Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Only Place To Buy Your Fruit 'n' Veg

I have been shopping in two places wince we arrived. The open market on Graham Street, is by far the most popular one I goto. I just enjoy the hustle n bustle of the place. The fish stalls where the fish is still alive when you buy it. The sellers take about 3 or 4 cuts to kill the fish and gut it. Then they descale it for you all within 10 se4conds. Incredible to see.
The fresh meat sellers, whose stalls look anything less that hygienic, with the meat hanging up on hooks in the humidity, but so far we have not had any bad effects from buying from these guys.
The fruit & vegetable stalls, all selling bundles of the freshest looking fruit n veg I have ever seen.
The other market, which is actually closer to home, is the Sheung Wan Covered market. A 3 storey building, which sells meat, cooked and uncooked, fresh fish, fruit, veggies and some dry goods, with a stall that sells some fantastic fresh egg noodles. This place is a bit cheaper than the one above, but then again it’s all about location, location, location here in Hong Kong. The top floor is the cooked food centre. We haven’t eaten there yet. Well we can only eat at so many places. Hahahahaha.
There are plenty of supermarkets here in Hong Kong, which we have been into to buy the store cupboard necessities like soy sauce, rice wine vinegar etc etc. There are some foreign or ex-pat orientated supermarkets, which really stock everything you would find back home. But am not tempted to make tacos just yet. They are also considerably more expensive than shopping at the local markets, and with prices of food on the increase the gap is widening.
We went the other day to Bowington Road Market. Another fantastic market, if we were staying closer then I would be here everyday. It’s similar to the one in Central but more spacious and a lot cheaper. Shame its in Wan Chai.
Every Sunday at the Star Ferry Pier in Central there is an Organic Farmers Market. The produce is grown in the New Territories. All the produce looks fantastic and fresh. They sell a lot of different varieties of salads that I have not seen before. They do not provide bags for you, they advise you to bring your own, but they will wrap your veg in a leaf for you, so you can carry it away. Excellent idea. 

Sunday, 27 April 2008

It's Curry Time .....

I think this could be an English thing, but every so often if I do not have some form of Indian food, I turn into one miserable git. I crave the delectable tastes, spices and fragrance of a good curry, as some other people I know.
We tried a couple of places in Japan for their version of a curry, which were ok, nothing to write home about. They consisted of half a plate of rice with the other half with the curry sauce on and then wot ever meat on top, normally breaded chicken or pork. As I said they were ok, nice lunch time train station snack. 
So these prangs of need washed over me within a week of coming to Hong Kong, so we made the slow boat trip across Victoria harbour to Kowloon. The walk from the Star Ferry port to our curry lunch took us past the Peninsula Hotel, the grand old lady of Hong Kong hotels. Turn left up Nathan road, and all the glitz and glam that it offers first time visitors. Then before our eyes lays the Chungking Mansions. This monstrosity is 17 floors high with 5 blocks. They reckon over 4000 people live there with a melting pot of 120 languages spoke there, and at least a million people pass through its doors every year. Everyone who works there (legal or not) is just after making money. It’s not as dangerous as it once was. It kinda has a small feeling of respectability about it now.
No matter what the place is like, it has the best Indian and Pakistani restaurants in Hong Kong.
As we were just changing money we decided to stay on the ground floor, after wandering around the labyrinth of shops we saw a few places at the back. So looking at wot was on offer we decided to head for the Punjab Food Restaurant. A small nonsense eatery, filled with local wheeler and dealers of the Chungking Mansion family. Plastic tables and chairs adorned its small front. The waiter was a happy smiley bloke, which kinda drew us to it in the first place.
We had a gander at the menu, which focused on all the usual North Indian favourites. We opted for a mutton biryani, butter chicken, a naan and two mango lassi’s.
The lassi’s were as expected, lovely. Really fruity and refreshing. I mean any Indian joint that cannot make a good lassi, should not be in business.
The food arrived, thankfully as by this time we were starving. My Butter Chicken, was moist & melted in the mouth it was so tender. The sauce was thick and had a fabulous taste. Lina’s Mutton Biryani was pretty damn good. It had a good selection of mixed spices, which made it a delight on the taste buds. Although downside, not enough meat for my liking. The naan was hot and had that tandoor oven taste about it, it was great to soak up the gravy sauce from my chicken.
The bill came to just over a 100 Hong Kong dollars, about £7. Bargain.
Actually just writing this is making me get those curry tinglings again. Luckily there is a Malaysian café just behind this building. So may have to dash out for something soon.
More on that later …….

