japanese

Akachochin: set lunch

Ever since our first visit to Akachochin in South Wharf, I’ve been dying to go back. The only thing that prevented a second visit was my rather sad attempts at austerity (which hasn’t been going so well but let’s not dwell on it). But the perfect opportunity came up for a revisit the other weekend when Celeste was in town for a conference. Along with Haz and Gazman, we all headed down to South Wharf for a long overdue catch up with Celeste.

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Heirloom

Disclosure: Alastair and I dined courtesy of Heirloom.

I think it’s fair to say that Heirloom has suffered from a confused identity. When they first opened about a year and a half ago, the cuisine was marketed as Japanese-French fusion. Fusion food, fairly or unfairly, seems to have a negative connotation, so to market yourself with that label is a brave (or naive) move.

Well, Heirloom realised that the fusion thing wasn’t really working, and at the beginning of this year they quietly rebranded themselves into a modern Japanese izakaya with a total change to their menu.

Alastair and I were invited along to a bloggers’ dinner last week to try out the food.

Located on Bourke Street on the ground floor of the Citadines Hotel, Heirloom is a vast space with concrete walls, lots of black and clean lines. Due to the hotel, they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with breakfast mostly being a more traditional Western style affair. Lunch and dinner are more interesting, showcasing their take on Japanese izakaya food.

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Gypsy & Pig

Tucked away in Little Lonsdale Street between Elizabeth and Queen Street is a sweet little Japanese restaurant. I visited this week thanks to a tip off from a reader (Hi Gavin!), dragging along Alastair, Hazzie and Ashley for a spot of dinner. Gypsy and Pig is a small restaurant – about 24 seats or so – and unfortunately when we arrived there weren’t four seats available together. Faced with this, I agreed to us being split into two groups – so Alastair and I had an impromptu date, as did Ashley and Hazzie. :)

As well as being small, the restaurant is modest and understated. There’s a lot of black – the staff are dressed in black, and the walls are painted a matt black, broken up by large timber framed windows. Half of the seating is arranged bar-style in a big square around the open kitchen.

With a name like Gypsy & Pig, it’s no surprise that they specialise in pork dishes – specifically kurobuta, the Japanese name for a breed of pig known as Black Berkshire. Kurobuta is highly prized for its sweet, rich flavour, tenderness and juiciness.

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Kokoro Ramen

Kokoro Ramen

There’s something about ramen that seems to inspire almost fantatical devotion.

If I hadn’t eaten truly good ramen before, I wouldn’t understand it. Because if you break it down, ramen is just noodles in broth. But it seems to be more than the sum of its parts. It can be amazing: nourishing, comforting, and filling. In particular, tonkotsu is fantastic – it’s made by boiling pork bones for hours, and results in a creamy, salty pork broth that’s also sticky and creamy and full of flavour.

So when the guys from doublecooked advised that a new ramen joint had opened on Lonsdale Street, I took Alastair and Bro down there quick smart.

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Taxi Dining Room: bento lunch

Taxi

Disclosure: I dined courtesy of Taxi and Little Big Marketing.

The other weekend I was invited to Taxi to experience their bento lunch. I’m sure Taxi needs no introduction! It’s a very slick restaurant, and I loved the splashes of aqua/turquoise (one of my favourite colours) amongst all the steel and shiny surfaces. Though of course, the best part must be the floor to ceiling windows that make the most of the views out to the Yarra and the city.

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J Café / Sushi Burger

I used to work in the city, but after changing jobs last year, I’m stuck in St Kilda. The pocket of St Kilda where I work is not pretty. For one, there’s elephant sized dog poo everywhere, and there’s also the occasional person squatting in the gutter and taking a piss (yes that really happened, it was DURING THE DAY for goodness sake, and she was female. Super classy.). To make things even worse, the food options are severely limited. Argh! It really makes me pine for the city!

When I worked in the city, one place I used to visit at lunch time was Sushi Burger. Depending on your opinion, J Café/ Sushi Burger is either a bit of frivolous awesomeness, or a food abomination. Alastair and I fall into the first camp!

