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Nobuya, An Izakaya At Fortune Centre

 photo photo1-140627-v2__zps462c8767.jpgI ate at Nobuya, this small-ish izakaya in Fortune Centre at Middle Road, twice in two consecutive weeks.  Okay, it is not THAT small, if you compare it to some of the cramped, tiny ones in Tokyo.  Nobuya can fit about 8 to 10 people around an L-shaped counter and probably another 15 people at several tables.

I like the place.  It has a casual, easy-going and comfortable atmosphere, great for a night out with one or two friends without burning a hole in your pocket.  Like how an izakaya should be.  While dining there, I noticed that Nobuya has a rather different style of taking reservations, compared to other restaurants and eateries in Singapore. I hear them ask customers who make reservations over the phone, or walk-in customers, whether they intend to order drinks.  If the answer is negative, the customer is likely to be turned away.

Their business approach sounds slightly callous; but if you see it from their perspective, the approach makes business sense.  An izakaya is usually a small drinking place that opens for business only at night. It has to maximize its revenues with limited seating space and shorter opening hours.  Places like that usually make their money from selling alcohol, so you cannot really fault them for being selective about customers.   I like their approach. 🙂

 photo photo1-140612-v2__zpsb2f30002.jpgGyu suji nikomi: braised beef tendons.  This is, by far, my favourite dish at Nobuya and deserves to be in a photo on its own.  The beef tendons, cooked in a flavorful miso broth, were incredibly tender and chewy.  I was terribly disappointed that they did not have the nikomi on my second visit.   Now, this photo makes me want to lick the screen of my notebook.

 photo Nobuya-3-140628-v2__zpse0b1b15f.jpg photo Nobuya-2-140628-v2__zps20342003.jpgSome other items which we enjoyed very much.  Unctuous Miyazaki beef skewers.  Miyazaki beef tataki.  Deep -fried beancurd (which my tofu-mad husband enjoyed more than I did).

Nasu dengaku topped with crushed nuts.  Soft, tender and very tasty.  A giant plate of oden that came with generous portions of ingredients and a robust dashi broth flavoured with mustard.  Cold, chewy somen that was cooked to perfection, and very refreshing.  A bowl of anchovy and sansho pepper gohan that looks deceptively plain and simple, but contains wonderful flavors.

 photo Nobuya-1-140628-v2__zps78b01140.jpgWe also tried Nobuya’s sashimi – swordfish, flounder, tuna.  Not so good.  I would not recommend ordering the sashimi, particularly if you have eaten high quality sashimi. The maitake tempura was not a dish that I enjoyed ‘cos the batter was too heavy and a tad too oily.   (Tenmasa has spoilt my taste for tempura!)

I like fish guts, so I ordered the chanja.  Very yummy and is a great accompaniment for sake.   We also tried the katsuo tataki (I forgot to take a photo of it) which was good, if you enjoy strong smelling fish.

What is not in the photos above is the sake that we ordered to eat with the food – mostly carafes of Kikuhime and Nobu.  Nobuya is one of my favorite food haunts now.

Nobuya
190 Middle Rd, #01-05
Fortune Centre Singapore 188979
Tel No: 6338 3450
Tue-Sun: 6-11pm

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Manga: What Did You Eat Yesterday Vol. 1

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What did I eat yesterday? I indulged in gluttony.  I had an Egg McMuffin meal for breafast, durian ice cream for tea, and delicious zichar (seafood horfun, fried pork ribs, sambal kangkong and homemade tofu) at Por Kee in Tiong Bahru.  I am so glad that Por Kee is back in business after closing its doors for many months to refurbish the shop, and that we did not lose another good local eatery to rising rentals and labour shortages.

After reading Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery some years back, I searched for other mangas authored by her and came across What Did You Eat Yesterday.  I have seen only three volumes being translated as English scanlations online, so I was really glad that the North American publisher, Vertical, has released Volume 1 of this manga in English.  I bought a copy of Volume 1 at Kinokuniya two weekends ago.

What Did You Eat Yesterday is about the day-to-day lives of a gay couple, Shirou Kakei, a strait-laced lawyer, and Kenji Kabuki, a hair-stylist.  The manga is part slice-of-(gay)-life and part Japanese foodporn, and revolves around the food that Shirou cooks everyday for dinner at home. Besides talking about food, the manga also tells the story of their lives together as a couple and how each relate to their family, friends and colleagues about their sexual orientation.

