Friday, March 28, 2014

Ramen Scavengers in Tokyo, Japan

Night at Shinjuku's Kabukicho entertainment district
Cold, snowflakes, winter in Japan
Slurping a bowl of hot ramen 
Warm the belly, warm the heart 
Smile on face, happy girl!

That was how I fantasized about eating ramen in Japan. And that was my lifelong dream!

My childhood dream finally came true last month when we stepped foot on the Land of The Rising Sun. Planning our trip around food destination was my main mission in Japan. Apart from eating the best sushi we've ever had, we also went Ramen Hunting.

Having had the difficulties in looking for tips online, I want to share my experiences about Japan for a English speaking audience.


Despite the slight drama of being stopped during transit in Kuala Lumpur for a night before getting myself legally into the largest city in the world. I was overwhelmed by how much Tokyo had to offer.

Ramen is the Japanese working class's soul food. It's dotted everywhere in the city, high and low and open 24/7. Just like kebabs are there waiting to be consumed by intoxicated Australians, ramen is the Japanese sober food. However, the ultimate question would be where is the best ramen and what type is the best?  No one can give you a straight answer as everyone has their own favourite. It's indeed down to your own personal preference.  

Ramen master assembling a bowl of ramen

Anyway, on my first morning in Tokyo, me and agent M was on a mission to look for a bowl of random ramen. Little did I know, it wasn't an easy task. They were everywhere. After passing through hundreds of ramen shop, we ended up in this shop just by the corner of the street without any particular reason and research. 

This place has all the stereotypical ramen set up. It was counter seating and an open kitchen. We get to witness the whole process from the chef dropping the noodles into a boiler, to assembling the bowl with different kind of toppings. I was fascinated. The whole process only took them 3 minutes, shorter than the duration of deliberating their menu.

We don't understand Japanese nor are able to speak the language. I can only understand some Chinese characters, enough to assume this place sells Tonkotsu Ramen (Pork bone broth) and it's 500yen a bowl. For non-Japanese speaking tourist, in places like Shinjuku, most shops have picture menus easy enough for us to order. Or worse case scenario, just wing it!

A basic bowl ramen gets a slice of chasiu (roast pork), half a hard-boiled egg, seaweed sheet, spring onions and woodear mushroom. And it was only 500yen (AUD$5.50)

Ramen with extra seaweed sheet for 600 yen
The broth was easily drinkable. Despite it being creamy in colour, the pork bone simmered broth wasn't too oily or too rich.

Ramen with extra chasiu for 700yen
We quite enjoyed the broth and the noodles, but this was probably our least favourite ramen we have had during our 3 weeks in Japan (still quite good compared to the ramen in Perth). The let down was the over-cooked egg and the stone cold chasiu slices. We later found out that this was a chain ramen store dotted around Shinjuku area. I guess we've learnt from our mistake and spent hours of ramen research for the remaining travel days.



Inoue Ramen, Tsukiji Market (井上)

Ramen master smashes up to 9 bowls of ramen at one time

We were brought to this place by the friendly local Tokyoite whom we just met at a sushi restaurant in Tsukiji Market. We skipped visiting the tourist packed sushi restaurants in the market such as Sushi Dai & Sushi Daiwa with their overflowing lines. Instead, we went to the back of the market where there were less crowds, and less tourists. That was where we met these amazing bunch of Tokyoites, they just finished work for the day (at 6am) and they hung out having sushi "supper" and getting drunk on hot sake. As always the drinking lead them to crave for ramen. They spoke limited English, but was very kind to us, they even shouted our bill without us knowing it and brought us to this ramen place just off the main market, which they claimed 'best ramen in Tokyo'. 

