Tokyo Getaway: Tempura At Tenmasa

Before we left for Tokyo, a friend recommended a tempura restaurant called Tenmasa to us. The restaurant was featured on an ANA inflight programme and he said that the tempura looked very good.

I did some online research on the restaurant, and read that Tenmasa has been around for over 70 years. The restaurant has been run by three generations, from grandfather to father to son. It is now located in the Marunouchi Building near Tokyo Station, so it quite easy for us to find the restaurant.

We visited Tenmasa twice in the one week that we were in Tokyo. We really liked the food. It was very good. In terms of cost, I feel that the restaurant charges reasonably for the level of quality in the food that it serves. I have eaten tempura in Singapore that costs alot more than Tenmasa but is not half as good.

Tenmasa’s menu has set meals and ala-carte orders. The set meals come in three differently-priced options, but customers can add ala-carte orders to their set meals anytime. We tried the lowest-priced and mid-priced options during our two visits and a couple of ala-carte orders mid-way through the meal.

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Tenmasa uses a very light batter in making its tempura. I could hardly taste any flour when I bit into a succulent piece of scallop, prawn or crab. Also, the oil that is used to cook the tempura is frequently changed by the chefs.

How it works at Tenmasa is this: the restaurant has three small dining rooms. Each room has a horseshoe-shaped table which sits between 8 to 10 guests, and is manned by one tempura chef, who cooks the tempura in the presence of the guests. Trays of fresh food waiting to be dipped into batter and then hot oil are laid out on the table-tops, and the chef will describe to you the food that he is preparing for you next.

I like this sort of cosy setting where one can chat with the chef, and listen to the conversations that are taking place around the table.

Now, for the food porn…! We ate alot more than that what is shown in the photos below. (Photos are a little orangy-yellow because of the lighting).

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^ Ebi, prawns.

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^ Kani (蟹), Hokkaido crab tempura. TBH’s favourite.

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^ Hotate, scallops wrapped in nori.

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^ Shirako tempura, cod-fish milt. This was fab, fab, FABULOUS! I was very fortunate that this was in season when I visited. It was piping hot and creamy. Tasted soooo good, especially with a pinch of salt.

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^ The grated daikon was so sweet and delicious, so unlike our local radish which has a slight bitter taste. I ate most of the daikon that was served in a separate bowl, even though it was intended to be a condiment to put in the sauce, and not eaten on its own.

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^ Mouth-watering good. Every item on the ala-carte trays looked so delicious, I wanted to eat all of them, but at the risk of having my cholesterol levels shoot above acceptable limits.

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^ Sea-perch

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^ Yuzu sorbet – my favourite Japanese dessert.

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^ Asari, clams.

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^ Like most Japanese meals, this ended with plain rice, pickles and miso soup, or ochazuke, or tendon, depending on which set meal one chooses. Dessert and coffee/tea are served after the rice course.

Tenmasa is definitely a restaurant that we will visit the next time we visit Tokyo. For those who are interested, this restaurant is located on the 35th Fl, Marunouchi Building. Except for New Year’s Day, Tenmasa is open from everyday: 11am – 2pm for lunch and 5pm – 10pm for dinner.

Mustard

Last night, I had a very delicious North Indian dinner at a restaurant called Mustard in Race Course Road. It specialises in Punjabi and Bengali cuisine, which as I understand, uses mustard seeds and oil as key ingredients.

We got a little lost in Little India, and took a while to find the restaurant, which we eventually found after 45 minutes of wandering and driving around, working up an appetite in the meantime.

Like jogging (and idol-chasing), North Indian food is one of the few things which I started to enjoy only in the last couple of years. I used to associate North Indian with yoghurt-chickpeas-cucumber-mixed-in-rice, because that is usually what I see Indians eat at the foodcourts. The food didn’t look in any way appetizing.

Until I discovered the joy of baingan bharta (a spicy eggplant dish mashed with onions and tomatoes, peshawari naan (a slightly sweet naan baked with almonds and raisins), rogan josh (lamb curry), chicken masala and fish tikka. I am not a big fan of tandoori chicken because I find the roasted meat a little too dry for my taste. I prefer meat to be tender, cooked in a spicy and/or creamy sauce.

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The food at Mustard is very good, especially the baingan bharta. We tried the restaurant’s specialities, which we had never eaten before in other North Indian restaurants: Chingri maacher malai curry, prawns cooked in a light green curry and served in a coconut shell, and maacher paturi, mustard fish wrapped in banana leaf (just like how otah is served). We also ordered the peshawari naan and one other naan (I cannot recall what is this) to go with the main courses and doi baingan, which is Bengali-style eggplant cooked in a yoghurt.

