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.

Hara Donuts, Seoul

 

Happy mid-week!

Holidays are the time to let go and indulge. And indeed that was what I did in Seoul, with the benefit of some recommendations as well as just wandering the streets of the city. Recommendations are always needed to maximise the gastronomic space I have, which is fairly limited even if where indulgences are concerned, I think my stomach is a little more elastic.

So this was one of the places that I popped by on the first day after landing in Seoul and checking into my hotel. 20140702-074145-27705698.jpg

Hara Donuts is a shop located in Myeongdong, the popular shopping area of Seoul replete with a variety of shops that stock trendy clothing, cafes, skincare shops, along with some of your typical high-street brands, etc. It is often thronged with tourists as well as locals, whether it is weekdays or weekends, and at night, the place becomes even more vibrant with numerous pushcart stalls that peddle clothing, street snacks, and so on. Hara Donuts is along a street that is very near Sky Park Myeongdong I Hotel, and there is a KFC and MacDonald’s nearby too.

They have numerous flavours and I chose the Black Tea donut, priced at 1,300 won (about S$1.60). I was hoping to have Mister Donut’s Pon de Ring but unfortunately in this trip, I didn’t pass by any of them, if they are still available in Korea that is. Hara is a good alternative, imo, but they are a slightly different breed of donuts as compared to those of Mister Donuts’. It is perhaps more fried than baked, from the texture, even if it didn’t feel oily or deep-fried. And it isn’t big, relatively smaller than most other commercially-available donuts, so it definitely makes for a good snack!

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This is the display case of the donuts. They are all shaped in the same round-with-a-hole-in-the-middle form, how we all know donuts to be like, without any fanciful twists like how perhaps Dunkin Donuts, Mister Donut or Krispy Kreme have done. They don’t even have textured round donuts such as the pon de rings that are now available from most brands.20140702-074145-27705809.jpg

One bite into it and I could really feel the tangible taste of black tea in it! I wondered if it’s Earl Grey because the aroma of the tea really made the donut nice. Like I mentioned before, it isn’t oily, such that it didn’t even leave any traces of grease stain on the paper that was used to wrap it. I only had it once since there are so many things to check out when in Seoul, but it will definitely be on my to-eat list the next time I visit! Hopefully, they will still be around when I next drop into the city.20140702-074145-27705907.jpg

Donut King, Shanghai

If I remember correctly, there is Mister Donut in China. Maybe somewhere in Shanghai that I’ve seen in the past trips, but I don’t really remember where. Anyway, on the ground floor of the office building that I was at, there is a Donut King, a small shop or counter that sells doughnuts reminding me of Mister Donut because of the Pon De Ring (what Mister Donut calls it). They have something similar, and last year when I was working from this same office, I’d tried it once or a couple of times and thought it was pretty decent.

So this year, I bought some doughnuts from them again, with the same promotion they had, which is the buy-5-get-1-free, ending up in this selection.

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The one right on top is the one that I was talking about, the Mister Donut Pon de Ring doppelganger, with the chocolate-coated version beside. I don’t fancy doughnuts that much to be honest, and I’ve tried Krispy Kreme (so far not the Singapore branch yet though) in Jakarta, Hong Kong (while it was still opened many years ago), Seoul and also Manila, but I don’t find them to be any special at all. I like Mister Donut’s Pon de Ring, which is made up of connected donut balls in a ring, but it isn’t the fun of tearing out the balls one by one and popping them into my mouth that makes it interesting to eat, rather it’s the chewiness of the dough that I like. Maybe that’s why KK’s doughnuts don’t do it for me, because they are not as chewy and I prefer chewy stuff. Yet I do like those sugar-coated traditional confectionery type doughnuts as well, although their texture is pretty much like the usual doughnuts in stores, whether J.Co or otherwise.

Interestingly, when I was in the Philippines recently, I was told by a local that KK isn’t that popular there, instead J.Co or Dunkin Donuts are more popular, but the reason wasn’t told to me, if there is even one in the first place. I think the queue at Singapore’s KK has somewhat shortened significantly from when it just opened in the basement of Tangs. I can’t confirm this yet though, because I haven’t walked past for a few weeks; the last time I went past the queue probably had about 20 persons, much shorter than its first week of opening which saw queues forming all the way to where the ATMs were.

