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Day Five- Kyoto Shrines and Temples

June 16, 2010   

Kyoto is a very quaint city compared to Tokyo. Considering the size, I am still surprised at the amount of French cafes and patisseries. Everywhere we go, there is another one to look at and maybe try some kind of a confection. Today, we took all kinds of buses to get around Kyoto. Just like the subway system in Tokyo, the buses here are very well run and quite easy to track. We started the day at the Golden Pavilion, which was gorgeous. A rock garden and the silver pavilion later it was time for lunch. It was a hilly area around the silver pavilion, lined with restaurants as well as homes. We scoped out a few while walking towards the temple. As we came back, we chose a small, quaint restaurant which seemed to be run by a family. We ordered bowls of rice with pork cutlet and egg for me and tofu and egg for my husband.

Rice Bowl with Tofu and EggRice Bowl with Pork Cutlet and Egg

We relaxed with some beer and sake. The meal was simple, yet delicious. It is amazing how different the portion sizes are when you leave the US… As we walked out, I remembered I wanted to have a soft serve cone with green tea ice cream. I had noticed the shops everywhere and kept forgetting to try one. Well, it was out of this world- creamy with a fabulous earthy, green tea flavor. Not too sweet- just perfect. I am really loving all the confections made with green tea- they are all over the place.

For dinner, we actually did some research and checked on tripadvisor. The number one rated restaurant in Kyoto is called Issian. I am a big fan of tripadvisor since it has never lead us wrong. Well, we decided to go to the restaurant and asked our concierge to guide us and surprisingly we found it. It is part of the famous main street full of restaurants- which is kind of a maize since there are tons of restaurants and very hard to find. It is a Japanese stone grill and they cook all kinds of meat in front of you- to perfection. The meat and fish were delicious and yet again trip advisor did not disappoint us.

The meal started with shrimp and fish. Chicken came in between- and the meal ended with pork and beef. The taste of the meats was unbelievable. We dipped the meats either in salt or ponzu sauce. Miso soup and rice were served, including a salad. We finished off with a delicious sorbet.

Shrimp and Fish on the hot stone

 

Chicken Meatballs

Amazing Pork

Overall it was a great dinner and best of all, the chef told me about a 450 year old knife shop in Kyoto which is world famous- guess who will be buying herself a knife tomorrow??- stay tuned.

Day Four- Bullet Train to Kyoto

June 15, 2010   
Day four started early- we eat breakfast and left to take a nine o’clock bullet train to Kyoto. I am absolutely amazed at the train system in this city. Everything is well planned, well thought of- anything you can imagine is taken care of- a pleasure to travel if you are anal like me. I am very impressed. Did I mention how clean the bathrooms are?? Anywhere you go, from a tiny little bathroom at a train station to the one in the bullet train- spotless. I realize this is a food blog, but I thought I would mention a few things that have stood out in my mind as a traveler who does not look forward to using public bathrooms.
Speaking of food, we got to the train station early and decided to buy some snacks. We came across a department store that had a food section- which seems quite common here. The society seems to be obsessed with food… my kind of people. We bought something called rasq- which are kind of like biscotti but not as dense. If you can imagine sticks of lightly sweetened pound cake that are double baked. I grew up eating them in India- we would dip them in tea. Anyway, we bought a bag of rasq and two triangular shaped rice cakes- made of different kinds of fried rice of sorts.

Did I mention there is coffee all over the place? I was expecting tons of tea- but not coffee. There are vending machines everywhere with a variety of drinks including lots of iced coffee or cafe au lait. I bought a bottle and it was delicious. We ate the rice cakes, rasq and washed them down with the delicious coffee.

The ride to Kyoto was approximately two and half hours. We reached our hotel and decided to eat at one of the restaurants below the establishment. Soba noodles in a broth for me and a bowl of rice with egg for my husband. We finished and grabbed two French pastries from the hotel lobby- there is food everywhere in this country- amazing! We had a mango mousse and a green tea pastry-absolutely delicious.

 

Day4BulletKyoto 008

After a short break, we ventured out into Kyoto. It was raining so we stuck to the covered outdoor markets. We stopped for coffee and some green tea cake- it was all yummy. The coffee was lightly sweetened with a hint of caramel- I think I want that for breakfast tomorrow! We then moved on to a outdoor food market and sampled lots of things including fried chicken and shrimp dumplings.

