Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Tokyo – A (Too) Short Rendezvous – Part 3

July 26, 2008

Before my memory of the trip gets foggy, this is a photo-essay, of sorts, of what we did in Tokyo for Day 4. Half a day actually, for we were on the evening flight back…

In the morning, we had a mad-dash shopping trip at Shinjuku Isetan where we wanted to get some toys for Rui but didn’t as 1) the price is exorbitant, 2) he would destroy the delicate parts of the toys before he learn to play with them. Feeling a little guilty going home with no gifts for the little one, we got a toddler’s book that has moving pictures for him. It was a great choice apparently – Rui can be occupied for minutes (yes, that’s considered long) by the pictures. Of course, one of us has to be with him when he’s “reading”, if not, the book would be in shreds in no time!

I rambled…

Back to Tokyo!

Of course, a walk through the wonderful basement food hall at Isetan was a must. I never get tired of that place where you can get the best quality food stuff, whether it is bento, sushi, or French pastry. It’s a pity that we were in such a rush and I detected that VERY subtle look in CH that says “Okay, I am trying to look very patient here, darling, but you’ve just got to MOVE it!”, so I could only have a glimpse at the pastry at Sadaharu Aoki’s. Sigh… So close yet so far away. (The food hall is a place to go alone or with a diehard foodie. Impatient husbands need not apply!)

After grabbing two bentos from the food hall, we hopped on the train to Asakusa and had lunch sitting in the open area next to the temple. Despite having travelled a distance with us, the bentos still tasted wonderfully fresh! It was a great lunch, sitting next to the temple, people-watching and casually tucking in.

We had a quick glimpse at what the rows of little stores along the path to the temple had to offer, and an even quicker look at the temple itself. Beautiful but a little touristy. It felt quintessentially Japanese – correct me if I am wrong about that!  🙂

Then in the evening, it was our flight home to the little one!

He was sleeping as we arrived back home at almost 2am. Quietly sucking on his pacifier and hugging his favourite bolster, he was sweaty as usual even as the air-conditioning was on. Nevertheless, he was in such a peaceful slumber.

What a great feeling to come home to the little angel!!

The Pastry Revelation

July 21, 2008

No doubt about it.

The Japanese are overt francophile. Just consider the food. To satisfy a craving for Pierre Herme’s Ispahan or Eric Kayser’s walnut bread, there is no need to endure a 12-hour flight to Paris. Tokyo has it all… and more. Displaying their trademark innovation and spirit, the Japanese are fantastic at adopting something foreign where a subtle Japanese touch is added and voila, something unique emerged.

Pastry is one area where the Japanese magic reigns.

While in Tokyo, CH and I made a trip down to Hidemi Sugino’s patisserie in Kyobashi. I have heard so much about his pastry and I just had to try the famed mousse cakes for myself.

My research tells me that his cakes are quick to sell out, so to avoid disappointment, CH and I set out for the patisserie at 8.30am (yes, the things I drag my poor hubby to do to satisfy my gluttony) and reached there about 9.45am. True to what was being said on various blogs, there was already a line snaking outside the pastry shop. About 20 people stood in front of us, patiently fanning themselves, as they listened intently to the store help who came out, presumably to apologise for the wait. (And according to other food blogs, to advise customers to consume the delicate mousse cakes in the patisserie, rather than exposing them to the elements!)

At 10am sharp, the door swinged open and the customers went in orderly. It was a beautiful and elegant patisserie, with a small area in front displaying the pastries (about the size of a small condominium bedroom) and a slightly bigger seating area at the back. Modern, clean lines dominated the design concept. But of course, we were not there for the interior design.

The darling hubby volunteered to stand in line for the cakes, while I looked around for items to bring home for my dad. Flavoured financiers and madeleines were featured quite extensively, together with the most dainty fruit cakes and chocolate grenobles.

Finally, it was our turn to order. Fearing too much of a sugar fest, we ordered 4 mousse cakes to be shared.

While waiting for our orders to arrive, we peeped at what the gentleman sitting next to us was eating. A man of moderate build, he was tucking in 4 pieces of mousse cakes – by himself – at 10am in the morning. Clearly, for him, desserts are not after-thoughts – it is the main event. He ate the cakes slowly, gently slicing a small portion each time and deliberately swirling the portion in his mouth, tasting and appreciating it like fine wines.

He and I… we could have been best friends if we understood each other…  😉

When our orders came, the waitress recommended that we start with the lighter-tasting cakes first. It was such a simple gesture but one that is often neglected at most patisseries, even the high-end ones. The gesture showed the pride and attention to detail the pastry chefs and his store helps dedicated to the fine art of pastry-making and eating.

Here’s what we had:

B-Caraibe – from top to bottom, rum-vanilla mousse, rum-soaked sponge, banana sauce, one more layer of sponge, rounded up with an orange-flavoured chocolate mousse.

