Tokyo – Tsukiji Fish Market

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Tsukiji with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2019 by gannet39

Coming to Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market, was something of a pilgrimage for me as it was something I’d wanted to do for more than twenty years. When I lived in Japan in the 90s I was always working or partying too much to go.

This trip then was my chance to put this right so I rented a small apartment via AirBnB right next to the market. From my back door I could see the rooves of the market sheds and Tokyo Bay Bridge beyond.

In the six days I was there I ate sushi, one of my favourite foods, on nine occasions, and I’ve dedicated the next post to cover what I learned from those experiences.

I was especially thankful to be there in late November/early December 2016 partly because this is the best time of year to eat seafood and partly because the market had been due to close in October and move elsewhere. Thankfully for me, the move had been delayed indefinitely due to problems with the new site, so I was very lucky to see the old market in full flow.

The market is organised into two parts, inner and outer, and confusingly, there is also a street market outside the fish market itself. The inner market is the fish wholesale market where chefs and restaurateurs go to buy their fish every morning from 5am.

Tourists are not allowed in here until 10am when most of the action is over. This is for safety reasons as market porters are zipping around at high speed on small trucks called turrets and it can get very congested and busy.

You wouldn’t want to get run over by one of these.

I still saw some amazing things on sale; huge octopus tentacles, the biggest bivalves I’ve ever seen, boxes of poisonous fugu fish, and everywhere men wielding huge fish knives. Please click on the photos to enlarge.

The outer market includes the sushi restaurants and the shops selling products related to eating seafood such as ceramics, knives, bill hooks, seaweed, some pickles and fresh wasabi roots. It’s open to all from 5am. Again, click on the photos to expand them.

In addition there is a street market outside the fish market itself.

This is where to come for your ready-to-eat seafood and pickles amongst other things. Click to enlarge.

One of the main attractions for tourists is to visit the tuna auction but it’s not easy to get in to it. Only 120 tourists are allowed to view it per day and during peak periods you have to get there at around 3.30am to be at the front of the queue. Once you’ve been admitted into the waiting room you then have to hang about until 5 or 5.45am which are the starting times for two groups of 60 to see the auction for 45 minutes each.

On the occasion I went we were fortunate to be entertained for some of the waiting time by Kosei, one of the tuna buyers who edified us in excellent English with some interesting facts about tuna. The buyers work very long days so god knows how he had the time to learn a language. Here is some of what I remember from his speech.

The Japanese consume 25% of the world’s tuna. There are four types of tuna, the best of which is considered to be Bluefin, and the best Bluefin comes from the Tsugaru Strait off Omamachi in Aomori Prefecture in northern Honshu. Bluefin tuna unloaded at Omamachi are known as Oma Maguro and they tend to sell for double the price of tuna caught elsewhere. The second best comes from around Boston on the north eastern coast of the US and the American fish are called Jumbos because they are flown in by jumbo jet.

Fishermen are not allowed to take tuna less than 20kg so as to allow stocks to replenish. Some fishing boats that have been out in distant seas for more than a year. The tuna they catch have spent as much as twelve months in a deep freeze.

Adult tuna are between two to three metres in length, the biggest ever caught was 679kg. The meat fetches between Y18,000 and Y5,000 depending on the quality. There are three grades of tuna; the cheapest is Akami (lean), the medium grade is Chutoro (medium fatty), and the best cut is Otoro (fatty tuna).

The most paid for a fish at the time of writing was just over a million pounds for a 222kg Bluefin back in 2013. It was sold at the first auction of the year which is traditionally the most competitive.

The buyers decide which tuna they are going to bid on by careful examination of the tail end of the fish. The tail has been removed so that they can hack out small pieces of flesh with a special bill hook.

They examine the meat for fat content by rubbing it between their fingers. Kosei will choose about ten fish to bid on but he says he gets his analysis wrong about one in seven times, despite having done the job for nineteen years, so it’s not an exact science and if they get it wrong they have to give the customer a discount. Quality then can vary by the individual fish as I found out when eating toro, the most fatty and most expensive part, with the most flavour.

Next to the fish market is Namiyoke Inari Jinja , a shinto shrine which guards the market and its traders.

Prayers are offered to the deities at the Honden building.

The other buildings house the Mikoshi, portable shrines, in the form of dragon heads.

The gold head is a male dragon and the red one is female.

Every mid year the shrine celebrates a festival called the Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri where two or three of the shrines are paraded around the streets. The shrines are extremely heavy (up to a metric ton) and require tens of men to carry them. Sometimes the bearers shake or toss the shrine to amuse the deity. As they’re dressed only in loin cloths and headbands it’s quite a sight!

Eating sushi in Tsukiji next…

Tokyo – Eating and Drinking in Ginza

Posted in Ginza, Japan, Kanto, Tokyo with tags , , , , on January 13, 2019 by gannet39

Ginza has lots of good places to eat and drink. Below are reviews of a select few of them. These and many more are on my map.

Little Okinawa (Intermediate B+), 8 Chome-7-10 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, , open noon-1.30pm, 5pm-3am Monday-Friday, noon-1.30pm, 4pm-midnight Saturday and Sunday

This cosy little restaurant was my first experience of Okinawan food and it was really interesting. The sub-tropical archipelago has always held a fascination for me and I’m determined to go and visit one day. Okinawans have a very distinct culture with their own language and cuisine which I’d love to learn more about. Coming here was a chance to do that.

Things started well with some delicious Umibudo (A), a kind of Okinawan seaweed whose name is translated as ‘sea grapes’.

Then some Tempura (B/B+) which included sweet potato, shallot, wormwood (!) and erm… luncheon meat! It wasn’t too bad actually (B).

Also Jimami-dofu, a tofu-like custard made from peanuts (B) and Onigiri where the rice had been cooked in mushroom broth and diced kale, pork, carrots and mushrooms mixed in (B). Sorry the pics didn’t come out.

Unfortunately I wasn’t too impressed by the local draught Orion beer (C+). It’s better out of a can.

On the other hand I quite enjoyed the local shochu called Awamori, described on the menu as Okinawan ‘whisky’. I tried four types; Mizuho (B), Danyu (B) and Zuisen (B+), or at least that’s how I think they’re spelled.

However the best of all was the Snake flavour! (A)

I really enjoyed eating here and would love to go back. The manager was lovely too.

Bulgari Bar (Advanced A), 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2 Chome−7−12 ブルガリ銀座タワー 10F

I expected lunch at Bulgari to be quite formal and staid but actually they were really hospitable and friendly. I had a great experience thanks mainly to the two homesick Italians I met, but more of that later.

I’d come for the famed Bulgari lunch box; miniature snacks immaculately presented in three bento-like boxes stacked on top of each other, a concept that made a big impression on me.

The first ‘Savory’ box displayed a Porchetta and Lettuce Sandwich (B+), an Arancini with White Truffle (A), Polenta Chips with Mantecato (B) and a Japanese Wagyu Beef Mini-Burger (A).

The second level, ‘Pastry’, revealed a Cotechino Potato Quiche (B), an Olive Oil Brioche (A), a Chocolate Tart (B+) and a piece of Salty Cacao (B+).

For the Brioche a waiter wheeled up a trolley with three different fillings to choose from. There were a couple of nice-sounding jams but naturally I went for the chocolate sauce.

The final ‘Sweets’ box (although most of the previous box were also sweets) contained a Coffee and Pistachio Roll Cake, a Citrus Baba and a Pear Jelly (B).

The star however was an Almond Mousse with Caramel Sauce (A+). I really loved this, must learn how to make it.

To finish a cocktail was in order and, as it was an Italian bar, I went with my all-time favourite, a Negroni.

The bar tender, Alessandro, put five bottles on the bar, rather than the usual three, so I trotted over to see what he was up to.

Besides the usual 30mls of Campari, London Gin and Red Vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula at my request) his trick is to add 10mls of Amaro Averna (a bitter from Sicily) and 10mls of Barolo Chinato, an aromatised wine similar to vermouth that I’d not come across before. The result was excellent (A+) and again something I’ll have to try at home.

After I’d finished eating I went to sit at the bar to continue chatting with Alessandro about his and my favourite cocktails and their ingredients. He followed up the Negroni (invented in Florence, his home town) with a Zombie; a tiki cocktail I’d previously avoided due to my dislike of fruit juices. However it tasted very nice (B+) and was lovely to look at.

We were soon joined by his boss Pietro from Puglia and the conversation developed into a more general discussion about Italian food, covering Burrata Mozzarella which costs a fortune in Japan but is cheap as chips in Puglia, and Florentine beef versus Wagyu which they slated for being too fatty despite it just having been served to me! I think I’d made them thoroughly homesick by the end of it.

