Shanghai’s food culture is hard to tackle in one visit so I always tell visiting friends to start with two things: a basket of soup dumplings and a bowl of yellow croaker noodles. While soup dumplings have been widely covered, yellow croaker noodles really don’t get as much love!
黄鱼面 which literally translates to ‘yellow croaker noodles,’ are essentially springy noodles in a creamy golden broth filled with chunks of yellow croaker. At 蟹黄鱼 Xie Huang Yu, my favourite noodle spot, they also toss in minced crabto enhance the umami flavours. Add a light splash of vinegar to the broth and it’ll be just perfect.
Xie Huang Yu has a charming little store in Xintiandi that feels very down to earth compared to its surroundings (PC: Dianping)
Lunch spread! Each bowl of yellow croaker noodles comes with a little side of vinegar mixed with minced ginger
My two favorite dishes to share are the lightly breaded Chinese pork chop and the chicken thigh in a spring onion marinade
It’s rare to see such big chunks of minced crab & yellow croaker, they’re super generous with their portion sizes at Xie Huang Yu
These yellow croaker wontons are pretty phenomenal too–essentially, Xie Huang Hu stuffs yellow croaker chunks into juicy wontons and then add some minced crab on top
A local gem in Xintiandi, you’ll find plenty of locals lining up here during weekday lunch hours!
Shanghai’s best bowl of noodles
At Xie Huang Hu, they’ve really perfected that delicate balance of a creamy soup without any fishiness to it and chunks of yellow croaker plus crab. At 68RMB per bowl, it’s a steal! The restaurant’s signature wontons stuffed with yellow croaker are also excellent. You can really taste the fleshy fish meat and the wontons themselves are delicious when dipped in the vinegar-soy sauce. Other popular dishes to share include fried yellow croaker, chicken in a spring onion marinade, and Shanghai-style fried pork chop.
Note that Xie Huang Yu’s yellow croaker noodles are certified 网红 ‘viral’ which means that celebrities and locals alike will queue just to get a taste of it. My favorite location to visit is the Xintiandi branch, which is really in the heart of Shanghai. The key is to go after 2pm you want to miss the lunch crowds! After all, you really can’t leave Shanghai without trying a bowl of these yellow croaker noodles, it’s a Shanghai-must.
Xie Huang Yu 蟹黄鱼 Address// 200 Taicang Road, by the intersection of Taicang Road and Madang Road Hours// 10am-late
When in Paris, there is no better treat than a fresh croissant paired with un café. “Paris is a moveable feast” as Hemingway once said, so the occasional indulgence is almost a must. Last year, I traveled to Paris frequently for work and found myself revisiting many pâtisseries and bistros for French desserts. Some blew me away at first bite and some were simply classics. Here are three spots I personally adored in Paris, alongside some neighbourhood favourites for a post-feast stroll.
Every time I take a bite of the pistachio-stuffed chocolate escargot at Du Pain et Des Idées I’m reminded of why I love french pastries. Buttery, flakey and decadent–it doesn’t get better than this. Du Pain et Des Idées is a must-visit in the 10th arrondissement and worthy of a “bread pilgrimage” according to Condé Nast Traveler,
A gorgeous rustic bakery with limited seating, open only on the weekdays
This legendary pistache-chocolat escargot pastry is a Paris icon for me and worth trekking to Du Pain et Des Idées for
Rows of fresh pain au chocolat and croissants, this is what bread-lovers’ dreams are made of
A sneak peek of the bakery’s legendary recipes (all in French!)
The charming old bench outside is the only seating available but it’s more than enough for people-watching as you scarf down your pastries
Waking up early to arrive, order, and devour a fresh escargot before grabbing an assortment of pastries for my colleagues was a delicious routine of mine. Note that Du Pain et Des Idées very recently added a coffee list to their menu. I can never resist a coffee with my croissants but be warned you’ll find much better options elsewhere. That being said, the pastry selection is more than impressive and the escargots are simply irresistible. Truly an icon of my Paris trips.
Previously the pastry chef behind Fauchon, Sébastien Gaudard has a charming pâtisserie next to the Tuileries Garden. The shop is bright and airy, with a gorgeous display of decadent desserts on the first floor and tea salon on the second floor. Sébastien Gaudard has quite an extensive menu. Among them the Paris Brest stuffed with praline cream is a crowd-favourite and so is the Mont Blanc cake. Because I like to visit in the morning, I also gravitate towards the viennoiserie and pick out a Chausson aux Pommes as well.
Like all Parisian institutions, rows of charming outdoor seating
PC: Sébastien Gaudard
Surprisingly, one of my favourites at Sebastien Gaudard is actually the Chausson aux Pommes, which is a French Apple Turnover that’s extra flakey and buttery
Stroll through the Tuileries Gardens afterwards–I love to sit by the fountain and people-watch before making my way to the Musée de l’Orangerie
Musée de l’Orangerie was designed with maximising natural light in mind
Visiting Giverny, where Monet painted his Nymphéas, is on the top of my list for my next trip back to France
Sébastien Gaudard is a lovely spot for classic French desserts in the 1st arrondissement and perhaps that’s also why you do pay dearly for it (~8 euros per cake!). That being said, the shop is tucked in the corner of the Tuileries Garden and therefore conveniently on the way to Musée de L’Orangerie. A sweet start to the day followed by a visit to the Tuileries Garden and surrounding museums is the perfect Paris itinerary.
