A Gastro Safari in Japan’s Foodie City – Osaka

Osaka is known as the foodie capital of Japan so do not miss the opportunity to sample its local street foods, most popular ones being Okonomiyaki (frittata) and the famous Takoyaki which literally translates into Octopus (Tako) Fried (Yaki). Takoyaki is basically little round dashi flavoured pancake balls stuffed with pieces of octopus, tempura, green onions and pickled red ginger, they are smothered with mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce (similar to worcester sauce) and sprinkled with fried seaweed & dried bonito flakes. You can expect the texture to be crispy on the outside and gooey in the inside, if you like seafood and have an adventurous tongue then you must try these! Best ones can be found at street vendors, we stumbled upon one under a bridge opposite the Umeda train station for a quick lunch snack. I was comforted when I saw later that evening a long queue of locals in line for a portion Takoyaki – hopefully a sign that is was aunthetic place!

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That said if you are unsure on where to haunt down some good octopus balls I would recommend going to Dottonbori and having a browse around its fluorescent lively streets for some canal side delights. Yes its touristy but if you have limited time and want to get a feeling of Osaka’s love affair with food then Dottonbori will give you a great gastronomic introduction.

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Now for my favourite local find in Osaka. A 7 hour flight. First night in Japan. 11pm. Heizo Chicken. gem.  Forget the questionable exterior, non english speaking staff and limited Japanese menu – my golly this place was so up my alley. Quirky, tasty and above all super friendly. I got a feeling within about 5 mins that we had stumbled upon a local hidden gem that is very popular with mid night cool folks.

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The pictorial menu was kind of helpful –  as in what you saw you got, but what you got was still unclear (in a good way).

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All items ordered were presented in cute disposable banana shaped bamboo ships. I guess this was Japanese Tapas?! Mi gusta! From what I could make out we had; a brie type cheese croquette, japanese keema, a yummy potato salad and a cheese/potato/bacon ball in a creamy tomato salsa. All were delicious and perfect for late munchies!

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The only item we could not eat as we were “dining in” was the Heizo Fried Chicken! Apparently its only for “take-away” – all quite bizarre but I like the odd bit of obscurity! Take-Away diners seemed very chuffed with their big boxes of fried goodness. I reckon its worth coming back for.

The Hunt for Gyoza Morsels

Who doesn’t like sizzling meaty dumplings!? We tried gyoza all over Japan and honestly we didn’t have one bad dumpling, but if I was to rank those dumplings I would in-doubtly give the number one spot to a little corner cafe on the 5th floor of the Umetika dining building.

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The cafe specialised in gyoza with beer – one could say a rather limited menu but I say genius!

We had encore portions and would again and again.

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Digital Lunch

Lunch hosted by an efficient digital member of staff who only spoke in Japanese scripture.

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Again I was very unsure on the ingredients of my order but the digitised diagrams really helped make a decision on what to order. Once I paid the machine and received my token order slip I took a seat at the communal dining table. It had large green furry balls as an interesting centrepiece…..first time for everything….it actually looked quite cool!

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Now what did I order?! I think it was cold soba noodles in a white milky broth with a heaping of some kind of mince meat (maybe pork?) and a sprinkle of sprouts. Light, refreshing and oh so tasty! It came with a pourer of chilli oil which brought out the flavours of the milkly broth. Yum!

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I left Osaka with very flavourful memories. Not enough time to try all its delights but a great insight into its vibrant and fun eating scene. Sweetoothers look out for my dessert safari in Japan coming soon!

The Afternoon Tea Room @ Grand Front Osaka

Now for something quite different – afternoon tea in the centre of Osaka, Japan’s foodie capital – for those more interested in the local delicacies watch out for my next blog on our own Nippon food safari in Osaka.

Located in the new and vast Grand Front Osaka complex in the Umeda area which housed several great dining areas (Umekita cellar and Umekita dining) as well as some off-beat stores and cafes. There is one shop that immediately grabbed my attention, fittingly named Afternoon Tea. This store has both a retail and a cafe side to indulge in some high tea –  eating your cake and shopping concurrently – quite my dream day!

