Monday, April 28, 2014

Street eats in Osaka

C says:

Osaka is the land of kuidaore, and what better place to do so than on the Dotonburi, where you can gorge on all manner of street eats.

Takoyaki, incendiary balls of grilled batter filled with diced octopus, are everywhere. We sampled from 2 different stalls, and those from the unassuming, non-touristy one were far superior.

Probably the best deal ever were the 6 gyozas for 100 yen - approximately S$1.20. Insanely good value and really tasty too.

The kushikatsu at Daruma was a bit of a letdown. I didn't expect that much batter, so despite ordering different meat and vegetable skewers, everything tasted quite similar.

Last must-have on our Osaka street food list was okonomiyaki, and all research pointed to Mizuno as serving the best in town. Far from being a generic tourist trap, Mizuno is apparently still a family-run restaurant, where focus on quality is more important to them than churning out multiple orders.

We ordered 2 types of okonomiyaki - a standard one, and one with a thinner pancake. The thin one was crispier but it also lacked the sinful oomph of the regular one. Both were cooked perfectly, with crisp outsides and steaming hot, gooey centres.

Not quite a street eat but just as satisfying was the kare raisu at Jiyuken. Here, the curry rice is almost risotto-like, and it's served with a raw egg on top. You're supposed to stir it in and add Worcestershire sauce to taste. Bizarrely, it actually all works and is the ultimate comfort food.

A says:

Dotonburi. Never has cheap and good been truer. Although my favourite thing on the street was still the Lord Stow's portuguese egg tarts from Macau. Possibly even better than the original.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our trip to Arashiyama

C says:

We took a day trip to Arashiyama from Kyoto, mainly to see the famed Bamboo Forest, but managed to fit in some pretty good meals as well.

Unagi Hirokawa specialises in all forms of unagi. Their signature unagi don features perfectly grilled unagi, seasoned with some sweet soy but not so much that you can't taste the unagi, over perfectly cooked rice.

In addition, their unagi and burdock stew, and grilled unagi liver, were really good too.

Just outside the Tenruji temple was a yuba shop that sold an awesome yuba soft serve ice cream, that set the standard for all other tofu ice creams that we subsequently tried on our trip. It had just the right amount of sweetness, balanced with the flavour of the yuba. The other ones didn’t even come close.

Tempura Matsu

Tempura Matsu is slightly further out from the main centre of Arashiyama, but it was well worth the walk. Originally just a tempura restaurant, the chef's experiments soon became more popular than his tempura, and now they're known for an excellent, and very good value, omakase.

Some particular standouts in a very good meal were the fatty yellowtail that they lightly seared on hot stones right in front of us - smokey and almost buttery, this first course set the tone for the rest of the meal.

The rice duo was also amazing. 2 small bowls of rice, one topped with otoro, and another with crab meat mixed with crab brains. Heaven.

Another very interesting dish was the unagi hotpot. They heated a pot of eel broth, and cooked slices of unagi, shabu shabu-style, before giving it to us for dipping in a ponzu sauce. Tasting the unagi without the usual adornments of grilling and sweet sauce was quite an eye-opener - it had the potential to be very fishy but it was perfectly balanced.

Dessert was grilled mochi balls with kinako (roasted soybean) powder, which A fell in love with and again, no other version we ordered elsewhere even came close.

For such a tiny little town, Arashiyama certainly has lots to offer, food-wise. There's even, inexplicably, the only Arinco King outlet outside Tokyo – go figure.

A says:

Tempura Matsu was a highlight of our trip. Well worth the walk and getting lost by the river. The tofu skin ice cream was also a great eye opener. Approved.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kyoto kaiseki

C says:

When you think about food in Kyoto, kaiseki - meticulously prepared and painstakingly presented multi-course meals showcasing seasonal ingredients - immediately comes to mind. Since fine dining Japanese food is (to us) prohibitively expensive in Singapore, we decided to try our fill in Kyoto.


Kikunoi has been endorsed in almost every Kyoto food guide. For us, it also helps that it's been featured in numerous foodie shows and books, including Lucky Peach and The Mind Of A Chef.

There's no doubt that it's quite an experience. From the minute you arrive and are ushered to your own private tatami room to the time you leave and they bow till you're out of sight, you're treated as a special guest. They thoughtfully even prepared an English menu for us, knowing we were tourists.

The presentation of the food was spectacular and, having read Chef Murata's cookbook beforehand, the time and effort that went into each component was mindblowing.

A few standouts were his signature otoro with soy-egg yolk dipping sauce, and the soup. For the otoro egg-yolk dish, he marinates egg yolks in soy sauce for 2 days, then whips them together to form the sauce, which complements the otoro perfectly.

What fascinated me about the soup was the paper thin sliver of daikon radish that covered the surface of the bowl. Because it was winter, that was supposed to evoke images of a pond that had frozen over.

Some of the other dishes weren't quite suitable for our palate, like the fugu sashimi, and the wild boar hotpot using a broth of sake lees. I'm sure only the best ingredients were used, but it's just a matter of not quite being used to the flavours and textures.

Hiiragiya Bekkan

Our second kaiseki experience was at the ryokan where we stayed - a cheaper, more casual sister property of the more lauded and expensive Hiiragiya. We had 2 very good meals there - a kaiseki dinner, and a pretty good breakfast.

While it wasn't as fancy or elaborate as Kikunoi, the food was very tasty, and probably a bit more comforting too. They served their eel lightly aburi-ed, which really brought out the flavours.

Kyoto is known for its tofu, and we had some really fresh tofu here, simply steamed with a bit of dashi and yuzu. The best part of kaiseki is how they just let the freshness and seasonality of the ingredients speak for themselves.

While I'm glad we've tried authentic kaiseki in Kyoto, I think we still prefer more casual dining experiences, especially in a place like Japan, where good food can be had at almost every turn.

A says:

Imho, I found that once you get to a higher level of kaiseki (moderately expensive to very expensive), it's just all very good seasonal product. So the only difference is the prettiness of the presentation and the formality of service. So it really depends on what you're after, just the food, or more of the experience. Having tried both, I'll stick with the more affordable option in the future.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Blu Kouzina

C says:

I'm usually not a fan of Greek or Mediterranean food, so I wasn't particularly enthused when A suggested trying Blu Kouzina, after hearing rave recommendations from his friends.

How wrong I was. It turned out to be nothing like what I expected. It's an unassuming, homely neighbourhood joint, without any fanciness or fuss.

We started with a pan-fried feta cheese with honey, which was hot, sweet and oozy, followed by one of the best grilled octopus we've ever had - super tender and incredibly charred.

Their signature dish, the beef skewers, was pretty good, but what really impressed were the lamb chops. Grilled very simply without overpowering seasoning, they were perfectly cooked and incredibly flavourful.

I still don't really like Greek desserts - too sweet for my liking, but A really enjoyed the phyllo dough and almond parcels doused in syrup.

Now I know why it's so hard to get a reservation here at short notice - the place is small and the food is excellent. Not exactly a spur of the moment place, but definitely a must-try for the octopus and lamb.

A says:

I like it. Thanks to my friend SL for the recommend.

Blu Kouzina
893 Bukit Timah Road
Tel: 6875-0872
Fri - Sun: 12pm - 2.30pm
Mon - Sun: 6pm - 10pm