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

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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/

McDonald’s Japan

It may seem odd to write an ode about McDonald’s, since in America, McDonald’s are filthy (gross, really), smelly, and nicknamed as ‘homeless people food’. In Japan, that is not the case. The store fronts are super clean, the food comes out made to order and usually piping hot. Another neat thing about McDonald’s in Japan is how they have limited time offer items so there is a new burger, new flurry, new pie, etc., If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find all these burgers and such that are basically non-existent in other parts of the world.

The McDonald’s here is so normal there are even people who wear super duper expensive kimonos and order McDonald’s like it’s no big deal. Only in Japan, I swear.

McDonald’s Japan is also one of, if not the last McDonald’s on the planet that still uses beef fat to deep fry the fries, hashbrowns, and pies. And the craziest part is how the oil isn’t smelly so everything actually, well, tastes pretty good.

My biggest addiction are the breakfast sandwiches and I am not even going to lie, I eat there at least once every two weeks.

If you’re ever in Japan, don’t turn your nose up on the McDonald’s here. Seriously, it’s worth trying.

I will leave you with one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches: the Mega Muffin (two sausage patties, bacon, egg, between McMuffins). SO. GOOD.

img_4004

Ikkaku: the best chicken to ever meet your mouth

Last summer, I traveled Fukuoka, Osaka, and Kyoto and during the Osaka leg, a girlfriend I’ve known for decades took us out in her hometown. We walk into this random building in the Umeda district of Osaka, head up to the 12th floor (?) or somewhere super high. Anyway, I would’ve never known about this spot unless she told me about it.

Turns out, this chicken place is a really famous.

Ikkaku, originating from the Shikoku region (wayyyyy down South of Japan) had an outpost in Osaka and because the population is higher in Osaka, Ikkaku became an Osaka staple. The style of chicken in Shikoku is a garlicky, peppery chicken with a kick but it’s not heavy at all and there is a huge cult following of this prep.

Adam (the guy I was traveling with and a super talented chef — he’s opening a spot in SF but more on that when he opens) and I were blown away and we instantly fell in love with the chicken. I thought I’d have to go alllllll the way back down to Osaka or even visit Shikoku but it turns out, there is an outpost in Yokohama!!! (About 30 minutes away from Shibuya.) The other day I of course traveled and it was every bit as delicious as I remember.

If you’re coming to Tokyo and not planning a trip to Osaka, Ikkaku is definitely worth the trip to Yokohama. Plus, the Chinatown in Yokohama is pretty legit and has super tasty foods!

Seriously. A Japan must.

Ikkaku Yokohama (the one closest to Tokyo)
Drop this into Google Maps↓
〒220-0005 Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama, 西区南幸2丁目15−1
Look for: TINOビル6F — and it’s on the 6th floor
045-317-1708

Go super early to avoid the long lines or make reservations (Japanese is required)

What to order: oyadori (dark meat) and hinadori (white meat) ONLY then go to other places to fill up. The chicken is the only good thing there, tbh.

Udon and Soba in Minami Aoyama

Minami Aoyama is a charming area of Tokyo with lots of greenery and businesses tucked within residences. There are lots of hair salons and tiny boutiques from the famous luxury brands to the not so famous luxury brands to affordable and semi-affordable. It’s also within close proximity to Harajuku and all of the shopping in Omotesando. Then there are tens and possibly hundreds of incredible restaurants and cafes. If you are familiar with New York, Minami Aoyama reminds me most of the West Village.

The problem with this area, though, is that it is so well known and there are tens of famous (Michelin rated, etc.) restaurants. Booking is almost always required for lunch or dinner. Or, stand in line for hours at one of the many mega popular pancake / brunch places clustered in this area. (I did a round-up here.)

Enter Gonbēi, a teeny soba and udon place but they have so so so much more. It’s Japanese comfort food at its finest. For lunch, they have combinations all under 1,000 yen (apprx: $9 USD) of soba buckwheat noodles or udon thick wheat noodle with a rice bowl topped with katsu katsudon. Katsu is deep fried pork cutlet and katsudon is katsu with dashi and a slow scrambled egg. Oyakokon is chicken with dashi and slow scrambled egg. And loads of other dishes. I took two of my out of town friends there for their first lunches in Tokyo and they both LOVED it. By the way, we ordered katsudon with udon and oyakodon with soba and I had the kitsune udon (the photo on top). Which is udon with a huge stewed tofu pocket called aburāge that’s used for oinarisan — like these things ↓

The interior is a bit dumpy but the entire staff so charming and the food is so delicious, you’ll forget about the way it looks. It might seem strange to eat soba and udon in an old school restaurant in such a trendy area as Minami Aoyama but this place is definitely recommended (and not to mention a crowd pleaser — there’s something for everyone.)

So if you’re shopping in the area or happen to be walking around Harajuku, definitely check it out!

Gonbēi 権兵エ
Drop this into Google Maps ↓
東京都港区南青山5-9-3
Open daily
Lunch: 11:30 am – 2 pm (last order is at 2pm)
Dinner: 2 pm – 10 pm (last order is at 9pm)

*there is an English menu but I didn’t look at it – try going with a Japanese speaker to see the full menu
**cash only

Bonus photo of a katsu bowl with poached egg and soba. Yum.

Heritage

This may strike odd to some but I read cookbooks during my downtime. They soothe me. One of the best cookbooks I’ve read in a very long time is Heritage by Sean Brock. Not only is the writing poignant, the photos knock it out of the park.

