Sunday, 26 September 2010


I love Kyoto - there's so much history and culture of Japan in this one city. It's the perfect combination of traditional and modern all wrapped up in one place. I would even call it the quintessential Japanese city. Absolutely fantastic and a definite must-see for any trip to Japan!
The stores and temples near Gion (also known as the Geisha district)

So much history, beauty and amazing architecture

The world famous Zen Rock Garden and Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple)

Now onto the food...
Shabu Shabu on Pontocho (famous food street)

Japanese breakfast at the Kyoto Hotel (the tofu in the soup was really good!!)

I have no idea what this was - but it was the closest food for what felt like miles in Kyoto (they don't call Kyoto the walking city for nothing). The balls were gummy,chewy and really gross - not our thing at all.

The cheapest lunch/dinner/takeout we found in Japan! Something like 380 yen at some takeout store in the middle of Kyoto. It was great value for money - the food was good, they made it fresh to order and it was super cheap - it really didn't get any better than that.
Our Japan Trip Planner recommended this restaurant near Ginkaku-ji and the Philosopher's Path because it is a very famous Udon place. We got the hot Udon with vegetables. The taste of the Udon was definitely not something we were used to since the taste was milder than what we would have expected (most likely because the Udon we usually eat is a lot more strongly flavoured). The broth was very strong and the sesame seeds (which I thought were normal sesame seeds but turned out to be like smoky sesame seeds) actually added a different flavour to the noodles. The entire meal felt like a whole cacophony of subtle flavours that I couldn't quite appreciated so I didn't particularly enjoy the noodles. 

The Melon Bun Snack! 
Due to my brother's obsession with melon buns (see Ito & Gotemba Blog Entry), we proceeded to pretty much try every single bakery's melon buns (that we could find in Kyoto). This one we got at the Suzuya store in a subway station in Kyoto. Not as delicious as the one we tried in Mishima, but it was a melon bun and my brother was happy. (Someone needs to start making melon buns in Toronto - seriously - not the pineapple ones - the real melon flavour buns)

Issian Pontocho
Japanese stone grilling 
There have been rave reviews of Issian Pontocho in all the guide books that we looked at (Frommers, Lonely Planet, etc), so we decided to try to find it in the confusing Pontocho area and after much wandering and questioning of the locals, we found it in a side street off the main street. 
Everyone in the restaurant spoke English and it was such a relief to hear English being spoken again (especially since most people in Japan didn't really have a solid grasp of the language). 
The food was ok...we sat there waiting for the waiter, but after a while our hunger got the better of us and we started to cook it for ourselves. The sauces weren't as good as the ones we usually get in Korean Barbecue.  I wasn't particularly impressed with Issian and didn't quite see what all the hype was about (I like KBBQ in Toronto much better) and when we left, we had the smoky smell of bbq clinging to our clothes (the ventilation in the restaurant was pretty bad). 

Loved the cultural part of Kyoto - but we had a struggle finding really good food to write home about. Hopefully it'll be better the next time we go!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Ito and Gotemba

Location: Yokikan Onsen
We wanted an authentic Traditional Japanese experience and so we arranged for a trip to an Ryokan with Onsen on the premises. A Ryokan is a Japanese hotel with tatami mats for beds and onsen are hot spring baths. Our Ryokan was in a little coastal town called Ito.
The hotel was great! They had a private mountain tram/elevator to get to the hot springs at the top of the mountain (at first it was kind of scary fitting everyone into the tram, but after a while we realized it wasn't so terrifying and my brother breathed a sigh of relief at the top).

When we checked into our rooms, we were served a refreshing snack which was a little dish of cold jelly.

For dinner, they went all out and served us a huge kaseki dinner. We had salad, sashimi, dried fish, tofu, rice and a multitude of seafood and vegetables. It was such a huge spread for 3 people!
The food was really good (even though my mom doesn't like sashimi and ended up cooking all our sashimi in the stone bowls since they were kept warm on little hot pot stoves)

Some food souvenirs! Cakes and treats in the shape of the mountain.

