Ode to Akami and Sushi Saito

Someone randomly liked a super old post on Instagram which prompted a bit of reminiscing. I then realized, I only IG’d most of my posts and never really blogged about my sushi experience in Tokyo… which is a shame because I spent way more than I care to admit eating high-end sushi two to three times a week for about two and a half years, and now know more about sushi than a normal person should know. So I thought, why not write an ode (better late than never, right?)

After a year or so of consistently eating sushi, I finally felt confident to form informed opinions. Such as, which season to eat sushi is my favorite (neta fish used for sushi is hyper seasonal and you start picking up on patterns of what is served when), the various shari sushi rice from which chef and where (every chef uses their own recipe and flavoring techniques to complement their curation techniques… most chefs learn from where they apprenticed and usually put their own subtle touches) and I’ve also drawn the conclusion, my favorite sushi restaurant is Sushi Saito. My favorite piece of sushi is the simple red tuna. Or, akami, as we say in Japanese.

At first akami seems so boring and mundane but I didn’t understand the allure and depth until moving to Japan and experiencing the high-end sushi and for that, I am grateful.

So here is a gallery of Instagram posts of akami from Saito. Even before declaring akami is my favorite piece, reckon I subconsciously knew, as a lot of my posts from Saito are of the most mundane piece of red tuna on top of rice.

Read more about why I love Saito-san here. Really nerdy post on thoughts and learnings about sushi are here. Ranking of Tabelog’s top sushi spots are here though most of the top spots are near impossible to book.

Yemeni Dish in Singapore: Lamb Mandi

One of the best things about living in the Southeast Asia region is the ability to travel across the different countries, as most are a 2-3 hour plane ride away (if that). I’m currently based in Thailand (Bangkok) but have been traveling to Malaysia and Singapore a lot… and immensely enjoying the food.

More than enjoying the eating, I’ve been learning a lot about foods from different cultures, more than I did when I was living in San Francisco, New York, D.C., or LA. It seems so strange how some Asian countries are more diverse than the United States or even London (pre-Brexit).

Each region’s local food is mind-blowingly delicious — especially in Malaysia and Singapore. Malay and Singaporean foods are heavily influenced by Chinese and Indian and there are many dishes with roots from China and India but unique to the region. (More on that later… actually, there will be a piece published shortly about Malaysian food I wrote – yay!)

But what a lot of the more developed cities of the region (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, are the top three) do well, are foods from various countries (outside of China and India). For example, Bangkok — believe it or not — excels in Italian food. Pasta, antipasto, even mains such as osso buco are extremely delicious and a lot of establishments even import brick ovens from Italy for their pizza.

Singapore has pretty decent Middle Eastern / Mediterranean communities and those whom know me, know I loooooooove Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. From the spices: cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, saffron, sumac to the aromatics: mint, parsley, dill, oregano… I can keep going but I can’t get enough of the warm, deep, flirty flavors of Middle Eastern foods and the fresh, bright, acidity of Mediterranean foods.

The other day in Singapore, I had the tastiest lamb mandi, a Middle Eastern dish so I just have to share.

lamb mandi
Byblos Grill

Originating from Yemen, mandi is a one plate dish consisting of a protein (usually beef, chicken, goat, or lamb) with rice cooked with a special blend of spices. The menu description reads: roasted lamb marinated with saffron and Arabic spices served with mandi rice and homemade mint tomato sauce

In actuality, it was the most tender leg of lamb cooked in this clay pan-like thing with this lovely fragrant rice. I couldn’t get the flavors out of my head, so I googled recipes and tried with chicken at home. It was good but not great – I’m blaming the cooking method (traditional mandi is cooked underground) but I’m hoping practice will make perfect 😉 Recipe is after the jump.

By the way, if you’re ever in Singapore, Byblos Cafe is highly recommended. Not pictured are the four other dishes my dining companion and I ordered… for lunch. There were only two of us and we ate enough for like five haha

Byblos Grill
14 Bussorah Street Singapore 199435
11am – 12am
+65 6296 8577

Continue reading

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Need to properly update, but quickly, a recommendation. Pulled from my review on Facebook. I am not ashamed to admit I ate this many times during the one week duration of my stay — even ordered takeaway (which is called dapao or tapao).

nasi lemak
Non-takeaway nasi lemak from Village Park

The flavors and textures ebb and flow through your mouth until the final bite; why can’t this dish be never-ending?

