Friday, December 12, 2008

Gourmet under siege

Few with access to mainstream media would not have heard about the political turmoil taking place in Thailand the last few weeks. Well, it's been a lot longer than that, but recent events made it to the top of the international news agenda. Anti-government protesters occupied Bangkok's two main international airports, stranding between two and three hundred thousand passengers.

As I am working in Bangkok for the next couple of months, Toshi was visiting me. His flights, like so many others were canceled and he stayed a whole extra week. I was very happy of course, although I'm not sure his boss back in Sierra Leone shared my sentiment.

Needless to say, there are much, much worse places to get stuck and we sampled some of what Bangkok has to offer.

Some of Bangkok's fantastic street food

Really good, but really expensive steak at Prime steakhouse

Really good ramen at one of the hundred's of Japanese restaurants in Bangkok

All topped off by a foot massage

I've found a cute little apartment, which is relatively close to the office and I can avoid the nasty Bangkok traffic by getting the river boat and then walking or grabbing a tuk-tuk if feeling lazy.

I've still got loads to write about from the last Japan trip, and then there is this 'cleansing' programme I've been on, maybe I'll tell you about that next.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Yata is easily the best restaurant I have been to - to date. Yata is in the Gion area of Kyoto, and was recommended to us by a good friend of Toshi. We first went there around three years ago and now try and go back every time that we are in Japan. What makes Yata so special is of course the incredible ingredients, the quality of the food, the beautiful interior, the service and the fantastic location, but there is something else too, something romantic and traditional, which makes me feel like I am transported back in time to a Kyoto of hundreds of years ago. I feel so lucky that through Toshi I have access to so many places in Japan, to which I would not have access to if I were on my own.


This time we went to Yata in autumn, the season for saba (mackerel) and ginnan (gingko nuts), which Toshi and I love. Toshi's favorite is saba zushi (pickled mackerel sushi) and he reckons Yata do it best.

saba zushi

ginko nuts

Other fantastic dishes that we had at Yata this time were a sea eel soup, which was very delicate yet packed full of flavor, tsukune (minced chicken with runny egg) and fantastic seasonal vegetable tempura.

sea eel soup



To finish, I had steamed rice (I'm just dying to do a post on rice - I have learned so much about rice in the last few years) and furikake (a condiment for rice) of dried little fish and mountain pepper and Toshi had ochazuke (steamed rice, salmon, with hot green tea poured over).

steamed rice with furikake


As usual, it was perfect. Can't wait to go back again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The return of Nippon Gourmet

And I'm back. Sorry about the silence. It's been a totally crazy busy few months. A lot of travel, a lot of deadlines and it was hard just to keep up with it all. But I'm back, and I'm in staying put in one place - Bangkok - for the next two and a bit months (well, more or less) so I hope things will be somewhat more quiet.

My last post was from Japan, and so it makes sense that my next post is also from Japan, from where I got back last night. Not quite third world gourmet, I know, but, well, it's my blog right?

I have so many things to write about and it's hard to know where to start. There are the numerous izakaya that we went to, the soba, the ramen, the whisky, the sake, the beer - but for now I think I will start with tempura.

Tempura refers to vegetables or seafood, which are deep fried in a light batter. Tempura was introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries during the 16th century.

Now, you may think that you know tempura, and perhaps you do, but I certainly did not know real tempura before I went to Japan. What I had previously was a poor step cousin, three times removed.

And of course not all tempura in Japan is great, or even good. It ranges from very ordinary to average tempura which you buy in fast food shops to extravagant outings at a few hundred dollars a head. We have tried the cheap ones and three mid-range restaurants. By mid-range, I mean around a hundred dollars a head with drinks.

And we have found a real gem in Tokyo. One place that is absolutely outstanding, to which we have now been twice. It's a very small family outfit with eight seats at the counter and one table for four.

So what makes this place so amazing? I guess it's a whole range of things - the freshness and quality of the ingredients, the crispy, light batter, the way in which they serve you one piece of tempura at a time to ensure it's as fresh as can be, the regularity with which they change the oil to ensure that each piece of tempura tastes perfect. And the taste. It's exquisite.

Then there is the whole dipping sauce thing. With tempura this crisp, this fresh and this tasty, we don't bother with the dipping sauce, just a little bit of salt and that's it.

Shrimp heads


Green beans



Really delicious fish, but I can't remember what it was



OK, more soon. Next post is on Yata in Kyoto. Only my number one favorite restaurant in the world (so far, anyway).

