Snacks & Food from Tokyo (Part 2)

While I was compiling the snacks & food we tried on this trip, I was in disbelief. Did we really tried and bought that many stuff in our short 1 week vacation? The list seemed to be endless and it took me quite a while to scour through my photos so as to consolidate the following list. These are items generally available throughout Japan, versus regional snacks that I post under the corresponding cities/region.

I shall start with items which we had in Japan – those that you are unlikely to spend the effort bring back to Singapore. Followed by items that we bought towards the later part of our trip e.g those snacks that could be found typically at the airport.

  • Häagen-Dazs ice creams

Tried the seasonal edition of Annou Imo (orange sweet potato) – a special type of potato with an extra-high sugar content and flavourful orange-hued flesh.  There are bits of potato and a thick honey-like sauce at the centre of the cup.

More seasonal editions: Hojicha Latte which has deep roast flavour with a creamy base. And the Specialite Matcha Opera ice cream which replicate the concept of “gâteau opéra” by adding different layers of ingredients such as matcha green tea ice cream, almond cookie wafer etc. This luxurious edition also cost more than the standard ice cream cups.

  • Drinks Category

This two transparent teas introduced by Suntory – a Japanese brewing and distilling company were highly sought-after items on Airfrov’s requests in Singapore. That was before it eventually came to our shores in late Nov/early Dec.

Grabbed them – Transparent Milk Tea and Transparent Lemon Tea when I was in Japan and it turned out to be more of a fad than anything else. Claims of it having a rich milk tea taste and texture was…meh….

Personally I prefer Suntory‘s Minami-Alps Tennensui & Yogurina (yogurt flavoured water). You don’t need to get it in Japan, you can find it in Donki Singapore. Although this taste similar to Calpis, it is less sweet and less dense. It’s a refreshing drink to cool down in Singapore‘s blazing hot weather.

Admittedly some of the drinks we purchased was more for the packaging like the Autumn Kirin Beer with foliage prints.  But others like the Asahi 16-Blend Tea which was more functional, said to be a healthy drink that can help control sugar levels after a meal due to the sugar-suppressing ingredients contained in it.

The cooling weather during Autumn meant that it was also perfect for a warm drink. I tried the savoury Pokka Sapporo Corn Soup and the sweet Asahi Red Bean Soup. I found it odd to drink a savoury soup without pairing it with a meal so I prefer the red bean soup which could be drank at any time of the day.

How could I miss out carbonated drinks category? Here we had the Pepsi Christmas Cola which was white in colour instead of the typical dark brown colour. Taste wise, it had a bit more zest and a slight citrus taste. The Kyoto Coca-Cola is one of the 5 designs in the city series so I bought it purely for its aesthetics.

Other than the city series, Coca-Cola also introduced an Autumn edition which I searched high and low for…

While I’m not a fan of fruit beer, I’ve heard raving reviews of this particular fruity alcoholic drink (which is not a beer). This peach flavoured one is just one of the many flavours under the Horoyoi series introduced under Suntory brand. The drink itself is a chuhai, an abbreviation of “shochu highball”. Perfect for ladies or light drinkers as it’s only 3% alcohol~

  • Starbucks Drinks & Merchandise

Starbucks Puddings – I think these are sometimes available in Singapore but the Custard one is the most commonly seen. The Milk Tea Pudding is probably more rare. I bought them back to my hotel and kept them in the fridge. These come in handy when I feel like having something sweet at night, just before bed.

Of cos I can’t miss the opportunity to buy some Starbucks merchandise when in Japan. Spotted the Starbucks origami holiday season blend 2017 that comes with an Xmas edition reusable cup in the supermarket. Also bought a new tumbler since my old pink Sakura version was in need of replacement.

Spotted another Starbucks merchandise which was really interesting. It featured the iconic Starbucks Siren on a coaster. Wanted to purchase more to give as Xmas gift but this was the last piece.

  • Cup Noodles Category

Instead of setting my eyes on the Michelin-starred ramens, these two cup noodles by Nissin were higher on my priority list.  These are part of their luxurious series where they featured a richer soup base. Although these are not regional item, we only found them in a convenience store in Toyotashi and one (out of the numerous konbinis) in Kyoto.

