July 26, 2013 § 3 Comments
It’s been over six months since our Takayama trip. So much has happened since then.
But when I close my eyes, I still see the foliage, still feel the autumn breeze on my face, still taste the beef that melts in the mouth, the savoury sweetness of miso that we’ve come to know so well. Oh to reminisce.
One of the many highlights of our trip to Hida is the eating. Located high in the Hida Mountains in the Gifu Prefecture, Takayama was kept fairly isolated during the old days allowing it to develop its own culture. Land-locked, they depend a lot on mountains and rivers for ingredients, taking inspiration but veering away from the cuisines of Tokyo or Kyoto.
If you’re looking for quaint towns, a wealth of excellent street foods and sake, a unique way of enjoying miso dishes, and different melt in you mouth beef dishes, then you must go to Takayama.
Along with their carpentry, lacquerware, and pottery works, Takayama is likewise known for its local cuisine. I truly enjoyed the food in Hida.
There were small shops, and stalls of food, from their famous dango balls to soft serve green tea ice creams everywhere we went.
And the mochi. Oh the mochi.
One of the popular street foods, in this part of Japan, is Mitarashi Dango, little mochi (sweet dumplings made of rice flour) balls on bamboo skewers, dipped in a mixture of dashi, mirin, and soy sauce then grilled.
The chewy dumplings glazed with the sweet soy mix lets out a slightly burnt fragrance that is addicting, tempting me at every corner.
The unique combination of Hida’s landscape and climate produces excellent buckwheat and local soba noodle shops are all over Hida using the buckwheat flour to make their noodles. Locals love their soba paired with sake.
These handmade noodles are served hot in miso broth, a favorite during winter or cold (zaru soba) dipped in a light soy broth during summer time – hot or cold, the earthy flavor and the firmness of the noodles always shines through.
And the beef. Holding its own against Kobe and Matsuzaka is the pride of Takayama.
One distinctly local and considered Hida’s specialty is Hida beef cooked with another of Hida’s specialty, Hoba Miso. A plate of sliced raw beef is cooked at the table. On a ceramic brazier a hoba (magnolia) leaf topped with Hida’s special miso, the beef cooked over it. The miso added another layer of subtle fermented bean flavor. But what doesn’t go well with miso anyway?
This special miso is one thing I bought to take home with me.
Savory miso paste mixed with leeks, shiitake mushrooms, and pickles placed on dried hoba leaf then heated over a charcoal fire – simply divine over plain rice.
May 29, 2013 § 1 Comment
Tender, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness – is how I describe this good piece of steak I had in a not so recent dining episode somewhere in Hida Takayama. In fact, most of our meals were of this black-haired Japanese cattle breed.
Our very first meal in Takayama was this wonderful set meal at a French Bistro called Le Midi,
we then had it Teppanyaki style in Hirayu,
Yakiniku style in a hole in a wall,
in a bun found in stalls everywhere,
we queued in line to have taste of this minced Hida beef cutlet,
and delighted in the city’s specialty, Hida Beef grilled on a magnolia leaf with Hoba miso (another of their delicacies) – all garnering a truly satisfying two-thumbs up from me.
Raised in the Gifu Prefecture, Hida Beef or Hida-gyu, as it is called, is one of the reasons how I found myself in Hida Takayama. Although widely known (and for obvious reasons) for its wonderfully preserved city and beautiful sceneries, for foodies, it is its premium beef that reigns supreme in this city. Sharing the same class (but not exactly the limelight) as Kobe and Matsuzaka, Hida, like other wagyu beef, has beautiful marbling that prevents the juice and aroma from escaping from the meat and helps maintain its tenderness. The cattle fattened for 14 months, and its meats are ranked from grades 3-5 (with 5 being the most premium).
In my humble opinion, I find that Hida beef boasts of the buttery taste found in some wagyu beef but does not possess so much of the fatty richness, highlighting more the flavor of the meat. If you find your way to Takayama, do splurge on at least a meal of Hida beef. If, however, you start dreaming of Hida Beef, do not hesitate, head out to Takayama at the soonest chance you get.
