Japan Series: Japanese food you HAVE to eat

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Welcome back to the Japan Series. This is the final installment of my travels in Japan. It’s saddening that this chapter in my travels is coming to a close but I hope you have enjoyed the weekly blogs.

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Not only am I a picky eater, but I also don’t eat pork or seafood for religious reasons. Visiting Japan with these dietary requirements was a worry not only for me, but for my friend who knew just how much pork and seafood is used in Japanese cuisine. And so commenced the challenge to find Japanese food that I could actually eat. Hmm.

However, after 9 days in Japan, the food was hands down one of the absolute best parts of my trip and so varied as well. I was spoiled for choice for what I could have.

Today I am going to share some of the best meals I ate on my Japanese journey to gastronomic enlightenment.

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Tokyo

A great place to get food near Shinjuku is Tori ki zoku, a chicken kebab place which had delicious chicken with a range of flavours. What was great is everything is ordered on a tablet at your table, so you can order as much or as little as you want at a time, and it is in English as well.

Okonomeyaki

okonomiyaki

We went to a place near Harajuku, which was very friendly and open to travellers with menus and instructions in English. Basically, to make onkonomeyaki, you cook your own food and choose the ingredients. We chose chicken teriyaki for one and beef, onion and picked ginger for the second one. There was so much food, and it is great because you are the one in charge, so you know exactly what is going into your meal.

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Onigiri

These rice snacks wrapped in seaweed usually have something in the center – it can be salmon, pork, tuna etc. but I really liked the ones with fried chicken! Absolutely delicious for a quick snack, and I just wish we had them in convenience stores back at home. Cheap, quick, easy and satisfying.

Sushi

We went to a sushi restaurant in Tokyo and I was surprised at how cheap sushi is in Japan (70p/plate). For a salmon nigiri, you are looking at roughly £3 in the UK! Sushi is such an expensive meal at home so I was shocked at how affordable the real deal is. As I don’t eat seafood, not much sushi is available to me except the salmon (I despise tuna as well), but there was so much choice with duck and beef as well which I have never seen in the UK before. I loved the automated ordering service, like what I have seen in other restaurants in Japan, it is just so efficient and easy to keep track of what you have ordered.

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Kyoto: Ayam-ya – the best chicken ramen you will ever have

So I love chicken ramen, a dish I often have in the UK. However, in Japan, the real deal is usually made with pork, not chicken. It seemed as though eating an authentic chicken ramen would be impossible in Japan; however, TripAdvisor came to the rescue as there was one place near the station – a Halal restaurant – which served delicious chicken ramen. I did get a food coma but it was the best ramen ever and it’s great that there is a place in Kyoto for those of us who want our ramen fix chicken-style!

Sukiyaki

Before our night bus back to Tokyo, we wanted something substantial for dinner, and we found it. This was by far the BEST meal I had in Japan. Find it upstairs in the Isetan department store in Kyoto.

Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish which I had never heard of before, but after this experience I will never forget. It consists of thinly sliced beef, which is slowly cooked at the table in a nabemono pot (yes another meal where you need to cook it yourself!), alongside vegetables and other ingredients, with soy sauce, sugar and mirin.

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Harrie loving the sukiyaki life

The sukiyaki consisted of all-you-can-eat beef, vegetables AND bottomless soft drinks AND dessert. We had 90 minutes for the table and of course, we made the most of the time. We got through two plates of beef and so many vegetables: cabbage, Japanese mushrooms, leek, onion, tofu, salad greens, etc. so it was healthy to a certain extent…It was magical but I definitely ate too much and was in a food coma on the coach back to Tokyo. Do I regret it? No, not really.

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On the whole, experiencing Japan’s amazing food culture was so accessible to me, there was so much choice and I was never left hungry or without options. I loved the restaurants where we could cook ourselves because it became an experience and I knew exactly what was on my plate. I’m sure Japan has so much more food for me to discover and I can’t wait to get back to sink my teeth into more.

What’s your favourite Japanese dish? Let me know in the comments,

Robyn

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I have completed B1 Portuguese!