When done right, soufflés are fluffy as a cloud and just dreamy–pretty much what I captioned on my Instagram post after my first visit to Le Récamier. My Parisian roommate back in university days said that Le Récamier had some of “the best soufflés in Paris” (and Vogue apparently thinks so too). So when I finally had a spoonful of the chocolat noir soufflé with a glass of chardonnay, I was pretty thrilled that it exceeded my expectations and more.
Le Récamier, located on Rue Récamier, is a chic Parisian institution that’s beloved by locals and high-profile celebrities alike
Terrace seating was quite cozy under the heat lamps and even more lovely in the summertime
A DECADENT chocolate soufflé with a glass of chardonnay, simply perfect
There are quite a lot of savoury soufflé options as well–we ordered the famous Henry IV, a chicken gravy soufflé that was bursting at its seams a bit!
Visit the nearby Bon Marché afterwards to enjoy the seasonal displays and some shopping
The food hall in Bon Marché is possibly my favourite place to pick up gifts in Paris, just look at the assortment of jams and spices available! PC: La Grande Épicerie, Interstore Design Team
Personally, my favourite thing to gift is Marlette–an organic baking kit with a nice selection of traditional French recipes to choose from
As Le Récamier is in the luxurious 7th arrondisement, there’s also a lot of nearby shopping available. For gourmands, visit Le Bon Marché and its adjacent food hall, La Grand Épicerie, for some gourmet shopping. You can most likely pick up all the ingredients needed to whip up your own French dessert!
I kept the list short but hopefully sweet. I have a long list of places I loved in Paris and I can’t wait to share it with you guys. Anyways, I’ve been told a dessert a day may not be the secret to Parisian chic but sometimes… it’s simply too good to resist.
Sense 8 誉八仙 is a gorgeous old-school Cantonese tea house in Xintiandi. From hairy crab shumai to truffle mushroom dumplings, you can find every style of dim sum and Cantonese delicacy at Sense 8. The name 誉八仙 comes from the old Chinese legend of “Eight Immortals” and brings a dreamy element to the restaurant’s decor.
Walking into Sense 8 is quite a lavish experience. Filled with Chinese antiques and hues of red and gold, the main dining room is constantly buzzing with servers refilling teapots and carrying bamboo baskets of fresh dim sum. It is said we often feast with our eyes and in that way, Sense 8 is a crowd-pleaser and Shanghai gem. Many have asked me for my favourite dim sum spot in Shanghai so here it is finally!
Similar to a traditional tea house, you’ll have a separate dim sum menu where you note down your order and hand back to the servers
Dim sum spread begins! Most dim sum are in a trio so best to double the order if you have more than 3 people
In front, you have the crab and pork shumai and in the back, the scallop and black garlic shumai
Fatty and succulent char shiu pork, this is a must get for meat lovers
Shrimp har gau is possibly my favourite dim sum–simple but excellent when done right
In the bamboo basket up front is the assorted mushroom dumpling topped with truffle; the beautiful translucent jade green comes from spinach juice
Pan fried radish and taro cakes are classics and great with Sense 8’s special chili sauce
Notice the teapot and background antiques are decorated with the characters from the tale of “Eight Immortals”– a nice nod to the restaurant’s dreamy name
Sense 8’s old-school opulent interiors
Sense 8 is best during brunch time where fresh dim sum is served. Sometimes you’ll even find servers walking around with off-the-menu dim sum! My favourites include the shrimp har gau, crab roe shumai and assorted mushroom dumplings with truffle. Don’t forget to pair your food with some pu’er tea served in a beautiful “Eight Immortals” themed teapot.
À la carte dim sum is not served during dinnertime but there is a dim sum platter with some of their classics. So if you cannot make it for brunch, be sure to ask for the dinner dim sum basket.
Closing out the year with a Shanghai favourite of mine. It’s been a hectic year and I haven’t posted on this blog as much as I would’ve liked. Posting more will be on my list of New Year resolutions for 2019! A lot of you have asked me for recommendations and contacts in Shanghai, Yunnan and other parts of China. I’m always happy to share some local favourites–just drop me an email.
Happy holidays from Shanghai with love,
Sense 8 誉八仙 Address // Lane 8 Xintiandi, 181 Taicang Road Tel // 6373-1888
Breakfast is served from 8am-10.30am daily and Brunch from 11am-3pm.
The spectacular snowy peaks of Haba Snow Mountain in Shangri-La, Yunnan should be on every wanderlust traveler’s bucket list. Situated opposed the famed Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and above Tiger Leaping Gorge, Haba Snow Mountain means “golden flower” in the language of Naxi, the local ethnic minority. In order to visit Haba Snow Mountain, it is a 3.5-4 hour drive from the Old Town of Lijiang. The drive from the airport to the mountain is incredible however, as it includes the most spectacular journey through the Tiger Leaping Gorge 虎跳峡.
