Spring into Osaka

024372E0-4C89-4456-9F7F-78748824EE29Cherry blossom season is my favorite time of year. This year, my partner and I decided to go to Japan to view the cherry blossoms in Osaka. Unfortunately, it rained most of the weekend and the blossoms weren’t fully bloomed, but we still were able to enjoy ourselves.
A7DA0105-E1EB-46A2-99D0-248B6268E046We stayed in a hostel near Higobashi station, which turned out to be a great location. It was very close to everything that we wanted to see, so we didn’t have to venture too far away which was great considering we weren’t staying very long. After resting for a bit we decided to go get some dinner. Luckily, the ramen restaurant we wanted to go to was only two stations away.

I was worried that we would have to wait a long time because this restaurant is very popular, but we didn’t wait more than 15 minutes. It was rainy so that might’ve had something to do with it. What was interesting about this restaurant was that there wasn’t a person to take your order. We had to use a kiosk to order and pay.

 

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How to get to Zundouya from Shinsaibashi Station exit 6

Because this place is famous my expectations were very high, but once I tasted my ramen I saw why they were famous. The broth was the thickest and densest broth I’ve ever tasted. It had a deep, rich flavor and the pork slices melted in my mouth. The noodles were firm and they did not get soggy at all. Even though it wasn’t a large portion we did leave feeling very full. I thought we would be able to walk around and then get another snack just to taste some street food, but hours later we were still full.

 

The next day, on our way to the train station we saw an udon restaurant. It didn’t look special but the food looked good so we decided to give it a try. They had tempura and a special spring udon set that we decided to try. We were both pleasantly surprised at how amazing this inexpensive bowl of udon was. It was a common restaurant but they definitely put care into their food and they used quality ingredients. We liked it so much that we actually wanted to go back again, but we didn’t have time because we wanted to try as many different things as we could.

 

After breakfast we headed to Osaka Castle. This is a must see spot in Osaka and you cannot leave without seeing it. The castle is very beautiful and you can see it from Osaka Business Park Station. It’s also a beautiful spot to see the Cherry blossoms and although they weren’t fully bloomed they were still very beautiful, as was the entire park. The castle has eight floors and because the grounds are extensive I wouldn’t stay here less than three hours. You want to take in as much of the history in the museum as possible and enjoy the beautiful park.

 

When we left the castle we saw some food stalls outside of the castle walls. Each one was different but we decided to get some takoyaki and beef skewers. Even though the food wasn’t spectacular, although it was delicious, the kindness and good attitude of the street vendors made the atmosphere and food better.

For dinner we decided we would eat okonomiyaki. Osaka is known for their okonomiyaki, but my partner wanted to go to a restaurant that was known for their okonomiyaki. So we went to Ajinoya but when we saw the line we almost left. We did go at a peak time so we did have to wait for one hour, but the wait was worth it. It was the best okonomiyaki I’ve ever had and the service was great. If you aren’t in a large group you can sit at the bar in front of the grill so you get to see the cooks make the okonomiyaki. They’re very friendly and one of the cooks even posed for someone’s picture.

 

The next day, we decided to go to the coffee shop across the street from our hostel. The aunty from the shop had actually helped us find our hostel on our first night so we wanted to check out her shop. It was very cute inside but I wasn’t sure about how the coffee would taste. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The coffee was actually pretty great and it was all hand drip coffee. She gave us cream but because the coffee tasted so good we didn’t use it. We also ordered some sandwiches and again I wasn’t expecting much but they were good and kind of refreshing. The aunty seemed to enjoy working there and she put a lot of care into making the coffee and the little sandwiches. I hope I can go back there one day.

 

After breakfast we headed to a small temple near Namba station. This temple was very interesting because the Buddha statue was actually covered in moss and the temple was tucked away in a small alley. Walking by you wouldn’t even notice it was there unless you were looking for it. It was kind of surprising to see such a small temple that was peaceful and quiet in the middle of a bustling shopping area. After praying to Buddha and asking for his blessing we decided to write a wish on an Ema before we left.