Unlike a typical Japanese lawyer who puts in long hours at work, Shirou chose not to work at a big law firm so that he can knock off promptly at 6pm everyday to go grocery shopping and cook dinner at home. He does wish to enslave his life to work and cooking is a way for him to de-stress and enjoy life. Admirable. I wish more people would have the same perspective. Well, I know one (straight) guy who has the same attitude, and it is refreshing to have people like that around you.  They remind you of what is truly important in life.  

While Shirou has disclosed his sexual orientation to his parents (who are quite amusing in their attempts to ‘convert’ him to being straight), he is not comfortable doing the same with his colleagues.  His slightly younger partner, Kenji, is the opposite in terms of personality and character.  Kenji has a more carefree attitude about life and is open about his orientation to everyone around him.  

Unlike Oishinbo, What Did You Eat Yesterday does not delve into the intricasies of cooking traditional Japanese food, details of ingredients, nor does it have an exciting father-son battle as a plot device, but is no less entertaining or informative to me.  The manga depicts how Shirou plans their meals around household budget, variety and nutrition, and how he goes about cooking the food.  It is sort of a loose leaf Japanese recipe book, with an ingredient list and simple cooking instructions, giving readers a general idea of what a typical Japanese homecooked meal looks like.

I am so looking forward to reading the subsequent volumes of What Did You Eat Yesterday.

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I have already tried making one Shirou Kakei recipe from the manga!  It went into a bento for my husband’s lunch on Tuesday (I tried making the Japanese character for Tuesday using edamame). Potato with minced bacon and leeks hidden under the carrots and mangetout. Not a very pretty bento but I had fun putting it together.

xoxoxo

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Anime: Summer Days With Coo

When I was writing my post on my trip to Yanagawa, the kappa statues that I saw on the canal boat tour reminded me of Summer Days With Coo, a slice-of-life animated film that I watched some weeks ago.  

Made in 2007, it is a heartwarming story about a kappa, a legendary Japanese water spirit, which was buried alive in a stone during an earthquake in the Edo period, and miraculously survives till modern day Japan.  Rescued by a boy called Kouichi and given the name ‘Coo’, the kappa is subsequently adopted by the boy’s family. 

According to Japanese folklore, a kappa inhabits the ponds and rivers of Japan and its powers are derived from being close to water.  It has a humanoid appearance that is a cross between a frog and a turtle, possesses scaly reptilian skin, a beak for a mouth, and a flat water plate at the top of its head which must always be wet whenever it is away from water so as to retain its powers.  

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The animated film runs for close to 2.5 hours, which is fairly long, but it does not contain a dull moment, at least not for me. The story talks about how Coo discovers that the swamp that he used to live in has been replaced by a modern-day Japanese neighborhood and has to adjust to living in present-day Japan with his adopted human family.  He also has to cope with the disappointment of not being able to find fellow kappas in rivers to live with, and that he is solitary in this new strange world, as well as hide from the harsh, unwanted attention from inconsiderate human beings.  Coo finally realizes that he must leave his adopted family and find his own place somewhere else.

This animated film is very well-made, cute with an appealing family-themed story and loveable characters.  Worth every minute of my time!

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Movie: Girl In The Sunny Place

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This Japanese romance flick has just opened in the cinemas here and I went to watch it with a friend yesterday. We both like watching Jun Matsumoto and Juri Ueno.

The cinematography, set in beautiful Enoshima and the Sagami Bay area outside Tokyo, is gorgeous. The leads, especially quirky Juri Ueno, are captured in happy, yellow-tinted frames (think Cross-process filter for the photography buffs), and I would describe the whole romance set-up as happy, bubbly and frothy. It would have been a lovely romance movie except that the pace of the movie crawled so slowly, I found my mind wandering about what I should eat for dinner. The secret that was revealed at the end of the movie was an anti-climax, given how little effort was put into building the pace to reach a climactic point before revealing the bittersweet twist at the end. It is a little hard for me to suck in my breath and feel the sadness pounding at your heart when you have been bored half the time.

Oh well. I must say I enjoyed looking at Jun Matsumoto, Juri Ueno and coo-ing at the cats. I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone who is not a fan of the Japanese leads, cats, or a die-hard romance sort-of-a person.

