Peekture: An Eerie Doll

An eerie-looking Ariel doll belonging to my friend’s daughter. Strange that kids don’t find the doll frightening. I am freaked out by the doll’s piercing blue eyes.

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I love the Hipstamatic iPhone app.

For people like me who are addicted to quick-snaps using the iPhone, the App has a great assortment of lens and film that one can mix-and-match to get different and interesting types of pictures, without having to carry a camera around.

Tokyo Getaway: Teppanyaki At Hakushu

Apart from Hakata Tenshin, C recommended that we visit Hakushu, a teppanyaki place, located close to the Shibuya subway station. It was an excellent recommendation, because the food was so good and affordable.

TBH and I are not fond of teppanyaki, having tried a number of teppanyaki places in Singapore. We find that food cooked over a teppanyaki loses its natural flavours, and everything tastes the same after a while, with no distinctive tastes. Garlicky. Or salty. Or garlicky and salty. I also dislike having to smell like teppanyaki after the meal.

C convinced me that Hakushu isn’t your typical Singapore teppanyaki restaurant. At Hakushu, very fresh and good quality food is cooked simply over a teppanyaki with only a hint of seasoning. You get to taste the natural and subtle flavours of the food.

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We managed to find our way to Hakushu from the Shibuya Station. Hakushu is no fancy restaurant. Just a humble eatery run by an elderly lady and her son.

On the day of our visit, we were the first customers and were given a seat at the teppanyaki counter.  The teppanyaki chef and I struggled to make ourselves understood to each other.  I struggled to understand his native Japanese – he speaks so fast!  While he struggled to understand my barely adequate and mostly incomprehensible Japanese. Zenzen wakarimasen.

We ordered the Kobe beef set each. We were so excited. Because that was the first time that the two of us were going to be eating Kobe beef. We have heard so much about how good it is and we were finally going to get a taste of it.

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We started our meal with nasu, tamanegi, kabocha. The lightly grilled vegetables were very sweet and delicious.

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Followed by grilled Kobe beef. Look at the marbling of the beef! My mouth was watering while watching the old lady cook the beef over the teppanyaki. Each set contained one piece of Kobe beef, and she cooked one piece first, sliced it, and distributed the meat between the both of us.

And we ate two slices of the beef!

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I took a bite.  Like they say – one has to experience before they can understand. I never understood the meaning of “meat melting in your mouth”.  Now I do. I fully comprehend what it means to have meat so well-marbled, it literally melts in my mouth.

The cooked meat was placed on a slice of bread which soaked up the juices of the beef.  At the end of the meal, the chef sliced the bread into small squares, grilled them lightly with butter and served them to us.  You can imagine just how delicious the bread tasted.

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By the time we consumed two fatty and high-caloric slices of Kobe beef, we were stuffed full of food up to our noses. But the husband decided that he could not leave the place until he has tried the squid.

So we ordered the squid as well.

I am sorry, Kobe Beef-san, but the squid beat you hands down. No matter how famous you are, and cost an arm and a leg to eat, the humble sotong trimphed over you. We loved the squid. Okay, I am not food blogger, and cannot find ten food adjectives to describe how wonderful the flavour of the squid was. Just take it from me that it was mind-blowing good.

My memory isn’t very dependable these days, so I am going to write down the directions for getting to Hakushu.  We are definitely going back there (plus Hakata Tenshin, plus Tenmasa) again the next time we visit Tokyo.

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Exit from the West or South Exit of the Shibuya JR Station. Walk along the overhead bridge outside the station exit, keeping to the left fork of the bridge. At the end of the bridge, there are several staircases (three, I think) leading down the bridge. Take the centre staircase – once you are down the bridge, you should see a bookshop right in front of you. Walk past the bookshop, up the road and turn right at the first turning. Walk towards Shibuya Granbell Hotel and Hakushu is located in an alley opposite the hotel. Look for the signage showing the Chinese name of Hakushu, 白秋, in the alleyway.

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This is the main entrance of Hakushu.

Tokyo Getaway: Komachi-dori in Kamakura

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We spent one day hiking around Kamakura during our last autumn trip to Tokyo. Kamakura is a very pretty city that is easily accessible from Tokyo by train. It has lots of temples and shrines, old shopping streets lined with souvenir shops and food stalls, and is great for a day-trip.

I love going to Kamakura, especially during the sakura season, as the city is exceptionally beautiful during that time. It is a wonderful feeling to be walking along Wakamiya-Oji, underneath gorgeous sakura trees lining the street, during springtime.

On the day that we were in Kamakura, the shopping streets and popular temples were crowded with school-going children on school excusions. From the Kamakura train station, we walked along the main shopping street, Komachi-dori, to get to the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine.

