We went to Hokkaido in late August. It was too late to see the sunflowers and lavender fields but we managed to catch other flowers in full bloom at the Shinsai No Oka flower fields in Biei.
Shinsai No Oka is a tourist spot so the areas such as the shops, drink and food stalls, washrooms, carpark, etc were very crowded. It was quite unpleasant being shoved left right centre by tourists. It got better after we made our way to the flower fields.
The paranomic view of the neat rows of flower fields is spectacular. Though I have no idea why the sky looked very dark in the photos when in reality, it was bright and scorching hot. The fields are expansive and quite hilly at some areas so wear good walking shoes (and sunglasses and a hat). I saw ladies tottering on the slopes in their heels! A missed step would have sent them rolling down the flower beds.
We walked around the fields for an hour, enjoying the flowers and being out there in nature with lots of fresh air. Our trip to the Shinsai No Oka flower fields in Biei would have been perfect had the weather been several degrees cooler.
Shikisai No Oka Hill
Address: 〒071-0473 Hokkaido, Kamikawa District, Biei, Shinsei, Japan
One of the things that I really wanted to eat in Sapporo was ‘soup curry’. I tried Samy’s Soup Curry in Downtown Gallery once and really liked it. So I was very keen to try the authentic version in Sapporo. We asked the hotel concierge for a soup curry recommendation on our first day in Sapporo and she recommended Picante Soup Curry which is located one street away from the hotel.
Picante Soup Curry is a small place, seats about 15-20 people comfortably. There is almost always a queue outside the shop especially during peak hours, so best to go ahead of the lunch and dinner hour. In our short one week stay at Sapporo, we visited Picante Soup Curry three times. The food is very good, not too heavy on the spice and goes so well with an ice-cold bottle of Sapporo beer. I am not sure how Picante compares with the other soup curry brands in Sapporo because we did not try any other place.
There are quite a lot of options at Picante in terms of soup base, ingredients, level of spiciness and amount of rice. My husband loved the deep-fried chicken drumstick soup curry with the dashi soup base, and ordered that in every visit. The fried chicken is highly recommended! I tried to be healthy and went with the shabu-shabu pork curry as well as the vegetable curry with tomato soup base.
The fluffy saffron-flavoured basmati rice goes very well with the soup curry. I had to exercise a lot of restraint not to upsize the portion of rice in my order. There are so many other options available on the menu but we ran out of time to try them all. Picante’s menu can be found here (though I am not sure if it is the most up-to-date).
Picante Soup Curry (ピカンティ)
Address: 〒001-0013 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Kita Ward, Kita 13 Jonishi, 3 Chome−2 (札幌市北区北13条西3丁目アクロビュー北大前 1F). Picante is located in the same block as the New Otani Hotel.
When I saw the popular Smitten pattern by ByHaafner on Pinterest, I knew I had to attempt it. I love the vintage look of the pattern. The design features a floral motif using popcorn stitches and double crochet stitches. Pattern is available on her blog.
ByHaafner made a gorgeous vintage blanket using the pattern, but I decided to make a smaller piece – another cushion cover!
I really like the finished product though I felt that some parts looked too ‘hole-y’.
Flippers Pancakes has for the longest time been an item on my ‘want to eat’ list in Tokyo. Never managed to try it in all my previous visits because I hear that the queue to get in is quite long. Last December, I finally made it there when I was in Tokyo on my own. I made it a point to find my way to the Flippers Pancakes outlet at Daikanyama 15 mins before opening time so that I can plonk myself at the start of the queue.
As it was the Christmas season, the shop was promoting a Christmas special – soufflé pancakes drizzled with strawberry sauce and topped with strawberries. I have no idea why I selected this more expensive item when I do not like eating fresh strawberries. I don’t like fresh strawberries. Period. Not even Japanese strawberries.
The soufflé pancakes were yummy. They were very soft, airy-light and fluffy. I gobbled up the pancakes very quickly yet didn’t feel that I had eaten a thing! If I had any complaints about the pancakes, it was that the taste was slightly too eggy. Besides Flippers Pancakes, the other soufflé pancakes that I have tried are GRAM in Osaka which I remember to be very delicious too.