I just happened to mention that I’d come to Japan as a birthday present to myself and the next thing I knew there was a tray of treats and a candle next to me, along with three tastings of various drinks we had discussed.

I didn’t tell them that my birthday had actually been two months earlier as I think a 50th anniversary is definitely one that’s worth milking.

I would happily have spent the rest of the day with these guys but had to pull myself away. However it was a real pleasure to experience this unexpected Italian hospitality in the heart of Ginza.

Here’s another place for a cocktail…

Bar Lupin (Intermediate B+, 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 5 Chome−5, 中央区銀座五丁目5番11号

This basement bar is another classic drinking establishment. Lupin is the second oldest bar in Ginza, opened in 1928, (Bordeaux was the first in 1927) and has been patronised by many famous writers, photographers, artists and actors over the years.

It’s a little hard to find, down a back alley, see my Google map. It’s open 5pm till 11.30pm Tuesday to Saturday notwithstanding the opening hours displayed outside.

I went one evening for a couple of drinks and was welcomed by several friendly staff, most of whom seemed to be approaching the age of the bar itself. I had a well-made Martini in a nice glass.

The following Negroni and Mojito were fairly standard (B). Drinks were about Y1,400 each as I recall, and there was a cover charge of about Y800 which makes it quite expensive. It was a pleasant experience though.

Ginza Kagari (Elementary A), 1F Ginza A Building, 4-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, 中央区銀座4丁目1−2, NOW CLOSED!

What would one of my posts be without a noodle shop! Sadly this Michelin bib gourmand rated establishment closed in 2017 which is really hard to understand as there was always a very long queue outside.

The signature dish was Tori Paitan Soba; thick, a creamy white soup made from chicken broth, which was a first for me. In the mouth it was very creamy and flavourful and the presentation was immaculate (A).

Kimuraya (Initial B+), 〒104-8212 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 4 Chome−6−16 銀座三越 地下2階 , floor B2 of Mitsukoshi

The basement food floor of the Mitsukoshi department store is an experience in itself. This bakery is particularly famous for Anpan, a Japanese bun filled with red bean paste which is sweet but not too sweet (B+).

The history is quite interesting. The bun was invented during the Meiji period by an unemployed Samurai called Kimura who opened the bakery, hence the name.

Tsukiji fish market next!

Tokyo – A Personal Shopping & Sightseeing Tour of Ginza

Posted in Ginza, Japan, Kanto, Tokyo with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2019 by gannet39

Ginza is one of the world’s elite shopping districts with whole buildings dedicated to famous international fashion brands such as Gucci, Prada, Dior etc.

There are plenty of other blogs about Ginza fashion so here I wanted instead to describe a little tour of the more interesting buildings that many of these famous brands inhabit. I’ve also included a few of my favourite shops for kitchen goods and home wares. The following post is about where and what to eat in Ginza. As ever, you will find all the places included on my map.

An optional start to the tour is the statue of Godzilla out of the west exit of Yurakucho station at 1丁目-2-2 Yūrakuchō, Chiyoda-ku. Yurakucho is the best station on the Yamanote line to go to Ginza.

Alternatively you could start on the other side of the tracks at the METoA Ginza shopping centre at 5 Chome-2-1 Ginza, Chūō-ku, I quite like the glass front of the otherwise unremarkable building…

… and the roof garden has a nice view over this part of Ginza.

Two blocks east is the Hermes building at 〒104-0061 東京都中央区Ginza, 5 Chome−4, 銀座5丁目4−1 8階 with its dangling sculpture. It looks particularly nice at night.

Four blocks north is Akomeya (Intermediate A), コメヤ トウキョウ, 2 Chome-2-6 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-6601,

This is a great shop specialising in rice and rice related products where I had to hold myself back from spending a small fortune.

The first floor is a deli where I picked up some Furikake (sprinkle toppings for steamed rice) and tiny tins of Ichimi (chilli powder). The friendly shop assistant also recommended a brand of soya sauce from their extensive range and it was fantastic (and that’s coming from a certified soya sauce addict).

Also on the second floor there are lots of nice ceramics and things for the kitchen and bathroom. I want to try their restaurant next time. Rice, unsurprisingly, features heavily on the menu.

You could pop in to Tokyu Hands Ginza at〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2丁目2−14 マロニエゲート銀座1 5~9F if you’re looking at homewares, they have seven floors of them here. I got a nifty tool for making Nigiris from the kitchen department.

Even better for homewares and knickknacks of every kind is Ginza Loft at 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2 Chome−4−6 ベルピア館3F- 6F

Two blocks east the Mikimoto building at〒104-8145 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2 Chome−4−12, has some nice windows.

One block east, De Beers the diamond jewellers at 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2 Chome−5−11 デビアス銀座ビルディング has a very unusual façade.

It deserves a couple more shots.

On the same block to the north is the Dear Ginza building at 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 1 Chome−6, 銀座1丁目6-8It looks completely different at night to what it does in the daytime.

A couple of more blocks east (via lunch at Bulgari? – see next post) is Itoya (Advanced A), 2 Chome-7-15 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061,

Itoya is primarily a stationary shop with whole floors dedicated to pens and paper; however it does also have a couple of floors for travel and home wares which I really like. I can happily browse here for hours. The building exterior is unremarkable but there is a hydroponic farm on the top floor.

Three blocks south is Ginza Place at 5 Chome-8-1 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, (You could go via the Mitsukoshi food basement – see next post).

Diagonally opposite is the Art Deco (Neoclassical influenced) Wako department store at 4 Chome-5-11 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-8105, Built in 1932, it’s one of the only buildings in the area that has survived World War II.

Four blocks east from here you will find the famous Kabuki-za theatre at 4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, It’s possible to buy tickets for half a show (standing only) if you only want to get a flavour of this ancient performing art.

An optional side excursion on the same street five blocks east,quite near Tsukiji fish market, is Hongwanji, an Indian inspired Bhuddist temple at 3 Chome-15-1 Tsukiji, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0045,

You could stop back at the Kabuki-za but true architecture buffs should walk another five blocks south from the theatre to see my favourite building in Ginza, the Nakagin Capsule Tower at 8 Chome-16-10 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061,

Built in 1972 it is one of the only remaining examples of an architectural movement called Metabolism which sought to fuse concepts related to building large structures with those of organic biological growth.

The idea was that capsules could be added to the tower so that it would evolve and grow like an organism.

Of the 140 apartments, only half are still in use, and then often only for storage or office space. Many lie derelict and decaying and sadly there are plans to demolish the building. You can rent an apartment in the tower on AirBnB but they aren’t cheap.

So that’s my brief architecture tour of Ginza. You’ll be hard pushed to find another Tokyo neighbourhood with so many interesting buildings.

Ginza also has some great places to eat and drink. Please see my next post for more info!

Tokyo – Shinjuku – Noodles and Jazz in Golden Gai

Posted in Golden Gai, Japan, Kanto, Shinjuku, Tokyo with tags , , , , , , on January 11, 2019 by gannet39

Shinjuku is a great neighbourhood for eating and drinking and I had one of the best experiences of my trip there in Golden Gai, an old entertainment district in a tiny grid of streets just a few blocks away from the east exit of Shinjuku station.

My Google map here.

When you walk the streets of Golden Gai you’re effectively stepping back in time to how Tokyo used to be before the Japanese economic miracle happened in the 1950s. Many of the buildings that line the narrow alleys are wooden, two-storey constructions that date from that time.

To get there you might walk through the brash neighbourhood of Kabukicho, once the theatre district but now a red light area (without the red lights) and a Yakuza stronghold.

Ignore the bright lights of the so-called Robot Restaurant and the automatons outside it.

I’m sure their nightly shows are quite a spectacle (from 1.15) but my advice is keep your head down and keep walking till you get to Golden Gai.

In the 1980s there were several attempts by the Yakuza to burn Golden Gai down so that it could be developed in the same way as the modern blocks that surround it. The locals prevented it from happening by organising themselves to keep watch on their buildings at night.

Mine and Shinsaku’s reasons for being here were the same as usual; ramen and music.

Nagi (Elementary A), 1 Chome-1-10 Kabukichō, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to 160-0021,

Ramen shops are by nature small, seedy affairs, in fact their lack of refinement seems almost a prerequisite for good noodles and Nagi is no exception. As with all good noodle shops there is a queue which in this case was down a very narrow side alley. There was a small trickle of ‘water’ of some undefined origin running down the middle of it which you have to straddle.

The front of the queue is by the door where you can make your selection using a vending machine. Just above your head the staff have improvised a loudspeaker made from a funnel and some plastic tubing.

When it’s your turn to come up a staff member will shout down the funnel for the next person to come up the narrow treacherous staircase to the tiny eight-seat noodle shop on the second floor.

