Thursday, August 25, 2016
There's this shop at Empire Shopping Gallery that doesn't know what it wants too be. In its window showcase, you see skin care products. The brand of the skin care products do not match the signboard-- IsMe. To add to the confusion, it has a F&B counter on one side, opposite a beauty counter. For several months now I have noticed its lack of customers. I think people who just want to sit down for a cup of coffee and cake are worried that they might get an earful of beauty consultations, so its much safer to go elsewhere. With some trepidation, we walked into the so-called beauty cafe and looked at the menu. Since we were the only customers, service was excellent. SK demanded that I order the signature coffee because it came with a cute bear face. According to the service crew, their Red Velvet cake uses beetroot instead of food colouring so we gave that a try. It was delicious and so was the matcha-passionfruit mille crepe. Other than coffee, they also serve flower teas and iced fruit sodas. So don't be daunted by their appearance, walk in and give the cafe a try!
P.S.: SK did give them face and asked about their beauty products. ;).
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Tater was in Kuala Lumpur for a social trip so we made plans to meet over dinner at Quivo, Pavilion. Started things off with some happy hour drinks and some beer snacks. Quivo's Cheesy Spinach Dip was an excellent start. Crispy pita chips go well with a melted Parmesan cheese infused with baby spinach. For dinner, KH and I shared a pizza. Post-dinner coffee was at Coffea Coffee where Tater tried the Peanut Butter Latte. Not something I think I will ever order. Haha. Always great to have Tater over because he's such a nice guy and always has great stories to tell. His most recent adventure was at the North Pole Marathon! Never a dull moment in his life. And he's not seeing anyone at the moment... :D
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Gone are the days when the Bazar Ramadhan was a place for great food. Back when I was growing up in Kuantan, we didn't really need to care which shop we bought from because everyone had some actual culinary skills. Miss the crunchy mini samosas, delicious nasi dagang, and spicy popiah basah. In Klang Valley these days, it is hard to find decent food at such places. The food that is sold is only a 'seeming' of its name. A poor imitation with no real substance. Might look like it, but end up tasting all wrong. And if you're unlucky, you might walk away with a stomach flu. Probably would have to kiss many frogs to find your prince. But after a few kisses, you would probably give up from the utter disappointment. While roaming the Bandar Kinrara 5 Bazar Ramadhan, I chanced upon a really good nasi kerabu among the multitudes of stalls selling rainbow-hued drinks and grilled meat (walking through a meat haze!). The nasi kerabu came with all the right sauces and condiments, and most importantly, the kerabu was REALLY kerabu. Very difficult to find good classic East Coast dishes in the Klang Valley and even finding good kuih is a challenge! Pop an onde-onde into your mouth, and you get no explosion of gula melaka. Worse still, some stalls use grated coconut that had been pressed dry. Despite all this, Bazar Ramadhans are still teaming with customers due to lack of alternatives. So sad...
Friday, August 19, 2016
KH suggested dinner at 8 Jugra, a new and upcoming place for Italian food. The restaurant is located off Jalan Klang Lama, converted from an old detached house, so it is quite hidden. Arrived at the restaurant well before dinner time and was greeted by snooty service. Since we had no reservation, they had not much interest to have us. SK actually asked to look at the reservation and work something out.
Waiter: Sorry, but we are fully-booked.
SK: That table is for 7:30 PM right? It's only 6:00 PM now, we'll be gone before that.
Fantastic, right? The interior was pretty interesting. A mix of new and old furniture in a setting that reminds me of a house in the country. We ordered three items, but only the roast pork belly and risotto arrived. The pizza was lost in transit although there was only one other table occupied at the time. Our neighbour was pretty chatty. He was a German retiree who was very interested in old school furniture, Bakelite switches and the like so the restaurant was like a treasure trove for him.
FYI, 8 Jugra only serves premium bottled water from the United Kingdom, which the Indonesian waitress raved about: "Saya tak pernah minum air begitu sedap!". However good the water was, I was not happy with the overall experience there. I left unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Can say for certain that I won't be going back there.
To complete dinner, we went to the nearby 老酒楼 in Taman Bukit Desa. Shared a bowl of ramen and steamed chicken noodles. Seems that their prices had gone up since my last visit. Unfortunately, mum and SK didn't quite like the offerings there. Before going home, we tried the coffee and cake at Red Kettle, just a few shops away. Coffee wasn't very good at all but the portion of their salads seemed quite obscene! Perhaps next time.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Right after KH and I got back from our Hokkaido trip, we attended a family function together at Bagan Sungai Burung, in the heartland of Selangor. It's a fishing village where my maternal cousins live and work. Every year, my uncle would throw a huge birthday party (cum annual dinner for his employees) and he would invite us to come. To him, the more the merrier, so invited SK and KH to tag along. Both of them had never been to that neck of the woods before and they were curious to try the famous seafood there. We exited at Sabak Bernam and headed into the Sungai Besar area. Further in was Bagan Sungai Burung.
