Osaka Eats

Since my last two posts documents where to eat in Hong Kong and Tokyo , I figure I’ll continue this trend and document eating places in Osaka. This way, my friends (and also myself) can find it in one place.

Sushi Places

Ichibazushi (市場ずし)

https://tabelog.com/en/osaka/A2701/A270201/27012165/

This is one of my earlier finds when I first went to Osaka and I continue to go back when I’m in Osaka. It’s not a fancy sushi nor an expensive place. It has quality fish and is consistent every time. There’s a couple of shops within the Shinsaibashi area but the one I’ve listed is the biggest one. There’s often a line during peak hours and they don’t take reservations. They have cooked foods as well, but I haven’t tried any.

Beef Places

Kisoji 木曽路 – Sukiyaki/Shabu Shabu

http://www.kisoji.co.jp/kisoji/english/index.html (English)
http://kisoji.co.jp/kisoji/index.html (Japanese)

This is part of a chain and has locations in major cities of Japan and was a recommendation from a friend. I went to the Shisaibashi outlet, very close to the Apple Store. I went there several times and have had both their sukiyaki and shabu shabu. Both were good, but preferred sukiyaki simply because of the richness from the Sukiyaki sauce (and the beef fat that needs to be used for searing the beef!) They also offer a small selection of other dishes, like salads, toro (fatty tuna) and seared beef. I must say, for a restaurant specializing in beef, their toro is just as good as any sushi restaurant! A must have! I would recommend making reservations as the one in Shinsaibashi has limited seating.

 

Kitamura Sukiyaki House  北むら すき焼 

http://shimizu.or.jp/kitamura/home.html

A Michelin 1 star restaurant, Kitamura has been open since 1881. Similar to other traditional and established places, they also have a butcher shop attached to the restaurant where locals can purchase their beef to have at home. This is another restaurant where reservations are recommended. This is one of my go to if I want Sukiyaki.

Other Japanese Goodies

Ajinoya 味乃家 – Okonomiyaki

http://ajinoya-okonomiyaki.com/top/

I rarely eat okonomiyaki because I find it too saucy and extremely filling. However, my opinions have slightly changed after dining at this place. It’s still saucy and filling, but the combination of the ingredients and condiments blends perfectly together and it’s not too oily, unlike other places I’ve been to. A friend took me to this famous spot where lines can be very long (no reservations) during peak hours. I was told that different regions in Japan serve their own versions. The Kansai style (ones in the Osaka area) typically have all ingredients mixed together in a thick batter, whereas other places like Hiroshima (the most famous) the batter is more crepe like and ingredients are layered on top of each piece of crepe. The taste of the sauce is slightly different too. This place is definitely worth a try, but go during off peak hours!

 

Rikuro’s Cheesecake 

http://www.rikuro.co.jp/cheesecake/

This is one of the most fluffiest, and smoothest cheesecakes I’ve had. The best part, it’s quite airy, so it’s not filling at all (which means I can have more)! In the Namba shop where I usually buy it from, there’s always a long line waiting for the freshly baked cheesecake to be available. Every time a batch of cheesecakes are ready, the staff rings a cow bell a hot iron stamp with the Rikuo’s logo is stamped on each cheesecake before it is sold. They have various stores in Osaka, but not all of them have freshly made ones. I always go to the Namba store (a very short walk from Takashimaya department store). This store has a sitting area, so after purchasing the cheesecake I can have it right away when it’s still hot! Always buy the freshly made ones, it’s so worth it!

Chain/Nationwide Spots

Hiroshino Coffee 

http://www.hoshinocoffee.com/

There’s a lot of coffee places in Osaka that’s worth going to, but for chain coffee shops, my favorite is Hiroshino Coffee. Not only are their coffees good (they have a wide offering), their food selection is also worth trying out. I’ve been there for lunch and also afternoon tea. I particularly like their thick pancakes. These ones are quite dense, but it’s has a strong egg and butter flavor, which is quite hard to find elsewhere (at least in a chain store).

