Tokyo: Motoya Express In Daikanyama

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Motoya Express is another favorite coffee joint of ours.  We would always drop by for a cup whenever we are in Tokyo.  Motoya does not operate out of a brick-and-mortar shop but out of a little mini bus.  It is unbelievable how the barista can manage his coffee machine, coffee supplies and pastries at the back of the mini bus.  But he does, and does it very well.

You can find Motoya Express parked outside the Daikanyama train station.  I read that there are several Motoya Express mini buses around Tokyo but I have only been to the one at Daikanyama.

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The barista is friendly, always bantering with his customers.  Even with foreigners, he attempts to converse with them in English.

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Parked at a shady spot with potted plants and shrubs, Motoya provides benches and chairs for its customers to rest their feet while waiting for their coffee.

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My usual cup of flat white.  The husband goes for a double expresso.

Tokyo: Sandwiches At Hamanoya Parlor In Yurakucho

 photo IMG_9678-160304-v2__zpsag7awzmy.jpgI do not eat much bread in my diet but whenever I am in Japan, I find myself eating bread almost every day. We usually go to a kissaten close to our hotel (you can usually find one along the streets or in a train station)  for our Japanese-toast-slathered-with-butter fix in the morning.

I like how the Japanese slice their white bread thick so I get a nice deep bite of soft, fluffy and fragrant bread in each mouthful.  The texture of the Japanese bread is completely different from what we get in a loaf of Gardenia or Sunshine bread.  The bread baked by our old-school bakeries come close, but still not quite.

I first came across Hamanoya Parlor in my Instagram feed.  The Instagram photo was a uber delicious-looking egg omelette sandwich served at Hamanoya.  According to TimeOut, Hamanoya is an old-school Japanese cafe located at the basement of the Shin-Yurakucho building that serves a selection of sandwiches, and they are particularly good with egg sandwiches.  Off we went to go pay them a visit, especially when Yurakucho is just one stop away from our hotel in Shimbashi.

 photo IMG_9680-160304-v2__zpszdg4eoa3.jpg photo IMG_9679-160304-v2__zpsar8bbjjw.jpgThe Shin-Yurakucho building is quite easy to find.  It is just across the street from BIC Camera which you cannot miss coming out of the Yurakucho train station.  Take the escalator down to the basement of the building and you will see Hamanoya Parlor on your right.

 photo IMG_9689-160304-v2__zpstkh67bw3.jpgWalking into Hamanoya Parlour takes you back to the 1980s, with its red vinyl seats and brown paneled walls.  They do not have an English menu which meant that I had to slowly make out the Katakana characters on the Japanese menu.  Luckily, an English-speaking Japanese lady seated at the next table heard me asking for an English menu and offered to help us with our orders.  She explained to us what was on the menu and also offered her recommendations (she is a regular at Hamanoya) as to what we should try.

I have always wanted to eat a Japanese fruit sandwich and when she told us that Hamanoya makes one of the best fruit sandwiches in town, I had to order it.  She suggested the ham sandwiches and if we still had space in our stomachs, to order the egg sandwiches too.  Also, Hamanoya charges a little bit more money if you ask for bread to be toasted.

So we started off with a platter of ham sandwiches and fruit sandwiches.  The ham was good but the fruit sandwiches were absolutely divine.  Mikan and cubes of sweet pear in a delicious (and not too sweet) thick whipped cream filling sandwiched between two slices of soft fluffy bread.  I was glad that they gave me mikan and pear instead of strawberries ‘cos I do not like strawberries, not even the very sweet Japanese ones.

 photo IMG_9687-160304-v2__zpsehxcuwpz.jpgAfter devouring most of the fruit sandwiches in super-quick time, I was quite full but I had to order the egg omelette sandwiches.  Well, they were the reason why we went to Hamanoya.   The egg sandwiches were excellent.  Thick, fluffy and still warm, having come straight out of the kitchen.  I would have enjoyed the egg sandwiches even more had I eaten them on an empty stomach.  As you can see from the photo, the egg sandwiches are thick and very filling.

