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

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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