Tokyo: Morning In Shimokitazawa

I have read so much about the lovely Shimokitazawa neighborhood located not far away Shibuya, I told myself that I must visit it on this trip. Besides the indie vibe that Shimokita is known for, I also wanted to visit it for Bear Pond Expresso and Shirohige Totoro Cream Puffs. Both shops are residing in the Shimokita neighbourhood.

Shimokita is easy accessible via the subway. We took the train to Shibuya station where we switched to the Keio Inokashira line which stops at the Shimokitazawa station, about 4 stops away from Shibuya.

 photo L1000383-2-150218-v2__zps3dkd9l8v.jpgOne of the things I like best about strolling along the streets of Japan is turning a corner and being greeted by a burst of colors from a flower shop. Turn a corner in any neighborhood and you are bound to encounter several flower shops.  It is a joy to poke around in these shops and admire pots and pots of botanicals that we hardly see in our tropical climate.

 photo L1000386-2-150218-v2__zpsxxpemyxa.jpg photo L1000394-2-150218-v2__zpsawuxxe3r.jpgWe were in Shimokita a little too early in the day.  Most of the shops were still closed!  And the streets were empty and quiet.  Which isn’t a bad thing for me, because I got a chance to see these beautifully painted shutters of the closed shops.   I had quite a lot of fun snapping photos of shop fronts and their colorful shutters.  

 photo L1000397-150218-v2__zps8eozlnh3.jpgThis reminds me a little of the house in Hansel & Gretel.

 photo L1000407-150218-v2__zpslk01wvaa.jpg photo L1000401-150218-v2__zpsa2txzw8g.jpgThis is my favorite.  Love the cheery sunflower/daisy motifs.

 photo L1000402-150218-v2__zpssdxluzq2.jpg photo L1000412-150218-v2__zpsir5bpcpe.jpgThat’s the grumpy husband, who isn’t a fan of these indie neighborhoods.  He prefers Omotesando.  

 photo L1000414-150218-v2__zpsywctk08a.jpgI wonder if the shop owners paint these shutters, or do they hire someone to do the job.

 photo L1000416-150218-v2__zpsiyz9rlnp.jpgI like the shadows of the messy street wires.

 photo L1000417-150218-v2__zpsw7dousxt.jpg photo L1000418-150218-v2__zpsvhupvbrx.jpgRetro-chic gate.

 photo L1000421-150218-v2__zpszdbm46pr.jpgTrust the Japanese to jazz up a boring lock with a cute Snoopy ornament.

 photo L1000424-150218-v2__zpspwfogn8z.jpgThat’s the shop front of Bear Pond Expresso, a coffee bar that we did not like very much.

 photo L1000426-150218-v2__zpsxsae4qus.jpgUseful trolley to transport young kids around.  No risk of losing control of a bunch of rambunctious kids on the streets.   

 photo L1000429-150218-v2__zpsosrg0hrs.jpg photo L1000409-150218-v2__zpscdjdvaxi.jpg photo L1000431-2-150218-v2__zpsmt8sv9y5.jpg photo L1000436-150218-v2__zpsxu2roa5k.jpg photo L1000403-150218-v2__zps1kjxjdbn.jpgIt is amazing how many hair-salons there are in the neighborhood. Look at that owl-shaped door! 

 photo L1000441-150218-v2__zps5ubgvdsc.jpg photo L1000443-150218-v2__zpshoknuk2i.jpgThe Japanese are really good at visual merchandising.

 photo L1000447-150218-v2__zpslzw1shhk.jpg photo L1000449-150218-v2__zpsrauct6e4.jpg photo L1000451-150218-v2__zps9ow5whji.jpg photo L1000453-150218-v2__zpshlfazgnt.jpg photo L1000457-150218-v2__zpsvzrleljg.jpg photo L1000459-150218-v2__zpsekrcwino.jpg photo L1000460-150218-v2__zpssopvzeud.jpgBefore we left Shimokitazawa, we dropped by Ichiran for a bowl of tonkotsu ramen.  Our first visit to Ichiran, and it was quite an interesting dining experience. You eat your noodles in individual booths, separated from your companions by a divider.  A rather anti-social way of eating.

I would have loved to spend more time exploring the cute shops in the neighborhood.  If I was on my own, I would have spent the entire day in Shimokitazawa, but not when you have a husband like mine in tow.

Tokyo: Awesome Bara-chirashi At Sushi Sho

 photo L1000516-150219-v2__zpsnyedq6wb.jpgI have not been to Jiro.  Or any of the other famous sushi restaurants in Tokyo like Mizutani, Sushi Saito, Sushi Dai.  It is just too difficult to get a reservation.  Most of them accept reservations only one month before your intended visit and even if you do call up exactly one month before, my experience is that the restaurant is most likely to be fully booked.  