I took a last minute trip to Haba Snow Mountain this past March in order to stay at the newly opened accomodation, Clouds Glamping. It was actually a spur of the moment trip, which started with a call from my friend Qiqi asking if I was interested in going glamping. Qiqi is a creative and like me, always interested in new off-the-beaten path experiences (that and she’s also a Michelin-starred pastry chef that whips up some of the best desserts I’ve ever had!). Of course, like the start of all good adventures, I said yes without any prior research and booked a last minute flight to Lijiang, Yunnan.
Glamping is relatively a new concept in China so I really didn’t know what to expect, but when I finally met the charismatic owners behind Clouds Glamping, I could see how their vision of hospitality and entrepreneurship was incorporated into every detail of their property. I’ll let the pictures tell the story first because at an elevation of 3000 meters, Clouds Glamping truly felt like a hidden gem above the clouds.
Clouds Glamping in Haba Snow Mountain with panoramic glacier views
Dreamy clouds with beautiful sunshine, truly Shangri-La at its finest
Each tent has a slightly different patio, all designed with afternoon lazing in mind
A large yet cozy tent with a queen size bed, equipped with all the essentials you’ll need
The tent is kept warm by a built-in-fireplace and once all the windows are zipped up, it’s quite cozy at night even when the temperature drops
Total of three tents in addition to the two pictured here, all with unique features (one of them even has a professional star-gazing telescope!)
Where I most frequently relaxed during my trip–these chairs are definitely the best seats in the house to take a nap in
Apart from the tents, there is a central kitchen and community area for guests to use. The first floor is a L-shaped kitchen, the second floor is closed off with a glass panel for late night tunes, and the third floor is open-air and great for some morning rooftop yoga
The bar area was always busy with someone making fresh Yunnan Arabica coffee, a huge perk of glamping in Yunnan
A surprise birthday cake by Qiqi! She managed to make a cake with all the random ingredients she found in the kitchen (some simple butter cake, banana cream, and fresh fruit)
If you stay at at the site for a couple of days, you’ll see that the sun rays hit the valley differently at every point of the day–I personally found the afternoon sun rays the most stunning
My favorite travel necessities recently: an edition of Magazine B and my Sunday Somewhere sunglasses
Highlight of our personal patio: taking an afternoon warm bath in the mountains
Spending a birthday with my feet propped in an outdoor bath and a clear view of the snowy Shangri-La mountains
Breakfast is a guaranteed feast with a view–we had steamed buns, fresh Yunnan coffee, eggs, pancakes… and if you fancy cooking, you are more than welcome to add to the breakfast menu
Chef Qiqi making some scallion pancakes on the grill (seriously, it’s a privilege to travel with a chef!)
The owners making some fresh congee for us in the morning; hands down the most charismatic couple you’ll meet
Boiling eggs with some mountain herbs–a little cooking secret Qiqi shared with us to make the eggs more fragrant
Skillet fried pork dumplings that were, for some reason, so amazing we had THREE skillet full of these!
A casual lunch with the Clouds Glamping team–all fresh, seasonal vegetables from the local Naxi village
Yunnan-style chorizo is fired up with Sichuan peppercorn and chili oil, it’s an incredibly tasty dish that is local to the region
In the afternoons, even though there was WIFI throughout the campsite, I found myself spending less time on my phone and more time listening to the other travelers share their stories
The Clouds Glamping team are all avid coffee drinkers, they can even give you a little brewing workshop for those that want to learn the art of hand drip coffee
(L to R): me in my happy place, Qiqi loving the kitchen she can cook and brew coffee in, our fellow campsite visitor who’s a coffee addict, and the beautiful owner Yoyo finally taking a moment to relax
At night, we grabbed Shangri-La beers (excellent mountain water means exceptional beer) over a bonfire
This clear shot of the starry night was taken by a fellow camper–it’s hard to capture how beautiful the night sky was at the campsite and how tiny I felt staring up at it
A very reluctant goodbye the morning of our departure
Leaving Haba Snow Mountain and driving down to Lijiang which is a 4 hour drive–we stopped to use the rest station, and this was the view right next to it (surreal, I know)
Before leaving Yunnan we visited the central market in the Old Town of Lijiang, Yunnan (you can still see the snowy peaks in the background)
Shangri-la, Yunnan is a fictional heaven on earth…
Clouds Glamping is run by Yoyo and her husband, both with incredible stories and vision. Yoyo use to be a national baseball player and her idea of good fun is basking in the sun with a coffee in hand. Her husband on the other hand is this comically funny, big heart, big personality type of guy that is always sneaking out to go on hiking trips with us. In the afternoons, we would all sit on the patio to admire the panoramic views of Shangri-la and discuss politics, travel, and what entrepreneurship looks like in remote areas of China. Clouds Glamping is a passion project they have built by hand (most literally) and that is why they so carefully curate all the items they provide for visitors. Whether it’s handpicking Yunnan Arabica coffee beans from a local plantation or choosing speakers that echo nicely in the mountains, the dynamic duo want to craft an unique glamping experience in China.