Upon entrance the store is full of tea time goodies which immediately gets you in the mood for a cup of brew and some teatime fancies.

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There is a great diversity of tea-related items including tea towels, mugs, other kitchen related bits and bobs and of course many many different types of teas! After browsing for quite a while I was no longer able to resist and filled my basket with a number of goodies from this wonderful shop.

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One of the highlights of the shopping spree was the superb precision gift wrapping   (which is fantastic in most Japanese stores). They have  seriously nailed all things art, craft and gift wrapping in Japan!

Shopping done. Now time for Tea & Cake!

We went for the traditional afternoon tea set priced at 1,400 yen. For this you get a pot of tea and a choice of 3 types of sweets presented in a beautifully weaved Japanese basket. I went for the traditional scone, an apple strudel and a berry mousse short cake that was the special of the week.

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For those looking for a sweet little tea snack (post lunch) thats not going to stop you from your shopping spree – this is a perfect teatime pit stop!

The scones were a real highlight, warm, crunchy and with a great texture they were wonderful with the jam and the very whipped japanese cream which was to die for! The Apple Pie Cake was buttery and scrummy, the short cake was amazingly light and tasty, I would eat it all again.

We had the Earl Grey tea which was nothing to write home about, I would suggest trying something different, perhaps the matcha green tea next time, and maybe save space for a savoury main course too. Definitely pop in if you love your kitchen home ware!

Also check out their website for more info (in Japanese) or to ogle at the homeware goodies!

http://www.afternoon-tea.net

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Marrakesh Madness @ Sandro, Helsinki

Finland is famous for many fun things – Santa Claus, Angry Birds, Finlandia Vodka to name a few….but who knew Helsinki houses several Michelin *** restaurants and many local quaint cafe’s and bars that could keep a Foodie Traveller inspired for a summer break.

Trying the local cuisine is an obvious must and there are many restaurants to choose from but for travellers with limited time I would suggest a couple of laps around the local market in central Helsinki (“Kauppatori”). All things berries are worth a bag, and a snag of a sizzling sausage or Reindeer meatball is a Scandinavian must.

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A personal favourite was the “Lihapiirakka” (or ‘lihis’ for short), sort of a doughnut meets cornish pasty……I had two!!

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For those that want a go at Helsinki’s more alternative scene I would highly recommend a visit to the workers end of Helsinki – (Kallio) and hit up a popping Middle Eastern joint – Sandro! One look at the placemat and you know you want to come back again. The menu fusion is mouth-watering with ingredients sounding super fresh and authentic rich. Spoilt for choice we deliberated for 20 minutes on how much we could try to eat and then lent upon the friendly French waiter to assist upon portion size. Basically the portions are big, order a dish each! Humous and dips are accompanied with each meal so no need to order separates. Your challenge is whether to order from the “Bai Kan to Beirut Street Kitchen” end or ‘Garden of the God’s’.

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Here’s what we ordered… and… what we left.

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Garden of the Gods lost out this time. The Batbout Burgers from Marrakesh and Za’atar Man’Ouche from Beirut were winners. We chose the Confit Duck Batbout Burger and were not at all disappointed (as you can see) – served with Sweet Potato Crisps, Harissa Mayo, Tomato Pesto, Garden Red Onion Salad, Pomegranate & Carrot Yogurt & Hummus. The Za’atar Man’Ouche Merguez were equally as tasty, served with Tabbouleh, Grilled Aubergine, Goat Cheese & Pomegranate Yogurt.  Seriously refreshing and modern Middle Eastern grub at €18 per plate. I can’t wait to go back! We are in dire need in Singapore of creative Middle Eastern restaurants – Chef Enthusiasts please assist in our much required void!

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Sandro’s Sunday brunch has won awards and is considered to be the best in town at the moment so make your reservations in advance for this modern North African fusion feast. They have a wonderful indoor lounge and outdoor terrace for those hanging Scandinavian summer nights when only a tipple will do.