So I was not terribly disappointed when my hotel’s guest relations officer wrote me an email to say that they were unable to get me a dinner reservation at Sushi Sho for the entire duration of my 6-day stay in Tokyo.  I was just trying my luck.  Like buying lottery.  But I was surprised that the hotel managed to get us a lunch reservation at Sushi Sho, and asked if we were fine with their bara-chirashi lunch set, as that is the only thing that Sushi Sho serves at lunch.  Of course we said yes!  Sushi Sho makes only 20 sets of bara-chirashi a day.  

Sushi Sho is located in Yotsuya, on a side street that is a short walk away from the Yotsuya station (on the Marunouchi line).  The Zen-looking entrance to the restaurant looked rather intimidating.  I was wondering if lunch was going to be an uncomfortably serious, stern, austere affair.  I hear that some of the famous sushi places are like that.  I have to remember to be on my best behavior.

 photo L1000519-150219-v2__zpsj9xctol8.jpgAt exactly 12.40pm, we opened the wooden sliding door and was warmly welcomed by one of the chef assistants.  In contrast to the stillness outside the restaurant, it was quite noisy inside!  Lots of laughter and banter between the chefs and guests.   The place was full, and many guests (mostly elderly Japanese men and women) from the first seating were getting ready to leave.  We were shown to our seats, at the end of a 10-seat counter.  I took a quick photo from my seat (above), and that is the entire restaurant.  It is tiny!  

Many of the chef assistants could speak English so I could make some small talk with them while waiting for lunch to be served. They were quite friendly and chatty, and assured me that it was okay to take photographs in the restaurant.

 photo IMG_0785-150220-v2__zpsjgs2ygpf.jpgThis beautifully presented bowl of bara-chirashi was incredibly delicious, and it came with an equally delicious bowl of asari soup.  This set cost us Yen 2,000 per person (approximately US$20).  It is such a steal and worth every penny, given the high quality of ingredients.  That’s only a little more then what Teppei charges for its takeaway bara-chirashi here in Singapore.  

When I next visit Tokyo, I am definitely trying to get another lunch reservation at Sushi Sho.  

Sushi Sho 
Yorindo Building, 1F
1-11 Yotsuya Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +813 3351 6387

Tokyo: Bear Pond Expresso

 photo L1000424-150218-v2__zps1oyznvu7.jpgWe visited the famous Bear Pond Expresso in Shimokitazawa on our recent trip to Tokyo. Google ‘coffee in Tokyo’ and this tiny coffee bar will definitely turn up in the search results. I went there with pretty high expectations given the rave reviews that I have been reading online.

 photo IMG_1099-150219-v2__zpsua4neesa.jpg photo IMG_1100-150219-v2__zpstz5p4xz8.jpg

We ordered a cappuccino and an expresso.

Nope, we didn’t like the coffee one bit, and the service even lesser.  The people behind the counter (who looked like they belonged to the era of John Lennon) were gruff, grumpy and unwelcoming.  

The coffee was acidic, and not really how we like it.  We gulped down our coffee as fast as we could and ran out of the place.  That was our first and will be our last visit.

 photo IMG_1102-150219-v2__zpsowqkfc8c.jpgOur experience at this place was on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Motoya Coffee Express and Omotesando Koffee.  Both these places have baristas who are friendly and look genuinely happy to be around people and their coffee machines.  

S$10 Headshots For Charity

I decided to run a simple photo project for charity this year that involves me taking a photo of you, in return for a donation of $10 (people are free to give more if they wish) to any of the four charities that this project currently supports.  The four charities are: SPD, Bone Marrow Donor Program, the APEX Rehabilitation Centre For The Elderly and the Children’s Cancer Foundation.  I am thinking about adding a fifth charity – the Cat Welfare Society.  (I like cats, that’s why.)

This is not a new idea.  I read about this project on ShootTokyo a while ago and have been toying with the idea of doing something similar, but I have always been caught up with dealing with various work and personal issues so the idea stayed as an idea.  It is only recently that I decided to do something about it.  Perhaps the thought of entering  mid-life spurred me on as I suddenly feel that more of my life is behind me than it is in front of me.  There is no time to hem-and-haw about the things that I have always thought about doing.  Let’s just do it.  

This charity project is fairly to kick-start.  It does not require much planning or financial resources, just a camera and Lightroom!  Since I like taking photographs, this will be fun, and I get to do it all at my own time and pace.  It also forces me to reach out to friends to meet up.  It is also fun for them,  since they get to pose for a photo and chip in a small token for charity.  