I love pancakes. They are my comfort food as many of my happy childhood memories revolve around eating and making pancakes with my maternal aunt and maternal grandparents. While I enjoy eating soufflé pancakes, I still prefer digging into a stack of American-style pancakes with good quality butter and a drizzle of honey (no maple syrup for me).
I have tried making soufflé pancakes once, using JustOneCookBook’s recipe. Not difficult, but I think I am better off paying to eat soufflé’ pancakes in Japan instead of sweating it out at the stove making them at home.
Flippers Pancakes (Daikanyama)
Address: 1 Chome-35-16 Ebisunishi, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-002
Besides Daikanyama, other outlets are located at Nakameguro, Shimokitazawa, Kichijoji, Jiyugaoka.
We were taking an early morning walk around the alleys near Kiyomizu in Ninenzaka and came across an outlet of Inoda Coffee. I enjoy visiting Japanese kissatens with their old-world charm. Despite having just had breakfast at Hotel Mume, I wanted to eat another one. I had a thick slice of buttered toast and fruit sando in mind.
When I entered Inoda Coffee, I was bracing myself for strong wafts of cigarette smoke typical in many kissatens. I was surprised that this wasn’t the case for Inoda Coffee. Instead, we were shown a spacious dining room that was smoke-free with wide-panelled windows that had gorgeous views of a Japanese garden.
I couldn’t stop snapping photos of the interior of Inoda Coffee, especially the windows and garden beyond. The shop seen in the garden is Yoyaji, well-known in Kyoto for its cosmetics and blotting paper. I haven’t tried the blotting paper but the yuzu lip-balm is good.
We placed an order for a fruit sando, French toast and coffee. I love Japanese fruit sandwiches especially the ones with filled with orange slices and whipped cream. I love eating bread in Japan. The Japanese shokupan is so soft and fluffy – I really should try making a loaf at home.
It was nice spending a slow morning at Inoda Coffee, with no particular destination in mind. That’s my idea of a holiday. Slow mornings. Lots of coffee stops to rest our feet and relax. See what we like and not what we have to.
Taiwanese oyster meesua is one of my favourite things to eat. During my earliest visits to Taipei, I ate a bowl of oyster meesua every day from Taipei’s well-known Ah Zong brand. Back then, I only knew of Ah Zong oyster meesua and was very happy with their version. I have fond memories of standing outside Ah Zong’s Ximending outlet, tucking into a huge bowl of oyster meesua with tons of other customers. There were no seats in that outlet.
During my last trip to Taipei with a group of friends, I discovered Chen Ji oyster meesua. I came across it in a food blog and decided to give this shop a try. Best decision ever.
Wow, the flavour of Chen Ji’s oyster meesua is outstanding. You have the option of adding fresh oysters and/or braised pig’s intestines to your bowl of meesua. Or you can ask for a bigger portion of either. You can also opt out of both and just eat the noodles which are very good on its own.
Chen Ji also gives you a huge dollop of minced garlic (and a generous helping of vinegar) which enhances the flavour of the meesua by many notches. The braised pig’s intestines were tender and flavourful. It was so delicious – I was glad I had asked for an additional portion for my order.
Looking at a photo of this bowl of delicious-ness is making me drool. Till the next time I see you again in Taipei.
Chen Ji Oyster & Intestine Vermicelli (陳記專業蚵仔麵線)
Address: No. 166, Sec. 3, Heping W. Rd., Taipei 108, Taiwan
I came across Gyu Ho on Chubby Hubby’s blog when I was researching restaurants in Kyoto back in 2017. His write-up of the restaurant and food was very positive. Located in the suburbs of Kyoto, Gyu Ho is not easily accessible by public transport. We went there and back by taxi.
Gyu Ho is a tiny, rustic place that seats about 10 persons. A charcoal grill and an L-shaped counter take up most of the space in the restaurant. We were fortunate to have two geishas dining with us that evening.