The one on the left is Matsutake Mushroom Rich Cream and right is Luxury Thickness Sharks’ Fin flavour. I must put a disclaimer that it does not contain any sharks’ fin. The imitation sharks’ fin is usually made from mung bean vermicelli to mimic the chewy and gelatinous texture.

The Matsutake Mushroom Rich Cream comes with a pack of fragrance oil to be added just before eating. I was surprised to see dehydrated broccoli bits in it. There was a strong butter smell and the final soup was thick and creamy. I found the taste of this cup noodles was a bit too intense and artificial and the soup was a tad too gooey for my liking.

Here’s the Luxury Thickness Sharks’ Fin flavour cup noodles which also comes with a fragrance oil. I very much prefer this Chinese-style thick oyster-flavored soup with imitation sharks’ fin (you can spot them if you look carefully, it’s the gold-coloured strands). The variety of toppings included in this cup is more palatable such as the common dehydrated egg and veg. The addition of black fungus and goji (wolf berries) are nice oriental touches.

The 7-11 instant ramen from Tsuta (world’s first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant) was readily available in many stores throughout Japan. The pack comes with a piece of dehydrated Chashu (a common feature in many of the other instant ramen brands, see my earlier post about other instant ramens), a pack of chopped onions and a pack of fragrance oil. The highlight was the clear and light but flavourful soup. Ironically having tried the ramen at Tsuta Singapore and found the truffle taste too overwhelming, I prefer the soup of this instant ramen version which is more mellow.

The other Michelin-starred ramen that is also easily found in 7-11 is the Nakiryu(鳴龍), dan dan noodles. The restaurant was the second ramen shop in Tokyo to obtain the one Michelin-star award. Instead of the usual Chashu, the specialty of dan dan noodles is to have minced pork toppings. In this instant ramen version, they managed to replicate the same delicious topping (thanks to amazing technology). There are 3 packs of condiments in the bowl version of this instant ramen – I understand there is a cup version as well which seems to have less condiment packs. Unlike other instant noodles, the noodles were true to its original version of thinness and had a nice chew to it. The soup base had a good balance of spiciness as well as a tinge of vinegar taste. Spice lovers may add on more chilli oil if you have it at home. I usually avoid vinegar but I found this soup base rather appealing. Overall this instant noodle is really something unique and special. Kinda hard find a competitor that could beat them.

  • Snacks (I) – Kit Kat

In case you didn’t know, Kit Kat has conquered the hearts of Japanese and amassed a huge market share through the frequent introduction of new and wacky flavours/packaging.

They are so popular that they started KitKat Chocolatory – a chocolate boutique that allowed consumers to purchase a variety of higher-end version of their classic products.

Birthstone Kit Kats was one of their newest addition to their already impressive lineup. Birthstone series will see a new release each month, starting from 1st November 2017. There would be a new limited-time flavor introduced each month corresponding to that month’s birthstone.

And to start things off, they introduced amber-colored Topaz Kit Kat.

Each birthstone Kit Kat is sold in a pack, with 3 individually boxed wafer. Unfortunately only 1 is the birthstone edition and the other 2 are their chocolatory edition milk chocolate and bitter chocolate flavour. The birthstone edition has a special flavor corresponding to the season. For November/Topaz they featured the chestnut.

I must say this is a good marketing strategy and this would make a touching gift to melt any girls’ heart.

If you didn’t have the chance to visit any of the Kit Kat Chocolatory, you could also find a huge variety of Kit Kat flavours from any convenience store or even drugs store. I picked this up from the 24-hour Don Quijote (aka Donki in Singapore).

This series is called Everyday Luxury. It was created to resemble the Moleson, a popular product from Kit Kat Chocolatory, packed with cranberries and almond. There are 2 versions of the Everyday Luxury series – one is using normal chocolate, another is Matcha Double Berry & Almond. The matcha version has reduced cacao chocolate and tasted less sweet than normal chocolate.

