3-17 Soemoncho, Chuo-ku
Situated within walking distance of the bustling areas of Dotonbori and Nanba in the city of Osaka, Tsurutontan is just one of many dining options available to visitors to the popular tourist area. With a craving for some authentic noodles, it turned out to be a welcome choice for some hungry travelers.
With an alluring entrance leading down a long alley to the front door, it felt like a bit of a time warp into a large wooden-laded space. With ample seating of many tables, we were soon seated in a quiet area with a long table under which we could dangle our feet into the hollowed out box below.
Roppongi GM Building, 2F
4-11-11 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Tel: +81 3 3796 7281
Ask any visitor as they head to Japan in search of ramen, and they will likely say, if they’ve done any reasonable about of research, that Ichiran and Ippudo are the two names that pop up most frequently in English-language sources.
Restaurace Kulový Blesk
Sokolská 13, Praha 2
Tel: +420 721/420 859
Beer is central to the lives of Czechs to a degree that few, if any, countries can match. One recent study shows that per capita, Czechs drink the most beer in the world, and it’s not all that close. They consume 20% more beer per person than the second place country, Ireland, with Germany a close third. I’ve always liked Czech pilsners that is far and away the most popular style with their dry, bitter clean flavor. I still remember the revelatory experience of trying Staropramen on tap for the first time at the outstanding pub Lucky Baldwin’s in Old Town Pasadena in the mid-90s. I finally understood what the inspiration was for all these American beer giants whose main purpose appears to be selling lifestyle or image rather than flavor.
Like in many European countries, however, the beer industry is dominated by a small handful of national (to international) brands such as Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar, Krušovice, Gambrinus and Staropramen (I prefer Budvar and Staropramen from the above list). I knew from a past visit that there are smaller, local breweries. Years ago I had visited the generally well-regarded tourist trap U Fleků which showed to me a different side of Czech beer, and on a recent visit I figured I’d try to learn more about the small artisinal producers in a country with a rich brewing history. A quick search led me to Restaurace Kulový Blesk, which is a fairly easy 15 minute walk (or one metro stop ride) from Wenceslas Square in central Prague. They pride themselves on a fairly extensive selection of beer only from small Czech producers.
23 rue des Cinq Diamants
+33 1 45 89 58 87
Metro: Corvisart (0.1 km); Tolbiac (0.5 km)
The many immigrant communities that make up Paris have brought cuisines from all over the world – some of which are poorly represented in major cities in North America. My favorite discovery during my time there this summer was couscous, a typical north African dish that has regional subtlties (Moroccan vs Algerian vs Tunisian vs…) that I didn’t have nearly enough time to explore and decipher.
I started digging in before remembering to take pictures!
My favorite couscous spot was Chez Mamane, a small Moroccan style joint in the generally tourist-free and very cool little neighborhood of La Butte aux Cailles (“quail hill”) not far from Place d’Italie in the 13th arrondissement. There are plenty of bars (Le Diamant was my favorite, but those with more experience recommend La Folie en Tête) and restaurants (among others, Chez Gladines is a very popular budget Basque restaurant) in this area, with a crowd that was decidedly local. Chez Mamane was recommended to me by a friend who grew up in this neighborhood as having the best couscous in Paris and it sure seemed plausible to me.
A collection of random snapshots taken mostly with an iPhone 3GS. A mishmash of mainly casual Korean fare and some western dishes eaten in three main provinces on this recent visit to Asia.
Apologies first of all for the crappy image quality, but it was shot with an older cellphone. Not sure if any of you have seen alcohol made and bottled (more on this later) in this politically isolated east Asian country. A blueberry-based alcohol, almost wine like is what this is. Purchasing it and carrying it around for a while in a bag, something strange was noticed. The outer box started to feel damp. Oh darn, was the glass broken? A quick check. Nope. A while later, some obvious liquid was showing up in the same bag and the label was now damp. Perhaps from all the movement in the hand carry? Was it really broken?
While the simplest of the day’s standard trio of meals, it is often my favorite time to eat when I’m traveling internationally. Reasons why include its generally easy, I can enjoy it on my own (if I am with others who are not as inclined for morning walkabouts, and the reasonable charges for morning meals makes wonderful meals all the more appreciated (or in the case they bomb, not too hard on the pocketbook, so regrets are tempered).
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that more often than not, something interesting to eat always lurks around the corner not long after the sun has come up and when I’m abroad in unfamiliar surroundings. I look at these impromptu discoveries as my personal reward. For taking the time and effort to traverse a new locale on foot. Meandering down random streets and alleys taking in the native sights, sounds and often smells, in my never-ending quest to learn more about where I am and this beautiful world in which we live.