Shrimp Dumplings At The Food Market

We were almost full when we came across a small bar and decided to go in. As we were waiting to be seated, I saw some kind of meat being cooked on a griddle – I asked the hostess and she told me it was chili beef- I told her I wanted that. We sat down and ordered beer and chu-hi, which is a hard lemonade kind of drink- very yummy. Our beef dish came and it was absolutely delicious- very flavorful, a bit spicy but not over powering. It was a perfect end to the day.

Chili Beef At The Bar

 

We walked back to our hotel via ‘the restaurant row’. It is narrow alley of restaurant after bar after restaurant. An amazing selection- we couldn’t believe it. The Japanese really like to eat- and eat well. We plan to be back there for a meal tomorrow- stay tuned.

Day Three of Tokyo- Tsukiji Fish Market

June 14, 2010   

We were supposed to be up at 5 AM so we could see all the fishermen sell their fresh fish in an auction at the Tsukiji fish market. 5 AM, really??? We woke up much later than that, had breakfast and got to the market around 10. My husband was quite disappointed but I reminded him, the fish will still be fresh enough for us to enjoy the sushi there. We started walking through the small alleys lined with small outside stores full of fresh produce and lots of samples. We walked some more and discovered a whole lot of small sushi restaurants. Some had long lines, I decided to join one of them. As we waited, it became quite clear it would take a long time. After standing in line for over half an hour, we decided to leave and go next door- with a much smaller line. We later realized the more popular one was cheaper- but it was so worth paying the extra money for not standing in line. We had super fresh sushi which was delicious.

My Sushi Platter

After buying some souveniers, we took a subway to one of the biggest department stores- Seibu . The bottom two floors are lined with food stalls. I have never seen anything like that ever in my life. The variety of foods, snacks, desserts, breads, drinks- you name it and they had it. Lots of nibbles as well. We spent a good hour if not more there and took a couple of pastries back to our hotel room.

Food Hall in Seibu Department Store
After resting we ventured out to the Ginza area- which is the fifth avenue of Tokyo. Super wide roads, very clean and lots and lots of very expensive stores. It was very nice to window shop. We started looking for a restaurant- not the one where we had to pay $300 per person- but a regular one. I wanted beef- Japanese premium beef. After a lot of searching, we found a grill restaurant. The problem was we couldn’t tell where it was. It had a sign outside a building but it wasn’t clear exactly where it was. After a lot of guessing and asking someone, we figured out it was on the first floor but in the back of four other restaurants- really- it almost seemed like we were walking through a cave. Eventually we got to a pleasant looking place where I had the best beef I have ever tasted. It was tender, perfectly cooked and the most delicious thing ever. A perfect end to a great day. Tomorrow we are headed to Kyoto via bullet train. Should be very interesting.. stay tuned….
Premium Japanese Beef

Second Day- Tokyo- The Asakusa Area

June 13, 2010   

We went to the old part of Tokyo today, better known as the asakusa area. We saw the Senso-ji temple which is one of the oldest and most popular temples. It is surrounded by a line of small outside shops full of trinkets, snacks and clothes- did I mention the snacks?? My husband was a bit concerned since we had no idea what we were eating- but I just wanted to try everything. The snacks were mostly rice based and even the sweet stuff was not too sweet. We also had a cup of delicious, chilled green tea- probably not the kind you get in the bottled stuff back home.

As we walked, we kept looking at all the restaurants. Japanese food is very visual- most places have pictures of all the dishes served- good for people like us who don’t know the language. We finally ended up at this crowded, small restaurant and were quickly ushered upstairs. As we climed up, we were given a choice of sitting on the stools or mats on the floor. We quickly took our shoes off and sat down to rest our tired feet.

A friendly man came over and said hello. He explained there were no food photos- I waived my hands indicating ‘never mind’. We ordered rice and shrimp tempura with miso soup for my husband and a bowl of soba noodles with pork in a curry broth.

Day2Tokyo Asakusa Area 027

My husband enjoyed his beer as I ordered sake- actually it is called nihonshu. He suggested I enjoy it hot- and it was delicious.

We finished our leisurely lunch and decided to check out the Imperial gardens. Turns out they are huge. To get to the gardens, we walked through the financial district and stumbled upon a little square full of people and restaurants. We sat down in the shaded area and saw a French bakery. I got a madeline for my husband and a burnt milk (caramel) ice cream- one of the best ones I have had.

After an hour rest back in the hotel, we decided to head back to the Shinjuku area to have dinner. There are restaurants on multiple floors of buildings, so you have keep looking up and down to see where you want to go. We decided on a place on the third floor- completely random- the pictures looked good. It turned out to be a place that serves grilled chicken (different parts) and a few other things.

