Sunday, May 29, 2016

Japan: Kuromon Ichiba Market

I purposely selected our Osaka Airbnb based on its proximity to Kuromon Market:

Actually, thinking back, I typically choose all my vacation lodging based on proximity to food/markets.


There were quite a few people when we first arrived, but it gradually got harder and harder to move forward as the morning progressed:

We did a quick walk through of the market first to scope out what we wanted to eat.  Then we doubled back to hit up the vendors that were most interesting.

This particular store offered a wide variety of snacks (and free samples!) as well as daifuku (Japanese confections made with mochi):

It was difficult narrowing down our options:

But we finally decided on these three:

From left to right: sakura mochi (120 yen or around $1.20), kusa mochi (120 yen or around $1.20), and the strawberry red bean dumplings (150 yen or around $1.50).

The strawberry one was literally glutinous rice balls on a stick, slathered with red bean paste and topped with slices of strawberries:

The kusa mochi was made from mugwort, filled with red bean paste, then sprinkled with soy bean powder:

The sakura mochi was actually a glutinous rice ball filled with red bean paste and wrapped in some kind of leaf:

I'm not sure whether we were supposed to eat the leaf, but I did.  Since I'm still alive, I'm guessing it's edible.  And don't ask me what sakura tastes like.  I still have no clue.

Our next stop was this beef heaven:

This has to be the best marketing strategy in all of history:

How can we get people to buy wagyu beef at crazy prices?  Oh, I know!  Why don't we grill slices of our product and let the tantalizing smell of sizzling beef draw in all the suckers?

Guess who was a sucker?

We had no idea what we were buying (all the labels for the different cuts of beef were in Japanese), so we randomly picked one that was mid-range in cost.  We asked for "one order" (whatever that means) and waited as it was grilled for us:

This tiny tray set us back 1588 yen (around $15.88).  It definitely hurt, but YOLO, I guess.  And I will admit that it was some pretty freakin' amazing beef.


The first extravagant purchase is always the hardest.  Once it's over with, it becomes easier to toss money at other things.  It's like you just give up and tell yourself, "Oh, what the heck.  I'm on vacation!"

We were drawn to this little old lady:

These giant scallops just looked so pretty (600 yen or around $6):

We kept seeing fruit vendors selling these mysterious white strawberries.  We didn't really want to commit a large amount of money for a small cup of strawberries, so we got excited when we saw this guy selling white strawberry juice:

For some reason, we thought it would be a better deal to spend 1000 yen ($10) on a cup of juice:

In hindsight, we really should have just bought the damn fruit.  The juice tasted like watered down strawberry candy.  Still don't get what the fuss about white strawberries is about.

At the other end of the market, we came across this place:

Once we saw this, we couldn't be budged:

Three pieces of toro sushi for 1500 yen ($15)?  Yes, please!:

While we're at it, please throw in four pieces of tuna maki for 800 yen ($8):

Actually, you know what?  Just give me all the magical tuna and you can have all my monies.  Take it.  TAKE ALL MY MONIES!

Kuromon Market.  I highly recommend it.  Just make sure to bring lots and lots of cash.  And when I say cash, I mean it.  Don't expect to use your fancy cards.  If you're low on bills, here's a tip for you: hit up the nearest 7-11.  Besides post office ATMs, 7-11 ATMs are the only ones in Japan that accept foreign cards.

It's probably a blessing that we only stayed one full day in Osaka.  Living so close, I would have blown through my entire trip budget with multiple visits back to Kuromon Market.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Japan: Vie de France

One thing I learned about CK on this past trip: sometime between law school graduation and the present, she went from being unable to drink more than a couple sips of coffee without feeling ill to developing a caffeine addiction that causes her to turn into a growly bear if she doesn't get a cup of joe in the morning.  Once we diagnosed the problem, we made it a point to locate coffee for her every morning.

After our satisfying breakfast at Endo Sushi, we passed by this bakery on our way to the subway station:

Bakeries in Asia are the best:

We walked in for the coffee, but we stayed for the bread:

We'd just eaten and we planned on eating even more at the Kuromon Market next, but that didn't stop us from buying a mentai roll (160 yen or around $1.60) and a milk tea churro (140 yen or around $1.40):

The churro was incredibly crisp and airy and tasted like an Earl Grey dream.

Though the English name of the buns were included on the signs, the descriptions were entirely in Japanese.  Which meant we could only guess what was inside the mentai bun.  What was actually in it surpassed all of our expectations:

That creamy mentaiko (marinated roe) filling!  That soft bread!  So savory with a bit of a kick.  There must have been kewpie mayo in it.

No regrets.  That was a damn good bun.