I enjoyed the prawn curry, as the gravy was fragrant and went very well with naan. I found the fish quite delicious, but the flavours could be a little too strong tasting for some folks. Doi baingan – not as tasty as baingan bharta.

Plenty of food for two very hungry ladies!

Death By Conjugation

I am back…!  JLPTとI4の試験を終わった!嬉しいです。

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been mugging for two Japanese tests.  The JLPT N4 test and separately, an internal placement test conducted by my Japanese language school.  Both tests require a substantial amount of preparation, and regretfully, I did not dedicate the time and effort to do so.

Anyway, the tests took place yesterday, and yeps, I am officially free from Japanese classes for a while.  Until I decide to proceed to the next level in my language school.  I am not quite sure if I should.  It feels quite daunting, really.  My foundation in the language at my level is still too shaky to move on to a more advanced level where the syllabus focuses on conversational Japanese.  I can imagine myself squirming in my seat in class, hemming and hawing, stuttering un-grammatical sentences in broken Japanese, and feeling utterly embarrassed.

In the last couple of weeks, I had been frantically shovelling as many Kanji, vocabulary, verbs, verb conjugations, etc, into my brain as I could.  That piece of muscle in my head has definitely shrunk, or worse, turned into fats, as it has demonstrated itself to be incapable of performing any “hard-core” memory work.

Clearly, I have gone past my shelf life for doing any sort of studying.  I wonder how some people manage to do their Masters, MBAs, MPAs, etc, while holding down a full-time job and for others, juggling family commitments with everything else.  So I harbour no ambitions to be a part-time Masters student.  I know my limitations.

Any mugging that I did was done almost half-heartedly.  I was battling a gazillion distractions everyday.  Reading novels, Facebook-ing, playing Sims Social, watching dramas, etc.  Generally anything and everything that  prevented me from doing any kind of serious revision.

Some things about people just don’t change, no matter how old they get.  Studying for these tests reminded me of the sort of student I was twenty years ago.  Fidgety.  Very short concentration span.  Disorganised.  Also, I am a ‘morning person’.  Which means I do my best work in the morning, especially between 0800hrs and 1030hrs.  So it is no use trying to hit the books at night after I get home from work.

I have never been a “last minute crammer”, because my brain just won’t take that sort of crap.  It will go into a deep freeze whenever it detects that I am trying to pile it with tons of data at the eleventh hour.  So there I was two days before the exam: in a semi-panicked state, tons of material left “un-memorised”, a frozen brain and an de-motivated spirit.

Experiencing the pre-JLPT test jitters was a little nostalgic, as it brought back memories of those long-ago school days.  The JLPT exam was held at the Singapore Management University, in one of its seminar rooms.  Wow, I felt young and like a student again.  But no, I had absolutely no urge to return to my undergraduate days.  Especially when that meant commuting to Boon Lay everyday.

I arrived at the exam venue early, and found myself a spot at the study areas, where hordes of exam candidates (young, no doubt) were doing their last minute revision.  I had already given up studying so I just sat on a bench, sipping a cold soya bean milk, quietly observing the iPod-plugged in folks around me, and reminiscing my old school days.  (Nowadays, universities have food kiosks, such as the likes of Jollybean, on their campus.  Good life.)  The scene felt surreal to me.  It seemed only yesterday when I was in a similiar pre-exam scene in NTU.

So how did the JLPT go?  In short, it went very badly.  Nothing I studied for came out in the test.  Which means that the reverse holds true as well.  Almost everything that came out in the exam, I did not know, or had prepared for.  When the results are released next March, I am pretty sure I have to re-take the test in July.  I need a miracle here.

How did the internal placement test go?  Slightly better than the JLPT. The questions were at least comprehensible to me. Anyway, I received my results today and I passed.  Not with flying colours, but I passed.

So I am back to the question that I started out this post with.  Do I move on to the next level, or not?

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

 

Afternoon Tea At Four Seasons

November is a month of birthday celebrations. Apart from my own birthday, I have quite a number of friends who are also born under the Zodiac sign of the Scorpio. If I don’t refer to my calendar, I might get some of the birth-dates mixed up.

I went for afternoon tea at the Four Seasons with my 7/11 Scorpio friend. I like having English afternoon tea, the traditional sort where tiny sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and an assortment of cakes and pastries are served on a three-tier silver or gold stand.