So what’s a sushi burger? It’s basically a sushi type filling sandwiched between two “buns” of sushi rice and wrapped in seaweed. Awesomeness or abomination? You decide!
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Nobu Melbourne

The other month, we headed to lunch at Nobu. Truthfully, I had heard so many mixed reviews about Nobu, combined with reports about how expensive it is, that I had never been that keen to go. But when I found out that they do a deal at lunch time for $57, which includes an entrée, main with miso soup, rice, and dessert, I figured it was worth a shot. So I roped in Maria and Daz from the Gourmet Challenge and off we went.

The menu for Nobu is long and it’s not terribly descriptive, so Bro and I pored over the menu beforehand to ensure that we weren’t caught out on the day (don’t you hate being in a restaurant and ordering hastily and then having food envy when the food arrives?). For the lunch deal, not everything is included – premium items like wagyu, lobster, and the signature black cod with miso aren’t available for example – but that still leaves plenty of choice. The menu isn’t specifically set up in categories like entrees and mains, but we assumed that the first section – “special appetizers” were entrees and the rest of the menu were considered mains.

Nobu Melbourne

Alastair ordered the sashimi tacos with yellowtail tuna, salmon, lobster and crab. I’m not sure what the tacos were made out of, but the crispy shells were filled with fresh sashimi and quite tasty.

Nobu Melbourne

Bro and Maria both ordered the beef fillet tataki, with onion ponzu and garlic chips. This was really nice, the thin slices of rare beef just seared on the outside and served in a sharp, tangy, salty sauce.

Nobu Melbourne

I had the tuna tataki with tosazu. Like the beef, it was just seared on the outside, and the thin, tender slices of tuna were in a vinegary soy sauce.

Nobu Melbourne

We also received a bowl of miso soup, which was pretty standard.

For mains, it wasn’t immediately clear what we could order. I assumed that everything past a certain point was considered a “main” and was part of the deal, barring the exceptions. Turns out, the waiter wasn’t entirely sure as well, but assumed what I assumed!

Nobu Melbourne

Alastair had the soft shell crab kara age. It looked really good, and I didn’t hear any complaints from him about it. I really liked the way it was presented – look at that mushroom!

Nobu Melbourne

Maria had the tempura baby tiger prawn with creamy spicy sauce. This photo cracks me up – when I went to take a photo, Maria flashed the peace sign without warning me. Naturally, I had to include it in this post! Maria’s prawns were cooked really well, and tasted great with the creamy sauce.

Nobu Melbourne

Daz had the wagyu gyoza with goma ponzu. Normally $37, could they be the most expensive dumplings in Melbourne?! I didn’t try any, but they did look and smell good.

Nobu Melbourne

Bro had the wagyu intercostal with seasonal vegetables and wasabi salsa. I think this was the best dish of the day – the beef was super tender with a bit of smokiness and the wasabi salsa gave a nice kick to the dish. It smelt so amazing too. Bro ordered very well!

Nobu Melbourne

And I ordered something from the grill menu – beef sirloin steak. There was a choice between three choices: teriyaki, wasabi pepper or anti-cucho sauce. I selected wasabi pepper.

Nobu Melbourne

I requested it medium rare. It was cooked really well, but it wasn’t as tender as I thought it could have been. I did really like the sauce though, but it was quite a lot of meat for one person and I did end up trying to foist slices on to the others!

The menu at Nobu is really designed for sharing – but with the lunch deal we all ordered our own dishes (tasting one another’s of course). So the timing of dishes, particularly the mains, was off – mine was the last to come out and it was at least 15 minutes after everyone elses. The waiter explained that this was due to the fact that Nobu had seven different kitchens (orly?). If we had been sharing the dishes,we might not have noticed the timing issue, but since we weren’t it really made us wonder about the seven kitchens.

Nobu Melbourne

For dessert, Daz and I both ordered the green tea trifle mousse layered with vanilla brûlée, almond and coconut meringue and milk chocolate ice cream, with lime and vanilla foam. I loved the way it was presented, and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t too sweet, or not too rich, and I found the green tea mousse nice and smooth with the almond and coconut meringue providing some crunchy contrast. I didn’t really eat the toffee, but it was very pretty!