 

Gozasoro 御座候- Imagawayaki Red bean dessert

http://gozasoro.co.jp/

Imagawayki, or obanyaki (in the Kansai region) is a pancake like dessert with a red bean filing. It is common dessert/snack in Japan and is readily available, but not all places make good ones. In Osaka, I found a stall in the basement level of Takashimaya department store in Namba that makes one of the best ones I’ve had in Osaka. Apparently this brand can be found throughout Japan too. The store in Takashimaya makes fresh Imagawayki  so it’s nice and hot when served. There’s two flavors, red bean and white bean. I’ve only tried the red and has the perfect amount of sweetness. There’s often a line, but every time I went, I didn’t have to wait for long as they’re pretty efficient. Locals often buy by the dozens to take home.

Hong Kong Eats 2

The Hong Kong food scene is constantly  changing, with new restaurants popping up and the less popular ones disappearing. Thus, my go to places continues to evolve. In my previous post about eating in Hong Kong (check it out here), I had  listed some food finds that were worth going back to. The selection choices still stands, but I thought it’s time to update the list and add more of my finds especially since my home base is in Hong Kong. Just like my latest post on Tokyo Eats, the list will be updated periodically.

Noodles

Brass Spoon 

Address:
Shop B, Ground Floor, 1 Moon Street, Wanchai (灣仔月街1號地下B舖)
Ground Floor, 10 Pottinger Street, Central (中環砵典乍街10號地舖)

My current obsession! I heard about this Vietnamese Pho place a while ago and waited for the hype to ease before giving it a try. I’m totally hooked! The Wanchai outlet I went to is tucked in a quite part of Wanchai, closer to Admiralty, really, housing a few other restaurants, but by far, Brass Spoon was the busiest. There was already a line when I arrived as everyone was waiting for them to open for lunch. There must’ve been around 10 people in front of me. Inside, the shop has around 20 seats, so it fills up quick! The menu is small as they specialize in Pho. There’s a choice between regular USDA beef Pho or premium beef Pho, along with some sides.

You can choose the amount of onion, scallions, coriander and even beef oil in the Pho. The broth was so clear and tasty, I drank most of it (which I typically don’t do). The beef was so fresh and tender, I’m looking forward to trying the premium beef version. The Pho noodles were very slippery and smooth. The best part was, I didn’t feel thirsty nor had any bad after taste, which I usually find after having Pho in most places. Price for the regular beef Pho was HK$88 (US$11), a bit on a pricey side, but it was worth it! Oh and they’re a Michelin rated restaurant!

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Best beef Pho ever! This is the regular beef Pho.

Samsen

Address: Ground Floor, Stone Nullah Lane, Wanchai (灣仔石水渠街68號地下)

Expect a line when trying out this place, but it’s worth it. This small rustically decorated place offers elevated Thai street food dishes with their specialty being noodles. Their signature is the wagyu beef boat noodle, which I had. It was sensational! My friend had the stir fried fat noodles with sliced chicken. That was also very tasty. Average check was around HK$120 (US$15) for lunch.

Kong Chai Kee 江仔記粉麵專家

Address: G/F, 2 Canal Road East, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣堅拿道東2號地舖)

A local, “hole in the wall” that’s famous for their fish balls. The consistency of the fish balls are fluffy and bouncy – not a lot of places are able to do that. A selection of other “balls” are available, i.e. beef, squid, as well as pork dumplings and beef brisket, among other things. This is my “go to” for a quick bowl of noodles. On most days, there’s usually a line, but service is very speedy, so the wait isn’t usually very long. Average check was around HK$45 (US$6).

Hong Kong Style

Capital Cafe 華星冰室

Address: Shop B1, G/F, Kwong Sang Hong Building, 6 Heard Street, Wan Chai
(灣仔克街6號廣生行大廈地下B1號舖)

This place makes one of the creamiest and fluffiest scrambled eggs in Hong Kong! Menu items in this local “Bing Sut”(a traditional coffee house serving light meals) is limited, which is typical of all Bing Suts. For lunch, they have a selection of simple sandwiches – my favorite is their ham and egg on thick toast, macaroni or spaghetti with BBQ pork, and toast. There’s a slightly larger selection during dinner. Nonetheless, people come for their ultra smooth milk tea and their creamy scrambled eggs. Average check is around HK$50 (US$6).

