Luxury Travel: Malaysia Airlines

My job entails a lot of travelling, sometimes as local as Wollongong and if I am lucky, other times as exotic as Asia or as far as Europe. Earlier in the year I was lucky enough to head to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia…but what I was more excited about was travelling in business class. I would not have had an opportunity to fly in business class so soon if it were not for work, so I thought you might be interested to peek into what lies beyond that curtain separating us plebs from the hoity toity business class travellers.

First up is Malaysian Airlines.

Malaysia Airlines Business Class

Our flight was actually delayed by a few hours which meant we had more time to relax in the plush armchairs of the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge at Sydney International Airport with complimentary wifi, snack cheeses, cakes, chocolates and an abundance of drinks. Although we were flying Business, they kindly let us have access to the First Class lounge as the air conditioning was absolutely freezing in the Business Class lounge – the only difference we found were the drinks on offer at the bar counter so instead of Smirnoff they had Grey Goose, instead of Gordon’s they had Tanqueray etc. We also took advantage of the “Bistro” which offered made to order meals like nasi goreng, chicken laksa and chicken curry.

Chicken Laksa

Chicken Laksa from Golden Lounge Bistro

Stay cool, stay cool is all my colleague and I were thinking as we made the unfamiliar left turn as we boarded the plane and were greeted by the stewards, by name. Almost immediately we were offered magazines to read and pre-flight drinks, deciding to have the signature guava juice.

While my colleague was more interested in getting some shut eye, I was more interested in the food served! Malaysia Airlines “satay service” won Skytrax Best Signature Dish 2013. OMG the signature satay sticks for appetizers were lip smacking good, they offer a mixture of beef or chicken but I asked for all chicken and mopped all the spicy satay sauce up. The rest of the meal was also pretty good a prawn and avocado salad, silver cod served with potatoes and a capsicum sauce.

There was plenty of leg space for a myself at 152cm, and plenty of storage for our hand luggage which could be placed either in the overhead compartment or the compartment between the seat and the window, which I prefer to placing small bags under the seat in front of you. I was really impressed with the amenities Tumi pouch with a mini Colgate plax mouthwash and toothpaste, hairbrush, Infectiguard hand sanitizer, Clarins lip balm, Clarins hand and nail cream and Clarins hydra quench cream. Also loved the noise cancelling headphone which I could pop over my ear pain plugs while I watched Taken 2. The only disappointment was that the seat did not lie flat 180 degrees, the back reclined however the leg rest was at an angle which made it uncomfortable as I risked slipping off the seat to the floor. If I were paying for business class, I’d definitely want to be able to lie flat. The service was efficient, friendly and it was easy to communicate to the flight attendants. I could not wait for the return flight home so I could have some more of the satay sticks XP

Satay Service

Chicken Satay sticks

Prawn and avocado salsa

Silver cod served with potatoes and a capsicum sauce

TUMI amenities kit

Hey mummy, I’m being good with a guava juice!

Anmitsu Mihashi, Tokyo Japan

Let me share one of my favourite places for Japanese mochi and sweets in Japan. Mihashi is a kanmidokoro, a cafe selling all my favourite traditional sweets which opened in Ueno during the Edo period (it now has multiple stores in Japan).

We came here for their signature anmitsu dessert but I also wanted to havve some mochi. A light second lunch before dessert if you will.
We traditionally eat ozoni at the start of a New Year when we make our own mochi (using a machine, we don't pound it with a wooden hammer here XP) from scratch and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner until it runs out. Ozoni is a light bonito dashi broth with mochi, chicken, shiitake, prawn and a fluffy egg. I loved how there was a garnish of mitsuba (I'm yet to find this herb locally) which made a subtle difference to the broth. Mum also ordered the isobeyaki which is grilled mochi brushed with soy sauce and wrapped in seaweed.

Anmitsu is a traditional Japanese dessert with small cubes of agar jelly, a mitsu (brown sugar syrup) is poured over the jelly and eaten with red bean paste, fruits and sweet gyuhi mochi. I chose the Shiratama Cream Anmitsu just in case I hadn't had enough mochi…an anmitsu served with vanilla soft cream, shiratama (rice flour dumplings) and mandarins.

Mihashi
 
Ozoni
   
Isobeyaki
 
Shiratama Cream Anmitsu

Mihashi is the best place for anmitsu and their menu consists of variations of anmitsu with seasonal fruits, strawberries, shiratama, green tea, soft serve etc. The most popular dish here is probably the Matcha Anmitsu, anmitsu with bitter sweet green tea ice cream which is handmade.

Mihashi
Tokyo Station
Ichiban Gai

Juha Coffee, Nishiogikubo, Japan

I've been back for less than three weeks from my recent spring holiday in Japan but I'm already aching to go back already. We spent a bit of time wandering around the suburbs that my mum lived in when she was a child – Nishiogikubo – laneways lined with old ramen resaturants, cosy cafes, quirky little shops.

