A Sumptuous Okazu Experience

There is one plain and simple food establishment in Osaka that my family has dined at.  It is so plain and simple that we actually failed to inquire with their very few and quiet staff on what the name of their intimate restaurant was.

Sorry if I cannot read exquisite Japanese kanji but this is how it looks from their façade…

the facade of my sumptuous okazu experience

the facade of my sumptuous okazu experience.  will somebody read that lighted sign for me…

What is so striking about this place is that it obviously does not seem to cater to tourists.  As we have observed me and Nengkoy were the only tourist guests inside while the rest of the dining folks were the uncomplicated locals of the city.

Uncomplicated meaning the unfussy office workers and blue-collared souls that keeps the economy of Osaka running.   They are the austere Osakans who seem to have simply gone hungry and decided to grab a delicious meal prior to heading back to their respective homes.  They are the type who seem too tired to prepare their dinner and instead settled for a low-cost yet sumptuous Japanese meal.

happy nengkoy with denden

happy nengkoy (feeling like a local) with denden

Another strikingly divine about this restaurant is their food.  It features dishes that are not the mainstream and well-known Japanese cuisine yet considered classic.  These are the diverse varieties of Okazu.  If the Philippines got ulam (viand), Japan has Okazu.  The side dishes of Japan that are usually accompanied with rice.  But since Okazu are commonly small in portions, these are comparable to tapas or the small dishes of Spain.

okaru!

okazu!

yum!

yum!

no conveyor belt machine... an old and reliable self service japanese eatery

no conveyor belt machine… an old and reliable self service japanese eatery

I particularly like the fact that each dish are served in small portions.  This makes the customer enjoy, explore and savor varying dishes in one seating as if having a grand feast yet still very desirable for it will not result to gaining too much weight.

It is so obvious that preparing these beautiful dishes at home would take so much time, skill and effort.  Thus, it is not surprising that regular Osakans would rather flock these types of modest yet charming eateries.

Karinderyang sosyal… Daming ulam…

3Coins +Plus: An Inexpensive Cure To My Shopping Madness

When I was still undecided whether the recent long holiday weekend will be spent in Osaka, there has been a bunch of souls who keeps on telling me to go domestic.  A lot has been suggesting the City of Pines, Baguio.  I told them I’d rather go to Osaka because the trip (from Manila) is shorter by four hours.  And besides, Baguio has yet to have a 3Coins outlet.

3Coins Store is the more stylish version of 100-Yen shops.  3Coins basically signifies 3 pieces of one hundred yen coins.  Thus, all items found in this store is worth 300 Yen (around 150 Philippine pesos or 2.80 US dollars).  Since it is three times more expensive than the usually substandard items found in 100 Yen shops, the ones found in this store is of course of superior quality.

those cute socks for tables and chairs is such an ingenious idea!

those cute socks for tables and chairs is such an ingenious idea!

those rugs were beautiful...

those rugs were beautiful…

super nice...

super nice…

love this store!

love this store!

And since the items are reasonably priced, this is the ultimate store in Japan where deficiencies in my overall recurring retail therapy are fulfilled.  It’s like the final doze of medicine to cure my shopping madness when my pocket can no longer cope with it.  Thus, 3Coins is a testament that shopping in Japan need not be expensive.

3 Coins according to their website actually has variety of stores.  Correct me if I’m wrong here…  They have 3Coins Ooops.  The 3Coins Station. The 3Coins+plus.  The classic 3Coins.  And the somewhat high-end Colle.

The one me and Nengkoy shopped at in Osaka was at 3Coins +Plus outlet.  This is the outlet that offers not just items priced at 300 yen but also superb stuffs priced at 1,000 yen (500 Philippine pesos or roughly around 10 US dollars).

I so love this place because this is one of those rare stores that me and Nengkoy seem to have a shopping truce.  My mother would usually attack the penchants and the inclinations of my shopping selections due to its absurd and ridiculous prices.  But when we are at a 3Coins store, there seem to be a cessation of hostilities between us.  It is because she does agree with me on how nice the articles for sale are at a very reasonable price.

nengkoy at the bottom of the stairs... she got herself a couple of cool-looking earrings!

nengkoy at the bottom of the stairs… aside from some bathroom thingies, she got herself a couple of cool-looking earrings!

The store offers daily utilized good as well as lifestyle home interior decors.  I particularly love their shower curtains, bedroom slippers, bathroom rugs and storage boxes.  And most recently, I discovered that their colorful selections of socks are just so adorable!