Saturday, 26 April 2008

We've arrived in Hong Kong

We’ve been firmly en trenched in our small studio apartment in Sheung Wang for 2 weeks now. Been real lazy in updating, but here is a first of many updates from Hong Kong. Our apartment/studio is small to say the least. Probably best for one person but we are coping well. The only downside is the kitchen, as we are on a tight budget, most of our eating will be done in this small one hot-plated kitchen. It’s frustrating to say the least. As only one hotplate, one small frying pan and one small pot. It drove me to despair, so I had to buy a bigger pan so at least I could do some stir-fries properly. Which has helped.
The good thing is that we are very close to two good markets. The nearest one is the 3 story Sheung Wang covered market. Which on the 1st floor has fish and meat, and the next floor is for veg and dry goods and 3rd floor has lots of cheap eateries. In the other direction is the Graham Street outdoor market in Central, which is where I have been doing most of my shopping. Having a blast shopping there. There are plans to re-develop this area one day, but hopefully they will fail, as it is a great place to shop.
So until the next post…. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Kyoto : City of the Geisha

I didn’t know what to expect from Kyoto, apart from some fine food. I had heard that the food was slightly more refined than in Tokyo, and they were not wrong.
We arrived by train from Nara in the pouring rain. Took us a while to find our hostel, which by the time we arrived we were cold, wet and miserable. So we headed back into town to potter around, do a bit of sight seeing, find something to eat.
We happened upon Nishiki Market, a sprawling undercover (thankfully, as it was still raining) Aladdin’s cave of everything that Kyoto eats. Stall upon stall of the freshest fish, Tastiest looking vegetables. Although it was annoying to see every piece of veg individually wrapped in plastic. But they still looked darn good. All the condiments for a good meal were being sold as well, from pickled foods to a shop selling 8 different types of Sushi rice. Never realized there were so many. We are heathens.
It is in this market that the famous Aritsugu knife shop which dates back to 1560, and the hand-crafted knives here are truly works of art. I did buy a sashimi knife a few days later, which they finish the sharpening process off in the shop and even will engrave your name onto it, in English or in Japanese. I opted for Japanese, and does look cool. They also goes through great pains to make you understand how to use, clean and sharpen their knives. Even though you have brought it, and going to take away from them, they still believe it is their knife.
By this time of sight seeing, we were ready for some good heart warming food. We managed to find a place called Misoka-an Kawamichi-ya. This simple noodle shop has been making its own noodles for over 300 years. We were taken to our little table out back, looking out onto a beautiful courtyard garden that looked even more tranquil in the rain. Thankfully there was an English menu, so no shotgun noodles here.
Lina ordered some soba noodle soup with rolled herring Kyoto style. I had mine with chicken and an egg. Both had a really delicate flavored stock for the soup. The noodles were cooked to perfection. The rolled herring, was similar to how it is back in England and to have in a noodle soup was a great idea. We lingered in this place for quite a while, as it was so good. A couple came and sat at the table next to us and had the house specialty which is a one pot meal called Hokoro. It is a bubbling stock filled with noodles, chicken, tofu, yuba mushrooms and vegetables. A feast for two indeed. We sadly left and went back into the cold and wet looking forward to more delights that Kyoto had to offer.
The following day, Lina tormented me by making me do more sight seeing. She planned for us to visit the Ginkakuji Temple, which is at the top of The Philosophers Path. It’s only a short 1.5km stroll up hill, but for some reason it took us 2 hours. Don’t ask me why. The Temple itself was ok but the gardens were a place of serenity. Really did remind us of our land in Colombia.
The walk down was a real pain, as we got lost a few times (we came back a different route) but eventually we made it down. By this time we were absolutely famished, knackered and in need of some instant refreshment. When in a condition like this, there is only one thing that can fill you up. Yes you’ve guessed it Noodles, and a cold glass of beer. This small unnamed friendly noodle shop was a welcome sight. I think they looked at us and guessed we needed revitalizing.
With cold beers in hand, we looked at the pictures in the Japanese menu. All looked good. I choose from what the lady told me in broken English, was a miso soup with pork, the soup was quite thick and spicy, just how I like it. Lina had a thinner soup based with pork again. Both were equally delicious. I have to say that these noodles were the best we had in Japan. Now this may or may not be because we were both completely knackered and starving hungry, as we had had nothing to eat all day. This may be why they were so good. When things like this happen, I prefer to think that it was the restaurant itself that had all the virtues of producing a damn fine meal for two weary travelers. Of course I would never return there, just in case it was the first reason. A legend was born.
That nite, we were wandering around the Ponchoto area. This is a beautiful alley, how you would imagine Kyoto was a hundred years ago. Small alleys, all shops and restaurants with wooden fronts. Really beautiful and atmospheric.
I had seen and looked in on a place the night before and all day I had been thinking about this place. After the noodles we were not starving hungry, so we went in sat at the bar in front of the sushi chef performing his magic. Ordered a small bottle of dry cold sake and gendered at the English menu.
I ordered one of the Sashimi sets and Lina went for one of the Sushi sets. Mine came on a bed of ice in a bowl. Fatty tuna, squid, cuttlefish, white fish and some wasabi. Lina’s Sushi was made in front of us in quick time. With white fish, tuna, salmon, cuttle fish, octopus, scorched mackerel and an inventive rice in egg roll. All were fabulous and went well with the sake. At the end of the meal, I tried to ask the Chef a few questions. His English was very limited, but basically found out that he has been a chef for 20 years, a Sushi Chef for 10 years. Also found out what cuts of tuna we had been eating. And genrally kept telling him how good ot all was. I made some comment on how fast he was making the sushi etc, and he showed us just how quick he was. He made us a nigiri roll of tuna belly. He made it in less than 10 seconds flat from beginning to end. Amazing. He had cut the seaweed to size so never had to roll it that much, kinda just rolled it once then tightened it. It was a truly memorable night.
So if you want some free sushi, remember to complement the chef on his work. Chefs are all suckas for some ass licking.
For our final night in Kyoto, there was nothing else we could have but an excellent bowl of Noodles. I had been looking for this place for a few days but for some reason I could never find it. So on the last nite I was determined to eat there. We sat at the counter. It was quite a modern joint, a world away from the calmness of Ponchoto. Lots of slurping going on, which is always a good sign of a good Ramen joint. I ordered a char-siu miso ramen soup and Lina ordered a pork soy ramen soup. I also ordered as a side order a boiled egg. I have gotten used to eating eggs with noodles now, and I find it an excellent addition to any noodle dish. Both came at the same time and both were equally delicious in their own way.
With beer in hand, chopstix in the other it was a good way to end our short trip to Japan. I really hope one day we will be able to return here, but Colombia is as far away from Japan as you can get. So maybe not.
Japan surprised me a lot, I was not expecting such diversity and complex dishes that we found. The people are really friendly and hospitable and made us feel welcome, even in times when we could not communicate. A smile is an easy way to make anyone feel welcome and at ease. I will take some very good memories of Japan away with me, and if any of you are thinking of going there. GO.
Next stop Hong Kong. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Sashimi and Beers

