Japanese Curry rice

Perhaps like a lifetime ago, I had the idea that Japanese food consisted of sushi and sashimi. In fact, I wasn’t exposed much to all things Japanese as a kid, until when I started working maybe, when somehow Japan became popular. Before that, Japanese anime, manga and even their dramas were popular here but that never really caught on for me. I don’t even know when I started latching on to the “Japan wave”, if I even did anyway.

I think it was when I started working when I started having sushi pretty regularly, visiting the then-hugely popular Sakae Sushi with their innovative conveyor-belt sushi chain stores. It was fun to sit and watch colourful plates of sushi moving past, with the excitement coming in grabbing something we liked and wanted to have when the restaurant is busy and we have been waiting for it for a while. It wasn’t a few years after that when I first stepped foot into Japan (yes call me a mountain tortoise or whatever but I went to Japan the very first time in 2006 I believe). By then I think I had already been acquainted with Japanese curry, through this restaurant called Curry Favour that used to be Stamford Building in City Hall. I like their curry, which could be customised according to your preference of spicyness, and you could order half or full portions, the former of which was already rather substantial, especially with the rice and pork cutlet that was served up as part of the curry offering.

So in the last Tokyo trip, we also had Japanese curry one evening as my friend was craving for it, especially on a cold, rainy and extremely windy night. We popped in to this restaurant on the upper floor of Takashimaya in Shinjuku and I ordered a Seafood curry rice and this was what came.    The curry was served in the same contraption as what I recalled from Curry Favour, but I can’t say the same about size. I wonder if my appetite has increased from then, which I highly doubt so, but this one seemed quite small and the curry contained within was also quite little in terms of amount. The pieces of seafood inside was a little sad, maybe one prawn, one scallop, and I don’t know what else now, plus there was a stalk of cauliflower. Hmm. The taste was alright, but for the price that we paid I don’t think it was value for money. I suppose it being Takashimaya with a proper place to dine in, with ample space and ambience, that had all been factored into the price, as compared to say, if we were to have our curry rice at the hole-in-a-wall shops located along the streets or at the train stations, such as Coco Ichibanya (which in Singapore is a proper restaurant but in Japan it’s more of like a fuss-and-frills-free eatery). Besides, the funny thing was also that the rice, served on a plate, was flattened to cover the surface of the plate so for people who need the rice to fill up their tummies would probably be left needing a second helping somewhere else, supper perhaps.  We couldn’t complain much since we were rather tired that day from the whole day of rain and wind, and it was comforting to be sitting in a sheltered place away from the strong gusty winds that were howling outside. It was so windy that lots of people had their umbrellas blown upside down and as I walked across the long wide bridge over the numerous train tracks of JR Shinjuku station, I had to consciously walk along the side near one wall to prevent myself from being blown away! 

Pâtiserrie Francaise Colombin, Tokyo

On one fairly chilly and drizzly day in Tokyo, my friends and I popped into this cafe/bistro that instantaneously seem to transport us in a time capsule back to a couple of decades ago. Even as Patiserrie Francaise Colombin, with its French name and located along the glitzy, upmarket street of bustling Omotesando, the interior felt like a world of difference. Perhaps it being a weekday afternoon played a part, as there was this huge group of patrons who were well into their golden years, chatting boisteriously and merrily over coffee and cakes. There were other scattered pairs of patrons but this group who were seated in the midst of the cafe had about 10 or more in their party.

We were given a corner table and although what drew us in originally was the delectable-looking and creamy Swiss roll, it didn’t seem to be offered on the menu. Poring through what was available that afternoon, we decided to order a Matcha Mont Blanc and a serving of Pancakes. I would admit that I have never really had a Mont Blanc, or that I could remember because of the way it looks that somehow it didn’t seem like something I would like. I am not that into creamy mousse and that is how a Mont Blanc appears to me, but we decided on this anyway and it was a pleasant surprise. Now I know that Mont Blanc is actually made of pureed, sweetened chestnuts, the latter of which is something I like (not so sure about ‘sweetened’ though). But the part of it being ‘topped with whipped cream’ is probably the off-putting part. As much as I love cream cheese or clotted cream that comes with scones sometimes, I don’t fancy cream cheese frosting because it is too sweet and whipped cream… just because. It just does not compare up with clotted cream which is more dense and richer in texture and therefore more enjoyable, though with a definitive higher fat content I suspect.

Our surprise in this Mont Blanc derives from its taste, which isn’t too sweet despite my initial misgivings. Perhaps the matcha that was used in making it helped to counter and balance the original sweetness of this cake. And it was what was contained within that also drew slight exclamations of surprise from us.   Besides what you see inside here, the creamy white blob of something which I can’t now recall but which isn’t something very sweet, deeper in the core was another green-tea flavoured blob of cream that was quite yummy. Pardon my lack of recollection of the details, and also my limited vocabulary in describing the taste. That’s why photos are important in capturing moments to remember, and in this case, I have not taken an adequate number of them, especially in the face of bad memory. On the whole, we gave this Mont Blanc a thumbs-up!