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I don’t usually take photos of people but I couldn’t resist snapping photos of these bubbly, fresh-faced kids strolling along Komachi-dori, looking so kawaii in their blue and yellow caps. The weather was really good that day for taking photos. Blue skies. Soft sunlight. Clear air.

How is it that even kids that young look so fashionable and chic in their casual clothes…?

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^ Matcha crepe with mochi, azuki and vanilla ice-cream. I am not a fan of matcha-food, but this crepe was delicious.

Pineapple Tarts

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Fresh from the oven!

The tarts look quite pretty in the photo but the truth is that they didn’t turn out very well this year.  I didn’t cook the pineapple long enough, so the jam has too much syrup and it starts “leaking out” after I stack the tarts in a container.  Hoping to “dry out” the jam further, I left the tarts in the oven for a while longer than the recommended baking time but this resulted in the crust becoming a little burnt.

I am making only a small batch of tarts this year.  I don’t have the energy to make more.  After spending one day kneading the dough and standing in the kitchen, my shoulders and back are aching so badly, I had difficulty getting out of bed the next morning!  I feel OLD.

I have plenty of fresh pineapple juice and egg-whites left behind from making pineapple tarts.  I am gonna try making souffles with the egg-whites!

 

Manga: The Drops Of God

Photobucket Last Christmas, I gave TBH the first two volumes of The Drops of God , a Japanese manga about wine as his Christmas present.  I saw the manga being reviewed positively on a number of manga blogs. Since the husband enjoys drinking wine and likes reading wine-related literature, this manga was perfect for him.  

And for me.  Because I love reading food manga, and drooling over Japanese food drawn with amazing detail.

The Drops of God is created and written by Tadashi Agi, a pseudonym used by a brother-and-sister team known as Shin and Yuki Kibayashi, and illustrated by Shu Okimoto.  It was first published in 2004 and is still running to-date (I think).  The American publisher, Vertical Inc, has only released two volumes of the English version, with the third volume scheduled for release sometime early this year.

Reading The Drops of God, I picked up quite a bit of educational information about wine (as in the case of Oishinbo, where there is plenty of fascinating information about Japanese cuisine). It is a page turner.  So fun to learn about something via cute characters, gorgeous artwork, an interesting storyline and humourous dialogue.  Whereas, reading wine textbooks have an immediate soporific effect on me. 

Like Oishinbo, the main plot of The Drops of God revolves around a battle of wits, skills and talent between two characters, Kanazaki Shizuka, the estranged son of a late famous wine critic, and Issei Tomei, an up-and-coming wine critic so as to inherit the priceless wine collection left behind by Kanazaki Shizuku’s late father.  The two men have to compete to identify 13 bottles of wines based on descriptions left behind by Kanzaki Shizuku’s late father. 

The artwork is drawn in clear bold lines, and the expressions of the characters are drawn so finely that one can see the emotions of happiness, anger, sadness and surprise very well.  Some other mangas have drawings that are so messy, I find it difficult to follow the story.

I was intrigued by the story after reading the first two volumes, and am curious to know what happens next in the quest.  It is going to be incredibly vexing, having to wait for subsequent volumes of the manga to be gradually released over the course of the next couple of years.  

If only I could read mangas in Japanese. 

Now, I shall have to hunt out the Japanese live action (aka ‘drama re-make’) of the manga, and be satisfied with it, until I get hold of the next volume.  

Mussels In Wine

The mussels cooked in white wine that our friend made for us on New Year’s Eve were so good, we wanted more the next day.

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So I went out to the supermarket on New Year’s Day, bought some NZ mussels and cooked us a pot for lunch using my friend’s instructions.

Oishii! Umai!

Starting 2012 With Osechi Ryori

明けましておめでとうございます! Happy New Year! 🙂

After a night of eating and drinking, TBH and I were completely knackered today. Except for breakfast and getting some groceries from the supermarket, we hibernated at home the entire day.

For dinner, we had osechi ryori (お節料理) at Wahiro, a Japanese restaurant located at Roxy Square. I thought that it would be interesting to eat osechi ryori, traditional Japanese New Year food, on New Year’s Day, but wasn’t sure whether Japanese restaurants in Singapore served osechi ryori. I did some Googling on the Internet which told me that Wahiro did, and it was located not too far away from our home.

In Japan, osechi ryori is either prepared at home prior to the new year, or purchased from shops which then comes in elegant lacquer boxes. The food is eaten with family and friends, and is supposed to last for at least the first three days of the new year. Each food item symbolises prosperity, long life, happiness, fertility, good luck. Something like our yusheng.

Back in 1999, I spent Christmas and New Year in Japan, and ate osechi ryori for the first time in the home of a Japanese family whom I was putting up with. I remember how my friend and I got osechi ryori-phobia because we had to eat the same food for three consecutive days over New Year.