There were glow in their eyes looking into the bowl of ramen

The shop was facing the main road, located at the outer market of Tsukiji alongside with other fruit & veg shop. It's an old-fashioned standing ramen shop, where you ordered the ramen vocally and find an available table scattered around the area. Some were by the roadside. It was a rare sight to see, people eating by the roadside in Japan nowadays. But, having the chance to eat one of the best ramen in Tokyo by the roadside on a 2 degrees celcius morning = priceless!
Traditional Tokyo style ramen for 650yen

Tonkotsu broth have always been my preferred choice of ramen but that's a Hakata style ramen in the Fukuoka prefecture. So when in Tokyo, I've got to try their Shoyu (soy sauce) style ramen. I was watching the chef's well-oiled motion, lay out 9 empty bowls on his bench, each ladled with soy sauce, Japanese leek, hot chicken stock then the thin but curly ramen and topped off with slices of boiled pork, bamboo shoots, spring onion and micro bean shoot. I was sold, I loved it! The cleared brown broth flavoured with soy sauce was tangy, salty and savoury yet still fairly light and comforting on the palate. You can add any condiments you like to go with your ramen. Condiments offered on table were black pepper, fresh minced garlic, Japanese 7 spices and chilli oil.

We were grateful that we met such a wonderful bunch of local providing us the best Japanese hospitality to us. After we finished our ramen, we bit good-bye and wish all the best for them. Up til today, we don't know their name. Me and agent M, would love to say a warm thank you to them again!

If you are planning to go to Tsukiji Market, do drop by this ramen shop left of the main wholesale market.




Nagi, Golden Gai, Kabukicho, Shinjuku

Nagi in Golden Gai

Golden Gai was once Tokyo's brothel district and now the narrow alleys and lane ways are full of small bars and eateries.  We went to Golden Gai on our first night in Tokyo to check out the scene. It may be the rain or we were there way too "early" at 11pm, Golden Gai was kinda quiet to our surprise. However, I remember seeing bunch of people queuing in a narrowed dark alley quietly under the rain to a suspicious cult-like association. Fast forward a few days later after I've done my research on where to go for good ramen. Many suggestion pointed me to Nagi in Golden Gai. To my surprised, it was Nagi that people was queuing up for the other night. 

Pork bone hanging off the ceiling as decoration.

While we were in line waiting for our turn to enter this tightly fitting 10 seater ramen restaurant, we met some American tourists on a ramen hunt of their own. We had a chat with them and they said "just go up stairs, press the first button on top left of the vending machine, that's what you're here for!" Nagi is famous for their anchovy/fish base broth, a little unusual to the normal ramen broth. 


The atmosphere at Nagi was exciting for us. From the wait to the walk up  the narrowed stairs to settled down at the counter seats. The shop was packed to the rafters. I tried taking photo of the chef cooking, apparently it wasn't allowed so I was shy whipping my camera out after I got told off.

Nagi Special Ramen (top left button) 900yen

The broth was dark in colour and full of specks from the baby sardine used to make the broth. It was packed full of umami flavour, definitely a different take on ramen. After a few mouthful though, it starts to get a bit bitter and rich to my liking.

Best thing about Nagi - the thick cut & curly noodle

The noodles on the other hand was thick, fat and chewy which held up to the broth really well and that was the best thing about Nagi. It was my favourite ramen noodle variety during my entire trip in Japan which I would most certain buy a plane ticket for. They also served another cut of noodle in the same bowl, which are wider, thinner and silkier, both were very enjoyable. Broth and noodle aside, the roasted pork was soft and tasty so was the perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg.

Although I didn't quite enjoy the broth as much as I hoped to, I would definitely be back for the overall experience. Maybe I would try adding other condiments offered on table to the broth to take away the bitterness from the umami rich broth. After coming back from Japan, I've started doing more research on Nagi and realised they have a few other outlet around Tokyo that offer different kinds of broth. 

Neon-lit Golden Gai
This website I found has some really useful information and pictures about Nagi in Golden Gai. They are open 24 hours.

Nagi, Golden Gai
Shinjuku Golden-gai (G2 street) 2F, 1-1-10
Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku,
Tokyo

Friday, June 28, 2013

Typika Artisan Roasters, Claremont

That says it all in their name. Another new artisan coffee roaster in Perth, dedicated to sourcing the world's finest coffee bean and roasting it in small batches. Yay for coffee lovers in Perth! One thing though, I can never get to spell their name 'Typika' properly, it sort of confuses my mind for spelling the word correctly or not correctly. Ahh! Need caffeine to sort it out.