Nara is a small town, very close to both Kyoto and Osaka. It used to be the old capital of Japan many centuries ago. It has about 8 UNESCO sites, so it is very popular on any trip to Japan, especially with the Japanese. The weekends make this town a crowded place. After a hard days sight seeing, we were in need of some food.
I was in the mood for some Sashimi and a beer, nothing too grand, just something simple to relax to after a hard days sight seeing. We found a place close to the Ryokan where we were staying. No room on the tatami mats so we sat at a table and had a gander at the English menu. I went for the Sashimi and Lina went for Noodles. As you can see from the foto’s what we got was far from simple. Everything was so well presented and designed on the plate that it really does resemble a work of art. 
The bowl on the right contained the smallest squid I have ever seen, but they tasted divine. I really got into sea urchin, it looks disgusting but has a distinctive taste to it. The fatty tuna melted in my mouth. Heaven. Only downside was the cuttlefish, which I have always found a little tough. Even cooking it in the UK, it always is tough.
Lina’s noodles had a fantastic stock base for the soup, which they all did. The addition of Tempura prawns was an added delight to a heavenly dish.
The following night after another hard days sight seeing, we headed to another local joint, but this time it was a kinda teriyaki dish, that is mainly made up of egg and cooked by the chef and then popped onto a hotplate for us to eat at our leisure over a few beers. This dish comes from the Kansai region and seems very popular as the place was packed. The first one we ordered was Korean style with pork, kimchi and a special Korean spicy sauce. For what it was it was pretty good, the 2nd one was a chow mien type dish. Again pretty good, but it was the atmosphere that made this a good meal, and a pleasant end to our stay in Nara.
Next stop Kyoto.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Fishy Fishy Fishy Fish