The chef is an affable chap and spoke to us in passable English. He asked us what we would like to eat and our response was ‘omakase’. I think there is an ala carte option based on what the other customers were eating. Being our first visit, we didn’t know what was available and was more than happy to let the chef decide.
The first course was a simple appetiser of cucumber with miso paste. The miso paste was delicious.
The next course was dish of sweet onions with an ume sauce. How do the Japanese make simple vegetables so delicious?
This beef tartare with a a raw egg yolk and nagaimo all mixed up was YUMMERS! Reminds me of the Korean yukhoe which I love to eat.
Back to a simple sautéed moyashi which was crunchy and sweet.
This was an interesting dish pairing sea-grapes (which I have never eaten before), cow tripe and sea-urchin in a ponzu sauce. The pairing sounds exotic but the flavours went very well together.
I love gyutan. So this was a plate of heaven for me.
More gyutan, meant an extended stay in food heaven for me. This unique gyoza dish was delicious.
This was fabulous – lightly grilled crab that was succulent and sweet.
By this stage of the meal, I was feeling quite stuffed but managed to put away these sticks of tender juicy beef. The meat melted in my mouth.
Besides gyutan, ox-tail is my other favourite part of the cow. Love all the gelatinous bits mixed with the meat.
Another round of delicious melt-in-your-mouth beef that had been slow-roasted over the grill.
By this point, I was nearly in a food coma. This bowl of chilled Korean-style noodles was so refreshing, it woke me up. This goes into my list as one of the most delicious things I have eaten.
Sweet crunchy corn which was totally wasted on my corn-hating husband.
The final encore of the meal – a crusty grilled cheese and mushroom sandwich. It wasn’t an ending that I expected but it closed off the meal on a high note. Every course was delightful and delicious. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be the cold noodles.
Would I pay Gyu Ho another visit? Yes, I would. And I will bring along a huge bottle of sake or white wine purchased from Takashimaya in downtown Kyoto.
I have always enjoyed cushion cover projects. They are more manageable than quilts and I can always find a use for cushion covers. It took me a while to decide to stretch myself by making a quilt using the English Paper Piecing technique. Not just a quilt cover, but one that is basted with batting, attached to a backing and framed with a border. I watched Youtube videos to learn how to make the different parts of a quilt and put them together. Good thing that none of my quilts have fallen apart.
This was all in all a good experience. It always takes me by surprise what I can do when I am able to work through my limiting beliefs. I never thought I could sew or take photographs with a camera but I can, and quite decently too. A sewing machine is definitely a gadget that was never on my to-buy list for the home. Now, one such machine has a semi-permanent spot on my dining table.
I have always thought I sucked at artwork like drawing and painting. This is one limiting belief that I haven’t quite worked my way through. I might just give it a try someday.
My first successful quilt is this Diamond Quilt, which I made using a kit from Jodie of TalesofCloth. The pattern was a breeze to make! The biggest challenge when making a quilt is choosing the fabrics. There are so many possible permutations. I either get stuck through sheer indecisiveness, or just plain fear that the result will not be ideal. I wanted a pastel palette with a few pops of colour for this quilt, and tried to work towards that.
After much mixing and matching, I went with this combination of some 13 different fabrics. Quite happy with the result! I managed to sew the pieces altogether quite quickly but the backing proved to be the tricky bit. I had chosen a jersey fabric and it wasn’t easy for me to sew all four sides easily. The material kept buckling up. Happily, I also managed to figure out how to miter the borders along the way!
I gave this quilt to a little girl and hope it is something that she can use for a long time.
I have another English Paper Piecing Diamond Quilt as a WIP project right now. Almost near completion!
One of the most important things to do when planning for our holidays to Japan is deciding on our meals. As a result, I would be researching the Internet for weeks and consulting my friends for dining recommendations. Then I would schedule all our meals carefully to maximise the number of excellent restaurants that we could try throughout out stay. Total FOMO at play here. This meant that we ate very good (and usually expensive) meals for lunch and dinner every day during our holiday.