Now, you don't attach the word 'Artisan' to your name when you don't have the passion for it. Sucker like me will travel far and wide for something unique, especially food or coffee that is made with passion. I expect coffee quality from Typika to be exceptionally good.


Service was quick, and we liked the fit-out upon entering the building. It was a mesh-up between Melbourne warehouse with a suburban chill-out vibe (without the hipster but expect more western suburb furry coat wearer housewives).


Loved that herbie wall and the chill out corner.

Just a normal cup of flat white
My anticipation for their coffee rose high, unfortunately in this case, the higher I got, the harder I fell. Where's the latte art??? The milk wasn't heated properly, thus not getting a proper texture to form latte art. That aside, the coffee was too bland and mild to my liking, I didn't feel like I have had coffee that day. It was such a shame that their coffee wasn't the highlight on our visit.

Basket of potato and sweet potato chips
On the upside though, the food grabbed our attention at least.

Juicy pulled pork
Pulled pork in a bun seems like the 'it' thing to be featured on a cafe menu these days. At Typika, these were the winner, pulled pork were juicy and well flavoured, laced with crunchy and refreshing appleslaw. Those little buns looked hard to eat, but to our surprised it was well toasted, crunchy but not hard to bite and soft and fluffy on the inside. It was a delight.

Twice cooked master stock chicken with celeriac
Another good dish was the crispy twice cooked chicken. Presentation looked like pork belly, but it was tender chicken roulade with crispy skin. Loved the combination of roasted grape on top and celeriac-slaw on the bottom.

After this visit to an Artisan coffee roaster, I started to be sceptical. I might just stick to those specialty coffee bar/kiosk for some seriously kick-ass coffee.

Overall service was fast and somewhat too attentive. Coffee wasn't their strength. Food tasted great but it came with the western suburb's price tag. Wouldn't hurry back. We ended up driving to another coffee place to get our caffeine fix for the day.

Food Quality: 4 outta 5 pulled pork
Coffee Quality: 1.5 outta 5 pulled pork
Service: 3.5 outta 5 pulled pork
Ambience: 4 outta 5 pulled pork
Will I be back?: Not really

Open 7 days from 7am - 4pm.

Typika Artisan Roasters
331, Stirling Highway
Claremont WA.
9284 2855
Typika Artisan Roasters on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cozee Corner Meals, Como

3 weeks ago, I received a comment from an anonymous reader, who suggested me to try Cozee Corner Meals in Como for authentic 'Pan Mee'.


I wrote a post about making 'Pan Mee' from scratch back in August 2010. 'Pan Mee' or 'flat flour noodle' as its direct translation from Chinese, originated from Malaysia (according to Wikipedia), is a popular noodle soup based dish among Chinese community in Malaysia.

I love eating them because it's comforting and it reminds me of my hometown.

As soon as I received the tip, I dragged my housemate to the unassuming street in Como to try out 'the' best 'Pan Mee' in Perth.

Without much information about the place, I was a bit hesitant about this. But we went to explore anyway.


As soon as we turned into the empty parking lot on Ley Street, we had doubts about the place. We parked right in front of the shop, questioning ourselves whether or not this was the right place, as it looked just like another deli selling Mrs. Macs's pie and sausage rolls. We sat in the car for a good 10 minutes, with question marks written all on our faces. I even double checked the information provided by the reader. Even Apple's iOS map said we were at the right place! We eventually decided to just walk into the shop. If it wasn't the place, we would just grab an iced coffee to go.

Once we stepped out of the car, the lady owner came out and greeted us, asked us if we were here for 'Pan Mee', and we were like 'YEAH!'

This place had a weird fit-out, they sold your usual Aussie takeaway meals like pies, sausage rolls, sandwich, salad, burgers and hot rolls. At the same time, they also sold Malaysian specialty and noodles dishes. We walked in and ordered 2 bowls of 'Pan Mee' amongst all other dishes on offer.


They had a a dining area for customers to dine in. However, we couldn't quite get our head in to understand why they sold the mixture of Malaysian dishes with typical Aussie sandwiches items. It was a confusing sight to see.

