Thailand

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My three days in Tokyo took up a month’s worth of posts, but I’m finally done posting about that leg of the trip. The next five days were spent in Bangkok visiting my side of the family.

Thailand has come up in conversation a lot recently. My former manager just came back from a 3-week trip to Asia where he was able to visit his daughter who happens to be studying abroad in Bangkok for six months. It was great to hear his stories and how he loved the food and the people there.

It’s also come up because Khun Ya, my paternal grandmother, is very sick and is in the hospital. There’s not one specific reason why she’s there, but the collection of health issues she’s been struggling with over the last few years have all gotten worse at the same time. My parents are en route to Bangkok at this very moment to be with the family. While I’m sad I cannot go along with them, Tim reminds me that we were able to visit her when she was still well and even able to come out to a museum and dinner at a restaurant. Being 95, that is no small feat.

Khun Ya is also a fantastic cook and makes some of the spiciest and tastiest dishes I’ve ever had. Each time we visit, there is always a surplus of goods to eat, in true Urwongse fashion.

While I spend some time praying for God to work in great ways around Khun Ya and the family, I’ll share some pictures from our visit. And if you’re so inclined, I’d really appreciate your prayers for the Urwongse family as well.

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Categories: Briefs

Sushi Kanesaka

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Sushi Kanesaka is a small sushi restaurant in the basement in the Misuzu Building in Ginza. It wasn’t too hard to find with the help of Google Maps on our phones, but for those who need visual cues, this Street View might help you find the place.

We went into the basement through the noren, which are those half curtains typically donning the name of the restaurant, and we came across the wooden door that let us peek into the beautiful space. The maître d’ slid open the door, welcomed us in, and seated us on the Chef’s right side of the bar. After placing our belongings out of the way, she came to take our order. For a weekday lunch, that meant choosing between the 5,000¥, 10,000¥ or 15,000¥ menu. We chose the 10,000¥.

We were lucky to be served by Chef Kanesaka himself, and he was very pleasant. Kanesaka-san spoke English with us, and we chatted about New York sushi restaurants among other things, and he generously told us about each dish in English. The relaxed atmosphere was why we chose Kanesaka, and it definitely met our expectations.

We started with seaweed and myoga ginger salad. Myoga is a flower bud of a ginger plant that tastes like ginger, but much more fragrant. There were many times throughout this trip when my taste buds would experience something new and my eyes would just open wide in response. You know those times when your brain understands something new for the first time, like a complex math concept or a new grammar rule? This was certainly one of those moments, but in the realm of food.

Starting from the top left, going clockwise, we started with hirame or fluke, shimaji or stripe jack, maguro, and toro. Each piece of fish was so sweet and perfectly complimented by Kanesaka-san’s rice, which was the Goldilocks of sushi rice. It had the perfect amount of vinegar and was just the right temperature so that the grains separated just enough while eating. Both the fluke and stripe jack were great pieces, but the tuna definitely stood out. When we thought the maguro was already rich in flavor, out came the toro, a fattier piece of tuna that just melted in our mouths.

Next was ika served differently from anything I’d seen before. Because the quality of the ika wasn’t perfect to Kanesaka-san, he sliced the piece into paper-thin slices, and continue to slice and dice the ika into small slivers that he dressed lightly with lime and sea salt. The texture was a little different, but in a good way, since I wasn’t distracted by what could have been a chewy piece of ika, and the lime and sea salt really complimented the piece.

The next four pieces were tiger prawn with a baby shrimp paste, herring, horse mackerel with scallions, and bonito with shiso. The tiger prawn was very tasty especially with the added paste, but I was a little disappointed it was cooked, as I’ve grown to love raw sweet ebi. I loved the detail of Kanesaka-san’s knife work on the herring, and thought it was the fishiest tasting piece of the lunch, it was still great. Both the horse mackerel and the bonito were paired with herbs which rounded out the pieces. The mackerel was surprisingly unfishy and mostly sweet, and the bonito reminded us of a lean tuna. Everything we had at this point shook up what we thought we knew about fish flavors.

We were then served a clam miso soup that gave us a break from all the wonderful nigiri. I’d never had clams in miso soup, and therefore had another one of those eye-opening moments. But after the soup, I’m very sad to say that I didn’t take a picture of what was the best piece of the meal.

The ark clam was an incredible unique piece of sushi that I really don’t know how to explain it. It appeared to still be moving when Kanesaka-san placed it on our plates, and we were so excited to try it, I forgot to snap a picture. It was fresh and crisp in both flavor and texture. Words and my lack of picture does it no justice. Also to note, we were the only ones who got the ark clam. We couldn’t pinpoint the differences between the different priced lunch sets, but all we know is we picked the 10,000¥ and we got the ark clam.

