Sunday, June 29, 2014

Touzan

There are many things I love about the Hyatt Regency Kyoto (where my Zenbu Cuisine & Culture Groups stay) but the food and beverage facilities here are truly top notch. Which is a rare thing to say about a hotel. From breakfast through to late night - the team are all over it! 

I adore the Touzan bar - the do fantabulous martinis, the staff know my name and what  I like to drink  (is that a bad thing??) it has a wonderfully cosy, nook like ambiance AND it is right next door to the Touzan restaurant.  
On our final evening in late April the kitchen team put together such a nourishing and delicious meal for us. After a couple of weeks eating everything from the wildly exotic to the simply rich and decadent - we really just wanted something soulful. And that is exactly what we got. 
We started with one of my favourite local dishes - gomadoufu (sesame tofu)  - a creamy, sesame morsel topped with fresh wasabi and good soy. 
Then came these SENSATIONAL gooey eggs marinated in soy then chargrilled. I want this NOW. 
A superb tastette of nigiri zushi (there's a sushi counter inside the restaurant too)
Then a simple nabe (hotpot) of udon noodles topped with grilled local chicken, tempura veg, cabbage, konnyaku and spring onions. Just so nourishing. 
Oh yeah. Just feeling a little bit homesick now. Missing Kyoto town. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

It... it... it was Dolly...

I found this very non-Japanese looking doll in some flea markets in Kyoto. 

The dollies always creep me out just a little.  
Masterminds of after dark criminal activity. 
This one seems friendly enough I suppose. 

What do you think?

Secret Swatch Business


I love this little Kyoto shop. It's filled to the brim with old, often antique Japanese fabrics & kimono - some of them very expensive. 

If you are travelling you don't always want to pay for or lug around a whole bundle of cloth (especially if you already have a collection taking up space around the house!) - so if you are just after a small section to display in a frame these guys have done a good part of the work for you. 

The fabric is already cut and popped into a paper frame so you can imagine what it might look  like on your wall. They range in price from around 800 to 8000 yen depending on the particular fabric or textile used. And they are so easy to pop in your luggage!

Where is this gem of a shop exactly?? that my friends is a little secret I keep for the lovely peeps who come along on my tours  - but if you happen to guess where it is I will be happy to confirm it for you ;) 

If you  feel a gorgeous trip to Kyoto might be on the cards then why not check out my Zenbu Kyoto Winter Cuisine and Culture Tours. 



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cacao Market


Any new chocolate shop is a little bit of good news as far as I'm concerned and while this corner store on Kawabata street near the Higashi Gion area seems more French/American than Kyoto - I'd been keen to take a peek since I first noticed it back in October 2013. 
So one warm day in April when I was in the area and needing something refreshing we stopped off at Cacao Market, casual sister cafe to Kyoto's Mariebelle store,  for a frosty chocolate treatette. 
Which was bloody excellent. Rich AND refreshing... not an easy achievement. I chose the Aztec Iced Chocolate but I could have had spicy or white as an option. 
There's a selection of hot chocolate of course, chocolate bars, chocolate cakes, chocolate desserts - er you get the picture.  There's also coffee, tea and non chocolate cold drinks for those non chocolate types. I don't know any such people myself. 
However - if you do happen to be in the area at meal time - they do have a couple of savoury items too - sandwiches, burritos - I know - random. But they did smell good!

Chocolate slabs, bark and individual chocolate candies are prepacked or you can buy them by weight - filling your own choice of tin or bag from the central distribution unit - see image above.  
Just a little tempting....
 Kinda wishing I bought the mint chip balls but the maple bacon version wasn't bad...
 And when you've fed your chocolate craving and purchased some for Ron... (as in later-on for the non Aussies!) go for a walk to your east and discover the wonders of Higashi Gion - the northern part of Kyoto's famous Gion Geisha quarter.
If you are in the Gion area around dusk you never know who you might bump into.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Clementia クレメンテイア