My usual wandering (aimlessly and map-less) when I explore a new village, town, or city for the first time can lead me to interact with unknown strangers on the street – language and sometimes cultural barriers included. At times they are helpful. Especially with suggestions about what I might enjoy trying to eat. Local, with some variety, and a “what would you have?” are my usual parameters that I try to get across to my sometimes puzzled conversation mates, achieved in part with some physical gestures and drastically simplified English.
This post is another reflection from my summer travels to Asia and in particular the two weeks I spent in South Korea.
The tradition of bringing back some local treats and gifts when one travels in an Asian country, especially when you have been to a more rural area and the city folk you left behind want to know what’s there, is one that I enjoy. Especially when I’m one of those who are stuck in the rat race and urban jungle, and get to taste some goodies brought back from someone’s travels. On this particular trip, it was the other way around, as I decided to purchase some sweet snacks that were reputed to be the best representation of what Gyeongju has, and I was told, would be appreciated by the Seoulites who would be on the receiving end of my generosity.
As with many food gifts, packaging is key, especially when one is challenged by a large display full of various types. As people “eat with their eyes”, I can see why so much effort is spent on making the containers, boxes, etc. as appealing as possible and thus help boost sales. Convenience for me is often key (especially when I’m traveling by air) and so a slim package such as the one above is much favored. This particular pair of items was bought in a gift shop just before departing Gyeongju city. A last stop kind of place to get your fill of this resort area before returning to the more populous (and non-touristy) places around the peninsula.
After a busy day this past summer checking out various tourist sights in Seoul, I hopped back onto a train back to the suburbs to where I was spending some nights sleeping early on in my journey. On the short walk back to the residence from the station, I noticed a boisterous establishment that seemingly was a pub/fried chicken kind of joint. I suggested to my travel mate that we go check it out – despite having finished eating a hearty dinner an hour before – but was told there was a better place they knew about, and the family I was staying with vouched for it. Sounded good to me. It allowed some more time to digest our dinner and was really convenient too, as all it required was a phone call, as they delivered! A change into some more comfortable clothes later and soon enough the door bell was ringing.
Reportedly there is an outpost of this popular Korean-style fried chicken known as Kyochon Chicken in Koreatown (Los Angeles) as well, but its the first I’d heard of it. Not being able to read anything around me probably had something to do with it. The logo I’d seen before though around the Korean capital city. It seems to be mainly a delivery/takeaway kind of business model. I think the places that serve Korean chicken that I’ve seen here in the GVRD are kind of like that (lots of “to-go” orders), but have seating areas as well where the beer (that goes so well with these things) flow freely. As this was a second dinner, I just asked that we get a dozen or so and I wanted to try the original flavor, so not enhanced with the sweet-spicy sauce that really makes Korean-style chicken so yummy.
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Schisandra chinensis. Yes, difficult to pronounce but as one can guess, it has its roots in China. The viny-plant produces a rich berry that is beloved for its five different taste sensations and its herbal/medicinal properties. With various practical uses including its use in teas and even wine, it has a modern day application that you can enjoy today if you know where to look. I had such an opportunity in the remote city of Myungyeong, nestled amid lush green forests spanning rolling mountains and hills that make this a spectacular visual landscape in North Gyeongsang Province.
On my way to visit some tourist sights, I came across this tiny cafe at the base of the town site before the long trek up past some re-created rural villages that were even used for present day movies and television sets, and up into some of the nearby hills. It was a brutally hot and humid day so a rest was needed even before the hour long journey that I was about to embark on. Spotting several people lined outside, I knew I had to check it out and find out what the commotion was all about. So here I present to you, the Omija Cafe.
Cheontong Son Kalguksu
206-3 Cheongun-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Returning to another report on another stop from my August stay in South Korea. I remember this lunch well, as we were racing to leave Gyeongju City as the powerful typhoon ravaging the coast was approaching fast and already the rain was falling horizontally due to the swirling winds. We spotted Cheontong Son Kanguksu from the road as we approaching this area that was populated by a few restaurants. The lights seemed to be on inside but nobody could be seen, so one brave member of our party stepped out into the falling rain and knocked on the door to see if they were indeed ready for customers. Perhaps it was the weather and the lone female proprietor felt sorry for us, as it seems she was still doing her preparation work, but she let us inside and told us to make ourselves at home.
The wet, humid weather made it perfect for something hot to try and warm up our cores. Kalguksu or hand-cut wheat noodles served in a bowl of rich, mainly seafood (shellfish)-based flavorful broth, topped with a mix of thin sliced vegetables. While the ambiance was nothing special, perhaps even on the dilapidated side and I could spot a few flies spinning around in the air, I was just grateful to be indoors and away from the storm. Although being in a fully glass encased building was not something one should probably do when powerful winds are ravaging all around.