We have stopped scheduling our meals in recent trips. We might make one or two reservations at a nice restaurant and that is about it. I think it is age. I no longer find it enjoyable to eat two good meals everyday for between 7 to 10 days. My gut needs a break.
In our Feb trip to Kyoto, we made only one reservation – at Ristorante Gion 245 which is our favourite Japanese-Italian place just several doors down the street from our hotel. On our first night in Kyoto, I Googled the Internet for “izakaya in Kyoto” and a number of results came up. I picked the one closest to our hotel, which is Gion Yuki Izakaya, located close to Gion along Shijo-dori. It was a weekday night and we managed to get a table fairly easily at 5.30pm without a reservation. This was my first visit to an izakaya in Kyoto and I was not sure what to expect in terms of the food.
One of the things that I like about an izakaya is the vibe and atmosphere. It is casual, fun and boisterous. I don’t have to observe any form of decorum, or worry about table manners. Just eat, be merry and watch the chefs in action in the kitchen.
What is your choice of beverage in an izakaya? Mine is a whisky highball and my better half prefers a draft beer.
I need not worry. ‘Cos the food at Gion Yuki Izakaya was excellent! I enjoyed everything that we ordered that night which was plenty for two – we had sashimi moriawase, kaki furai (deep-fried oysters), nama shirako(raw fish milt), gyusuji nikomi (braised beef tendon). I wanted sashimi but was hesitant as I wasn’t sure about the quality of sashimi in an izakaya. Again, I need not worry – the sashimi was very fresh and one of the best I have eaten in Japan.
This nama shirako in ponzu was lovely, simply lovely. It was super fresh and the portion was so generous, I actually felt that there was too much to eat. I like tempura shirako too but that is usually a hit-and-miss as it isn’t easy to get tempura shirako right.
Duck breast is one of my better half’s favourite things to eat. Not surprising, we ordered two portions of this well-seasoned and succulent duck breast in one seating.
Japanese tomatoes are so sweet and delicious, and I could easily eat piles of tomatoes with a pinch of salt.
I have always read about how filling a sake cup until it overflows signals wealth and generosity of the restaurant. However, I have never experienced this practice in Japan until recently when I was in a Sapporo izakaya last year. and more recently, in Gion Yuki Izakaya.It feels really nice to see your sake cup being filled to the brim and with more in the saucer.
I always order gyu suji nikomi whenever I see the item on the menu at an izakaya. This is an izakya staple which I hardly see in other Japanese restaurants.
We went back to Gion Yuki Izakaya again for dinner on our last night in Kyoto. It was a Saturday evening and the queue outside Gion Yuki Izakaya was insane! We queued in the cold outside the izakaya for a good 90 mins before we were shown into the restaurant. I have never before queued so long at a restaurant. So this is really a first for me. We repeated some of the items we ate on our first visit and tried some new items like nasu dengaku (fabulously good) and marinated jelly-fish (also good).
I can’t put all the food photos on this blog post as it would make this post waaaaaay too long, but all that appear here are the ones that we really liked.
Gion Yuki Izakaya (or Gion Yuuki) (遊亀祇園店)
111-1 Tominagacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0078, Japan
Byodoin is a beautiful Buddhist temple that sits on a small lake of water. The grounds of the temple are simple and serene, and surrounded by wisteria trellises. Because we visited in winter, the trellises and trees look bare, and I can imagine how scenic the compound would look in April-May when wisteria is in full bloom, where hanging bunches of purple blossoms appear everywhere. We spent an hour exploring the grounds, admiring the temple at different angles. At the back of the temple is a modern building I thought about paying a small fee to enter the temple premises but decided that I was happy to just walk around it.
I have always wanted to visit Japan during wisteria season but haven’t found the opportunity to do so. Got to put this down as an item in my bucket list.
