are now badly damaged by the earthquakes.

 photo L1001478-151022-v2__zpsxnzxzer5.jpg photo L1001486-151022-v2__zps8dowy7gg.jpgAs part of our 10-day Kyushu driving holiday, we spent half a day in Kumamoto city enroute to Mount Aso where we spent 2 nights in a ryokan.  We visited the Kumamoto Castle and had a lovely lunch at a sushi place in the city.  We then spent the next two days driving around the scenic Mount Aso countryside and mountain plains, and one of our stops was the Nabegataki Falls.
 photo L1001506-151022-v2__zpsavhntdld.jpg photo L1001477-151022-v2__zpshen9nzoi.jpg photo L1001494-151022-v2__zpsmukwe8jr.jpg photo L1001496-151022-v2__zpsli3ueraq.jpgThe Nabegataki Falls is a small waterfall nestled in the Mount Aso countryside.  The place is so pretty – it looks like a watercolor painting, or like a frame out of a Japanese anime.

The attraction is easily accessible by car and thereafter, a short walk down to the waterfall area via a flight of wooden stairs.  No hiking is necessary but best to wear sneakers with anti-slip soles as you have to walk across some slippery boulders and stone slabs to get from one side of the waterfall to the other side.  Although the Nabegataki Falls are nowhere as spectacular as some of the other more well-known waterfalls sprinkled throughout Japan, like the Kegon Falls in Nikko, I feel that it is worth a visit if you are in the Kumamoto/Mount Aso area.

Note: A small entrance fee is required to enter Nabegataki Falls.

Kyoto: Hotel Mume / Shirakawa Minami Dori

 photo IMG_9435-160227-v2__zpsoao8nxd5.jpgWe stayed at Hotel Mume in Gion for the first time when we visited Kyoto two years ago.  I came across a review of the 7-room boutique hotel on Time’s website.  I was charmed by Mume’s design around 4 nature themes of “Butterfly”, “Wind”, “Moon” and “Flower”.  However, the only room that was available to us at that time was the “Moon” double room.  The room was chic, intimate and elegant but we found the room a little too dark for our liking.

For our second visit, we managed to book the bright and airy “Wind” room (photo above).  It is quite difficult to get a room in Mume so we had to plan our two-week Japan schedule around the availability of rooms in the hotel.  That is how much we like Mume!

 photo IMG_9563-160301-v2__zpsoz5mqkub.jpgThis is Mume’s chinoiserie-style lounge-cum-bar, furnished in dark wood accents, European and Chinese furniture, Chinese lanterns.  There is always a huge floral arrangement sitting on the counter.  This is where guests gather to have their breakfast, pre-dinner drinks, coffee/snack when you are back from a day out traipsing around Kyoto.

I am fairly sure that we will be repeat guests at Mume.  I would say that the level of personal service shown by the owner, manager and staff is the winning factor for me.  The Mume folks show an incredible amount of hospitality to its guests, always inquiring about your day and making sure that you know exactly how to get to the restaurants and attractions in Kyoto by printing out maps, train schedules and photographs of the exterior of the restaurants.

We always look forward to chatting with the owner or the manager at the end of the day.  They speak good English so that makes for easy conversation.  Twice, I have left behind something in Mume after checking out, and both times, they called me at my next hotel to let me know that they have forwarded my things to the hotel through the Japanese delivery service.

 photo IMG_9602-160302-v2__zps9ihv7sdo.jpgI love Mume’s breakfast (which is included in the room price).  They serve a daily continental breakfast set comprising fruit juice, homemade yoghurt, fruit, homemade soup, breakfast rolls, soft-boil egg, assortment of jams and coffee from the Nespresso machine.    The food is simple, clean, fresh and delicious.  I usually skip the breakfast rolls and soft-boil egg because too much food in the morning ruins my appetite for lunch.

 photo L1001694-160228-v2__zpsoelnez42.jpg photo L1001692-160228-v2__zps4n0o1dr7.jpg photo L1001713-160228-v2__zpsy0ffsyav.jpgAnother reason that we like Mume is its location.  It is conveniently situated a couple of streets behind Gion, and within walking distance to the Kamo River, the Gion-Shijo subway line, the shopping districts in Shijo-dori and San-jo-dori, as well as the Kiyomizu Temple, Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park.