I liked the mini-size as I can then control my calories intake and the cranberries & almond toppings made me felt that I’m at least eating some healthy nuts instead of pure junk food…yup…self-deceiving…I know…haha

I’ve seen the normal version of Everyday Luxury at Donki Singapore but didn’t spot the Matcha version. However I’ve spotted the Matcha version in some Japanese snack specialty shops – selling at a ridiculously jacked up price…I’m not sure if the distributors flown these in fully air-conditioned container facility which then explains the exorbitant increase in pricing?

I swear that I’ve seen the Strawberry Cheese Cake Kit Kat before and gave it a miss back then. The new packaging reflecting the Autumn/Sakura foliage (either side) and Mount Fuji box design caught my attention this time round. A classic example of how packaging matters and could easily fool people like me?!

The Strawberry Cheese Cake Kit Kat has layered strawberry-flavored and cheese-infused cream sandwiched between crunchy wafers and is finished with creamy cheese-flavoured white chocolate.

I happened to be in Japan when they announced this mega collaboration between Tokyo Banana X Kit Kat. For a start this limited edition collaboration is only on sale exclusively at Tokyo Station from 15 November 17. I visited 1.5 weeks later thinking that perhaps the hype would be over, but to my surprise they had placed notice limiting purchase of these to only 2 boxes per customer!!! And the 15 pieces box set is SOLD OUT…

Inside each individually wrapped package is a pair of chocolate wafer bars with a groove that is split right in the centre but connected on one end – resembling a pair of banana. It has a mild banana taste, which goes well with the chocolate wafer. I would say this is another huge marketing success to Kit Kat~

  • Snacks (II) – Koikeya Pride Potato Chips

While we managed to source around and collected 6 flavours to bring back to Singapore, we had done some taste test and finished 2-3 packs during our trip. We were so impressed by the awesome Matsutake Kaoru Kiwamidashi Shio (Ultimate Stock Salt with Matsutake Mushroom Aroma) – top left yellow colour rim – that we bought a few more packs back. The Matsutake fragrance and the 3-types of salt used was the secret behind its alluring taste! And the chips were really thin and crispy.

Top row centre is the: Hiden Noko Nori Shio (Secret Rich Nori Laver Salt), which was pretty nice and quite acceptable with nori aroma. But we didn’t find it exceptionally fascinating.

Top right is the: Miwaku no Aburi Wagyu (Fascinating Grilled Japanese Beef), which sounded interesting even from its name. But taste wise, it’s rather similar to the BBQ flavour with a stronger “beef” taste.

The normal series typically cost about ¥169 each (about S$2). You are lucky if you can find some stores in Singapore selling them for $2.50 – to me it’s quite a good deal.

On the bottom row, there were 2 packs under the another series indicated by the red seal that translate roughly to “hand-picked feeling“. This chips in this series seems to be thicker so it’s not as airy and crisp compared to the normal series. It is also more costly.

Flavour wise, the green package is the Yuzu fragrance Japanese Grape Pepper which was my least favoured…I guess if you are used to eating salt & vinegar potato chips, this is more palatable to you. It’s largely the salty, slightly sour, with a dash of citrus yuzu fragrance and a tinge of spicy pepper taste. Too complex…

The blue package is the Nagasaki salt which was more salty than the standard chips.

Lastly the shiny pink gold pack was the Imperial Consommé. If I’m not wrong it was the newest addition – said to only be available from 20th Nov. It’s said to be infused with the fragrance and essence of lobsters and steak. Taste wise, it’s lightly salted and has a lightly flavoured stock taste.

Having uncovered the goodness of Koikeya Pride Potato Chips we continued to purchase them whenever we spot new flavours in Singapore. Including the Gold coloured Imakane Danshaku: Maboroshi no Imo and Okhotsk salt, which we tried to hunt down in Japan but failed. The chips are made using Imakane Danshaku potato harvested in Hokkaido and due to its limited supply it is called “Phantom potato”.

Our latest discovery is the Spicy Karamucho (Ultra-rich Beef Stew XO sauce). A strong flavoured chips which resembles the classic Calbee Hot & Spicy chips, albeit with higher quality chips texture and perfumed with rich, smoky fragrance of XO sauce.