The house speciality is Niboshi Rāmen. Niboshi are small dried sardines that are used to flavour the broth, a ramen style typical of Aomori prefecture in the north of Honshu (the big, central Japanese island). I’m guessing that here this broth is mixed with other broths like chicken (torigara) or pork (tonkotsu) to give more depth of flavour.

If the fish taste isn’t strong enough you could always add some niboshi flavoured vinegar.

Another unusual aspect of this bowl is that besides the chunky noodles you also get some large, broad, pasta-like flaps in there as well. Very unusual indeed but all very tasty (B+).

So if you want atmosphere with your ramen then look no further. It’s open 24 hours apparently. Learning the letters for ‘ramen’ ラメん will help you find the shop.

After eating we went on a hunt for music and liquor. As I mentioned there are about two hundred bars to choose from in Golden Gai, each specialising in a certain musical niche like punk, country, electronic or in our case jazz. Many of the bars can only seat about six people and only cater for their regulars. The owners will most likely let you know when you come in if they can accommodate you or not and will charge non-regulars a cover charge.

I can’t remember the name or address but we found a place playing classic jazz up another narrow staircase. Unlike JBS in Shibuya there was no vinyl on the shelves, just CDs, but hundreds of them.

Our host was gruff but hospitable. Still I was thankful of having Shinsaku with me to smooth the way.

We sat huddled at one end of the bar drinking rum and coke for a couple of hours listening to some great music most of which we’d never heard before.

The CD cases were passed from customer to customer to be read and appreciated.

Albums we heard included ‘Indeed’ by the trumpet player Lee Morgan, ‘Spirit of Django’ by guitarist Martin Taylor and ‘We Get Requests’ by the Oscar Peterson Trio.

And that was pretty much a perfect night out for me (I’m an easy date). I loved it so much that next time I go to Tokyo I’m going to get the nearest AirBnB to Golden Gai.

Here are some suggestions from Rough Guide for other bars to try in in the area.

Despite its ramshackle appearance, Golden Gai isn’t particularly cheap which is kind of understandable as it must be hard for the business owners to make ends meet when their shops are so small. If you don’t fancy ramen and want to save money on food, you could go to the infamous Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho aka ‘Piss Alley’ instead. Doesn’t sound great does it but this is another patch of narrow alleys around Shinjuku station that’s stuffed with yakitori and noodle bars. Again, very atmospheric at night and very cheap. I went a couple of decades ago but can’t personally vouch for anywhere in particular. Eat Like A Girl has a suggestion for Soba and Udon Tempura though.

If you are passing through the east exit of Shinjuku station, keep an eye out for this place…

Bake Cheese Tart (Initial A), 〒160-0022 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−38, 新宿3-38-1ルミネエスト1F

Originally from Sapporo in Hokkaido but now international, these awesome little tarts are filled with a mousse made from three kinds of cheese; a full-bodied one from Betsukai, in eastern Hokkaido; a mild-flavoured one from Hakodate, in the south of the island and a salty French fromage to round it out.

The mousse fills a pastry cup made from cookie dough which is twice-baked and the tart is served hot from the oven. They’re extremely moreish so I advise you to buy two per person. Unfortunately, they also taste good eaten cold or reheated under a grill. Expect a bit of a queue (see the floor diagram in the pic above) as the tarts are a very popular Omiyage item.

The next stop on my tour of the Yamanote line is Ginza!

Tokyo – Vinyl Days in Shibuya

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Shibuya, Tokyo with tags , , , on January 10, 2019 by gannet39

Shibuya is one of the most famous districts in central Tokyo. This is where the famous street crossing is where thousands of people cross over every time the lights change. Video here.

A famous landmark is the statue of Hatchiko the faithful dog of legend. The statue’s location just outside Shibuya station, next to the crossing, makes it a popular spot for meeting people, or to just get your photo taken.

My Google map is here.

Shibuya was mine and Shinsaku’s old stomping ground back in the 90s. We used to come here to blow our wages on vinyl records, both vintage and new releases, because Shibuya had, and still has, some of the best record shops in the world. Although not as numerous as they once were, there are some old favourites like Manhattan Records who are still going strong.

We also used to promote and DJ at a party called Maximum Joy, along with several other Japanese and British DJ friends. Imagine our dismay when we discovered that the basement space in Shibuya where we held the parties is now a Hyakkin! (a 100 yen shop which is the equivalent of a pound shop in the UK). They say you should never go back but it was funny to recall the goings on of twenty years ago and try to work out which shopping isle was once the dancefloor.

Both of us love Jazz so we went to this vinyl bar for a few drinks…

JBS (Intermediate A), 〒150-0043 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Dōgenzaka, 1 Chome−17−10 第2宝ビル 2F

JBS (Jazz, Blues, Soul) is what is known as a Jazz Kissa, a café or bar which plays classic jazz on a top notch home hifi. Jazz Kissas began after WW2 as places where people who couldn’t afford to buy their own vinyl could go and listen to their favourite music. Nowadays they’re usually run by older guys who’ve been collecting music all their lives and probably just need a place where they can house and listen to their massive collections. Once there were jazz kissas all over Japan but sadly they are now a dying breed.

The owner of JBS has a huge collection of vinyl that lines all the walls. The drinks list is very limited (just beer, whisky, rum and coke in this case) because it’s the music that’s takes precedence. There couldn’t have been more than a dozen people when we went and most of them were sat in silence reverentially listening to the quality sounds washing out from the old speakers. This is definitely a very cool place to seek out.

Uoshin (Intermediate A), 魚真 渋谷店 Uoshin, Shimada Bldg, 1F, 2-25-5 Dogenzaka

This is a popular Izakaya, which is the Japanese equivalent of a pub but with food. Like the Spanish, Japanese people always eat when they’re drinking.

Back in the day, our gang used to spend whole Sundays in an Izakaya after a weekend of hard partying. We would always get a private dining room where it was quite permissible to roll over on the soft tatami mat floors and have a nap when you needed to, and then rejoin the party later.

This place was a bit too busy for that kind of thing though and as there were just two of us, we shared a room with other customers.

I got to indulge my nostalgic cravings for much missed culinary favourites. Dishes we had included Tsukemono (pickles), Sashimi (raw seafood without rice), Kaki (panko-breaded deep-fried oysters), Crab Claws, all good (B/B+).

There are of course heaps of other great places to eat and drink in Shibuya. This place is a sound bet but look at my Google map for other suggestions. There are lots of other good shops as well of course. This is another favourite of mine…

Loft (Advanced A), 21-1 Udagawachō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0042,

This is the flagship store (seven floors, count em) of a famous chain of stationary shops. You might think that sounds a bit boring but this place is a wonderland of homewares, gadgets and gimmicks which makes it great for buying souvenirs and presents to take home. I can happily spend hours here.

Shinjuku coming up!

Tokyo – Ramen in Harajuku and a stroll in Yoyogi Park

Posted in Harajuku, Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Yoyogi with tags , , on January 9, 2019 by gannet39

Harajuku is famous for a number of reasons. West of the station is the Meiji Shrine, a large Shinto shrine dedicated to the memory of the deified Emperor Meiji who died in 1912. It’s a major tourist site and definitely worth seeing, but one that I ticked off on my first visit twenty years ago.

North east from the station is Takeshita Dori, a pedestrian street that is ground central for teenybopper fashion in Tokyo. To the south east is Ometesando, another major shopping street lined with boutiques.

And south west is Yoyogi Koen, Tokyo’s equivalent to Hyde Park or Central Park.

My Google map is here.

However, we’d just come to eat Ramen at one of my buddy Shinsaku’s favourite noodle shops…

Kyushu Jangara Ramen Harajuku (High Elementary B), 1 Chome-13-21 Jingūmae, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0001,

Kyushu Jangara Ramen is a small chain with seven locations around Tokyo. Their ramen style is from the island of Kyushu where people favour a pork broth base known as Tonkotsu, which also just happens to be my favourite. Veggie and vegan broths are also available here.

This branch is very popular and we had to wait for fifteen minutes or so on the staircase leading up to the restaurant. It was worth the wait though for the spicy deliciousness served up. You can choose to add on toppings such as boiled egg, char siu pork, scallions etc and we had pretty much everything. I had a rack of pork Gyoza dumplings on the side as well.

After eating we went for a stroll across Yoyogi Park. Back in the 90s the paths through the park were lined with musicians playing live to passers-by every weekend. You would see hi-energy pop groups in front of big troops of boisterous kids all doing the hand jive in unison. Or a saxophone player playing to no one in particular. Even the neo-fascists would turn up to regale anyone who would listen (no one did). As I recall, the city government decided to ban or place restrictions on all this as it was perhaps getting out of hand, but Google tells me you can still occasionally hear solo musicians playing.