Just a short walk away from Hotel Mume is the pretty Shirakawa-minami-dori, an old street lined with machiyas, plum and cherry blossom trees.  We walk past this lovely street everyday, to get to Shijo-dori or the Gion-Shijo Keihan subway station.

The Shirakawa river runs parallel to the street, with stone bridges connecting the pavement to the restaurants housed in the machiyas.  We were here at the start of spring two years ago and it was particularly scenic with the spring-time foliage.  This is a popular place for Japanese bridal photo shoots and to see maikos.  

 photo L1001698-160228-v2__zpsibycvbzk.jpg photo L1001704-160228-v2__zpsvrw7bokg.jpgAnother stretch of machiyas that is very popular with bridal shoots.   It is a lovely spot for a morning walk, before the crowds turn up.

 photo L1001699-160228-v2__zpsete2fzlw.jpg photo L1001701-160228-v2__zpsclakevmx.jpg photo L1001707-160228-v2__zpszqms1znf.jpgKyoto is just so charming.

Jung Sik Dang – Excellent Mod-Korean Restaurant In Seoul

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I love Korean food. Whenever I visit Korea, I have it for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner.  This is the reason why my husband rarely travels with me to Korea on my annual trips – he does not enjoy spicy Korean food, or the BBQ meats.  If we went together, we would have to eat our meals separately.  I will eat yukgaejang and gamjatang for dinner while he goes off and finds himself a Japanese curry place, or an Italian restaurant.

To get him to agree to go with me on my next trip to Korea, I agreed that we would have at most one Korean meal a day, and preferably, in a restaurant that serves contemporary Korean cuisine.  (Gawd, I should just leave him at home.)  I eat street food and the local eateries in Korea, so besides Paul Gagnaire’s restaurant in Lotte Hotel, I have no idea which are the fine-dining restaurants in Seoul that serves modern Korean cuisine.  I set out to find some.

I did some research and came across a review of Jung Sik Dang‘s modern Korean cuisine in NYC.  The review was very positive and it also touched on the restaurant’s second branch in Seoul.  So I decided to make a lunch reservation during my last trip to Seoul in November.  The Korean branch is also on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list (if such accolades matter to you).

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I like the interior of Jung Sik Dang.  Modern, classy, tasteful.  It is clearly a place where corporate executives and ladies-of-leisure meet for lunch.  I was the only single foreign woman in the restaurant and for someone who is used to eating alone in restaurants, felt strangely out of place.

I ordered the 8-course tasting menu and a glass of Chenin Blanc from Domain Huet Vouvray.  The white wine, recommended by the sommelier, was delicious!  The staff spoke English and like any fine-dining establishment, explained each course clearly when serving the food to me.

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First course – espuma and snacks.

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The rest of the courses.  Mushroom soup.  Some kind of fish from Jeju.  Fillet mignon.  Octopus.  Pan-fried tuna.  Sea urchin with kimchi.  Desserts.  Every course was well-made and delicious.  I could not decide whether the octopus or the sea urchin was my favorite.

I had a trio of desserts: sujeonggwa sorbet (I love sujeonggwa.) to clean the palate, followed by a pretty dessert (I cannot recall what it is now) which they call the Rose of Versailles.  The last and the best of all,  a Korean ginseng ice-cream cone to accompany a cup of ginseng tea.

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I was so happy I decided to go with the 8-course tasting menu.  The portions were perfect and I did not feel too full at the end of the meal.  I enjoyed myself so much that I am definitely going back the next time I am in Seoul.  I am going to try their Choice Menu next.  I see some items (such as the pork belly and croaker) on this menu that look exciting.

The ambience was good, the service was great, and the food was excellent.  However, it all came with a fairly steep price tag.  This is a place that I am pretty sure the husband will enjoy.  

After lunch, I headed off to the Hangang River Park for a looooong walk.

Jung Sik Dang
Address:83-24, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea
Opening Hours:
Lunch: 12:00PM – (Last order: 14:00PM) everyday
Dinner: 17:30PM -(Last order: 21:00PM) everyday

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