Nishiogikubo
 
 
 
 
In the afternoon we stopped at a tiny door of a tiny cafe. Inside it was cosy and charming, jazz music played and postcards laid out on the counter. The friendly and chatty barista brought us blankets to warm up our laps as we perused their handwritten menus with polaroid photos of the menu. A cup of hot alcohol Irish coffee warmed my uncle right through to his bones while I had a cup of mild coffee. A plate of light and moist apple cake with a dollop of fresh cream and a baked American cheesecake – a perfect way to end the afternoon.
Juha Coffee
 
 
Juha Romance Music
 
Cream jug is WAYYYY TOOOO CUTTTEEEE
 
Irish Coffee
 
Apple cake
 
American Cheesecake
 
Though the neighbourhood has changed so much since my mum was 7…it was really nice to wander through the streets listening to her and my uncles stories of their past ๐Ÿ™‚

Les Creations de Narisawa, Aoyama, Japan

I hope you all had a Happy New Year! This will the first post of 2012 and what better way to start 2012 then with my most memorable meal of 2011.
I was lucky enough to celebrate my birthday at two fabulous Japanese-French restaurants this post will be about the first – Les Creations de Narisawa (Aoyama, Tokyo). The restaurant has been awarded 2011 Acqua Panna's Best Restaurant in Asia and Number 12 on the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, it was easily the menu which had the most lasting impression for all the right reasons.

Dining here was truly an experience as the world of Narisawa is inspired by landscapes and changing seasons aiming to bring nature onto the plate with themes of soil, water, fire, charcoal and forest. It's a little hard to find hidden under a building, we are gently ushered into the restaurant through automatic sliding doors from the waiting room and into a dark, elegant restaurant with plush leather arm chairs. At our table setting we have a glass slab etched with the restaurant name which was verrry cool and are given a rather vague menu Autumn Collection 2011 Evolve with the Forest. The waiter kindly explains to ensure customers are surprised, the menu gives each dish a "poetic title" and only lists the main ingredients, also the dishes won't be arriving in order according to the menu.

Les Creations de Narisawa

 

Excited we put our bellies in the hands of Narisawa and the first dish presented on our table appears to be an autumn themed candle holder wafting scents of cinnamon, adorned with autumn leaves to the untrained eye but is in actual fact a little cyclinder of yeast. Once the yeast has been left to ferment in the water bath, a waiter came by with a trolley decorated with autumn twigs and placed the dough into a 300C stone bowl which is covered and left at our table to bake.
Whilst our bread is being cooked we're served with a Gift from "Satoyama" appearing to be sumi (charcoal) a bite sized piece of black crust made from chargrilled leeks encasing a soft piece of onion. Next to arrive is the Gift from the Sea "Sawara" Spanish mackerel from Aichi with citrus, green pepper leaf sauce. The saba was fresh, firm and went lovely with the sauce which cut through the natural oil of the fish.
By this time our "Forest 2010" Bread of Autumn Forest has baked under the heavy wooden lid and we're served with a soft, freshly baked cinnamon and chestnut bread. The waiter suggests having it on it's own and it is absolutely "autumny" and heart warming. We were also served bread (not baked at our table) which came with an adorable pot of what appears to be dirt with seedlings growing. Fear not, the pot contains whipped butter covered with a dehydrated blueberry crumb.
While enjoying our bread a dish with a whole grilled squid is set down and my eyes light up because I absolutely love grilled squid and the portion was huge! But before I could take a photo I'm distracted by yet another trolley bringing forth a concoction surrounded with a hazy mist. The waiter explains that a ground mixture of red peppers, oil and lemon juice is frozen in the liquid nitrogen and in the blink of any eye gently blankets my squid with this newly formed black frozen "ash". This dish "Ash 2009" Wind of Basque was my favourite with the cold sandy ash, tender squid in a red pepper sauce the perfect plate of landscape through ingredients, smell and texture.
Le Potager an Autumn garden was a plate of 19 different Japanese vegetables in season – we did try to find all 19 but it was tad too hard.
The inner chemistry geek in me squeals in excitement as this time we're presented with what looks like a science experiment, five test tubes and two filled with liquid. This dish "Luxury essence 2007" Langoustine the superior liquid broth is made from a Chinese jin hua ham and pork is poured onto the langoustine dish. It is indeed very delicious and find myself scraping every last drop.
The final dish from the Gift from the Sea is a perfectly cooked flaky, fleshy fish dish "Amadai" Snapper, Hagi, Yamaguchi and Maitake mushroom steamed in a bag with a light duck and pork broth.
The final main Gift from the Forest is presented as a piece of charcoal on a block of wood aka In Narisawa's world, "Sumi 2009" Hida beef. The waiter explains that this dish has been made through a process of basting the wagyu covered in a leek crust in olive oil and butter continuously for an hour. The end result is an evenly pink piece of beef, tender and juicy complemented with a red wine sauce and green peppers. Marking the end of our mains we are served a palate cleanser of a sake granita which was too potent for me to polish off.
So far so fannntastic, thoroughly satisfied and basking in the pleasantness of the evening I'm super surprised and ecstatic when the waiter wishes me a happy birthday along with a cake arrives complete with a candle. Not surprisingly the vanilla sponge cake is one of the best I've had and the loved the little jube holding up my card. After finishing off our extra little dessert we're served a small pre dessert of "Waguri" Chestnut pannacotta, chestnuts and caramelised chestnuts oh god this was good, layers of chestnut pannacotta, chestnuts and caramelised chestnuts..I love chestnuts so I was eager to take a spoonful of Bill's too.
Finally our dessert was presented in a beautiful glass bowl with a mixture of "Yuzu", Pear, "Buntan" with pieces of mochi and muscat, a clean and refreshing way to end the dinner.
Now usually tea and petit fours would end the night but once again excitement started to well up inside me as I spied another trolley coming towards our table from the corner of my eye. This was the prettiest cart ever, adorned with leaves, seeds, twigs and autumn motif with bite size pieces of petit fours laying amongst the forest. The waiter starts to explain each petit four and to name a just a few there were green tea macaron, peanut creme brulee, muscat mochi, sugar cane cake, pumpkin cake, mitsu cake, green tea mochi, pumpkin fudge, galettes and finally Narisawa's signature gradation of petit macarons. While my head is spinning from the spectacle of a dessert cart the waiter casually mentions "you can choose some or ALL" as he prepares to plate up our choices…. say whaattt?! I am near crying tears of joy and happiness…seriously ALL? Have you ever heard of such a thing?! Obviously we had to call upon our separate dessert stomachs.

