Kansai Adventure Part I: Kyoto

June 19, 2013 in Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel

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Night view from outside the front of Kyoto Station

I’m back, and I have no excuse for why it’s taken this long to post. Anyway, the restaurant/dining reviews from that March trip to Japan have finally been completed, so now it’s time to offer a brief round-up of the rest of the stuff we saw and did.

We were only in Japan for effectively three days and three nights (and that includes piecing together two half days). One of those days was spent on a day trip to Kobe and Osaka, with the other day and two half days in Kyoto, where we stayed (at the awesome Hotel Granvia, which is right on top of the Kyoto Station).

Scenic Attractions

This post features some highlights from our trip for those who might be interested in taking a similar short trip to Kyoto. That said, since we had been to all the tourist attractions in the city, all we did this time was shop and eat. So if you want to know which are the must-visit places, these are my personal recommendations:

1. Kyomizu-dera (清水寺) — in my personal opinion the prettiest of all the temples in Kyoto.

2. Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺) — if you’ve only got time for a couple of temples, then this is the second one I would recommend over Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺). The former is the Golden Pavilion and the second is the Silver Pavilion, and gold is better than silver, right?

3. Nijo castle (二条城) — a massive castle built in the early 1600s, complete with a moat and all.

4. Arashiyama (嵐山) — the place to go for mountain views, especially if you’re there in time to catch the autumn leaves.

5. Gion (祇園) — the geisha district; ’nuff said. If you’re there, check out this awesome Japanese ice cream place.

PS: If you are into manga, then check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

Kyoto Station

Chances are you will arrive in Kyoto through Kyoto Station. This time we stayed at the magnificent Hotel Granvia, which I highly recommend for its quality and convenience (it is literally right above the station).

There’s lots to do near the station itself. On the first night we were there, for example, we had dinner at Katsu Kura  (reviewed here), located on Level 11 of The Cube (a shopping mall connected to the station along with Isetan), which I believe is the best Japanese pork cutlet place I’ve ever tried.

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The view of Kyoto Station’s open areas from above

The shopping at The Cube and Isetan are both excellent, especially if you are looking for Japanese sweets, desserts or souvenirs to take back with you. Food-wise, there is the famous Ramen Street on level 10 of Isetan. It’s not the best ramen you can have in Kyoto, but with seven (by my count) options to choose from, you can always find something to your liking. Even if don’t eat there it’s not a bad idea to walk through it and check them out.

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The list of ramen restaurants at Kyoto’s famous Ramen Street

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The ramen stores here use a ticket ordering system

For lunch on our last day in Kyoto we went to Salavtore Cuomo’s The Kitchen on level 10 of Isetan. It’s an Italian place where you can order main courses to go with a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet (review here). There are also lots of great (but expensive) restaurants inside Hotel Granvia; for cheaper delights, visit the underground food haven which can be accessed from directly outside the front of the station.

For dessert or afternoon tea, you can’t go wrong with the green tea delights of Tsujiri, of which there is a branch in Isetan. The main store is near Gion, but that one is nearly always has a ridiculous queue, so you might be better off trying your luck at Isetan, especially just after the department store opens or just before it closes.

Another famous green tea dessert place is Nakamura Tokichi (English website), located on level 3 at the Suvaco section of Isetan. There’s nearly always a lengthy wait there as well, but if you don’t mind getting some takeaway you can go to the food court on the ground floor — there is a small window store there where you can sample some of their delicious roasted matcha ice cream.

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This is the food court stall

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And this is the ice cream!

Outside the front of the station, to the right, is a newish building with Japanese Karaoke, which we went to on our last night (and had a blast). On the left hand side is a a branch of the electronics giant Bic Camera — which has just about every electronic item you can think of. Well, unless you go to the massive Yodobashi Camera across the road, which has everything you can think of and much much more. If you only have time for one, go to Yodobashi — I used to travel all the way to Osaka for this place, one of the best shopping experiences you can ever have as a tourist. If you’re tired, just stretch your legs out on one of the unbelievable massage chairs. And then try another one. And another. No one will care. I am certain I can spend a whole day in that place.

Kawaramachi

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My favourite hangout in Kyoto when I was a student was Kawaramachi, a street, but also used to describe the most happening place in the city. Department stores, shops selling everything from souvenirs to hats to comic books and retro CDs, restaurants, cafes, book stores, cinemas, pachinko parlous, bowling alleys, karaoke bars, insanely awesome drug stores, and more — just go and enjoy.

This time, all we had time for was to visit the famous Musashi Sushi for the first time (review here) and then venture deeper into the district for some crepes at one of my favourite joints. But trust me, you can spend a full day at Kawaramachi. Easily.

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The crepe store is situated inside the Gourmet City supermarket

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The crepe joint I’m talking about

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Crepe master hard at work

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Mmm…

Nishiki Markets

This 400-year-old market is worth a visit even if you are not all that interested in the food they have to sell. It’s located a road one block north and parallel to Shijō Street and west of Teramachi Street (thanks, Wikipedia), but all I know is that it’s pretty easy to access from Kawaramachi.

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Inside the narrow Nishiki Markets

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Produce!

The thing I would recommend at Nishiki markets are definitely the fresh strawberries (they look so red and perfect that I initially thought they were fake), though the other fruits looked pretty scrumptious too. There are plenty of local delicacies you can try, and the more popular ones include the egg rolls (literally a roll of egg) and the store that sells soy soft serve ice cream and soy donuts. It’s also a great place to get some sweets and snacks to take home.

