Kulinary Kansai (food.foto.spam!)

6 05 2011

One of the best things about travelling in Japan is trying the local specialities. So here’s a round-up of what I sampled on my last trip to Kansai!

Firstly while just getting to Kansai there was Ekiben (station lunchbox) of fried rice and wontons –

And arriving at Osaka I had to eat the classic Takoyaki (octopus balls) with a bit of a different spin, served in a light broth –

The Takoyaki was from this festive shop along Dotombori –

Eating out in Osaka also included Kushiage (fried things on sticks) –

Mexican with a friend –

Mystery Chinese –

And a Yum Cha set –

And moving from Chinese to Chinatown in Kobe, I had some Cha Siu Men –

Before stopping for some fruit tart from a french cafe near Kobe’s old foreigner’s quarter –

And continuing with sweets, in Kyoto I found soft serve ice cream with Yatsubashi (a hard cinnamon cookie) –

Shu cream (cream puff) made with real vanilla and sprinkled Yatsubashi on top –

And Mizuame (water candy) which is very similar to corn syrup according to wikipedia –

And finally some Unagi-don (eel rice bowl) served with sesame tofu at Mt Koya to keep up my stamina –

Yes, I think I did gain 5kg on this trip….

honne, giri and now tomo-choco

21 02 2011

Valentine’s day has come and gone, but White day is now soon to come. “What’s White day?” I hear you say? Well, let Michele tell you about Valentine’s in Japan.

It’s weird. It’s not a celebration of love, but truly a mass commercial money-making holiday. You might think that’s true in your country too, but just wait till you hear about Japan. Firstly, the girls give the boys chocolate. Not the other way around. Girls are expected to give chocolate to not only their boyfriend/partner, but also to almost every male of their acquaintance. For the kids I teach, that means all their male classmates, club-mates and teachers, not including family and extras. And they will probably give chocolate to their female teachers as well. This kind of chocolate is called ‘giri-choco’ obligation chocolate. And then, they are also pushed (by the chocolate companies) to hand make the chocolates, or cookies, or cake, or whatever they decide on. The chocolate they give to their boyfriends is classed as ‘honne’ or kinda like their ‘real feelings’.

My giri-choco from this Valentine's day

I had one student who made an estimated 180 chocolates.

But, the boys (and teachers) don’t get away scott-free! One month later, on March 14 or White day, the boys are expected to return a gift. And although it doesn’t happen so much now, the return gift should be store bought and worth about 3 times what the girl gave them…. (So, in theory that student from before should get about 180 chocolates in return…)

However, White day is really badly timed for students. It’s around the end of the year, and certainly many private schools are on, or just about to start spring vacation around then. So the chocolate isn’t always returned. Recently the invention of ‘tomo-choco’ has become very very popular, as a way for girls to get an instant return. ‘Tomo-choco’ is friend chocolate, which can be given to your female friends, and you can receive ‘tomo-choco’ back on Valentine’s day. So the immediacy is very appealing.

This year I didn’t do all that well with Valentine’s (which frankly is a relief to me – having to give a return chocolate as an obligation is more of a pain than receiving anything), but I did get about 15 small baggies. And now with ‘tomo-choco’ it’s much more acceptable for me to give them a return pressie on Valentine’s day, rather than waiting until March, when I know I’m not actually going to be at school on White day. So thanks Meiji and Lotte and whoever came up with ‘tomo-choco’ for making life so much easier for me!

Even after VD I continued to get chocolate...

Even after VD I continued to get chocolate...

(but no thanks will be given for making girls obliged to make even more chocolate now…)

Yukimidaifuku Nama-choco Strawberry

4 02 2011

I’ve talked about Yukimidaifuku before, but now they have released a new seasonal flavour!

Nama-choco Strawberry!

Mochi filled with strawberry ice cream and a runny chocolate centre. And this isn’t your kiddy strawberry lollipop flavour. No, It’s almost an adult ice cream, not too sweet, and a little tart, but evened out by the sweetness of the chocolate centre.

Another win for Lotte!

Brisbane Bites Take 2

31 01 2011

It’s been over a month since I returned to Japan after having a lovely few weeks in Brisbane for Christmas, and my lovely summer tan has finally disappeared under coats, scarfs and gloves. So, it’s about time I shared some photos of my Bris-Vegas adventures.

As always, a fair amount of my time was spent eating the things I don’t usually get to eat. Firstly Lauren took me to Guzman Y Gomez, a mexican (somewhat upscale) fast food restaurant chain from down south. It was beef nachos and margaritas all round!

And no trip to Brisbane is complete without a visit to the Pancake Manor on Charlotte St. I thought I could get through a regular stack, but my stomach had had too much pancake-y goodness 2/3rds through. Such a shame to waste good pancakes.

And of course there was the traditional (well, my family’s) Christmas day lunch of cold cuts of chicken and ham, smoked salmon, prawns and salad! The prawns were to die for!