 

After leaving the temple we decided to do some shopping before eating lunch. There are a lot of great shops around that area so we were able to buy some gifts for my partner’s coworkers and for ourselves. We finished up and went back to the temple because there is a great sushi restaurant right next to it. When we went inside the restaurant the atmosphere felt calm and cozy. They had sushi at every price range and they had a wide variety of different fish. Even the mid-range priced tuna tasted amazing and it melted in your mouth. The tempura wasn’t greasy and the batter was thin and crispy. Overall, I was very impressed with this restaurant.

 

90B579FD-261E-46E0-85B3-A1C2EF7945C6We had an amazing trip, despite the weather. Osaka is a beautiful city with so much more to offer than you can see in a few days. We will definitely come back soon to discover more about this city.
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Feast in Shanghai

I had been antipcating our trip to Shanghai for several months. It would be my first visit to China and my partner’s and I first international trip together. Unfortunately, we arrived several hours after our arrival time due to China Eastern’s inability to ever leave on time. Thankfully, my partner is able to keep me positive even when I am feeling hangry.

We decided to keep our explorations near our hotel because of how late it was so we tried a night market nearby. Sadly, it was the middle of the week and there weren’t any vendors, but we were able to get some skewers from a small restaurant. We had gluten, mushroom and lamb skewers. They were very well seasoned, but there wasn’t much meat on the lamb, it was more fat than anything else, but it was still very delicious. I’m not sure what seasoning was used, but I wish I could have bought some to take home.

After we ate we decided to walk around and see what was around the neighborhood. That is when I saw a restaurant selling Shanghai breakfast and I couldn’t walk past. Shanghai breakfast was the number one meal I wanted to try. We had dou jiang(hot soy milk), dou fu nao(which is soft tofu in a light broth), you tiao(a fried dough that you dip into the soy milk) and ci fan taun(a rice roll that can be filled with what you choose). The meal was better than I had imagined. The soy milk wasn’t watery, as I thought it might be, it was very smooth and light. The fried dough wasn’t overly sweet and it complemented the soy milk and absorbed the soy milk without gettting very soggy. The tofu melted in my mouth and the broth was surprisingly flavorful and it tasted even better when my partner added chili oil. The rice roll surprised me the most because I wasn’t expecting a lot of flavor from it, but there were several layers of different ingredients. We couldn’t figure out what was used, but there were some sweet and sour vegetables and some salty meat. With each bite I bit into a new flavor and I would have kept eating if I wasn’t so full. All of this and a mildly sweet herbal tea was less than $4 USD.

The next day we went to a restaurant that was known for their noodles, but we didn’t limit ourselves to just that. I wanted to try as much as possible so we ordered xiang qin dan gan(marinated hard boiled egg slices), yan shui ya(steamed or boiled salty duck) and Jinpai hai xian mian(seafood noodle soup). Our food didn’t look like it would really go together, but the flavors balanced each other very well. The egg slices were mild and were like a palate cleanser. It balanced the saltiness of the duck meat which was also tender and juicy. The meat fell of the bone and right into my salivating mouth. The duck doesn’t look very pretty, but you shouldn’t let that deter you from trying it. Last, we had the seafood noodle soup, which was my favorite. The broth looked milky and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was delicious. You can taste the crab, the base of the broth, but I dont know what other seasonings are used. It was mild, but it wasn’t a soup that you would get tired of eating and you dont feel heavy after eating it. Also, they gave us 5 whole shrimp, so I left more than satisfied.

My partner wanted a snack so we bought chou dou fu(stinky tofu). I know a lot of people say that the smell is awful, but it didn’t smell bad to me and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to try new food. I thought it tasted great.  The tofu was firm and the broth was a little spicy, slightly sour and salty.  I will definitely try this again. I was still feeling adventurous so I decided to try Dove durian chocolate. That was a mistake. It tasted like white chocolate with onion filling and I couldn’t finish it. The filling tasted completely different from fresh durian, which I tried later and actually liked.

Later, we met up with my partner’s childhood friends and had dinner together. They ordered more food than we could eat, but my favorites were the li yu jiang ya(marinated duck) it tasted sweet and salty, duo jiao yu tou(Steamed fish with salted chilies over noodles) despite being spicy I was able to eat it and the fish was seasoned all the way through and mo cha bai yu(matcha tofu) a dessert tofu that was slightly sweet with a very smooth texture. For dessert they wanted ice cream, which I can never pass up, so we went to Häägen Dazs. Not very Chinese, but ice cream is delicious everywhere.