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The egg roll store

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The famous egg roll

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Soy soft serve and donut store

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Donuts!

Candy

I’m not usually a candy fan, but I have a fetish for grape candy (which is a popular flavour in Japan), and the best I’ve ever had might be this sour grape fettuccine pictured below. I believe I bought around 10 packets and devoured them all in the ensuing days. And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Update: Return to Taipei!

December 10, 2010 in Blogging, Novel, On Writing, Taiwan, Travel

I’ve been a little lazy recently, and as a result the number of draft posts I have are stacking up in a hurry.

The title of this post is “Return to Taipei”, but I’ve actually already returned from Taipei for a couple of weeks already.  As with last time, I absolutely loved the 12-day trip, revisiting some of the fantastic places I enjoyed last time.

It was a bit of a whirlwind stop, so I didn’t get to do as much as I would have liked, but I do have a few posts in mind — one of them being the International Floral Expo that’s on in Taipei at the moment (I’m intending to do a “guide” of sorts for visitors), as well as a couple of new highly rated restaurants.

To spice things up a little, I’m going to mix the upcoming Taipei posts with a bunch of movies and DVDs I’ve seen lately but haven’t had time to review.  I’ve also been reading a fair bit and writing a little (outside of this blog) — but hopefully I’ll be writing a lot more as I try and finish off the first draft of my fantasy novel over this summer break.

Stay tuned!

Cash Box KTV!

January 3, 2010 in Food, Taiwan, Travel

No visit to Taipei is complete without a visit to the karaoke.

Karaoke is one of the most popular past times in Taiwan.  It’s as common as, say, going to the movies.  There are literally hundreds of karaoke ‘bars’ in Taipei, but broadly speaking, karaoke is dominated by two franchises: Cash Box and Holiday KTV (both websites are in Chinese only, so find a friend who can read Chinese).

These karaoke venues are massive and operate for 24 hours, 365 days a year – entire buildings are required, complete with lifts, hotel-like reception and dozens of staff linked by radio.  Each venue has hundreds of individual luxurious en-suite rooms with your own LCD flat screen and state-of-the-art computer systems to help you find the song you’re looking for.

The one we went to was Cash Box, in the Xin Yi district.  Cash Box is known to have awesome food, which you can order in the karaoke rooms as you sing.  Cash Box has really ‘cashed in’ on the popularity of their cuisine, and have opened up a Cash Box restaurant (see here – unfortunately Chinese only).

Anyway, the singing was what it was, but the food was sensational! Check out photos below.

(Click on ‘More…’ to see the pics!)

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Kaisergarten: a delicious meal in Munich

March 31, 2009 in Food, Travel

[Update: pictures added!]

There are hundreds of Beer Halls and places to enjoy Schnitzel in Munich, and it’s hard to decide which ones to go to when you have limited time. I guess it depends whether you just want to get drunk with a bunch of rowdy people, or you actually want to sit down and have a (relatively) quiet meal.

On our last night in Munich, we went to this wonderful little place called Kaisergarten ( a quiet place) (www.kaisergarten.com) at Kaiserstrasse 34. It’s a little further out from the city centre, but easily reachable by public transport. Simply catch the U-Bahn (U3 or U6) to Muncher Freiheit and then it’s just a 5 minute walk (when you exit, head south along Leopoldstrasse towards the city centre (Marienplatz) and turn right when you see Kaiserstrasse – it’s just a short stroll from there).

Inside Kaisergarten (note: the flash makes it look brighter)

Inside Kaisergarten (note: the flash makes it look brighter)

We came across Kaisergarten by accident. I recall finishing a shower in Freiburg and saw my wife busily jotting down details on a piece of paper while staring intently at the TV screen. “We have to go to this place,” she said. Turns out Kaisergarten was promoted on some good food show, and as luck would have it, the restaurant was in Munich and we were heading there next!

The inside was dim, but nice and warm with wooden tables and benches, clean walls painted in white and green, a cool-looking bar along one side and a wooden case covering the entire back wall with dozens of squares holding hundreds of bottles of wine. They don’t have English menus (as far as we know) but the waitresses all speak perfect English and are more than happy to help explain the dishes. We went with the dishes we saw on TV, which were, of course, the favorites. The first was a giant veal schnitzel that’s bigger than your face, with roast potatoes underneath. The best part were the two sauces – one white and with a tang of mustard, and the other red with the sweet and sour of berries. It also comes with a brilliant fresh salad. The second was liver with sautéed onions and mashed potatoes, also delicious.

Oh, and the film crew was back, and they were filming some dude having the liver dish. Despite being packed to the throat, there was always room for dessert. We got the one they recommended, another popular one. It’s kind of like mashed up sweet pancakes with apple dipping sauce on the side. It’s delightful but extraordinarily big. They allowed us to take the leftovers away. A word of warning: it takes 45 minutes to prepare so order it early if you want it!

In all, the best meal I had in Munich. The mains were around 18 Euros each, the dessert was 9.50. Coupled with 2 non-alcoholic drinks, the total bill came up to around 52 Euros. Not down at the cheap end but you can certainly do a lot worse in expensive Munich.

Sensational Salad

Sensational Salad

Sensational Liver (doesn't taste like liver)

Sensational Liver (doesn't taste like liver)

Sensational Schnitzel with Sensational Sauces

Sensational Schnitzel with Sensational Sauces

You guessed it, Sensational Dessert (sauce not in view)

You guessed it, Sensational Dessert (sauce not in view)

 
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