Considering that Qiqi and I are avid food lovers, the farm-to-table concept at Clouds Glamping was the perfect addition to our stay. Even in Shanghai, I’ve always adored Yunnan cuisine for its seasonal delicacies such as foraged wild mushrooms and peppercorn-stuffed chorizo. But what I enjoyed most about dining at Clouds Glamping was the hearty mix of local delicacies and wholesome, Chinese comfort food. The typical breakfast repertoire every day includes coffee, eggs, steamed buns and congee. All the guests tend to dine together in the mornings so I found myself waking up everyday to the smell of delicious creations like scallion pancakes and soft boiled eggs with herbs. Lunch and dinners were free-for-all so you could utilize the kitchen, cook with local produce you pick up from the nearby Naxi village, or go hiking and have a picnic. We went with eating what the locals ate i.e. hanging out with the staff members and eating traditional Yunnan dishes with them. It’s a great way to converse with local villagers and try out the crazy spicy flavors they love!
There are things that will inevitably come with staying in the middle of a snow mountain. For one, the temperature drop at night is quite significant so Yoyo would heat up a campfire for us to huddle around and distribute local Shangri-La beers to warm us up. No electricity at night (Clouds Glamping mostly relies on solar power) meant we would all star-gaze and chat before retreating to our tents lit up by small oil lamps. Limited hot water meant we would be more mindful of our water usage and be courteous to everybody. In a way, these inconveniences were charming reminders of the luxuries we take for granted in the big cities we were all from.
In short, I am thankful that Qiqi kidnapped me on such an unforgettable trip to Haba Snow Mountain. I was inspired by the people I met, the good food I ate, and the snow-capped mountains of Shangri-La county. There are places you travel to that stay with you for a while. While very much off-the-beaten path, Clouds Glamping was definitely one of those for me.
Haba Snow Mountain 哈巴雪山 Directions // From Lijiang Sanyi International Airport, rent a car to Haba Village 哈巴村 which is the base of the Snow Mountain, or if you plan to stay in Clouds Glamping they can arrange a car for you to and from the airport for 600RMB/one way.
Clouds Glamping 云阶 Reservations // Add them via WeChat ID: clouds_glamping (or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can arrange a reservation for you) Price// 1800RMB/big tent, 1500RMB/small tent (price includes breakfast every day)
Having previously enjoyed Sushi Dai in Tsukiji Market years ago, I decided to go check out the new Toyosu Market and grab an early breakfast there. For those that haven’t been, Toyosu Market 豊洲市場 is the upgraded and sleeker version of the ‘inner’ Tsukji Fish Market. Visitors now look from viewing decks to see the wholesale market and famous tuna auctions. This means less hustle and bustle in Toyosu Market, with visitors directed one way and wholesalers+buyers another way.
Toyosu Market may be cleaner and air-conditioned but it is definitely less charming than the beloved Tsukiji Fish Market. That being said, the Market is still home to quite a lot of popular Japanese restaurants that made the move from Tsukiji Market. Keeping to tradition, they open bright and early (5am onwards!). So a fish market tour followed by a hearty breakfast is still a good itinerary for first time visitors.
Toyosu Market is quite different from Tsukiji Market, for better or for worse
Sleek buildings and structured walk ways, you won’t get as much of the vibrant craziness Tsukiji Market had
Make your way up to the dining hall that’s spread across multiple buildings, and you’ll find popular restaurants such as the ‘original’ Yoshinoya, famous for its Gyudon
But constants stay constant, Sushi Dai is ever still popular with the biggest line at 6am
New market, new Sushi Dai!
Sushi Dai’s omakase set with the option of cooked/grilled fish for those that don’t like sashimi
A brighter and larger L-shaped space for the popular sushi-ya
Individual pieces of sushi are placed in front of you on a long, shared sushi ledge (notice that guests next to us had a beer at 8am!)
Sweetly glazed anago (conger eel) had a nice nutty flavour to it
Hamachi (yellowtail) was fleshy and tasty with the scallions
Ikura (salmon roe) at Sushi Dai was fresh and bursting with umami flavours
The chutoro fatty tuna was a standout and a very popular add-on for those that want more than one piece of it
À la carte pieces are available for you to order once you finish your omakase (here’s Mizuha debating her options seriously)
The menu has English translations for you to select from; alternatively, you can also ask for the chef’s recommendation
I ordered an extra piece of uni to end the delicious breakfast
Take your bill and pay up front on your way out
Restaurants are scattered around Toyosu Market but a good place to start is Block 6 Intermediate Seafood Wholesale Market. This is where Sushi Dai and Uogashi Yokocho (the indoor marketplace for kitchen goodies) are located.
If you’re looking to try Sushi Dai, beeline for the restaurant bright and early. We arrived there at 6am and were finally seated with a hot towel in hand at 8:30am. Queuing for Sushi Dai is one part of the restaurant’s tradition that will never change! The omakase set comes with an assortment of sushi, unlimited seafood miso soup, and green tea. Beers are available bright and early (the guys next to us said 8am was an acceptable time to start drinking) so don’t be shy.
The sushi at Sushi Dai is not suppose to have the wow factor you get from high-end sushi restaurants. But their consistently delicious and affordable sets make it a popular sushi-lover spot. I highly recommend getting extra pieces from the à la carte menu that is now in English. You can never go wrong with an extra piece of fatty tuna or sea urchin.
Pro Tip: Toyosu Market is located close to teamLAB Borderless, so try to make a mid-day reservation for the museum and head there directly from Toyosu Market. Take the Yurikamome line (4 stops) to Aomi Station and you’ll be at the museum in 20 minutes.
A goodbye to Tsukiji Fish Market
For me, I think Toyosu Market will never be the same as the colorful and dynamic Tsukiji Market. Tradition and history are hard to beat! But visiting Sushi Dai was a nice throwback to days I lined up for sushi after a night out in Tokyo. Still so good and still so many people lining up from all over the world.
Sushi Dai (Toyosu Market) Address // Take the Yurikamome line to Shijo-mae station and follow the signs for ‘Toyosu Fish Market 豊洲市場へ.’
Tokyo is home to some of Japan’s finest sushi, everything from fish market sushi bars to Michelin star establishments. According to Japanese locals, the key is to find the right spot with the right environment you’re looking for. Previously, I have already raved about Umegaoka Sushi and Sushi Matsue, both sushi bars in Tokyo I frequent. But for a more upscale omakase dinner, I recently discovered Sushi Fujimori–a laidback yet classy spot in Nishi-Azabu.
While Sushi Fujimori is more proper than your average sushi bar, the restaurant is cosy with a nice selection of wine and sake for you to unwind with. Chef Fujimori and his wife Noriko-san are attentive and put a lot of effort into making their diners feel at ease. A 10 minute walk from Roppongi Station, Sushi Fujimori offers their dinner omakase menu for 24000 yen (~215 USD). The omakase includes nigiri sushi, seasonal sashimi and a nice assortment of side dishes.
With only 8 seats, Sushi Fujimori offers an intimate and relaxing way to try sushi omakase in the heart of Tokyo
The cozy sushi bar offers all guests a perfect view of Chef Fujimori in action
Chutoro, a medium fatty piece of tuna brushed with Fujimori’s signature yuzu-scented soy sauce
Fatty salmon, a classic fish found in sushi omakase
A fleshy piece of Kurama Ebi, also known as ‘Japanese Imperial Prawn’
Kodai is a young ‘Pink Snapper’ so the meat was particularly tender
Grilled kinmeidai, also known as ‘Golden Eye Snapper’; I like how the omakase included char-grilled seafood so you can really experience different types of Japanese cooking
Grilled firefly squid from Toyama Bay, a really unique and tasty type of squid
Hamachi ‘Yellowtail’, another omakase classic
Sawara or ‘Spanish Mackerel’ prepared with the method of kobujime, which is a traditional Japanese method of using konbu to preserve fish and enhance its umami flavours
Scallop roe with a dash of salt and sesame oil–this was actually really buttery and fragrant
In between his sushi-making, Chef Fujimori was extremely friendly and made a point to chat with all of his guests
A creamy piece of uni, one of my favourites!
A sushi bar to unwind and relax in
I visited Sushi Fujimori with my friend Maggie and we started the night off with a sake “well-suited for the season.” When in doubt, the keyword to ask the chef for is ‘おすすめ’ (o-su-su-me), Japanese for ‘your recommendation.’ Over the course of two hours, we enjoyed an interesting diversity of side dishes in addition to nigiri sushi. One of the most unique dishes was thinly sliced scallop roe with a slight dash of salt and sesame oil. Surprisingly buttery and tasty!
As a fun side note: Maggie and I had a casual celebrity sighting at Sushi Fujimori. Without getting into all the details, Chef Fujimori and his wife rotated between the celebrity family next to us and the rest of the diners without any problems the whole night!
For first time visitors in Tokyo, I do think there are many more high-end sushi restaurants you may want to check off your list first. But if you’re in the mood for a more underrated local gem, Sushi Fujimori is worth a visit.
Sushi Fujimori すし 藤森* Address // 102, Sahya Nishi Azabu, 2-24-14, Nishiazabu, Tokyo (Take Hibiya Line to Roppongi) Tel // +81-3-3406-0141 Web // https://pocket-concierge.jp/en/restaurants/244423
*Reservations can be directly made via Pocket Concierge. This was my first time using Pocket Concierge and I was pleasantly surprised. The reservation process was easily done online, and the meal cost directly billed to my credit card at the end. The restaurant was familiar with the process and very welcoming.