I have long forgotten the phobia, and was quite keen to try it again. Afterall, it isn’t food that I get to eat at other times of the year.

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Our osechi ryori set dinner comprised:

O-zoni: rice cake soup
Renkon No Nitsuke: Lotus root cut like chrysanthemums, then fried and simmered in a sweet soy sauce.
Gobo Kobumaki: Burdock root wrapped in konbu and simmered in a dashi. Symbolises longevity
Kazunoko: Herring roe that has been cured in light soy sauce and dashi
Kurikinton: sweetened and mashed Japanese sweet potatoes with sweet chestnuts. Represents wealth.
Kuromame: Black soybean. Symbolises good health
Ikura: Seasoned salmon roe. Represents fertility
Tazukuri: Roasted dried anchovies coated with sweet caramelized soy sauce and sesame seeds. Symbolizes a bountiful harvest.
Kohaku Namasu: red and white vinegared daikon

Plus a platter of sashimi, sake, a bowl of zousui (Japanese rice soup) and matcha ice-cream.

We were happily stuffed to the brim.

Ending The Year With Friends

We spent the last evening of 2011 having dinner at our friend’s home. As I drove along the ECP to their home, I was squinting to block out the blinding rays of the setting sun, and thinking: this is the last sunset of 2011. If only I could stop the car and take a photo of the golden sun.

I can’t think of a better way to close the year. A quiet evening with good friends, eating delicious food, drinking bubbly, conversation with a dog underfoot.

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^ Ushering in 2012 with a vintage Krug!

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^ Mussels cooked in wine.

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^ Ham potpie and a lovely blueberry crumble with a decadently sinful whipped cream. 🙂

We always go there, eat and tabao food home!

May we enjoy many more good times together, in 2012 and beyond.

Looking Back At 2011

I have been thinking about 2011 and all it has brought me. I am not good at penning down my innermost thoughts. I struggle with articulating how I feel about many things, or things I mull about in my private space.

If I could sum up what 2011 represents, it would be ‘learning to let go’, especially when life throws curveballs at you, when things don’t go the way according to plan no matter how hard you try, or when answers to questions that you seek so don’t seem to come to you no matter how hard you try.

I figured that it is okay to stop controlling the rudder, let it go, drift abit and see where the flow of life takes me. The search for answers is probably a life-long process, and any answers might not turn up within a specific time-frame, or in an epiphany, if they do at all. What am I gonna do? Mope and mull for the rest of my life…and become a sad old prune?

Perhaps, I should stop looking inwards for answers, but outwards, by savouring the small and simple pleasures of life, which one tends to miss when you are constantly looking out for that epiphanic moment which will give you the last piece of puzzle to life’s big question.

On this note, I am starting 2012 feeling a bit less lost than 2011. And I am taking with me this new resolution into 2012, which is ‘be grateful’, and if I may set a goal for myself, it would be to say at the end of 2012 that it has been an incredible year for me.

I did say I am quite incoherent at expressing my thoughts. 🙂

Looking back at 2011, I have done some things which I didn’t actually think I would get around to doing. I took a sabbatical. I committed to completing one year of Japanese language studies at Bunka, and I did. I took the JLPT N4 exam. If I fail the exam, I will re-take it in July this year. I had some photographs published in a Jeju newspaper. Small things, but I shouldn’t discount their significance in my life right?

And yeah, I resigned and at the eleventh hour, decided to stay on for a while longer.

I took a few small trips this year to Chiangmai, Hanoi, Bangkok and Tokyo. Nowhere exotic or very far, but Chiangmai and Hanoi are new places which I have always wanted to go while Tokyo is a city which I could go repeatedly and still find more and more things to see and do.

Ohhh, last but not least, I got to see DBSK live 🙂 Not all of them, but certainly very happy with the two whom I saw.

Tokyo Getaway: Ramen At Hakata Tenshin

A five-day trip that will take me months to complete blogging! One thing for sure, I could not be a “professional blogger”. ‘Cos I won’t ever survive in this cut-throat business of having to constantly generate fresh material, in a timely fashion, to sustain the interest of readers. 🙂

Back to Tokyo.

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Thanks to a friend, we had the opportunity to eat a very delicious and affordable Hakata ramen from this ramen joint called Hakata Tenshin. It has a number of outlets in Tokyo, and we went to the Kabukicho outlet in Shinjuku. The eatery is a simple place where the locals drop by for a meal. We like to sit at the counter so that we could watch the ramen chefs cook the ramen, with clockwork precision.

Hakata Tenshin’s thin noodles were cooked perfectly (rhetorical point since we are talking about the Japanese…?), the way I love my Hakata noodles which means they have to be slightly hard on the bite. The piping-hot pork broth is gloriously rich, milky and tasty. A standard bowl also comes with a large piece of nori which I love.