Nobu Melbourne

Alastair had the Suntory whisky cappuccino layered with crunchy coffee cacao, coffee crème brûlée, milk ice cream and Yamazaki whisky foam. His dessert was very small compared to the other ones, and looked just like a coffee.

Nobu Melbourne

Bro had the tofu cheesecake with green tea crumble, berry compote and tuile. When the dessert arrived at the table, the compote was presented in a separate bowl. The waiter, noticing that we were taking photos, offered to pour the compote on top of the dessert for us so we could get a good shot. We all stifled giggles as the compote just plopped on to the dessert in a big blob. Not sexy at all, but points to him for trying!

Nobu Melbourne

Maria had the warm chocolate satandagi filled with pistachio and chocolate ganache in a Japanese bun and served with caramelised pistachios, berry coulis and almond ice cream. They looked like big balls with a chocolate filling!

I thought the lunch deal was good value – but only if you order carefully. I wouldn’t mind going back to Nobu again for lunch. There is a $45 bento box that I noticed other tables ordering that looked good, but I doubt I will ever eat there at dinner time. It is expensive. When I go to a restaurant, particularly a fine dining one, I realise that prices on items are going to be higher because I’m also paying for service, the fit out, etc. And that’s fine – it’s part of the experience. However, there is a point where a mark up just seems to be taking the piss – and Nobu reached that point for me. $40-$50 mains can be okay, but when a bowl of miso soup costs $6.50, a bowl of rice costs $4.50, or a milk coffee is $5.70, as it is at Nobu, it just seems ridiculous. But maybe that’s just me!

See what Maria thought of the meal.

Nobu Melbourne
6 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
Phone: (03) 9292 7879

Nobu on Urbanspoon

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting

Last Monday, a group of us headed out for an epic ramen hunt in in an effort to find the best ramen in the Melbourne CBD. I was very happy to be part of the group, particularly after eating ramen in Japan.

This is a long post, so settle in! My fellow ramen hunters were Penny from Addictive and Consuming, th0i3, Maria and Daz from The Gourmet Challenge, Adrian from Food Rehab, and Billy from Half-eaten.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: score cards

We ate at seven different restaurants to try out their ramen, and gave scores out of five on three categories – broth, toppings and noodles. Billy put together score cards and scoring sheets for us to use – cute!

Just a quick note, the scores are no indication of the restaurants as a whole, as we were only scoring the ramen.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

Stop 1: Menya
Shop L01 146A, Melbourne Central,
211 LaTrobe Street, Melbourne
Tel: 03 9639 3383

Our quest started at Menya. Because it’s so teeny, we split into two groups. Alastair and I shared a table with Maria and Daz where we tried the Sapporo ramen in shoyu (soy based) soup ($9.20) and Maria and Daz had the chashu (pork) ramen. The two ramen were essentially the same except for a slight variation in toppings.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

The Sapporo ramen came with pork, vegetables, egg and seafood extender.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

Topping wise, I found the egg was too salty. It must have been soaked in soy sauce, judging by the brown colour. I wasn’t fond of the pork either – you know that taste and dryness that boiled pork has? It tasted like soup pork, which is fine if you’re drinking Chinese soup but not for ramen. The broth was thin, although I did write in my notes that it was okay for what it was. The noodles however, were gluggy and overcooked. Not a great start to the ramen hunt, unfortunately.

My scores for Menya were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodles: 2/5
Topping: 2/5
Total: 7/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Hanaichi

Stop 2: Hanaichi (unscheduled)
QV Square Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 9409

Our next stop was Meshiya in QV. As we were walking there, we passed by Hanaichi, a little shop above the QV food court (where Wagamama used to be located). Someone (I believe it was Billy!) insisted that we had to try it. There was only one ramen on the menu and it was described on the menu as ramen (egg noodle soup) – $6.90.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Hanaichi

As you can see, it came out in paper bowls – this was real food court stuff. The noodles, which you may be able to just see under the pork, were a scary, fluorescent yellow, but were not that bad. At least they weren’t overcooked. However, the pork was tasteless and below average, and the broth, well that was also not great.