Stunning.

For those who know me in real life, know that I am a super duper ultra mega Sean Brock fan girl. His love and respect for food, ingredients, cooking and owning your heritage is reminiscent of the Japanese ethos. But, most importantly, he is bringing attention to traditional American cooking in ways no chef has ever done before.

Recently on a long airplane ride, I listened to food podcasts and re-read Heritage. Sean Brock’s manifesto is too inspiring not to share, so here it is:

My Manifesto by Sean Brock

  • Cook with soul — but first, get to know your soul.
  • Be proud of your roots, be proud of your home, be proud of your family and its culture. That’s your inspiration.

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Thomas Keller on Passion

People talk about passion like it’s an emotion you need to have to be successful. For me, that’s not true. Passion is not something that I look for when I hire someone. Passion is overused and in many cases, misused. ‘You have to be passionate about you do’ – well okay, what does that mean? What I look for is desire because desire is something that’s always there. When the passion epps as it always does in anything that we do, what is going to make you come to work? It’s desire.

It’s very simple: come to work everyday and do a little better than you did the day before. I think if you can do just a little better at something — I don’t care what it is — make an effort every day to do something a little better than the day before. And that shows a strong desire for improvement. We want people to have better skills, we want people to have better knowledge – we want people to have a better life. And so each day you have to try do something better than the day before. If you do that every day, 10 years from now you’ll have a considerable sum.

There are so many times that a young chef ‘I want to do this. I want to do that. Chef, let me do this. Chef, let me do that. When are you going to let me try something different?’ It’s like… you’re a cook. You cook everyday. Enjoy it. It’s not like there’s going to be something new every day. You’re going to roast a piece of meat. Find pleasure in roasting that piece of meat everyday. Find pleasure in sharpening your knife everday. Because if you want something new everyday, you’re not going to find that. Repetition is something that is so important.

— transcribed from Thomas Keller’s episode on Heritage Radio’s Chef’ Story on what he looks for when he hires someone for any role in his organization.

Chef Keller is talking about what he looks for in people he hires but what he says holds true no matter what you do and what field you are in. At least that’s what I’ve learned and seen in my limited experience.

There’s always going to be something we all don’t want to do or even loathe. What motivates us to get up in the morning everyday and be the best we can in order to set us aside from others is desire.

What we all tend to forget when we see successful people, is their roads to that success. In this age of instant gratification, sometimes we all need little reminders and stumbling onto this podcast was a much needed reminder — at least for me.

Such a profound statement and a wise, wise man.
Chef’s Story is a program on Heritage Radio and available to download for free as podcasts. I’ve listened to almost all of them. The image on top is via Epicurious where Chef Keller shares his Thanksgiving turkey recipe here.

Gelinaz Shuffle

I am not ashamed to admit I spent most of my early afternoon glued to Instagram, tracking #gelinazshuffle The Grand Gelinaz is a collective of incredible chefs from all over the planet, educating, exploring and collaborating with one another. On July 9th, 37 chefs swapped restaurants and cooked in unfamiliar kitchens, using (of course) the region’s ingredients. Which chef goes where was kept under wraps and revealed today.

I found a spreadsheet someone uploaded onto Instagram:

via here

This person is obviously in the San Francisco Bay Area and eating at Atelier Crenn but holy moly, check out the lineup: Chefs… David Kinch, Daniel Patterson, Magnus Nilsson, René Redzepi, Sean Brock, Yoshiro Narisawa, Ben Shewry, Alain Ducasse, … and not visible on the spreadsheet: Andoni Luis Adruiz of Mugaritz, Alex Atala of D.O.M. and Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana amongst others. Wow!

As I was tracking the hashtag, I suddenly saw all the photos from NY:

Fried oyster with tapioca and salmon roe from Chef Alex Atala at Blanca via here

Hokkaido uni cream and smoked clams from Chef Massimo Bottura cooking at Momofuku Ko. Photo courtesy of here.

Thanks to Instagram I was able to see so many dishes from all over the planet. My absolute favorite, though, was from Chef Jock Zonfrillo, who I had never heard of until seeing his food tonight. He was cooking out of Manresa in Los Gatos. (Manresa and Chef David Kinch’s food is great. I was so fortunate to dine at Manresa a few times since it was only about 20 minutes south from where I was raised).

Chef Zonfrillo’s style is definitely one I would make a dedicated trip to Adelaide, Australia for. Wherever in Australia Adelaide even is. I hope they have koalas. And kangaroos…?  Platypuses? Or is it platypusii? Hmmm note to self: google later. 

I digress. Back to the food. Focus Mona. Take a look at his menu:

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Hardcore Instagrammers

So I stumbled onto this guy’s Instagram account and he has the loveliest photos. Scrolling through his feed, I came across this photo:

 

I can not believe he carries a ladder with him to take his food photos 0_0 That is hardcore! I don’t know, I’m all about pretty photos but jeez. This is next level Instagramming. Compared to a lot of the high level Instagram photographers, my photos suck. I used to be embarrassed but quickly got over it. Cold food is the worst.

By the way, this is the photo that was taken from that above ladder shot. I can tell by table, drinks, flatware, etc.

 

Beautiful.

I guess it beats standing on restaurant furniture for the perfect photo. Frankly, I don’t understand how owners and managers are okay with people standing on chairs. It’s really rude. And bad manners. So to the ladder guy: rock on with your ladder climbing self!