Wanpibti lang… Murang mura…

Capricho of a Caprichoso at Comme Des Garcons

I admit.  I have considerable volumes of shirts in various colors, prints, styles and designs.  My mother even consider my living quarters as nothing but a humongous cubbyhole of articles of clothing.  She would often allege and accuse me of storing some inside my fridge because my closets and boxes of garments are all so choked-up and full to its brim.  That is why the last thing I need is another piece of tee shirt.

But because of my caprichoso-ness (capriciousness), I know that I simply have to satiate my capricho.  That is why when I was planning my little shopping in Osaka, my odd obsession was focused towards buying a simple yet over-priced piece of shirt.  The Comme Des Garcons Play t-shirt.

I was so determined to acquire one, I even googled where in Osaka a Comme De Garcons outlet is. Good thing my nephew Denden knew exactly where in Namba Parks the store is located.  Armed with unbendable willpower and fortitude, I, Nengkoy and my niece Erika trekked to the high-end portion of the mall.

caprichoso at comme des garcons osaka

caprichoso at comme des garcons osaka

As soon as we found the outlet, I selected from among the limited designs and supplies hanged on the racks.  And since I look broke and penniless, the shop attendant did not allow me to wear and test fit it.  I got infuriated I wanted to buy the shop attendant himself.

But since I was so focused on my target, I brushed him aside.  With irrational conduct, I procured a piece.  And with closed eyes, I paid the somewhat unreasonable worth as printed on the price tag.

my proof of purchase...

my proof of purchase…

what i had...

what i had…

Erika and I went back to the apartment with satisfied and happy faces.  Nengkoy however was perplexed, maddened and enraged!  Not with the shop attendant but with my capricho and being a caprishoso.

Awtpit pamalengke… Hahaha!

Pablo Cheese Tart Got a Bright Spot Light

Osaka is known all over Japan as having the best gastronomic courses and culinary entities.  Thus, it is not farfetched that the best cheese tart in that part of the planet originated in Osaka.  I am talking about the luscious cheese tart from Pablo.

Falling on queue at Pablo’s take-away shop to purchase the famous cheese tart has been part of my last three visits in Japan.

nengkoy while on a long queue at pablo take-away store last spring of 2014

nengkoy while on a long queue at pablo take-away store last spring of 2014

where magic happens...

where magic happens…

Served in large spherical portions good for sharing, my theory why this cheese tart has gone so admired and popular is because its flavor and texture is never overpowering to the taste.  Unlike the usual cheese tarts when consumed in large amounts would result to nauseatingly cloying feeling, Pablo’s version is subtle, light and delicate to the palate.

Pablo store has gone so swell, I was amazed to learn that they have progressed from a take-away store into a casual dine-in shop serving various drink concoctions, pastries, cakes and desserts.  These pastry diner shops also became a hit, it has started to mushroom around Japan.

spherical pieces of heaven!

spherical pieces of heaven!

what a luscious selection!

what a luscious selection!

During my recent October 2014 visit, I told my dear nephew and nieces (based in Osaka) that I and Nengkoy would not miss the opportunity to dine in one of the Pablo shops before going back to Manila.

However, our first venture at Pablo’s Shishaibashi branch was a failure because there were no seats available and we have to fall on a long line of patrons waiting for their turn to be given those precious table.  Me and my mother settled on buying the premium version of the cheese tart and have it devoured at my nephew and nieces’ house.

new dine-in pablo branch in shinsaibashi

new dine-in pablo branch in shinsaibashi

Our second try was a success! After accomplishing a long walking tour of the majestic Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, we agreed to have a snack before going back to Osaka.  We were glad to find out that a Pablo dine-in branch has just opened in Himeji.

Pablo in Himeji was a true winner.  Aside from the good food and drinks we had, I specifically loved the restaurant’s beautiful interiors!  The aesthetic elements of the shop were remarkably trendy, cool and stylish!

welcome!

welcome to himeji branch!

super nice...

super nice…

glad to have discovered this branch in himeji...

glad to have discovered this branch in himeji…

cozy corner...

cozy corner…

happy...

happy…

With the light enchanting flavors of their appetizing dishes combined with modish designs of the interiors, it would not be a surprise if Pablo would cross ocean borders and establish its shops at other places around the world.