Next was the uni. I dearly love uni, and I always say I love the briny taste and how it reminds me of the ocean. But this uni was so different. It had all the same texture and sweetness, but no ocean taste! Nothing about it was fishy, and I was just amazed that a piece of uni could taste like that.

The tamago and anago marked the ending of our meal, so I tried to savor these pieces. The tamago tasted like dessert to me, perfectly sweet and fluffy, cooked evenly throughout, absolutely well done. And the anago was without heavy use of the sauce I usually associate with saltwater eel. It was warm and delicate and sweet on its own, it really didn’t need the sauce. And last but not least, the tuna temaki. Simple and pure, it was a great way to wrap up this lunch.

The food was amazing, as you’ve seen, but what made this an unforgettable experience was what happened after we left, after we said our “gochisousama deshita.” You see, it had been raining the entire time we were in Tokyo, but we took a chance that day and left our umbrella in the hotel. Sure enough, as we were about to leave Sushi Kanesaka, it was a steady drizzle. We were in no rush to get anywhere, so we decided to wait in the building’s entrance for the rain to stop.

After a few minutes, three of our fellow diners at Kanesaka (a woman and her parents) came out to leave, and when they reached where we were, the father said sweetly, “Oh. Rain. No umbrella?” We shook our heads no, but tried to tell them it was okay and we were going to wait. The daughter went back into the restaurant, and we assumed she must have left something. As quickly as she went in, both she and the maître d’ came out, carrying two extra umbrellas. They held out a long clear umbrella to us and kept insisting that we take it. Of course we bowed our apologies and said we didn’t need the umbrella, but they kept insisting. After several rounds of bowing, we gave in and took the umbrella. And then they tried to give us another one! We had to strongly push back about taking two, and bowed our deep grattitude to all of them.

We’ve always been very fond of Japanese culture, and our tiny trip to Japan only grew that love deeper. We were shown such respect by everyone, and above the sights and food, it was an extraordinary place to visit (and we were only in Tokyo!). We carried that umbrella all over Thailand and Taiwan; if our friends at Kanesaka went through the trouble of getting it for us, we certainly wanted to bring that keepsake home with us.

Sushi Kanesaka
8-10-3 Ginza
Misuzu Bldg., fl. B1, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, 104-0061
T 03-5568-4411

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Categories: Eats

Tokyo: Day 3

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On our first full day in Tokyo, we had sushi for breakfast, which was a real treat. We typically eat American breakfasts at home, meaning fruit and cereal or oatmeal on weekdays and pancakes or pastries with eggs and breakfast meats on weekends. They’re not the most balanced meals, and they’re usually high in sugar or fat content. When traveling, we love to leave our eating habits behind and embrace the food culture of the place we’re visiting. In Asia, that usually means eating just another meal like lunch or dinner.

So what did we do? We walked around Shinjuku in search of something that was open and looked enticing. We found this shop somewhere north of the Shinjuku station, across the street from McDonald’s, and started to study the shop’s kiosk. The pictures definitely helped, and after putting some coins in and making our selection, we went in and gave our tickets to the woman staffing the kitchen. A few minutes later, the next customer came into the shop and spoke to same woman in the kitchen; immediately afterward, she came over to us, said something in Japanese, and handed me ¥180. After a moment’s confusion, Tim tells me I put too much money in the vending machine, and that Japanese people are so honest and nice that it was in the open on the street until the next customer came in and honestly gave it to the restaurant who honestly returned it to the last customer, me! Wow, that really blew me away. That would be like leaving $5 on the sidewalk on 42nd Street in New York…. see what I mean? Wow.

Now the curry itself was good. I actually liked it better than the curry rice we had the first night. And the tonkatsu and ebi furai (fried shrimp) were so freshly fried they had extreme crunch, really great texture. We were already impressed with Tokyo at this point in the trip, and that experience just added to it.

After breakfast, we walked around Harajuku and Shibuya and made our way to Meiji Shrine that’s dedicated to the Emperor and Empress of the Meiji era. Walking through the grand forest was serene, and everything from the architecture to the trees surrounded us with their beauty. You simply must visit Meiji Shrine when in Tokyo.

We made our way back to Ginza for lunch at Sushi Kanesaka, and I can say that it’s the best sushi I’ve ever had. It was such a special meal, I’m saving the details for an entire post on its own.