Vie de France
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Japan: Endo Sushi

1000 POSTS!!  When I first started this blog in April 2010, I had just started settled in Chicago and wanted to let my friends know what I was up to.  Fast forward six years and 999 posts and I'm three years out of law school, working at a job that I love back in the Bay.  I never imagined that I would keep this blog up for this long.  

But I did.  And at this point, I'm not sure I even know how to stop.

Anyway.  It's fitting that my 1000th just so happens to fall on my first post from Japan.  Makes it feel all special and stuff.

CK and I arrived in Osaka late at night on Sunday.  We considered going out for some late night ramen, but ultimately decided to sleep instead.  Which was probably the right thing to do as we woke up early the next morning to trek out to the Osaka Fish Market to have breakfast at Endo Sushi.

Endo Sushi opened at 5:00 am.  We weren't that crazy.  When we arrived around 8:00 am, there was already a line in front of us:

Except it didn't really look like a line.  We weren't sure if this meant we had to put our names down inside.  We checked with the Thai tourists there before us (with all of their luggage!) and were told to just wait outside.  That was the right thing to do because after a little while, a staff member came out to check how many people were in each party.

Once she came out, everyone waiting shuffled into some semblance of a line, which became an actual line as more people arrived.  Soon the line stretched far into the giant parking lot.

Thank goodness we didn't arrive any later than when we did because we actually didn't wait all that long.  About half an hour later, we were inside and being directed to the counter:

The place was tiny, with a counter that seats around six and a few tables.  Going with one other person (and no more than four total) would probably be most ideal.

CK and I started by sharing an akadashi miso soup (300 yen or around $3):

It came loaded with these tiny clams that were more for flavoring the soup than for eating:

Endo Sushi makes things easy for you by offering four fixed sets (five pieces of sushi each for 1050 yen or around $10.50).  The handy dandy English menu lets you know exactly what your options are:

You can switch out particular sushi, but that may affect the price.

CK and I both ordered the set one since that was the one that contained most of what we liked:

From left to right: hamachi (yellowtail), toro (fatty tuna), tai (sea bream), uni (sea urchin), and anago (salt-water eel).  CK switched out her tai for a tamago (egg) sushi.  I looked at her like she was crazy when she made the request, but she told me she had no regrets because the tamago was delicious.  To each their own, I guess.

But damn, sushi in Japan really does taste different.  I've never had fish be so...un-fishy.  I love uni, but sometimes I have to brace myself for how briny it can be.  The uni at Endo?  Creamy and subtle and omygawdIwantsomenow!  Everything seemed to just melt in my mouth.  What the heck?!

We seriously contemplated getting a second set, but we figured we should be good since we planned on hitting up the Kuromon Market directly afterwards.

As we were about to leave after paying our bill, we were each handed a souvenir to take home:

It was a mini-canvas bag with Endo Sushi's newly opened Bangkok branch information on it.  Guess that explains why there were so many Thais there that morning.

Fantastic breakfast and a free gift?  Damn.  Our first day in Japan was definitely off to a good start.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Taiwan: 108 Matcha Saro

There was some time to kill before we had to meet up with my parents, so the three of us decided to check out the SOGO department store's food court.  When we got there, we noticed a huge line wrapped arond this counter:

My sister and I didn't think too much of it.  We went off to watch the Din Tai Fung dmpling makers work their magic through the giant window to the restaurant kitchen.  When we thought to look back, we discovered CK already in long line.  We asked her what we wanted to get and she said she had no clue.  She saw a line and just got into it.

That's so typical CK.

I walked around to the other side of the counter and noticed that everything was matcha.  Matcha jelly, matcha ice cream, matcha cake, matcha, matcha, matcha.

Did I mention that I hate matcha?  Remember, I have the taste buds of a 6 year old.  Bitter things make me go blehhhh.

But then I saw this:

Now, I'm a sucker for obanyaki (also called imagawayaki), but I don't actually like them all that much.  How does that work, you ask?  Well, they always smell so good, which makes me want one.  But when I actually bite into one, I'm never particularly impressed.  The problem with obanyaki for me is that they smell better than they taste.

But that still doesn't stop me from buying them.

Apparently CK is the same.  Well, that or the English menu highlighted the obanyaki as being most popular.  CK ordered the matcha green tea obanyaki (45 NT or around $1.50):

With red bean filling:

And the regular obanyaki (40 NT or slightlly over $1):

With matcha cream filling:

I'm still not a lover of matcha and I still don't crave obanyaki unless I smell it, but even I can admit that the obanyaki at 108 Matcha Saro were interesting and differet from what you typically find.