If you are craving an authentic tonkatsu sandwich in Japan, make your way to Ginza Bairin 銀座梅林 to try Tokyo’s first tonkatsu specialty store. Tonkatsu sandwiches, nicknamed katsu-sando, are fluffy sandwiches stuffed with a juicy cut of fried pork. Different stores drizzle different sauces in the sandwich and at Ginza Bairin, the sauce has a subtle sweetness to it with hints of a tart mustard.
The classic ‘Tonkatsu & Rice’ set comes with a big bowl of rice, miso soup, and sweet pickles
The iconic ‘Katsu-sando’ with a small salad on the side
A close up of the fluffy katsu-sando (just look at that golden ratio of katsu, sauce, and bread!)
Freshly fried, crispy tonkatsu!
After Bairin, we shopped around Ginza and spotted this at Mitsukoshi–a window display to celebrate the name of Japan’s new era: Reiwa 令和
Simple is best
My friend Maggie & I were shopping in Ginza one day when we decided to grab a light lunch. Having tried Maisen in Omotesando and Tonki in Meguro (both great tonkatsu stores!), we were suddenly craving… a tonktasu sandwich.
Founded in 1927, Ginza Bairin is a classic among Japanese locals. The lunch sets are great value for money and the storefront, despite being in the heart of Ginza, is casual and welcoming. We dined with a lot of locals there on their lunch breaks and enjoyed the light chatter around us.
I’m a bit picky with my katsu-sando and find that they are often over-powered by their sweet sauces. But at Bairin, the katsu was a tender cut of kurobuta and only lightly brushed with tonkatsu sauce. Topped with a nice tartness to it from the mustard, Bairin’s katsu-sando was so simple yet satisfying.
Relocation until 2021
Note that the original Bairin Honten is closed for building reconstruction until Spring of 2021. Until then, the store is relocated to a new location close by. Fortunately, the once massive crowds have yet to find their way there! Lines are not long during weekday lunch time (~20 minutes). Service is still quick and efficient, with plenty of English menus to share.
So next time you’re in Ginza, definitely swing by for a katsu-sando at Bairin before doing some shopping. There may be better tonkatsu in town but Bairin’s katsu-sando is a classic. Simple, no-frills, and delicious.
Ginza Bairin Address // 東京都中央区銀座7-7-10 (Ginza Station Exit A2, then 3 minutes walk from there) Tel // 03-3571-0350 Website // http://ginzabairin.com/en/
Kyoto is renowned for its traditional food culture so finding a cozy spot to try an authentic Japanese breakfast is a must. Shunsai Imari 旬菜 いまり came highly recommended by a local Japanese friend so on my recent trip to Kyoto, we came here for some morning comfort food. Think fluffy egg omelets, sweet pickles and freshly grilled fish!
While kaiseki cuisine is quite well known, its lesser-known and more hearty counterpart is obanzai, Kyoto-style home cooking that incorporates seasonal and local ingredients. For first timers, Shunsai Imari is a great spot to try obanzai comfort food. Plus, the restaurant’s colorful collection of Imari ware means you get to dine using some beautiful ceramic plates and bowls.
A pretty accurate sketch of Shunsai Imari’s pretty breakfast spread
A view of the open kitchen
Fresh pot of steamed rice just for you–it’s incredible how many bowls we ate
Glistening Japanese rice cooked in a traditional donabe (black clay pot)–this was simple yet incredibly satisfying
The daily breakfast spread changes according to available seasonal ingredients but you’ll consistently get a large pot of Shunsai Imari’s signature donabe rice every morning!
Shunsai Imari is hidden in the backstreets of Kyoto’s Nishiki Market
An authentic breakfast experience
Shunsai Imari’s daily breakfast spread changes according to available seasonal ingredients. That being said, you will consistent get a large pot of the restaurant’s signature donabe rice every morning! When we visited, we enjoyed a shimeji mushroom salad with a thick slice of egg omelet, miso soup, grilled tuna, and assorted pickles. This is on top of 3+ bowls of steaming hot rice each.
For such a filling meal, Shunsai Imari’s breakfast is a steal at 1,500 yen. This unfortunately also means reservations are a must. We actually dropped by Shunsai Imari on our first morning around 9am but as they were fulled booked already, we put our names down for a table the following day. Conveniently, Nishiki Market is just a stone’s throw away so it’s a delicious alternative just in case you need to wait an extra day!
Shunsai Imari Address // 108 Nishi-rokkakucho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto (5 minute walk from Karasuma Station) Tel // +81 75-231-1354 Website // www.kyoto-imari.com
When visiting Hangzhou, there is nothing more iconic than seeing West Lake 西湖, once home to many of China’s most notable literary figures. Which is why on my recent trip I was thrilled to not only enjoy a sunny boat ride across West Lake but also discover a hidden culinary gem in the area. Tucked away in the West Lake State Guest House 西湖国宾馆, past the elegant Jiangnan-style rock gardens and zigzagging corridors is Zi Wei Hall 紫薇厅.
