Sunday, November 23, 2008

Osaka Part 3: Ordinary Osaka

What visit to Osaka can be complete without tasting two of its most famous exports – Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki. Just like the inhabitants of the city that created them, these tasty morsels are colourful, down to earth and completely inseparable from icy cold beer.

Takoyaki is best eaten piping hot – the best ones house a creamy centre with a secret combination of vegetables and fresh octopus. Smothered in either home made shoyu sauce or mayonnaise (or even both) and topped with bonito flakes – this is great snack food that was a great pick me up after a long day of shopping.

Okonomiyaki can be found all over town – we visited Chibo, a well established chain that still packs in the crowds after its many years of operation. Here the dish is prepared by a chef in front of your eyes and then transferred to your own tabletop hot plate where you add as much condiments as you like. From the more traditional kurobuta pork to mentaiko (spicy cod roe) cream okonomiyaki… you can opt to top yours off with a bucketload of negi (spring onions) and tamago (fried egg sunny side up).

You can also choose to have the traditional version which is made of batter or one with one that is made from yakisoba – the choice is completely yours… which makes this a very fun dining option.

Sizzling hot food with crispy cold beer – Osaka brings it to the very basics of a good night out… and frankly - what more could anyone ask for?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Osaka Part 2: Love at first bite

Sometimes you just know… and this was certainly the case when I had the very best example of yoshoku (Japanese adaptations of Western dishes) in Osaka. This charming eatery that has been around for over 60 years makes your heart leap when you taste their unpretentious dishes that are packed with flavour and depth.

Their famous cabbage meat roll probably has some origins from Russian food – but it is distinctly a Japanese adaptation with an out of world combination of sauces – a demi glace sauce that has been stewed for at least a week over a charcoal stove on one half and a house made curry sauce on the other. The result? Comfort food that teases and satisfies you, all at the same time.
The hambaaga steak served with a side of spaghetti, garden salad and topped with a fried egg was also delicious – married together by the cherubic demi-glace sauce.
We also tried the restaurant’s cream korroke which was delightfully crispy on the outside and lusciously creamy on the inside. The filling was what dreams are made of, with hints of cinnamon and moreish spices.
The cotlette kareraisu is perfectly crispy pork cutlet served on top of a bed of rice and smothered with the restaurant’s famous curry sauce. The curry here is fruity, spicy and really really good… nothing at all like the packet paste varieties that have become so common outside of Japan and dare I say, served under the guises of house made curries in restaurants.
But what sealed the deal was the hayashi raisu. Basically a beef stew… this dish doesn’t immediately prepare you for the taste sensation that just hits you. The sauce is incredibly complex and has so much depth that you need to take time enjoy this one. Savoury, sweet, tangy, rich… becoming apparent with each satisfying mouthful.
Yoshoku may not be traditional Japanese food - but the execution, attention to detail and balance of flavours is without doubt something only the Japanese could have done - to turn the ordinary into something truly extraordinary.

Maruyoshi Grill
1-6-72 Abeno-sujo, Abeno-ku, Osaka
5 mins walk from Exit 12 of Tennoji station
Tel: 06-6649-3566

Friday, November 21, 2008

Osaka Part 1: Oh My Omuraisu

One of the most well known creations out of Osaka is Omuraisu - or fried rice wrapped up in an egg omelette. And what better way to understand this simple but utterly delicious dish than to find the original restaurant that created it - Hokkyokusei in Nishi-shinsaibashi.

Around 1925, a customer of this iconic restaurant with a weak stomach would come on a daily basis to have omelette and rice. One day, the owner decided to mix things up a bit and stir fried some rice with ketchup, and wrapped it up in a thin egg omlette - thereby giving birth to the every popular dish.

Today, Omuraisu at Hokkyokusei comes in many variations - from rice fried in dry curry, to oyster fried rice to the ever popular original - chicken fried rice. What is common is the perfectly cooked omelette that neatly envelopes the piping hot rice, and served with a delicious sauce (depending on the variation ordered).

My personal favourite was the oyster Omuraisu - incredibly fresh oysters incorporated into rice stir fried in soy sauce. But what made it all the more unforgettable is the tradition and history that comes with dining in this establishment, scoffing down this unpretentious but truly tasty dish next to a peaceful garden courtyard. Perfect...