The taste of rum was strong. Even with the strong aroma, it blended beautifully with the rest of the components – the vanilla cream and the yummy banana sauce. My take-away lesson from the first bite of Sugino’s cakes – be bold when soaking sponges. His are soaked well and I like the mouthfeel of the almond sponge in my mouth.

Cote’d Azur – A complete jolt to the senses! We were pleasantly surprised at how tart this mousse cake was! A lime and raspberry mousse cake, the mousses almost bordered sour and were refreshingly light, and the flavours extremely bold, clear and upfront. I love it when the pastry chef challenges customers’ perception that desserts have to be only sweet.

What impressed me most was the lightness of his mousse. It was so light that it literally melted on my tongue and left a pleasant aftertaste of lime and framboise. It was also a very pretty cake to behold – light green and pink mousses, decorated with tiny strips of lime peel on top. Pure artistry.

Exotique – One of my favourite! Mango sauce and almond genoise encased by the lightest and most flavourful banana mousse. The cake is finished with a dusting of dessicated coconut which rounded off and complemented the taste perfectly. Again, not overly sweet, so the flavours were clear.

Arabique – The least favourite in our set of 4 cakes. The cake itself is faultless. It’s just that we are both not coffee drinkers nor fan of the aromatic bean. This is a chocolate-coffee mousse cake with a layer of bitter coffee gelee encased inside.

 

With cakes so ethereally light, we felt that we could do with another two more, so these were what we ate:

? – I forgot the name of this one but I love it. It was a grapefruit mousse cake, with a small square of mint mousse encased inside. Who would have thought grapefruit would go with mint! This is a complete discovery on my part and opened my eyes to the possibilities of fruit mousses. Utterly refreshing cake!

Ambroisie – Sugino’s signature. I can’t seem to find the words to properly describe the chocolate mousse – it was rich in its texture but had a light mouthfeel at the same time. Embedded in the luscious chocolate mousse were a layer of pistachio sponge and pistachio mousse, with a thin layer of raspberry puree added to cut the richness. Magic!

 

Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in the patisserie. In any case, we were too busy stuffing ourselves to be bothered with the camera. I found a website which features photographs of Sugino’s beautiful creations. Alas, the text is in French – I would figure it out one day, with the help of my English-French dictionary (the only thing I remember from my college French lessons is that the teacher’s name was Serge and boy, was he cute!  😉 )

Before we left, we bought a box of goodies back for my dad. Sugino’s fruit cake is the lightest I’ve ever had.

Having tasted and being inspired by the master chef’s creations, Sugino’s book Le Gout Authentique Retrouve found its way back to my bedside table. The bulk of the book is in Japanese, with only the ingredient list in French.

One day… yes, one day, when I have the time and when I am feeling confident, I will attempt one of his recipes…  🙂

Tokyo – A (Too) Short Rendezvous (Part 2)

July 20, 2008

Travel for CH and I encompasses two major areas – sightseeing and food.

CH, the adventurous one between us, seeks unfamiliar sights and sounds, and often goes off the beaten path. He likes to trek, gets down and dirty, stays close to nature and prefers to stay at youth hostels to interact with fellow travellers.

I don’t mind the occasional treks but I am interested in culture – the way people live, the food they eat (yes, the FOOD, the FOOD!), the way they dress and behave.

All of which brings me to my point. For this trip, we did something both of us would never have done on normal circumstances.

NEVER. EVER.

We are just not the type. But half-persuaded and half-enticed by OJ, we caved in.

Here’s what we did in Tokyo for Day 3.   

Nothing rejuvenates people more than indulging the child in them. I find myself humming “It’s a Small World” and the Mickey Mouse song (M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E) even when I am back home. Thank you, OJ, for pushing us into the arms of Mickey for one day!   🙂

While I don’t see us doing this on a regular basis for our travel, I would most definitely plan for a trip to Disneyland when Rui is travelling with us… in a couple of years down the road.

Here’s to Mickey!  🙂

Tokyo – A (Too) Short Rendezvous (Part 1)

July 18, 2008

4 days and 3 nights. Or rather 3 days and 3 nights. The shortest trip CH and I have ever taken but it was certainly no less enjoyable than the others. Mainly because we, or rather I, love love love Tokyo – the city, the incredible vibe, the efficient, user-friendly transportation system, the blinding bright lights when night falls, the politeness of the people, the availability of top quality products and the excellent, marvellous, fantastic food!

For the accommodation of this trip, we stayed at CH’s ex-colleague OJ’s place in Hikarigaoka which was about two hours away from Narita by train. It was a big place by Japanese standard with three bedrooms, living and dining areas. OJ, his lovely wife Wei, and their two adorable toddlers Min and Sheng made us feel very welcomed, at home and comfortable.