On our last full day to ourselves we visited the Shanghai Muslim Market. It’s only opened on Fridays and it seemed like it was winding down by the time we got there, but there were still many food stalls open. I really wanted to try the baozi and jiaozi because I prefer beef over pork and I wasn’t disappointed. The nui rou baozi( beef baozi) was crunchy on the outside and well seasoned and juicy in the middle. The nui rou jiaozi had a thick, crispy outside with a tender filling similar to the baozi. We also tried the lamb skewers and the meat was tender. If we would have stayed another week I would have gone back to eat more.

We found more baozi at a famous bao restaurant near the river. When we tasted their baozi we knew why there was a line. I haven’t had a wide array of baozi, but the flavor in these were well balanced and very juicy on the inside, which my shirt found out rather soon but I’m not bitter. We couldn’t get a to-go-box so we’ll have to live on the memory of the best baozi we’ve ever had.

On our last day in China we went outside of Shanghai to visit my partner’s best friend. Her husband made us hot pot, but without using water. It was a no-broth hot pot that used the water from the ingredients to cook everything, but the main ingredient was the Chinese mitten crab from Yang Cheng Lake. The crabs were very sweet and juicy and were the best part of the hot pot. Definitely the best crab I’ve ever had.

There is so much to eat in Shanghai and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of Shanghai cuisine, but thanks to my wonderful partner I was able to feast in Shanghai.

Fire Magic – Making Sichuan Hot Pot (四川冒菜火锅)

I love to cook and try new foods and I really like hot pot. There are so many different vegetables that you can put inside of it that gives you something different to taste with each bite. However, this hot pot is more than what you put into it; the flavor is all in the broth. It’s spicy, yet cooling. The chilly peppers are balanced by peppercorns that have a numbing and cooling effect. And there are a plethora of other herbs and spices that make this hot pot flavorful and comforting. The herbs and spices work together and one does not overpower the other. It’s the perfect balancing act.

My partner and I decked to make this hot pot one chilly Friday evening. We covered the furniture and made sure no cloth was left exposed, lest it become permeated in hot pot aroma and continually tempt us long after our stomachs were full. Since I like to be in charge of the kitchen, even if I don’t understand the recipe, I decided to get started. My partner told me we could put whatever we wanted inside of the hot pot and I might have a taken that too literally. We made this hot pot on two separate days, so here are the two versions.

Version 1:

  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 medium sized sweet potatoe chopped
  • 2 small white potatoes chopped
  • 4 shitake mushrooms sliced
  • 5 button mushrooms sliced
  • 4 leaves from a large napa cabbage chopped
  • 3 bok choy stalks chopped chopped
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • Thinly sliced beef
  • 1 package of Hot Pot Sauce

Version 2:

  • 1 1/2 cups of soaked wood ear mushrooms
  • 2 sausages sliced lengthwise
  • 6 bok choy stalks
  • 3 sweet potatoes chooped
  • 2 white potatoes chopped
  • 10 leaves of Napa cabbage
  • Sweet potato noodles soaked in warm water
  • 1 package of hot pot sauce

* These measurements can be adjusted according to preference. Hot pot is very versatile and there are many different types that you can choose from.

After boliling the water I placed the first seasoning packet inside the water and the aroma that came from the pot was overwhelming delicious. I think my mouth was literally watering. I boiled the potatoes and carrots for a few minutes, until they were almost tender, and then I added the remaining vegetables. After everything was cooked we mixed in the remaing 2 packets and stirred for a few seconds before adding the beef. Since it’s thinly sliced it only takes a few seconds to cook. You can eat this as is or with a small bowl of rice.

 

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Version 1: The vegetables are chopped a littler smaller.
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Version 2: The vegetables aren’t chopped, except for the potatoes, and we added sausage.