Between eating I spent most of my time with family, meeting a couple of friends, looking at the sky (it’s sooooo pretty in Australia!) and even managed to go to the Gallery of Modern Art.

Unfortunately only a few weeks after I left, Brisbane and a lot of the state was flooded. Thankfully none of my friends or family were badly affected, but the long term effects are going to be difficult for everyone. In fact, financially it will affect the majority of Australians, so if you can spare, please donate to the flood appeal!

vlog update – goings and comings

27 11 2010

Yahiko, Niigata and Aizu Wakamatsu

19 11 2010

While my maternal unit was visiting in October, we were lucky again to win a draw from Japanican, which was for a free night at a selected list of Dormy Inn Hotels. Unfortunately we didn’t get our first pick, but we did get a night in their Niigata hotel. So it was off to Niigata for a long weekend!

Also at the time, JR East had a special 3 day rail pass for tourists, so my mother’s train fare for the trip was only 10,000 yen! Sometimes I wish I were only a tourist!

Yahiko Park

After doing some research I wasn’t sure there would be enough in Niigata city to occupy us for a full two days, but I did stumble across the website for Yahiko – a Leafy Village Full of Smiling People (according to their website…). And it certainly was a lovely little village. We first walked through Yahiko park, which is well known for it’s autumn colours. Unfortunately we were a little early, and the leaves had only just stared to turn, but it was pretty none-the-less.

Sauce Katsudon

Next, it was lunch of Sauce Katsudon (Pork cutlet dipped in sauce and served on a bowl of rice), which is an area speciality, and was also the best Katsudon I had ever eaten. And then a quick walk through Yahiko Shrine, where we saw a traditional wedding party, followed by riding a ropeway up to the top of Mt Yahiko. From the summit you could see a wide view of the Echigo plain, the largest rice producing area in Japan, and on the other side was the Sea of Japan. You could just make out Sado Island on that day, which is the 5th largest island in Japan.

Yahiko Shrine

So after spending half a day at Yahiko, we then caught the train to Niigata city and went to our hotel for the night. Niigata city has been a port town for around 300 years, but it’s history dates back to the Jomon period (14,000 BC to 300 BC). Despite having a long history, it’s a small city, but quite charming and the people were really friendly.

Echigo Plain

The next day we found the tourist information centre at Niigata Station, and were given some great recommendations for how we could spend our day in Niigata city. The city runs a loop bus which stops near most of the tourist attractions. Our first stop was Hakusan park, which was the first municipal park in Japan. It also has a shrine and an old merchant’s house called Enkikan. The park itself was quite lovely, and well established, being over 100 years old. When we went to Enkikan a local Tea Ceremony Club was having an annual meeting, so we weren’t able to look at the house, but they did invite us to participate in a tea ceremony with them. It was a first for mum, and she found it quite interesting. It was also amazingly nice of the club to invite us like that to join.

Tea Ceremony cups

Next we caught the loop bus to a private residence and garden that had been converted to a Museum. It was a lovely house that had been added to over the years, and was quite a mix of Japanese and Western styles, but with quite a number of charming little Japanese things in every room, like calligraphy, screens, and motifs. And the garden itself, although small, was beautiful, and an excellent use of space. The lady at the museum also had a bit of a chat with me and recommended some other places around the area, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to visit anything else in Niigata, because we needed to catch the train to Aizu Wakamatsu.

Japanese house and garden

Japanese house and garden

We arrived late into Aizu Wakamatsu, so we got some dinner and went to bed to be off early the next day. Aizu Wakamatsu has a loop bus as well, so we caught that to the castle. Unfortunately we didn’t know that the castle was being re-roofed and totally covered in scaffolding, but the museum inside was still open. It talks all about the history of the region, which is probably most famous for being one of the last stands of the Shogun’s supporters in the Boshin Civil War, and a group of youths called the Byakkotai who commited suicide when they had thought the castle had fallen.

Aizu Wakamatsu Castle

After exploring the castle and it’s grounds, we walked a little way to a Sake Brewery. Inside the Brewery was a museum which explained how sake is made. There was also free samples, but it wasn’t even lunch time yet, so we only had a cup~ We then caught the bus to a traditional shopping area, which is said to be in the ‘Taisho Romantic Style’. There were lots of traditional buildings and warehouses which contained shops selling all kinds of goods, from pottery and lacquerware, to candles and red cows (all things of which Aizu is famous for). All in all, it was very atmospheric, and my favourite part of town.

The Sake Brewery

And finally, after 3 days of travelling, we caught the Shinkansen back to Tokyo, and back to normal.

Photos can be found on flickr, as always~


15 11 2010

This is Yukimidaifuku

Basically ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of sweet mochi (white rice pounded to make a gelatinous paste)

This is Yukimidaifuku Torokeru Nama Caramel

The current seasonal flavour of Yukimidaifuku has caramel flavouring in the mochi, and a runny caramel centre!

The only words I have to express the awesome-ness of Yukimidaifuku is ‘Om nom nom’…