It is such a nice, leisurely way of spending a couple of hours relaxing and catching up with friends.

I am not that fond of afternoon tea that comes in the form of a buffet. Somehow, the leisurely feel that comes with afternoon tea is diminished when I have to fetch my own food from a buffet table. Also, conversations are less likely to be interrupted if neither of us had to excuse ourselves from time to time to fetch more food.

The afternoon tea at Four Seasons is pretty good. More specifically, the scones are good. And the hotel serves clotted cream to go with the scones. For me, afternoon tea can be good only when it comes with good scones AND clotted cream.

The items on the three-tier tray as well as coffee/tea are refillable by the hotel staff who goes around to check on how quickly you are scoffing the lot. I find the ambience of the tea lounge to be very pleasant. The day that we were there, the lounge was neither too crowded nor noisy. I like that the tables are placed far away from each other such that so that the lounge did not have a cluttered feel, and more importantly, we did not have to listen to conversations going on at the next table.

I have been to the Goodwood Park Hotel and the Ritz Carlton for afternoon tea but have not enjoyed the experience enough to make a repeat visit. As for the Four Seasons, I dare say I will be going back quite soon.

Tokyo Getaway: Asakusa Temple

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Every time I am in Tokyo, I make it a point to visit the Sensoji temple at Asakusa. I don’t exactly know what is it about this place that draws me to it but a trip to Tokyo doesn’t seem complete without me going there.

For some folks, it could be a compulsory visit to Tsukiji market to eat a plate of sashimi or sushi for them to feel that their trip to Tokyo is complete. For others, it might be a visit to the Tokyo Tower.

Me, it is Asakusa. Specifically, the Sensoji temple.

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Every time I visit the temple, I tell myself that THIS WILL DEFINITELY BE MY LAST VISIT! I am never going back again!

Because the place is so touristy, the crowds make me dizzy, and the incense smoke annoys me.

But I still go back time and again.

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^ I can think of one reason why I like to visit the Sensoji temple.  The Nakamise-dori shopping street. It is a stretch of small shops leading to the temple which sells souvenirs like the Maneki Neko, touristy knick-knacks and Japanese snacks.

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I am always on the look-out for cute Japanese clay figurines of animals in the Zodiac signs and traditional wooden Japanese dolls. And these things can be found at Nakamise-dori.

I love browsing in these shops, looking through the piles of wares on display and wondering if I might find something interesting or silly to bring home or as gifts for friends and family.

Fridge magnets, the odd postcard, floral-printed pouches, Japanese clay figurines, dolls, etc. You never know.

Notwithstanding the touristy-ness of the place, I enjoy soaking myself in the atmosphere of street shopping and people watching. I like the bustling vibe of the place which is a different sort from the other places such as Shinjuku, Shibuya or Harujuku.

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However, the shop-owners in this shopping street are some of the most unfriendly Japanese whom I have encountered in Japan. Glares, curt remarks, bad attitude, etc. I don’t even understand why I patronise some of these shops when the people running them are so un-welcoming.

But I still have to go back to Sensoji temple during my next visit to Tokyo because I have not tried agemanju, the famous fried azuki bun sold at a stall near the temple.

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Tonkotsu King: A New Hakata Ramen Restaurant

Despite having eaten bowls and bowls of ramen in Tokyo, I still have a craving for more ramen after coming back to Singapore.

Last week, I went to try this new place called Tonkotsu King located at the ground floor of Orchid Hotel, which is opposite the Tanjong Pagar Food Centre.

As its name suggests, Tonkotsu King sells Hakata-style pork broth ramen which I love to bits, as I cannot stop saying so. I thought that if it turned out to be good, I could get my regular tonkotsu fix at a place that is close to the offices of TBH and myself (though not for long).

I ordered the original all-in version which came with the following toppings – an egg, two slices of pork, black fungus and a gigantic piece of seaweed. On the table was a container of spicy beansprouts which customers could help themselves to.

I thought the broth was not bad. Robust, creamy-rich tasting without being salty. But it is still nowhere half as good as the one that we ate in Tokyo. Not enough OOOMPH.

What was off-putting about the ramen is the globules of artery-clotting fat floating in the broth. Seeing those fat globules greatly reduced my pleasure of drinking the broth.

I might return for another bowl whenever I get my tonkotsu cravings.

Me And My Tokyo Banana

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^ 東京ばななをたべるのが大好きです! とても美味しい。東京へ行った時に、東京が一つの箱をかったんです。友達も東京へ行く時に、私に一つの箱を買ってくれます。

Tokyo Banana! It is very delicious. (Well, only if you like sponge cake and banana custard…)

They have quite a few variations of the Tokyo Banana but my favourite is the original version, which is just sponge cake filled with banana custard.