For me, part of kitchen magic is appreciating the ingredients that I use and enjoying the process. Making this hot pot is not only simple, but it is impossible to do it “wrong”. Each ingredient you use is what inspires you, so if you feel more inclined to use another vegetable you can use it. It’s not fancy or pretentious and it doesn’t require a lot of work to make it, yet it does more than any meal at a Michelin rated restaurant could do for me. It made me feel warm, relaxed and deeply satisfied.

Finding Authentic Chinese Food in Seoul

I love food! So I make a point of trying as many new foods as I can. This past weekend my partner and I went to a Chinese restaurant near Konkuk Universtiy. There are many Chinese Resturants located there, many of which are authentic, but we happened upon this one while exploring the area for new restaurants to try.

I am so glad we decided to go there. There were so many dishes that we could try and they were from different regions in China, which is unusual for Chinese restaurants. According to my partner, most restaurants will serve dishes that are from a certain region rather than from several as this restaurant did. Each dish was reasonably priced and delicious. The chef, I don’t know if he received formal training but he’s a chef in my opinion, is amazing. He understands flavors and each dish is packed with layers of flavor and textures that leave you deeply satisfied after your meal. I loved this place so much I had to go back and try some more dishes and I was not disappointed.

The first time we went we were really hungry, so we went a little overboard and ordered three dishes. It was a lot of food, but we ate most of it and I am not ashamed.

4FAECE16-968A-4809-9E0C-6BC8ECE133CF酸辣粉(suān là fěn) Sour & spicy noodles from Sichuan

This dish was a little sour, but it wasn’t overpowering. The chili peppers added a nice kick and balanced out the sourness. I also appreciated that the noodles weren’t drowning in bean sprouts. While I do like bean sprouts, I find that overusing them in a dish is a way for a restaurant to skimp out on other quality vegetables that help inhance the flavor of the dish.

 

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烤鱼(kǎo yú) Grilled fish from Chonching
I have had this fish before and while I liked it I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was when I had this one. It was so delicious that I felt deprived that I had never tasted this before. I was intimidated at first when I saw all the chili peppers, but this dish was more than chili peppers.  There was a lot of flavor going on and it was well balanced. It is a lot of food so at least 3 people should eat this together.

 

8E925186-0C50-4423-9B96-C1AFA0224372
宽面(kuān miàn) Wide hand rolled noodles
A simple noodle dish that I couldn’t stop eating. There wasn’t a lot of beef in it, but I didn’t miss it. The sauce went well with the noodles and the noodles were thick and soaked up the flavor of the sauce. My only problem was that I felt there were too many onions and they could have been cooked a little more. We didn’t really eat the onions and they didn’t interfere with the dish so it wasn’t a big deal.

 

These are the dishes we ordered when we went back.
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红肠炒面(hóng cháng chǎo miàn) Wide hand rolled noodles with red sausage
These noodles look similar to the above noodles, but the flavor was not the same. The sauce and vegetables were different and there was sausage. I don’t normally like sausage, but I was surprised by the subtle flavor it had and how it complimented the noodles.

 

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溜豆泡(liū dòu pào) Tofu (my partner couldn’t really translate this one, but it’s tofu^^)
I love tofu! I love the texture and how it absorbs the flavors you put into it. Not everyone can make tofu taste great, though. However, this tofu is now in my top 5 tofu dishes. The outside was crispy and the inside remained tender and moist. The sauce was a perfect blend of salty and sour with hints of ginger. It went really well with the noodles.

 

9A57F2A2-72CD-49D0-8D26-9FED60544E57Delicious coconut milk with the worst design ever

 

They have an extensive menu so we have a long way to go

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兰州抻面馆(lán zhōu chēn miàn guǎn) 란주천면관

This place is a hidden gem. I am so glad that we found it and we will be going back soon to try new dishes.

How to get there

7B4005AA-76A6-47EE-84B0-147DD19CF152Come out of exit 6 at Konkuk University Station and walk for 181 meters. Common Ground is on the other side of the street and you will see the blue shipping containers. Turn left and walk straight for 227 meters or until you see the emart 24 and turn right. Walk straight for 80 meters or until you see the GS25. The restaurant will be on your left.

 

All of the translations are from my beautiful partner ❤️