Book here – http://sandro.fi  

Making a trip to Helsinki soon? A couple of other worthy pit stops:

Marimekko homeware and clothing – https://www.marimekko.com

Fazer Cafe – Finnish Chocoholics & Moomin Cupcakes

Iittala – glasswear & tablewear – https://www.iittala.com/home

Cafe Kukko – Coffee & Cake with sea views

One Stop Shop – Stockmann’s Department Store and Helsinki Design District

Boulevard Social – sharing plates great for lunch or dinner

Helsinki Senate Square

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Singapore Heritage Afternoon Tea

The recently re-vamped Clifford Pier @ The Fullerton Bay Hotel hosts a wonderful Singaporean Heritage Afternoon Tea. Full of novel tea time treats that are spun off favourite Singaporean local flavours this Tea Time does not disappoint.

Singaporean cookbook author, Shermay Lee, curates a selection of 8 savoury and 8 sweet items to reflect Singapore’s multifavoured culinary past and present. The little ‘creations are handcrafted with a nod to traditional skills and are based on heirloom recipes handed down to Shermay from her late grandmother, Mrs Lee Chin Koon, author of the famous Mrs Lee’s Cookbook and widely recognized as the doyenne of Peranakan cuisine in Singapore.’

Like all Afternoon Tea rituals we commenced ours with a selection of brew and were thrilled by the local options. The deliciously sweet Teh Tarik being the most popular on our table I opted for the strongly brewed Moroccan Mint Tea.

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In good stead we kicked off with the 8 Savoury items which were topped up galore! Firm favourites were the nostalgic Kueh Pie Tee, Bak Kwa Jam Sandwich and Chilli Crab Bao. (for novel Singaporean eaters check the menu pic for the delicious details). 

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Being a condiment connoisseur I was excited by the choice of asian dipping pots – sweet and savoury were both demolished. The fiery local red garlic chilli sauce was yumtastic when accompanied with the sweet and sticky Kurobuta Pork Kong Ba Bao and Nonya Chicken Curry Roti Jala Wrap.

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The Tropical scones were surprisingly crumbly and moist (not a norm in Singapore’s humidity), and the Pineapple-Vanilla Jam and Kaya spread were very well paired. I would say a really good scone job done by Clifford Pier!

For those who have room – 8 Sweet Singaporean treats await you! The Hainanese Roti with Kaya got my attention first as did the Sugee Financier and Bandung Macaroon. The bright green Pandan Swiss Roll unfortunately didn’t deliver for me – a bit dense which was a shame as I love Pandan!

This is the Ultimate Tea for those who love to savour the culinary delights of Singapore or for those that want an intro into Singapore’s long love affair of blended South East Asian cuisine. The Clifford Pier’s colonial feel is a well suited venue for the Heritage Tea with its oppulent deck and great views of the Singapore River.

For reservations, email cliffordpier@fullertonbayhotel.com

http://www.fullertonbayhotel.com/latest-specials/culinary/heritage-afternoon-tea

36 hours in Penang!

Thinking of making a trip to Malaysia soon? Add Penang to your list. Its worth it.

Art, culture, food and history – its a gem on the Malaysian coastline. Depending on your holiday mood, wallet & stamina there are a range of things to see and a heap of local things to eat. If you only have a day no doubt you spend it in Georgetown. A UNESCO heritage spot that delivers on smoggy rustic beauty and Chinese heritage etching back to the trading times of the Ming dynasty and more recently the 1800’s Royal Britannials presence.

Strolling the old streets of Georgetown is the best way to depict the local culture. Beautiful shop houses and striking wall art relics its inhabitants, lifestyles and history, notably some famous strokes by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic are key features.

Below are some of my favourites.

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A stay or tipple at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (e&o) adds some real colonial air to the trip. Similar to that of the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, but a little lacking of Delhi’s dramatic grandure. E&O understands warm professional service, in keeping with the Malaysian relaxed style and beautiful vintage deco.