On the day we went, only the rockers were still there, doing their thing in front of portable speakers. It was fun to see they’d got their kids jiving as well. Rock & Roll, as they say, will never die.

On the other side of the park you’re getting into the outskirts of the northern end of Shibuya. There’s a good little bakery here if you fancy a bit of dessert…

Nata de Christiano’s (Elementary B), 〒151-0063 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, 渋谷区Tomigaya, 1 Chome−14−16 スタンフォードコート103, takeaway from 10am,

As regular readers will know, I adore Portuguese custard tarts. Egg custard in crisp puff pastry, dusted with icing sugar and sprinkled with Ceylon cinnamon is one of my favourite things in life. Cristiano’s do a pretty good version. Ever so slightly overdone on the day I went but still very tasty (B).

Into deepest, darkest Shibuya next…

Tokyo – Eating well in Nakameguro

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Meguro, Nakameguro, Tokyo with tags , , , , on January 8, 2019 by gannet39

Nakameguro is another Meguro train station on the private Tōyoko Line which can take you directly to Tsukiji going north or Yokohama going south (see later posts). The station can get quite busy at rush hour as you can see from this video.

The cluster of eateries and shops around Nakameguro station seem a bit cooler and more upmarket than the businesses around Meguro JR. My AirBnB was halfway between both stations so I got the best of both worlds. Here’s my Google map.

I went to four restaurants in Nakameguro, two low end and two high end, all of them good in different ways. Two of them were Izakayas which are the nearest equivalent to a British pub in the sense that they are communal places where Japanese people go to socialise. The main difference is that they serve a wide range of food. Whereas other eateries tend to specialise in one culinary genre, izakayas tend to be generalists and serve a little bit of everything. My reviews are in no particular order:

Tatemichiya (Intermediate B), 〒150-0033 Tokyo, 渋谷区Sarugakucho, 30−8

Tatemichiya is a punk izakaya. The walls are covered with music posters and the pierced and bleached staff look like they’ve been dragged backwards through a hedge. The food is fine if not the greatest (B) but what’s important is the attitude and the atmosphere. It’s somewhere you can relax and make as much noise as you like. All of which made it the perfect spot to meet up with my old crew (from my left; Ken, Yuko, Peko, Shinsaku, Yuji and Uga).

We stayed for hours and ate and drank to the max. As a result most of my photos are quite blurry but here’s a selection that came out okay.

The highlight for me was the izakaya classic Eihire Yaki, grilled skate fins served with Kewpie mayonnaise. So crispy, so good!

Other pics show Sashimi (raw seafood; octopus, tuna and seabass), grilled Eringi mushrooms and steamed rice with Furikake (a dried mixed seasoning). Click the pics to expand.

Kan (High Intermediate A), 2 Chome-1-1 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku, Tōkyō-to 153-0043

Kan is an upmarket Izakaya at the opposite end of the spectrum. The décor is sleek and modern and the food is excellent but not particularly cheap. I came on my very first night in Tokyo and didn’t have a reservation so I couldn’t sit at the bar and watch the chefs as I would have liked to. I didn’t mind too much though as I was just happy to get in.

I had the tasting menu, about ten dishes, with a couple of beers and four glasses of Shochu (Japanese ‘vodka’ typically distilled from rice), for Y11,200 (about £80). Everything was top notch and the experience of eating such good Japanese food filled me with happiness after going without for so many years.

I can’t remember what all the dishes were but they include Figs with Fish Tempura and Squid Negiri (raw seafood on a rice ball), Sashimi (raw fish, seabass and tuna I think), Shochu, Mushroom soup (including Shitake, Enokitake and I think Maitake), Wagyu beef, Hiyayakko (cold tofu served here with Bonito tuna flakes and Negi spring onions), Saba (grilled mackerel with grated giant radish), Tempura (prawn and squid) and Uni Temaki (sea urchin hand roll).

There was a lot more but due to the low lighting, a lot of my pictures came out blurred so I haven’t included them. Everything was great though!

Higashi-Yama (Advanced A), 1 Chome-21-25 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku, Tōkyō-to 153-0043, 11.30am-2pm Tue-Sat 6pm-1am Monday-Saturday,

This modern Japanese restaurant is a bit hard to find as it’s hidden up a side street but there’s a map on the website. I recommend booking ahead.

The décor is very modern and minimalist. I was seated at the bar around the open kitchen so I could observe all the goings on and talk to the chefs, one of whom could speak pretty good English. He gave me some good tips for buying Japanese knives (see Kappabashi post).

All the food was presented on beautiful ceramics as is the Japanese way. I’ve put a dozen or so ceramic shops on my Google map if that’s something you’re interested in.

I had the tasting menu for around ¥8200 (£60) as I recall. From what I can remember here we have Kaki (deep fried oysters), fish in soy based sauce, Wagyu beef and Udon noodles but there were many more dishes and some photos that didn’t come out. Please click on them to enlarge.

After dinner I stayed on in their basement lounge for a few more Umeshus.

Kushiwakamaru (Intermediate B+), 1 Chome-19-2 Kamimeguro, 目黒区 Meguro-ku, Tōkyō-to 153-0051, Open Mon-Fri 5.30pm-midnight, Sat-Sun 5pm-midnight

‘The Stick Factory’ is a Yakitori bar, a small restaurant serving bite-sized chunks of chicken and vegetables that have been skewered on wooden sticks, grilled and seasoned with salt or soy sauce. The food is classic ‘salaryman’ (office worker) fare; cheap, cheerful, affordable and good for washing down with copious amounts of lager, sake or shochu.

Typically these casual establishments specialise in chicken offal (put ‘yakitori’ into the search box of my Google map and click on the place marks and you’ll see). However Kushiwakamaru also sells more elegant yakitori like smoked duck breast and quail eggs.

The skewers are grilled over charcoal and tended by a chef who constantly fans the embers. This job can be a bit dangerous as the traditional fans can easily catch alight! I bought myself a modern fireproof one for fanning my BBQ at home (see Kappabashi post).

On average the Yakitori are between £1.10 to £1.80 a stick which is fair given the quality. I had Neginiku (chicken leg and leek), Tsukune (balls of minced chicken) Shitake (mushroom) and Gyu-kushiyaki (beef).

Other commonly available chicken yakitori include Shishito-niku (breast meat with small green peppers), Seseriyaki (neck), Tebasaki (wings), Sunagimo (gizzard), Tori-reba (liver), Tori-motsu (giblets), Hingagawa (skin), Bonbochi (tail), Hatsu (heart), Torinankotsu (soft cartilage) and Kashiwa (plain chicken meat). You might come across seafood and other meat options as well.

So that concludes my experiences of Meguro. Off into town next!

Tokyo – Eating Ramen and Tonkatsu in Meguro

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Meguro, Tokyo with tags , , , , on January 7, 2019 by gannet39

It’s all about the ramen noodles and pork cutlets in this post.
For more food in Meguro see the next post on restaurants and yakitori in Nakameguro.
All these places are on this map.

Another reason I chose my AirBnB was that it was right next door to this branch of a famous ramen chain…

Ramen Jiro (Elementary B+), 3 Chome-7-2 Meguro, Meguro-ku, Tōkyō-to 153-0063

As Jiro opens at midday I thought that I’d be straight in if I arrived at 12.30. No such luck as all the seats were full and a dozen or more people (all blokes; students and workers) were waiting patiently in a line outside.

This seemed to be the case whenever I walked past, whatever time of day or night it was.

It’s definitely a good sign because it means the ramen is worth waiting for. Unlike European diners, Japanese ramen-ya customers will quickly eat and go, so you won’t be hanging around for too long, which is a good job as there are only seven seats in Jiro.

I was surprised by how much spoken Japanese I had remembered after so many years without using it but I’d virtually forgotten how to read. This meant I couldn’t understand the buttons on the vending machine or work out what the six varieties on offer actually were. Most times, if you press the first button it will most likely be the most popular one. However if there’s no machine, just say ‘osusume?’ to the chef which politely means ‘recommend’).

I watched a few other customers making their choices and went with the most popular button. After putting my 500 yen coin in the slot I got a blue plastic token in return. When it was finally my turn to squeeze onto a stool at the cramped counter, I handed the token over to the chef without a word being exchanged.

The ramen was fantastic; big chunky bread flour noodles swimming in a powerful pork and soya sauce stock, topped with two hefty slabs of cha siu pork, pork fat, cabbage, bean sprouts and two big dollops of raw garlic.

The preparation and presentation was very rustic with zero finesse, but it packed a powerful punch and was heaven in a bowl as far as I was concerned.