Zi Wei Hall boasts many traditional Chinese dishes to give diners a taste of authentic ‘state level’ fine-dining. Having hosted the recent G20 delegations in 2016, the State Guest House and Zi Wei Hall had been closed to the general public for a while. But since it quietly reopened last year, Zi Wei Hall is now back as one of the most coveted spots to dine in the West Lake area. While dinners are reservations-only with priority given to hotel guests, lunch is more casual and walk-ins are accepted.
Each dish I tried at Zi Wei Hall was a delicious reminder that China’s rich history has many great tales of food woven into it. An example of this is the 东坡肉 Dong Po Pork Belly we tried. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of Chinese cuisine to appreciate the perfectly glazed and fatty texture of Dong Po Pork, wrapped with pickled vegetables in a steaming hot bun. Named after the famous literary figure 苏东坡 Su Dong Po, the Dong Po Pork Belly recipe was perfected by the Chinese poet who was also quite a gourmand (he penned a poem dedicated to pork!).
The West Lake State Guesthouse was the official hotel for the G20 Hangzhou Summit. Official state dinners between Chinese leaders and foreign world leaders were hosted in this particular pavilion above.
Chinese State Guest Houses are known to have some of the most impressive lounges and conference rooms. While visitors are not allowed entry into the conference rooms, they have access to other luxuries such as the Jiangnan-style rock gardens and teahouses.
More than 100 years old, the hotel’s elegantly designed Chinese gardens and zigzagging corridors are quite remarkable.
The award-winning restaurant Zi Wei Hall is a local gem and definitely one of the most coveted spots to dine in the iconic West Lake area. While the decor is a modern take on Chinese fine-dining, the restaurant boasts many traditional regional dishes to give diners an authentic dining experience.
A classic Zhejiang-style dish, Longjing Shrimps (shrimps with a dash of fragrant Longjing tea leaves) are served with vinegar to enhance the sweetness of the shrimp. As some of China’s best Longjing tea comes from West Lake area, this dish was a perfect harmony of the area’s finest ingredients.
When we ordered seasonal vegetables, we were amazed that only the tenderest, heart of bok choy was served. ‘Simple done well’ at its finest.
东坡肉 ‘Dong Po Stewed Pork Belly’ is named after famous Song-dynasty poet 苏东坡 Su Dong Po. Not only was he a notable literary figure, he was a gourmand and food writer himself! Zi Wei Hall’s recipe of Dong Po Pork belly was deliciously glazed and fatty (photo credit: Xi Hu SGH).
西湖醋鱼 which translates to ‘West Lake Fish in Black Vinegar,’ is Hangzhou’s claim to gastronomic fame. Unsurprisingly, Zi Wei Hall is famously known to have one of the finest interpretations of it.
Traditional Chinese-style soups are notoriously rich and heavy but as they are an essential part of what is considered a proper Chinese meal, we couldn’t resist. Here, our fish soup was made in the same style as traditional shark fin soup which are often served at Chinese banquets.
River shrimps fried until crispy and golden is a common regional dish where the entire shrimp can be eaten whole.
This sweet and tangy hawthorne and osmanthus fruit jelly is quite a symbolic regional dessert; osmanthus 桂花 is a beloved ingredient in the Jiangnan region.
Zi Wei Hall blends dark wooden tones with bronze highlights for quite a timeless Chinese design.
The serene State House grounds is a nice respite from West Lake crowds.
Understated and serene, 江南园林 is the famous Chinese-style rock garden with a lotus pond; you can often see this in historical residences of notable figures.
After a lovely post-lunch stroll, the state house staff arranged a golf cart to escort us off the hotel grounds.
Like many State Guest Houses in China, the hotel entrance is carefully guarded by military guards; letting in only hotel guests and a limited number of restaurant visitors (photo credit: Dianping).
The surreal Hangzhou West Lake State Guesthouse at dusk (photo credit: Dianping).
Without a doubt, Zi Wei Hall’s claim to fame is their interpretation of West Lake Fish in Black Vinegar 西湖醋鱼. When this dish was brought out, we were amazed by the aroma of black vinegar. The slightly sweet yet tart glaze poured over a fresh carp and topped with a sprinkle of osmanthus flowers was simply put… just delicious. I find that Jiangnan cuisine often features a couple of main condiments so the secret always lies in balance. And in this case, West Lake Fish in Black Vinegary 西湖醋鱼 is a great example of a commonly found household dish that is exceptional when done right.
Other standouts we tried include the Longjing Shrimp 龙井虾仁 which was tender and particularly fragrant. Because West Lake’s Longjing tea leaves are considered some of China’s best, the dish was a harmony between the subtle tea fragrances and the sweetness of river shrimps. For seafood lovers, the Fish Soup 鱼羹 was also quite unique and highly recommended to us. While it is served in the same style as traditional shark fin soup, there is no actual shark fin in it so it’s a great way to sample the Chinese delicacy.
In trying a full spread of Jiangnan-style dishes at Zi Wei Hall, I was impressed that instead of Chinese fine dining in an overly opulent setting, there was an understated elegance to Zi Wei Hall. The post-lunch stroll through the grounds, walking past pavilions that have hosted figures such as Nixon and Mandela perhaps only added to the whole experience.
Zi Wei Hall (West Lake State Guesthouse)* Address // Hangzhou West Lake 18 杭州市西湖区杨公堤18号西湖国宾馆 Website // www.xihusgh.com Tel // 0571-87979889
*Reservations are highly recommended.
Travel tips 1. From Shanghai Hongqiao Train Station to Hangzhou is ~1 hour train ride. Tickets should be purchased ahead of time, government issued ID is required for ticket pickup.
2. As the West Lake State Guest House is quite exclusive, smart casual is recommended.
3. After your meal, the staff can help escort you off the hotel grounds via a golf cart as shown above. I also recommend a renting a boat ride (accomodates ~6 people) around the West Lake to see Leifeng Pagoda and ‘Three Pools Mirroring the Moon,’ the backdrop of the 1RMB bill.
When in Tokyo, do as the locals do and you’ll be able to find local gems serving everything from marbled gyukatsu to casual kaiseki meals. On my list of popular local spots, Tsujihan is definitely my kaisen-don pick. A Japanese staple, kaisen-don 海鮮丼 is a hearty bowl of sushi rice topped with chunks of fresh sashimi. What makes Tsujihan’s kaisen-don particularly special is their so-called ‘golden ratio’ sashimi mix. As we sat around the L-shaped bar and watched the chefs mix together chunks of fresh fish topped with uni and ikura, the attention to detail that goes into creating one bowl is spectacular.
Like all beloved Tokyo gems, Tsujihan is raved about on Tabelog食べログ (Japan’s trusted review platform for all foodies), so don’t be surprised when you’re waiting in line with a bunch of Tokyo locals also vying for a seat! Note that Tsujihan only seats 12 at once. In general, weekend waits can be 1-2 hours long but on the weekdays, you may be able to slip in and out with Tokyo’s white-collared crowd much faster.
Tsujihan is a little hidden away in the backstreets of Nihonbashi, but once your navigation leads you to a narrow alleyway with a line of people waiting outside an unassuming wooden door, you’ll know you’ve hit gold
Once you step into Tsujihan, you’ll find the L-shaped bar with only 12 seats–all with a perfect view of Kaisendon in the making
A sashimi appetizer is served first–pro tip: don’t finish it all, it should be eaten at the end with your soupy concoction!
I ordered the 松 kaisendon (1980 yen) topped with additional ikura (because how can you resist?)
The key to savoring your Tsujihan kaisendon is to finish half of your rice before asking the chef to add in some creamy fish broth (you have the option of adding in more rice as well if you’d like)
This creamy, rich broth is incredible, plus the Japanese seasoning of plumfurikake is a lovely touch
In a quite common Japanese method, the satisfying name of the restaurant can be seen for all those that finish their bowl of food
The menu of Tsujihan can be viewed outside–from right to left are the different kaisendon options (right is the simplest option 梅 and options further to the left will have more and more additions of sashimi)
Located in the backstreets of Nihonbashi, Tsujihan is a great spot for lunch before shopping through the surrounding Ginza area. When we arrived at Tsujihan for an early Saturday lunch at 11:30am, there were already 30 people ahead of us. After 1.5 hour (!) of waiting we finally managed to grab two corner seats in the small eatery. But the best things come to those who wait because the magic of Tsujihan starts when you’re comfortably seated with a cup of hot green tea in hand.
As we quietly watched fresh bowls of kaisendon being made in front of us, we were first served a couple pieces of sashimi in a thick sesame dressing. Observing that other diners savored a piece before reluctantly pushing the rest to the side, we did the same (this is a Tsujihan tradition, save the sashimi appetizer for the end!). Next came the bowl of kaisendon and if ikura can be described as generously ‘smothered’ on, then that’s exactly what it was–a mix of seasonal sashimi chunks, topped with an incredible amount of glistening ikura roe, all resting above a bed of sushi rice with toasted sesame seeds. Murmurs of itadakimasu filled the room soon after.
Half way through our bowl, the chef quietly offered to add a creamy dashi stock to our kaisendon. Upon passing my bowl to the chef, he gently stirred the simmering broth on the side before pouring some over my bowl. Now it all made sense, Tsujihan regulars tend to save the pieces of sashimi appetizer at the beginning so that they can enjoy their warm bowl of kaisendon with slightly seared sashimi chunks. The flavors that the added dashi stock opened up were completely different and such a delight.
Tsujihan was a special find because I don’t find myself seeking out kaisen-don often in Tokyo, it’s either a sushi omakase or a deliciously deep-fried alternative. But after experiencing a bowl of Tsujihan’s specialty, I can’t wait to be back in the cozy restaurant watching the chefs top each bowl up with sashimi chunks.
Tsujihan (つじ半) Address // 東京都中央區日本橋 3-1-15 (if you get off at the Nihonbashi Station, take exit B3 and it’ll be a 2 minute walk from there)
Tel // 03-6262-0823 (+81-3-6262-0823)