Greeted by a jumanji looking safari jetsetter sets the mood for Farquhar’s bar for a high glass cocktail or stiff whisky. Alternatively, for the teetotallers there is a vintage afternoon tea served in the1885 lounge. Quite Downton Abbey! The Planters lounge herds in very happy guests every evening for a free pre-dinner hour of unlimited booze and snacks. Its well situated next to the infinity rooftop pool which is a tranquil get away with a view of the Andaman Sea.

 

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No trip is complete without a bit of retail therapy. Mine normally involves some sort of paper goods. This trip was no different.  I nabbed some pretty ang pow envelopes and cards from the Bombay Store at E&O. Armenian Street was a good lane for pretty trinklets too.

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Now for food! Penang is notorious for its local delights and most of them look very tasty and worth the extra kg’s. I had one problem…only 36 hours! This equalled to one brekkie, one tea, two lunches and one dinner! Anything less would be disrespectful!

So we kicked off with a vintage afternoon tea at 1885. A good selection of teas, I opted for the soft peach which was peachy! The usual scones, sandwiches and sweet treats were portioned lightly but sufficiently, enabling space for a lovely Peranakan dinner at Kebaya restaurant. 

Housed in the refined Seven Terraces hotels, Kebaya hosts an Anglo-Chinese ambience in a beautiful shophouse. The character of the restaurant is one of the finest I have experienced in South East Asia. Beautiful china plates and antiques decorate the walls. The menu is well designed and requires you to choose 4 dishes per person @ about S$50pp. Appetiser – Meat/Fish – Greens – Dessert, which enables a group or couple to try a variety of plates. Standout dishes for us were the Crispy Joo Hoo Char Roll, Hong Bak Lamb and Pandan Creme brûlée. Only disappointing dish was the chocolate fondant, a bit flat and lumpy. Avoid it.

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Round 3 : Breakfast @ E&O’s Sarkies restaurant. A great buffet spread of local and international cuisines. You can’t go to Penang and not eat Char Qway Teow. So breakfast comprised of yummy greasy noodles & chicken curry with roti canai!

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Penultimate Round: FishnChips at Straits Quay Pier. It felt apt to hit up a chippy! Afterall, it is the first place in South East Asia the Brits colonised. The  ride to Straits Quay by water limo was worth it to cruise the Andaman Sea and wave at fellow skippers!

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Final Round: Surprisingly good Tapas in Georgetown @ El Faro! Communal dining, chilled atmosphere and friendly service. In usual tapas manner, sharing is caring! The pork knuckle served taco style was the highlight. Tender and crispy. Actually one of the best pork taco’s I have eaten. The Chistorra sausage & Guindilla peppers also very flavoursome. Potato bravas and chorizo very middle of the road. However, the churros provided on the house ended the meal very sweetly!

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Know more, do more http://www.timeout.com/penang/

 

Restaurant Andre, Fine-Dining in Singapore

Restaurant Andre situated off the foodie strip Keong Saik Road is a very special venue to celebrate a very special occasion. This occasion happened to be my 32nd birthday.

The restaurant is carefully hidden in a building that resembles the quaint chalk town houses off Georgetown in Washington DC. Elegant and matt and totally un-singaporean in style and feel, until you are greeted by the local staff. The restaurant seats 18 guests, its intimate and fine-dining in its true form. Service is above the usual Singaporean Fine-Dining level. A sommelier who actually knows his wine and bouncing at attention waiters.

The menu is set and takes 2 and half hours to complete. In usual fine dining manner we found our selves treated to many delightful pre-snacks which are full of pezazz and wow factor. Stand out dishes were the no salt round and charcoal fritters hidden within real coal logs!

We finished nicely with a bunch of tasty sweet bites, our favourites were the Sangria Lollipops and deconstructed Snickers bar. Chef Andre added some extra sweetness to the night as he made his rounds to the tables and conjured up quite pleasant conversation. Born in Taiwan, raised in France and Chef and restaurant owner in Singapore. He has achieved a stand out service with his place which provides the science and taste no other fine dining has delivered in Singapore to date. A well deserved spot on Asia’s top 50 restaurants. I would highly recommend if you are missing Heston’s innovative plates or true french fine dining service.

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