Extra toppings are free but it was a hefty enough portion for me.

Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto Meguro (Elementary B+), 〒141-0021 Tōkyō-to, Shinagawa-ku, Kamiōsaki, 2 Chome−13−45 トラストリンク第3ビル1F

Another famous ramen shop, in a side street near the Meguro JR station. The fiery red shopfront serves as a warning as Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto is famous for its hot spicy ramen.

Nakamoto is the name of the original owner who retired and sold the business to a regular who had been a faithful customer for twenty years. With the shop came the secret recipe for Nakamoto’s spicy ramen.

The vending machine has heaps of options but fortunately they have English menus here as well.

I had the Gomoku Mouko Tanmen ramen; a miso (bean paste) tanmen (chicken) broth served with cabbage, carrot, scallions, beansprouts, Chinese mushrooms, tofu, boiled eggs, negi (Japanese leek) and plenty of Chinese chilli. It was by no means the hottest (the Hokkyoku ramen is the shop’s most fiery bowl) but it was still pretty feisty.

I went for the ‘kaedama’ option; an extra portion of noodles to add to the remaining broth when you’ve finished the first lot. I love spicy ramen (if it’s avaialbe, my usual order is ramen with extra kimchi; fermented Korean chilli cabbage) so this went down very well with me (B+).

Tonki (Intermediate A), 1 Chome-1-2 Shimomeguro, Meguro, open 4pm-10.45pm, closed Tuesday and third Monday of the month

This shop is one of the best places in Tokyo to eat Tonkatsu, a breaded cutlet similar to Wiener Schnitzel or Cotoleta Milanese except that it uses pork rather than veal which is a rare meat In Japan (and not to be confused with Tonkotsu, a type of ramen broth).

Customers eat at the long bar which surrounds the pristine open plan kitchen. Chefs in white wellies expertly perform their stage of the production process in full view of the diners.

I had the tonkatsu served as part of Teishoku, that is as a set meal with the holy trinity of sides; boiled rice, miso soup and pickles (cucumber and giant radish). Teishoku began at Zen Buddhist temples and slowly spread to the restaurant industry.

There are two options on the menu; ‘rosu’ (fatty belly meat) or ‘hire’ (lean loin). Trying to be health conscious I went for the loin which I regretted as it didn’t have quite as much flavour as I was hoping for. It was still very good though (B+).

The best accompaniment for me is a cold bottle of Sapporo beer.

More food in Nakameguro next!

Tokyo – Meguro – Walking Around

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Meguro, Tokyo with tags , , , on January 6, 2019 by gannet39

Back in the early 90s I lived in Japan for three years working as an English teacher in the Tokyo area. I had a fantastic time and made lots of friends and had many formative experiences. So imagine how excited I was about coming back twenty years later! And this time I was going to do all the things that I didn’t have the time or the money to do when I was younger.

Tokyo is a huge city and travel times can be long despite the highly efficient public transport system. If you’re visiting the best thing you could do is to stay somewhere near a Yamanote line station (the green metro line pictured above). Similar to London’s Circle line, except much busier, the Yamanote follows a circular route through all the central Tokyo districts, so you can access many of the main sights in the most travel efficient way.

For the first week I rented an AirBnB in Meguro, a fashionable residential neighbourhood in the southern part of the Yamanote loop. The flat was about fifteen/twenty minutes’ walk from Meguro Yamanote Line station which is fairly standard.

I chose to stay in Meguro because I could easily take the Yamanote line to nearby entertainment districts like Ginza to the east and Shibuya to the west (see later posts), and because there was a concentration of places I wanted to see (this post) and things I wanted to eat (next post) in the local area. You can see all these places on my rather intense Google map here and read a guide about the central neighbourhoods here.

The Meguro river is a famous place for Hanami, the famous Japanese tradition of cherry blossom viewing. Click here to see what it can look like.

The best time to experience this is mid March to early April but you need to keep an eye on the blossom forecasts as it varies each year.

I did harbour illusions of jogging down the riverside each morning but I was there in December when it didn’t look so inviting.

In terms of architecture, Meguro has this gem…

Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, 5 Chome-21-9 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 108-0071,

This art museum is housed in one of Tokyo’s only Art Deco buildings, the former residence of Prince and Princess Asaka. The art gallery only takes up a couple of rooms and the rest of the house is still pretty much as it was when the royal couple lived here. The rooms still retain all their original furniture and fittings which were designed in a collaboration between Japanese aritsans and European artists. If like me you love Art Deco, it’s definitely worth a visit. The garden in its autumnal finery was lovely too. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Can’t remember where it was but I stumbled across this small temple somewhere near the station. Click to enlarge.

Other interesting buildings I noticed when I was walking around Meguro was this incredibly thin apartment block.

Generally residential architecture in Tokyo is really bland but this unusual block near the river stood out.

This was another intriguing place in Meguro, although the weak of stomach might want to stop reading here…

Meguro Parasite Museum, Chome-1-1 Shimomeguro, Meguro-ku, Tōkyō-to 153-0064,

Yup, you read right, a parasite museum. Granted this is not to everyone’s taste but it was better than walking home in the rain one day, and it is quite fascinating in a gruesome way. The 300 hundred specimens are part of a collection of around 45,000 which was put together by Kamegai Satoru, a Japanese doctor in the second world war. Damien Hirst has nothing on him.

The star exhibit is this tape worm which is nearly nine metres long! It came from the stomach of a forty year old man.

There is plenty of other spooky stuff. Again, click to enlarge.

Hopefully that hasn’t put you off looking at my next post about food!

Macau – Colonial Era Architecture

Posted in China, Macau with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2019 by gannet39

The Portuguese were in Macau for around 450 years and only gave the territory back to China in 1999 (two years after Hong Kong was returned).

The most famous landmark is the façade of St. Pauls, a Jesuit church that burned down on three separate occasions in its history (a hint from above perhaps?).

This famous ruin is the main spot for visitors taking group photos and selfies. Personally I don’t see what all the fuss is about but I suppose it has to be ticked off the list.

Leading up to the St. Pauls steps is the pedestrian shopping street Rua de São Paulo which begins in Senado Square. Together they form the epicentre of the old town. There are a few attractive historical buildings along here, like these two wedding cake churches.

You know when you’re in the old town because all the pavements are mosaics.

Above St. Pauls, at the top of Mount Hill, is the Mount Fortress which was built by the Jesuits between 1617 and 1626.

The guns have a commanding view over the bay and the town as you can see from my short video. It was demilitarised in the 1970s and is now the location for the Macau Museum which I didn’t have time to see sadly.

It was a bit cloudy on the day I went but the views were still good. The forsest of cranes on the horizon point to Macau’s status as one the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the world.

On the other side of Mount Hill, the streets around Igreja de São Lazoro (the Church of St.Lazarus) are nice to walk around. I walked along Calçada da Igreja de São Lázaro which has some attractive old buildings.

At 7 Calçada da Igreja de São Lazoro is Chui Lok Chi Mansion. Once a Catholic school it now houses the Tai Fung Tong Art House, a cultural centre.

On the other side of town, another interesting building is the Mandarin’s House.  

It was constructed around 1860 by the Zheng family. With more than sixty rooms and a series of courtyards it is Macau’s largest mansion.  Not all the rooms are open though so you only need about thirty minutes here.

It has many of the characteristics of a traditional Guangdong residence, including moon gates; circular doors between garden areas.

It subtly incorporates architectural details from other cultures as well, such as arched doorways and French windows.  One of my favourite features is that the drainpipes are designed to look like bamboo poles.

Elsewhere, at 975 Avenida da Praia Grande, is the Clube Militar de Macau, now a private club The restaurant is open to the public but I mistimed my arrival so I didn’t get to eat here. Inside it looks like a very atmospheric dining spot.

My time in Macau was limited so I didn’t get to see everything I’d like to. Here are some suggestions for walking tours which I didn’t have time to do; two from Frommers here and here and some ideas from the local tourist board here. My Google map with all these places on is here. Please see my previous posts for food and modern architecture in Macau.

Holidays in Tokyo next!

Macau – Food Tour

Posted in China, Macau with tags , , , , on January 4, 2019 by gannet39

This is a suggested itinerary for trying a few local delicacies. I’ve organised the walk partly according to geographical location and also in the order you might want to eat the foods in. I’ve put everywhere mentioned on this Google map.

Birmanes Nga Heong (Elementary B+), 27F Rua De Fernao Mendes Pinto

In the 60s and 70s, after anti-Chinese riots in Rangoon, some Burmese of Chinese descent came to settle in Macau. This shop was opened in 1978 and specialises in Burmese cuisine.

They serve a mean Burmese samosa (B+).