To Go Coffee Shop / Seomi & Tuus House Object Gallery
32-21 Chae-Dong, Chongro-gu
Seoul, South Korea
With long business hours (Mon~Fri, 7am to midnight; Sat, 7am to 11pm; Sun, 9am to 10pm) and a serious dedication to contemporary art and design – given their ties to a nearby gallery – the To Go Coffee Shop housed within this quaint brick-and-glass building made for the best of both worlds. Open early enough for a warm cup of coffee to get your day going, but also laid back and aesthetically interesting with its display of modern artwork to make you want to stay longer than you normally might just to take in the scene.
The bukchon neighborhood follows a similar dual dynamic. Retro remnants of a by-gone era with traditional architecture and residences that take you back in time, flanked by rows of ultra hip and trendy shops popular with the city’s busy youth. The latter characteristic reminded me of the ura-Harajuku area of Tokyo. I have a friend who works as an assistant director at one of the many galleries here, and I’d always heard interesting things from her about hanging out and working in this district, so I had to check it out for myself, camera in hand.
346-2 Ha-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
After a morning spent outdoors in the sweltering summer heat taking in some live acrobatic performances and a long walk around the touristy Shilla Millenium Park, we headed back to the cooling comforts of our air conditioned car and sought out more places on my native host’s list of places to eat at. A simple search in the auto’s GPS device turned up another location that was not too far away and so off we went. Best known as a restaurant that specializes in dishes that contain beans (soybeans, peas, lentils, etc.), Kongerang was set just off the main road that passed by it. It was situated in an older looking, traditionally-built Korean country home.
An ample parking lot was situated right on its parcel of land and it was full of cars! A young man (who’s job I would never want) was sitting on a folding chair on the side of the road and as we approached, he came to our driver side window and explained their parking system. Essentially, there were no open spots available now (and thus no unoccupied tables inside), but he was soon on his headset conversing with someone inside and gave us an estimated wait time of thirty minutes. He allowed us to park on the shoulder of the street, and as one car left the lot, we were permitted to move the car onto the rocky stone-lined parkade. This however did not mean our table was ready yet, but this place was prepared as they had a large tented (and air conditioned) area towards the back where other waiting patrons were patiently sitting. Later on, a voice came out over the speaker inside noting our number and we then proceeded into the building housing the restaurant where our freshly set table was waiting. A swift and efficient system!
Shilla Tteokgalbi Chongshik
226 Nodong-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
On day two of this three-day visit to Gyeongju, we continued to mow through the list of restaurants that my local friend had created through his own research and advice from contacts very familiar with the area. Nestled in a building that was offset from the main street that we navigated through on this rainy evening was Shilla Tteokgalbi Chongshik. As we climbed up the stairs to the main entrance, we were quickly greeted by a gentleman who seemed to be the manager this evening. Occupying the entire second floor, it was quite spacious inside.
As mainstream Korean cuisine overseas is highly associated with beef, in particular barbecue, our visit on this occasion was to explore another meaty dish. Tteokgalbi is derived from the words for marinated meat and also those thin sticky rice cakes. But, there are no such rice cakes involved at all in this. In fact, I’d describe it as being more like a hamburger patty. In most cases, its made from a melding of beef short ribs and fattier pork to balance out together in a juicy meaty delight that young and old can enjoy. Plus, there is no killer spice to deter anyone who is sensitive to heat. Instead a drizzle of sweet tasting sauce usually completes the picture. I’ve seen these patties made small (tinier than the palm of your hand) or larger, and shaped in a square or circular like a disc.
220 Shinpyong-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
Okay, now we’re finally getting to the literal ‘meat of the matter’ from my trip to Korea this past summer. One of the key locations on our hit list was this Korean barbecue joint recommended by many Seoulites to us. Kangsanhanwoo was situated in its own large building at the intersection of some major roads in this resort town, with its brightly lit signage there was no trouble in finding it. A huge parking lot directly in front provided ample spaces as well, as we made our way in after nine pm and a long day of sightseeing…
While most of the diners were already fully engaged in their meals and were Koreans by and large, we did spot a few tables of foreigners so its appears this is on the international food lovers’ radar when one comes to this popular tourist location of Korea. To aid everyone coming in, there is a large display case of various types and cuts of beef, much like a butcher shop, immediately as you come inside. I’m sure there is a lot of pointing and gesturing to get what one wants when language is an issue. All part of the joys of international travel I say. With the hot temperatures and the air conditioners running full blast, there was a huge barrier of condensation on the glass, which the two fellows behind the counter would wipe across with a hand-held windshield wiper like tool (similar to those you see at gasoline stands) to give you some visibility.