Autumn Collection 2011
 
Gift from "Satoyama"
 
Evolve with the Forest
 
 
 
"Forest 2010" Bread of Autumn Forest
 
 
Gift from the sea – "Sawara" Spanish mackerel from Aichi
 
 
Gift from the sea – "Ash 2009" Wind of Basque
 
"Le Potager" Autumn garden
 
 
Gift from the sea – "Luxury essence 2007" Langoustine
 
Gift from the sea – "Amadai" Snapper, Hagi, Yamaguchi and Maitake Mushrooms
 
…not a piece of coal
 
Gift from the forest – "Sumi 2009" Hida beef
 
 
Gateua a la Vanille
vanilla sponge, white chocolate, rich creme chantilly, creme brulee, butter caramel
 
"waguri" Chestnut
too small me thinks
 
"Yuzu" Pear "Buntan"
 
Dessert Cart
 
Selection of Petit Four
Green tea mochi, muscat and mochi, galette, peanut creme brulee

 
Les Macarons
White Chocolate Lavender, Cafe Creme, Caramel Vanilla, Caramel Salt, Chocolate Rose, Cacao 41%,, Cacao 66%, Cacao 72% and Cacao 80%
The service was top notch and each dish unique and presented beautifully using the freshest seasonal ingredients to illustrate and reflect a story inspired by nature. It was the most memorable dining experience of 2011 which could be attributed to Narisawa's idea of the season permeating throughout the menu and the anticipation of what the next dish offers and the surprise of techniques used to just simply having the "evolution" of bread as it baked at your table with a cute little pot plant. And how could I forget the dessert cart of my dreams and the lovely birthday cake which made this dinner a bit more special. Easy to see why this restaurant has won so many accolades year after year, I cannot wait to go back and delve into the world of Narisawa, perhaps in another season.

Kani Douraku, Osaka Japan

It was hard to miss and resist with their giant 6m mechanical crab calling us in. Kani Douraku is a mega crab chain and before you poo poo a chain restaurant…STOP because it was amazing each dish was presented beautifully and the ingredients were handled gently with care and effort going into each dish. The restaurant has a few levels and we were seated on the first level in a booth with a view of Dotomoborigawa.

They were offering a seasonal spring banquet but I opted for the 10 course crab banquet for 6000Y and Bill had a 13 course crab banquet for 8000Y. Both of our banquets had the same dishes except for a few and Bill's course had two servings of crab – zuwai crab which is the Japanese snow crab only harvested in the winter months and taraba crab which when cooked is a vibrant red. Both are deliciously sweet but I think the taraba crab meat was more chunky and satisfying.

If you enjoy crab cooked in a variety of methods and want to try different kani-meshi (foods with crab) you have to go to Kani Douraku. The crab were of high quality the meat plump and flavourful and each dish carefully complemented the crab and brought out the sweetness of the meat. And it's really great value we both left super full and happy with all the dishes.

Kani Douraku
 
 
Crab with ponzu sauce
The first course was my favourite because the crab was served just the way I liked it plainly boiled crab dipped in ponzu sauce – I love the silky firm texture of crab cooked like this and you're able to appreciate the sweetness of the meat when dipped in vinegar. I was also really glad Bill really enjoyed this course too.
 
Ostukuri
Otsukuri which is crab sashimi was our next course. I was a little apprehensive about my crab sashimi because it looked so much like a tongue but the sashimi was melt in your mouth soft and really fresh.
 
Ostukuri
Bill's otsukuri course had a different type of crab sashimi using the zuwai crab called kani sashi where the crab meat is immersed in cold water so that the muscles shrink and become firm and shrivelled which was also very soft to eat.
 
Chawanmushi
We both each had a crab chawamushi mm.. I love my egg custards and so wanted to eat Bill's serving too.
 
Yakigani and kanimiso
Yakigani (grilled crab) arrived in an unexpected form of kanimiso (crab guts) in a shell which once boiled had shredded crab added and mixed into the kanimiso. The kanimiso was pleasant and sort of like sucking the miso from prawn heads.
 
Amiyaki
Instead of yakigani Bill had amiyaki which we grilled ourselves. The legs had plump meat easy to take out of the shell and we just dipped it in a pinch of salt and you could really taste the smokiness from the amiyaki.
 