We had a short list of things to buy in Tokyo, and glasses from Muji were at the top of that list. We went to at least 5 Muji locations in search for them, but were unsuccessful. We finally found Muji Yurakucho, which was the largest Muji of the ones we visited. There were bikes, many floors of housewares, beauty/skincare products, furniture, plants, and most importantly, glasses! After picking out frames and giving them a prescription (which they confirmed by examining Tim’s current pair of glasses), we were told to come back in 30 minutes.

We took that time to sit and relax at Muji Cafe & Meal. Much like IKEA does, Muji offers food cafeteria-style, using their own housewares. For our afternoon snack, we picked an orange brioche and a milk cream bun to go with our iced coffee and tea. We are true Mujirers, so it was quite an experience sitting in the Cafe & Meal eating our Muji goods waiting for our Muji glasses. Yes, I realize how ironic that is, considering Muji means “no-name”, but we are still big fans of the quality of the “no-label” goods.

After more walking and a tiring trip to Akihabara, we decided that our last dinner in Tokyo would be more ramen. One of the places I wanted to visit was Tokyo Ramen Street, located in First Avenue Tokyo Station. By the time we got there, it was late and we were exhausted and famished. The lines weren’t too bad, but we were in no mood to wait for a line. We tried studying the guides/maps to find a shop with no line that served the kind of ramen we wanted.

That proved to be impossible, and we gave up by finding Ramen Mutsumiya and ordering miso ramen with chashu and corn and tsukemen with chashu and shoyu dipping sauce. It was all very good.. not quite as good as Suzuran, but it fit the bill considering how tired and hungry we were. I’d love to go back when I have energy to wait on line for supposedly the best tsukemen at Rokurinsha Tokyo.

Muji Yurakucho
東京都千代田区丸の内 3-8-3
インフォス有楽町1-3F

Tokyo Ramen Street
At First Avenue Tokyo Station
B1F Yaesu South Exit

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Categories: Eats

Tokyo: Day 2

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The second day’s activities exhausted us by lunch time, so it was a nice break to sit down for a three course Italian meal at Faro. Faro is on the 10th floor of the Shiseido building in Ginza, not to be confused with Faro Slow Time which is on the 9th floor. We made the mistake of going to the 9th floor and were seated at Faro Slow Time. After getting situated in the comfy chairs, the maître d’ came to tell us that our reservation was for the restaurant upstairs!

We got used to making mistakes and getting lost at this point, so we bowed our apologies and found our table at Faro, nicely surprised that our reservations were for the higher-end of the two! Our cousin Elisha, being fluent in Japanese, graciously took care of our reservations in Tokyo. (Thanks Elisha!)

Okay, so onto the food and service at Faro. We each ordered the Porto lunch which included appetizer, pasta, dessert, and coffee for a steal of ¥2,800! This deal is only good for weekdays, but I highly recommended fine dining for lunch since dinners easily cost 2-3x as much.

To start, we had octopus and grain salad topped with yuzu foam and a mixed shellfish salad topped with uni and citrus dressing. Both were very clean and fresh in taste, and we liked how the seafood was enhanced with light use of citrus and not much else.

The pastas we chose were a creamy fettuccine topped with roasted corn and shrimp ravioli with tomato and basil. Every dish was simple, but elegantly done. Pastas were perfectly al dente and fresh ingredients stood out on their own. People questioned why we chose to eat Italian in Tokyo, and it’s because we knew it would be good. I read that Faro offers an uni pasta in certain seasons, but I didn’t see it on the menu. Otherwise I would have loved to try it and see how it compared to Marea’s.

And the best part about lunch was dessert. When it came time for dessert, our server rolled the dessert trolley over to us and asked what we’d like. It’s not advertised, but you can choose as many as you’d like! We were shy and only chose two each, but afterward I saw our server cut a piece of every dessert for another customer. But each piece was tiny, so the benefit of choosing fewer pieces meant we had larger serving sizes. We slowly enjoyed our choices with finely pulled espresso (passionfruit/raspberry cake, rum cake, raspberry meringue cake, and flan), and decided lunch at Faro was very relaxing with just the right amount of service and attention.

After more shopping and more walking, we decided to search for a ramen place in Shibuya that would be open for dinner, and not surprisingly, we got lost. We actually found the place by chance, and it was the big picture sign of ramen that tipped us off. Based on a Google Street View image, I was looking for a large sign, but there was none! They removed the sign I was looking for! I read about it being behind the police station, but even Google Maps couldn’t help us because I was fixed on that one landmark. Defeated by the streets of Tokyo again.