Aysimplilabit…

A Surprise Visit to Himeji Castle

The highlight of my October 2014 Japan trip with Nengkoy was something unexpected.  When my mother and I flew to Osaka for an extended long weekend, the only thing that’s both in our mind was to do a little shopping and visit nearby walking distance places where my nephew and nieces are based.  We did not even had plans of riding the modern, intricate and very efficient subway trains!

But my sweet nephew Denden had a different agenda.  He along with his sisters (my nieces) Erika and Thatcher brought me and Nengkoy to one of the first World UNESCO Heritage Sites of Japan, the famous Himeji Castle located in Hyogo Prefecture (about an hour by speedy train from Osaka).

Upon reaching the Himeji train station, people will definitely not miss this magnificent architectural jewel for it dominates the whole place.  The 20 minute walk from the train station to the castle along a wide boulevard was also enjoyable for you will encounter arty pieces of sculptures lining the whole Otemae-dori pathway.

with my niece erika, enjoying the breezy walk along otemai-dori

with my niece erika, enjoying the breezy walk along otemae-dori

And when we reached the entrance, we were at awe on how magnificent the site was.  What I particularly loved was the bright white color of the building that contrasts the dusky overcast sky during the day of our visit.

There was a Japanese guy at the ticket vending machine who spoke in excellent English who explained to us that the castle is still under renovation and that we would not be able to enter the main castle’s interiors.  Notices posted around indicated that the renovation is expected to be finished by March 2015.  I guess in time for the peak ‘sakura’ spring season.

magnificent!

magnificent!

picture perfect!!! hahaha!

picture perfect!!! hahaha!

Nevertheless, we still purchased tickets and settled on what can be seen inside.  Indeed the view of the castle was spectacular while the Bailey and the accessible grounds that allows visitors were all fantastic.

To compensate for the restrictions to enter the main tower, the bailey and storehouses were converted into dazzling museums showing off many historical artifacts such as armor suits of shoguns, various building as well as the living quarters of Princess Sen and her multitude of female servants.

nengkoy and her beautiful grandchildren exploring the himeji castle complex

nengkoy and her beautiful grandchildren exploring the himeji castle complex

sakuramon bridge at the entrance and the moat surrounding the whole himeji castle complex

sakuramon bridge at the entrance and the moat surrounding the whole himeji castle complex

beautiful cobblestones leading to the west bailey

beautiful cobblestone stairs leading to the west bailey

Though we were not allowed entry inside the tower, I still was very impressed on what we have explored.  The whole surroundings and the atmosphere seem to remain authentic and true to its historical roots.  Indeed, our surprise visit was an overwhelmingly great experience.

Himeji Castle, is truly worth visiting when in Japan!  It definitely possess a grandiose class of its own.

Tenk yu Denden… sa uulitin…

Ramen Zundo Ya: The Best Ramen Ever

One great test to determine if a restaurant and its dishes are truly superb is through the guests’ impression on his or her return visit.  It is very common for a restaurant to receive raving reviews on the first engagement.  But almost often, guest becomes disillusioned on their return because they realize that their ordered food – which they totally enjoyed during their pilot visit – was nothing but a fluke or a strike of luck.  In Tagalog, tsamba!

But with my recent visit and return to Ramen Zundouya located at Shisaibashi in Osaka, I can definitely say that this joint serves the best ramen in the universe.

ramen zundouya shinsaibashi branch

ramen zundouya shinsaibashi branch

During my first visit (click: HERE to read my previous post), me and my family were easily led inside and was given a table with such a breeze.  However, on our return, we already have to queue among the long line of patrons waiting for their turn to be assigned with a table.  We were actually listed 13th among those who enlisted to dine that afternoon.

no pinoy on queue yet, pinoys has yet to discover this savory treasure

quiet japanese folks waiting their turn.  no pinoy on queue yet, pinoys has yet to discover this savory treasure

While waiting and drooling on line, my personal claim that this indeed is the best ramen house was actually an understatement.  To prove a point, I in fact noticed one big poster on the wall announcing that they have mushroomed around Japan.  To further prove my point, Ramen Zundouya’s flavor will soon invade America.  It is because a Ramen Zundouya shop is due to open a branch along 10th Street in New York next year!

soon to open in new york (i will definitely try it when i get there)

soon to open in new york! (i will definitely try it when i get there)

To check the consistency of this restaurant, I again ordered for the same dish I had during my first visit, the Zenbu-nose Ramen.  When the bowl was served in front of me, I was absolutely surprised because the presentation and the arrangements of all ingredients placed in the massive porcelain was still impeccably beautiful.