 
The crab tempura was lightly battered yet crunchy and suprisingly the crab meat was not dry.
 
Suimono and crab sushi
By now we were both very full and the crab sushi don't really stand out in my mind but the suimono was pleasantly subtle with a few small pieces of crab meat. For dessert we were thankful we were given small pieces of fruit which was refreshing and cleansed our palates.
 

Kuidaore in Dotombori a food mecca

Through the Shinsaibashi shopping arcade and under the flashes of neon lights, gigantic billboards and mechanical mascots lies the food mecca of Osaka, Dotombori located in the minami area of Osaka. Compared to the Kita Osaka, Minami Osaka is where you'll find the hustle and bustle with restaurants, bars, karaoke, clubs, pachinko parlours lining and squeezed in every nook and cranny of Dotombori.

Dotombori has a food culture and of course there is an abundance of food everywhere to satisfy any of your food cravings. There is saying in Osaka "kuidaore" which means to 'enjoy and eat food past your hearts content' until you ruin yourself and wallet – sort of like the food version of 'shop til you drop' ๐Ÿ˜› So we did just that…gorging on Osaka's street food.

We enjoyed walked along Dotomborigawa (river) which is said to have inspired Bladerunner and watched the dazzling lights of the billboards (though not all of them were lit up to conserve energy and respect Northern Japan), listened to the buskers on Ebisubashi bridge and people watched the young fashionistas. I loved the liveliness and the fun atmosphere of Dotombori and it's vibrance where here the flashiest seems to mean the best.


Shinsaibashi the start of the 600m roofed shopping arcade

Lotteria Ebi (prawn) Burger
Lotteria is a burger chain in Japan where I had an Ebi Burger (290Y) better than KFC Shanghai and Bill had a Cheeseburger set with melon soda and a juicy fried chicked for around 870Y and fought over a crispy sausage roll…in hindsight t was only 190Y so we probably should have gotten two… Overall Lotteria burgers are good but I still prefer the burgers at Freshness Burger which is another burger chain in Japan.

Glico Man of Glico candy

Tsubora-ya famous for you guessed it fugu!

Otakoya
No they don't really sell takoyaki in Coke cups but in boat cups for only 300Y (not $8AUD like in Chinatown). Instead of takoyaki again we shared an ika-yaki which is a deliciously baked squid encased in a cracked egg.

Ika-yaki

Glico Confectionary
Glico produces many of my childhoold favourites including Pocky, Caramel and Bisco which are bite size wheat germ crackers with a milky cream filling.

Coco-Rico crepes

Banana Strawbery Chocolate Crepe


Giant Takoyaki Pretz and Green Tea Pretz

You'll come to realise Japan loves limited editions and seasonal items so there are Pretz flavours you're only able to buy in certain areas like the takoyaki flavour and okonomiyaki flavours are only sold in the Kansai region.

Spring and sakura in Osaka, Japan

Hurrah spring has finally arrived! It was only a few months ago when I was experiencing spring in Japan where we were blesssed as the sakura were still blooming when we arrived. It was quite unimaginable to think how tumltuous the month leading into spring was in Japan but the cherry blossoms in all it's breathtaking beauty brought a calm and sense of hope to the nation.

Our first leg of our Japan trip was in Osaka having arrived at Kansai airport. Osaka is only three hours from Tokyo on the shinkansen and a mere 15mins from Kyoto. It is generally divided into Kita (north) where the business district is as well as the bigger department stores and Minami (south) is where Osaka through the hustle and bustle of the city comes to life.  

On our first full day in Japan we decided to view Osaka castle and the surrounding park located in Kita Osaka. Osaka-jo (castle) was once built to signify unity in Japan however after several civil wars saw it subsequently destroyed, it is now a recontruction of the original castle. It's a beautiful and regal tower gilded in gold rising above Osaka and surrounded by a deep moat. Unfortunately it's not really a "castle" and inside it actually houses a museum documenting the history of Osaka castle.
From Osaka station we hopped on a train to Tenmabashi (a 10min walk from Osaka castle). However from the window of our train we saw a wide river lined with cherry blossoms and spontaneously got off the train without knowing where we were which is very unlike me and a result of Bill's influences. It happened to be Sakuranomiya station and we followed the crowds to Sakuranomiya park which is know for it's 4700 cherry blossom trees. We took a casual stroll along Ogawa (literally big river) under the very impressive sakura trees and headed towards Osaka castle which we could see in the distance. It turned out to be a fairly long walk but we were mesmerised by the blue sky lined with pink clouds and from watching petals gently flutter to the ground in front of our paths. I think our walk took two hours to eventually reach the castle but we had so much fun people watching on our way as groups camped along the river with their grills and booze, and checked out small food stalls along the way (mostly selling takoyaki).


The view from the train


Osaka castle in the distance

After two hours…Osaka-jo
Our morning "stroll" over we headed back to Osaka station which just so happens to be really close to all the luxury stores and big department stores such as Daimaru, Yodobashi Camera, Hankyu department store and Hep Five where a huge ferris wheel sits atop it. Being the main transport hub in Osaka we did get a little lost but found an awesome "water" clock on the south side of the building which we watched in awe with a couple of younger kids.