When we tried to go in (this was around 5:30PM), we were told it be another 30 minutes before they open for dinner. Sigh. So we walked around some more, being careful not to stray too far. When we finally sat down and ordered our chashu miso ramen and chashu shoyu tsukemen with tamago, we were famished with a hunger only noodles could satisfy.

The ramen was great. It was better than ramen in New York, but like I said about Sushi Daiwa, not orders of magnitude better. And the tsukemen was also great. The noodles were definitely some of the best noodle I’ve ever had, but I thought the shoyu sauce was very salty. I’m not a tsukemen connoisseur, so maybe that’s how the dipping sauce usually tastes, but it was extremely salty for me.

Of course I’d recommend visiting this place as it’s talked about on many forums and blogs. But I’d also recommend visiting a variety of ramen places to experience the subtleties of different styles of broths, noodles, toppings. If only we had stayed a few more days…

Faro
10F Shiseido Bldg
8-8-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku
03-3572-3911

Suzuran
Better than an address, use this link to find Suzuran!

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Categories: Eats

Tokyo: Days 1 & 2

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The trip started with Tokyo, so that’s where I’ll begin. I have to admit that I “prepared” for my trip by watching Lost in Translation, and I’d forgotten how great that movie was. We were extremely fortunate to have stayed at THE Park Hyatt Tokyo where the majority of the film took place. While we weren’t waited on like Mr. Harris, it certainly was the best service we’ve received from any establishment hands down. If you’re going to Tokyo and haven’t stayed there before, you must go. But first, sign up for the Hyatt Visa like we did to get two free nights (thanks for the tip David!).

I said we spent three days in Tokyo, but really, it was even less than that; we arrived Sunday afternoon and flew out Wednesday morning, so we only had two full days. On Sunday after we checked in, we only had energy to explore around the Shinjuku station where we ate quick curry at a counter then enjoyed pricey desserts before we decided to rest up for an early start at Tsukiji fish market the next day. The curry was great, and we were surprised it wasn’t orders of magnitude better than what we can get in New York. But the desserts.. they were perfect in taste and presentation. I mean, look at the menu picture and the actual dessert itself! I’m still not sure what flavor the jelly was, but it went very well with the kinako powder and vanilla ice cream. And the matcha azuki shaved ice made me a very happy girl.. even though it cost us nearly ¥1600. Pricey indeed.

Our first full day started at Tsukiji Fish Market, but not as early as we had originally planned. Since we were already packing in so much in our two full days, we decided to skip out on the 5:00AM tuna auction, but we still left relatively early to get our sushi breakfast.

Skipping the early auction couldn’t have worked out better for us. We stumbled upon Sushi Daiwa just after 8:00AM, and the line was so small that we had to double check we were at the right place! We only waited about 10 minutes before we got our seats at the bar, and as soon as we sat down, the meal continued at that pace. We were immediately shown a menu, but we didn’t need any because we asked for the ¥3,500 set.

The set included tea, miso soup, 7 pieces of nigiri and 1 maki roll. The sushi itself was pretty good, no doubt. The only piece that stood out as tasting significantly better than some of the best sushi we’ve had in New York was the otoro (fatty tuna belly). It was so creamy it melted in our mouths. Besides the otoro, we were impressed by how great sushi tasted and felt for breakfast. Filling up on lean protein to kick start the day makes perfect sense! It’s probably not traditionally done, but it was fun to try at the biggest wholesale fish market in the world.

After our morning at Tsukiji, we planned to shop around Ginza before our lunch reservation. We are big fans of Muji and Uniqlo, so we visited almost every store we saw in Asia.. probably at least 8 Mujis and 10 Uniqlos? Yikes. The flagship stores were fun to visit, but the 12-story Uniqlo in Ginza felt underwhelming compared to the 5th Avenue one in New York. But then again, that could be a good thing, meaning that they did such a fantastic job with the store layout, that all 12 floors were manageable and easy to shop. Tokyu Hands was another store I could easily spend days in. The kitchenware floor.. the stationery floor.. all the washi tape! Ahh, I’m still surprised at the self-control I exercised there.

Because this post is already getting lengthy (and I’m not halfway done with Day 2), I’m going to leave lunch and dinner for another post! The next post will cover lunch at a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant and our first ramen experience in Shibuya.

Sushi Daiwa
Tsukiji Fish Market
Building 5-2-1 (but don’t bother looking this up, just look for the lines!)
near the Tsukijishijo Station on the Oedo Line

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Categories: Eats