Day 2 in Tokyo, and we had an early start to goto the Tsukiji Fish Market. Now this was an incredible sight. There were row upon row and column upon column of stalls selling huge copious amounts of different types of fish. From the largest mussels I have ever seen to Blue Fin Tuna, caught at sea at least a few weeks ago and completely frozen, that it took two guys with the sharpest knives you have ever seen to cut them in two. It was truly mind boggling, that a place can house so much fish, and also that a city and its surroundings can eat so much. Oh to live in Tokyo, would be a fish chefs dream. I really can not put into words what I saw there, you are just going to have to come and see it for yourselves.
Some facts : Tokyo Central Wholesale Market handles about 2,888 tons a day of marine products, equating to about 2.8 billion yen a day in business. Some 450 kinds of fish are received. The Tuna auction starts at 5.30am, about the time we were getting up, and is over within an hour. So we are told.
We decided to goto a Sushi bar next to the market, where else can you get such fresh Sushi. Popped ourselves at the bar and ordered a set. The speed at which the chef worked was unreal. He deftly shaped the rice to pop the fish onto it. Cut small slices of fish so accurately and quickly it was scary.
What we ate was truly sublime. The only problem was that it lacked atmosphere. We were the only people there, plus the chef was watching us but not watching us if you know what I mean. It was really off putting. But apart from that it looked and tasted great. The picture you see does not do it justice. The artistry involved is great. I wonder how long these guys train for before they are let loose on the general public. Overall it was a bit of a let down, mainly because of the atmosphere.
Later that day after a busy morning sight seeing and visiting a few Cherry Blossom sights, we found a Tempura restaurant. Now these are easy to find as you just get this whiff of cooking oil and follow your nose. As we had already had Sushi that morning, we only had some prawns as a kinda snack to keep us going. Really crispy tempura batter, lovely firm prawns and the dipping sauce was good also. Would have preferred something stronger but hey ho.
Leaving Tokyo behind us we headed up into the mountains to see the Snow Monkeys in Yudanaka. Arrived into this small town starving. After walking around for an age before we went to the Ryokan. We found a small place that sold noodles. Luckily the chef spoke some English and Spanish. So we ordered two bowls of noodles with fried tofu, local mushrooms, pork and a fried egg. Really did hit the spot as we were both starving, and the inclusion of egg added an extra dimension to these lovely noodles.
After a hard days monkey watching, (or being watched by the monkeys) we headed out to find some food. We had heard about a place that made its own soba noodles. Never gonna miss an opportunity to eat some noodles. Unfortunately it was closed. So we wandered back to a Sushi place we saw on the way, again it was closed. Now this all turned out quite lucky for us, as we stumbled (literally) upon a Chanko joint. Now, Chanko is the desired food of the Sumo Wrestler. It is a huge pot of stock bubbling away with the cheapest veg and meat cuts in, as in the Sumo Stables, the Master has to feed everyone, and the newbie trainees do not earn any money whilst they are training. So everyone sits down and it goes in hierarchal order. The Masters get their pick first then the lowly trainees get what ever is left. They do this twice a day.
It was a very atmospheric place full of locals either having a full meal or drinks and sashimi after work. So we seat down on the tatami mats and a pot appears before us on top of a gas flame bubbling away, with lots of veg and mushrooms in it. So we tucked in. The thing here that I have noticed is that everywhere here all soups and noodles etc have such great stocks. I’m guessing that they use Dashi or miso stock as a base and add to it for the desired dish. On such a cold night when we left we were positively glowing and warm.
The following day we heading off to Takayama, it kind of represents how some parts of Japan looked a hundred years ago or so. They produce a similar version to Kobe Beef there called Hida Beef. Looking in some butchers shops and some cuts going for 12000 Yen for 100g, (roughly works out to be about £65 a kilo) it is hellishly expensive.
We stayed at an old Temple and the Master there “Tommy”, advised us if we wanted to, to eat at a restaurant called Suzuya, if we wanted try Hoba Yaki, a local speciality, as this place did it the best and was the cheapest. It basically is some miso paste, smeared onto a cedar leaf, with some vegetables, noodles, mushrooms and some famous Hida Beef, all cooked on top of a naked flame. Once the miso starts to sizzle you just mix everything together and eat away. To be honest it, the dish itself has been the low point of our trip here, the beef tasted great, very soft and the fat creamy, but overall so-so. The restaurant only seemed to cater for large tour groups, as there was one from Germany in that night. Should have warned us off.
Tommy also recommended another place, a Tempura joint. As if by chance without looking for it, we found it, decided to poke our heads round the door to see what it was like and look at a menu. Really small place fronted by the chef and a waitress. It had 7 seats at the bar and a few tables with tatami mats in a room adjacent. I had a good feeling about this place, so we sat at the bar and ordered a couple of beers (gotta stop drinking beer as getting too bloated) and some Tempura sets. One with 2 prawns and 6 veg, and another one with an eel and 6 veg. All were made right in front of us and were all exquisite. Actually Tempura does go very nice with beer, but so does Sushi and Sashimi also, and with Sake too. We had two dips for the Tempura. One was a normal dipping sauce with some dashi in it, the other was curry powder and salt. He made a clear point of making sure we understood, not to dip the Tempura in one and then in the other. I kinda gathered it would have been a fate worse than a fate worse than death.
The chef was particularly happy at the end, as he had a map on the wall and would get everyone to mark where they came from. Lina was the first Colombian to visit his restaurant. Another red dot to add to the ever growing number. This place was a big highlight. “Tempura Ebihachi” was its name.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Shotgun Noodles Tokyo Style