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Anime: The Garden Of Words

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The Garden of Words, the latest anime film by Makoto Shinkai, is visually stunning.  The use of vivid watercolors and the intricate detail in the drawings make the beautiful artwork look so realistic.  I watched the film twice in a row, once for the artwork and the second time for the story.

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This story features a couple, a 15-year old boy and a mysterious 27- year old woman whom he encounters at the Shinjuku Park one rainy morning.  On rainy mornings, the boy cuts classes and goes to the park where he spends his time sketching shoes.  Coming from a broken family, his ambition is to be a shoe-maker one day.  

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Like the boy, the mysterious woman appears to be skipping work to go to the park, and there are clear hints that she is experiencing some personal troubles.  They start talking, without any formal introduction to each other, and grow closer as they meet frequently during the rainy season.  She takes an interest in his shoe-making, even letting him measure her feet to make a pair of shoes, and he cheers her up sufficiently for her to face up to her troubles.   He develops romantic feelings for her (and vice versa) learning belatedly that she is a teacher in his school.

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The ending is intense, sad, bittersweet and quite lovely.  I wished the film was slightly longer than 45 minutes, so that there was more time to develop the characters, their relationship with each other and others around them.   

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Besides The Garden of Words, I have watched Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimetres Per Second and his first piece of work, the five minute long anime known as She and Her Cat.  I like his animes and find his romantic, slice-of-life stories quite compelling.  I will get around to watching his other animes, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, The Place Promised In Our Earth and Voices Of A Distant Star, soon. 

If you liked 5 Centimetres Per Second, this is even better.

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Baking Class At Dulcet & Studio

At the urging of a good friend, I signed up for a baking class at Dulcet & Studio, Tampopo’s new restaurant-cum-studio at Liang Court, one of my favourite malls because it houses Mediya, Nirai Kanai and Shin Yeh.  I love the Okinawan food at Nirai Kanai and the Taiwanese cuisine at the Shin Yeh.  Oh, and I cannot leave out the ramen at Tampopo.  I love to eat Tampopo Deli’s light and soft cheese chiffon cakes and it is great that they now have a spacious sit-down place where you can have coffee, eat cake or lunch and linger.

Back to the baking class.  My friend has been attending baking classes run by Dulcet & Studio for a while and keeps asking me to give their classes a try.  The classes are taught by Mayumi-san who, in a simple tee-shirt and jeans, looks like she has just floated out of the cover of Oggi.  Tall, slim, elegant and well-groomed. I am so envious of how most Japanese women manage to always look so effortlessly chic, stylish and cool.

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I signed up for the January class which taught participants how to make three types of sweets – a Mont Blanc, rum and raisin ice cream and caramel chocolate.  I don’t usually sign up for baking classes but when I do, I prefer hands-on classes, where I make at least 80% of the desserts from scratch.  I don’t like standing around or sitting on a chair watching demonstrations performed by the teacher.  I learn best by doing, not by watching or listening.

From what I know, the classes at Dulcet & Studio are 80% demonstration and 20% ‘get-your-hands-dirty’, and you get to eat the desserts at the end of class.  Not the instruction format that I enjoy but the mouth-watering Japanese-style desserts looked so enticing in the promotion flyers, I decided to sign up.

There are only four participants in each class, and even then, the studio is too small to set up individual work-stations for each participants.  We watched the instructor put together the items, with a number of steps having been prepared in advance.   To make three desserts from scratch within a 3-hour timeframe, especially with the Mont Blanc being a more complicated item to make, was just not possible.  I felt that she was going through the demonstration at break-neck speed, with the rest of us trying our best to digest her explanations and scribbling away furiously on our instruction sheets.  

Although the class was scheduled for 3 hours, the instructor completed all three desserts in slightly less than 2 hours. I have no idea why she was in such a hurry.  All the hands-on work that we were required to do was pipe three meringues and the chestnut cream for the Mont Blancs.

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Mont Blanc

The instructor showed us two types of piping for the Mont Blancs. The one in the foreground is the ‘cross’ piping and the one in the background is the ‘spiral’ piping. My hands ached from piping three Mont Blancs ‘cos the chestnut cream was quite stiff.  I shall not complain about how much it costs to buy a Mont Blanc.

