Eat here: Genji Soba, Osaka, Japan (noodles)

Genji Soba
4-5-8, Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan
http://genjisoba.co.jp

An unfortunate incident involving a too-milky matcha latte had me feeling a little unwell on our last night in Osaka, so dinner had to be something plain and simple. The husband quite enjoyed his first soba experience, and wanted to go for more, so a quick Google hunt led him to Genji Soba, only a few streets away from our Airbnb.

Tucked away down a quiet alley with no big A-frame, no blinking neon lights and no real signage, this little 18-seat restaurant is one of those places you’d never know was there unless someone has told you to check it out. And I’m telling you, check it out!

We were quickly greeted and seated, and given menus with English translations. They’re known for soba, so that’s what we went with! I was looking at the soba with daikon, but the little lady running the show warned me that it was “very strong.” I asked if by that she meant spicy, and with English words failing her, she busted into the kitchen and back out again with a little dish containing a pinch of daikon and a spoon, so that I could try it myself. Turns out we were both right; “strong” equaled spicy!

I ended up going with the plain soba, made from a mix of 80% buckwheat and 20% flour. I was instructed to either dip my chopsticks into the pinch of salt before reaching for the noodles in order to balance out their natural sweetness, or add some onion and wasabi to the dipping sauce, or, combine the lot should I so wish. That dipping sauce was pure umami magic, and my long, thin noodles were delicious!

Husband ordered the 100% buckwheat soba, which were thicker and chunkier than mine, with a richer, nuttier flavour. They were nice and chewy, just as they should be; cooked just to the right point.

Following dinner, this sweet little lady was back again, with a red, square tea pot and two fresh tea cups in hand. She proceeded to pour some of our remaining dipping sauce into each new cup, and topped them up with the contents of the tea pot – the water in which our noodles were cooked. As she added the cloudy, hot water to the dipping sauce, she explained that was the correct way to finish your meal of soba, by drinking the cooking water with some sauce, like a soup. She was spot on; I drained two cups.

After our umpteenth tea refill, we finally made to leave. Our bill was promptly brought over by the young man (around AUD$20.00 for two noodles and husband’s 500ml beer), and the lady of the house followed hot on his heels with two notebooks; would we be so kind as to leave a few nice words in their guest book? Most definitely! And could they also take our picture for their photo book? Absolutely! And with that, we were walked to the door with a flurry of bows and thanks, a small gift of an origami Geisha, and an insistence of helping me put my coat on, despite her being a foot shorter than me.

This is what it’s all about. Yes, the food was outstanding, as demonstrated by the stream of locals filing in and out while we were there. But it’s the people that make it an experience you won’t forget, and Japanese hospitality is absolutely on another level.

Oh, and if you want to find this place when you visit Osaka, this is what you’re looking for:

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Eating the city: Saigon, Vietnam

There’s really no such thing as bad food in Saigon, but there were definitely favourites that were done exceptionally well. Here’s what to look out for when you eat your way around the city…

 

Pandan waffles.
Soft and hot and chewy and ridiculously delicious, this is the street corner dessert dreams are made of. Don’t let the weird green colour put you off; look for it like a beacon if happiness when you pass the ladies on the streets manning their little carts.

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Banh mi.
Preferably pork. Don’t screw your nose up at the slathering of patê, because it’s magic mixed in with the pork and fresh herbs. The fresh baguettes have a shell like glass covering the cloud-soft inner. This was breakfast for us every morning in Saigon, and at under AUD$2.00 each, you’d be crazy not to!

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Fresh spring rolls.
If you see spring rolls on a menu, and you have the option for fresh and fried, try the fresh ones occasionally. When you’re hot and sweaty from walking around the city, sometimes a fresh prawn rice paper roll with a cold iced tea is exactly what you need without even realising it.

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Bun cha.
Again, preferably pork. Because a big bowl of vermicelli topped with juicy pork and fresh herbs and pickled veggies is the ultimate night market meal at the end of a big day. And out of Hoi An, Hanoi and Saigon, I liked the Saigon version best!