The best gyoza we had in Japan! We had a very erratic eating schedule and so by the time we got hungry for dinner in Gotemba (which is a tiny town at the base of Mt. Fuji), most places were closed with the exception of this one "Japanese bar" across the street from our hotel. The Izakaya was located underneath the Gotemba Train Station and when we entered the first thing we smelt was the cigarette smoke. It was a really grungy bar - not something that we would expect of the Japanese because most other places we went to were clean and nice and this place almost felt seedy. Anyways, we entered, took off our shoes, tried to puzzle out what the servers were trying to say in their broken English and then sat down at a table to read through the menu. Luckily, I recognized gyoza as being pan-fried dumplings and so we ordered a plate. 
They were delicious crispy pan-fried goodness! And tender and juicy on the inside - it was such a surprise that they had such great gyoza at such a sketchy joint, but it was definitely a memorable experience.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Cafe downstairs from our Hotel. 
American style breakfast in Japan.

On our way from Gotemba to Kyoto, we had to change trains at Mishima station. So we picked up lunch of what we thought was a chicken sandwich - turns out it was some kind of 'crispy on the outside' potato sandwich. That was a bit of a shocker since we bit into it thinking it would be meat, and it ended up being mushy inside of the crispy outer-layer. 

We also got some meringues because they were so nicely packaged and pretty!

Some kind of raisin and fruit bread and a melon bun (this one started the beginning of my brother's obsession with melon buns). The melon bun was really good - better than any buns I've ever had at any Chinese bakeries in Canada.

Bento lunch for the train trip.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Desserts in Tokyo!

This was the taiyaki with chocolate filling that I had in Asakusa. So yummy! The street food in Tokyo is amazing! It was deliciously hot and gooey in the middle - such a great treat! I could eat a ton of these...

Cakes - Gâteaux de Voyage 
 We found the Gâteaux de Voyage store in the basement of Printemp's in Ginza. We thought the packages were adorable and the desserts looked delicious, so we grabbed one of each item that caught our fancy. Unfortunately, the baumkuchen was too small for us to get a real taste of it (we shared it between 3 people - so you can imagine we didn't quite get a full taste of it). In general, the cakes were nice, but they weren't super amazing like we expected.

The Madeleine was really delicious, but not enough for us to make a repeat trip back to the Gâteaux de Voyage on our 3 day Tokyo trip. 

Baumkuchen - Nenrinya
My favourite Japanese food experience (besides eating Shabu-Shabu in Kyoto and the sushi conveyor belt in Akihabara) is Baumkuchen in Ginza. The first bite of Nenrinya's original glazed Baumkuchen? OMG was it ever delicious. The cake was PERFECT - it was moist & sweet and just overall melt-in-your-mouth goodness. I originally thought it was strange that they made Baumkuchen since it is a dessert of German origin; but if anything, after this experience --> all I can say is that the Japanese really know how to take products from other countries and recreate & innovate it to make it amazing. I must say: the best Baumkuchen I've ever tried was at Nenrinya's - (and I've tried Baumkuchen since from KaDeWe in Berlin and Eitelbach in Toronto and both were super disappointing - the flavour and texture just couldn't compare to fresh baumkuchen in Tokyo). My next goal is to make the trip to Salzwedel in Germany to try the original from the birthplace of Baumkuchen. 

This was probably one of the best desserts I've ever had in my life - I would highly recommend this if you're ever in Tokyo. It's amazing - we loved the original glazed version better than the chocolate version, but both are memorable and worth every yen you spend in Tokyo.

 Les Macarons from Ladurée's at Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, Tokyo. The macarons were delicious! Chocolate, Pistachio, Liquorice, Caramel with salted butter - recipe perfect macarons: eggshell crust, soft texture inside and very true to the flavours. At the time, our reasoning for choosing the Ladurée macarons over the Pierre Hermés macarons was because there was a shorter line-up at the counter (Ladurée had the shorter line and nicer counter). After trying the Pierre Hermés macarons in Paris, I fell in love with the réglisse et violette macaron and for me - that is the macaron to beat --> absolutely amazing too (considering I really dislike the taste of liquorice) but Pierre Hermés really makes it work.

Delicious! Tokyo has an amazing selection of desserts that aren't sickly sweet and they really do take the best of other cultures and make the desserts their own! 

Monday, 20 September 2010

Food in Tokyo

Takoyaki and Unagi! 

Chicken Katsu-don and teriyaki skewers from Mitsukoshi

Breakfast buffet at the Hotel Gracery in Ginza, Tokyo - amazing miso soup, lotus root with sesame, choy sum, beef, salmon, ham, eggplant and tamago - a combined Japanese and American breakfast.

Sushi conveyor belt restaurant on the 8th floor of Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara
Your sushi total is calculated by stacking the microchip plates (since different dishes have different prices), then the wait staff count your total plates, beep their microchip reader machines and voila you get your total bill. 

Buns from a shop across from Matsuzakaya