Thursday, September 29, 2016

Japan: Shinkansen & JR stations

Japan's shinkansen/ bullet trains, commonly located in a JR train station, is a train ride like no other and probably something you should not miss be it for the thrifty or luxurious traveler in us. This will be one of my most picture crammed blog post of Japan filled with heaps of yummy finds along the way.

For travelers wanting to venture around Japan affordably, do yourself a favour and buy your JR passes online and collect your vouchers at designated Japanese counselors sites in your town prior to entering Japan. I was able to visit their office in Collins St, Melbourne, and was given a good run down on all the necessary details required for a smooth trip.

Kudos to the sister for navigating our way towards a JR office upon touchdown in Narita airport where we exchanged our vouchers for the actual passes. At this point, we gave the issuing officer dates of when we would like to commence using our passes. Double check that the name on the vouchers matches with the provided ID's name else you might be in trouble :S

To start using the passes, head to a JR train station (easily identified by a large green JR initial on the building) and check the train schedule. Pick one that you want and head into the office to obtain train seats. This is a completely optional step but I feel its worth the extra 10 minutes spent securing seats as opposed to hoping there would be seats available on the train.

While waiting for the train to arrive, do ensure that you are queuing at the right train cabin. For passengers with secured seats, do head over to your allocated train cabins whilst for those who don't, often enough there are empty cabins located at the ends/.front of the train but again, be warned that there might be a huge line up.

A snapshot of how train tickets look like vs the Japan Rail pass. Note the boarding time, cabin number and seat number:)

Travelling light would be ideal as there are not much space on the train and might get a little crammed. The Japanese are very considerate people and sometimes may frown at selfish acts such as hogging two seats or even causing a ruckus with your travelling mate. Be mindful of others and you will be fine:)

Probably one of my favourite reasons for travelling on a shinkansen via the JR train station would be the amazing selection of local food/ souvenirs. I am sure not all of us like to spend our precious time loitering around aimlessly waiting for a train but at a JR station, time seems to travel as fast as the bullet train itself.

The JR station concept revolves around saving time for those on the run such as travelers or locals transitioning for business purposes - basically for people who seem to be overly engrossed in what they are doing and have forgotten to pick up a few things along the way such as a hearty meal or even basic necessities like a present for someone.

The sister and I love arriving at the train station early and wander off looking at the vast selection of lunch/ snacking options from restaurants and convenience stores. Noting that some rides can range from one to four hours in duration, the sister and I decided to kill two birds with one stone and have our lunches on board.

Packaging is everything here especially when you don't want your food to tumble around and make a mess! Taking a cue from the beloved bento concept, this is a great way to separate the main and side dishes and prevent them from getting mushy. Love how even the sauces are packaged separately.

En route to Kyoto from Tokyo, I selected a couple of interesting bento boxes and picked up a can of beer too. Such was life on board the train. Again, fresh ingredients meticulously prepared and packaged with great care.

In terms of pricing, it really does depend on what items are selected and its quantity. A packaged takeaway meal can cost around 780yen to 1400yen.

Oh and did I mention we caught a cloudy glimpse of Mount Fuji? Why hello there:)

At the Nagoya JR station, I stumbled upon French boulangerie Gontran Cherrier and could not resist picking up a matcha croissant.

Don't be fooled - underneath this crab egg concoction lies a steaming hot serve of rice, ready to be topped with the egg mix.

At the Kyoto JR station, I decided on visiting an old friend aka Starbucks and was in love with their spring rockmelon flavoured frappe:)

Even for small takeaways of refrigerated items, the Japanese have gone all out and included a little ice pack to keep your consumables safe and fresh throughout your trip:)

Tried what appeared to be a local coffee franchise known as Doutor - matcha latte was delicious and definitely worth a visit.

Last but not least, one of the prettiest bento boxes I have seen whereby one gets 9 selections of food (from appetizers to main and dessert) all neatly packaged.