Can’t get enough of the sweet, salty, savory, crunch with soft fluffy rice… the nasi lemak ayam goreng at Village Park is so magical, I consumed — on repeat — more times than I care to admit.

Easily one of my top three dishes of all time #legendary

PS: to all the complainers, dapao omits dining-in woes — check photos, even delivered, it’s the best thing I’ve put in my mouth in a looooooong time. But yo, this isn’t a Michelin white table cloth spot; manage expectations properly 🙄

Village Park Restaurant (Lunch only)
No.5, Jalan SS21/37,
Damansara Utama,
47400 Petaling Jaya.
Tel: 03 – 7710 7860

https://www.facebook.com/Village-Park-Restaurant-1639483826264341/

🚨🍣New Sushi Spot Alert 🍣🚨

Found this place that just opened through a wonderful food friend… and oh my god it was seriously one of the best meals I’ve had in Japan.

From the attention he pays to every single detail in his shop (design, hand towels, and even specialty toilet paper), to ceramics, his choice of staff all reflects in his stunning food.

His shari (sushi rice) was literally perfection. His otsumami (small plates) surpasses any of the places I’ve eaten before.

Above are only a few of the photos and the notes, not as extensive as I’d like (too preoccupied enjoying my meal).

6 hour steamed abalone in its juices
Hokkaido shishamo caught only in October served two ways (nigiri and gunkan)
Ankimo with mizunomi (ankimo steamed with the mizunomi omg the texture!!!)
Of course nodoguro

…and the sushi was 100%. Not a fan of cured neta that is pungent, or shari that is too sour (I can name a handful of super famous spots that are aggressively flavored)

On and on I can keep going but honestly, I only remember being blown away. Asking trillions of questions like I always do. And not retaining most of the information… hashtag OLD.

So, I will leave this post with my friend Ash’s succinct – but vulgar – description (and this guy knows. his. shit.)

été – an invite only French spot in Tokyo

Some of you may recognize this cake making its rounds all over Instagram. The baker, young Nacchan, made a huge splash in the Tokyo dining scene last year. Hailing from the Michelin starred “Florilege”, she was the sous then ventured on her own at the tender age of 27 to open “été”, an invite only private dining spot in Tokyo.

Anyway, I had the privilege to dine there and her food was in fact, delicious! Some of the photos may not do her food justice (too preoccupied eating) but if you get a chance to go, definitely worth it!

*phone number and address are withheld

Random Japanese Factoid: Plastic Food

japan-fake-food-display-dishes_004
source

Ever wonder who and how the infamous plastic foods of Japan came to be? Well, 121 years ago on September 12th, 1895, Iwasaki Takizō was born. Though he didn’t invent plastic food, he was the first one to bring to plastic food to mass market, when only high-end department stores made and displayed them.

The very first plastic food sample he made was an omelette and following the success, he opened up a factory with the help of his wife in 1932. Thus, saturating Japan with plastic food in all shop window fronts.

Plastic food became such a global phenom, in 2016, there are now plastic food tchotchkes like plastic food fridge magnets, cell phone straps, keychains, etc.

You can find plastic food for purchase in the following locations (industry plastic food cost A LOT. Like thousands of dollars)

Tokyu Hands
Tokyu Hands is like a Target, Spencers (random junk store that used to be in every single shopping mall in the US back in the 90’s that sold lava lamps, edible underwear, gag gifts, etc.), Bed Bath and Beyond, Container Store, Home Depot and Ikea all in one!)
Find the nearest location here: http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/en/shoplist.html

Kappabashi aka Kitchen Town
It’s the area in Tokyo where restaurant supplies and such are sold. Just Google Kappabashi.

Julia Child

B1-JULIA_WE_B_^_WEDIQ
credit Paul Child, courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” This has nothing to do with Japan or sushi or ramen or gyoza or Tokyo or booze but it does have to do with food. And anyone who loves food, has to love Julia Child. Right? RIGHT??

Anyway. August 15th was Julia Child’s birthday and she would have been 105 (!!!) Here are some of my favorite quotes because Julia Child is really, that amazing.

“I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes, I even put it in the food . . .”

“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.”

“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”

Bon appétit!

Tokyo Taste

I know this is a tough one, but can you define the Tokyo “flavor” in a word or phrase?” he nonchalantly writes.