Before I forget, I need to note the location of this Kabukicho outlet here ‘cos I am definitely going back to this ramen joint when I next visit Tokyo.

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^ The outlet is located approximately 50m from the entrance of Kabukicho, the red-light district in Shinjuku, on the left row of shops. Watch out for the eatery’s huge pig mascot standing outside the shop.

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Source of photo: Pingmag

^ The entrance of Kabukicho.

Ah, looking at these photos make me crave for a bowl of Hakata Tenshin.

Dildos & Duck

Yesterday, I had lunch with two girlfriends at Imperial Treasures Super Peking Duck. We totally pigged out. Ordered platters of dimsum, noodles and one WHOLE Peking duck.

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We had a great time discussing and giggling away about dildos and vibrators, over delicious Peking duck and dimsum! 🙂

Korea 2010: Tosokchon

Quite a number of people have asked me for a samgyetang recommendation in Seoul. I am a big fan of samgyetang. Okay, I like the soup and chicken, not so much the glutinous rice that is stuffed inside the chicken. The soup is so hearty, especially during cold weather.

I learnt that samgyetang is a summertime specialty as the Koreans believe that summer is the best time of the year to consume samgyetang, because eating it then yields the most health benefits. There are even specific days during summer designated for eating samgyetang. This sounds like the perfect dish for hot-all-year-round Singapore.

I have not tried many samgyetang restaurants in Seoul, but of the few that I have tried, Tosokchon is my favourite. The restaurant, located in a charming hanok, is quite famous in Seoul.

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I love the milky chicken broth that the restaurant serves. The broth is thick, robust and very tasty. It is soooo wonderful. I know that Tosokchon serves very good fried chicken too, but I haven’t gotten around to trying this dish. ‘Cos everytime I go to the restaurant, I must have a pot of samgyetang by myself. The huge pot of broth and chicken is more than enough to fill my stomach to the brim, leaving no space to eat anything else.

The restaurant serves a small cup of ginseng liquor together with the samgyetang (or sometimes, just before the soup is served) which diners are supposed to drink before eating the soup. I love the warm and fuzzy feeling that the liquor gives me.

Each time I get a request for a samgyetang recommendation, I have to root around the Internet to find out the exact directions to Tosokchon. I know how to get to the restaurant myself, but I do not know how to describe its location. I thought it would be useful and time-saving to blog about this restaurant here for easy reference should I get another request in future.

Tosokchon is just a short walk from the Gyeongbokgung Station. Directions are:

Take the subway to Gyeongbokgung Station (Subway Line 3)
Leave the station using Exit 2 and walk along the row of shops. The shops should be on your left and the main road on your right.
Turn left at the G5 convenience store and Tosokchon is about 50m ahead.

Long queues during lunch and dinner hours!

Tokyo Getaway: Luv Those Japanese Ink Stamps

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This is something I do every time I visit Japan – collect souvenir stamps of the places that I have visited in my travel guidebook. Or in a little cute notebook. Ink stamps can be found at certain places of interest, such as temples, museums and Japan Rail train stations, in Japan. Each stamp is individually designed for a particular place of interest, and is typically a sketch of the temple, museum or building that it represents.

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Not every place of interest has an ink-stamp. So looking for the ink stamp has become like a little treasure hunt that I play (with myself) everytime I go to somewhere new in Japan. Japan never fails to bring out the inner-child in me. I will be running around trying to catch sight of a table holding an ink-stamp and ink-pad. If I don’t spot any, I will usually ask someone working in the place of interest using barely passable Japanese: “Stampu doko desu ka? And when I find an ink-stamp, I pray that there is ink in the ink-pad!

It makes me so happy whenever I manage to add a new ink stamp to my collection. Apart from the fun factor, these ink stamps make a really nice souvenir of the various places that one has visited in Japan.

I was very proud of my last collection of ink stamps which were kept in a copy of the Lonely Planet, collected painstakingly during a number of trips to various parts of Japan.  We lent the guidebook to someone and it has not been returned to us.  And we cannot remember to whom we lent the guidebook to! Argh.

Now, I have to re-build my collection of ink stamps. During my last trip in October, I collected ink stamps from a couple of temples in Kamakura, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and certain train stations in Tokyo in cute Rilakkuma and Jiji notebooks.

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^ Harajuku JR Station

I read on the Internet that the JR East railway line has stamps in 77 stations, and thought that it would be super fun and cool to do a stamp rally in Tokyo. Travel around Tokyo on the subway to all the 77 stations and collect the ink stamps.

I wish we had something similar in Singapore. For example, we could organise a stamp rally which revolves around the tourist attractions in Singapore, and people who have collected a certain number of stamps would be entitled to a commemorative gift. I am pretty sure it will be a hit with children (and adults like me)!

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