Before intensely hitting the shopping strips we take a break at Starbucks and we were presented and overwhelmed by the "sakura" options they had on offer – I went a little crazy and we shared a sakura macaron, sakura latte, sakura frappuccino and sakura chiffon cake… they also had sakura scones and sakura cake pops. Unfortunately the sakura macaron was pretty but had no substance, but on the other hand the sakura chiffon cake was fluffy and surprisingly I even enjoyed the icing on top. We weren't sure what to expect from the sakura frappuccino but it was quite refreshing with a hint of sourness but the sakura latte was too milky to be able to anjoy the flavours.

With our sugar levels back up it was time to hit Shinsaibashi a 600m shopping arcade ๐Ÿ˜€


Osaka Station

Osaka South Side Building

more sakura!

pretty patterns

OSAKA WOW!

Yes, we're easily amused and that is another minute of our life gonee

Starbucks Sakura Latte, Sakura Macaron and Sakura Chiffon Cake

Takonotetsu Pizza Ball House, Osaka

We arrived in Osaka late at night and after checking into our hotel we were in desperate need of a feed and lucky for us there in the basement floor of our building was filled with restaurants. Since we are in the birth place of takoyaki no trip to Osaka is complete with having a takoyaki feast so we found ourselves walking into Takonotetsu Pizza Ball House. I'm not really sure why they're called "pizza ball house" when it's not really a pizza at all… Takoyaki literally means grilled octopus and is a perfect ball of pan-fried batter encasing small pieces of octopus with spring onions, tenkasu (tempura flakes), pickled ginger and topped off with Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce and katsuobushi (bonito flakes).

The restaurant walls are lined with retired takoyaki grill plates and had an izakaya atmosphere to it – rowdy, full and abuzz. They had so many different types of takoyaki so it was hard to choose, even harder as I had to explain each type to Bill but eventually we decided to order takoyaki (580yen) and curry takoyaki (680yen) and also a modern okonomiyaki (800yen). Our drink of choice for the night was lime chuhaichuhai is a cocktail with soda and lemon mixed with shochu a vodka-like distilled liquor. With our drinks in tow we start to tackle cooking our own takoyaki – our table even comes with instructions!
    1. Grease our takoyaki grill plates and our waitress places a couple of dices of octopus into each well.
    2. Pour in the takoyaki batter.
    3. Add whatever we want – some shallots, benishoga (pickled ginger) and lots and lots of tenkasu.
    4. Ready to turn our ingredients into perfect takoyaki balls.

The guys at Golo Tako at the Friday night markets make it look so easy but we were having trouble turning the batter into balls so Bill bravely asked the manager to help us. The manager was a colourful character and with his limited english taught us how to twirl the batter really fast and once he finished his demo he yelled out "CHALLENGE!" and so we went right ahead trying. Eventually we kind of mastered the art of shaping the batter into a perfect ball – the secret is it's all in the wrist ๐Ÿ˜‰
Once they resemble small golf balls drizzle okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise on top and sprinkle with some katsuobushi and aonori and we're done. Ours turned out quite good the exterior was crunchy and the batter was soft and was piping hot as it oozed out. I think it was more delicious because we made it ourselves!

We were keen to go to a few more of these DIY takoyaki houses to try again and master the art of twirling perfectly shaped takoyaki balls but sadly we didn't have enough time. Fully satisfied we retired to our small and cosy hotel room to watch some crazy Japanese game shows one of which involved a competition of whose dog can wag their tail the most within a minute….

 
Psycho killer octopus invites you in…

 
Instructions
 
Lime Chuhai
 
 
 
 
 
 
Takoyaki and Curry Takoyaki
 
Modern Okonomiyaki
 
Takonotestu Pizza Ball House

You, Me and The World (hopefully)

I love travelling…and Bill loves travelling for and with me XP We love spending quality time together, the freedom of walking and exploring new cities and having ten meals a day. However, as much as I'd like to say we're the same type of travellers – we're definitely not – in fact we're completely different I'm a meticulous planner and he likes to go with the flow, I like to start early in the day and he prefers to sleep in which leads us to bicker and quarrel but somehow we manage and are grateful and love the priceless experiences we've gained from travelling with each other. We've only just begun travelling together but hopefully we'll be able globetrot around the world and I don't believe you can really "do" a city during a short holiday so I forsee many more repeated trips to come. So I've decided to really start a travel log to share our experiences with you and our relatives overseas but mostly for us to reminisce on those travels. Bill recently asked if he had missed my Japan posts, but actually I hadn't even begun but that's all about to change…now!

Japan April 2011

Unfortunately the weeks leading up to our holiday to Japan was filled with grief and uncertainty for personal reasons and the apocalyptic situation in Northern Japan. To each their own and we had the hard decision of postponing or going ahead with our trip but after careful discussion with my family in Japan, my parents and friends living in various areas of Japan we decided to re-jig our itinerary and focus our time in Southern Japan and we did not regret it. I often joke to Bill that Japan is superior in every way which is totally biased but I digress…Japan is unique and a world apart from anywhere else. There was so much to absorb – the sights, the culture, the food oh-the-food! – everything just tastes so much better in Japan. I tried to get as much of a variety for Bill to experience but I don't think we even tried many specialities. However most of all, Bill was mostly affected and overwhelmed by the nature of Japanese people more than anything – the humility, respect and general social harmony which was evidence that Japan would come out stronger out of the crisis. People often ask me if I'd ever live in Japan and my answer would always be a no and I'd be pretty adamant about it as I've always felt that the lifestyle wouldn't suit me. However I think we both left our hearts in Japan last April as we'd both seriously consider it – so much that we couldn't wait to go back… so we're off again in November and I CAN.NOT.WAIT! Let's see how many posts I can share with you all before then. 

Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant

I didn’t want to leave China without eating Peking Duck, so after a day of shopping we headed to Quanjude (Huai Hai Lu, Shanghai). Quanjude is an old establishment specializing in a traditional method of roasting duck since the Qing dynasty and have heaps of branches around China – there’s even one in Melbourne! The restaurant itself was kind of hard to find …unless you can read Chinese I guess and see a huge gold tablet with Quanjude in Chinese characters hanging above the entrance. Beneath the gold tablet is also a hostess dressed in traditional costume with a huge headdress on (actually she kind of looked like the concubines we saw at Three Kingdom TV Park) She told us to take the lifts upstairs, where we were greeted by more hostesses before being led to a table. The restaurant is ginormous – like the size of East Ocean in Haymarket, decorated with kitschy red and gold lanterns and such and the atmosphere was buzzing!
 
For me, eating Peking Duck is uncommon, coming from a Japanese family – I think the only times when I do eat it is with Bill’s family. We were here for one thing only so we ordered the Roast Duck banquet  – a whole roast duck, pancakes, scallions, cucumbers, sauce and duck soup. The waiter then informed us it would be a 40mins wait!!! until we would get our duck and suggested we order some cold dishes to eat before hand – none of the cold dishes appealed to me so we decided to order Shrimp in Szechuan sauce and Braised tofu and mushroom claypot whilst we wait. The shrimp were great to nibble on and so appetising, we hated seeing all the silver trolleys roll up and pass our table ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Finally after a 30min wait a silver trolley with a full, shiny golden duck roasted to perfection had appeared next to our table and we could smell the smokiness of it YUM! Then our personal duck chef came and skillfully sliced the duck skin off and deftly carved up the meat in thick even slices. Now on our table was three plates – a plate of crispy skin (glistening with what appears to be oil but it really wasn’t that oily!), a place of melt in  your mouth meat and the last plate had a bit of both. The chef also used the left over duck and it’s carcass to make us a spicy dish, which unfortunately we were too full to really eat, only nibble on. The duck was delicious, flavoursome, tender and juicy wrapped in our perfectly steamed thin pancakes which were plentiful, not like the places here where they only give you like 10 pancakes. We both really felt like gluttons but the duck was so so good and filling – we didn’t have room for dessert ๐Ÿ˜ฆ 

 
Bill planning our next hectic day at the World Expo
 
Fried Shrimp in Szechuan sauce
 
Braised Tofu and Mushroom Claypot
 
Pancakes
 
lip smacking goodness
 
 
soooo yummmy
 

FOMO

Bill really enjoyed eating the crayfish/crawfish/mini lobsters (in actual fact we don’t know what they are, they’re just really tasty) from Dai Mei Hot Pot so we headed back to the same area and found a restaurant next door with seemingly long queues. Curious, we peered inside and discovered FOMO restaurant (Huai Hai Lu) where their specialty was crayfish, each and every table had plates of crayfish!! Excitedly we asked to look at the menu – picture menu with english translation!! WOOHOO!! So we promptly grabbed a ticket number and waited for 30mins before being seated.

 
Initially we wanted to order one dish to share between us which had half a plate of crayfish and half a plate of mini crabs, however they had already run out of the mini crabs.. boo ๐Ÿ˜ฆ So we asked the waitress for the dish which is the most popular and she also recommended another plate of crayfish with a spicier Sichuan sauce as one plate would not be enough between us two. She also asked if we wanted tissues and charged us for these – except these tissues were so cutely packaged as a FOMO brand with cute crayfish and hairy crab pictures. A mere 15mins later one plate of crayfish covered in Sha Cha sauce and then a giant TRAY of spicy crayfish arrives. Now, I must admit I usually hate getting my hands dirty and working for my food at a restaurant but there’s no other way of eating these and peeling them yourself makes them so much more tastier!! It only takes three steaps to deshell – take the head off, the whole shell will slip off really easily and then get rid of the blood line – and you’re left with a small and plump piece of white meat, pop em in your mouth for a tongue-numbing spicy but sweet and delicious flavour. Make sure you use your fingers or you’ll burn your lips and end up looking like Jay-Z by the end of the night.
 
After returning back to Sydney I did some further research to find out exactly what these little buggers are, and all I could find out was that they’re called xialongxua in Chinese, literally translating to "mini lobsters". They’re a specialty during the hot summer months in Shanghai while the hairy crabs are a specialty during winter in Shanghai. Unfortunately I also received a chain mail warning about the health risks when you eat xialongxia as they’re grown in polluted waters and are equivalent to eating out of the bin and threaten some sort of lung disease (others argue that the xialongxia can only grow in clean water). Thankfully our xialongxia were fresh, we didn’t suffer any adverse events and really enjoyed eating this mouth watering delicacy and will definately eat it again.
 