My scores for Hanaichi were:

Broth: 2/5
Noodle: 3/5
Toppings: 1/5
Total: 6/15

Stop 3: Meshiya
200 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 6242

Our next stop was Meshiya. We sat down, after rearranging their tables to accommodate the nine of us, looked at menus and decided what to order… and then we discovered that Meshiya was OUT OF RAMEN. Whaaaaaaa? How does that happen? We decided not to order anything, apologised, put the tables back and continued on the ramen hunt.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

Proper Stop 3: Edoya (unscheduled)
138 Russell St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 7358)

So on we went, making another unscheduled stop, and went to Edoya. We all got a little side tracked here and everyone ordered items other than ramen. I blame the complimentary edamame and seaweed salad that we received.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

Alastair and I had some sashimi, while others ordered ox tongue, yukke, and soft shell crab! There was beer too. What a terrible lack of focus. Tsk tsk.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

In addition to everything else, we did also order two bowls of ramen to share. On the menu, it just said ramen ($14). Sadly, it was another very average bowl of ramen. I thought the noodles were okay, and found that the pork was pretty good, but the broth had a VERY strange taste that I couldn’t stomach. I marked down the broth quite heavily for this.

The other food we ate from Edoya was fine though.

My scores for Edoya were:

Broth: 1/5 (ouch – but I think someone else gave a 0/5…!)
Noodles: 2/5
Topping: 3/5
Total: 6/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

Stop 4: Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe
122 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9663 2788

Stop 4 was Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe, where we ordered three bowls to share between us – the chashu in shoyu, the tori kara in miso, and the tonkatsu in miso (all $9.80) We wanted to order the tonkotsu, but this wasn’t available that day. I wonder how often it’s available to order?

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

At this point, Alastair decided he needed to eat lunch and scoffed down a bowl of katsu curry don – apparently the noodles weren’t doing enough to fill him up!

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

The rest of us stuck with ramen. This was the chashu ramen in shoyu soup. I thought it was the best out of the three bowls.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

The tori kara in miso soup – basically deep fried chicken.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

And the tonkatsu in miso soup – deep fried pork cutlet.

Hallejuah! Finally some good ramen. The noodles were good, the toppings were great and overall the broth was tasty. I found the miso soups a bit too salty, but the shoyu was really good. The chashu was really tender, and all the toppings were done well, although there were comments that the bamboo shoots in the bowls had a very strong and distracting flavour.

My scores for Ito Noodle Cafe were:

Broth: 4/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 12/15

Stop 5: Ajisen Ramen
130 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 1100

Our next stop was just down the road – to be honest we could’ve used a longer walk due to all the noodles already consumed – but we pushed on. Again, we ordered three bowls to share – chargrilled ramen ($12.50), spicy miso ramen ($11) and chashu ramen ($11). I haven’t noted down what soups we had, I assume the chargrilled and chashu ramen were shoyu, and the spicy miso was miso.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

This was the chargrilled ramen – basically seared steak (which we requested to be rare) on top of the noodles. It was rather garlicky.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

And here’s the chashu ramen.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

And finally the spicy miso. In the small bowl to the right is the spicy meat. We were asked if we wanted to keep it separate as it was quite spicy. It did have a fair kick to it, but I’m sure we could’ve coped with it in the big bowl.

The noodles at Ajisen Ramen were really strange – they were similar to spaghetti, not like other ramen noodles at all. While they weren’t bad, they weren’t ramen noodles! Broth-wise, in all three bowls, it was SALTY SALTY SALTY. I would’ve given the broth a higher score if it hadn’t been so FREAKIN’ SALTY as it was rather flavoursome. The toppings were good too, so the broth (and strange noodles) did let Ajisen down.