If you like all things matcha or if you like to watch people brand pastry goods (so cool!), you should definitely check out 108 Matcha Saro.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Taiwan: Bee Cheng Hiang

We started our last full day in Taiwan with a unexpectedly grueling hike up Elephant Mountain.  I say unexpectedly, but I really should have expected it.  I mean, come on.  If I had actually thought about it for a moment, I would have realized that climbing stairs in humidity is a bad, bad, bad idea.

Ugh.  I'm an idiot.

Thank goodness my parents decided not to join us.  I'm not sure if they would have made it.

After almost killing ourselves on the hike, we decided to treat ourselves.  First, we got shaved grass jelly ice at Meet Fresh.  We each got our own bowl because, yo, no way in hell were we sharing.  (It makes me sad that there's so few Meet Fresh stores left in Taipei.  Oh well, all the more reason to be excited about the one opening in Cupertino!)  Evidently CK didn't think one bowl was enough because she went and ordered a bowl of tofu dessert as a chaser.

Next, we randomly stepped into a Bee Cheng Hiang for some Chinese-style jerky:

We shamelessly asked for taste tests before finally walking out with a bag of bacon jerky:

So smoky and bacony and yet...sweet.  By far my favorite.

We also got the classic pork jerky:

The different kinds of dried meat come in sheets.  You let them know how much you want and then they cut the sheets for you.

Bee Cheng Hiang is a Singaporean brand, but they have stores pretty much all across Asia.  You can't bring meat products into the States, so if you see one, eat your fill while you're there.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Taiwan: Miaokou Night Market (Revisited)

On CK's first full day in Taiwan, my original plan was to take her to Jiu Fen for lunch and then swing by Miaokou Night Market for an early dinner before heading back home.  Apparently, I should have done a bit more research because when we arrived in Keelung, it was a bit too early for the night market to be in full swing:

Two blocks worth of food were open, but they seemed much less impressive than what I remember from my first visit.

My dad checked with a local vendor who told us another block of food stalls would open up only after 4:30 pm.  We could have waited another 45 minutes for that, but after looking around and not really finding anything particularly enticing, we decided not to.

Instead, my mother nabbed a pork blood skewer:

And then we shared a bowl of ding bian cuo, which is essentially sheets of rice noodle in soup with pork, squid, bamboo, and other veggies:

We definitely didn't do Miaokou night market justice, but we were tired from walking all morning and we'd already filled up our stomachs most of the way in Jiu Fen.

Excuses, excuses, I know.  I'll do better next time.

Maybe we should have waited because by the time we got back to Danshui, we'd digested enough to snack through the night market there...and eat some instant noodles back at home.

Taiwan: Hao Cai Yuan

CK joined us in Taiwan toward the end of the week.  After my sister and I went to pick her up at the airport, we met up with my parents, my grandparents, and my uncle at Hao Cai Yuan for dinner:

The original plan was to go somewhere for live fish (where you pick your fish and depending on how big it is, the restaurant will prepare it a number of ways for you), but that unfortunately fell through.  Hao Cai Yuan came highly recommended, however, so we weren't too bummed by the change of plans.

For a group our size, we really should have made a reservation.  Luckily, a table cleared out and we were able to get seated without having to wait too long.

Hao Cai Yuan is known for its Taiwanese cuisine.  We started off with a cold plate of sliced pork liver and ginger (100 NT or slightly over $3):

The seasonal veggie was ong choy (80 NT or just under $3):

My father couldn't resist ordering the chicken (380 NT or around $13):

Whereas I just really wanted to try their braised pork over rice (40 NT or slight under $1.50):

I forced CK to share with me.  If I had the entire bowl by myself, I would have been done.

One of the highlights of the meal was the eggplant (150 NT or around $5);

One of my personal favorites was the fried intestine (200 NT or just under $7):

Those crunchy bits!  Holy moly.  So freakin' good.

The salted mustard greens with tofu was nothing to sneeze at either (160 NT or just over $5):

Such silky, silky tofu.

And the steamed fish!:

Dunno what kind of fish it was, but damn was it fresh.

And for a cleansing soup, we went with a clear soup:

Not 100% which soup it was, but I think it was the fish head soup in a clay pot (680 NT or just under $23).

Everything at Hao Cai Yuan was pretty spot on.  I could even enjoy the liver in small pieces.  While it might be considered a bit pricey by Taiwanese standards, the menu offers a range of options from really cheap to what we like to call American prices.  It's not a fancy place by any means, so it's a great restaurant to just relax with family and enjoy a good meal together.

I highly recommend Hao Cai Yuan.  It was certainly a fitting welcome for foodie CK to Taiwan.

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