Next up was the pancakes, which were really small discs of caramelised flour cakes whose taste reminded me of creme brulee. The huge dollop on top is whipped cream but in this case, it goes well with the fluffy pancakes, that aren’t too heavy and dense, and their size helps to make us feel that we aren’t overindulging. It may be a case of self-delusion but who cares right, since we were on holiday!    This place is like a hidden gem amidst the bustling Omotesando shopping belt but I believe there are many of such places all over, whether in Tokyo or even right here in our own backyard, evidenced by the multitude of cafes that are sprouting up island-wide, many of which I have never had the chance to visit before they close for whatever reasons. Well, as with all F&B establishments, there are always hits & misses and not all cafes in Singapore are good, whether food or coffee or just the cafe experience in itself. 

eating my way through Tokyo

Despite having been to Tokyo countless number of times and obviously loving the place, I can’t say that I know the place well because Tokyo, whether we are talking about the city in itself or the various precincts, is so huge as compared to Singapore (which I also can’t say I know well). The other reason also would be that these days I don’t have a planned itinerary when I visit, but rather go with my mood which more often than not takes me back to places that I am familiar with, unless the adventurous and energetic streaks spring forth that takes me on an exploratory trail around. There is a lot of walking involved even if we are talking about the usual places and therefore it is easy to grow weary.

Where food is concerned, it is seldom a miss, even if it is a very non-descript tiny hole-in-the-wall shop or those convenient booths that you find crammed in a corner of the busy train stations. One afternoon, before meeting my friends for coffee, I popped into this shop somewhere near JR Shinjuku. It is in the basement of Odakyu department store but not part of the mall’s food hall, more of a small collection of eateries interpersed between the floors of the mall and the train station. I used to ‘frequent’ the tempura joint in that stretch but I wasn’t feeling the mood for tempura that day so I thought that I would go for chirashi, a serving of sashimi atop a bowl of rice. I really love this bowl! Even if I am not a big fan of rice these days and only ate the bed of white, chewy Japanese rice beneath as a sign of respect for the chef since I was sitting at the counter, the generous serving of fresh and delicious sashimi made this 850yen pre-tax (iirc) totally worth it, especially now that the exchange rate is relatively favourable for us!

On another day, while I was at the Roppongi Hills area, I was again checking out food options near the metro station. Near the exit to Roppongi Hills, I had tried a couple of shops before which sold ramen, both the soup and dry versions but again ramen wasn’t ranking so high on my list of cravings then, so after a long process of walking back and forth I finally settled into this shop that sells very yummy-looking set lunches (based on the displays outside the shop). I chose this grilled fish set, which my goldfish memory has caused the type of fish to elude me, and it comes with healthy brown rice, some pickled vegetables and sald and a bowl of miso soup. The fish was a little oily, not so much from the grilling but I think more from the natural fish oil that was found on the underside of the skin. Well, perhaps I am in  self-denial in saying this but at least it wasn’t deep-fried and I really enjoyed it to the last morsel of fish!  Here is a closer take on the fish, which is a litte charred on some parts but overall, it’s all good!  I had an earlier post on the food halls that I was checking out on a daily basis (hoping I don’t get recognised by the obasans manning them) and they are really amazing even if prices are not what I would consider as economical, at least not from a Singaporean point of view. Perhaps it is also not that cheap from a local perspective because comparatively, we are able to get cheaper options elsewhere, such as those shops that operate with the vending machines where you buy your meal ticket and present it at the counter in exchange for food. One of those nights after a Bikram class, I decided to give myself a treat, not that I wasn’t already indulging and treating myself in Tokyo every single day….

But this bento box that I got from Takashimaya really made me happy just by looking at it. After I finished it, I discovered to my horror that this was meant as a 2-person portion! Again, I tried to make myself feel better by getting friends to agree with me via a post on Instagram that this can’t be for 2 persons, right? Either that, or the Japanese people have really small appetites. Haha, as you can tell I am still in self-denial mode. All nine items in this tic-tac-toe box tasted great for post-workout me in that cold weather which called for a sumptuous meal! It included breaded and deep-fried chicken and fish, salads, sauteed squid and prawns, etc. It was probably the best bento box I ever had so far. :D    And the last item here is something I didn’t eat, but my friends ordered from a Food Court at Diver City, when we visited to check out the life-size Gundam figurine. The food court is so atypical of Japan but I guess this area catered more for tourists and visitors and a collection of food stalls in an enclosed free-seating area makes sense. It felt very un-Japan though, but the food quality I would reckon is far above the general food court fare that we get (in most Singapore food courts anyway), as commented by my friends who loved the dollop of eggy mash on top too. 