To Be Continued…Lookout for Snacks & Food from Tokyo (Part 3) coming up where I would share the list of items to grab at the Airport before you fly~

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★ Esquisse エスキス, Tokyo

Our lack of preparation and planning for this trip almost caused us to stumble and be late for our reservation at Esquisse – following our boo-boo for Sublime just the night before. This time round we got the timing right but went to the wrong place. Instead of leading us to the restaurant, Google led us to the cafe – Esquisse Cinq instead. Actually it’s largely due to the navigator’s fault for not inputting the address I listed in our itinerary; and partly my fault for being too trusting on the usually reliable navigator. (>_<) Thankfully the two places are only a short walk away from each other.

The restaurant is located on the 9th floor of the Royal Crystal Ginza building and we were seated facing the newly opened Ginza Six shopping complex nearby. The menu is basically an omakase set course with no printed menu given. The restaurant asked about our dietary restrictions during reservation and double-checked with us again on the day of our visit. Thereafter we were in for a surprise menu.

Our meal started with Champagne and a shot glass appetizer of Uni, pumpkin puree, cucumber jelly. This beautiful creation was a stroke of genius. To me the only commonality between uni and pumpkin was perhaps only their colour. It was beyond my imagination to pair them together in one dish. The addition of the cucumber jelly not only made this an absolutely refreshing starter, it added another level of texture to it.

After enjoying the chilled appetizer, we moved onto a light starter of Oyster, green pea, lettuce, jelly. Hidden under the lettuce was a warm, plump and sweet oyster. Not sure if it is a Gillardeau though, but it was well complimented by the cool fresh scented jelly.

In between the courses, we were well-fed with a variety of quality freshly baked bread. I recalled I had about 3-4 different types.

The next dish – Shirako with paprika had a small surprise for us when the maitre d‘ came with a box of matchsticks. Knowing that that we had been taking photos of the food, he asked if we were ready to capture the moment before he lit the matchstick. The lingering scent of the burnt cardamom seed elevated the experience of tasting the rich baked chorizo butter topping with the smooth velvety shirako beneath.

We were then presented with Boar meat from Kyoto, beef consommé. The clear stock was flavourful and well-balanced with a piece of daikon (my guess).

Pan fried hata with grape sauce was next. The white meat fish has a firm yet flaky texture.

Our exploration of the ocean catches continued with Abalone with nori tortellini, fried kombu. This was my favourite dish of the meal. Not only the abalone was perfectly cooked to a nice chewy texture, I was also impressed with the al-dente and umami-filled nori tortellini.

Our main was Venison, hazelnut, fig, potato, mushroom, Cocoa. The components used for complimenting the relatively gamey meat may seem random but it was in fact perfectly matched. It amalgamates and maximises the unique properties of each ingredient: earthy mushroom, nutty hazelnut, bitter cocoa and sweetness from the fig, resulting in a dish with a harmonious flavour profile.

Before dessert, we had a palate cleanser made with White grape jelly, grapefruit foam, mint sorbet. The fruits in Japan never disappoints and were of top quality.

Although we were reaching the end of our meal, it was also something we looked forward to as Esquisse‘s executive pastry Chef – Kazutoshi Narita was awarded Asia’s Best Pastry Chef in 2017. He even has his own dedicated dessert restaurant, Esquisse Cinq. While Esquisse Cinq is a place that allowed guests to taste a variety of desserts that Chef had developed in the past, Esquisse remains the venue for him to explore and express his creativity. Hence don’t expect the classic desserts here.

Dessert was an amazing fruits galore beautifully plated (like a poetic painting) on a clear flat glass – Raspberry, fig, pistachio nuts, chinese quince, liquorice ice cream, sabayon, mandarin.  As highlighted on Esquisse‘s website, the desserts have a modern twist. Each element incorporated within the ingredient are drawn out using various techniques then reconstructed to create a new texture. It’s easy to see from the photo, one could taste fruits that were transformed into different forms such as powdered, foam, pickled, emulsified.

Lastly, the mignardises and the final parting gift.

Guess Esquisse Cinq would be on my “To-go” list on my next visit to Tokyo.

Photos taken earlier:

 Our key sightseeing activity in Tokyo was the visit to Gingko Avenue in Meiji Jingu Gaien.

Even spotted a wedding couple having their photo shoot.