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Eat here: Miss Ly Cafe 22, Hoi An, Vietnam (cao lau)

Miss Ly Cafe 22
22 Nguyen Hue St

Once we worked out half way through our stay in Hoi An that cao lau is a dish unique to the city, we ate as much of it as we could – at one stage, I believe we had three bowls in 24 hours, with one of our stops being at the beautiful Miss Ly’s restaurant.

Cao lau’s origins are shrouded in mystery. Some say it came from Chinese traders, others say it was the Japanese. Other legends claim that the unique flavour comes from the water used to make it, taken from a certain well of an undisclosed location. The noodles are traditionally made from the ash of firewood, with several different stories claiming as many different types of wood to be the proper one to use. And, of course, every family has their own recipe to make their broth. There’s no definitive answer for the one way to make it, but that doesn’t matter – we tried a half dozen different cao laus, and they were all delicious! And the basics, just so you know, are noodles, broth, pork and fresh herbs/greens, topped with deep fried pieces of noodle.

Miss Ly’s in Hoi An is a popular place to get good cao lau if you need a bit of an air conditioned break from the street vendors. And when it’s as hot as it was when we visited, you’re gonna need a break at some stage. Order a bowl of cao lau and an ice cold beer or green tea, and sit back and relax. People poured in and out non-stop while we were in there, and they were almost all ordering the same thing – for good reason. Soft, chewy noodles and a seriously flavourful broth make this one bowl of cao lau you should add to your “to eat” list in Hoi An! And when you get there, this is the shop front you’re looking for:

Eat here: One Noodle Friendship, Melbourne (Chinese)

One Noodle Friendship
417-419 High St, Preston

The gentrification that’s taking over the northern suburbs at the moment is a bit of a double-edged sword. There are some amazing places popping up now with food my parents’ generation (who used to live around the Preston/Thornbury area) never would have dreamed of. On the down side, there’s always the risk of the golden oldies disappearing. The thing I love most about living in this area are these golden oldies – while I love a good hipster brunch establishment as much as the next Gen Y-er,I love even more the dodgy looking coffee shops with small piles of biscuits indiscernible to anyone not Italian and old men gathered out the front, the Turkish places with piles of rustic and inconsistently sized cheese-stuffed pastries as high as the counter, the Asian restaurants that have some suspicious looking meats hanging from hooks in the front window and are packed to the rafters.

Preston’s High Street has always been home to a lot of Asian eateries, and they’re all well priced and delicious. A lot of the staff don’t speak English and menu items are often misspelt. One Noodle Friendship is one of these; down an arcade-like alley off High Street, it’s a little place with an open kitchen, wonky old thermoses on the tables with hot tea, and boxes of tissues in place of napkins. We’ve eaten there a few times since moving into the area a few years ago, and I love it; their handmade noodles are insane! The fried handmade noodles with beef is my favourite dish…

They also do a lot of noodle soups, kindly serving the soup on the side so you can play around with it and add as you please. While the flavours are great, they’re not overly different to anyone else’s; it’s the noodles you have to visit for. They’re outstanding, and comfortably the best I’ve had on the High Street strip, and there are a lot of good noodles on that street. The dumplings are unreal, too – particularly the fried pork ones. Highly recommend a side of those.

Don’t expect anything fancy here – it’s basically Asian street food undercover. You can roll up in your trackies. You can use plastic chop sticks. The menu has spelling errors, there’s often tea leaking from the thermos on your table, and the staff don’t speak a whole lot of English. But there’s nothing pretentious about it; it’s good, authentic food made the way it’s meant to be, and I hope this never loses out to the rejuvenation of the area.