Yakitori goodness

I can’t remember the name of this restaurant, but it’s an eatery located at one of the upper floors of Tobu Department store in Ikebukuro. It resembles an izakaya of sorts but then in a very different setting, as it doesn’t have your usual “salary man” drinking and smoking, it being a department store where I suppose smoking isn’t allowed indoors. It feels more like the typical Japanese restaurants that we might expect to see in Singapore, with spacious seating arrangements and the use of wooden furniture.

There was some misunderstanding in the reading of the menu that led us to ordering more than what we could finish. It just goes to show that my level of Japanese proficiency isn’t too fantastic.

So these are the grilled vegetables that we ordered – leek, cucumber, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.These were the minced chicken balls (tsukune) that we ordered, coated with different choice of sauces. Among yakitori, this is one of my favourites, aside from the veggies. I can’t appreciate most other yakitori such as chicken skin, innards or what-have-you.  The whole lot of yakitori sticks we had. The plate on the left-hand side were the mis-ordered ones. They were also minced chicken balls but coated with a pre-determined set of 3 different sauces. We couldn’t finish all of them eventually because it was just too much food.Reason why we couldn’t finish… because we ordered other things too. My friend and I shared the Oyako-don, which was really yummy as the egg was so smooth and fragrant, it’s almost like extremely creamy scrambled eggs.  Another of my friend ordered this dish, which I don’t really know what it was. There was breaded chicken slices on top of some rice, but I have no idea what the yellow bits were. He didn’t seem to enjoy this as a sizable portion was left behind, or maybe it was just the rice and carbs that he didn’t want to have. The 2 mains were part of a set that came with dessert, a very interesting type of mochi coated with soy bean powder, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a syrup of sorts, probably honey or maple syrup?  On the whole, the dinner was pretty ok I guess, as yakitori is a type of Japanese food I enjoy, though I hardly have them these days and the variety I consume is rather limited. Nevertheless, most of the food in Japan are good; it is hard to go wrong regardless of the type of establishment and the corresponding price of the dish. Perhaps unless there is some preconceived expectation that isn’t met, but for me so far, I don’t think I have been much disappointed by food that I have in Japan. :)

Asanoya, Tokyo

These days, it seems like all the famous brands, be it bakeries, fashion chains, restaurants or anything… are making their way onto local shores. From Paul, Paris Baguette, Laduree, Tin Ho Wan, etc., to H&M, Uniqlo, Goyard, Sephora, Lululemon, many have found their way here, even if not all manage to remain sustainable. There were some that have come and gone, and whether or not it is good or bad that they have come here remains debatable. We would rejoice that we do not have to travel several thousand miles just to taste the well-known macarons of Angelina (another famed French patisserie) that would be opening here soon, yet some turn their noses up at these, preferring instead to only have these when they visit the home-ground of these brands. For myself with a tight travel budget, I think I would not mind having them here, if not for the apparent  differences at times, when they are imported into Singapore. Despite that it is inevitable that they would cost more here than compared to their place of origin, there are times when the quality just does not match up.

Anyway that is not the point of this post. Asanoya, a well-known Japanese bakery, opened in Singapore late last year, and although I have read about it and saw lots of photos of their breads on local social media, Wilby Central at Queen Street is still a tad out of the way for me, especially when I consider the potential crowds or queues that I may be faced with. I don’t know how the crowd situation is like now but I still have not tried it in Singapore, to be able to make a comparison to this outlet and the one in Tokyo.

I had actually been past the Tokyo store that is located at Mid-town Roppongi, but that time when I was there I didn’t buy anything because I just took a look and went somewhere else. This time, I decided to go there for breakfast one day since I was craving for their Karuizawa green tea bread, which looked really good from the pictures online. Unfortunately, on both days that I dropped in they didn’t have it. :(

The first instance when I went as I wasn’t able to buy any of the bread, I just ordered my breakfast, which is some bread baked with dried orange slices atop with a sprinkling of icing sugar. I don’t remember what it’s called but it has a texture that felt like a cross between croissant and bread. Major love although the icing sprinkled on top made it a bit sweet. I have a sweet tooth but it is a moderated sweet tooth that I have.It goes well with coffee of course. Black coffee goes well with almost anything, except perhaps yogurt, though that shouldn’t be the case since creamers and dairy stuff are added to milk too.  A closer look into the pastry, which contains thin layers of custard, making it less overwhelming than if the entire inside was filled with the whole chunk of custard. I spent a nice quiet morning enjoying this citrusy bread with the morning coffee.  On the second occasion there on my final day of the trip, they still didn’t have the green tea bread, so I left with a slice of the Karuizawa Blueberry bread. I love how fragrant this bread is, and I actually brought this back to Singapore, where I had it for breakfast the next day when I went back to work. It probably isn’t the healthiest bread to eat, considering that I have been told to cut out all these bread, flour, whatever stuff, but once in a while I suppose it is still ok to indulge. After all, where carbs are concerned, I can cut out the rice and noodles, but breads, pastries and things like potatoes (sweet potatoes or regular potatoes) are just something that I can’t seem to live without.I should make it a point to pop by Wilby Central at Queen Street one of these days!