So, have I tempted you enough?;)

Selera Singapore Asli, Forest Hill MELB

Nothing beats having hearty Malaysian food especially when one is miles away from home. Popped into this hidden gem located along Springvale road and managed to grab a quick bite before moving on with current chores.

Nasi lemak - coconut rice served with sambal, fried anchovy and peanut mix, omelette, cucumber slices and curry chicken. Tasty, wholesome and a pretty much balanced diet eh;)

Otak otak - for those unfamiliar, this is a type of steamed fish mince that had been mixed with an assortment of spices prior to being steamed wrapped in banana leaves. Moreish but definitely worth a try for something different.

Mee rebus - I am uncertain as to how to best describe this dish without making it sound redundant. It is a type of Malay noodle dish that is a little rare to find in Melbourne but if you do stumble upon it, fret not as it is only mildly spicy. The gravy did coat every strand of noodle pretty well and was topped with a generous amount of fried shallots.

Selera Singapore Asli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Beef udon recipe

I have made this dish a couple of months ago when I caught myself reminiscing about my recent trip to Japan. I loved how Japanese food often tends to be simple but still packed full of flavour. Recipe adapted from Nami from Just One Cookbook (favourite site for Japanese recipes!)

Stock Ingredients:

2 cups dashi
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp soy sauce

Bring stock to boil and adjust taste with salt or extra soy sauce if needed.

For beef
1 tbsp soy sauce
230g of thinly sliced beef (lean cuts preferrably)
1 tbsp oil
1/2 scallion thinly sliced and roughly sliced to about 3cm in length
2 servings of packaged udon noodles

1. Heat a pan with oil and cook the scallion until it is tender.
2. Add meat and allow to nicely sear all round. Add 1/2 tbsp of sugar and 1 tbsp of soy sauce. Allow the mix to caramelize and thicken. Turn off heat at this stage
3. Prepare udon noodles according to packaging. Mine just involves soaking it in warm water until it softens.
4. Place noodles in a bowl, top with the prepared slices of beef, garnish with thinly sliced pieces of scallion and add broth. Serve immediately.

Jonker Street Malaysian Restaurant, Doncaster MELB

After an intensive gym session last Friday, I found myself craving for Malaysian food and decided to take a trip up to Doncaster for some much needed refueling. While being located in a quiet area, especially at night, can be a dead zone for some businesses, I was surprised to see that there still quite a few customers in the restaurant despite arriving 30 minutes before the restaurant closes.

Vast variety of choices on the menu be it ala carte to main dishes for sharing. Had no idea what to pick and decided to play safe and selected items which had a recommended logo next to it.

Pipis - the sauce was well balanced in terms of tartness, sweetness and had a mild spicy kick to it. Slurping each tasty piece of pipi off the shell heavily reminded me of my childhood days back in Malaysia. After spending copious amount of time in the gym, I was hesitant to bite into a piece of deep fried white bread but gave in eventually. It was deep fried to golden perfection yet still moist in the center - such a joy to soak it into the sauce.

Wanton noodles with pork - noodles were prepared to my liking aka not too soggy or chewy and was well seasoned.

Mi hun kue - also known as the rougher sibling of pan mee. For those unfamiliar, both pan mee and mi hun kue are doughy types of noodles and only differ by the final preparation stage whereby pan mee is made via passing through a machine and mi hun kue is torn by hand. Soup had an excellent amount of flavour depth and in terms of pricing, this $11.80 bowl of food was definitely a generous serve. Highly recommended and would gladly polish it off again.

Jonker Street Malaysian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Japan: Hakata Ippudo in Fukuoka

Our Japan espionage concluded with a 2 day stopover in Fukuoka prior to departing to Hong Kong. Home to hakata ramen, a ramen dish that utilizes thin ramen in a rich, creamy pork broth. Most of us may have already tried hakata ramen in our own countries without realizing it.