How does one donate? Donations can be made on the GiveAsia website here, using your credit card.  The photo is basically a headshot of you – a photo of your upper body and face, and a copy will be emailed to you.   I have also set up a Facebook page to share these photos; if you want to contribute to this project, please reach out to me on the Facebook page!  

Not sure how this will turn out, but at the very least, I know I am gonna have fun doing it.

Black&Ink Cafe In Changi Road

 photo IMG_0419-150208-v2__zpsc3e6a0c3.jpgEvery weekend, we find ourselves looking for a place to have breakfast or brunch.  Inevitably, we end up at the usual tried-and-tested places – Starbucks, Assembly Cafe, Beach Road Prawn Noodles or roti prata at Jalan Kayu.  Once in a while, we check out a new cafe for brunch and most of the time, we walk out feeling ripped off.

Last Sunday morning, I came across Black&INK in one of the local food blogs that I visit whenever I need some new ideas of where to go for breakfast or brunch.  It mentioned Black&INK as one of the latest cafes to set up shop here.  I was drawn to its address in Changi Road, which means that I do not have to drive very far to visit the cafe, and I would feel less ripped off should it turn out to be a dud.

 photo IMG_0413-150208-v2__zps9be73cd9.jpgThe cafe is quite tiny, styled in black and white tones, with only one barista holding the fort.  Very affable chap – turns out that he is a food blogger known as Eat With Roy.

 photo IMG_0414-150208-v2__zpscc358864.jpgI ordered a flat white, which came in a Bodum glass.  It was very good.   Full-bodied and very balanced (in my dictionary, that means that the coffee was not too bitter or too acidic).  Yummy.  I am probably too used to drinking flat whites which are all milk and hardly any hint of coffee, so this came as a pleasant surprise.   Roy tells me that he uses his own roasters.

 photo IMG_0416-150208-v2__zps974a1f7a.jpgWe were very hungry, and wanted some food.  Black&INK does not serve cooked food, only cakes.  We ordered three slices of cake – carrot cake, cheesecake and orange poppy seed cake.  I was not expecting much from the cakes, except a sugar rush to kick-start the morning.  Another pleasant surprise – all the cakes were very very good.  The barista tells us that the cakes were baked by a friend of his, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu.  Some people may begrudge the small portions but they were just nice for middle-aged folks like us.  

I walked out of the cafe feeling satiated, and more importantly, with a happy husband who was not scowling at me for giving him a less than satisfactory breakfast experience because of my poor choices.

This place, if they keep to their current standards, merits weekly visits.  Finding parking may be a little of a problem though.

Black&INK
168 Changi Road
(Located in the Fragrance Building)

Crocheting: Daisy Vintage Purses

Despite feeling lethargic during the weekends (all I want to do is to lie down on the sofa with a glass of wine), I managed to find some time to crochet a new purse, in July 4th colors of white, blue and red.

 photo IMG_0211-150124-v2__zps0c53b470.jpg

I learnt how to sew a simple daisy from one of my Applemint crochet books.  And sewed a pearl bead onto the blue part of the purse.  

 photo IMG_0212-150124-v2__zpscc7757d0.jpg

Fairly simple design.  I just didn’t have the energy to do more.

Crocheting: Jar Covers

 photo DSC_0693-150104-v2__zps59b6a600.jpgI received a Japanese crochet pattern book called “Kyuuto! Japanese Crafts” for Christmas which contained loads of cute, lovely crochet patterns – coasters, square and round dollies, tissue box covers, coin purse, phone covers, jar covers, baby shoes, pot holders, etc.  

I have been wanting to try my hand at crocheting jar covers because I have a number of empty jam jars that I would like to recycle to use as holders by dressing them up with a nice cover.  The pattern for jar covers in Kyuuto looked easy – just repeating rows of double stitches and single stitches.  You can easily increase or decrease the number of rows for the base to accommodate varying jar sizes.

 photo DSC_0692-150104-v2__zpscc89acb4.jpgA bright and cheery cover for a small Ikea glass that I use to hold a little pot of succulent.  I concealed the ugly joining stitches of the cover with two big wooden buttons that I bought at one of the shops in People’s Park Centre.  This is a good crochet craft to make while watching a Korean drama because I do not have to keep referring to the pattern, or count stitches. 🙂

 photo 760_0Image_zpsa240224b.jpgThis is a really good crochet pattern book, with easy-to-follow patterns in English. It was on my to-buy list, and was so glad to receive it as a gift! So this jar cover went to my friend who gave me the book.