But as soon as we got our bowl of steaming hot 'Pan Mee', the doubts were all out of the window.

'Pan Mee' as good as home! 
There are 2 element that make a good 'Pan Mee', the broth and the texture of the noodle. At Cozee Corner Meals, they nailed the above mentioned 2 elements and it was value for money too!

The broth was fresh, clear and sweet with essence of Chinese dried anchovies (ikan bilis). It didn't taste like MSG filled broth, which usually caused dehydration.  

The flat floured noodle, were soft and silky. It was served in the traditional hand-torn form. The noodle was so silky smooth, it practically just slid down my throat without choking! 

In the bowl, there were also a soft-poached egg, fried Chinese dried anchovies (ikan bilis), wood ear fungus, pork mince, pork balls and choy sum.  The extra ingredients added different texture to the dish and it complemented the broth and noodle well. 

Instantly, there were contented smiles on our faces. This bowl of 'Pan Mee' were so satisfying and it made us felt so much at home. The only 2 things that were missing to complete our contentment were the blended chilli with Calamansi lime and some sweet leaf (sayur manis or Sauropus amdrogynus) instead of choy sum.

We were glad we made the move and we would definitely be back to have another bowl of 'Pan Mee' or try some other Malaysian dishes on offer. Most dishes were on sale from $7.50 to $8.50. 

We left the place with silky smooth noodle swimming in our tummies and flavorsome broth. Though $8.50 poorer, we were completely satisfied and until today, the goodness of those noodles still stay fresh on our minds. 

If you miss a good bowl of 'Pan Mee', be sure to check out this place and I am sure you will have that contented smile on your face, too.

Also, a big thank you to the anonymous reader, who suggested this place to me. I reckon it's a place where I should share it with the rest of food lovers out there! 

Food Quality: 4.5 outta 5 Pan Mee
Service: 4 outta 5 Pan Mee
Ambience: 1 outta 5 Pan Mee
Will I be back?: YES!! 

Opening Hours:
Monday - Saturday 
6am - 3pm 

Cozee Corner Meals
U3/61 Ley Street
Como
08 9450 2669
Cozee Corner on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fuku - Omakase/Teppanyaki


Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to one of Fuku's soft openings in Mosman Park. Fuku means blessed, happy or lucky in Japanese.


Fuku is not just another Japanese restaurant that pops up in and around Perth. Its a warm, intimate 16-seater teppanyaki/omakase (degustation) restaurant. They only serve degustation and you get to choose among 3 menus - 'good', 'better' & 'best'. The menu for the night was from the 'better' menu, which has 9 courses and it is $160 per person. Unlimited still/sparkling water and green tea are complimentary.


Array of imported sake from Japan on display
Fuku has a different booking system, which is similar to Momofuku. You can only make booking from their website and a prepayment of $50 is required. Alternatively, you can try your luck by driving past the restaurant during dinner time. If the amber lantern at the door is 'on', then you are in luck for some seats.

$299 a bottle of sake from Japan
I brought my dining companion along - Agent M, we were both stunned by hundreds of sakes displayed on the shelves. They had around 500 bottles of sake and about half of them are exclusive imports. Sake's price ranging from $70 - $299 for a 1.8L bottle. We were lucky enough to have sampled the most expensive bottle of sake in Fuku that night. It wasn't your usual warmed sake, which kinda burnt your throat. This was served cold, chilled through an apparatus. Made from pure rice, it was smooth to drink and has a sweet & fruity character. If you're not a sake drinker, they also serve beer and a small selection of fine WA wines.

First course - sushi & sashimi
For our first course, we were served tuna, salmon and swordfish sashimi. As for sushi, we got to try salmon belly, tuna belly and anago (smoked eel) with kabayaki sauce. On the plate, there were freshly grated wasabi, pickled ginger and daikon salad as condiments. The sashimi were fresh and tasty but the smoked eel sushi was my favourite.