I had my eyes set on trying at least an original version whilst in Fukuoka and after a few random turns in the city area, we stumbled upon Ippudo ramen! Having had a good experiences both in Sydney and in Kuala Lumpur, we were eager to pay homage to its originators.

Mentaiko is a spicy type of fish roe that is used a topping for rice dishes or as a seasoning due to its saltiness. I am not a fan of fishy types of food and so, allowed the sister to gorge at it all by herself. Worth a try if you are in the region as it is a Fukuoka specialty and if you really do love it, why not grab it as a take home souvenir?

Shiromaru classic - after brewing in the pot for a good 18 hours, the pork broth is left to mature for an additional 24 hours to extract all the porky goodness from the bones. Creamy and rich, this would be the literal translation of pigs having a bubble bath. Noodles were thin and cooked al dante whilst chashu was soft and tender.

Gyoza - a lesser known specialty and one that surprised me. I loved how crisp the side of the gyoza that touches the pan is and am amazed that the meat filling in it is not dry at all. Simplicity done well and easily polished off by yours truly and co.

Akamura modern - blended with miso paste, this tonkatsu broth was not as creamy and the previous one but it is slightly oilier, in a good way. Noodles used here were of medium thickness, giving diners that extra bite-y texture. Two thumbs up from me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Crazy Wings, Glen Waverley MELB

As a child, I have always been more fond of Western food than Asian food and would often reach out to a danish pastry as opposed to a traditional Chinese biscuit. I still love Asian food but perhaps it's because I only saw it as a form of comfort rather than luxury. Getting my parents to bring us hungry kids to McDonalds or KFC was an accomplishment on its own.

When I was feeling under the weather last Sunday, the one thing I wanted to eat was Chinese food which was what I managed to bring myself too despite having to brace the bitter cold Melbourne weather.

A busy little establishment that sits no more than 20 patrons, the "buy one free one" deal is always turned on although the flavours do alternate. Also a hot pot $25 for 2 diners deal which includes a a plate of thinly sliced meat, a plate of veggies and either a spicy or non-spicy broth to go with.

Fried rice - albeit oily, I didn't mind it and found it seasoned to my liking. Pretty good for a simple dish:)

Honey soy chicken wings - ranging from $2 to $2.20, depending on choice of flavour, there is definitely meat on each skewer. Pretty tasty and a bargain if going for the chicken wing deal.

Crazy wing - the ultimate "treat" of the day. In short, it lived up to its crazy expectations and probably surpassed it for at least 3 minutes. Not something for the faint hearted. Not as yummy as the other flavours though.

Crazy Wing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 19, 2016

BBQ Code, Glen Waverley MELB

While I fancy the "one bowl" concept, popularized by Asian countries, I am a lot more reserved when it comes to barbeque meals because often enough, the protein is not well prepared (imagine overcooking a thin piece of meat or undercooking a thick slab of pork/chicken) and I usually leave the establishment with a toasty scent that ensues a bath soon after.

At BBQ Code, I am glad that my concerns are addressed - staff came around to cook our meat for us and cleaned each hot plate prior to cooking subsequent types of protein. No burnt aftertaste ever again nor any unwanted residues sticking to our food.

One cannot say no to the unlimited refills of side dishes which consisted of kimchi, mashed potato and slices of fish cake. A plate of corn topped with melted cheese arrived at our table and upon querying it's presence, we were told that it is a complimentary dish for every table. Thank you!:)

Beef ribs - I was reluctant to order this initially but no regrets whatsoever once I sunk my teeth into it. Tender, juicy and marinated to perfection. Thumbs up!

Japchae - I cannot go to a Korean restaurant without trying out their japchae. This one was generously coated with shredded carrots, spinach, mushroom slices and pieces of beef. Bonus points for being extra tasty too!

Yuk Jeon - pan fried sliced wagyu beef with salad.

Overall, I would highly recommend this place if you love both Korean food and BBQ. Prices may be slightly expensive but it is well worth it as you do get excellent service and good quality dishes:)

BBQ Code  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato