It’s Time To Ride That Sushi Train

I am in Japan! Today I arrived in Kyoto after a weekend of skiing at Shiga Kogen ski resort, which is about four and half hours outside of Tokyo. I will be back in Tokyo next week.

Because I rode my first bullet train today, I though it appropriate to follow up with a sushi train for dinner. I arrived at the restaurant to find a long queue of Japanese people waiting for a seat along the “tracks.”

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Rather than allow me to sit in the one single seat available, in expected Japanese fashion, I had to wait until all the people in front of me — who all made up parties of two or three — were seated before I could sit. The lone seat remained empty as I waited.

The wait was worth it. The sushi was good. Periodically, all of the chefs, who were situated in the middle of the train track, yelled something out simultaneously. Although I had no idea what they were saying, their chorus gave the place a fun vibe.

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Along the bar there were hot water taps and green tea bags that you could use to make complimentary green tea. If you’re in Kyoto and feel like sushi, I recommend this place — it is at the bottom of the Kyoto main train station, on the west side, across from McDonalds. I had eight serves (most plates had two pieces, a couple only had one) for only $13.

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(that’s crab paste of some sort)

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Cellar Doors

Today we drove down to the Mornington Peninsula (about an hour outside of Melbourne) to visit three wineries — Foxeys Hangout, T’Gallant, and Montalto — for tastings and lunch. We liked Foxeys best, because it is smaller and has greater variety in terms of reasonably priced food, although all three are worth a visit (mid-week would probably be better to avoid the crowds). Here are some snaps.

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The Great Australian Breakfast

I have finally arrived in Melbourne, the place that, along with NYC, I consider home. I come here each year to visit my friends, and being here a nice break from “the road.” I have alluded to it in past posts, but Melbourne is a serious foodie city. Australia generally has amazing produce — fruit and veg, meat, fish, dairy, wine, etc. are some of the best I’ve ever had. Going out for breakfast (not brunch) is a bit of a cultural phenomenon here, and one that I have yet to find to the same extent elsewhere. Needless to say, it is something I really look forward to doing when I visit. Sadly, the cost of living, including the cost of eating out, has become exorbitantly expensive, so I’ve had to reign in my out-for-breakfast habit a little bit — but not enough to miss out.

You might have heard of a full English breakfast, but believe me, it is nothing compared with a full Australian breakfast. Australian full breakfasts usually include fresh, high quality, bakery bread, poached eggs, avocado, roast tomato, mushrooms and Australian style bacon (which tends to be less fatty than its American counterpart). On Sunday I visited one of my favorite breakfast spots called Lawson’s Grove, which is a little cafe and convenient store that is set in an apartment block on an out of the way side street that only locals know about. This was the result:

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Oh, I almost forgot, the coffee in Melbourne is world class (and these days you pay for that standing).

While I love the full breakfast, when in Melbourne, I usually get what is my favorite form of breakfast — bircher muesli. I’ve found it in a few places outside of Australia, but the quality never compares. Bircher muesli is any variation of the following combination: oats soaked overnight in yogurt/milk and a bit of juice (usually apple), grated apple, slivered nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and fresh or poached fruit to top it off. It is very easy to make at home, so if it appeals to you, look up some recipes online and try it.

I’ve had bircher a couple times already, including my first day in Melbourne when Bron took me to a local institution — Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder. I had my first taste of proper bircher muesli in over a year plus the cafe’s delicious cheesy toast.

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(the bircher looks a little washed out in this photo, but I promise, it is delicious; I will try to photograph another one so you can see it in its full glory).

Catch Up

I realize I’ve been fairly slack on blogging over the past couple of months. No excuses are ever sufficient, but it is largely because I have spent a lot of time with friends recently, and it is difficult to set aside enough time write, particularly when I’ve been doing a lot of off the cuff travel planning. As of last Friday, I finished up about five weeks in SE Asia. Believe it or not, I do things other than eat while I travel. SE Asia didn’t blow me away food wise (other than my eating exploits in Hoi An, which I documented sufficiently a couple of weeks ago), but what I found most rewarding about my time there was reeducating myself about the Cambodian civil war (if you can call annihilating a huge quantity of your own people who aren’t really fighting back a civil war) and the Vietnam war. Anyway, just wanted to write a quick catch up post.

Melbourne foodie posts on the way…

A Return to the West, Almost

I am nearing the end of my second day in Hong Kong and tomorrow morning head to Australia for a couple of weeks. Hong Kong is half East, half West and thanks to Anthea and Sam, I’ve been able to try some delicious dumplings and upscale Chinese food (more on these in another post if I have the time). However, no matter how good those meals were, none compare to breakfast — a reminder of the West and what is in store for me over the next two weeks (expect a lot of Melbourne food blogging; food there is some of the best in the world). Rye toast, cottage cheese, tomato, spring onions, etc….and a double macchiato. Oh, breakfast, how I’ve missed you.