Nunsongyee: A Korean Dessert Cafe In Burghley Drive

 photo IMG_0198-150124-v2__zpsd7e8d7b5.jpgToday, I visited this Korean dessert cafe called Nunsongyee tucked away in a corner of the Serangoon Gardens residential estate at 45 Burghley Drive.  From the vibe of the cafe, to the trendy Kpop music playing in the background, to the Korean lady manning the cafe, I felt as though I had been transported back to Seoul.  All that was missing were the loud voices of Korean girls speaking in Korean. 

 photo IMG_0216-150124-v2__zps29305854.jpgSpacious, high-ceilinged and fairly empty at noon, it was a comfortable space  for me.  I don’t like crowded places – they give me a headache.   

The focus of Nunsongyee seems to be a large variety of bingsu (I call this the Korean ice kachang) and toast.  They also have a drinks menu that includes coffee, smoothies and soft drinks.  I have tried bingsu several times in Seoul, and I always walk away feeling disappointed.  I like the texture of the ice shavings – powdery soft and smooth – but I find that the dessert doesn’t have much taste.  But since I was at the cafe, I decided to order a bingsu.

 photo IMG_0206-150124-v2__zpsc68fca54.jpgAfter dithering between the black sesame bingsu and the injeolmi (a type of Korean rice cake – not the same as tteokbokki) bingsu, I ordered the former (about $19.00 – quite pricey!).  Better to go with the familiar.  In Korea, bingsus are usually served in fairly sizable portions.  I guess that’s because the dessert is meant for sharing, and not eaten alone.

The black sesame bingsu at Nunsongyee came in a big bowl, accompanied by almond flakes, black sesame pounded into a powder, a generous helping of red bean paste, topped with several pieces of injeolmi (this has a texture similar to that of muah chee).  The cafe also gave us a small serving of a milky syrup to pour over the bingsu.  

I liked Nunsongyee’s bingsu much better than the ones that I have eaten in Seoul.  The texture of the cafe’s ice shavings was as good as the ones in Korea, and it was very tasty without being syrupy sweet.   Who knows, I may just become a bingsu convert. I want to go back and try their toast!  

Tokyo: Kissako Kaiseiken In Ningyocho

One of the first Japanese words that anyone learns in a beginner Japanese class is ‘kissaten’ – meaning ‘coffeeshop’, or ‘tearoom’, or ‘cafe’. In my mind, I have always associated ‘kissaten‘ with a modern (the popular word nowadays being ‘hipster’) cafes that have been popping up like flies in Singapore, or one of the chain cafes like Starbucks. Nope, nothing like that.

I visited a kissaten located in Ningyocho for the first time when we were in Tokyo last year. It is an old-fashioned Japanese coffee-shop that transported us to a somewhat different world when we entered it. 1960s jazz music streams out of an LP record player. Red vinyl chairs. Brick walls. Dark paneled walls. Grandfatherly Japanese men wearing hats, and smoking with their friends over cups of drip coffee. Smoky.

I felt like I had walked into a Murakami-ques coffeeshop described in one of his books.

 photo IMG_5430-140401-v2__zps6374bf77.jpgWe chanced upon this kissaten when we were waiting to join the lunch queue at Tamahide Oyakadon.  The kissaten was just two doors away from Tamahide, on the same street.  Being the typical ‘kiasu‘ Singaporeans, we had arrived an hour before Tamahide’s opening hours, and decided to get a cup of coffee in this kissaten, called Kissako Kaiseiken

Feeling a little hungry, I also ordered a plate of toast with marmalade.  I have no idea what sort of bread they use but it was the most delicious toast that I have ever eaten.  I gobbled all of it up, and immediately ordered another portion.  

Finishing that, I walked to the counter to find out how the kissaten toasts its bread.  I was expecting to see some sort of special equipment, or a special toasting-bread technique.  Alas, they used a simple pop-up toaster, coupled with typical Japanese precision timing in toasting the bread.  The guy who was toasting the bread was using a timer, and concentrating so hard on getting the bread toasted with the right timing.

 photo IMG_5438-150120-v2__zpsf68656d7.jpg I am definitely going back to Kissako when I next visit Tokyo. Coffee – drip coffee – is not great, but drinkable. But oh, I scream for the toast.

Kissako Kaiseiken

Address:
1-17-9 Nihonbashi Ningyocho,Chuo-ku (1-17-9, 中央区日本橋人形町)

Bara-chirashi At Shinzo

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Ended my Japanese dinner at Shinzo with a simple bara-chirashi. I am usually not fond of eating rice at the end of a long Japanese meal, but this beautiful bowl containing cubes of marinated fish artfully scattered on top of lightly vinegar-ed rice was irresistible.  The colors were so pretty.