April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
Credits: Papers by Sarah Bennett; Hearts element by Happy Scrap Girl and Designs by Tater; Journaling Snippet by Crystal Wilkerson
“Irashaimase!” they called out in unison as soon as they spotted us at the door. We were led to a low table, chairs sans the legs with tatami mats underneath. We took off our shoes as we are supposed to. We chose to order from the menu in Japanese over the English version. Kiang, our Korean server, helped us decide on the meal. She spoke a little English, and we ordered almost all of what she proposed, even the sake.
We are in an “izakaya” after all – a type of Japanese drinking establishment that serve food and as Wikipedia puts it: the name izakaya is a compound word consisting of “I” (to stay) and “sakaya” (sake shop), indicating that izakaya began from sake shops that allow customers to sit and drink on the premise. So how can you not have sake, right?
The sake, fruity and refreshing, paired well with the meal, which I must say is quite excellent – the Agedashi Tofu winning hands down.
Jo Jo is within walking distance to the JR Kyoto Station, so if you find yourself in the area, do drop by and see if Kiang is still around to help you. We owe this wonderful meal to her.
Though more complex cuisine exists, none comes close to matching Japan’s culinary aesthetics. ~ Howard HillmanJõ Jõ Shimogyo-ku, Nishinotoin Shichijo-sagaru +85 75 371-2010
February 5, 2013 § 9 Comments
What do you do when you’re on holiday, exploring the neighborhood and it starts to rain? We had lunch. Sometimes when the hassles of life make you stop and change course just go with the flow. You never know what lies ahead.
Preserved historic street of Higashiyama.
It was a choice between getting drenched and an early lunch. Albeit not on our list of many restaurants to try in Kyoto, it was an easy choice. We decided that looking for a restaurant on our list was not worth getting wet for. Suien will have to do. Great decision ever.
The Zen-like interior has splashes of neutral subtle shades, pale wooden furniture and shoji screens. The only other customers were 2 well-dressed women seated in a quiet corner, deep in conversation. But as soon as we entered, I had a good feeling about the place. We will be fed well, I thought. We chose a table opposite the ladies, the server in a kimono, gave us the only English menu they have. It was short and sweet, a set menu. Worth ¥2,500 ($26), it comes with 2 appetizers, noodle soup, a choice of 4 main course and Japanese sweets for dessert. We’re having a kaiseki-style lunch.
As Japan’s former capital and seat of the imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto is renowned for its rich culinary tradition. Diverse, its local cuisine ranges from aristocratic kaiseki ryori course to the smallest izakaya (pub). Kaiseki is Japanese haute cuisine served in carefully designed courses meant to please the emperors. Kyoto-style kaiseki puts importance on seasonal ingredients and is largely vegetarian, though fish is often served while meat never appears in a kaiseki menu.
Walnut Bean Curd and Roast (adducter muscles) Scallop. A great start to a wonderful meal. The bean curd silky and smooth, sweet and salty (from the soy).
Fried Sea Bream in Hot Noodle Soup. The light broth with a hint of lemon makes this rice noodle soup light and refreshing. The fish, similar to a sea bass, adds to the flavor. A delightful change to the usual miso soup.
For the main course, I chose Donburi with Sea Bream marinated in Miso. It tastes as good as it looks. Also called Japan’s king of fish, the sea bream is very flavorful, meat firm similar to sea bass. The miso delicately seasoning the fresh flavor of the fish.
And finally… the dessert. Brown Sugar Rice Cake. What a way to end the meal. This melt in the mouth mochi is smooth and creamy, not at all starchy. Unlike any I’ve tasted.
The price of a kaiseki meal can be steep but many establishments offer set menus at lunchtime at a considerably lower price. Whether lunch or dinner, it is an experience not to be missed.Suien Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 446 Le Kamibenten Town Under Torii Yasaka Shimogawaradori About 15 minutes walk from Hanky Kawaramochi Station / 7 minutes walk from Gion Shijo Station Contact: 075 551-0035
May 5, 2012 § 1 Comment
Trips with the family always involve a lot of eating. On our (not so) recent trip to Hong Kong, it was with no surprise that the entire itinerary focused on where to eat. A few good ones picked out from a 2-page list and reservations made even before we boarded. Yes, if there is such a thing as food geeks, that’s us.