Hamanoya Parlor
Address:  Basement 1F, Shin-Yurakucho Building, 1-12-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo
Directions: Take the train to the Yurakucho station and leave the station by exit #D2. You will see BIC Camera in front of you. The Shin-Yurakucho building is opposite BIC Camera.

Tokyo: Otafuku Oden In Asakusa

 photo IMG_9088-160221-v2__zpsycwkvgek.jpg The husband loves oden. So do I.

It is simple comfort food, best eaten in cold weather (for me) with a mug of beer.  Usually, we eat oden in an izakaya in Japan.  This time, I wanted to visit a traditional oden restaurant.  After some research, I picked Otafuku in Asakusa because of its long-standing history and also because it is located in Asakusa which makes it a convenient dinner stop after visiting the Sensoji temple.

Cutting through the food alleys at the back of Sensoji, Otafuku is about a 10-minute walk away.  We took quite a bit longer because Google Maps led us on a merry walk through a labyrinth of food alleys and a shopping arcade, backtracking many times before we found the restaurant.  Well, Google Maps navigated us to the back of Otafuku which was why we could not find it until we figured out what was wrong and made our way around a street to get to the front entrance.

Otafuku is located in a traditional Japanese house with a pretty garden out at the front.  We did not make a dinner reservation and were lucky that they had a table for us.

 photo IMG_9086-160221-v2__zpsalnieo7g.jpgAt Otafuku, you get to pick what you want to eat from the menu (and they have an English menu).  Each table gets a large oden pot set over a fire, so your oden is always nice and warm throughout your meal.  We ordered piles of oden and then spotted a blackboard with more food items written in Japanese.  Good thing that I could make out gyu suji nikomi (stewed beef tendon) on the board ‘cos that is one of our favorite things to eat.

 photo IMG_9084-160221-v2__zpshcjnk92t.jpgThe oden was fabulous.  We loved all the beancurd things that we picked and above all, the very tasty broth flavored with lots of mustard.  The stewed beef tendon was very good too. So good that we polished off two plates.  The meat was soft, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth tender.

We had such a simple yet satisfying (and relatively inexpensive) meal that I would definitely want to go back to Otafuku again on our next visit to Tokyo.

 photo IMG_9094-160221-v2__zpsrklarwvk.jpgFrom Otafuku, it was a 20 minute stroll back to the Asakusa subway station.  We were glad to be able to walk-off the huge dinner that we had just consumed.

 photo IMG_9092-160221-v2__zpsrq8hlamn.jpgSince we had to walk pass Sensoji on our way back to the subway station, we decided to visit the temple.  We have never gone there at night, only during the day, and were amazed at how beautiful the temple looked at night.  The crowds had thinned, and many of the shops along the Nakamise-dori were preparing to wind down for the day.  It is a much nicer place to visit at night than during the day when the place is packed to the brim with tourists.

Despite a belly full of oden, I could not resist scarfing down a deep-fried mandu filled with azuki purchased from one of the shops at Nakamise-dori.  It was the perfect sweet ending to a wonderful day out in Tokyo.

Otafuku
Address: Taito-ku, Senzoku 1-16-2
Tel: 03-3871-2521

Tokyo: Cafe Kitsune In Omotesando

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

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

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

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

Crocheting: Vintage Popcorn Stitch Cushion Cover

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I have been seeing this lovely popcorn stitch pattern around a lot on Pinterest, and I finally found the pattern online.  The final product has a 3-dimensional, vintage look that gives off a whimsical feel to the cushion cover.  Also, I like crocheting popcorn stitches (I make them using 6 double-crochets which unfortunately ‘eats’ up quite a bit of yarn.)

There is a lot of flexibility in the pattern.  To make a bigger or smaller piece, you could adjust the number of rows of popcorn stitches.

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For the back piece, I decided to use a fabric in a cheery yellow and blue Scandinavian print that I bought in Japan recently.  The problem is that I do not know how to machine-sew the fabric to the crochet piece.  So I sewed both pieces together by hand.  I have not sewed anything for at least 2 decades, and it took me ages to complete this task.

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The result was rather satisfactory, though the stitching is obviously untidy if you look very closely. I am toying with the idea of taking up sewing classes (noooooo, I shouldn’t take up more hobbies), but in the meantime, I should just enlist my aunt’s help if I need to complete another cushion cover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest of the food photos are in the gallery below.