2-7-27 Nishi-shinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka
5 min walk from Exit 7 of Shinsaibashi Subway Station
Tel: 06-6211-7829

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Going to Japan: Plane & Simple

Just arrived in Osaka today from a red eye flight from Singapore, ready to embark on a 10 day journey through the Southern part of Japan.

I'm not afraid to admit it - planning for this trip consisted mostly of researching for must eats in this gastronomic wonderland... and I have already tasted a few winners in my first few hours here. But the earliest wake up call for my taste buds started surprisingly of all places... cruising at 30,000 feet with breakfast on the plane.

Don't get me wrong - I hate airplane meals with a passion and often leave their stomach churning creations untouched. More often than not, I order the meal for the same reason many buy a lottery ticket - simply for the "what if?".

But I was blown away by the excellent breakfast on my flight into Osaka this morning. In the spirit of the land of the rising Sun, a beautiful bento box was served with nine courses immaculately presented. Each was unique in colour, flavour and texture... heck, even the accompanying miso soup was made with fresh clams!

Put plane and simply, the Japanese just do it better...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

China Clubbing

China Club in Hong Kong is a retro-chic Shanghai themed restaurant that is strictly members only. A highly successful concept there - making business dining and wining both exclusive and very sexy. Thus, it was with high hopes that the same establishment was transplanted in Singapore back in late 2001.

This restaurant has all the right ingredients - the impeccably designed space with dark wood furniture, high ceilings and quality chinaware (all embossed with the club's red star emblem), housed atop the 52nd floor of the Capital Tower in Singapore's Central Business District. The views from the restaurant are spectacular and the service is spot on.

Whilst it doesn't boast an inventive dim sum menu that we sampled for a late lunch... most items here are well executed and hard to fault. The pork buns were fluffy with a deliciously sweet char siew filling... the vegetable crystal dumplings with its crunchy filling and chewy exterior provided a great contrast in textures... the steamed carrot cake was perfectly light and the pork trotters stewed in black vinegar and quail eggs... simply divine.

But surprisingly, I was told that the restaurant has not been doing well since it was established - as a matter of fact we were only one of three other tables dining for a Sunday lunch in the expansive restaurant.

Clever packaging, decent food, good service, great views - what's not to love? Well for one, being a members only establishment does have its pitfalls - you only cater to those who care to fork out for membership and a monthly subscription fee (that isn't cheap) just to gain access to the restaurant. And for that price - I better hope the food is outrageously spectacular.

Maybe Singaporeans are more discerning in terms of what they pay for as compared to their Hong Kong counterparts... but for the sake of China Club, I sure hope they let down that velvet rope just a little so that exclusivity does not prevent more from enjoying a fine dining experience.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pub Trawl

There aren't many things better in life than crispy fish, crispy chips and crispy cold beer. Whilst this simple fare is widely available (and done very well) in Australia, it is more of a rarity in Singapore. And so I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy this pub staple at Tuckshop, a small diner in Tanjong Pagar that serves up a small menu of unpretentious eats (think steak sandwiches, lamb chops, salads, etc) to go with your choice of beers on tap, including Asahi (my personal favourite).

The generous serving of lightly battered dory was brilliant - extremely crispy and the fish still beautifully moist. The icy cold Asahi beer went down a treat and the beautiful pairing brought a smile to my face. Tuckshop also has a live band on certain nights that plays a mix of soul and jazz. And to top it off - prices are extremely reasonable - Dining at happy hour, dinner came to just $15 including my drink. I guess life just got a little better...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kuala Lumpur Eats - Sweet, Savoury, Sin

This is a must have whenever you're in Kuala Lumpur - the city's take on the ubiquitous stir fried hokkien noodles. Unique from any other version, it is characterised by its thick chewy noodles fried with delicious "wok hei" in a secret black sauce and the all important pork crackling. Sticky, savoury, sweet and very sinful.

We had the version offered at Kum Lin Kei located on Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown - Petaling Street. Drop by when night falls and soak up the atmosphere in this iconic street... and while you're here, indulge yourself in some seriously good noodles that will have you praying for more.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kuala Lumpur Eats - Chilli Thrills

Alright... first up the noodles from this noodle chain aren't for everyone. Whilst it boasts a menu of freshly hand made noodles, the version I tasted on my visit were overcooked (one of my pet peeves) and not particularly interesting.