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Uninspired gourmet

I don't know what's happened. In the last few weeks I've completely lost my appetite and all inspiration. I'm searching for it. I will find it, I'm sure, in time. But please bear with me for a while.

I'll be back. Promise.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sushi gourmet

And I'm back.

Sorry for the silence - it's all been a bit of a whirlwind. During the past two and a half months I've been on the road. Dili, Bali, Canberra, Melbourne, Singapore, Tokyo, Shikoku, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Jakarta, Aceh, London and now back in Freetown. It's been crazy. Crazy I tell you.

Catching my breath now. Maybe this picture from the beautiful Japanese gardens we visited will help.

I promised that I had lots of good stuff to tell you about from Japan. What better way to start than with some delicious, melt in your mouth, fresh as it gets - sushi.

The place we went to is in the tsujiki area. The tsujiki fish market is the biggest fish market in the world and is a must see for anyone visiting Tokyo. For sushi in Japan it's best to go at lunch time as it's way cheaper than at dinner time.

We tipped up at 12 midday. By 12:20 we were all paid up, ready to go again. So quick, so delicious, our bellies bursting from having eaten too much, too fast.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bad gourmet

It's been ages, I know. I'm in Aceh, Indonesia and have really bad internet connection so I can't upload any photos. I have lots and lots of good stuff to write about from the Japan trip. Coming soon - promise!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Udon Gourmet

As Napoli is home to pizza, Parma to parmagiano and Champagne to champagne, then Shikoku is home to udon. Udon is that Japanese fabulously thick chewy white noodle that is usually served in a hot or cold broth.

Ever since Toshi and I watched ‘udon’ the movie almost three years ago we’ve been talking about making the ‘udon pilgrimage’ and last week we finally did it.

The view of Mt Fuji from the plane

We planned well. We bought the Shikoku udon equivalent of a bible which lists 88 of the top udon shops in the region. Three of the five places we went in the space of just over 24 hours were on this list, another was a brand new joint that we tried and the fifth, well, it was at the train station so we just had to.

The top 88 udon restaurants

The people of Shikoku take udon very seriously. Long kept family recipes are passed in secrecy from generation to generation and each udon shop is quite different. Some have soft noodles with a little bit of texture, others are thicker but shorter, and others are very strong and chewy. Options on how to have your udon vary but the common ways of having them are in a hot broth served with some spring onions and grated ginger; in a hot broth with a cracked egg; in a hot broth with grated yam and a cracked egg; or cold – with a cold dipping sauce. After you are served your bowl of udon, then you can select a piece (or more) of tempura to which you normally help yourself from a separate cabinet.

The menu

Tempura cabinet

The first place we went to, directly from the airport was Yamagoe, which is probably the most famous of the udon shops in Takamatsu (a city in Shikoku). It is so popular that sometimes 100 people are lining up at a time patiently waiting for their udon. We were lucky and there were only around 15 people before us.


This udon was excellent. It featured not particularly chewy, soft, long snakes of noodle in a little bit of sauce that you pour on yourself. I had the plain hot udon with cracked egg and a tempura onsen tamago (literally hot spring egg - soft and gooey on the inside - the best way ever to eat an egg) which was one of the better ones I’ve ever had. Toshi had the hot udon with grated yam and cracked egg.

Yamagoe udon

The next place we went to was Ajisho – and this was also really good. I had the cold udon with dipping sauce and Toshi had the cold udon in broth. These noodles were very strong and presented a lot of resistance when you chewed them.

Ajisho udon

The next place we went to was Udon Baka Ichidai, which is not on the coveted list of 88, mainly I think because it has only recently opened. This was probably my favorite udon. Strong, chewy, smooth noodle in a delicious, complex yet light broth. I had the plain hot udon in broth.

The next place was Atariya. This place is another of the most famous udon shops and renowned not only for good udon but for the strict rules imposed on the customers, like not speaking until you are spoken to, standing in a particular order at the counter, and a certain method of selecting the condiments for your bowl of udon.

We didn’t love this place. The tempura was old, the onsen tamago way overcooked and the broth was nothing to write home about. The taxi driver who took us there and back also had a bowl and was deeply disappointed. His assessment was that this place got big and famous too quickly and consequently the quality has suffered.

Atariya udon

The last place we went to (and by this time we were very, very full) was Renrakusen udon at the train station. We really should not have bothered, these were very ordinary noodles with ordinary broth and well, there is really nothing else to say about it.

I love udon, but I don’t think I’ll be having any for a while now.