We took our shoes off and were lead into a dark, loud eating area. We sat down and were given a menu with some English- very helpful. We ended up getting a bunch of things- it was tapas style.
Day2Tokyo Asakusa Area 042

 

Warm Fresh Made TofuDay2Tokyo Asakusa Area 040
Most of the dishes were good- the tofu was exceptional. So were the chicken meatballs. We left there quite happy and picked up a pastry on our way back to the hotel. I didn’t realize how prevalent bakeries are in Tokyo- full of them. The pastry was delicious and so was the good night sleep. Tomorrow we are off to the fish market- stay tuned for my adventures there…

First Day- Tokyo- Shinjuku Area

June 11, 2010   

Day 1Tokyo 6-10-09 005
We got to the busy Narita airport in Tokyo after a thirteen hour long direct flight from Newark, NJ. The food on the flight was not as bad as I thought- it was okay. I saw four movies and four shows- and didn’t sleep at all. By the time we got to our destination (the next day1:30 PM, local time), we were shattered. We caught a train (hour and a half long) to Shinjuku station where we found a hotel shuttle to take us to our bed- yes, that was the only thing on my mind- well, yes, food was as well. We got some kind of a rice snack with seaweed- looked like little pretzel sticks. As we sat on the very clean train- I couldn’t help thinking how well everything is planned out here. It seems they have thought of everything. They tell you where the train is going to stop- what side the station is coming. There are lockers in the train for your luggage and in case you forget your combination- there is an announcement telling you where to go to collect your luggage. Everything is super clean- did I mention how clean the bathrooms are??? Well, it is a tourist’s delight- at least it is mine.

Anyway, after resting, we ventured around the Shinjuku area. It was super crowded and very well lit. We were starving and found a noodle bar. It had pictures, and so we decided to go in. I got a bowl of udon noodles with a strong flavored broth topped with thin slices of pork. I was able to garnish it with thinly chopped green onions, ginger and a seven spice hot powder. My husband got the same noodles with tofu and we also had some shrimp and chicken tempura on the side. It was all delicious.

Later we stopped for beer and some bellini. We sat and watched all the people walk by- I realized the Japanese people are extremely fashionable and well-dressed- a pleasure to sit and watch as I sipped my bellini.

We headed back to our hotel room around 9, ready to sleep after an enire 24 hours, to rest up for tomorrows adventure and good food- so stay tuned…

Day 1Tokyo 6-10-09 007

Pico De Gallo Rice

June 9, 2010   

Pico De Gallo Rice As I was thinking about making the chicken taco salad super flavorful, I was also wondering what to serve with it…

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was disappointed with my lunch at Restaurant Serenade and was in the process of replicating it. The original entree was served with a mixed salad. I wanted to serve rice with it as well as a tomato salad. To save time, I thought of combining the two and came up with this rice dish- it is yummy.

I started with cooking rice in chicken broth with salt and smoked paprika. I wanted to infuse tons of flavor into the rice even before it finished cooking. As the rice cooked, I prepared the rest. I chopped the tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, etc and mixed them with some lime juice. I also had queso fresco in the fridge which as a great salty flavor and is used in many Mexican and Latin dishes. I decided to slice some and add it to the mix.

Once the rice was cooled off- I added all the veggies and the cheese and I had a delicious, flavorful side dish to serve with the taco salad.

Definitely try this one- it is great to make with any entree!
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Taco Chicken Salad

June 8, 2010   

Taco Chicken Salad1 I made this dish after eating at Restaurant Serenade in Chatham, NJ. I was reviewing the restaurant for the Chatham Patch. It was an enjoyable meal but my dish- the taco chicken salad was disappointing. I came home trying to figure out how to improve the salad and came up with my own version.

I marinated cooked chicken breast (or dark meat) in some very flavorful ingredients, including orange juice, adobo sauce and smoked paprika. The chicken in the original dish was tender but extremely bland. I wanted to infuse as much flavor as possible and so I marinated the chicken for a couple of hours.

Next- I prepared the toppings. I added some lime juice and salt to the sliced onions as well as the avocados.

I bought some small corn tortillas (although the flour ones will be fine as well) and filled them with the flavorful chicken and topped them with the onions and avocados. It is super easy to put together-  it surprised me the restaurant couldn’t get it right.

I served it with a pico de gallo rice- the recipe will be posted tomorrow. Now that it is grilling season, you can cook the chicken on the grill and marinate it in the wonderful flavors. It could be a great grilled dinner on a weekend or even a weeknight. Serve some delicious Rose with it and you have a fabulous meal…
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