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Glamping Above the Clouds in Shangri-la, Yunnan

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.

love,
eatprayjade x.

 

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 eatprayjade@gmail.com and I can arrange a reservation for you)
Price// 1800RMB/big tent, 1500RMB/small tent (price includes breakfast every day)

Where the Tokyo locals go for Kaisen-don: Tsujihan つじ半

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 plum furikake 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.

love,
eatprayjade x.

 

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)

Discovering a New Dim Sum Spot at Canton Table

Dim Sum brunches in Shanghai are a must-do whether you’re a visitor or local. There are famous hot spots to slurp soup dumplings such as Jia Jia Tang Bao 佳家汤包, but if you want to dim sum in Cantonese style then Canton Table in Bund No. 3 is the spot to do so. Expect a beautiful space on the Bund, an impressive view, and a dim sum menu with a couple of twists.

Apart from typical dim sum fare, the fire roasted chicken & slow braised beef soup were definitely brunch highlights and must orders. We ordered these two meaty dishes to share for the table and they were delicately served on the side via a separate display table. The name ‘beef soup’ may seem unassuming, but the thick cuts of quality beef and pieces radish that have been simmered in fatty stock made for the perfect winter combination. As for the phenomenal roast chicken, it was served with a little fire show that only added to its wow factor.

Canton Table is the new Cantonese restaurant in Bund No. 3 which is also home to more established names like Jean Georges

Apart from regular Har Gau 虾饺 (which is a must get at any dim sum place, it’s the ultimate quality benchmark) Canton Table also has a fried Har Gau with crispy garlic on top that is incredibly juicy

Some Abalone tarts which were sweeter than we expected–I wouldn’t order it a second time but worth a try if you’re intrigued by this combination

Couldn’t resist the traditional char shiu bun 叉烧包, with a crispier and buttery skin than normal

Wantons in chili oil 红油抄手 are a staple favorite of mine and Canton Table’s did not disappoint. While it’s less spicy than those you’ll find on the streets, the wantons themselves were brilliantly stuffed

The highlight of the meal was definitely the Fire Roasted Chicken that they serve right next to your table–hands down the table favorite and a dramatic show

A super tender chicken with a slight smokiness to it, a must-try

The slow braised Beef Soup with pieces of radish simmered in the fatty stock, the perfect soup to share for winter

拌面 mixed noodles are a Shanghainese staple–I would add a big dallop of chili oil to it (because I prefer my noodles hot!)

When we saw egg tart+black truffle on the menu, we just couldn’t resist ordering some–alrhough I still prefer classic Portuguese egg tarts more

Bund No. 3 still has one of the best views of the Bund skyline–with plenty of sunlight streaming through its large windows, Canton Table is great for weekend dim sum brunches

My Thoughts

From the colorful dim sum spread we tried, the lightly fried Har Gau with crispy garlic on top was my favorite. I normally hesitate to get fried dim sum in fear that they are over-done, meaning all the juicy stock (which is the whole point of wrapping meats and veggies in such beautiful wrappers) is gone. Luckily in the case of Canton Table’s fried Har Gau, the execution was impressive and the slightly crispy skin perfectly enveloped the tasty prawn filling. We were also quite curious about the Black Truffle Tarts but as a fellow brunch companion Michelle said, it was “Shanghai in a (pie)shell.” In other words, buttery crust and creamy filling but the black truffle was slightly over the top.

I would definitely visit Canton Table for brunch again–it’s not the nitty gritty Cantonese style dim sum nor the spot to expect local Shanghainese prices, but the quality of dim sum, variety of dishes, and execution are all impressive. Service is a little spotty depending on whomever is tending to your table, but consistency will hopefully improve. The modern Shanghai-style interiors paired with an unparalleled Bund view add to the restaurant’s charm. After all, it’s another charming restaurant designed by Neri & Hu. All in all, Canton Table is a great spot for dim sum on the weekend and the restaurant’s extensive cocktail list means you can lavishly spend your afternoon enjoying dim sum after dim sum.

love,
eatprayjade

Canton Table 三号黄埔会
Adress // No.3 Zhongshan East 1st Road | 5F, Three on the Bund, Shanghai 200002, China
Tel // +86 21 6321 3737
Website // http://www.threeonthebund.com

Coffee Wonderland at Shanghai’s Starbucks Reserve

Shanghai’s very own Starbucks Reserve finally opened this past week, and lines are out the door to get into this coffee wonderland. I do find myself intrigued by Starbucks’ unique locations around the world but this time especially, I was enamored by Shanghai’s Starbucks Reserve experience.

“The complete and total commitment to the immersive experience of coffee craft”

It was indeed an experience to visit, especially since Starbucks Reserve in Shanghai paired up with Alibaba to create an integrative augmented reality (AR) experience through the Taobao APP. Each step of the coffee roasting process can be seen through AR. Even better, it was amazing to listen & watch the overhead ‘Symphony’ pipes transfer roasted coffee beans to the silos. Every time the beans passed through, it sent a satisfying jingle (and a wave of applause) throughout the floor.

So what was my first impression? Jam packed, beautifully designed, and full of holiday cheer.

A new eye-catching landmark at the corner of West Nanjing Road (akin to the 5th Avenue of Shanghai)

Handpicked at the Roast(ery) is the marketplace with carefully curated Reserve Coffees and other coffee brewing homeware

30,000ft+ of Starbucks means two floors of caffeinated goodness, everything from a Cold Brew Tower to a Teavana experience bar

If you want to indulge in a tasting experience, you can buy different packages that take you to the different bars within Shanghai’s Starbuck Reserve for signature drinks

Enamored with the coffee, or enamored with the beautiful cards? (We asked already, the ‘tasting cards’ only come with a purchase of coffee and is not available for individual retail)

I loved the beautiful bronze tones everywhere, especially these beautiful Starbucks coffee tins

The 2017 Christmas blend was a favorite among visitors–possibly because it includes a blend of rare aged Sumatra!

So many pretty sets of coffee-wares to ogle at! Handpicked at the Roastery has a great selection of cards, stationary, and mugs made especially for Shanghai Starbucks Reserve so it’s a lovely place to pick up a gift if you’re in town

‘SHANGHAI’ spelled out through a brilliant jigsaw puzzle, using tasting cards from all of Starbucks’ various blends throughout the years

The service was genuinely one of my favorite things–everybody was smiling and extremely responsive to (what is I’m sure) their millionth time answering the same questions

Princi in all its glory, supplying Starbucks Reserve with all the baked goods & Italian bread

Compared to the typical Starbucks pastries, these Princi ones definitely look much more buttery & fresh

Straight from the Cold Brew Tower (not my cold brew, but too amazing to not take a picture of)

We did manage to sample a cup of Reserve coffee amidst all the eager caffeine drinkers

We decided to grab a quick bite at Princi to try out their food; other than pasties, these baked flatbreads were wildly popular so I picked up a potato & bacon flatbread with rosemary

Between the two, I actually enjoyed this eggplant flatbread more which was a little more savoury & cheesy, definitely an upgrade from the typical Starbucks cafe options

My first time having Teavana outside of the US and I was told each blend follows the same recipe, but they try to source leaves and ingredients from all over China

Two floors of Starbucks Reserve glory, the Roasting Area on the first floor is definitely the center of attention as visitors on the second floor periodically peered down to observe the magic of coffee being roasted on-site

While you’re there, definitely recommend selecting some Princi bread to go

And lastly, the Starbucks Reserve commitment that I felt was definitely realized through their Shanghai opening

I will admit I don’t drink Starbucks often in Shanghai, as I normally opt for local coffee shops. However, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Shanghai because the entire in-store experience is Starbucks branding at its finest. What stood out the most from my visit was the attention to detail and service. Each experience area was carefully crafted and the service staff were transferred from various Starbucks locations all over the world, so world-class service is not an overstatement.

Other highlights include browsing the Handpicked at the Roastery marketplace and chatting with the roasters at the Pairing Bar. Because I was quite keen on finding the rare Aged Sumatra blend for my friend Lucy (she tells me it’s Howard Schultz’s favorite blend), I chatted up a couple of the baristas at the Pairing Bar and they explained that every week, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle help determine the blends to roast and send to Shanghai. Good news, Aged Sumatra could be something they decide on. Bad news, it is… rare.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the Teavana experience bar as the team there was also extremely professional and friendly. I’m not an avid tea drinker so listening to their careful brewing process, which included a detailed explanation of what temperature of hot water I should ask for when inquiring about a refill, was fascinating.

All in all, I think it’s incredible the experience Starbucks was able to build in this Shanghai location. I’ve never visited the Seattle one and was told it’s quite different–would love to know about people’s experience there as well. It’s now on my list for 2018!

with love and holiday cheer,
eatprayjade x.

Tokyo’s Best Hidden Gem at Sushi Matsue

When in Tokyo, you’ll find that locals visit the best hidden spots for their fix of ramen, tempura, and tonkatsu. The iconic sushi omakase is no different. Umegaoka Sushi is still my favorite no-frills sushi joint but Sushi Matsue is the more refined spot. Indeed, Tokyo’s sushi scene is filled with industry big names like Sushi Jiro and Sushi Sawada. But if you’re visiting for just a short trip without reservations months ahead, Sushi Matsue epitomizes why visiting local gems are just as worthy and charming.

A 5 minute walk from Ebisu Station, Sushi Matsue is a quaint L-shaped sushi bar with a lunch omakase menu at 6000yen (~60USD). The omakase comes with sashimi, grilled fish, and an incredible amount of sushi.

Sea bream sashimi with a dash of soy and green onions

The ginger-topped mackerel sashimi was smokey and fragrant

Sweet abalone with octopus–delicacies that are rare treats even in Tokyo!