My scores for Ajisen Ramen were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodle: 3/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 10/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

Stop 6: Ramen Ya
Shop 25G Melbourne GPO
350 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 5838

Ramen Ya was up next. At Ramen Ya, you can select your soup base – tonkotsu (FINALLY!), shoyu or miso. And then the topping – chashu, tsukune (minced chicken), and gyoza. We ordered three bowls – chashu in tonkotsu, chashu in shoyu and tsukune (minced chicken) in miso.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

This was the tsukune (minced chicken) in miso soup.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

I’m pretty sure this one was the chashu in tonkotsu.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

Which would make this the chashu in shoyu.

A hush descended over the table as we started slurping up the noodles. Even though it was our second to last stop we polished off all the bowls, and looking around at the scores, it was obvious that it was the best ramen so far. All the broths were good, particularly the tonkotsu (naturally!), and the toppings were fantastic, although there wasn’t much of the chashu, which was a shame because it was tender and delicious. The noodles were also good – springy with a bit of bite.

My scores for Ramen Ya were:

Broth: 4.5/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4.5/5

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting

Stop 7: Chocolate Buddha
Federation Square, Melbourne
Phone:(03) 9654 5688

Our group wandered down to Fed Square for our LAST STOP – Chocolate Buddha. We nabbed a table outside, sitting in the sun and looking over Fed Square. It was a very nice way to end the day!

We ordered two bowls – the gyu ramen ($19.80) and the tori miso ramen ($19.80). There was also a salmon ramen on the menu, but I think our bellies would have burst if we had tried all three. Expectations were high for Chocolate Buddha as the ramen cost twice the amount of other restaurants.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Chocolate Buddha

The gyu ramen was nice. The beef was tender and full of flavour, and the broth (a shoyu broth?) was tasty.


Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Chocolate Buddha

However, the tori miso ramen was a mixed bag. The chicken was really good – juicy and soft. But the broth, oh the broth! It was REALLY sweet. It let the whole bowl down. Disappointing for a $20 bowl of ramen.

My scores for Chocolate Buddha were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 11/15

We completed the ramen hunt by tallying up the scores. Here they are – 5.5 hours and 19 bowls later, we had a very conclusive result.

7th place: Hanaichi – 45/105

6th place: Edoya – 51/105

5th place: Menya – 58/105

4th place: Ajisen – 63/105

3rd place: Chocolate Buddha – 70/105

2nd place: Ito Noodle Cafe – 82/105

And the winner….. the best ramen in the Melbourne CBD was -

1st place: Ramen Ya – 89.5/105

Well I certainly can’t eat ramen again for a while, but I had a great day. I wasn’t particularly surprised that Ramen Ya came out on top, but I hadn’t expected Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe to score so well. A big thanks to my fellow ramen hunters for the company and laughs!

We discussed doing more hunts in the future – any suggestions for what we could do next?

Beer DeLuxe: Shinobi Japanese Secret Beer Garden

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

In support of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Beer DeLuxe at Fed Square have set up a Japanese “secret” beer garden with a special menu and beers imported from Japan.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

When I received an email inviting me to check it out, I was sold at Japanese beer garden. I took Alastair along with me to have a look, and we walked in from the Flinders Street entrance. The outdoor area facing Flinders Street has been modified with a structure of bamboo screens and a noren curtain. Past the curtain, is a courtyard, with an outdoor bar to one side and tables and chairs on the other. It made me wonder where the secret part came in.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

We met up with Janis from Beer DeLuxe, who took us on a quick walk around. It turns out that apart from the entrance and the outside bar, there was a small part hidden off to one side, behind white Japanese curtains – ahh I got the secret part then! We were told that it was modelled on a Japanese tea garden, and it was much quieter than the rest of the bar.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

I particularly liked the lanterns hanging up in the area, which were surrounded by hand folded paper cranes. Cute!

After our little tour, it was time for food. Quentin, the chef, came out and we had an enjoyable discussion about the menu and the simplicity and flavours of Japanese food, and the importance of presentation. A big thanks to Quentin for taking time out from his evening to chat to us.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

This was the gyu tataki – very lightly seared eye fillet with citrus ponzu dressing and a small smattering of Japanese chilli flakes. The quality of the meat was evident – there was nothing to hide behind in this dish. The meat was very rare, very tender and delicious. I could have eaten buckets of this!