FOMO see how cute their tissue packets are!
These also lasted for the rest of the trip so we didn’t have to buy tissues at each restaurant ๐Ÿ˜‰
 
Complimentary gloves, shell bowl and vinegar dipping sauces
 
Getting ready to get his hands dirty
 
GET IN MAH BELLY you suckers

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

A trip to Cheng Huang Miao Old Town is not complete (for a tourist) without a visit to Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant (Cheng Huang Miao near the 9 corner bridge). 
 
Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant is at least 100years old, the "original" restaurant specialising in Xiao Long Bao (now selling eight different versions), which was invented in Nanxiang, but grew so popular they also brought them to Shanghai. I’ve loved these little babies ever since Helen introduced them to me during one of our regular yum cha sessions. The first time I tried these I burnt my tongue, not realising the soup inside would be so hot… since then I’ve mastered the art of eating Xiao Long Bao – dip it in vinegar with shredded ginger, bite a bit of the dumpling, enjoy the soup and eat the rest of the dumpling OR wait till the dumpling cools down a bit and shove the whole thing in your mouth and savour all the deliciousness that is the xiao long bao.

The first time we visited Cheng Huang Miao, the line for Nanxiang Steamed Bun ran for about 100m, so we decided to come back on another day much much earlier. The next time we arrived 30mins after they had opened and already the line was pretty long but we started queuing…10mins later we had not moved an inch. This is probably because each batch of Xiao Long Bao gets steamed then given so we have to wait until the next batch is steamed ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Lining up in the heat, surrounded by boisterous, loud old women playing whistles and jingling bells started to irritate me A LOT. So we followed a couple up the stairs which leaded up to the restaurant section, found ourselves a table and ordered three baskets of xiao long bao and two dipping sauces with ginger. To be seated upstairs you need to pay a few extra RMB, (totally worth it in my opinion) though the wait is probably about the same. While waiting for our xiao long bao we bought some freshly roasted chestnuts to nibble on and watched the people pass below on the bridge.

 
The Xiao Long Bao that I know and am used to are tiny dumplings thinly wrapped and pinched, filled with tender minced pork or crab and the best part is that distinctive hot broth that spills out and bursting with flavour as soon as you nip a bit of the dumpling. However, in Shanghai I generally found that their dumpling skin is slightly thicker than those served in Sydney where the dumpling is so thinly wrapped, it’s translucent and you can see the amount of soup.
 
 
 
Food Safety Inspection Notification – Excellent
 
Three poker chips – one for each basket :)))
  
 
Pork Xiao Long Bao and Crab and Roe Xiao Long Bao
 
Overlooking the bridge which warded off ghosts (because they can only travel in straight lines)
 
 


They weren’t the best I’ve ever had, (the best I’ve had are at Din Tai Fung or Crystal Jade where they are much much pricier). However, Nanxiang Steamed Restaurant displays many awards and is known as the "original" Xiao Long Bao, slightly overrated but still probably worth a visit for a tourist ๐Ÿ˜‰ It also has an "Excellent" Food Safety Inspection rating which you would NOT expect to find at many places.

Shanghai: Cheng Huang Miao

Glimpses of Old Shanghai

 

 

 
 

Walking through the small alleyways and residential areas of Old Town, you get a glimpse of life in Shanghai as we passed tonnes of street vendors, "DVD" stores and markets selling live chickens. After a 15min walk we had reached Cheng Huang Miao, it’s the ultimate tourist "trap" where you have Chinese temples filled with souvenir stores to cater for us tourists (really good if you want cheap souvenirs). The buildings are quite beautiful with the pavilions, gilded alcoves and dragons hanging off the roofs. The complex is immensely huge with small laneways lined with food stalls, drink stalls and $1 shops, making it easy to get distracted and lost (it took us several visits to figure out how to get in and get out without ending up on the other side of town).

When we visited the bazaar, they were preparing to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival so the place was especially boisterous with drums banging, cultural performances and colourful displays of dragon boats and  of course a Haibao to keep it modern. Oh, DO NOT come here on a weekend, the crowds are insane – once you get inside the complex, you’ll never be able to get out… also beware of strangers who pull you aside and shove a business card covered with photos of designer goods in your face – they don’t know that "no" means "no".

We usually came here for a quick snack  from the food stalls. At first I could not stand the place as it reeked of Stinky Tofu and I was of course scared of getting sick and weren’t sure if it was "safe" enough to eat from here so we started easy with Portugese Egg Tarts and Bubble Tea. Bill was more adventurous and ate Beef Skewers and Soft Shell Crab. I did however, have a few Giant Xiao Long Bao, sucking the juicy goodness from inside and discarding the thick skin… kind of a waste really, but it was way too thick and dry for me to eat. Besides food stalls, there are tonnes of quirky stores if you look carefully: we stumbled across "Fashion Lane" within Cheng Huang Miao with vintage retro stores and an anime shop woohoo! We also saw many stores selling tea leaves and one store dedicated solely to walking canes.
It’s an interesting place to get lost in, if you have the patience and can tolerate the crowds.