Shake Shack outlet was extremely popular and we were put off by the snaking queue…

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Blue Bottle Coffee, Tokyo

Our first stop for our final day in Tokyo for this trip is to visit Blue Bottle Coffee in Aoyama for a cuppa.

Somehow we missed visiting the shop where the chain started in Oakland, California when we were there a few years ago. Likely because we were more interested in visiting Napa Valley than coffee back then! Now in Tokyo, take wine out of the equation and we were left hunting for coffee joints~

In fact we were en-route to Gingko Avenue in Meiji Jingu Gaien, so we stopped at Omote-sando Station and took a short walk to this outlet.

Perhaps due to its location in a stylish and chic neighbourhood, the clientele seems to be a fashionable bunch. The ambience of the cafe’s indoor seating was more of a “be seen” place rather than a cosy one to while away the time.

As the cafe was located on the 2nd level, our eyes were drawn to large full height window leading to a nice outdoor patio. Given the clear sky, the outside area was perfect for a great shot. We sipped the smooth iced coffee under the comfortable sun and enjoying the lush greenery in front of the patio. After the short break, we set off to our next stop of the day.

Photos taken last night:

Beauty and the Beast” themed Winter Illumination at Caretta Shiodome.

Although Caretta Shiodome seems pretty out of the way, the bonus one gets for making the journey here is the FREE view on 46th & 47th floor of the towering building.  We were treated to the view of Tokyo Bay and Odaiba district.

Photos taken earlier:

Woke up to a clear blue sky in the morning, a great day to visit the Gingko Avenue later.

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★ Sublime スブリム, Tokyo

After a day of hectic shopping, we were making our way to Azabujuban for our dinner at Sublime when we received a phone call from a local line.  We picked up the call thinking that perhaps the restaurant was calling to confirm that we would be turning up for our reservation. To our horror, they told us that we were 30 mins late for our table! We had erroneously wrote in our itinerary that the appointment was at 8pm when it should be 7pm. This was the first time we ever made such an embarrassing mistake. We usually cross-check the details for all our meal reservations including the address, how to get there and travel time needed. I could feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead in the cool Autumn season in the packed subway…Pressure was on us to arrive within 30 mins or we would risk having the reservation cancelled with 100% of the cost of meal…

From then on it was a mad adrenaline rush, keeping our fingers crossed that the subways were working smoothly and we don’t get lost while trying to find the restaurant! We even had to make a 300m dash from the subway station to the restaurant… We were huffing and puffing when we saw the staff waiting for us outside the restaurant. Being late in Japan, is a terrible blunder as punctuality is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. We apologised profusely and made a flustered entry to the dining hall.

The restaurant adopts an open-kitchen concept and we could see the kitchen crew and Chef busy at work. We shortlisted Sublime as we read that the dishes featured Nordic-French fusion cooking. Even the interior furnishing exudes Scandinavian style with clean, and minimalist aesthetic, coupled with sleek and modern furniture.

Our meal started with a trio of bite-size appetizers: Sesame cracker and paste, “Seiko” Crab with elderflower mousse & pickles tartlets and Chestnuts deep fried chestnut bread. Loved the way they designed these treats, from the light cracker to the crispy tart and ending with the more dense bread, as it showcased a variety of textures. The deep fried chestnut bread was my favourite especially when they used the seasonal ingredient of Chestnut – an Autumn delicacy.

Spanish mackerel Eggplant featured another Autumn delicacy – Eggplant. I’m not a fan of eggplant most of the time as it sort of turns soggy when cooked but for this dish, they changed the texture by turning it into eggplant sorbet. The mackerel tasted partially cured and finished with a light grill on one side. A light and refreshing dish.

The next dish was Wagyu beef tartare with beef from Hokkaido adorned with carefully plated edible flowers whose function is not only purely for aesthetics but also to balance the flavours of the meat.

From Hokkaido‘s beef, we were next introduced to quality onions from Hyogo with the next dish of Onion, soft cod roe pickled, fried, baked onionAwaji Island is known for producing onions with extraordinary flavours. Here the onions were cooked using various methods to showcase it’s different characteristics. I’m particularly amazed by the sweetness of the onions. This was a warm dish which was smooth and rich in flavours.