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Rum and raisin ice cream

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Caramel chocolate

At the end of the class, we sat down at a table and the instructor served us the desserts and a hot cup of tea. In one sitting, I ate a Mont Blanc, a huge serving of rum and raisin ice cream and tasted a piece of chocolate.  I was stuffed! I thought all the food tasted very good, with the ice cream being the most outstanding.  I also brought home three Mont Blancs in a beautifully boxed-up carrier and several pieces of chocolate.

Having seen the studio’s monthly promotion flyers for baking classes, I like the desserts that they teach.  The instructor speaks good English and is clear in articulating her thoughts and methods. However, the class would have been more enjoyable and beneficial to me if the studio focuses on teaching only one or two items at a slower pace and includes more hands-on opportunities. Unless the format of their baking classes changes, I suppose I will just stick with buying chiffon cakes at Dulcet & Studio.

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Manga: Gokudou Meshi

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I am reading another food-themed manga called Gokudou Meshi on JManga. This manga has a very interesting setting – in a Japanese prison!

How does one spin a food-themed yarn in a prison…? I have only read Volume 1 so far, and about to embark on Volume 2.

The story in Gokudou Meshi is about a group of prisoners who huddle together and compete with each other in a story-telling competition in the days leading up to the New Year. They must each tell a story about the food that is most memorable to them, and describe it as vividly as possible. Whoever makes the most people drool after listening their story will be the winner of the competition, and the prize is that the winner will choose one dish from everyone else’s osechi ryori meal provided by the prison on New Year’s Day.

The manga is really fun to read! I am going to bed now with Volume 2! 🙂

O-yasuminasai.

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Manga: Ekiben Hitoritabi

I have recently started reading this really interesting gourmet manga called Ekiben Hitoritabi on JManga, a manga portal.  JManga allows manga readers access to their mangas online using a point system.  I purchase a certain number of JManga points with cash, and the points are deducted from my account whenever I buy a manga from the portal.

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One can read the manga directly from JManga, or you can download the PDF onto your computer and read it using a PDF reader.  I prefer the former.  The manga loads quite quickly on my MacBook Air, but it doesn’t work on my iPad or my Windows-based notebook.  I am not sure why, and I haven’t written to the website to find out.  For the time being, I am happy to read mangas from my MacBook Air.

Ekiben Hitoritabi is a slice-of-life story about a 35 year old man called Daisuke Nakahara who travels around Japan by trains to eat bentos sold exclusively at train stations.  Hence, the name “Ekiben Hitoritabi” – “ekiben” refers to “bentos sold at train stations” and “hitoritabi” means “travelling alone”.

Daisuke is a man who loves bentos and trains.  He is a married man who runs a bento shop in Tokyo.  On his tenth wedding anniversary, to fulfil his personal dream, his wife bought him a train ticket that allows him to travel around Japan by train.  He makes it a point not to travel by shinkansen, as he wants to be able to enjoy the scenery through the windows of a normal-speed train.

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Like most gourmet mangas such as Oishinbo, Ekiben Hitoritabi has enough food porn to send one’s saliva glands into overdrive.  Aside from exquisitely drawn drawings of bentos and detailed explanations of the bento specialities in each Japanese prefecture, what I found interesting about this manga is that it provides some insights into the history of the Japanese train systems, and introduces the readers to the background of various trains that serve the country.  Even though I am not a fan of trains, I found the trivia relating to the local, express and sleeper trains relayed by Daisuki in the manga fascinating.

That’s one of the good things about reading manga – it livens up alot of technical (and otherwise dull) stuff with beautiful drawings and simple explanations, and stimulates my interest in things which I might never have been keen to read about.  Besides gastroporn and trains, the manga also includes drawings of paranomic views of Japan seen through the window of a train.

Reading this manga makes me want to do a Daisuke-style holiday, criss-crossing Japan on trains, eating delicious bentos found at train stations.  This manga serves as a splendid train-travel guidebook, because it offers so much detail on which train station to stop at, what train to hop on, and it even provides train schedules so you know exactly what time a train arrives at and departs from a station.  Knowing the Japanese to be sticklers for perfection, I am pretty certain that most of the train-related information in the manga should be fairly accurate.

Ikitai!

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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.  

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