Chan Hon Kee 陳漢記

Address: G/F, No. 91B Wan Tau Street, Tai Po (大埔運頭街91B地下)

In the winter season, it’s common for Hong Kongers to have claypot rice, a rice dish where the rice and its ingredients are cooked in a claypot over a gas or charcoal stove. When served, specialised soy sauce is poured into the pot and is mixed together. I always like the crispy rice bits that needs to be scrapped off at the bottom of the pot. It reminds me of rice crackers. There are many claypot rice places and I’ve had a number of them. A lot of places ‘cheat’ and pre-cooks the rice and ingredients, which is quicker to serve, but I find doesn’t bring out any of the flavors. At this place, the wait for a finished claypot rice is 30 minutes after ordering, and it’s definitely worth the wait! While waiting for the rice, there’s other items on the menu to order from, such as wonton noodles and even stir fry dishes, but most people, including myself, opt for their famous “cheng fun” or steamed rice noodle rolls that is typically found at dim sum places. The place is definitely a far from the city, but it’s worth taking a trip to try it. Average check is around HK$150 ($19).

Japanese Food

The Mon 一門

Address: 4/F, The Goldmark, 502 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay
(銅鑼灣軒尼詩道502號黃金廣場4樓)

This place has been around for many years and it’s still a very popular place for “not too fancy” Japanese food. They’re famous for their egg omelettes and when I go, I need to have one each time. My favorites are their mentaiko (fish roe) and eel flavor. Another signature dish is their eel and avocado roll wrapped in a soft layer of crepe. The blend of sweet and savory is really interesting. Their menu selection is quite varied from sushi to skewers and the quality is consistent and good. The restaurant is quite dark, but have appropriate lighting in the necessary places. Be sure to make reservations at least a week in advance. I’ve tried many times to try to book the day before, or even 2 days before and they’re always full – even during the weekday. Average check is around HK$250 (US$32).

Sushi Kuu

Address: 1/F, M88, Wellington Place, 2-8 Wellington Street, Central
(中環威靈頓街2-8號威靈頓廣場M88 1樓)

This is yet another place that’s been around for a while. I only had their lunch sets a few times so decided to have dinner. The place had a comfortable and casual atmosphere and found their portions to be quite large. It was just the two of us and we were stuffed after having a half order of pork salad, a side of edamame and sushi platter for two. It’s a good place to have some reasonably priced quality Japanese food in the heart of Central. Average check was around HK$350 ($45).

Chain Restaurants 

Tim Ho Wan, the dim sum specialist 添好運點心專門店

Address: Various locations in North Point, Central, Sham Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui, Tseung Kwan O (Check here for specific locations)

This Michelin rated dim sum chain has the best baked BBQ pork buns in Hong Kong. I usually go to the outlet in Central and there’s always a constant line for dine in. Their menu selection isn’t that vast, but it’s enough to satisfy ones dim sum craving. I usually just get their BBQ pork buns (multiple of them) and the steamed BBQ pork “cheng fun”, or rice noodle rolls. A good tip – get take out instead of dining in as it’s much faster. Find a place to devour the goods instead of waiting in line! Average check is around HK$50 (US$6).

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Baked BBQ pork buns

Ding Tai Fung 鼎泰豐

Address: Various locations in Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, Shatin (Check here for specific locations)

I’m always amazed by the efficiency the Causeway Bay shop has. I’m pretty sure the other outlets are just as efficient. Ordering is on a small clipboard to include the number of orders for each dish. After submitting it to the server, the first food item arrives within 5 minutes and the rest quickly follows. For second servings, the same order sheet is used since they have a separate column for re-orders. Their food is always consistently good and is a great place for me to get my Shanghainese dumpling craving, along with other Shanghaiese goodies. Although the Causeway Bay shop is massive, it gets filled up quickly during meal times, especially during the weekends. My favorite dishes are of course the “Xiao Long Bao” or the steamed pork dumplings, shrimp fried rice, steamed vegetable dumplings, and braised bean curd puff with black fungus. In addition to Hong Kong locations, they have outlets around China and Taiwan, which is where it originated. Plus, they’re also Michelin rated! Average check is around HK$200 (US$26).

Tokyo Eats

I’ve been to Japan dozens of times and friends always ask for restaurant recommendations. While I have some favorites, my usual answer is I usually pick restaurants based on where I end up at the end of the night, rather than reserving places before arriving to Japan. This way, it wouldn’t restrict me from having to rush to the reservation if I was at the other side of town. I was told, at least in Tokyo, that there would be a charge for any cancelations regardless of reason. I know some desirable places really need reservations, so I have since limited myself to making 1 restaurant reservation on each trip so that I can try those more desirable restaurants. I do also sometimes make same day reservations for places I know may need a booking.  Also, I don’t tend to go to too fancy places, or Michelin starred restaurants. I find there’s a lot of good choices everywhere I go.

Instead of sending restaurant info emails to friends or me keeping track of business cards (which I’ve lost a lot of already), I’ve decided to list out my favorite places here. This list will be updated when necessary. Most of these places didn’t have English menus nor did their staff spoke any English, but it was still easy to communicate as their menus usually had pictures.

SUSHI PLACES

Sushi Midori 寿司の美登利

http://www.sushinomidori.co.jp/shop.php?name=shibuya

They have various locations in Tokyo but the one I usually go to is in Shibuya. They don’t take reservations and the wait can be long. During my last visit (Jan. 2017) we waited for 3 hours, but the average wait is around 1.5 – 2 hours. They now have have a ticket system, so you can walk around while you wait for the table instead of lining up (which we have done many times). Although there is a long wait, I still frequent this place at least once every time because I find the sushi to not only be of quality, but the cuts  of the fish are generous. They also have cooked items and sides. The average check per person is around HK$250 (US$31). It’s definitely value for money!

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Shibuya Shop

Uogaashi-Ichi Standing Sushi Bar 魚がし日本一 

http://www.uogashi-nihonichi.com/english/

Like sushi Midori, there are a number of outlets within Tokyo. The one I go to is in Shinjuku. This was a recent random find. As it states, it’s a standing sushi bar, so the shop (at least the one in Shinjuku) is quite small, with around 15 spots. This place usually isn’t that busy, but during peak times, there is a short line. The average check is about HK$250 (US$31).

Restaurants in Los Angeles

In my previous post, I shared my favorite place to have lobster rolls- after trying 10 different places. In this post, I’m going to document restaurants that’s worthwhile to try and to go back in Los Angeles

Seafood was what we had in mind, specifically, we wanted what’s known as “big headed shrimp”, lobster, and dungeons crab. The first stop was at Oak Tree Inn, which apparently has been around for many years and is a staple to local Asian community to frequent. It was so good, we went there twice, in the three days we were in LA.

 

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“Big Headed Shrimp” – Steamed

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“Big Headed Shrimp” – Grilled

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Look at the size of the head!

We had the “big headed shrimp” in two styles, steamed and grilled. Both had different flavors but we preferred it steamed because we could taste the freshness and sweetness of the shrimp uninterrupted.

Next was steamed fish, a typical Chinese dish and also lobster with noodles, and finished with spinach in fish soup base. It was all very fresh. The noodles soaked in the juices from the lobster and the sauce -it was so flavorful! I went for seconds and thirds!

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Steamed Fish

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Lobster with Noodles

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My portion of lobster with noodles (of course I had more servings afterwards!)

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Spinach with fish soup base

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Oak Tree Inn – 1315 Fair Oaks Avenue, South Pasadena, CA 91030

Another place we went to that I’d like to go back is Crustacean by House of An. We went to the one in Beverly Hills. Like the above, this place has been around for many years and is also well known fusion Vietnamese-American cuisine. One of their signature dish – a must have, is their “An’s Famous Roasted Crab” with “An’s Famous Garlic Noodles”. These two items are so famous, they actually trademarked the name! It was truly scrumptious.

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View from our table

 

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An’s Famous Roasted Crab

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An’s Famous Garlic Noodles

In addition to trying their signature, I was impressed with the other items we ordered, whether it be the appetizers or other mains, our stomachs were satisfied when we left. To add, their service is impeccable, making our experience a memorable one.

Our appetizers:

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Salt and Pepper Calamari

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Vietnamese Spring Rolls

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Coconut Prawns

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Beef Tacos

Our other mains:

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Shaken Beef

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Seasonal Vegetables

Crustacean by House of An – 9646 South Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

In my next post, I will share worthwhile places in San Francisco, stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Dreaming of Lobsters

This summer, my family and I went on a tour of the US, to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. Looking back at the hundreds of photos I took, there was one consistent food type we had – it was seafood, specifically lobster, crab, and shrimp. Living in Hong Kong, seafood is readily available (all of which are imported), but the different varieties and having it in the US seems to be much tastier. It could all be in the mind, but I think the distance it needs to travel plays a factor as well.

In the three cities I visited, we had a combination of cooking methods – Chinese, Western and even fusion. I want to take this platform to document the restaurants that’s worth going back to, for myself and to whomever that comes across this blog post. In this post, I’m going to share what has now become my favorite lobster roll joint.

My first encounter of Luke’s Lobster was not in the US, but in Osaka, Japan about a year ago. It is the only outlet in Osaka, in Shinsaibashi, a popular shopping area. I wasn’t too impressed with their lobster roll when I had it. I remember it was the bun that stole the show, and not the meat. The meat was a bit soggy and there wasn’t much lobster taste. I left thinking why I had to wait in line for it.

Luke’s Lobster, Osaka – 大阪府大阪市中央区心斎橋筋1-3-21 

When I was in New York, on a number of different occasions, friends suggested that I give the Manhattan outlets a try, but I was hesitant after my experience in Osaka. I was walking around Manhattan and before I knew it, I passed by a Luke’s Lobster. I had no reason but not to give it a try – I was so happy I did! It is the best lobster roll I’ve had…ever!!

Luke’s Lobster – 5 West 25th Street (the one I went to, check their website for more shop locations in the US)

Besides lobster, they also have crab and shrimp rolls and also clam chowder. I had the chowder and it’s definitely worth a try! It was so good I had it for lunch AND dinner! At the 25th Street shop where I went, they also shared where the seafood came from. Mine was from Portland, Maine. I’m glad I ended up checking it out. It was meant to be!

 

 

Taste of Hong Kong – the first in Asia

Food related events always draws a crowd no matter where you are. The more popular and high end ones include Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, New York Wine and Food Festival. In Hong Kong, the closest one is the Wine & Dine Festival, but from my experience, it’s not as high caliber as the aforementioned.  This past weekend (March 10 – 13), the Hong Kong culinary scene saw the launch of a new international high caliber food festival. Taste of Hong Kong is Taste Festival’s inaugural city in Asia. Taste Festivals have been around since 2004 with London being the festival’s birthplace. They pride themselves to be “the world’s greatest restaurant festival.”

Taste Festivals prides itself to attract high end foodies who’s looking to ‘Taste’ the host city’s best and most popular restaurants. The ‘taste’ factor is for foodies to experience the restaurant’s iconic dishes. The main attraction is the 12 carefully curated restaurants that best represent the culinary scene in Hong Kong. This year, the selections are Aberdeen Street Social, Amber, Arcane, Bibo, Chino, Cafe Gray Deluxe, Duddel’s, Serge et Le Phoque, The Ocean, Tin Lung Heen, Tosca, Yardbird. London’s Duck & Waffle made a special appearance on Saturday as a pop up serving their ultra popular dish – of course Duck & Waffle! In addition to the featured restaurants, there was food related vendors, unique sake distributors, food demonstrations, chef’s tables etc.

Although the weather didn’t really cooperate – at the opening night, it was one of the chilliest nights we’ve had in a while, coupled with on and off rain, then the weekend was cloudy and cold, people still ventured out. In some cases, people had to line up for over 30 minutes to ‘taste’. Nonetheless, bringing the Taste Festival to Hong Kong definitely elevates the culinary experience in the city. Looking forward to next year!

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Chapter 1 – Food Finds: Hong Kong

I can’t say I’m the type of person who constantly searches for the newest restaurants in town, and who will go out of their way just to try a new restaurant. I’m the type who stumbles across restaurants I haven’t tried (new or old) and if it’s convenient for me, I’ll give it a try.

The Hong Kong restaurant scene reminds me of the New York City, the strongest and fittest survives. Being the 10th anniversary since my move back to Hong Kong this year, I definitely have my favorite ‘go to’ places, but at the same time, I do get curious to try new places that I come across – whether it be a friend’s recommendation, a review, or if I just simply pass by.

I can’t say I’m an organized person, so more often than not when I try to recall the restaurant I went to last week (forget about last month!) I struggle to locate the information. More often than not, I use my Instagram page as a first reference point, but I still find it difficult. Therefore, I’ve decided to document my food finds here, on my blog! It’s a great reference point for me, and it’ll be good to share it with you too! I will share three food finds periodically focusing on different parts of the world, so be sure to check back often! I will not only share positive recommendations, but also not so great finds, which really is to remind me not to go there again! For my first post, I’ve decided to highlight my home base – Hong Kong! So here goes:

Spot 1Pho Vietnamese Restaurant (越色牛肉粉餐廳)

Address: G/F, 3 Lan Fong Road, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣蘭芳道3號地下)

I find that good Phở, or Vietnamese soup noodle, is extremely hard to find in Hong Kong. I’ve tried many places, from high end to ‘hole in the wall’ joints –  I haven’t been impressed, until I found this place. I came across this place about five years ago when it was at another location. Since they moved (at a more convenient location for me) about six months ago, I’ve been frequenting this place almost every other week. This place offers not only Phở, but other Southeast Asian food items such as Pad Thai, and Hainan Chicken Rice. Service is typical of Hong Kong operation – fast and efficient (at peak times, they push you out the door to turn the table for the next guest). Needless to say, I would still go back for a bowl of hot Phở any day, especially when the weather is chilly.

Spot 2Fleur de Sel 

Address: Shop 2J, Po Foo Building, Foo Ming Street, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣富明街1號寶富大樓2樓J室)

I came across this place just by simply looking up! Residential buildings in popular commercial areas in Hong Kong are often occupied by retail or restaurants. It’s one way for independent shops to make it financially feasible for their existence (rents are typically much cheaper than ground floor storefronts). I was wondering in Causeway Bay, and looked up to admire the blue sunny sky on a Saturday afternoon – it was after days of cloudy weather, then I saw this European looking balcony and intrigued me to head to the second floor of that building. This cozy French themed venue only serves crepes, savory and sweet. From their chefs to their ingredients, it’s all imported from France – yes, even the chef! Every time I go back, the food is consistently fresh and tasty. Although their management of reservations needs more work (making a booking doesn’t mean you’ll your table is secured), their staff is friendly and caring. The staff once offered me a cup of honey with hot water after seeing (and probably hearing) me cough nonstop because of a sinus infection I had. I don’t go to any other crepe places except this one!

Spot 3i Creameria Dolce Giapponese 

Address: Various locations in Hong Kong
I became obsessed with this green tea themed dessert outlet during this past summer. The first shop started in Fashion Walk in Causeway Bay; a small standing room only locale, but within a span of a couple of months, three more shops opened, two in Causeway Bay (Sogo and World Trade Center), and one in Tsim Sha Tsui (Harbour City). The recipe to their success is simple – to have few but high quality ingredients, in their case, it’s primarily green tea soft serve, vanilla soft serve, red bean, mochi, fresh chestnut, fresh melon and grapes (both imported from Japan). Make it simple and make it good! Their green tea soft serve has a rich tea flavor, yet not bitter at all – one of the best I’ve had – definitely quality similar to ones you find in Japan! The combinations concocted by them is simply to die for!

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My Essential Personal Carry On Items When Flying

Whenever I travel, no matter if it’s short or long haul, I try to limit the number of items I bring on the plane, I only bring things I definitely need. Because I don’t like to use rollaway luggages as a personal carry item and prefer shoulder strap totes, it is even more important that I bring as little as possible. There may be chances where I have to dash from one terminal to another! My favorite carry on is the Goyard Chevron Sac Hardy Pet Carrier GM. For short haul flights, I usually don’t check in luggage and would use a four wheel rollaway luggage to bring my necessities, clothing etc. My preferred roll away is this Tumi. Nonetheless, I would still bring a shoulder strap tote for things I need regularly on the plane and when in transfer.

To avoid forgetting anything, I have a carry on- must pack list that I pull out every time I start packing.

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My carry on items from my last trip to Japan

I tend to list out everything I can think of and will narrow down items that is appropriate for the trip I’m taking. These are some of the items I bring all the time:

  • Bag divider – to compartmentalize my stuff so I don’t have to dig and can find things easier
  • Passport – a no brainer
  • Frequent flyer membership card and/or hotel loyalty card- in case I need to prove my status, credit points to my account, special access lounges or other benefits etc.
  • Pen – always bring a few, and not expensive ones. People like to borrow pens on planes to fill arrival forms, and sometimes they forget to return them!
  • iPad or computer – depending on purpose of travel, great to have especially if there’s flight delays or if there’s nothing good to watch on the inflight entertainment system
  • Phone & charger now planes have USB charging docks – a great time to boost battery life
  • Headphones – doesn’t have to be noise canceling ones, those are so bulky and heavy
  • Local currency – a no brainer
  • Business cards/information of destination (if frequented before) – just in case you want to go back on the trip
  • Hydrating spray – air quality is extremely dry at high altitudes, a must bring
  • Lip balm & hand cream – similar to above, a must bring

What are some of the things you bring along as your personal carry on when traveling?

 

A trip to Universal Studios Osaka

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of my relocation back home to Hong Kong. Since my return, I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been to Osaka, Japan. Whenever I tell my friends I’m going away on vacation, they don’t need to ask where, because they all know it’s to Osaka – or if I tell them, their reaction is “AGAIN??!!” Yes, I must admit, I do go there pretty often and am still enjoying it. It’s become a second home to me and I enjoy the familiarity – going to my usual shabu shabu, sushi and ramen joints, for one. Going to the same shops and being welcomed back to the same hotel. However, this past Christmas, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and go somewhere I haven’t been before – and I chose Universal Studios Osaka! This time, my sister was with me, so we thought it would be good bonding time to experience it together for the first time.

Universal Studios Osaka is just a short 30 minute train ride from where we stayed in Namba. I was told to get tickets beforehand as the lines at ticket counters at the park can be quite long. Lawson, Japan’s equivalent of 7-11 offers advance ticket sales. I was directed to a red machine, called Loppi to buy the tickets. This machine services many purposes, from buying everyday items to books, to amusement park tickets. Although Loppi had a number of language options, including English, it only provided instructions in language, in my case, English, but the actual purchasing of tickets was in Japanese, so it took me a while to figure it out. A receipt was printed upon my confirmation, which I then needed to go to the counter and pay, after which I received the admission tickets. During the process, it was a bit overwhelming and I didn’t realise until we reached the park entrance that we bought the wrong date! The Japanese calendar starts their week on Monday, instead of Sunday, which we were used to seeing. We ended up buying tickets for Tuesday, instead of Monday. It took us another 45 minutes before we were able exchange our tickets (at 400yen fee each) to get inside the park. People told me about Fast Passes, but we weren’t able to buy any in the Loppi machine nor at the park. Maybe because they only issue very few per day? We were actually glad we didn’t buy any Fast Passes because for some of the rides we wanted to go on, the Pass didn’t give much advantage – the wait time was nearly the same.

After entering the park, we didn’t expect to see so many people lining up for food, rides, and everything in between. We thought going on a Monday would beat the weekend rush. We were so wrong! Because it was close to the New Year holiday (recognized as a major holiday in Japan), it looked like a lot of locals took time off work and school’s probably out. Nevertheless, it didn’t deter us from slowing down. Our first stop, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! We were directed to a machine were we need to prebook a time slot to enter – most of the popular attractions are the same.  The park isn’t very big, and we didn’t want to focus all of our time on rides, the only other ride we prebooked was Jurassic Park.

We wanted to maximise our time, so we looked for attractions with shortest line, we came across Terminator 2 – 3D, but we still had to wait for over 30 minutes. Being in Japan, we expected everything would be in Japanese. In the attraction, there was role playing and video presentation, which had a very 90s feel – it brought me back to my first time watching the movie. Although we didn’t know what they were saying, we tried to keep up. Overall, this attraction was well executed as it blended video, and live performance. Moreover, the performance was actually more than a 3D experience, it was 4D, I felt water spraying on me and at one point, our seats moved!

By the time we were done, it was lunchtime. We came across a really cute Snoopy and Friends area and decided to dine at Snoopy’s Backlot Cafe. We ended up with a pasta set and burger set. The food was actually pretty decent.

After lunch, we walked around to find attractions/rides we wanted to go, but the lines were simply too long, so we ended up doing some retail therapy and lined up for more food to kill to before going to Harry Potter.

Japan is popular to have limited edition “Japan only” products, it is the same at the park. Moppy is the park’s “Japan only” character. Moppy is Elmo’s best friend in Japan! My sister went a little crazy over Moppy and bought a ton of merchandise. I had to drag her out of the shop in order to meet our Harry Potter reservation!

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was just like the Hogsmeade. It was extremely well executed. All of the major touch points were there – the castle, the themed shops, I was so mesmerized that I forgot to take pictures! Here are some highlights.

There’s two major attractions – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (3D movie), and Flight of Hippogriff (roller coaster) – we wanted to go to both! We passed by the 3D movie line and the wait time was 1.5 hours. We thought we would explore the area first hoping for the line to die down. We were wrong. We went back several times, the line kept on growing! Luckily, we were able to go on the roller coaster. It was a mild one, but we felt it was still worth it.

We wanted to try the famous Butterbeer, but the line was super long. It was almost dinner, so we went to 3 Broomsticks, Hogsmeade’s tavern – the best thing, the line was short! The food was just ok, but it was the atmosphere that nailed it.

Our last ride was Jurassic Park – The Ride. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t experienced it. All I can say is, it’s a great ride and a must go!

For those who plan on going to Osaka, I do recommend going to Universal Studios Osaka. Depending on the time of year, you can probably finish park in a day (if you don’t plan on going to all of the rides), but they do have 2 day passes, so plan accordingly. I’m glad I went, especially with my sister – there was definitely a lot of sister bonding time!

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

Happy 2016!  Can’t believe another year has come and gone. My 2015 had it’s highs and lows, but I was lucky enough to have had time to reflect and realign my personal path.

2016 will bring lots of adventures and challenges, but I’m ready! I’m also ready to spend more time on reigniting my blog. It’s been a struggle to keep it up, but I’m inspired by fellow bloggers/youtubers who do this on a regular basis – it’s definitely not easy. I will use this platform to not only share my love for travel and food, but also share my personal thoughts. I’m not sure where this will take me, but you have to start somewhere, right?

I look forward to learning more, being inspired and sharing my journey here with you – bring on 2016!