And when I had my first sip of the broth/soup, nothing actually changed!  Nothing changed because the world seemed to stop for a moment for me to savor the paradise-like flavor of Zenbu-nose Ramen.  This matchless concoction was without a doubt an invigorating assault in all of the senses!

zenbu-nose ramen (my tastebuds had  a blast!)

zenbu-nose ramen
(my tastebuds had a blast!)

Walang kaduda-duda, ang tindi ng sarap!

Ippudo Ramen: A Very Good Second Best

a caption at ippudo's glass wall

a caption at ippudo’s glass wall

Though heat is intensely shimmering in Metro Manila, hot ramen eateries and restaurants at the moment are experiencing some renaissance in this mega city.   Like Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter spread in the past, ramen dishes today are a craze in this part of the world.

Since I am spending a fab holiday in Osaka, I will definitely not miss the enormous chance to eat ramen in this metropolis (at least twice).  That is why, I coerced my family to eat again in a ramen house.  This time we searched for the ramen joint that is pretty popular in Manila.  It’s the Hakata Ippudo Ramen restaurant located just a few meters away from the Swissotel in Namba, Osaka.

I proved the popularity of this restaurant in the Philippines because when we reached the ramen house, there were considerable number of Filipino tourists queuing waiting for their turn to be seated.  It was further amplified when it was our chance to enter the establishment.  I noticed that about 80% of their guests were Filipinos.

the queue outside where pinoy tourists converge

the queue outside where pinoy tourists converge

as presented in their english menu...

as presented in their english menu…

Like what I did in Zondouya Ramen restaurant a couple of days ago (read my post about Zondouya HERE), I settled for the most expensive and biggest photo dish on the menu.  Surprisingly, my order called Akamaru Special is pretty similar to Zembo-no, the ramen I enormously enjoyed in Zondouya.

My ordered Akamaru Special ramen also contains sheets of nori, soft-as-butter pork, freshly cut negi, a soft boiled egg, caramelized onions and garlic, plus a generous amount of “straight” noodles.  (in Zondouya, I went for the “curly” variety.)

my enjoyable akamaru

my enjoyable akamaru!

The speed and quality of service rendered by the staff in Ippudo is as fast and as charming as that of Zondouya.  However, when my Akamaru Special was placed in front of me, the first thing I noticed was the presentation.  I straightforwardly uttered, “In terms of presentation, one point for Zondouya!”

I could no longer resist my comparing when I started stirring and mixing the ingredients in my bowl.  Before I uttered another word, I internalize and justified that comparison is one of the fundamental processes of the human mind.  And we define things in terms of their similarities and differences.

akamaru to the left, zenbo-no to the right. now you choose...

akamaru to the left, zenbo-no to the right. now you choose…

I then uttered in a pretty loud voice, “In terms of thickness and full-bodied-ness, another point for Zondouya!”  My nieces and nephews indisputably agreed with me.  My niece Erika seated beside me expressed that Zondouya’s Zembo-no looks richer while Ippudo’s Akamaru was runnier in terms of thickness.

Now the taste.  Tactlessly speaking, I articulated saying, “In terms of taste, another point for Zondouya!”  Some Pinoy guests at the waiting area and nearby tables were starting to look at me, as if wondering what ramen was I comparing Ippudo’s version with.  Nevertheless, I voiced out that Ippudo’s slices of pork were smoother and actually melts in the mouth.  I uttered, “one point for Ippudo for the softness of the pork, nonetheless!” The Pinoy guests looked down onto their bowls and resumed their munching.

But the softness of the pork could not counterweight the enormous savory taste of Zondouya’s broth.  Like a lot of ramen experts, I have always believed that the success of a ramen dish all depends on the palatability of the broth.  A lot of ramen connoisseurs would even do massive research and experimentations just to achieve the perfect broth.  For me personally, Zondouya’s broth formula is truly magical.  Ipuddo’s version nonetheless is very good.

To simply conclude my comparison between Ipuddo and Zondouya, I personally requested to meet the chef in the latter while for the former we stepped out of the establishment happy and thought to myself, I should celebrate differences.  That not all things are equal, some things needs to be less pretty so as to further appreciate others beauty.