2nd course - Small Morsels
On the small morsels plate start from left, we had wagyu beef with miso sauce and wasabi root salsa, lobster meat and avocado salad, Tsubugai and octopus salad. The wasabi root salsa was a nice surprise, it complimented the cold slices of wagyu beef really well. As for tsubugai, it was a kind of shellfish that had an interesting crunchy texture.

If you love to see some chef actions while he prepares your dinner, teppanyaki would be the best way to experience it. Here at Fuku, the chef are not shy in showing off their skills in juggling of pepper shaker or tossing and cracking eggs with a flipper. 

3rd course - Twice cooked quail with pomegranate sauce 
The quail was confit in oil for 6 hours then grilled on sumiyaki griller with imported Japanese grey charcoal, That gave the meat a distinctive and aromatic charcoal flavour. The crispy yet tender quail was served with pomegranate reduction and a ratatouille laced with edamame. According to Brett, the owner, the quail was exclusively imported from Redgate poultry in Hunter Valley. 

4th course - Japanese Scallop and Jumbo prawn with uni butter
I was salivating while watching the chef grilling this jumbo prawns on his teppanyaki hot plate. Serving mostly WA caught seafood, this jumbo prawn was beautifully cooked and the prawn's head was crispy and flavorsome  Sitting at the bottom of the prawn was a beautifully seared Hokkaido scallops. It was fresh, juicy and tasty. Everything on this dish was perfect, but I wish there were more uni (sea urchin) butter to enhance its "sea flavor". 

Chef torching the top of swordfish 
5th course - Fish of the day, Kajiki (Swordfish) and Daikon radish 
The swordfish dish was my favorite dish of all, as the combination of flavour and texture made this the most memorable dish of the night. Swordfish was cooked to the right texture, sitting at the bottom of a piece of daikon radish cooked in dashi stock. Resting on top of the swordfish was a spear of pink ginger. It looked more like a really thin rhubarb slice, but it tasted like ginger without much spiciness. Agent M wasn't a fan of ginger, but he was impressed by it. The sauce tied every element together. It tasted like a mixture of miso and a hint of yuzu (Japanese citrus) and spicy ichimi (chili flakes).

Chef was performing a flaming tower of onion to us

Palate Cleanser - Vine ripened cherry tomato marinated in honey
While watching the chef performed his flaming stunt, we were served a palate cleanser: cherry tomato marinated in honey. Instead of sorbet or granitas like most good restaurants serve, this was something very different to me. Subtle taste of honey married with fresh and sweet cherry tomato, it was a clean palate cleanser to prepare us for the next course. Just make sure you put the whole thing into your mouth instead of bitting it to avoid tomato juices squirting on yourself.

6th course - Waygu sirloin steak Mayura Station grade 7 
We were served Waygu sirloin grade 7 from Mayura Station. The award winning full-blood waygu beef were from South Australia. Although it was only grade 7 but it was as good as anyone could ask for. Fat from the beef just melted in my mouth and its flavor were second to none. However, I would prefer the steak to be served in whole instead of pre-cut pieces for our convenience. 

To bunk it up, we were then served Japanese fried rice cooked with Waygu's fat. It was definitely a class up from your local Chinese's fried rice. The fried rice was tasty, but Agent M and I reckon a few pinches of salt would enhance the flavor. 

Dessert - Genmaicha panacotta, Japanese Baumkuchen and mountain peach 
To end the meal, we had dessert tasting of Genmaicha panacotta, Japanese Baumkuchen and mountain peach with roasted soy flour. I personally really liked the Japanese Baumkuchen (a kind of layered cake). The chef here torched/caramelised every layer of the cake with sugar, made it a really light and wholesome to complete the whole meal. I wish the cake were bigger because I really liked it. 

Buttons for the toilet! 
We thoroughly enjoyed our feast at Fuku. And who would have thought even the loo was a surprise! That was my first time using a heated toilet seat and needless to say I enjoyed it! Also check out those "massage" and "turbo" selections for your maximum comfort/ buttock pampered experience ;)

Don't forget to reserve your seat at their website for a memorable Japanese dining experience. 

Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday from 6pm

20, Glyde Street,
Mosman Park 
Fuku - Omakase and Teppanyaki  on Urbanspoon