Thank you so MUCH, OJ and Wei!   🙂

 

And, these are what we were up to in our four days in Japan:

Day 1

Day flight, all of 7 hours to Narita Airport

Day 2

Morning – I fulfilled the glutton in me with a visit to Hidemi Sugino’s fabulous patisserie. Everything there was perfect! More on that in a later post.

After indulging at the patisserie, we took a short 30-minute walk to Ginza to visit Mariage Freres. I just love the look and feel of the little store with its weathered wooden panelling. It was an absolute pleasure to the senses, to be greeted by the aroma of tea, and rows and rows of black and yellow tea canisters once we entered the charming store. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside.  

Never a shopper nor an avid  tea-drinker (a light sleeper, he is ultra sensitive to the effects of caffeine), CH nevertheless patiently waited as I indulged, sniffing and marvelling at the aromas and the pure artistry of the teas brought to me by the knowledgable store help. 

By the end of the session, after sniffing countless teas, I bought Sweet Shanghai (a beautiful green tea infused with lychee and flowers), Bolero (the MF book says, “A refreshing blend with the aroma of Mediterranean fruits. Velvety taste” and I say, “Mango and passionfruit scented tea – MUST have it!”),  The Au Sahara (a blend of Rooibos, mint and rose), Bouddha Bleu (beautiful tea – green tea with royal blue cornflowers) for OJ, our wonderful host, and Marco Polo, a favourite of mine, for J. 

We met up with OJ later and had a short tour at the Sony Building, taking in all the fascinating new electronic inventions the Japanese are so good in producing. We saw a futuristic looking glass tube speaker that would be a conversation starter in any home. The sound it produced was beautiful and according to the salesperson, because of its design, the volume heard from anywhere in the confines of the living room would be the same (quite true). I am sorry but I so don’t get the Rolly – it’s really cute but do people actually buy that??

Lunch – Our first proper meal in Tokyo, discounting the sugar fest at Hidemi Sugino. OJ took us to a famous ramen place in Harajuku. My noodle connoisseur CH LOVED the ramen. The noodles itself was faultless – springy without being too chewy and most importantly, there was not a strong taste of alkaline. The soup base, in my humble opinion, was the star of the show! I had my noodles in a soup base made from boiling pork bones for hours – a favourite among the celebrities in Japan, I was told by OJ, as the soup was ultra-rich in wrinkle-preventing collagen. Lusciously thick, sweet and deftly seasoned, the soup was absolutely delicious! I couldn’t finish the generous amount of noodles but sipped every drop of that wrinkle-busting soup. Hey, I could feel my crow feet tightening up already!    😉

Afternoon – We took a trip down to the Shinto shrine, Meiji Jingu. There we took a walk down the tranquil path to reach the shrine where devotees and tourists alike bowed their heads to pray for what their hearts desire.

We walked all the way to Shibuya after that. OJ and CH were wonderful and nice to the glutton in me, as they scrutinised my scribbled address and maps to take me to… Pierre Herme’s main store in Tokyo! Not wanting to over-indulge (can’t abuse metabolism too much after the big THREE ZERO!), I bought just a Plaisir Sucre.  

It was beautiful – so aptly named as the different layers and contrast in texture of chocolate (hazelnut dacquoise, praline, ganache, chocolate whipped cream and chocolate sheets) brought about a glorious sensation in the mouth! One day when I am feeling adventurous and when there are people to share the calories, I will attempt this gorgeous edible piece of art that comes with a six-page recipe in PH’s Chocolate Desserts!

Evening – We accompanied OJ to Roppongi as he made a short trip back to his office to do some work (yes, on a Sunday! And you wonder why bankers are being paid so much!  ;P )

The main event for the evening was a trip to another famous ramen place in Shinjuku, just opposite the city’s red-light district.

I would just say these about the ramen – it was GOOD! Everything about it – the flavourful soup, the fatty pork that melts in the mouth, the springy noodles. Humble and comforting at the end of a long day but no less impressive. Good food does not have to be fanciful. 

What a fantastically gluttony way to end a fantastic day!

Off to the Land of the Rising Sun

July 11, 2008

October 2006.

That’s the last time CH and I travelled for a holiday. It was to glorious Italy where we had our fill of pasta, parma ham (yes, please!) and luscious olive oil.

Of course, from then til now, we both travelled but only for work. Tomorrow will be the first time when we hop onto a plane without lugging a laptop or with piles of documents.

As with all of our holidays, I plan where to eat (Hidemi Sugino, Sadaharu Aoki and Pierre Herme, here I come!) and he plans how to get there…    🙂

While I certainly look forward to a break, this holiday would be a little bittersweet as we are not bringing Rui along with us. I will certainly miss the little one (I miss him already when I booked my tickets) and that explains why this will be the shortest holiday we’ve ever taken – all of 4 days and 3 nights!

Be good, my little one! Mummy and Daddy will miss you!