Our first stop was at Tokong Hui Long Kong, the main Taoist temple of the village. The road in front of the temple was lined with rows of huge joss sticks with dragon motifs. Nothing unusual about that, but we were shocked to see pineapple shaped joss sticks too! At my uncle's house, I brought them around jetty to look at the place where they process the daily catch, mend the nets and clean the crab cages. Also showed them the rustic village way of living, where the swamp beside the house is multi-purpose dump site. For some reason, they cooked at the porch, and SK was shocked to find a cleaver on the floor where kids roamed freely. When she expressed shocked over that, my cousin sister assured her that the kids knew that the cleaver was in its allocated location. Really a huge difference from how Big Monster and Little Monster experience childhood.
As usual, dinner was great with a good selection of fresh seafood. Most of the seafood on the table was either caught by my cousins or sourced from neighbours without any post-processing. The ingredients were directly passed to the Kedai Makanan Laut Tien Yin for the banquet. We had longevity noodles, lemon chicken, chili crab, fish curry, steamed fish, and steamed prawns with egg. Beer was provided and when my uncle walked over for a toast, SK casually asked him for a bottle of VSOP which he happily obliged. His birthday cake was a two-tiered affair with a dragon crawling across a sea of icing. The seafood feast didn't end there. When we left, the car was loaded with a big box of frozen fish, prawns, sea crabs and mantis prawns!
Friday, August 12, 2016
We had a long drive ahead of us. KH and I split the 300KM drive to Chitose. The expressway was quite boring with no big rest stops. Mostly just toilets and a vending machine. Pushed on and arrived at Mitsui Outlet Park, Kitahorishima at about 2:00PM. Our Mitsui Premium Outlet in Sepang has a similar design, but the selection of brands is much better in Hokkaido. Although shopping was high on the list, eating lunch was more important. The food court offered a good selection of lunch options. Miso ramen is popular in the Sapporo region, so KH tried that. I for one found it to be overpowered by garlic oil. I chose Hokkaido pork don with leek. What I ate was pretty close to what Senya serves in KL. Kudos to Senya.
Found the best bargains at Rockport and Banana Republic. Surprisingly, they also have a supermarket there selling fruits and vegetables. When we left MOP, our hands were full of shopping bags. Been trying to find SK's Albion products for two weeks but to no avail, so we drove to AEON Chitose to have a look. Just like MOP, our AEON also looks like it's Japanese counterpart. But in Malaysia, the packing station after the check out counters are missing. Perhaps when we are more serious about recycling. Couldn't find Albion. Such an elusive brand. Ended up having dinner at the food court there. Both of stood at the udon counter not knowing what to order. Lucky for us, the uncle quickly pulled out an English menu. Saved! Dry udon with grated yam and shoyu for me, and soupy udon with clams for KH. We topped up with some tempura. What caught my eye was the way the udon was cooked. The boiled noodles in the tank were actually fished out with a net. When it was time to leave, we took a while to find the correct exit. So confusing.
Drove back to New Chitose Airport to settle the biggest loose end, which was the rented car. According to KH's plan, we were to stay a night at Chitose Airport Hotel since our flight out was quite early. We weren't sure where it was, but made a wild guess that it would be at the international terminal. We parked the car and went hunting. Truth be told, it was like a wild goose chase. No signs at all. Asked the information counter and were told that the hotel is located at the domestic terminal. Go figure. Ran back to the car and re-parked closer to the domestic terminal. Such a pain unloading our stuff from the car. We bought so much stuff! Lugged everything to the hotel which was only accessible via one particular lift lobby. Pengsan.
Didn't have any time to rest. Immediately ran back to the car and drove to New Chitose Airport POPLAR with the iconic picture of William S. Clark on the roof and the famous quote, "Boys, be ambitious!". Returned the car with a full tank of fuel and hopped on the free bus back to the airport. Finally could slow down a bit and explore the terminal. By that time, most of the shops were closed actually. So sad. From my observation, one can actually buy most of the famous food products from the airport at standard tax-free prices. Would save you the hassle of lugging your stuff from place to place. If you're a Doraemon junkie, do visit the Doraemon WakuWaku Sky Park. And if you have chocolate in your veins. visit the Royce' Chocolate World there.
Once we had finished our terminal crawl, it was time to rest and shower. Afterwards, we had to worry about packing which is always a headache. Once we had gotten that out of the way, we toasted our trip with a bottle of Suntory peach liquor, grilled chicken wings, fried chicken and chocolate cake. Sleep came easily.
Early next morning, I flung open the curtains to a view of quiet a tarmac with a few parked airplanes. Freshened up and went for the free buffet breakfast. A combination of Japanese and Western food was served. After breakfast, we checked out and pushed our luggage to the international terminal. Plenty to see along the way as there was the Steiff Discovery Walk with a whole bunch of life-sized soft toys, kinda like taxidermy. Check-in didn't take long and lucky for us, we only exceeded our baggage allowance by 500 grams.
Since my last trip to Japan in 2014, Japan had tweaked their consumption tax refund procedures. Visitors no longer performs the refund at the airport, but can immediately enjoy tax-free prices at the many shops that display the "Tax-free Shop" logo. Tax exemption applies for consumables or non-consumables that cost a minimum on JPY5,000. Be reminded that it is JPY5,000 per category. By law, consumables are sealed and can only be consumed out of Japan. However, customs doesn't check the items as they run on a trust system. Visitors just need to submit the tax invoices upon departure.
We did some last minute shopping at the duty-free area before boarding the flight back to KL. That concludes our Hokkaido adventure. Definitely need to get the next Hokkaido high!
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Early in the morning, we got dressed to pay a visit to the Fish Wholesale Market. It was not a fun day to be out. Wet and windy. Much more windy than wet really. When the angle was right, we felt 'helped along'. At pedestrian crossings, we held on to the lamp posts to avoid being blown onto the road. Crazy. Along the way, we saw tsunami warning signboards marking all tall buildings that have been designated at tsunami shelters. Hotel Chocolat was one of them.
The Fish Wholesale Market is something like Kuromon Market in Osaka, but bigger and less centralized. From one glance, one can tell the King Crab is king in Hakodate. Nearly every shop sells it. Other specialties are live squid (fish your own) and scallops. Filled our high cholesterol breakfast quota with grilled giant scallop, boiled hairy crab and grilled King crab legs. My favourite was the boiled hairy crab. They boil the whole thing in salt water and serve it to you whole with a pair of kitchen shears. The store helper showed us how to get to the meat and then wished us "gambatte" to finish the rest. By noon, many shops had started closing so we returned to the hotel to drop our stuff.
For the rest of the day, we would be traveling by streetcar, so we bought daily passes from the front desk. Got on at Uoichibadori station and alighted at Goryokakukoen-Koen-Mae station. Ate noodles at a corner noodle shop near the streetcar station. From there, it was a short walk to Goryokakku Tower and Goryokakku Park. Goryokakku Park is actually an old fort that was transformed into a park. In the middle of the park is a reconstruction of the old bugyosho or magistrate's office. What makes Goryokakku special is the star shape that it's built in. From the ground, it's quite impossible to visualize it, hence the existence of Goryokakku Tower. In the hanami season, Goryokakku Park is very popular because it has 1000 cherry trees! But all we saw was green trees, some Azaleas and wisteria. Sat in the middle of the park, ate some Yubari melon jelly and left.
Near the streetcar station, we popped into Maru Imai, a department store to do some ad hoc shopping. More money was spent, so we dropped off our hoard at the hotel again. One more park to go before the we called it a day. Traveled to Aoyagi-Cho station on the other line to visit Hakodate Park, one of Japan's first Western style parks. Seemed to be a favourite place for locals to bring their dogs for a walk. The landscaping is beautiful with plenty of cypress trees and Azaleas. Perfect place for us to paktor.
It was getting dark, so we went back to the Aogiyama streetcar station where KH said the cheesiest thing to me:
Moi: What do you want for dinner?
Moi: You always don't know what you want.
KH: I know I want you ah.
That totally caught me off guard. Not his nature to say such things. He deserved an immediate kiss from me. Traveled a few stations down to to have dinner. Lots of izakaya places there. Really cramped restaurants where customers sit at a bar counter surrounding the chef to eat, smoke and most importantly drink. Most could only serve eight at one go. The whole experience seemed too intimately local for us, so we ate at a bigger joint that server grilled food.
The bar was full, so we were given a table upstairs. The young Japanese waitress couldn't speak much English at all but we understood that there was a requirement to order drinks and pay for some beer snacks. Our order consisted of grilled squid, grilled dory, grilled smelts and grilled salted squid guts. The last item was really an acquired taste! We toasted to the end of our trip with sakura-infused liqour and shochu.
Rental of our car was to end on Thursday night. It was time that we took inventory of what we bought and try to stuff it all into our luggage. Bit by bit was transferred all the stuff on the backseat to the room. Luckily we could get by with one extra duffel bag.