After tasting the sweet onions, we were treated to Chef’s signature dish of Fermented mushroom, soft-boiled egg Mushrooms from Fujinomiya were fermented for 3 weeks. Coincidentally when we told the maitre’d we stopped over in Fujinomiya a few days ago, he shared that it’s the Chef’s hometown. The soup was a slight too salty when taken on its own, so it’s best to mix the soft-boiled egg hidden underneath the pile of sliced mushrooms thoroughly before tasting. The fermented mushroom soup had a more intense flavour and tasted meatier compared to fresh ones that carries a stronger earthy aroma.

Fish dish of Seabream, garland chrysanthemum was next. With Seabream from Wakayama served with garland chrysanthemum, also called Shingiku in Japan or better known as 茼蒿. Some people may not like the relatively strong and somewhat grassy/herbal flavour of 茼蒿, but since young I’ve a fan of this vegetable and always looked forward to eating this during Chinese New Year or whenever we ate hotpot. Needless to say I enjoyed every drop of the sauce with the firm textured white fish.

Our final main course was Colvert duck with Duck from Yamagata. To counter the gamey flavour of the duck, the gravy was deep flavoured. I couldn’t recall if they explained the gravy but it seems to taste like it comprised of red wine with caramelized sugar, for a sweet-sour base with a slight bitter aftertaste. This dish definitely seemed more French than Nordic.

Before we moved onto dessert, here’s the wine-pairing we had for our meal, both are French wine.

Finally the citrus fruit placed prominently on the kitchen counter made its entrance. The fruit is usually harvested between Autumn to Winter. Yuzu Yoghurt yuzu, white bean worked well as a palate cleanser thanks to it’s citrusy yet light floral flavour.

The first dessert was Apple Apple and hazelnut, vanilla fromage, apple powder. I wonder if this was a deconstructed French Apple Tart?

Rounding up the meal with the beautiful Fig tart. Having tried the tarts from Tarte by Cheryl Koh – Asia’s Best Pastry Chef” in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants award in 2016, I must say the one served here was of comparable standard. It had a tender, flaky tart crust topped with fresh seasonal fruit.

Having dined in several other fine-dining establishments in Tokyo, I wouldn’t say that Sublime wowed me. While most of the dishes were good, it just seemed like they fell a tad short of scoring the perfect mark. Perhaps I set my expectations too high? Benchmarked against Noma or Geranium. Nonetheless being a relatively new and young team here, I think there are certainly room to elevate their cuisine with another level of finesse.

I couldn’t help but wonder if I should have gone with my initial shortlisted place – Crony. I got to know in late Nov, during the announcement for 2018 list, that they were awarded 1-Michelin star. I was weighing between these 2 places as both the Chefs’ dishes are based on French cuisine but feature a touch of Northern European tastes.

Of course it is my wish that Northern European cuisine could flourish within Asia, making the light, subtle and clean tastes more accessible to us than having to make a long journey to the Nordics.

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Asterisque アステリスク, Tokyo

In Tokyo, forgoing breakfasts is the norm as there is always something out there to try instead of having the standard buffet spread in the hotels. Be it going to Tsukiji market, enjoying pancakes at the cafes, or savouring pastries at bakeries. We made a trip to Asterisque in Shibuya-ku. The chef-owner has won many awards and is exceptionally good in creations with chocolate.

The shop opens at 10am and we were one of the earliest at the store. While there was a huge variety of beautiful entremets in the display cabinet, we were surprised to see that there are only 2 or 3 dine-in tables in the shop. Seems like most of their patrons pop-by for takeaways and we were pretty lucky to snag a seat.

However we soon realised why most folks came for takeaway…although there are lots of entremets on display, not every one of them is ready to be eaten immediately. The staff told us that a few of the shortlisted ones were “too cold” to be served. We only managed to finalise our choice after a few rounds of checking with the staff.

These were the finalists – Âme (first from left) one of the creations for the World Chocolate Masters competition, Oar (second from left), Caramel Gingembre (right front) and the signature Mont-blanc Cremer (right back).

While we visited another legendary master – Hidemi Sugino‘s patisserie earlier this year (post), he is best known for his mousse cakes. Over here we didn’t get to try any of the fruit mousse cakes.