I’d come to try their most famous dish, Massinha de Peixe (fish with noodles), which consists of a rich fish stock with the addition of lemon, black peppercorn, coriander, turmeric, chilli and banana tree stem, eaten with vermicelli rice noodles and garnished with lime and split chickpea fritters.

I’m an afficionado of noodle soups but this little combo was completely new to me and I really liked it (B+).

For dessert you could go down the road to this place…

Lai Kei Sorvetes (Intermediate A), 12 Avenida do Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida,

This ice cream parlour is one of my top picks for two reasons.

First off, I love the look of the shop front and the classic 1960s interior. Especially the snug little booths but also the other furnishings…

…and secondly I love the nostalgic feeling of eating their old-school handmade ice cream.

Their ice cream sandwich still comes in its original wrapping…

Single Origin (Intermediate A), 19 Rua de Abreu Nunes

Just a couple of blocks away from Lai Kei ice cream parlour is this great little hipster coffee shop which serves a tidy cuppa (A).

Back in the old town, one thing you’ll see a lot of along Rua de São Paulo, is the famous Macanese jerky. It’s a variety of Bakkwa, a centuries old preparation of dried meat from China. For many Chinese tourists from the mainland it’s a popular souvenir to take home.

Pork and beef varieties are popular here and come in multiple flavours including black pepper, chilli, five spice, abalone and honey-roasted.

Don’t worry if you don’t know which one to get, the street vendors will cut off strips for you to try.

I particularly liked the honey-roasted flavours but I do have a big sweet tooth.

Despite a name that invokes images of a difficult-to-chew dried meat, I found it to be quite moist and very edible.

Yee Shun Dairy Company aka Leitaria I Son (Intermediate B), 381 Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro

In the Macau episode of his No Reservations series, Anthony Bourdain was brought to this steamed milk custard vendor. It’s one of the local delicacies, served for over 150 years in this shop, although he didn’t really come across as a fan (from 36.16 in the video).

There a few kinds to choose from, the most common being the white milk custard and the yellow egg custard varieties, served either hot or cold. However many people prefer the ginger or red bean versions as they have more flavour.

I had the classic cold white milk pudding which was fine but completely bland (B).

There are of course heaps of other places to eat including plenty of street vendors.

This very popular stall selling Cantonese style street food was on Travessa do Mastro, just around the corner from the Fat Siu Lau restaurant.

Here’s a link to some other examples of Macanese cuisine.

Colonial era architecture next!

Macau – places to eat Portuguese food

Posted in China, Macau with tags , , , on January 3, 2019 by gannet39

I only had two nights and three days here but I did my best to eat around as much as possible in that time. The next post describes a food walk where you can try several different kinds of food and drink but here I’m focussing on restaurants influenced by the Portuguese empire.

All the restaurants mentioned are on this Google map.

Fernando’s (Intermediate B+), 9 Praia de Hac Sa, no credit cards or reservations are accepted,

This rustic Portuguese restaurant (a local institution since 1986) came recommended by Anthony Bourdain and also my good friend Tommy K who knows his grub.

Hac Sa beach is a bit of a trek from town but it’s worth it for the good food and fun atmosphere. This was defintiely my best restaurant experience in Macau.

The house speciality is the Leitao Assado no Forno, or suckling pig, which is delicious (B+). It came with chips and a green salad (both B), but I added on a tomato salad as well. Unexpectedly the tomatoes were fantastic (A).

With it, a bottle of okay red from Lisbon called Porta 6 (B-)…

…which was decanted at the table.

I finished with a hefty slice of flan (B) and something strong and sweet from a tiny barrel. My memory doesn’t recall what it was, only that it was good! (B+).

Taxis seemed to be a problem for some reason (maybe prebook a cab for your return) but a friend of the restaurant drove me home for a fee and kindly stopped off for me to see some of the casino sights on the way back (see previous post).

A Vencedora (Intermediate B+), Edificio Pak Nin Son, 264 Rua do Campo

A local colleague brought me here for lunch. They’ve been serving good homemade Portuguese food since 1918. Nothing special, just plain, good honest food.

I enjoyed their croquettes (B+). Portuguese Pastéis or Bolo de Bacalhau tend to be made with mashed potato without the addition of Béchamel sauce, unlike Spanish croquetas.

A main of plain grilled sardines (B+) and a bit of salad saw me right.

Fat Siu Lau (Intermediate B), 64 Rua da Felicidade,

This old restaurant has been a local institution since 1903, currently recommended by Fodor’s. I came here on my first night hungry for a change from Chinese food.

The house speciality is ‘Pombo Asado’ aka ‘Shek Ki Superb Roasted Pigeon’, but I was hankering after seafood so I started with a plate of clams, hoping they’d be plain but found them just acceptable in a sauce (B).

I followed up with the grilled prawns in a garlic and butter sauce, or Camarãos Grelhados Servidos con Molho de Alho e Manteiga which were okay but not particularly inspiring (B).

I washed these down with a couple of cans of Portuguese Sagres beer (B).

For dessert I was intrigued to see Norwegian Almond Krumkake Rolls on the menu (those sailors do get around). Krumkaker are waffles that are bent into cones whilst still hot, similar to Sicilian cannoli, and served with whipped cream as they are here or perhaps used as ice-cream cones.

Being in possession of both part Norwegian and sweet-toothed these were hard to refuse, luckily as they were the best thing I had in the restaurant (B+).

Margaret’s Café e Nata (Intermediate B+), Edificio Kam Loi

Portuguese custard tarts are one of my favourite things in life and this is one of the best places in Macau to eat them.

According to popular wisdom, Lord Stow’s bakery is the best to have them but I didn’t have time to go over the other side of the island to his place). Fortunately this rival establishment, opened by his ex-wife, does a mean pasteis de nata as well (B+).

Food walk next!

Macau – Casinos and Modern Architecture

Posted in China, Macau with tags , , on January 2, 2019 by gannet39

Macau is the gambling mecca of China, a nation that loves to bet. Unlike the mainland, gambling is legal here, with the result that it has developed into a huge tourist industry that dominates the Macanese economy. It’s been calculated that the gambling sector in Macau in 2014 was five times larger than that of Las Vegas!

Again unlike the mainland, prostitution has also been decriminalised and drugs are said to be readily available. Unsurprisingly these rackets have attracted the interest of the Triads and other criminal gangs. This combination of ingredients have made Macau the primary place on the planet for spending money on pleasure. It’s a den of iniquity if ever there ever was one but it’s a fascinating place to observe from the outside.

All of the places mentioned in these posts are on my Google map, here.

The oldest casino is The Grand Lisboa which was built in the 60s (brief video here).

The casino’s gaudy hotel (built in the 70s) dominates the skyline and you can see it wherever you go in the centre of town.

The building is supremely ugly but the lights are quite fun to watch at night. Video here.

The huge foyer is a supreme example of bad taste.

As it’s a casino, they don’t like you taking photos inside. I was told to stop after taking this one.

The Grand Lisboa is out of date now as huge sums have been ploughed into building new casinos in a dedicated zone of reclaimed land outside the main urban area known as the Cotai Strip .

Probably the most famous casino is The Venetian which is the world’s biggest with a gaming floor that covers 546,000 square feet.

Just over the road is The Parisian which even has a replica of the Eiffel Tower standing outside it.

On the way back from eating at Fernando’s (see later post) my driver stopped so I could watch the world-famous fountain show at the Wynn Palace which was truly a bizarre experience.

The spectacular roaring fountains erupt with the force and noise of a firework display. All the while cable cars pass over and through the fountains to the sound of music. When I was there a very loud recording of the Artful Dodger singing ‘Consider Yourself At Home’ was blasting out over the speakers. Seeing and hearing is believing; watch my video here.

Back in town, there are plenty of new buildings but none of them are particularly attractive.





Most people seem to live in apartment blocks of varying sizes, I didn’t see any individual houses.

My driver told me that real estate in Macau has increased so much in value that ordinary local people can no longer afford to buy their own property which is a sad state of affairs.

On to the food next!

Happy 2019!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1, 2019 by gannet39

Just like to wish all my subscribers a very happy new year and a fabulous 2019.

Apologies for not posting in a while, I’ll try to make up for it with a post a day for the next few weeks.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments sections below the posts 🙂

Hope to hear from you soon 🙂 x

Hong Kong – Hong Kong Island – Modern Architecture

Posted in Causeway Bay, Central, China, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Island, Sheung Wan with tags on December 8, 2017 by gannet39

The skyscrapers of Central are one of the must sees of any trip to HK, not that you can really miss them. The night time view is particularly impressive.

The Kowloon scrapers are quite imposing too, but they are less tightly packed. I’ve given them their own post called ‘Food with a View’. In the post I recommend Eye Bar as a great spot to view the Central buildings at night.

