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.

Why do we call it “Monday Blues”?

Why do we call Monday blues, Monday blues? Short of automatically turning to our best pal, Google, for answers, I really don’t know, after a quick deliberation, why blue is associated with the feeling of dread when the work week starts on a Monday. Perhaps it isn’t so much the colour blue, but rather the notion of blues. Yet how did “blues” even come about?

Been having some personal issues, which I seem to not be able to resolve for a long time, after… say what, maybe a couple years or more? If anything, it just seems to perpetuate and become worse with time. 

People don’t really understand when I try to explain, some do, but they number in the scarce minority. Not that I tell many to begin with, but at a point people start to get tired and I do not want to push it, to exhaust their patience with me. 

Then there would be those who ask me to seek The Lord. I tried and I still am trying but I am unwilling to do it in a way that some have recommended because I am just such a stubborn person that the more you try to ask me to do something, the more resistance will arise in me, albeit involuntarily. 

When will this episode end and when will I get the breakthrough. Life is a constant waiting game and it’s tough enough having to wait for man, to wait for answers that somehow usually never come because they just don’t want to answer but it just wears me down so much. 

it’s all about the convenience of coffee 

It is no secret that I am a big fan of cafes. I wanted to say that I am a coffee fan but then again I think I can’t really lay claim to that because as a friend rightly pointed out one day, to my dismay, that despite me being a self-professed / so-called aficionado of coffee, I did not know the difference between an Americano and a Long Black. I now know the difference, thanks to that episode, so I shall just say that I love hanging out at cafes because they are convenient for the lone ranger who is out to seek some caffeine boost and nosh to keep the energy going.

Despite that there are tons of great cafes out there with a uniqueness that chains like Starbucks can’t ever emulate, I seldom check them out, whether locally or abroad. Locally, their locations frequently are prohibiting for me because I do not want to caught in a situation of taking a taxi all the way to some Ulu Sembawang place to look for a cafe only to find out that it’s full, with patrons not seemingly likely to leave anytime soon, or worse, that it is no longer in operation. The latter could be a very real predicament, considering that businesses in Singapore do come and go quite easily due to the competitiveness of the scene. Even overseas, there are times when I stick to the tried-and-tested places because I know I can hang around for a fair bit of time without being ‘chased’ out of a small cafe, and they are easy to locate for someone who might have been walking for hours and just need to get some sustenance.

So anyway, these were some of the ‘convenient’ places that I grabbed my daily coffee and bites at when I was in Tokyo recently.

Some of my friends are coffee snobs, and they turn their noses up at Starbucks’ coffee. Since I used to can’t tell an Americano or Long Black apart, it is also safe to assume that I can’t really distinguish between good or bad coffee. Wrong. If it’s very bad, I certainly can taste it, but my body is not accustomed to very good coffee, which I often associate with strong, acidic coffee that leaves a bit of a bitter/sour after taste at the back of my tongue. They also leave me feeling a little light-headed or high thereafter. So a tall or even grande sized brew coffee or Americano from Starbucks does the trick for me on days when I want to have more fluid in the cup rather than the usual smaller cup of coffee that I would otherwise get from these standalone small joints.
A short-sized Americano with some Cranberry Granola Toast. I don’t think the toast is that healthy, but then I love breads in several, scratch that, many forms, so this makes for a nice morning snack.  A short latte with a cup of Granola and Cranberry Yogurt, something I had just before I took the Airport Limousine Bus to the airport on my way home. These days, we are also starting to see Starbucks Singapore offer more of such options, but they already pre-mixed the granola or whatever else fruits or compote they have into the yogurt. I would have preferred if they were separate because otherwise the crunchy/crispy bits would have lost all the crunch and become too soggy.   On one drizzly evening, before I went for Bikram yoga class, I killed time at Excelsior Cafe with a cup of Americano and a slice of Sakura Tea Cake. Somehow, butter/tea cakes that come in plastic packaging like that creates a preconceived notion in me that the cake won’t be that great, as compared against buying tea cakes that are displayed in a sliced loaf, encased in a glass container. I know it’s weird, but I always get that kind of feeling, and have yet to ascertain the veracity, if those cakes are really not as nice. Who knows?  The weather in Tokyo during the week that I was there was on the overall, great. But there were still moments when the city was shrouded with drizzle. There was just one day when the weather was bad because it rained almost the whole day and made us feel lethargic and tired, but otherwise it was generally ok. I am always spoilt for choice whenever I pop into Dean & Deluca in Tokyo, where the array of pastries and breads available all scream at me to buy them. Their muffins are really good but they are huge, and I am quite wary of these sugar bombs even if I still do give in to the craving sometimes. But then again, this slice of Caramelized bread probably isn’t much better, except that the interior didn’t feel/taste as sweet as a muffin would, and I kind of tore off the sticky parts. :p And lastly, on my last morning in Tokyo, I finally found Mister Donut! I didn’t have this when I was in Bangkok last year because the donuts on display then looked kind of sad, so I made sure I went there to have my favourite Pon De Ring. But I was a little disappointed, and started to wonder if this was my usual because the glazed ring didn’t taste as good as I recalled. Perhaps the one I used to have wasn’t this variant.. Hmm. Oh well, at least I tried it and maybe the next time, I can give it a miss already.

Going local at the food halls

The first evening when I arrived in Tokyo was a week night. Being the lazy me and still having a mind focused on keeping to my eating habits as much as I can, even though I am on vacation and should really let loose, I thought of checking out the supermarkets, to grab some fruits and yogurt, which are almost my daily staple these days. It just feels weird when I don’t have either, or have them in insufficient quantities.