While the Âme and Oar were nice, we were not blown away by them. It could be my personal preference, but I felt that the cake layers were slightly dense although the proportion and type of chocolate used in both slices were well-balanced. The other two pieces were more suited to our taste buds. I was particularly attracted to the Mont-blanc Cremer.

The beautifully twirled vermicelli of chestnuts cream itself was an eye candy. The chestnut cream was rich and had a good texture as I could still taste bits of chestnuts purée. I also liked the meringue and crème chantilly center. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, all the components were a perfect match for each other.

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Yakiniku Jambo Hanare, Tokyo

Typically we would avoid making dinner reservation on the day of travelling as there are many unknown factors which may derail the schedule. However with only 2 nights stay in Tokyo, we had to maximise our time to gorge ourselves. Therefore for this meal we factored in extra time to ensure that we could make it on time for our dinner appointment, hence the late dinner at Yakiniku Jambo Hanare.  There are several Yakiniku Jambo outlets in Tokyo and there are different reviews on which is their personal favourite branch.   For us our concern was which outlet would we stand a higher chance of securing a reservation. Anyway we ended up at the Hanare branch for a rendezvous with plenty of juicy grilled meat.

We were seated at the bar counter facing the kitchen – a wonderful arrangement as it would ensure that it is easy to get the attention of the staff especially when language might be a barrier.

The restaurant is known for serving A5 rank Kuroge Wagyu, the highest grade of Japanese beef.  Their menu include a wide selection of different cuts of beef and different parts (including organs such as heart, tongue, stomach), appetizers & vegetables and some cooked dishes.

We started with beer and a platter of Assorted Kimchi (Japanese radish, cucumber, chinese cabbage). The crunchy and spicy pickled vegetables is a refreshing appetizer cum side to munch in between pieces of beef as they can help ward off the oiliness feel from the grilled meat.

We started our feast with pretty standard cuts of Kalbi (short ribs). The small chunky pieces, being a tougher cut, was rather meaty.  We also ordered the more exotic Beef Tongue which came with chopped garlic. The Beef Tongue might sound intimidating but it actually has a nice springy and chewy texture.

For each of the different cuts, the staff gave specific instructions on the time needed on the grill before eating.

We got super excited by the Loin just by looking at the jaw dropping, beautifully marbled pieces!

Of course the kingpin was the Nohara Yaki – a sukiyaki style BBQ (i.e cooked beef to be dipped in raw egg before eating).

For this special treat, the staff would help with the grilling and service us – perhaps to ensure that the beef was cooked to perfection. Head over to my instagram #yummydelightsg_yakinikuhanare for a video of the process.

Here’s the beef swimming in the bowl of raw egg.

The beef was marinated with a special sauce which is rather sweet and we stuffed the whole piece into our mouth to savour the divine taste. The char-grill aroma, juicy and melt-in-your-mouth beef, along with the silky egg. Everything was perfect! If you are a fan of sukiyaki (sweet soy-sauce based hotpot) instead of shabu-shabu (clear dashi based) you will definitely like this! Shabu-shabu fans may find this too sweet for their taste.

For our second round, we asked the staff for recommendation and they asked us to try something from their special menu. Our only criteria: must be the thinly sliced type of beef. And this was served to us.

For this, I remembered very clearly that the staff told us to grill only 3 secs for each side! We continued to dip this beef into the raw egg and I must say this cut is even better than the ones before!

We skipped their cooked dish as we were reserving our stomach space purely for beef. But the Japanese couple next to us ordered a Cold Noodle which looked really tasty.

I think it is a tall order to find such quality yakiniku restaurants in Singapore at similar price point – given the cost of air-freight. The price for a Wagyu steak feast in a fine dining establishment in Tokyo would cost way above that of a BBQ joint. And Japanese are connoisseur of beef who are willing to pay the price for top grade meat.  They also tend to keep the best for their own internal market instead of exporting. So it is always good to savour some nice quality Wagyu in Japan if you can. I’m still waiting for the opportunity to gain access to some of the top class Wagyu steak restaurants but they are usually very difficult to get in unless through introduction.