One thing you may hear about is the Symphony of Lights, a daily light show at 8pm each evening where the scrapers on both sides flash their lights in time to music.

The best places to watch the show are from the promenade outside Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai or the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, or you could do what I did and catch a special sightseeing ferry across Victoria Harbour from the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The Symphony of Lights Harbour Cruise cost HK$205 in 2017. More info here.

Sadly though I have to say I was less than impressed by the experience. The music was tinny and failed to move me in any way, and the lights on each skyscraper seemed to be doing their own thing rather than linking up. You do get a good view of the buildings though. Video here.

My favourite skyscraper as I mentioned before is the ICT (more pics in the ‘Food with a View’ post).

How well you can see everything depends on how lucky you are with the weather.

You can count on a few pea-soupers every now and then, although this can sometimes add to the atmosphere.

These pics are of The Center, which is the fifth highest building in HK.

Not sure where in Central I took this random shot.

Elsewhere, the flashing lights on this skyscraper in Causeway Bay were quite fun. Video here.

These residential buildings are in Sheung Wan, near Man Mo temple.

I stumbled across a couple of older buildings in Central that I liked.

Please also see my previous post on Innovation Tower which is a very special building indeed.

And that was Hong Kong! Off to catch the ferry to Macau next…

Hong Kong – Hung Hom – Innovation Tower

Posted in China, Hong Kong, Hung Hom, Kowloon with tags , on December 7, 2017 by gannet39

To be honest, despite being a futuristic city (the inspiration for my favourite film Blade Runner among others), I think most of the modern architecture in Hong Kong is pretty dire.

There is the odd exception, such as the Jockey Club Innovation Tower designed by Zaha Hadid. I’m a big fan of the late architect so on my day off I got the MTR over to the University of Hong Kong campus in Hung Hom to visit the School of Design. It totally deserves it’s own post.

You’ll find it on the Google map.

I managed to wander around the building taking snaps without any hassle. I’m not sure what security is like usually but maybe the fact it was graduation day helped make me relatively inconspicuous.

Click on the photos to see them at their best in full-screen slideshow mode.



Imagine being a design student and getting to study in this amazing building. I’d be very inspired by it.

More modern architecture next!

Hong Kong – out and about on Hong Kong Island

Posted in Causeway Bay, Central, China, Happy Valley, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Island with tags , on December 6, 2017 by gannet39

Please see my other posts on Architecture, Markets , Bars and Restaurants (Chinese, Asian, Noodles, Dim Sum) for more places to check out on Hong Kong Island. Here’s some more stuff to do that doesn’t fit into any of the other posts. Everywhere mentioned is on this Google map.

Each time I’ve been to HK one of the highlights has been a visit to Happy Valley racecourse. The course is set against a magnificent backdrop of tall buildings which must themselves have a fantastic view of the races and the impressive grandstand.

I like to go down to the paddock to choose my horses. Video here.

In 2006 I picked several winners and went home buzzing with a few hundred dollars. No such luck in 2016 when every nag I bet on lost by several lengths. Not a single horse came in for me and I soon lost all my allotted budget of a few hundred dollars (I’m no big timer). Video here.

But you can always console yourself with snacks and beer.

Another fun thing to do is take a ride on the trams. Video here.

It’s only $2.30 (exact change only) and they also accept Octopus cards. You get on at the back and then pay at the front when you’re getting off.


There are special 1930s open top sightseeing trams and you can even hire a party tram!


A walk down Hollywood Road provides a few sights. Frommer’s self-guided walking tours are quite informative if you want to know more about the places you are passing.


It might not look it but this guy is actually going backwards.




Push carts are definitely still a thing here.


Towards the end at 124-126 Hollywood Road is Man Mo Temple (open daily from 8am to 6pm) which pays tribute to ‘Man’, the God of Literature and ‘Mo’ the God of War. Built in the 1840s it’s Hong Kong’s oldest temple. Click on the pics for a full screen slideshow.

Video here.

This fun automaton was outside when I was there.

Video here.

There’s a smaller shrine on the stairs at the top of Peel Street.

The huge incense coils are purchased by people who want their wishes to be granted. They can take as long as three weeks to burn.

Of course The Peak is a must do. I went up in 2006 but have lost the photos sorry. I recommend taking the funicular up and then doing the Peak Circular Walk on the way down.

Next time I go I’d like to walk the Dragon’s Back in Shek O country park.

Architecture next!

Hong Kong – out and about in Kowloon

Posted in China, Hong Kong, Kowloon, Mongkok, Prince Edward, Tsim Sha Tsui with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2017 by gannet39

The first half of this post is mainly for my colleagues staying in Mongkok, the second half is for all the bits and pieces I have left over about south Kowloon.

Mongkok Streets

Our employer puts us up at the Royal Plaza Hotel at 193 Prince Edward Road West, Mongkok, It’s an excellent hotel with great facilities including a big, well-equipped gym and a large outdoor swimming pool. The breakfast is fully comprehensive with plenty of choices and the restaurant has a good rep although I’ve never tried it. You even get a free mobile phone to use during your stay.


The views of uptown Kowloon from my hotel window were great.

Good morning


In terms of logistics, the hotel so well located that you can be in Central within forty minutes (on foot followed by metro) or instead head out to the New Territories without having to travel through town. And it’s within walking distance of all the temptations of Mongkok.

Please click the Mongkok  link on the home page index to access reviews of all the eateries I’ve been to. Everywhere mentioned is on this Google map.

When heading south on the MTR to Central, the two nearest stations, Prince Edward and Mongkok, are equidistant from the hotel, but I prefer to go to Prince Edward as the station is much less hectic.

The Prince Edward station is also near the Sunshine Laundry at 44-62 Tai Nan Street, (exit C2 of Prince Edward MTR) so you can pick up your dry cleaning after work (opening hours are 0800~2100). Dry cleaning one shirt cost me HK$17 as opposed to HK$90 to wash and another HK$68 to iron in the hotel! It can take 5 days for it to be ready though so some forward planning is required.

On the other hand, at the weekend, if you exit Mongkok station via exit B2 on Fife St, you get to witness all the madness on Sai Yeung Choi Street. Street performers take over between noon and 10pm on Saturday and Sunday when the area is made pedestrian only. Buskers, boppers, singers and various talent show hopefuls come together to create mind-boggling mayhem. It’s definitely a spectacle worth seeing.

For a taste of old Hong Kong, I recommend a walk along Reclamation Street.

It’s not a particularly pretty area but it’ll give you a good idea of how things used to be.

The area is ripe for redevelopment and probably won’t be around much longer.

On the subject of construction, it’s interesting to observe that builders  in Hong Kong always use bamboo scaffolding, even when constructing modern skyscrapers! Bamboo is much more flexible than metal scaffolding but I still wouldn’t like to be bouncing around on it at the top!

Next to the entrance of the Holiday Express on Dundas Street there’s an imitation of a Banksy stencil.

In the original the rioter is throwing a bunch of flowers but this has been replaced by a book in the Hong Kong version. The piece is a controversial comment on the authorities draconian response to the democracy demonstrators earlier in 2016.

Nearby Portland Street is also very atmospheric to walk around at night.

It’s Hong Kong’s red light district so it has a very seedy atmosphere but it’s relatively safe.

There’s a Snake Restaurant here but I never had the courage to go in by myself without knowing what to ask for.

I did a fair bit of shopping on my 2016 trip. I bought a new Samsung Galaxy S8 from a vendor at Sin Tat Plaza at 83 Argyle Street (Mongkok MTR exit D2). This shopping centre for phones was once notorious for rip-offs and fake models but has been (mostly) cleaned up in recent years.

My phone was £150 cheaper than at home but I later found out the charger socket was faulty, hence the price. It wasn’t a problem (I got a wireless charger) but if you want more security then go to Broadway or Fortress (branches all over). Buying products that have their own box is a way of making sure they are original. Reviews here.

Other than China, I don’t think I’ve been anywhere where people are so addicted to their phones. Hong Kongers seem to be constantly on their mobiles when they’re walking around.

I also got a suit made at Sam’s Tailor at Ground Floor, K&L Burlington Arcade 90-94C Nathan Rd, (Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Exit B1) He’s the most famous tailor in town and Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani, Avril Levigne, Bjork, Roberta Flack, Celine Dion, Steffi Graf, Joan Collins, Naomi Campbell, Hilary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright, amongst others, have all been customers. You will run a gauntlet of other tailor touts on the way so you could compare prices but I didn’t bother. I’ve barely worn it but the suit fitted well despite being pretty cheap (around £200 as I recall).