On our way back to the train station, we spent some time browsing in the shops outside the temple along the street known as Byodoin Omotesando. There is one thing that Uji is very famous for – green tea. Besides matcha, sencha and hojicha, there are many shops selling green tea food – matcha soba, matcha ice cream, matcha curry, matchagyoza, etc. Argh, I can’t imagine eating matcha curry – it sounds weird.
I am not fond of matcha but I love sencha, so I bought two packs of sencha teabags – these teabags were soooo good, I can no longer drink the ones from our local supermarkets.
I also tucked into a soft-serve from Nakamura Tokichi (a famous tea shop in Uji) despite feeling cold. I have always thought that ice cream tasted best in cold weather.
We liked Uji and we will be back again! I think Uji will be a place that we will stop by Byodoin (which charges an entrance fee of 600 yen) and Starbucks Uji whenever we are in Kyoto. Also, I need to restock supplies of green teabags.
This InsideKyoto article has a good write-up of Byodoin Temple as well as directions on how to get there from Kyoto.
Is it a problem that I don’t write my travel posts in a chronological order? Or in any order at all? I jump around between old and recent travel posts, in no particular order. I wish I had the discipline to order my posts using some kind of structure but I felt that would make it feel too much like ‘work’. What I post is really driven by which photos I am editing at that point in time – only if I like the photos that I have taken, then I am motivated to write a post around those photos.
I have always used Photobucket to host my photos which I link to this blog. Lately, I find Photobucket to be exceedingly slow in uploading photos and I have been thinking about using an alternative, preferably a site which has an awesome gallery visual and a great feel. (In NLP terms, I have both the Kinaesthetic and Visual representational systems) I came across SmugMug and gave it a trial run. I like their simple yet sleek templates and that the site uploads photos quickly.
Back to the post. In Feb this year, we travelled to Japan over the Chinese New Year period (boy, was the weather cold…!) stopping by in Kyoto first before Tokyo. We headed out to Uji to see the Byodoin Temple right after depositing our suitcases at Hotel Mume. It was our first visit to Uji after visiting Kyoto many times – not sure why it has taken us this long.
We stopped by Starbucks in Uji, located just outside Byodoin for a shot of caffeine. The Starbucks compound is beautiful – high slanted roof, mixture of wood, steel and glass, floor-to-ceiling glass windows that looked out into a lovely Japanese garden. I could sit there all day with a book.
I am going to try visiting all the Starbucks properties in Japan that are architecturally-interesting (ie not the standard ones you find in a mall or train station). I have seen three so far – Starbucks in Uji, the Dazaifu property in Fukuoka and the Ninenzaka property in Kyoto (which I will post soon!)
Amigurumis are such cute things to make, and I find myself not making enough of them. I have experimented with several patterns – a little pig, a reindeer and a bunny. I found a ‘connection’ with the bunny from Amigurumi To Go and have made three of these so far – two were for a friend who wanted to give them to newborns as gifts.
I have to say that making the clothes worn by the bunnies was far more challenging than making the bunnies. These tiny pieces of clothing took almost forever to make and when I finally finished the last stitch, it was immensely satisfying.
The female bunny in the orange dress has a permanent place on my bookshelf. The male bunny has found a new home.
Over the years, I have had so many people ask me for travel tips in Seoul such as where to go, what to eat and how to get around the city. So I have decided to write it down here and refer people to this post in future. The caveat here would be that my suggestions are most suitable for people travelling without children, and are reflective of what I like. I will describe the options available based on what I know and then state my personal preferences.
Where to stay: I tend to orientate myself in Seoul as a city that is divided by the Hangang River. You can choose to stay north of Hangang where the palaces, museums, markets, Namsan and other attractions are situated, or stay south of Hangang where you have easy access to the high-end shopping areas such as Gangnam and Apgujeong. Whichever area that you choose to stay in, try to pick a hotel that is close to an airport bus stop and a subway station.