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

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

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Tokyo: Toranomon Koffee In Toranomon Hills

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

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

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

Fabric Shopping In Japan & A Candy Bag Of Handmade Fabric Buttons

 photo IMG_9728-160306-v2__zpsexejswkt.jpgJapan is a haven for crafters.  Their stationery shops, fabric shops, handicraft shops are places where I can spend all day wandering around in.

With the husband in tow, I had to exercise restraint in the amount of time I spent in these shops.  Despite the limited time that I had, I managed to get some pretty good fabric buys.  I bought most of the fabric in ABC Mart in the Q’s Mall in Osaka (Tennoji), Hankyu Department Store in Osaka, Nomura Tailor in Kyoto and Yuzawaya in Takashimaya Shinjuku.  Pity that I did not have time to visit the Nippori Fabric Town in Tokyo.

 photo IMG_9792-160309-v2__zpsomjze5mx.jpgMade a bag of cute little buttons (11mm) with the fabric!

Seoul: Cha Masineun Tteul Teahouse In Bukchon

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

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

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

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

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

Osaka: Biotop Corner Stand

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

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

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

Biotop Corner Stand

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

Osaka: Granknot Coffee

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

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

Osaka: Hanamaruken Ramen & Other Ramen

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

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

Kinryu Ramen

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

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

Ichiran

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

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

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

Hanamaruken Ramen

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

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

Seoul: Blüte Cafe In Hongdae

 photo IMG_7010-151128-v2__zps1deyyke5.jpgI have seen Blüte being featured on a number of travel and lifestyle blogs as a beautiful garden-themed cafe in Seoul.  I have never been there so during the November trip to Seoul, I dropped by Blüte on an early Saturday morning, intending to have brunch and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had the cafe all to myself (unlike Singapore where people throng to cafes during weekends at hours as early as 8am).  Unfortunately, I was too early for brunch (available from 11am onwards) so I could only have a cup of coffee.

Most of the addresses on the Internet still show Blüte to be located at its old premises in Hannamdong, and I would have headed there if not for the fact that I double-checked the address geo-tagged to a recent Instagram photo of Blüte that I had seen on my feed.  (Phew!) Blute is now located in Hongdae, and just a short stroll from Sangsu subway station.

 photo IMG_7014-151128-v2__zpsshrmankc.jpgA postcard-pretty view of the garden once you enter the grounds of the cafe.  It must be very nice to sit out on the veranda during spring and autumn.

 photo IMG_7012-151128-v2__zpsiopmqku5.jpgThat is a lot of gardening to do on a cold, wintry morning.

 photo IMG_7027-151128-v2__zpstk7rlhiu.jpg photo IMG_7024-151128-v2__zpswk3vwee2.jpgSpacious interiors which are beautifully dressed up in a whimsical decor of potted green plants, dried flowers, retro and vintage furniture.  This cafe reminds me of Shop Wonderland at Haji Lane.

 photo IMG_7022-151128-v2__zpsnpnflli5.jpg photo IMG_7020-151128-v2__zpsv6kza8tq.jpgThis is a really pretty spot for chilling out with a book and a cup of coffee.  It is really a woman’s sort of place, eh? I cannot imagine men hanging out with their buddies in this space.

 photo IMG_7018-151128-v2__zpsv3pskojp.jpg photo IMG_7031-151128-v2__zpspigqyvxi.jpg photo IMG_7029-151128-v2__zps1ntu3y5k.jpg photo IMG_7017-151128-v2__zpsz9jjatmr.jpgThe lovely garden shed out in the garden.

 photo IMG_7082-151128-v2__zps4cmt9izu.jpg photo IMG_7084-151128-v2__zpsfgaok8ut.jpgThe entire place feels so magical, made even more so by the autumnal colors in the shrubs, and it feels as though I have been transported to a different world, one that you read of in children’s books like Alice In Wonderland.

Blüte
Address: 12, Wausan-ro 14-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Directions: Alight at exit 2 of Sangsu Station (Line 6)

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