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Today I completed an 80-hour B1 Portuguese Language Course at A Universidade de Lisboa! This has been my main motive for coming to Lisbon this month, and now that it’s over, I will be flying back to the UK again on Friday.

I am pleased to have completed the course with a high grade, but what I am most impressed with, is how I managed to get up and into class for 9am every morning! Nevertheless, both this course and living in Lisbon in general for the last four and a half weeks, have helped put me in good stead with my Portuguese knowledge for when I start final year in September. I have brushed up on my tenses, improved speaking, writing and even learned some new grammatical points I didn’t know before,

We also focused on listening exercises (the horror). Fortunately, after having tuned my hearing quite a bit to European Portuguese in the classroom and on the streets of Lisbon, the voices on the audio recordings don’t scare me as much as they used to. Instead of going totally blank and pleading my teacher for the Brazilian audio equivilent (as the accent is easier to understand) when I was in second year, I can now pick up a lot more than I used to. And that, is progress.

After listening to the European accent more and more during my Year Abroad, especially during the Portuguese classes in Perpignan and Salamanca, I have lost any form of Brazilian accent I had originally picked up in Sheffield and I am now a true European Portuguese speaker, “shhhh”-ing and all. I still have a way to go with my language learning but this course was a great way to revise topics I already knew and move on from there.

There were some aspects of the course I didn’t enjoy; for example, there was no computer in the classroom, and most of our activities were based out of a grammar book which was extremely dull at times, yet still effective. The teacher made it clear she would rather have a room with a computer and projector to make our classes more interesting, so this was a problem concerning the organisation of the course and who assigned the classrooms. It was difficult to stay focused as the activities were not as varied as they could have been and I feel we could have improved more if we could have watched videos, read online articles etc. in class for discussion, instead of gap-filling pages upon pages of grammar sheets. Despite this, I still feel I benefited from the course but it’s something they need to improve upon for the future, especially with demanding such high course fees.

Another major factor was that there wasn’t much energy in the room; there was a general lack of interest from some people, which all in all gave off a negative vibe. Very few classmates seemed interested in contributing to discussions, which made some awkward silences at times. I would just sit there wishing someone else would speak up instead of the same 4 people. It is nice to hear varying opinons and voices once in a while as otherwise the 4 hours of classes just dragged.

Moreover, it was the final day of classes today, yet disappointingly only half the class had turned up. It was a shame more than anything as we didn’t all get to say goodbye before we went our seperate ways across the globe, but rather shocking too, as we all had individual assessed speaking presentations still to do, and this would have affected the absentees’ final grades (but that’s not my problem).

On a happier note, to celebrate finishing the course this evening, Sarah, Helen and I went to the Hard Rock Café for a meal. This was my first time at a Hard Rock café and I nearly fainted when our server decided to casually sit down at the table with us to ask us for our order. So American and I am so not used to this familiarity. I was such a confused and awkward Brit in that particular moment. The portions were absolutely huge, we admitted defeat and didn’t order dessert after sharing a platter of nachos to start and then I had the ‘fiesta burger’ which had the most amazing jalapeno/salsa/pico de gallo sauce. We could barely roll up the hill to Bairro Alto afterwards, where we met Susana at A Tasca do Chico to listen to some fado for an hour.

Tasca do Chico

Tasca do Chico

I went to A Tasca do Chico in February on my weekend visit to Lisbon on a Saturday night, as that was where our hostel recommended us to listen to fado. We learned the hard way, that their fado nights are exclusively on Mondays and Wednesdays. We ended up going somewhere else for a different experience which I blogged about here.

This evening, A Tasca do Chico was packed when we arrived at 9pm, but there was some space at the bar where we ordered ourselves glasses of vinho verde (green wine). It was so hot and packed and it was uncomfortable to stand after eating so much food. I couldn’t see the fadista sing from my position at the bar, but as ever, the music was beautiful and worth being there just to listen. I’m glad I had a second opportunity to listen to fado and I would recommend it to anyone coming to Lisbon; I’d also advise you not to get scammed into paying for an expensive meal to experience it. There are places in Lisbon, like A Tasca do Chico, where it is possible to listen to fado for free, and just pay for food and/or drinks, but I understand everyone is looking for different things.