Tokyo… flavor? How am I supposed to sum the tastes of Tokyo in one phrase. More or less one word??

Tokyo. Is. Massive.

There are more than 200,000 soba, ramen and sushi restaurants. 45k bakeries. 10k produce (fruit and vegetable) stores. Over 5k butcher shops and 4k fish markets.

…just in Central Tokyo (meaning this doesn’t count all of Tokyo, so for the sake of a simple comparison, these are stats only for Manhattan minus Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, etc.)

And to add, these stats are from the 70s. 70’s! Meaning in 2015, there are probably double that?

That is a lot of darn choices.

The best answer I could come up with, was: think of Tokyo like a Las Vegas buffet.

There is everything from high end to low end from all regions of Japan and the world. There are millions of choices and just like the Vegas buffets: you get what you pay for and can custom cater your meals to fit your palate. Do you like Italian? French? American? Asian? One can easily find that on any of the spreads. Prefer seafood? Stick to the raw bar of the buffet. Love meat? Beeline to the carving table. Vegetarian? There’s another bar for that!

Then there is the distance issue. If I’m staying all the way at the Wynn, I will not Uber or cab it down the strip just for the Bacchanal at the Caesar and instead, settle for the buffet inside of the Wynn (which if I recall correctly, has Wagyu beef and Alaskan crab legs).

Since I live in Central Tokyo, I will not travel out of my way (20 minute train ride) and stand in line for another 1.5 hours, sometimes 2 hours to eat Rokurinsha’s tsukemen beloved by David Chang. (I swear, if someone asks me to go there with them one more time, I will Hulk Smash my screen.)

Instead, I would much rather walk five minutes to Afuri for their yuzu tsukemen that is equally delicious (and the noodles aren’t as fat and gummy).

So you see, my advice – and challenge – to those who are planning visits: make your own Tokyo. Build an experience that is all yours.

Because Tokyo really is, whatever you want it to be — or how I affectionately say: it is Disneyland for food lovers.

Bon appetit!
Mona

 

SF Trip

I stopped sharing food from trips (I was in France in July, London a bunch more times and a few other cities this year) but I just came back from an epic SF trip filled with lots of friends, laughter, too much wine, tacos and even more tacos. It was my first trip back home (I grew up in the Bay Area) and way too short but much, much needed. I have lots to update including one of my most memorable and delicious meals at State Bird Provisions but until I get around to editing, posting the photos, here are some quick snaps.

In San Francisco, even the hot dog stands serve food that is locally sourced, organic, grass-fed.

I ate way too many salads than I care to admit. But, the produce in California is really something special. The greens are so crisp, flavorful and delicious. That’s my salad from The Rotunda restaurant inside Neiman Marcus. The food is reallllllly tasty there. It’s a bit fancy though. More on that later.
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

That’s my salad that came with my lunch at Boots and Shoe in Oakland. One of my best friends used to live in the neighborhood which is really cute and the food at Boots is super yummy. More on that later too.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I trolled the markets at Rockridge Market Hall where friends fed me the tastiest meat from Marin Sun Farms. They have a great story so do please check out their site. The produce there was also, really something else.

I really missed the wine and cheese in the Bay Area, of course I had to put together a spread. On top is Cowgirl Creamery (one of the most loved cheese makers in California)’s standard Mt. Tam. The middle (and one of my favorites) is Humboldt Fog. Also another super popular and beloved local goat. It’s a very beautiful cheese. And the one on the bottom is a sharp cheddar – forgot where it was from but, it was the Whole Foods’ cheese monger’s #1 recommendation for cheddars.

Ahhhh I’m getting hungry writing this.
Stay tuned for more SF eats. I really, really, really, missed the Bay Area.

Super Mega Early Tsukiji


More visuals from backlog posts continue as I sort through photos from my old phone… Here are the photos I took from this post in which I finally went to the tuna auction at the butt crack of dawn. I don’t even remember taking the photo up top but, it came out pretty legit.

aillis20150917151246

Beautiful tuna sashimi pieces (that again, I do not recall taking) from the breakfast sushi. My defective phone camera worked perfectly whenever it felt like it I guess because this one isn’t blurry. I’m actually shocked by how it turned out!

And in case you’re interested, more photo dumps after the jump…

Continue reading