We arrived in Tokyo after a 12 hour flight from London, bleary eyed and hungry. We somehow managed to get to Ikebukuro quite easily using Japanese Railways. Checked into our Ryokan and headed out to grab some nosh. Priorities.
We were kinda partial for some noodle soup as it was bucketing it down in Tokyo that very morning. So we wandered around for a bit and decided to pop into a Ramen shop that was full of people. Always a good sign. As we stepped in we were greeted by our waitress/server from behind the counter who pointed to our seats and a machine by the door. It turns out you have to choose your dish from this machine, buy a ticket and give it to the waitress.
As our Japanese extends to about half a dozen words and zero characters, this was going to be a challenge. So we decided to play Shotgun Noodles. Quite randomly we picked one that had 300g of Soba noodles and one that had 200g. Paid our money handed over our tickets and duly waited. Bet Russian Roulette was never this fun.

What came was a very pleasant surprise, thankfully no Deer Hunter ending for us here. Two bowls of soba noodles and two bowls of hot broth to dunk them in. Mine had a slight hot and spicy chilli creamy taste to them, with some pork on top. Lina’s had pork on top also with a real meaty taste to it.
It is considered impolite not to slurp your noodles, this going against everything my mum always taught me, decided to slurp away. After a few flying noodles and a bit of sauce on my glasses, all went well. I can’t say if a local heard me slurp they would think, ahh he’s Japanese, but I am getting the hang of it now. Both bowls of noodles were delicious. and a great introduction to Japan, after a flight from hell.
Later that day we found a pretty good Izakaya, which are the Japanese equivalent of pubs. Apart from these places stay open till 5am. So wish all pubs in UK were the same. They serve beers, sake’s and other potent alcoholic beverages. Plus most sell some fantastic bar snacks. This one sold a lot of Yakitori (grilled meats, fish & veg on sticks). Had a few pork belly sticks, all washed down with some fine Japanese lager.
That nite we went to a Yakitori place (see above) that also had some fried titbits also. We were kinda coherent but jet lag had started to set in big time. We sat at the counter and began to decode another Japanese menu. (Looks like this was gonna be another shotgun session) but thankfully they had an English version. So we began ordering. First was pork tongue, which came with a hot mustard, dipping sauce. Then Chitterlings (again) in soya sauce, these had a real nice smoky charred taste to them, nothing like the delicate version in St John’s 2 nites before. Then we had some beef tripe which had a miso pate wiped on then grilled. Delish. Then some normality with breaded tender chicken with a special sauce. But we saved the best to last, a split salted pigs foot with the same hot mustard sauce. Now this was greatttttt.
Wow all this one day 1. If it carries on like this, this is going to be one great trip….