Back to Donut King. Sorry for sidetracking. This time, I was disappointed because the doughnut wasn’t as nice. It was still chewy to a certain extent, but this one I had was somewhat of an original glazed version, the others were all chocolate/caramel-coated or something like that, they didn’t have what Mister Donut sells, which is without any glazed sugar but some other powdered coating stuff. And this glazed version of Donut King was just too sweet for my liking that I had to scrap off the glazed coat as much as I could, making the whole doughnut-eating process extremely messy. So you can pretty much guess I didn’t return for seconds thereafter.

junk food cravings

Once in a while I do suffer from attacks of cravings for junk food. You know, things that have little to no nutritional value, but instead can be of extreme detriment to the body in terms of transfats. It isn’t even healthy fats, like Omega 3 from fish, but rather, unhealthy fats that will cause a lot of harm in addition to of course making one grow fat. I used to be uncontrollable where junk food is concerned; I could finish a large pack of chips at one sitting, and rationalise to myself that it is ok because I am replacing a meal with that. Maybe the calories work out to be the same, or even less, if we were talking about an all-out meal, but even the same calories could mean very different things for the body. If you consume a portion of steak with salad that perhaps contain the same number of calories as a pack of chips, it isn’t rocket science to know which fares better for your body.

donuts But where cravings are concerned, the thought about health and calories can just go out the window completely. I wonder if sometimes I have controlled too much, that there can be very strong urges to just lose control and indulge in the sinfulness of gorging on junk food. Yet I know that the high from its consumption doesn’t last long, and in fact makes me feel worse after. Stress can lead to irrational cravings, and I have read that cravings sometimes tell us about something that the body is lacking. In my case, what am I lacking? Or has stress culminated from some areas that is wreaking havoc on my face, and also internally where these cravings are concerned?M_MsI have not totally sworn off junk food of course, especially not chocolates. How can anyone not like such a wonderful thing? I have so much chocolate stashed away in the fridge that despite knowing that some are long past their expiry, I just keep them there. I guess to me, it doesn’t matter that they may be past the sell-by date because as long as it looks edible still, it’s ok to me. :p popchips

Chips. Sigh, I have such a love-hate relationship with you.

Mister Donut

With all the talk about town of Krispy Kreme finally making its way to our shores after such a long time, I got into some doughnut discussions with friends recently. Actually, it wasn’t anything much other than me stating my preference for another brand of doughnuts, Mister Donut, which I think hails originally from Japan. I think the first time I tried this brand of doughnuts was in Taipei, many years ago, but it was that particular type that I first tried and I think it is probably the only type that I have always bought and ate whenever I come across a Mister Donut.

So on this trip to Taipei last week, I made my way to one Mister Donut store I knew, located in the basement of the A11 building of Mitsukoshi Department store (or in Chinese, known as Xin Guang San Yue). Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, the limited seats in the store were fully occupied, so I had to takeaway and eat it along the way. I was totally frustrated at some point about finding seats in cafes because seats were so limited everywhere and people were just ubiquitous, that is a problem of solo travelling which I still have yet to find a solution to. Anyway, there are plenty of Mister Donut stores in Taipei, much more than I can ever recall seeing anywhere else, more so than even in Tokyo, so it shouldn’t be hard to get your doughnut craving satiated.

Back in 2006 when I was in Taipei, I took a picture of the display case, and while my friend also tried to snap some photos, we were told it wasn’t allowed due to some copyright issues, which kind of baffled us. What is it about a doughnut display case that can be copyrighted? Anyway, it made me cautious when I tried taking pictures this time round, so I ended up with just the signage of this store outside Hankyu Department store.

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The only type of doughnut from this chain that I really love is the Pon De Ring, pictured below. These two were from a trip last year to Bangkok (yes, they have this in Bangkok too, but Singapore why aren’t you bringing in Mister Donut), and generally the one that I’d order would be the original version. I always feel that the best way to know if something tastes good would be to try the original, much like how a friend decides the goodness of ice-cream based on the taste of the vanilla-flavoured ice-cream. It’s quite fun to eat it when you have the luxury of a seat or if you don’t mind having bits of the icing sugar stuck to your hands while you walk and eat, because as you can see, you can break off the doughnut by the balls that make up the ring, and it is chewy dough, not like the usual doughnut that is more bread. This tends to be denser in texture so one doughnut is more than enough to fill you for a while but of course, I always want more after eating one.

 

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And this is the other attempt at the Taipei store outside Hankyu (or Taipei City Hall station), where you get to see a bit of the display.

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This is the picture of the display case that I took back in 2006 in Taipei. This shop was in the then-New York New York building, which no longer stands.

And this was what I had in Fukuoka sometime back in 2010!

I don’t think there is any Mister Donut in Hong Kong, not that I can remember coming across anyway, and even Krispy Kreme couldn’t survive there I think. Perhaps doughnuts are not so in favour with the Hong Kong people. But doughnuts, whether it’s Mister Donut, Krispy Kreme, or Dunkin Donuts, are widely-available in Seoul, though of course nothing beats the concentration and density of cafes there.