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Nijiya-mimi, Fujinomiya

Fujinomiya is famous in Japan for their so-called B-Class Gourmet (a cheap but tasty dish).  The local delicacy – Fujinomiya Yakisoba, won the top prize at the B-1 Grand Prix twice (in 2006 & 2007).

The shop that we shortlisted Nijiya-mimi, was a winner of the 1st Fujinomiya Yakisoba Grand-prix competition. The shop is also relatively near to the Fujinomiya train station compared to the other famous stalls.

Tiny is possibly the word to describe the shop front. It only seats 8 pax and the kitchen already took up more than half the shop space. Arriving at 1pm on a weekday and the place had only 2 customers in the shop, I was in doubt on whether this place is really famous?

Right in front of the counter where we sat, I saw the above notice. Apparently their product is available for sale in 2 Takashimaya basement food store in Tokyo. Hmmm…this looks promising.

Ordering the dish was a breeze as there was English menu available. There were 2 types of dishes available: yakisoba or cabbage pancake, with variation in ingredients.

We ordered the Ika-Niku Yakisoba which is the standard stir fried noodles with cabbage, pork and squid.  This local specialty is made by heating lard on a hot plate, frying meat and cabbage, then adding noodles that have been pre-fried separately; followed by adding a dose of savoury Worcestershire sauce, finished with generous sprinkle of sardine powder with a side topping of pickled ginger.

Being a leek fan, I ordered the Negi-Ika Yakisoba which is stir fried noodles with green onions and squid in soy sauce flavour.

Yakisoba used to be commonly seen in food halls in Singapore but have sort of “upgraded” to be found more in dine-in restaurants nowadays. They tend to be drenched on sweet sauce with soggy noodles.

The yakisoba in Fujinomiya is more savoury and the noodles were firmer with a nice bite. It is more balanced and featured a generous amount of crunchy sweet cabbage. The version with negi gives the yakisoba a fuller and more complex flavour.

A satisfying mid-day meal before we head over to the bustling Tokyo city!

Photos taken earlier:

From Fujinomiya, we took a local bus to Shiraito Falls. As it was drizzling and foggy in Fujinomiya, we were uncertain on whether we could enjoy the trip. Thankfully as we approach the other side of Mount Fuji, the weather held and it was not raining although still cloudy.

When we first arrived at the viewing platform that is supposed to offer a view of Mount Fuji, the shy lady was hiding behind a veil of cloud. We stayed for a while hoping that the clouds would move away fast enough to have a glimpse of her. No luck, so we trekked down to the Shiraito Falls. We were impressed by the expansiveness of the waterfalls though the sky was still greyish. We continued our trek to a nearby waterfall – Otodome Falls.

As it was a looped trek, we ended back at where we entered Shiraito Falls. Just as we were getting ready to head back to Fujinomiya, I noticed that the sky had cleared up and Mount Fuji is now in sight! Grasping the opportunity, we hurriedly rushed back to the viewing platform and was rewarded with this amazing awesome sight.

The pictures were turning up great with the blue sky as backdrop. After awing at the magnificent sight, we decided to trek down to Shiraito Falls again for a second time. And this time round, the Autumn colours popped with the sunny sky and we even spotted a rainbow.

The Shiraito Falls, a stunning 150 meter wide group of waterfalls that tumble from a height of 20 meters, is listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites along with Mount. Fuji. The name Shiraito literally means ‘white threads’ is a depiction of how the numerous waterfalls run off the cliffs forming shimmery silk screen. It is believed that snowmelt water of Mount Fuji are flowing through the stratum down to the foothill where Shiraito Falls is located.

As with many of my travels, weather plays an important part on whether we can capture great photos at the sights and nature is something not within our control. To me it is a matter of fate or destiny. I’m grateful that my Fujinomiya stopover reaped reward of such stunning views. I’m mersmerised by the beauty of nature. Reflecting on my visit to Kyoto temples where most of the foliage are landscaped or maintained within the compounds, I would prefer Autumn foliage captured in their natural form such as Korankei Gorge in Nagoya (see post for photos). Nonetheless I’m happy to view Autumn foliage in different landscapes as it offers totally different mood/ambience.

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