During my recent trip, I bought a box of 8 pieces and am still slowing savouring them. They come individually wrapped in the box and make great souvenirs especially when they are easily available at the train stations and airports.

During my first trip to Tokyo a decade ago, a friend had asked me to get her a box of Tokyo Banana without explaining that it was a Japanese snack. It is very famous in Japan but clearly, its fame had not yet reached me.

I thought it was a fruit. Bananas specially grown in Japan. I went on a wild goose chase hunting for bananas in the Japanese supermarkets until I discovered my folly while browsing in a Japanese snack shop in one of the main Tokyo train stations.

Tokyo Banana tastes especially good with hot coffee.

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Peekture: Glorious Skies

Isn’t the sky exceptionally lovely today? I snapped this photo with my iPhone.

It was a deep clear shade of blue with billowing clouds that were cottony white, very fluffy and beautifully formed.

The contrast of the blue sky and white clouds made me want to find an empty patch of grass, lie down and admire the sky. Unfortunately, I had a class to go to.

Tokyo Getaway: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

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I have always wanted to visit the observatories in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to enjoy the paranomic city views from the observation decks located in the north and south towers but never got around to doing so.

Since we were staying in a hotel just across the road from the building this time, there was hardly any reason not to to so. Best of all, entry to the observation decks is free.

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^ The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Building and the ubiquitous Japanese salaryman in his black suit. Something about the look of this building reminds me of Star Wars.

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^ View from the North tower. One can see Mt Fuji from this spot on a clear day. It was too bad we couldn’t catch a glimpse of the mountain on the day that we were up there.

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^ View from the South tower. They say that the view at the south tower is better than the one at the north tower. Looks pretty much the same to me!

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Both observation decks have shops selling souvenirs and cafes to fill one’s tummy and quench one’s thirst. I was pretty much distracted by the ongoing children’s activities at the observation deck in the South tower – some kids were making origami while others were sketching. There was an activity booth where they gave out blank postcards for one to apply ‘stamps’ of a plethora of leaves in various autumn colours. Even the adults (including me!) were happily ‘stamping’ away on their postcards.

Tokyo Getaway: In Shinjuku

The skies were overcast and gloomy when we arrived in Tokyo on Monday. The morning air was slightly chilly, a wonderful change from the muggy Singapore heat that we left behind. Wearing a cardigan and a thin scarf sufficed.

It has been nearly 4 years since we last set foot in Japan. We were looking forward to some good eats and lots of walking in this trip. I felt the impact of the rising Japanese Yen when buying tickets for the 100-minute airport limousine ride to our hotel in Shinjuku. The cost of two tickets, each costing ¥3,000, was approximately the equivalent of S$100…!!

This time, we chose to stay in the Keio Plaza Hotel, a business hotel located in Shinjuku. I selected the hotel based on three criteria.

One, the hotel has to be a scheduled stop on the airport limousine’s route to and from the airport. Our previous experiences of dragging luggage up and down long flights of stairways and/or across busy crossroads in search of the hotel were not ones which we cared to repeat.

Two, the hotel must be conveniently located within walking distance from a JR station on the Yamanote Line to minimise having to change trains to go to the places that we wanted to visit, especially during peak hours!

Three, the hotel should have rooms which are of a decent size and has bathrooms that have more than just elbow-to-elbow standing space.

We were very pleased with our choice of Keio Plaza Hotel (well, the room could have been bigger…). We managed to get reasonable rates for a double-room on Agoda. While the Agoda rates did not include breakfast, the room came with a Nespresso machine, four complimentary coffee capsules per day and in-room wifi. Good enough for us. I choose Nespresso over breakfast anytime!

Keio Plaza, a huge hotel complex split into several towers, is located in a “skyscraper forest” in Nishi-Shinjuku (west of Shinjuku station) where the business district is. Surrounded by office buildings and skyscrapers, the hotel is a skip-and-a-hop away from the train station, eateries, restaurants and cafes. Service was impeccable too.

We love the hotel’s location – quiet, away from the crowds, neon-lights, billboards, shops, pimps, and madness that make up most of Shinjuku. Convenience without the noise and congestion (except when we were battling with the human traffic into and out of the Shinjuku train station). Perfect!

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^ View from our hotel room on the 25th floor. The futuristic-looking Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (shot through the window in the hotel room).