Clementia and I were getting along famously until I smashed one of her lovely glasses. I'm still not quite sure how it happened. I barely tapped it... (with my i-phone as I tried to get a shot of the wine label - yeah, I would have been pissed off with me too if I was the owner.  He was sweet enough but I could tell he wasn't overly excited by my clumsiness and trashing of his tiny eatery).  
I'd been recommended to this Italian restaurant in the north western corner of Kyoto's downtown area by a friend of a friend about a year or so earlier - apparently it is a local favourite. A 6 course lunch with coffee for $40 is cheap as chips anywhere else in the world but in Kyoto - well it is considered quite an  investment in a town where many decent lunch deals can be found for around for $10-20 dollars - amazing but true. Not 6 courses mind you - but still - a decent feed can be had for not very much without having to look too far. So, there was a certain level of expectation.  
And after one sip of this chilled soup of pure tomato essence with basil oil and Parmesan wafers I was pretty certain it was money well spent.  I had a grin from ear to ear. Sheer pleasure. 
and the wine didn't do any harm either - they told me the name translated as playboy... I told them to leave the bottle! (not really honey... ;+ xx)
White asparagus was in season  - lightly grilled, nama (prosciutto like) ham , paprika sauce, Hollandaise sauce, balsamic... all the sauces.... most pleasant, even if a little too much going on
Next up was the homemade sausage with cabbage puree, leek, cabbage and porcini saute and mustard on the side - simple yet delectable
After the three starter courses a selection of 5 pastas was on offer - I chose the home made taglierini of wholemeal flour (from Shiga), butter sauce, fresh bamboo shoots, mushrooms, warabi stems.  It was truly delightful, toothsome yet elegant. I would return just for the pasta - any of them. Having Carbonara made with eggs from neighbouring Shiga or lasagne of  wild?? beef and pork  or a fresh tomato sauce with new onions on the menu it was pretty hard to make a decision.
Noting how much I was enjoying myself the owner poured me a glass of the wine with the gorgeous label. He told me it was Shindo Funi from Hitomi winery in Shiga, his home town (hence all the Shiga produce!). It had a bouquet of strawberries but the finish was dry and full bodied. Too easy to drink. And I wish I'd managed to get more of it past my lips before desiccating the glass. 
 Next was a selection of 4 mains - including Omi beef cooked in hay, roast duck or baked sea bass.  I chose " The roast of Pork". The dish indeed contained some roast pork - but also home made bacon, a spice mix of almond, paprika, garlic powder and roast barley and a sauce made from Okinawan black sugar.  Hello. It was a curious mix to be honest but enjoyable nonetheless.
Interesting to note that the chef does not use olive oil but a local canola oil in this dish and throughout his cooking. Although... I did note that the homemade foccacia came with olive oil - so I'm guessing it does feature from time to time. Or the explanation was lost in translation... totally possible.
Mille Feuille of vanilla custard with cassis sorbet  - the desserts are made by the chef's wife. Clever thing she is - this was a fab finish!
Italian coffee ? - si, grazie. So not all offerings on the menu were entirely Italian - you expect that in Japan, but the meal was most enjoyable. And for $40 who's ever going to complain?

Purin  プリン


Friendly faced Purin cups. 

Purin is the Japanese version of what our friends in America may call pudding cups, what those of us in Oz probably call creme caramel and others may call flan - it is chilled, baked custard with caramel in the base, which becomes a sauce/topping when the custard cup is inverted. 

Purin appears on menus and in supermarkets across Japan. When something takes off in Nihon it really takes off and there are even plush toys and phone straps dedicated to the humble purin. 

There is no escape from purin in all its glorious forms and flavours - pumpkin is a bit of a person fave. That is all. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Korakuen Garden in Okayama  こらくえん

Okayama is famous for its castle (peeking over the shoulder of the tree on the right in the image below), sweet Peaches (and the story of Momotaro - the Peach Boy), Bizen ware, Citrus fruit and this amazing garden -Korakuen -  Ranked as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. 
 I'm just going to let you take a little wander around because it is just stunning (if a little ultra-groomed in places)
Like water off a duck's back. How calm this fella floats over the top of the Koi fighting each other for food.
Everyone wants a part of the action. 
If you guessed peach you were correct - Peach sweets and Peach soft serve. Now I'm regretting not having stopped for one...
Tea bushes.
See the rock in the middle of the moat - I found this tiny flower growing out of it. That's one determined species of flora.
Can't take my eyes off those incredible azalea bushes.
Moss under Maple.
White and purple Wisteria - April blooms. 
Fruit orchard... I'm guessing peach??
Iris's just starting to pop their faces out. 
If I should ever own a garden of size I want one of these charming zigzag bridges. 
According to Zen philosophy the purpose of the bridge's design is for the person crossing to be mindful of the now, be in the moment and all that - lest you fall in.
Stepping stones perhaps are a more natural way of making your way across a shallow waterway.

I love the beauty of the fallen Camellia.

Kissing Fish and...  just-good-friends-tortoise.
Tiny isn't it?


I walked back to our Okayama hotel via the downtown shotengai (shopping arcade) and as I neared the station (adjacent to the hotel) I stumbled across a vibey area with loads of casual restaurants and bars. 
Yet we opted for an in room picnic! With a little peach wine. Before collapsing into bed.