However, the main attraction here is the chilli condiments that accompany the noodles... there is a heart-stopping array of chilli in its various forms when it comes to getting that all important kick to your meals. Simply add as much or as little to your noodles topped with a poached egg and crispy anchovies. Not the best noodles around - but if you're out looking for chilli thrills - this sure does the trick.

Face to Face
11A-1, Jalan PJU8/51
Perdana Business Centre
Damansara Perdana

Kuala Lumpur Eats - Eye of the Beholder

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder... and how beautiful it is to behold - the infamous Ramly burger in Kuala Lumpur is probably as sloppy a burger as you're gonna get, but one bite into this burger with the beef patty (or so we're told) wrapped in an omelette - all fried in margarine and you'll be smitten.

Juicy, dripping in condiments (chilli sauce, mayonnaise and Lea & Perrins) and unashamedly bad for you - the Ramly burger really drives home the point that love is not only beautiful - it is also very blind.

Look out for these incredible mobile burger stands outside 7 eleven stores all over the city. We tasted the A&Z Ramly burger and our burger chef was kind enough to give us an extra portion of cheese in the above photo.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Kuala Lumpur Eats - Tasting History

Yut Kee, a Hainanese family coffeeshop first started in the 1920s and handed down the generations (in fact - the current owner bears a striking resemblance to his father pictured above). Choose from a wide range of cooked dishes or simply chill out over a traditonal coffee with charcoal toasted bread served with home made kaya.

I have a thing for Hainanese coffeeshops - the nostalgia, history, marble table tops, wooden chairs, retro tiles... everything about these establishments gives you a sense of calm. The fact that they have stood the test of time and have served up caffeine and sustenance to generations before me is very humbling because you realise that more than just a cup of coffee with toast... you're tasting history.

Yut Kee
35 Jalan Dang Wangi
Kuala Lumpur
(closed on Mondays)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Kuala Lumpur Eats - Hajime

Hajime Japanese Restaurant off Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur is a beautiful restaurant set in a bungalow - projecting a sea of calm the moment you step into its compounds. The food here is mostly izakaya style - Japanese tapas... some old favourites (think sashimi and tempura) and some with subtle twists (think wagyu fillet with grated fresh wasabi).

Everything here is done well, beautifully presented and the service personable. Food here is on the pricier side but you do pay for the quality and freshness of the ingredients which are perfectly cooked (or sliced in the case of the sashimi).

All in all, Hajime offers a feast for the tastebuds as well as the senses with the presentation of its dishes and its ambience. Worth a visit.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Kuala Lumpur Eats - Crunchtime!

There are two types of people in this world - those who love crunchy food - and those who lie. Wong Mei Kei just off Jalan Pudu in Kuala Lumpur caters for both parties by serving some of the best Cantonese roast pork I've ever tasted.

Delightfully crispy skin with melt in your mouth pork with just a thin layer of fat (sinful but oh so good)... the crunch with each bite is so addictive you almost need a timeout to stop eating. So whichever camp you belong to, drop by this highly acclaimed establishment and satisfy everybody's craving... for a little bit of crunchtime.

Kuala Lumpur Eats - A Wok & a Smile

Eating in a foreign city can be intimidating and confusing - is the food going to be good? Am I going to be disappointed? Will I get the runs from eating at this joint? But sometimes... you just know its going to be good.

This was the case with Shun Kei - a little hawker stall off Jalan Negasari. I stumbled upon this almost nondescript eatery because I noticed the chef owner who just sat with almost zen like calm next to his wok - with a smile. The humidity and sweltering Malaysian heat was almost unbearable but this beaming elderly man seemed to be completely comfortable with where he was - right in that moment.

I was compelled to order a plate of his char kway teow - just because I wanted some of what he had. And was I rewarded for letting him take my order of faith. The rice and egg noodles were perfectly charred with unmistakeable "wok hei". The simple ingredients of egg, fish cake, shrimp, beansprouts and green vegetables cooked just right - and the sambal chilli that was added - simply fantastic. You get a slight numbing sensation in your lips after your first bite that doesn't linger - just the right amount of heat that brings everything in this simple dish together.

I loved this plate of char kway teow - and I really enjoyed watching the old man prepare it. He was full of smiles and you can actually taste the joy in his cooking. Perhaps it was the pleasure of finding a great meal in the most unexpected of places - but I was suddenly completely content with where I was... right in that moment.

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