First stop was Hutong in Tsim Sha Tsui. The restaurant was set out to impress not only in the food department. It starts with a stylish old China interior and a view to die for from the 28th floor overlooking Victoria Harbor and the Hong Kong skyline. The dim interior creates drama and intends to highlight the city’s colorfully lit nightscape, particularly the nightly light show at 8pm. So try to get a table by the window for the best view.
Clockwise: Floor to ceiling windows overlooking the harbor / dim interior, Cod fish tossed with fermented bean and chilies, Red Lantern, various desserts, the light show, Crispy De-boned Lamb Ribs
Specializing in traditional northern Chinese cuisine, the food is can be quite spicy. Make sure to order the Crispy De-boned Lamb Ribs, it is their house specialty and never disappoints. Its crispness resembles that of Peking duck skin and the meat slow-cooked to tenderness but still retaining the flavor of lamb. If you can handle the heat, their Red Lantern is a must try. Crispy chicken with Sichuan pepper bursts with great flavor and intense heat if you bite into the chilies. Even without touching the chilies, I can only eat so much. Another favorite is the Cod fish tossed with fermented bean and chilies.
Clockwise: Grilled Zucchini, Green Tea Banana Cake, the sushi counter, Hamachi Roll, Tuna Tartare with Miso, Grilled Chicken Wings
A friend invited for dinner at a different time I was in Hong Kong, we met at the Mandarin for drinks and walked over to The Landmark for what she said would be Japanese tapas. Given the prestigious address, I knew that it wasn’t going to be a cramped sushi bar but the interior still blew me away. Zuma has 2 levels with a grand spiral staircase that greets as one step out of the elevator. We took a table at the terrace where a garden surrounds. Memorable dishes include Seared Beef with a Yuzu-Ponzu dressing, Tuna Tartare with Miso, a Chicken Yakitori and a very yummy Green Tea Banana Cake with coconut ice cream. Authentic Japanese cuisine prepared non-traditionally and served Izakaya style – small dishes designed for sharing. Zuma boasts of a pretty good selection with a robota grill and a sushi counter. Second time around with the family registers the same satisfaction if not better.
Clockwise: Flan con Dulce de Leche, Provoleta Cheese with Olive Oil and Herbs, Grilled Beef Tenderloin Steak (250g), the street of Soho in Central.
Steak – is always on our radar. Our usual haunt is Morton of Chicago but this time around, we felt like a change. At the heart of SOHO in Central is a place where carnivores find pleasure. La Pampas specializes in Argentinean cuisine, particularly in steaks and grilled meats. Flown fresh from Argentina, the organic beef is tender and tasty. Other Argentinean dishes worth ordering from their menu include sausages, chorizo, and cheeses. And speaking of cheese, their Provoleta cheese with olive oil and herbs is a delightful starter and the Flan con Dulce de Leche, a divine cap to the scrumptious meal.
Clockwise: Noodle and congee counter, stylish interior, my fish congee, Stir-fried Chinese Broccoli, The chef behind the counter, fried Beef Noodle.
With the excessive feasting, it is just proper to take a rest and end with some congee. Tasty Congee and Noodle Wanton Shop should be your last stop to somewhat clean the system. Before taking the train to the airport, spare some time to go to the IFC Mall for some really good congee or noodles on level 3. If you prefer to head straight to the airport, head out to the food court of Departure east hall of the Hong Kong International Airport. This one Michelin star restaurant definitely does not disappoint. So good, it even got listed on the premier edition of the Miele Guide. So even if you don’t really need to “cleanse”, head out to one of their establishments for some “tasty” comfort food. Outside of their congee, we loved their Fried Beef Noodle, which we spotted from the table beside us. Dimsums and wantons are excellent too.Zuma Levels 5 & 6, The Landmark 15 Queen’s Road, Central. HK (852) 3657-6388 (reservations recommended) Hutong 1 Peking Road, 28th Floor, Tsim Sha Tsui, HK (852) 3428-8342 (reservations a must) Tasty Congee & Noodle Wanton Shop Shop 3016 Podium 3, IFC Mall 8 Finance Street, Central, HK (852) 2295-0101 / 2295-0505 (reservations recommended) La Pampas G/F 32 B & C, Staunton Street, SOHO, Central (852) 2868-6959 (reservations a must)