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^ Just round the corner from our hotel is this super cool and “curvaceous-looking” Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.

I love the look and architecture of the building. I was a little surprised to learn that the Cocoon Tower is an educational facility, housing three schools – a fashion vocational school, a design and technology college and a medical college. It looked like it housed hip companies in the creative fields.

Itekimasu: Running Off To Tokyo

How fast time flies. At this time last year, I was winding down at work and preparing to start my 6-month sabbatical with a five-week trip to Korea.

Fast forward one year, I am packing my bags to go to Tokyo for a short one-week vacation with the husband. This is my usual birthday trip, except that we have to do it in advance this year due to work commitments. Damn, I am going to be turning a year older. Again.

As usual, besides booking my air-ticket and a hotel room, we haven’t figured out what we are going to be doing there. Making a trip to Kamakura and Enoshima is definitely on the cards. I also want to visit the Ghibli Museum if I can figure out how to buy tickets in Japan. I am looking forward to taking photos with cute models of Totoro, the cat bus and Jiji the cat!

I am going to try to practise speaking as much Japanese as possible during this trip. And find some time to put up those out-dated posts in my draft folder.

Itekimasu!

Baikoken: Shoyu Ramen

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Right after I said that I do not eat any other type of ramen besides Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, I went to Beikoken at North Canal Road today and ate a bowl of shouyu ramen for lunch.

I was supposed to have gone to see my dentist during my lunch hour today but he cancelled the appointment in the morning. Since I had no lunch appointment and was craving for a bowl of hot ramen, I decided on Beikoken. I would have preferred my usual tonkotsu ramen but there wasn’t any decent tonkotsu ramen joint that was within walking distance from my office.

Beikoken was close by but unfortunately, sold shouyu, shio and miso ramen and not tonkotsu ramen!

I read that the joint is well-known for its shouyu ramen and charsiew. I decided on a half-bowl of shouyu ramen which comes with two slices of pork and a sprinkle of spring onions. I also asked for an ajitama to be added to my bowl of noodles.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the shouyu broth alot! It was flavourful without being too salty, and the pork was very tender. I didn’t like the texture of the noodles and thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of noodles in a half-bowl portion so I managed to eat all of it. Sadly, the ajitama overcooked.

After a quick lunch, I headed to Kinokuniya to browse through some books. I am so unproductive on Mondays.

Hakata Ramen: Ikkousha At Ramen Champion

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Back in 2006, TBH and I spent three days in Hakata city, Fukuoka during a trip to Japan. I don’t remember very much of the city but the one thing that has stayed in my mind is Ramen Stadium located on the top floor of Canal City, a shopping mall in Hakata.

Ramen Stadium has the same concept as Ramen Champion in Illuma at Bugis – famous ramen stalls all over Japan were selected to set up shop in one spot.

At that time, I was so fascinated by the concept of a one-stop ramen restaurant where one could choose to eat specialty ramen from various parts of Japan – Tokyo, Sapporo, Hakata – in one place. You decide on which stall we wanted to eat from, buy a food ticket from the vending machine and place your order at the specific stall. It was really cool.

I remember that Ramen Stadium also had a souvenir shop which sold pre-packed ramen gift boxes and I brought back some to give to friends.

My favourite ramen is Hakata-style ramen. Unless I have no choice (which is rarely the case), I almost never eat miso, shio or shouyu ramen. I like Hakata ramen for its milky-rich pork bone broth and noodles. Unlike the thick, chewy and (in my opinion) somewhat starchy noodles from the other regions, Hakata’s noodles are thin and smooth. IMO, the texture is not very different from somen or meesua, which I love to eat.

I have been to Ramen Champion twice now. Both times, I had the Hakata-style ramen.

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The first time I was there, I ordered a bowl of spicy miso ramen from Menya Iroha. Just for the sake of trying something different! I took two bites of the spicy miso ramen and decided to head out to Ikkousha for the Hakata-style ramen. Although the pork bone broth served by Ikkousha wasn’t as good as I would have liked it to be, still I enjoyed the bowl of noodles a whole lot more than the spicy miso ramen.

Maybe I will try something different during my third visit. If I don’t chicken out and go for what is familiar to me.

Even when the ramen sold in Singapore is touted to be cooked by Japanese chefs from the best ramen stalls in Japan, I find that they just don’t taste half as good as the ramen sold in Japan. No oomph or like how my friend puts it – “no opium”!

And wouldn’t it be nice if Ramen Champion had those ticket vending machines which are ubiquitous in Japan instead of the Marche-like cards used to record one’s food purchases.

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