Black Forest Cake Baking Class With Dulcet & Studio

I like Black Forest cake very much. Unfortunately, it is hard to find a good one in the local bakeries. Most places do not use enough alcohol, if they even use any in the first place, so it feels as though I am eating a dry chocolate sponge cake stuffed with cherries and cream.  A cake cannot be called a Black Forest cake if it does not contain kirsch, can it?  At least in Germany, I suppose.

When my friend – she goes to Dulcet & Studio every month for baking classes – told me that the studio is having a class on Black Forest cake, I decided to sign up for it. The last time I attended a class at Dulcet & Studio was a year ago. Time really flies, doesn’t it?

 photo IMG_1228-150104-v2__zps22e4af2a.jpgI enjoyed the class a little more this time, compared to my previous experience.  This time, the teacher, Mayumi-san, taught two items (instead of three), so the pace was slower and there was more hands-on time.  She taught us how to bake, assemble and decorate a heart-shaped (you can’t really tell from the photograph) Black Forest cake using chocolate sponge cake, chocolate cream, fresh cream, kirsch, black cherries soaked in syrup and alcohol, and chocolate shavings.  

 photo IMG_1336-150109-v2__zps9bc9d51d.jpgThe cake was good.  The kirsh-soaked sponge cake was moist and not too sweet.  The alcohol-soaked black cherries were tinged with bitterness (luvre!).  Mmmmm, I am eating a slice of the cake as I type out this post.

 photo IMG_1233-150104-v2__zpsb450b34f.jpgMayumi-san also showed us how to bake creme caramel.  So easy to make! Her recipe is very good but having said that, creme caramel is not a dessert that I am ordinarily fond of eating.  Too sweet for my tastebuds.

 photo IMG_1334-150104-v2__zpsd5f9d75b.jpgThe very pretty sensei.  She is teaching Japanese Strawberry Shortcake and lamingtons in February.     

Bangkok: Supanniga Eating Room

 photo IMG_9139-140828-v2__zps5f545e80.jpgDuring our last visit to Bangkok, one of the restaurants that we visited was Supanniga Eating Room. My friends and I had never heard of the restaurant before. Then again, I don’t visit Bangkok often enough to know much about the dining scene, apart from Nahm.  As the place came highly recommended by my friend’s boss, we decided to check out this place for lunch on the day we arrived. 

Supanniga Eating Room is at Soi Sukhumvit 55, in the Thong Lor neighbourhood, a 10 minute walk from the Thong Lor BTS station. I have never seen the restaurant’s website before, and I was expecting it to be a Bangkok-style coffeeshop. But it turned out to be a chic place located in an old shophouse.   Occupying three floors, it is tastefully designed – cosy but classy.  No thanks to the Bangkok traffic, we turned up at the doorstep of the restaurant minutes before closing time, but the wait staff did not turn us away.

 photo IMG_9137-140828-v2__zps800ddd44.jpg photo IMG_9138-140828-v2__zpse021d9d9.jpgSupanniga Eating Room serves traditional home-style Thai dishes inspired by the owner’s grandmother from her hometown.  We ordered quite a lot of food, and a jug of white sangria. The food was excellent, and we enjoyed every dish on the table.  As the Thais will say:”Aroi Mak Mak!”

 photo IMG_9144-141228-v2__zps186373bf.jpgAn appetizer known as Mieng Yong – pork floss, peanuts, roasted coconut with some kind of leaves.

 photo IMG_9147-140828-v2__zps59ac0fe8.jpgTom yum goong.  One of the best that I have eaten.  I like my tom yum soup lemak-style, compared to the ones that come in a clear soup.  The latter is usually deceptively spicy.

 photo IMG_9148-140828-v2__zps6c4822d4.jpg‘Son-in-law’ fried eggs.  Hard-boiled eggs served with a tasty sauce and fried shallots.  A simple dish that tasted soooo good.

 photo IMG_9146-140828-v2__zps8933b86a.jpgBeef stir-fried with chili and holy basil (Ka Prow Nue Lai).  Good, but I prefer the minced chicken version.

We also tried the fried prawn wontons, and cabbage drizzled with fish sauce.  I cannot seem to find the photos of these two dishes. Anyway, they are on the restaurant’s website.  Must go back to Supanniga when I next visit Bangkok and try their other dishes.  The crabmeat omelette looks droolsome. 

Supanniga Eating Room
160/11 Soi Sukhumvit 55 (Thonglor)
Klongton Nuea, Watthana,
Bangkok 10110

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