I have always stayed north of Hangang, usually in Myeongdong and occasionally, in Insadong or Seodeomun. I love the convenience of staying in Myeongdong. It is an area where I can find plenty of fun, shopping and local food options the minute I step out of my hotel. Strolling along the bustling streets of Myeongdong at night, tasting a variety of Korean street food at the numerous food carts lining the streets, wandering in and out of the plethora of cosmetics and skincare shops are activities that I never seem to tire of. Myeongdong has access to two subway lines: the green subway line (Line 2) and the light blue subway line (Line 6). It is also an easy walk to the palaces, Insadong, Cheongyechon stream, Namdaemun market etc.
How to get to and from Incheon airport: Seoul city is accessible from Incheon by taxi, the airport Express train or the airport bus. It would take anything between 45mins to two hours depending on traffic conditions.
Taxi: I have not taken the taxi to the city before so I am not sure what the cost would be. I reckon that it would cost a bit given the distance between the airport and the city. The taxi option would be worth it if there are at least three to four of you in the group. If you do, check that the taxi has enough boot space to carry all the luggage.
AREXExpress: The non-stop Airport Railroad Express Train (AREX) from Incheon to Seoul Station costs 8,000 Won per person. It is a quick and convenient option, especially if your hotel is within close proximity to Seoul Station (which is north of Hangang). For those who are not staying near Seoul Station, you have to get off the AREX and commute to your hotel by subway or a taxi. For some reason, I have never taken the AREX Express before, and I should give it a try one day.
Airport Bus: This is my preferred option as the bus is comfortable, convenient, affordable and frequent. It usually takes about an hour to get into the city. [Travel tips in Seoul: Depending on the traffic condition, the bus could take up to two hours especially during peak hours.] The airport bus ticketing counter is located right outside the departure hall of Incheon. Tell the staff at the counter the name of your hotel and they will let you know the airport bus number and the bus-stop. Ticket price varies depending on destination – I pay 14,000 Won to go to Myeongdong. You can also find the bus routes here.
The bus handlers will carry your suitcase into the luggage compartment of the bus, and you can snooze your way into the city. Once the bus enters the city, you will start to hear announcements of the stops being made in English. At each designated stop, the bus driver will alight from the bus and remove the pieces of luggage from the compartment based on the luggage tag. Pick up your luggage and off you go. Easy-peasy!
How to get around: My preferred mode for travelling around in Seoul is by the subway, and where possible, on foot. The subway is cheap, convenient and reliable. Travel tips in Seoul: Get the T-money stored value card so you do not have to deal with buying subway tickets and loose change. The T-money stored value card is available at the subway stations and some hotels sell the card too. The T-money card is super handy as it can be used at the convenience shops, on the airport bus, in taxis and for lockers at the train stations.
Unlike Tokyo, taxis are very affordable in Seoul. They charge metered fares with a flat flag-down rate. No peak hour surcharges too! Just be sure to take the white and orange taxis – the black ones charge are pricier. Travel tips in Seoul: The taxis also have a free English translation service to help foreigners with difficulty communicating with their taxi drivers. I have used it several times and found it to be extremely helpful. The taxi driver calls the translator on his phone in the taxi, passes the phone over to you for you to speak to the translator and the translator will let the taxi driver know what your instructions are.
Travel tips in Seoul: I avoid taking taxis during peak hours due to the congestion, especially if you are travelling across the Hangang River. The roads around the Hangang get very congested during peak hours so you are better off taking the subway. For those of you who wonder about safety, I frequently travel to Seoul on my own and have found taxis to be safe for a lone female traveller.
When to go: For nice weather and scenery, I would suggest spring time or autumn. I find the Korean weather to be too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
Spring time is lovely especially during the plum blossom season. Lots of gorgeous flowering trees to be enjoyed in the city. My favourite season to visit Korea is during fall, sometime between end October and the first two weeks of November. The autumn foliage in Korea is intense and wild. The sights of the vibrant orange, red and yellow colours never fail to take my breath away. The autumn air is crisp and cold, and perfect to indulge in piping hot pots and kimchi stews. I have been fortunate to have acquired many happy autumn memories in Seoul.