One Noodle Friendship Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eat here: the little pink Pad Thai cart on Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

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So this is a ridiculous story. I went to Thailand for the first time a few years ago with my best friend, E (who I had lunch with on the weekend at Sookie La La, which I’ll write about a little later this week when my motivation levels are low and brunch cravings are high). Our accommodation was down the south end of Patong Beach, and on our first day there, we walked along the street parallel with the beach for a while to get our bearings. We found this little, bright pink food cart around lunch time, with a pair silently firing out the most incredible smelling dishes. Stomachs grumbling, we stopped to check out the menu, and decided to order ourselves a seafood pad thai each. It was probably the best pad thai I’ve ever eaten – fresh like you wouldn’t believe, cooked up right under our noses, under a flurry of hands and sauce bottles and woks and noodles. It was a very fond food memory from our time there…

When I went back to visit Phuket again early last year with husband, I told him all about this fantastic little food cart that we ate at numerous times during my last trip. We walked up the beach to the spot I thought I remembered it being, on a snowball’s chance in hell it might still be around. No such luck 😦 We walked a little further, until the sun started to get a bit too strong, and decided to double back and find a spot on the beach to leave our stuff so we could go for a swim. What happened next, I still don’t believe, and if husband hadn’t been there as my witness, no one else would either… Dead set, as we walked back past the spot where I remembered the food cart being parked, it drove up onto the side walk, turned around into the same spot, and officially opened for lunchtime business!!!! I actually literally stopped in my tracks and sat down on the nearest block of concrete to make sure it wasn’t just a heat and hunger induced hallucination… Husband didn’t waste any time – he ran straight over and ordered 2 serves of pad thai (good man).

While a little spicier than last time I had it, it was every bit still as delicious, and I do believe it was the same people working the wok, much to my disbelief! I was beyond stoked to have been able to find and repeat this food experience, and even happier to find it was still as delicious as I’d remembered it! That meal, to me, is perfect, and what travel is all about – cheap and delicious food ordered off a menu by pointing to pictures in lieu of English descriptions, served by real people and being eaten by locals as well as tourists, on the side of a road with my feet in the sand. That’s what travel and experiencing it all is about. That’s real. Has anyone else been to Phuket’s Patong Beach and seen these guys??!

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10 Delicious Things To Eat In Thailand

I wrote this article last week for Outlet Magazine, and enjoyed writing it so much (it brought back so many great memories!) that I thought I’d share it here, too 🙂 Thailand has been relatively quiet in the world news since the Shutdown Bangkok movement of January 2014 that we somehow managed to get caught up in; that is, until the bombings in the country’s capital last week. For a country that makes a great portion of its living from tourism, this is a huge blow to the already struggling economy, which actually really upset me; for the most part, they’re good people who are working hard to make better lives for themselves. To be attacked like that is just cruel, it’s really really hard to hear about, especially when it’s Bangkok – the city gets a shitty wrap, but it’s still one of my favourite places! But, like I said when I wrote about the Shutdown thing, there are still so many great reasons to visit Thailand! Think cheap cocktails and beer, endless shopping, bustling markets and (best of all) some of the best food in the world. When things settle down and we’re all ready to head over to spend up on handbags and food, here are ten of the best things to eat.

 