Gontran Cherrier, Tokyo Shinjuku

Once when I was in Tokyo with the same two friends I spent a few days together with in Tokyo this April, we popped into the Gontran Cherrier bakery and cafe that was located in the Shibuya area. I haven’t always been able to find it, knowing how confusing the streets of Tokyo can be. I don’t exactly have a bad sense of direction but then again I won’t claim to be the best navigator anytime.

Before heading to Tokyo, I realised that there is a new Gontran Cherrier that opened in Shinjuku, very near to the hotel that I am putting up at. Being a huge fan of carbs, baked stuff, pastries, flour, or however you want to put that, I was always looking longingly when I walked past at the rows upon rows of croissants, muffins, buns and what-have-yous.
So one morning I decided to have my breakfast there. For a one person breakfast, this is my typical order, i.e. a coffee and one pastry item, be it a muffin or bun.I couldn’t remember what were the things that I read off the tag for this muffin, utilising whatever lousy Japanese I could muster or recall, but somehow “chestnut” seemed to be on my mind and while I was savouring this, I wondered where the chestnut was. It turned out that this is a kind of roasted pumpkin muffin! In a way, it is sort of both sweet and savoury at the same time, but perhaps skewing more to the sweet side since pumpkins have a natural sweetness to them.  Really miss the flavour of it, especially when it is topped with some crunchy walnuts – combination of a few of my favourite things, i.e. muffin, walnuts and pumpkin all rolled into one! How can anyone be happier or ask for more?

When my two friends arrived in Tokyo, we met up and headed for breakfast at Dean & Deluca, but it was full so I brought them over to Gontran Cherrier instead, and check out what we ordered, for the 3 of us, and compare this with my one-person-breakfast above. Haha.

We picked 2 scones, a Matcha, white chocolate scone as well as a Butter Raisin scone. These are nice, fragrant and buttery but I find them to be a little dry and too crumbly, if you look at the second photo where the scone just falls apart when you push a fork into it. Maybe it’s meant to be eaten in one mouthful? I wouldn’t know and I wouldn’t try either!   We also ordered a mini quiche, which I didn’t have much of it but it does look pretty good from my friends’ enjoyment of its smooth eggy interior.  And on the other tray we had, clockwise from top left, a Chocolate Banana muffin, a croissant (which I can’t remember the flavour), some melon bun of sorts and a curry baguette! A total of about 7 items, for 3 persons! O_O As compared to the pumpkin muffin I had, the chocolate banana muffin was a little disappointing because the banana was probably represented by the mousse atop the muffin. I would have preferred it if the banana in the muffin was more like real banana pieces, and the chocolate, perhaps again it was my misunderstanding or mis-reading but it tasted more like brown sugar and on the whole, this muffin felt softer without the crunch that I usually enjoy from the muffin top.  However, there is no denying that this is still a good place to visit if you are a fan of baked items! Besides these, of course they have regular sandwiches and breads without fillings on the inside, e.g. rolls, loaves, etc. I recalled lamenting about not having this here in Singapore and was aptly reminded that we do have it, in the form of Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier. So there you have it!

Tempted.

When part of your body isn’t in its best condition, and that has been going on for a while, everything really starts to go awry. You are out of control of things, big or small. The more you wish you could, the less you feel you are able to, and the worse things seem to get. The more desperate you start to feel, the less hope you have, and the more pessimism begins to creep in stealthily.

Out in the evening on a supposedly short errand that grew decidedly longer, I just couldn’t contain the annoyance. It is an everyday occurrence, maybe even more frequent, that is making everything spin beyond my locum of control. As the red man persisted at the pedestrian crossing, I looked left and right and stepped out onto the road, stopping only at the divider to wait out the passing cars on the other side. As I watched the headlights of the oncoming vehicles drawing nearer, I was so tempted. I am so tired and every ounce of hope and positiveness is draining away from me. When will this end? When can this end?

It is so funny how people who rank the lowest, or who probably don’t even figure anywhere near any ranking in your life can cause such deep stirrings of abhorrence towards them. It is really true how fascinating human emotions can be. Nothing seems to hold any meaning at all. Not anymore. Not since a long time ago. Wish I could say goodbye but yet not sure how best to do so.