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

We tried the gyuniku negimaki, which were thin slices of grilled eye fillet wrapped around spring onions in teriyaki sauce. I loved the crunch of the spring onions with the meat.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

Another item I really liked were the skewers of grilled salmon coated with a mixture of teriyaki and yakitori sauce. The salmon was good, perfectly cooked, with the subtle sauce not masking the flavour of the fish. Behind the salmon we had some crunchy seaweed salad.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

We also tried the karaage, little tender and moist pieces of fried chicken which had been marinated with soy, garlic and ginger and then deep fried. You can’t go wrong with fried chicken, no you can’t.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

We had the opportunity to taste a couple of the beers available as part of the Japanese beer garden. One was the Temple Soba ale, which is made with toasted buckwheat! Did you know that Australia is apparently the third largest producer of buckwheat? The buckwheat gave the beer an interesting nutty aroma. We also tried the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale, which I seem to recall being told that it was made with rice (someone correct me if I’m wrong!). This was particularly interesting, ever so slightly fruity and very drinkable.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

Not that we got sick of beer, but if we had, we could have moved on to these Japanese soft drinks. Alastair loves these because the bottles use marbles as a plug – such a gimmick (but I must admit it’s very cool).

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

Alternatively, we could have hit the cocktail list. One we tried was the Ginger Ninja, which was made with jasmine tea infused with 42Below Vodka, sake, cucumber and ginger beer. This was very sweet – possibly a bit too sweet – although I did like the cucumber that came through at the end.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

Speaking of sweet, when we were chatting to Quentin, he recommended dessert – which turned out to be mochi ice cream.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

Have I mentioned how much I love mochi before? My mochi love also extends to mochi ice cream, which is a small ball of ice cream surrounded by a thin layer of chewy mochi. (You can also buy these at Asian grocery stores around the city.)

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

As we were eating the mochi ice cream, one of the staff members folded an origami flower. Isn’t it gorgeous? I was so impressed that I had to take it home and it’s now sitting on my book shelf.

Shinobi Japanese beer garden at Beer DeLuxe

And finally, just before we left, Alastair and I both chose a fortune paper. As we were leaving we tied our fortunes on to the robes hanging by the entrance. I can’t recall what my fortune said now, but hopefully it said something about a long life filled with love, good food and many more trips back to Japan. ;)

It’s a shame that the structure is being taken down at the end of March, but I’m glad I got to see it and try some of the food and beer. A huge thanks to Janis for taking time out from her evening to show us around and chat with us.

Disclosure: Our food and drinks were courtesy of Beer DeLuxe.

Shinobi Japanese Secret Beer Garden at Beer DeLuxe
Federation Square,
Cnr Swanston & Flinders Street,
Melbourne.
Times & Dates: 12 noon – 11:45pm, daily until Sunday, 28 March 2010.
Telephone: 03 9663 0166

Japan: Kyoto – cooking class

After a bit of a break, I’m back with another Japan post! Bear with me, I only have a couple left to write.

While in Kyoto, we did a cooking class where we made rolled sushi, miso soup, and spinach salad with a roasted sesame dressing. And then we ate it for lunch!

Kyoto cooking class

For the sushi, rice had been cooked before we arrived (otherwise it would have taken ages) and once we all sat down, the rice was tipped out into a wooden bowl. A mixture of rice vinegar, water, sugar and salt was poured in and “cut” through the rice in a folding motion (to prevent breaking the grains). The rice was then fanned to quickly cool it.

The rice was left to finish cooling, and next we made dashi. Dashi is a Japanese soup stock, and is a fundamental ingredient for many Japanese recipes, including miso soup. We made one of the most common versions, using dried kelp (kombu) and dried bonito flakes. The kombu is wiped with a damp cloth, and then soaked in a pot with water for at least thirty minutes. After the soaking time, the pot is put on the heat and just before the water boils the kombu is removed. When the water boils, a big handful of bonito flakes was added and the heat turned off. After all the flakes had sunk to the bottom, the liquid was strained and was ready to use.