Masarap din inperness…

Lawiswis Kawayan at Sagano Bamboo Forest

Since Japan has such an excellent train and subway system, it is always such a breeze to go around. That is why while staying in Osaka, I and my family decided to go to nearby Kyoto for a third visit.

breathtaking

breathtaking

love love love,,,

love love love,,,

Many bloggers and world travel enthusiasts voted this place as one of the fifty places that a person should go to before dying.  I could not agree more!  I am actually honored and humbled and slightly freaked out when I was given this beautiful opportunity to be in such a breathtaking place.

The Sagano Bamboo Forest in Arashimaya, Kyoto is one breathtaking spot in this planet.  A sense of serene tranquility permeates from this lush bamboo scenery.   While traversing the narrow path, it felt like Mother Nature was giving my whole delicious body a warm comfortable hug.

my family from afar, posing for some photo opp

my family from afar, posing for some photo opp

love it!

love it!

The enchanting sound of the bamboos swaying back and forth against the light wind is something to behold.  It was like listening to an angel singing while feeding someone else’s soul. I was not surprised to know that as per amazingplaceonearth.com, this enchanting music-like-resonance is a must-be-preserved sound in Japan as declared by the Japanese government.

It was such a wonder to behold!

Pangkat kawayan ang peg ko dito!

A Savory Ramen Experience at Ramen Zundo Ya

Flavors were exploding in my mouth and my taste buds were giving a standing ovation shouting, “Bravo!”

These are the general feelings when I had the first bite and first sip of the ramen I tasted at Ramen Zundouya Restaurant located in Shinsaibashi, Osaka.  Since I can’t read kanji, I selected the dish with the biggest photo.  Since it was the biggest picture in the menu as well as the most expensive one, I supposed that Zenbo-no Ramen is this restaurant’s specialty.

the actual dish looks better than the one on the menu

the actual dish looks better than the one on the menu

True enough, my selection was impeccably right.  The Zenbo-no ramen came with freshly cut negi, some absolutely melt-in-your-mouth pork slices, slips of nori, a full soft boiled egg and a good sized serving of “curly” noodles.  Generous amount of garlic cloves are provided on the table which can be freshly crushed using a unique garlic press. But what is so heavenly about this dish is the magic broth that the restaurant uses.  The rich savory broth flavor simply bursts in your mouth!

The feelings induced by this perfect ramen were excellently joyful and heavenly.  For a moment, I forgot my name and thought that I was having an elated out of body experience.  Zembo-no Ramen in so rich and explosively delicious my taste buds thanked me!

super yummy!!!

super yummy!!! 

distinctive interior design

distinctive interior design

i love those "troso" as dining seats

i love those “troso” as dining seats

waiting area outside of the restaurant was me and nengkoy's venue for  our blog header's photo

waiting area outside is the venue of this blog’s header photo

Ramen Zundouya’s website indicates that their first aim is to “captivate the customer with each ramen dish”.  This aim absolutely hit me.  Never in my restaurant-dining experience was I so impressed with the dish that I personally asked to meet the restaurant’s chef.  I was so captivated that I asked for his name and even topped it by asking for a photo with him.  I could not resist to thank him for such an awesome masterpiece.

with chef endou

with chef endou

This unmatched ramen experience was simply outstanding!

Mapapa-jusko ka sa sarap!

Coca in Osaka

my bottle

my bottle

A lot of friends and colleagues who has been to Japan agrees that the taste of Coca-Cola seem different as compared to other parts of the world.  And I do agree with this observation.  For me regular Coke or Cola in this part of the planet seem lighter to the taste and smoother to the gullet.  It is not disturbingly sweet and not unnerving to the tongue.  I can actually drink a regular coke in this part of the world without the need for ice.

What is even more fun drinking Coke in Japan, particularly in Osaka is that you can actually have your bottle personalized.  Located at Grand Pronto Mall, Osaka’s new mega-shopping town complex is a Coca-Cola store where you can have your name stamped on the bottle label for free.

While my bottle was being stamped, I was imagining on top of a hill and wanted to sing the popular Coca-Cola jingle… I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (a Perfect Harmony).

guess what this store is selling...

guess what this store is selling…

osaka lady stamping my bottle

osaka lady stamping my bottle

my sister's nickname is so exotic

my sister’s nickname is so exotic

so "shota" is a popular nickname in osaka...

so “shota” is a popular nickname in osaka…

My body had changed, my sensibilities changed, though to this day, I still drink Coke.  Admit it or not, but there are lots of chows, cuisines or simple sustenance best consumed with a bottle of Coca-Cola.  I guess, no one is too old to drink this precarious drink.

Its da ril ting… Inom na!