Archive for May 19th, 2010

2nd day in Osaka: Our first sakuras at Himeiji Castle, okonomiyaki and mentaiko

By demand (actually only one request, and that’s from my sister who went to Japan too -__-“) I bring you the 2nd Japan post!

It was our 2nd day in Osaka but also our first ‘full’ day in the Land of the Rising Sun. Only it didn’t feel very sunny at all because despite being spring, it was pretty chilly in Japan.

We stopped for a bit of breakfast before heading on our long train ride to the Himeiji Castle. Choco cro wasn’t planned (unlike a lot of our other meals, my sister is a great planner and fantastic foodie), the popular bakery chainstore  just looked warm and inviting and already I was craving coffee. Turns out, their coffee wasn’t very good but their baked goods and croissants were yummy! I had a strawberry croissant which was warm, sweet, flaky and crispy, very nice. I like Japanese pastries, especially Mister Donut  (T___T) which is non-existent in Perth.

The train journey to Himeiji castle was quite long but I didn’t feel it because I dozed along all the way. Throughout the ride we pointed out at sakura trees dotted throughout the neighbourhood, little did we know, those little trees would soon pale in comparison once we saw the sakuras at Himeiji castle. Did I mention that my sister named our travel itinerary (yes she made one up! very professional too, my mother was memorising it and referring to it every day like a travel bible, hilarious) the Sakura viewing trip?  This Japan holiday was really about the sakuras.

And how pretty they were at the Himeiji castle.

Everywhere. Sakura petals floating in the air. Sakura petals all over the grass. Sakura trees waving gently in the breeze. Sing along with me ‘sakura .. sakura ..’ Hahahaha. Pink blossoms everywhere. Jo went into sakura fever immediately.  Once we walked into the grounds of the Himeiji castle, she went ‘WAAAAAH’ and ran towards the trees and sat on the grass with sakuras surrounding her. I wish I could show you the video, but that’s how we all felt, or at least I felt. Like ‘waaaaaaaaaaaah’.

If you were contemplating about going to Japan for cherry blossom viewing *looks meaningfully at Wendy* , these pictures don’t do the sakuras justice (btw, should mention that any pretty pictures are probably all taken by Jan, my sister)

Japanese people were picnicking under the sakura trees, I think they call it ‘hanami,  meaning flower viewing, what a nice spot to ‘flower view’ don’t you think?

Himeiji castle was really very pretty, the castle itself creating a beautiful and majestic backdrop to the sakura trees. I think we took about a million pictures here. But I didn’t know then that we would take EVEN MORE pictures once we got to the sakura viewing at the Osaka mint. Maybe because the cherry blossoms season is so short (they only bloom for about 1 – 2 weeks), so pretty and so treasured by the Japanese people, we were totally swept up in the cherry blossom viewing and sakura fever. It was fantastic and so fun.

After all the flowers it was time for food. It was late in the afternoon, we walked around the shopping centre not knowing what to choose or where to eat. In the end we settled for soba, buckwheat noodles. While I’m not a noodle person, I really like soba a lot. It just seems so simple and easy to eat, I especially love eating cold soba dipped in tsuyu sauce, light and tasty.

Mine came in a set with tempura. It wasn’t outstanding, but still very nice. I finished my portion of soba easily.

A lot of friends and colleagues who know that I’ve been to Japan ask me ‘are the portions very small?’ Maybe because Japanese food here is rather expensive and of smaller portions, everyone expects Japanese food to be of tiny portions. My answer to their question, have a look at Jo’s spring soba set! It had everything, soba noodles in soup, rice, pickles, tempura and dessert, a jelly of some sort.

I can’t remember what we did after our late lunch. It’s possible that we went shopping which we did quite a bit (^___^). Sigh sigh Shinsaibashi ….. I miss shopping in Japan, I haven’t bought a thing since I’ve been back in Perth, somehow everything looks grey and drab, or maybe that’s just me.

I finally remember what we had for dinner, thanks to my mum who reminded me in the comments. We had the Osaka famous okonomiyaki! Jan will have to tell you which shop we actually went to for okonomiyaki, obviously it was a well researched popular okonomiyaki specialised restaurant which she chose well in advance. Because the okonomiyaki was yums …

In Perth, we hardly see okonomiyaki on the menu, sometimes it’s there as a ‘starter’, a little Japanese pancake made of flour batter, cabbage etc. and includes condiments such as pork, or seafood, kimchi etc. But okonomiyaki in Osaka is serious business, they have restaurants specialising in this grilled/panfried pancake, serving a variety of creative versions and styles. I remember we tried kimchi, prawn..

These ones came with noodles, called a modanyaki. Everything was really delicious. I love okonomiyaki topped with generous servings of okonomiyaki sauce and mayonaise.

But okonomiyaki isn’t perfect until you add the all  important toppings of aonori (seaweed flakes) and bonito flakes, then it’s perfect!

On the way back to the hotel, we tried another Osaka famous specialty, takoyaki (tako balls, octopus balls)  at one of the popular red devil stalls. It wasn’t the best we had in Osaka, I’ll blog about that when we talk about the takoyaki musuem (quite paiseh and yet proud that we went to all these foodie musuems, hehe).

That’s all you had? And you call yourself a foodie? I hear you ask. Of course we didn’t stop there. No night stroll or dinner around the Dotonbori area was complete without our final stops at our favourite combini stores, there was Family Mart which stocked Jan’s favourite coconut fruit jellies, and Lawsons which was conveniently located right opposite our hotel. It was there that I bought my first onigiri and started my life long love affair with mentaiko.

According to Wikipedia, mentaiko is marinated roe of pollock, meaning marinated fish roe/eggs. Sounds gross? You don’t know what you’re missing. It’s slightly spicy, salty and so so so tasty. Wrapped up in a rice ball with seaweed, it is really really nice.. sigh. really nice. After that, Jan and I sort of went on a mentaiko everything hunt, we ate mentaiko snacks (remember those round rice cracker things Jan? So nice hor), mentaiko pasta, I didn’t bother buying any other types of onigiri except mentaiko onigiri.

Come to think of it, I even bought one to eat on the flight home. My last mentaiko. (T____________T).

Ok lah, this blog is depressing, I miss sakuras, okonomiyakis and mentaiko already!! Time to sign out .. stay tuned for Day 3, I think we’re going to Kyoto for a philosopher’s walk and an unforgettable ‘smokin’ lunch, hahaha.

May 2010