Kyoto cooking class

The dashi was used to make miso soup. We were given three types of miso to taste – white, yellow and brown. It was interesting to taste the difference in flavour between the three misos. The darker the miso, the more salty it was. The white had a touch of sweetness to it, and the yellow was less salty than the brown. I think we used the brown to make our miso soup, which also had seaweed and diced tofu. Yum.

Kyoto cooking class

After the miso soup, we moved on to rolled egg omelette (tamago) for our sushi rolls. This was cool! I had always wondered how the egg was rolled up so nicely. To make the tamago, several eggs were beaten lightly with a bit of dashi, soy sauce, mirin, salt and sugar. To produce the rolled layers, a small amount of egg was added to a well oiled rectangular pan – just enough to cover the bottom. The pan was tilted to cover the bottom evenly with egg.

Kyoto cooking class

When the egg was nearly set, the egg was rolled up towards the front of the pan using a spatula.

Kyoto cooking class

The rolled up egg was then pushed to the back of the pan, and the empty part of the pan was re-oiled. Then another layer of egg was poured in. The rolled omelette was lifted up with chopsticks and the pan was tilted to allow the uncooked egg to flow underneath it.

Kyoto cooking class

When the uncooked egg was nearly set, the omelette was rolled towards the front again. The remaining egg mixture was cooked in the same manner, with the rolling process repeated to create a single roll with many layers. I had a turn at rolling the omelette, and it was much easier than it sounds in this somewhat convoluted explanation!

Kyoto cooking class

Next, it was time to assemble the sushi rolls. A layer of the prepared sushi rice was spread on to a sheet of nori (dried seaweed) on top of a bamboo mat, leaving a strip clear of rice.

Kyoto cooking class

Fillings were placed in the middle of the rice. In our rolls, we had shitake mushrooms, our tamago, and crabstick (it’s not cool, but I love it).

Kyoto cooking class

The strip of nori that was clear of rice was slightly wetted. Then, holding the fillings down, the sushi was slowly rolled up.

Kyoto cooking class

It was all rolled up tightly, with the bamboo mat being used to press it all together and shape it into a cylinder.

Kyoto cooking class

We got to roll our own sushi. This was Alastair’s one.

Kyoto cooking class

And Alastair’s one all cut up. Pretty good for someone who not only has never rolled sushi before but also doesn’t cook!

Kyoto cooking class

And here’s mine!

Kyoto cooking class

And here’s my sushi roll cut into pieces. I had never made rolled sushi before – I was pretty pleased with it. It was easier than I thought it would be.

Kyoto cooking class

Along with the miso soup and sushi rolls for lunch,
we also had a small salad of spinach with roasted sesame dressing. Oh, and tea and pickles (of course). The spinach was very simple but delicious. The spinach was boiled and cut into small sections, and the dressing was made with ground roasted sesame seeds, dashi, soy sauce and a bit of sugar.

We had a great time at the class, although next time I would like to make something more advanced. Even Alastair enjoyed it – perhaps I could get him to like this “cooking thing” after all!

Fushimi Inari Taisha

After the cooking class, Alastair and I headed off to see the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is a Shinto shrine that is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, sake, prosperity and in modern times, business. It’s one of Kyoto’s oldest shrines and is noted for the thousands of small torii gates that line the long path up the hill behind the shrine.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

The torii are donated by businesses, and it’s a very striking place to visit. It takes about two hours to walk the whole trail, so we didn’t make it to the end. At first we didn’t realise how far it stretched, and Alastair started counting all the gates. With 10,000 of them, it would have taken a while!

That’s just about it for the Japan posts – I may have a couple of random bits and pieces that I’ll post, as well as one or two about Hong Kong, China and Macau. Thanks for sticking with them. I have loved writing them and remembering all the great food we ate!

(And if you would like a recap, all the Japan posts can be found here.)