 
Dragon Boat Festival
 
Dragon Boat Festival
 
Street Food
 
Giant Xiao Long Bao
 
Fried Soft Shell Crab
 

 
Portugese Egg Tarts
 
Beef Skewers
 
Retro Chairman Mao
 

 
Cheng Huang Miao at night
 
The Bund Center, our apartment from one of the gates at Cheng Huang Miao
 

Shanghai: Dai Mei Hot Pot

On our first night in Shanghai, Bill was keen to have hot pot for dinner. So after getting to know the Huahai Shopping strip we walked into the first hot pot restaurant we came across.

Dai Mei (Huaihai Zhong Lu) restaurant is located on the second floor of the building, to get there you have to take an elevator up which meant there was no way for us to judge it and deem it "safe" enough to eat at… which made it a bit of a gamble. As we entered I was happy to find the restaurant was massive and busy (although they had packed tables wherever they could), it was quite clean and the ventilation must have been good because it wasn’t very steamy despite the number of hotpots boiling.

I don’t think that we were fully aware we weren’t in Australia anymore until we sat down at Dai Mei and looked at the menu, we immediately thought  "Shit, the whole menu is in Chinese… there’s no pictures … there’s no English … and there’s no pinyin …how the hell are we going to order". Luckily Bill managed to call over a newbie waitress who had the patience to explain to us how to order and ticked the portions of each dish for us. Dai Mei has a system of pre-paying before any food is served so once we had chosen our orders, we paid at the register and collected our drinks, went back and waited for our food at the table.

Boy, was this place cheap – our total cost for dinner was 65RMB ($15) including a 2L Pepsi, beef rolls, lamb rolls, tofu, bean curd noodles, enoki mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, beef and fish balls, spinach, green vegies, chinese cabbage sauces and watermelon. We also ordered a tray of crawfish (this was advertised separately and had a picture woohoo!) The food came almost immediately after paying and we started cooking and eating to our heart’s content. It involves A LOT of sweating but it was so enjoyable and even more satisfying because it was so cheap XP We came here for dinner after a day at the expo because it’s open till late – we ordered basically the same things but with orange juice instead.

 
er… can’t read anything
 
 
Beef rolls and Lamb rolls
 
Crawfish
 
Half our spread

Shanghai First Impressions: Welcome to the Future… or not

Shanghai really is the epitome of contrast – where modern meets traditional. 

 
 

It was a long drive from the airport to the French Concession, and as we traveled on super efficient highways I began to realize we had arrived in this hugely vast hyper-modern city and I was stunned with the sheer amount of skyscrapers lining the horizon. I guess I forgot about Shanghai’s population of 20million.

First impressions of Shanghai as we explored the fast paced city one tree lined street at a time, you notice buildings have an old charm to them, everyone drives like a mad man, people can sell virtually anything on the street from fake wallets to stinky tofu and cyclists and pedestrians greatly outnumber cars. The city is shockingly fast paced that there seems to be a Hermes being built on every corner and you can see progress each time you walk past a construction site. Something I was not expecting was the streets are extremely clean – for the whole three weeks we were there we did not see a single roach or rat. Ironically, although the streets are so clean, the people are in the bad habit of spitting everywhere. The probable reason why the streets are so clean is at the end of the day they hose down the whole street with really high pressured hoses – no water restrictions there. Some other differences? They have countdowns on their traffic lights for cars and pedestrians!! And when you’re turning left, you have to be in the most right lane… weird huh?

 
The modern and the traditional
 
 

  

 
The very traditional


2 seconds before pedestrians are run over

 

Bills’ grandpa lives in the French Concession area and lives in the old Shikumen style buildings. The entrance is separated from the street by a large gate and the lane is lined with small courtyards where residents grow their own herbs, park their bicycles and hang their laundry. I think the building is made out of stone and houses 5 families with a communal kitchen and communal bathrooms.  We frequented the area so often we were able to explore and get lost in the French Concession which led us to gorgeous hidden lanes and pretty boutiques.

       

We were also lucky enough to have an apartment on the Bund, THE promenade of Shanghai. Our view from our bed was so freaking amazing I can’t begin to describe what it felt like falling asleep to the view. It is very futuristic and kind of quirky with the Oriental Pearl Tower, spiky Jinmao tower, the Aurora tower which lights up "I heart SH" and the funny tower that looks like a bottle opener you hang on your key chain. We were lucky enough that they had finished three years of renovations here, but this also meant ALOT of people were also visiting the Bund, with street performers, food stalls and hoards of people lining up for a photo op, it was hard to get a nice photo of the skyline.
The Bund at night is gorgeous!!!! The elegant colonial buildings along the whole street illuminates gold and all the buildings look so so grand and decadent and you realise where the "Paris of the East" comes from. Walking past all the buildings lining Zhongshan Lu, you can tell there is alot of history here that it’s overwhelming. It’s also reflected at the end of the road where Huangpu Park meet the People’s Monument. There’s nothing quite like this here.

 
Goooooood Morning – the view from our bed
 
The Bund at night
 
19th century elegance
 
Good night – the view we fall asleep to

I never thought that I would fall in love with China, but within weeks I had fallen in love with Shanghai.
Next time baby I want to stay at the Waldorf Astoria ๐Ÿ˜‰