I also got two pairs of reading glasses around the corner at Tai Kwong Optical, 22-28 Mody Road, The quality was good, prices were fair, and he had a good selection of frames. Small shops like this will give you a better price than the chains.

While you’re in the area you could drop in on the Avenue of Comic Stars over the road at Kowloon Park Drive, Handy if you have kids to entertain but a bit silly otherwise.

Here are a few signs I came across that tickled me.


Walking around Hong Kong Island next!

Hong Kong – the markets

Posted in Central, China, Hong Kong, Jordan, Jordan, Mongkok, Yau Ma Tei with tags , , , , , , , on December 4, 2017 by gannet39

As regular readers will know, I love markets, especially food markets, and Hong Kong has heaps of them. Here are a few I’ve been to.


Fa Yuen Street Market

Fa Yuen Street Market sells clothes, bags and electrical items as well as fruit and veg and other foodstuffs.


The stalls are open from 10am to midnight at the northern end of the street.


This lady is deseeding a Jackfruit or Bōluómì (菠萝蜜).


Fa Yuen is also known as ‘sneaker street’ as there are lots of shops along the southern section selling sports shoes. They’re a bit cheaper than at home but good luck telling the snide from the real.

Fa Yuen Street Wet Market

Located at 123A Fa Yuen Street, this is a very typical Chinese food market. As such some of the sights captured in these photos are not for the faint-hearted. You have been warned!

Freshness is very important for the Chinese shopper and this market is one of the few places you can still select a chicken while it’s still alive and have it butchered in front of you. The same goes for fish which are kept in tanks ready for purchase.


You can click on these pictures to go to full-screen slideshow mode.



Not sure what the white fungus is but…

…the bright orange things are pigs’ fallopian tubes, or Shēng Cháng (生肠), a common street food delicacy that I’m still plucking up the courage to try.

The cucumber shaped with the ridges is Sin Qua (絲瓜 or 勝瓜), or in English, amongst many other names; Angled or Ridged Luffa, Silk Gourd, Chinese Okra, or formally Luffa Acutangula. Originally from India, it tastes similar to okra and courgette.

The plant with the green leaves and white stems is called Pak Choi or Bok Choy (上海青). I tend to call it Pak Choi as the translation ‘Chinese Cabbage’ is highly ambiguous.

Cantonese wind-dried sausages  are called Laap Cheung (臘腸). They’re a slightly-sweet mix of pork fat and meat and sometimes include offal like liver. Other ingredients are light soy sauce, salt, sugar and rose wine (Mei Kwei Lu). Spices such as Chinese Five Spice, Sichuan Pepper Powder and chilli powder might also be added to create different flavours.

Goldfish Market

The northern end of Tung Choi Street (between Mongkok Road and Prince Edward Road West) is lined with pet shops.


Goldfish and other exotic aquatic species are available to buy here. One shop proprietor wasn’t keen on me taking photos of the turtles and puppies so I laid off but I got a few of the fish.



Flower Market

If you like your blooms you should take a stroll along Flower Market Street which has over fifty flower vendors.




Temple Street Market

The legendary night market, running from 4am to midnight. It’s definitely worth a wander but it’s full of rip-off merchants so be careful what you buy. I bought several novelty cigarette lighters back in 2006, but they stopped working pretty much straight away. The street food is probably fantastic but I can’t take the risk of eating it due to my job. Bonne chance!



Yau Ma Tei Wholesale Fruit Market

A dingy but atmospheric old market that’s good for photo ops. It starts at 4am so it was pretty quiet when I arrived around lunchtime after working nearby.


Apparently it’s disputed territory between Triad clans and gang fights have occurred, although tourists don’t have anything to worry about. The most action I saw was an animated game of Mah Jong.


There are lots of strange fruits and veggies on display. Click to go big.



The long green beans, Dau Gok (豇豆), have many names in English, including Long-Podded Cowpea, Yardlong, Snake, Pea, Asparagus or Chinese Long Bean. The photo shows both types; the light green ones are known as ‘baak dau gok’ or literally ‘white long beans’, and the dark green are known as ‘cheng dau gok’ or ‘green long beans’.

The warty green vegetable is I think is a fatter than usual variety of Bitter Melon aka Bitter Gourd, or Kǔguā (苦瓜) in Chinese.

No idea what the long brown things are.

The pink and yellow gnarly fruits are two kinds of Dragon Fruit or ‘Huǒlóngguǒ’ (火龍果), whereas the squarish orange ones are upside down Persimmon or ‘Shizi’ (柿子).

The red fruits are called ‘Lián wù’ (蓮霧) in Chinese and in English they’re known as ‘Roseapples’ or ‘Lillypillies’, or more formally as Syzygium Cumini. and can be eaten fresh or used for jams and jellies. Cloves are the dried flower buds of it’s relative Syzygium Aromaticum.

On sunny Autumn days, everywhere you go you’ll see green mandarins being peeled and their skins being dried. ‘Chenpi‘, prized for it’s bitter flavour, is used as a cooking ingredient as well as a medicine. It’s easy to make but you have to wait at least three years for the flavour to develop.



Pottinger Street Costume Market

Pottinger Street also known as Stone Slabs Street due to its granite steps on the section between Hollywood Road and Stanley Street.


It’s the place to come when you’re shopping for angel wings…


…as well as Father Christmas outfits, feather boas, multi-coloured wigs and all other kinds of party supplies.

Graham Street Market

Further up the hill, the Graham Street fruit and veg market has been operating for 160 years making it Hong Kong’s oldest street market.


Sadly the area is under threat due to redevelopment so go while you can.

You can click on these pics to enlarge them.



The segmented brown vegetable at top left is Lian Ou (莲藕) or Lotus Root.

There are a few things I’ve been unable to name. Can you help me out?

Hong Kong – bars and pubs

Posted in Central, China, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2017 by gannet39

Here are a few bars I liked in 2017.They’re all on this Google map.


Quinary (Advanced B+),56-58 Hollywood Road, Central,

Top notch mixology with prices to match. This sleek bar could double as a science lab with such exotic kit as a centrifuge, a rotary evaporator, a sous vide and vacuum machine all being used to assemble the exotic creations on the menu.

This is the home of Hong Kong’s most famous cocktail, the Earl Grey Martini. Earl Grey tea infused ‘pearls’ of sodium alginate (a seaweed extract used as a food stabliser) float in a pool of cucumber, elderflower, Ketel One citrus vodka, Cointreau, lemon and lime, topped with a foam crown made using an aquarium air pump.

It’s massively poncey and a bit difficult to drink, but I liked it (B+). The bill came to a hefty HK$143.

Recommendations from others include the Touch of Rose and the Oolong Tea Collins.

Little L.A.B. (Intermediate B+), 48-50 Staunton St, Central,

A smaller, less pretentious bar around the corner from Quinary but also selling original and inventive cocktails. I had a decent Dark ‘n’ Stormy (spiced rum, ginger beer, bitters) and a nice chat with the barman. As it was happy hour the bill only came to around HK$100.

Aberdeen Street Social (Advanced B+),G/F, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen St, Central,

Also around the corner from the above, their outdoor terrace is a nice spot for a drink. The setting is the outdoor gardens of the PMQ, formerly a housing complex for married policemen and their families, now a centre for creative industries. It’s also a Michelin star restaurant (untried).

Club Feather Boa (Advanced ?), 36 Staunton St, Central, Hong Kong

This speakeasy type place was recommended by a friend but, although I tried a couple of times, I couldn’t get in as you have to be outside at a certain time to be inspected for admission. Their entrance policy is quite controversial, see the negative reviews on TA, but I wanted to try it for myself. Next time.

Other nearby bars reviewed on the Gannet:

Ronin (Advanced B+), 8 On Wo Lane, Ground floor, Sheung Wan,

High end food and drink with a Japanese slant.

Edition (Intermediate B), 37 Peel St, Central

Cosy neighbourhood bar selling American-Korean fusion food.

Reviews of both here.


TAP aka The Ale Project (Intermediate B+), G/F, 15 Hak Po Street, Mongkok,

Of course the craft beer revolution has reached Hong Kong as well. I came with my friend Kelvin, a beer aficionado who gave it a good rating. I had a glass of IPA which was fine but more expensive (about HK$45 a half pint) than what I’m used to paying back at home in Sheffield (the beer capital of the UK) but then this is Hong Kong. We liked it though as it has a good atmosphere. You can even stand outside and simultaneously drink and smoke if that is your want, which is impossible to do in the UK now.

Eyebar (Intermediate +), 63 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui

Roof top bar with a fantastic view. Review here.

On this trip I deliberately avoided the three main drinking areas for Westerners, although I have passed through them on occasion so I know what they’re like. If you want frenetic townie action it can be found at Knutsford Terrace in Kowloon and Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island.

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