Vinho verde (green wine)

Vinho verde (green wine)

Tomorrow is my final full day in Lisbon, but I haven’t decided what I am doing other than going out for lunch and packing my suitcase. I am making sure I consume at least one pastel de nata every day, because I don’t know how I am going to be able to cope without their deliciousness in my life back home.

Pastel de nata from my favourite fábrica, Manteigaria!

Pastel de nata from my favourite fábrica, Manteigaria!

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Essential Lisbon: Mercado da Ribeira

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A visit to the Mercado da RIbeira should be essential for any visit to Lisbon.

It’s not somewhere I had even considered on my first weekend trip to Lisbon, which I regret in hindsight. I had even left it until two weeks into my stay here this month to finally see what the fuss was all about. Now I have finally experienced it, I would say that the Mercado da Ribeira is a must if you would like to taste a variety of good quality food on low-medium budget.

The Mercado da Ribeira is Lisbon’s historic market hall. Since 2014, it has been run by Time Out who have totally revamped the market so that it now includes an indoor Food Court, home to 35 permanent stalls offering some of the best gastronomic delights that can be found in the city.

My first experience of the food court at the Mercado da Ribeira was last Thursday for lunch. It was James’ first day of his trip to visit me in Lisbon, and we went straight there after I got back from my language classes at 1pm. I had a class test that morning and it was something I was very much looking forward to in the afternoon.

We walked from my flat in Bairro Alto, which is only 10 minutes downhill to the market. You can alternatively get the metro or a bus there to Cais do Sodré, which is opposite the market hall.


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We loved the market so much, that we returned for lunch on the Friday AND the Sunday. It’s fair to say that I am a bit market-ed out now, and should probably cook from home for a few days before I consider eating out again!

It was great, especially because there was so much choice: from local Portuguese cuisine, to sushi, pizza and even places specialised in desserts. It is sometimes difficult to find a restaurant with a menu which we are both happy with (which I am happy with), so having plenty to choose from meant that I knew I was going to find something easily that I liked. On the Thursday, we both ate at Chef Miguel Castro e Silva, which specialises in Portuguese food. I opted for Time Out Lisbon magazine’s recommendation, the Iscas de bacalhau, fried cod pieces accompanied by tasty tomato rice, while James tried a Francesinha, a speciality from Porto.

(Read about my trip to Porto here!)

On Friday afternoon we both tried chicken dishes at Miguel Laffan – Chicken All Around, which as you may guess, is a stall offering everything chicken. I had the Chicken Ramen which was lovely, and James had the Piri Piri chicken which I also ended up having on the Sunday, because it looked and tasted that good! On Sunday, James had the Prato do dia (Plate of the day), which happened to be Veal with potatos AND rice, because all the carbs, at Chef Marlene Vieira.

Chicken Ramen

Chicken Ramen

When you order your meal, you pay first and are given an electronic buzzer, which will sound when your order is ready. All you have to do is find somewhere available to sit and wait 10-20 minutes for your food to be prepared. At busy periods, like weekends, it can be near impossible to find a table, so make it your priority to grab somewhere to sit and then get a friend to order the food, saving you hassle later.

What I like is that the market is more upmarket than street food. You are given proper cutlery and crockery to enjoy your meal and you are not left hanging around in a queue waiting for your meal to arrive. The way the chefs present the food on the plate makes it all the more worth your money. It’s quality.

On the Friday, we shared a chocolate meringue cake from Nós é Mais Bolos which is both one of the most delicious and expensive slices of cake I have ever eaten. I would have taken a picture but it looked too tasty to simply look at. Maybe I should go back and get another one, you know, just for photographic purposes…

After a trip to the Mercado da Ribeira, walk along the waterfront to Praço do Comércio and enjoy this view:

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Have you been to the Mercado da Ribeira?

What is your favourite stall/dish there?

Até logo,

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Pintxos with a side of art: A weekend in Bilbao

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The discovery of a 10€ return bus ticket from Salamanca to Bilbao last weekend, turned into a fantastic first visit to the Basque Country! Quite honestly, I wish we could have just extended our trip and stayed the whole week exploring the region as it was that good!

View of the Old Town from the river

View of the Old Town from the river

First impressions

From all the things I have heard about Bilbao and the Basque country in general, is that it is pretty rainy, but for the two days we were there, we were blessed with good weather. Bilbao is known to be quite ‘industrial’ and after hearing mixed reviews of people who have been there already, I wasn’t really sure whether it would be for me. I’m so glad to have given  Bilbao a chance, as I loved it and hope to return in the future.

View of the Old Town from the river

View of the Old Town from the river (repping my Uni of Salamanca hoodie)

What we really enjoyed aboout Bilbao was it’s Casco viejo (Old Town), its museums (especially the Guggenheim) and most importantly, the pintxos (tapas) culture which was i n c r e d i b l e. Bilbao is definately on the list if you are wanting a ‘foodie getaway.’

When I imagined Bilbao, I thought of modern buildings, industrial structures etc. not a lot of beauty, but in fact, Bilbao has a mix of the old and the new, and it works. It has a very lively Old Town with small cobbled streets which you can get lost in with many pintxos bars and shops with people pouring out into the streets day and night. In only a 20-minute walk, you are at the Guggenheim Museum, the building being an example of modern art in its own right.

We stayed in an AirBnB apartment in the heart of the Casco viejo, and I’d recommend staying in this area because that’s where everything is going on. After arriving late on Friday night, we indulged in the 100 Montaditos which was just a few doors down from our flat, a bit too tired to venture further experimenting with the local food.

Guggenheim Museum

An early start on Saturday morning involved a leisurely walk through the city, along the river towards the Guggenheim Museum. We spent a good few hours walking around the museum. Student entry is 6.50€ which is quite reasonable as you can spend quite a while in here and it also includes an audio guide which was useful.

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

First things first though, we needed some breakfast as we didn’t have access to the kitchen in our AirBnB. The Guggenheim Museum has a café and a Bistro restaurant. The Bistro looks good for lunch and dinner, albeit a bit on the expensive side, but the café was reasonably priced for breakfast and just what we needed.

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

The highlights in the museum for me were: Humans by Christian Boltanski which reminded me of some of the exhibits in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem and ‘The Matter of Time’ by Richard Serra, where you can walk around the exhibit and the shapes of the walls you walk through make you experience time differently (slow, fast etc.).

There was also a temporary exhibit of Nikki Saint Phalle, which centered around Shooting Paintings, Nanas and films. It is quite a rebellious exhibit, educational but also slightly very unnerving at times. Interesting but not my favourite.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

After a trip to La Tagliatella to refuel and a look at the new, fancy Football Stadium, we made our way to the second museum of the day, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (Fine Arts Museum). I had high hopes for this museum, especially as it is highly rated on TripAdvisor, and the lady at the Tourist Information Office said we couldn’t miss it, but I was seriously disappointed.

The museum seems to be lacking identity, with many different types of art in the same rooms. There is currently an exhibit of 1950s French Fashion, but instead of an exhibit solely focusing on this purpose, there are many fantastic designer dresses put in the rooms of other exhibits, such as Medieval Art amongst other things. This didn’t really work for me as they just looked like they were there as they had no other space for them, and there wasn’t much information about the history of French fashion during that era, except a few paragraphs in the first room talking about the fall in designer houses, the death of Christian Dior and the rise of YSL.

The museum however is in a beautiful building and the park outside is worth a walk around as well, but the art itself wasn’t for me.

Pintxos

That evening, we decided to make our way to the Plaza Nueva in the casco viejo, as that is where there is a large concentration of pintxos bars. This turned into our favourite activity in Bilbao and we returned the following evening! It’s probably a good thing I don’t live in the Basque country, because I would just eat the beautiful pintxos every day! If you visit Bilbao, you have to go pintxos bar crawling! Start at ‘Bar Charly’ and then mak your way along!