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If you’re in HK and need a Western breakfast fix, check out Classified Cafe. There are a few of them around.

‘Nam No. 3: Three Recipes To Try At Home (yes, you!)

A couple of days ago, John and I attended a Vietnamese cooking class. We purposely chose some simple recipes that would be easy to make at home. Any of these would be a quick, easy dinner. Cook away —

Fresh Spring Roll

Meat of your choice (prawn, port, chicken, beef, etc.)
5 pieces thin, hard rice paper
1 cucumber grated in long strips
1/2 carrot grated in long strips
2 tablespoons of fresh mint
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of onion flakes
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Spring onions for garnish

Mix cucumber, carrot, salt, sugar, and vinegar, then place in a cloth (cotton, such as a tea towel) and squeeze well to drain all excess juice. Soften rice paper in cold water for one second and place on plate. Add small bunch of the cucumber/carrot mixture at one end of the rice paper, roll over, then fold in the sides. Add two pieces of the spring onion so they look like a tail, then roll once again. Add meat, then finish rolling. Repeat for as many spring rolls as you want.

Dipping sauce: 1 crushed fresh chili, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Combine ingredients and mix well.

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Chili and lemon grass with prawn, chicken, or fish (serves four)

400 grams of prawns, peeled (or other meat of your choice)
2 stems lemongrass, thinly sliced
1 stem of lemongrass lightly crushed for flavor visual appeal
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 teaspoons vegetable stock powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili paste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water

To make the sauce, blend lemongrass and garlic in food processor. Place in bowl and add oyster sauce and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and mix (tip: if you fry this mixture for five minutes you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks). Marinate the meat of your choice in the vegetable stock, sugar, sesame oil, and chunky lemongrass for a minimum of 30 minutes, but overnight is even better. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to medium heat. Add the marinated meat and cook for one minute. Then add lemongrass paste, chili paste, and water, and cook for two more minutes. Serve with steamed rice.

Sorry, my photos of this didn’t turn out, but you don’t need them.

Aubergine (Eggplant) in Clay Pot (serves four)

200 grams Aubergine (eggplant), peeled
1/2 liter of vegetable oil (for deep frying; you can use a wok)
1/2 liter of boiling water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
50 grams spring onion, finely chopped

Cut aubergine into 3 inch sticks (about 1-2 cm in width — see pictures) and fry in hot oil until lightly browned. Drain oil. Place aubergine back into frying pan and add boiling water. Boil for ten seconds. Drain water (this makes the aubergine less oily and bitter). Marinate the aubergine in a clay pot with paprika, spring onion, pepper, sugar, and soy sauce for a minimum of thirty minutes. Cook in clay pot on stove for five minutes, stirring once when it starts to bubble. Serve with rice. Teacher’s orders — if you don’t have a clay pot, get one.

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‘Nam No. 2: Miss Ly’s Hoi An Specialties

Thanks to a tip, I discovered the best food I’ve had in Asia and enjoyed the best meals I have had since Italy and the steak dinner in Chamonix. Miss Ly Cafeteria 22 in Hoi An has been in business for almost two decades and serves unbelievable Vietnamese and local Hoi An cuisine. All of the dishes are made with fresh, organic, and local ingredients and are msg-free (a rarity in this part of the world). We visited the restaurant four (or five?) times in as many days. Admittedly, on each visit we reordered our favorites, but also managed to add in a few extra dishes. We probably won some sort of overeating award. Here is the honor roll:

Fried wontons (hoanh thanh chien): sautéed pork, prawns, tomato, and onion with sauce and served on a flat wonton. This one stole our hearts.

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White rose (banh bao): steamed prawns in rice dumplings with garlic, fried onion, and chili.

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Cao lau (mi cao lai): Hoi An specialty of thick noodles, sliced roast pork, herbs, fresh greens, and croutons.

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Grilled pork spring rolls (thit nuong): in rice paper with fresh herbs and peanuts. Another game changer.

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Grilled fish (ca nuong): steak wrapped in a banana leave with herbs and chili.

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Green papaya salad (goi du du): with onions, vegetables, herbs, and rice crackers. Of all the green-whatever salads I’ve had in south east Asia, this one is in a league of its own.

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Sweet and sour prawn soup with noodles.

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Stir fried morning glory (rao muong xao toi): with garlic and chili.

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Stir fried beef (bo xau trung): marinated beef with onion, tomato, and boiled egg.

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Sweet and sour squid (muc chua ngot): with vegetables.

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Fried rice: with squid, shrimp, onion, carrot, bean, garlic, and egg.

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Are you salivating yet? I am and I’m still full. If you come to Hoi An, you must visit Miss Ly. Here is how you can find her:

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