  1. Anything on a stick
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    Chances are if it’s edible meat of any description, you’ll find it in Thailand threaded onto a skewer and grilled. Chicken, beef, pork, seafood, whatever – it’s all fair game, and it’s always delicious. Extra delicious if you can find honey marinated grilled pork skewers, those are the best.
  1. Noodles with wontons
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    There’s a pretty noticeable Chinese influence in Thailand, and you can see it in a lot of the food. Fresh noodles with BBQ pork and wontons are one of those dishes that allows the Chinese influence to sneak in, but it’s so good no one seems to mind.
  1. Satay chicken skewers
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    This is a simple dish, but a huge street food favourite. Grilled chicken on a stick with flavourful, delicious satay sauce. Really good option on the way home from a big night on Bangla Road.
  1. Freshly grilled seafood
    Thai food 4
    Find a decent seafood restaurant (look for somewhere super busy), pick out your dinner from the monster crustaceans displayed on ice out the front, ask to have them grilled and go with a simple butter garlic sauce on the side. Amazing!
  1. Pork fried rice
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    Another dish with a Chinese influence, fried rice is always a classic. It’s a great one to order from the street food vendors at night, particularly if you’re looking for something a bit more comforting and familiar.
  1. Nutella crepes
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    Every bit as good as the Parisian stuff. Actually, they’re better here, because more often than not, your Nutella and strawberry stuffed crepe will be doused in condensed milk before it’s served up to you. If that sounds unappealing to you, it’s only because you haven’t had one after a few cheap cocktails at 1am. You should try it.
  1. Pad Thai
    Thai food 7
    Duh – can’t well go to Thailand without eating Pad Thai!! Skip the tacky Westernised restaurants and head straight to the street food vendors; that’s where the best stuff comes from. Grab a fresh coconut to drink from while you’re at it – absolute winning combination.
  1. Fresh fruit smoothies
    Thai food 8
    These little stalls are set up absolutely everywhere and are the best way to feel better about your holiday food intake. Fresh mangos, strawberries, watermelon and pineapples all blended with ice into a cool, thick cup of healthy deliciousness. They also double up as great happy hour options if you buy your own liqueur at one of the infinite 7/11s floating around 😉
  1. Coconut sticky rice with fresh mango
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    Another Thai classic – thick, sticky, coconut rice topped with sweet, fresh mango. It’s one of those dishes you don’t even need to be hungry to eat – it’s just soooo good!
  1. Coconut ice cream
    Thai food 10
    Yeah, they like their coconut over there. And when it’s so delicious and fresh, you can’t blame them for coming up with so many ways to use it. Freshly churned coconut ice cream at the end of a hot day is complete perfection. And because it’s technically made from fruit, you can eat as much as you like without feeling guilty! Everyone wins!

Eat here: C-Culture, Melbourne (Chinese)

C-Culture – Seafood & BBQ Chinese Restaurant
Shop 1, 437 High St, Preston
https://www.facebook.com/pages/C-CULTURE/342458736114

It was one of those nights on Friday night. It had been a really long, really shitty week. I was freezing cold and starving hungry, and I was craving some sort of comfort food. Something rich and filling and warming and substantial.

Walking down High Street in Preston is a good position to be in when you’re feeling like that, because everything is there. Italian, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, I mean, pick a cuisine and chances are you’ll find it. The original plan was Noodle Kingdom – their Shanghai fried noodles are comfort food perfection. But, on the walk, the C-Culture sign caught me eye, like it has almost every other time I’ve been past it. Friday night, I just felt like I needed to get in there and try it out; I suddenly realised I was craving duck. I don’t know why, I just was. One glance through the front window to see a whole lot of golden roast duck as well as a crazy busy restaurant service in full swing, and husband agreed to go with my hunch that the food would be good.

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Nothing special outside or in – it’s like the dozen other Asian eateries on the street. We were immediately seated at basically the last empty table in the place, and handed menus written half in English, half in Chinese. After a quick scan of the menu, husband left the meat ordering to me, and he picked out a noodle dish to go with it…

The noodles we got were the fried egg noodles with BBQ pork; they were nice, but not amazing. That’s probably because we were both comparing them to those Noodle Kingdom noodles that we both love so much. These were still really nice though – crispy fried noodles which softened in the delicious oyster sauce, with a good amount of pork and veggies. A good size dish to share if you’re getting some other dishes too, which I’d highly recommend.

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Next up, to satisfy my duck craving, we got a serve of Peking duck pancakes. Amazing. The duck was delicious, with lashings of hoi sin sauce and super soft pancakes. They were more like thinner tortillas almost than other pancakes I’ve had with Peking duck before, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, they were delicious!

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Finally, the pièce de résistance. Crispy skin pork belly. Would you believe this was apparently the entree serving, which cost all of $9.00?! It was a mountain of pork, and it was perfect. Holy wow. We both agreed that we’d go back JUST for the pork, it was THAT good! Super soft and tender meat, beautifully rendered fat, golden crispy tops. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. I can’t overstate the deliciousness of this pork enough.

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This is the biggest blessing of living in such a multicultural area; the food is amazing. So much of it is family run business, and the fact that so many places on High Street have been around for SO long says a lot about the quality of the food. If you’re lucky enough to be like us and live close to Preston, venture out from your usual same old spot tonight and give C-Culture a try. And if you don’t live in the area, make the effort to visit; I promise you won’t be disappointed!

 

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