Since Takashimaya was conveniently located within minutes away from the hotel, I popped over to the supermarket and food hall in its basement, and was ensnared in the evening peak of Japanese grabbing last minute dinners from the stalls. Most items were going at a discounted price, though not that significant but at least they became a little more affordable. Much as these are just takeaways in small portions, upon conversion back to SGD, even with the strong exchange rate now, it was still pretty mind-boggling. I can’t imagine spending this kind of money on dinner on a daily basis if I were living in Tokyo. Perhaps that explains the myriad of convenience stores and their convenient packed meals, or those “vending-machine” food outlets that dot the streets of Tokyo.

I bought 2 small portions of cooked pumpkin and a medley of broccoli, cucumber and french beans, things I didn’t used to appreciate too much, especially the variety, until the recent years. I have missed out so much but it’s never too late to start!  I also wanted to have some fruits in my system so I picked up this box of cut-fruit salad from the conbini (local abbreviation/slang for convenience store). It contains some pieces of kiwi, pineapples and grapefruit, and costs roughly about S$3.50! O_O But this is still cheaper as compared to the veggies above.Of course, what is a visit to a supermarket in Japan without picking up some strawberries!? These also do not come cheap but so far from experience, strawberries that I have bought in Japan are always sweet, not to mention that they are all of about the same size, with very vibrant colours and not in some odd deformed shape like some US-variants tend to be. These 2 boxes cost about S$7 each, which is actually not too bad, considering that in Singapore the same box could sometimes cost twice that, unless they are not from Japan. And they really do not disappoint. I could really just eat them strawberries everyday!One thing I feel doesn’t quite make the cut would be the yogurt. Even though we all know Hokkaido milk is probably one of the tastiest milk I ever had, their yogurt do not seem to match up to the European/Australian versions that I have had. Perhaps I haven’t tried enough Japanese yogurt to make a valid comment, and Soy Yogurt is a totally different ball game altogether, but the bigger tub pictured below felt a tad too watery, when I prefer my yogurts to be creamier and thicker. I love Greek yogurt too, which isn’t creamy unless it’s the Greek-style type, but then when I have Greek yogurt, my expectation isn’t that it is creamy so somehow I manage with that quite well. Hmm.  And this is the view that I got out of my window. Not a very pretty sight compared to what I have seen from hotel room windows of other places I have stayed at in Tokyo but I don’t need to sit by the window the whole day looking out at the city when I can just go out and be in the city. I love vacationing in Tokyo, and this was a good trip, despite some kinks that occurred before it finally materialised.  

A week of April in Tokyo

Last year, I had not had the chance to visit Japan, or Tokyo, for that matter. For a few years running, I think I had the chance to make an “annual pilgrimage” to Tokyo, one of the cities that never fails to lighten up my heart when I think of visiting. I wouldn’t go so far as to proclaim as it “my home”, because my home rightly will always be Singapore, with its warts and all, good and bad. It is where I will feel most comfortable in and where my loved ones are. But Tokyo, as a place to visit and holiday in, remains at the top. Perhaps until such day when I have a chance to live and work there for a prolonged period of time that will either change this view for better or for worse…

I booked myself on an early morning flight to Haneda, and before getting onto the plane, since I don’t get complimentary access to the lounge anymore (sigh), I made a short pit-stop at Coffee Bean for a tea latte before boarding.

Coffee Bean’s tea lattes are my favourite drink from them, despite that they tend to be fairly sweet due to the vanilla/chocolate powder being used, but somehow I always find them to be quite enjoyable. Maybe it’s the sweet tooth in me speaking up.  While waiting to board the flight, and on this weekday morning to Haneda, it seemed that the flight would not be a full one, judging by the sparse crowd in the waiting area. Indeed, it wasn’t full and there was quite a bit of space available. But it’s an old plane that SQ is using, a 777-200, so the KRIS World system isn’t the new version and can be a bit wonky at times, with a tiny screen that provides a low quality of movies that you watch. Nevertheless, at least there is inflight entertainment to tide me through the 6-hour flight.

When I got to Haneda, I decided to take the Airport Limousine Bus, but which also meant I had a long wait for the bus to depart. I wandered around the airport, which was not much in terms of shops that I could mill around, and also because I was lazy to wheel my luggage around. Even with a 4-wheeler, it still requires some effort particularly because the airport has those metal studs to facilitate the visually-impaired in getting to the lights and escalators, which impeded the smooth movement of the wheels. Got these from 7-11, a small cup of mixed beans salad and a red bean-flavoured Kit Kat! I love the convenience stores of Japan (only Taiwan follows close behind) and what they have. If only we get these here too. The convenience stores in Singapore aren’t really that ‘convenient’ at all, and often times, the prices are just exhorbitant.   On the ride to the hotel, which is just a 45 or 50-minute ride from Haneda. That’s the good part about flying in/out through Haneda, which is located much closer to the city as compared to Narita. However, if you are going by Narita, the NEX makes the transit shorter, less than an hour, but for lazy people like me who want the convenience of the Airport Limousine in terms of porterage for your luggage, then Haneda makes a good choice.  I reached the hotel in the evening and had a relatively quick and smooth check-in to the hotel, Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, my usual go-to hotel in Tokyo, which is located just opposite Takashimaya Shinjuku and boasts competitive pricing, especially if you are staying multiple nights and book early. The rooms are small but they are generally clean and well-maintained, and for the most part I find it to be sufficient for me. I have stayed in their double rooms before once, and other times, always booked the ‘Bright Single Room’. As you can see, there really isn’t much space for you to move around, especially if you have more than one piece of luggage, but with some maneuvering, it shouldn’t be too tough. I laid the luggage facing up on a rack the whole period when I was there and managed fine, but just needed to be a bit careful in not knocking into it in those middle-of-the-night bathroom visits.    That’s it for now, shall update more when I can. :)