Pintxos paradise

Pintxos paradise

The pintxos are essentially ‘tapas’ dishes, but they are like an art form: well presented, delicious and reasonably priced. Each bar has a selection of pintxos, and you just sit at the bar, point at one that takes your fancy and enjoy. When you’re ready, it’s time to move on to the next pintxos bar where more beautiful dishes await you, and then you go to the next bar and the next one, and the next one, until you can’t eat any more! During my visit, I tried: battered cod, frogs legs, chicken tikka, tortilla, duck dumplings, all of these are served on a piece of bread and heated up in a microwave for a few seconds so they are nice and warm for you. It was divine. There were also many other seafood and pork pintxos that James tried and enjoyed.

More pintxos

More pintxos

Which one will you have?

Which one will you have?

On the Sunday morning (Palm Sunday), we wandered around the casco viejo. it happened there was some kind of Basque festival also on that day, there were parades in the street with music and people dancing, and near the river, there were pop-up stages with bands playing, and tents with drinks and Basque cuisine on offer with a large crowd. We didn’t really know what this was all about, as I found nothing online about it, the Tourist Office hadn’t mentioned anything and all the posters and leaflets about it were all in Basque (not helpful).

After a walk around, we went for lunch at El Txoko Berria. We had walked past here a few times and had agreed the price range and menu was fine for us both (I’m quite difficult as I don’t eat certain foods!). It was still rather early for Spanish standards, about 1:30pm and the restaurant was rather empty still. The waiter led us upstairs to a table in the window, which gave us a fantastic view of the street for people watching, and seeing some of the parades come past! Although it was a Basque restaurant, they spoke Spanish to me and we had a fantastic three-course meal with drinks for what felt like a very good price (20€ each)..

My beautiful main: cod in tomato and ratatouille sauce

My beautiful main: cod in tomato and ratatouille sauce

So yes, the food in Bilbao was excellent.

Artxanda Funicular

The only non-food related tourist activity we did on the Sunday was take the Artxanda Funicular for 95 cents each way, up the hill to reach fantastic views of Bilbao from above. It was lovely and sunny, so it was a nice break to lie on the grass and watch the crowded streets of Bilbao from above, where we could still hear the music from the festival far away. Although Bilbao is a big city, you can always see greenary around you as it is surrounded by mountains, so you never feel far away from nature.

View of Bilbao from the top of the Funicular

View of Bilbao from the top of the Funicular

We caught our return coach to Salamanca at 8am on the Monday, which was especially difficult as the clocks went forward that weekend! We were back in time to watch that evenings procession for Semana Santa that I had been wanting to see especially. We had such a fantastic time in Bilbao, and hopefully I will be able to see more of the Basque country again sometime soon!

I am currently at home in the UK for Easter Weekend, and it’s so lovely to be back to home comforts and my cat’s cuddles. I would have liked to have spent more time at home, but i didn’t want to miss out on some of the festivities of Semana Santa in Salamanca beforehand, which I will write about in the next post.

New month, new flat!

This last week has been especially busy though. I moved flats just this Wednesday, only days after coming back from Bilbao. Luckily James was still there and could help me move all my belongings! I had decided I wasn’t happy living where I was by mid-March and it wasn’t worth being unhappy about, as I could move if I wanted. Although it was a difficult decision, I feel I have done the right thing. I found a place last Monday, the one and only place I had enquired to, and had moved in by the Wednesday! I’m now much closer to university, living almost opposite the beautiful Casa Lis, and there is a fantastic view of the cathedral from one of the three roof terraces (yes, three):

View from the roof terrace of my piso!

View from the roof terrace of my piso!

I have only lived there a few days so far, but I think I will be happier in this place. I’m still living with Spanish people which will be ‘good for language practice’, and it is slightly cheaper as well with plenty of sunlight! I only have 9 weeks left in Salamanca, and I wanted to make the most of it, but if this place doesn’t work out, it is still just 9 weeks.

Nw to enjoy my final day at home, filling up on crumpets, hot Ribena and chocolate eggs before I have to head back to Spain tomorrow afternoon 🙂

Hasta luego,
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