Freshly grilled scallop wrapped in nori, buttery smooth and incredible

This grilled seasonal fish with radish & lime was everything I loved about Japanese cooking–simple and wholesome

The sushi omakase starts with a classic rendition of white fish (shiromi)

Definitely the prettiest iwashi sardine sushi I’ve had to date

During every omakase, each piece is my favorite piece until I’m reminded why uni is the still the creamiest of them all

Kampachi with a light brush of soy sauce

A thick slice of beautiful tuna

Charred fish (I forget which this was!) with a nice meaty taste to it

Sweet and nutty eel for all the anago lovers out there

Sushi Matsue’s sweet tamagoyaki is almost custard like, truly a lovely way to end a sushi meal

The intimate sushi bar is friendly and engaging, whether it’s conversation with your chef or simply people watching

I visited Sushi Matsue with my friend Mizuha and was pleasantly surprised at how easy-going the talented chefs were. The restaurant was filled with a light and comfortable chatter our entire meal. My knowledge of seafood in Japanese is still a work in progress, so conversing with the chefs when they served each piece of sushi was like a fun puzzle.

Sushi Matsue’s lunch sets are a steal at 6000yen, with dinner at a still reasonable 11000yen. Highlights of the meal definitely included the sweetly glazed abalone and nori-wrapped grilled scallop. In terms of sushi, the uni was incredibly creamy and the tamagokyaki was just divine. If you’ve watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, then you’ll understand my appreciation for a good piece of egg custard.

With impeccable sushi at a reasonable price point, Sushi Matsue is definitely on my list of Tokyo favorites. A worthy lunch spot for visitors and locals alike!

love,
eatprayjade

Sushi Matsue* 
Address // 1-2-4 Ebisu Minami, Shibuya, Tokyo
Tel // 
+81 3-3711-4364
Website // http://www.matsue.cc/ebisu

*Reservations recommended

 

Chocolate Decadence at Tokyo’s Bubó Cafe

The ‘World’s Best Chocolate Cake’ can now be found in the backstreets of Tokyo’s Omotesando area. Bubó is a Barcelona-based patisserie known for its beautifully designed cakes and artisanal chocolates. On my recent trip to Japan, I visited Bubó’s Tokyo outpost to try Xabina, the chocolate creation that received the ‘World’s Best Chocolate Cake’ mention at the 2005 World Pastry Cup in Lyon.

Worth the trek? Absolutely. The Xabina cake is velvety, rich, and a chocolate masterpiece. I enjoyed the chocolate macaron on top and the chocolate mousse inside is a cloud. I’ll reserve judgment on whether it’s the world’s best chocolate cake because there are simply too many chocolate creations I haven’t tried yet. But to date, it is certainly the best and most gorgeous chocolate cake I’ve had.

Walk past Bubo’s chocolate gallery and go up to the second floor for the Cafe

From cakes to plating Bubó has a modern and sleek look, a nice addition to Omotesando’s high-end cafe scene

Afternoon cake set comes with your choice of coffee or tea–we opted for a strong black tea to balance the rich and creamy desserts

The beautiful Nameraka cake incorporates Tonka beans to bring out a smoky chocolate flavor

The beloved Xabina, also known as the ‘World’s Best Chocolate Cake,’ is almost too gorgeous to eat

Stylish and attractive red interiors

Pick up some chocolate truffles on your way out–ask for samples of the Macadamia nut ones, they’re incredible!

Bubó is a chocolate heaven in the backstreets of Omotesando

When you visit Bubó in Tokyo, try not to be too distracted by the amazing chocolate gallery on the first floor and head straight up to the Cafe. Once you’re seated, your server will bring you a beautifully detailed cake menu for you to peruse. Other than the award-winning Xabina we also ordered a Nameraka, which is a sponge cake with tonka bean cream on top. The slightly smoky tonka cream was delicious and paired well with the lightly fried mint leaves. My favorite part of Bubó was definitely the creative use of ingredients to compliment the patisserie’s signature chocolate flavors.

Bubó is a quick walk from the Omotesando Station, right across from the popular Dominique Ansel Bakery. Don’t pass up either–sit down at Bubó for a Xabina cake, marvel at the velvety chocolate goodness, and then pick up a seasonal Cronut across the street after.

love,
eatprayjade x.

 

Bubó Omotesando
Address // Building B5-6-5 Street Omotesando Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Contact // bubo@cnpic.co.jp
Website // http://www.bubo.es/en/

36 Hours in Kyoto (food+omiyage edition)

Many visit Kyoto with a lengthy list of temples and shrines, but that’s not all Kyoto has to offer. From kaiseki meals to trendy cafes, Kyoto blends tradition with modernity. I’ve always wanted to write a 36 hours itinerary so as the Japanese say when asked for a recommendation, here are my オススメ (o-su-su-me).

Friday

8 a.m. Breakfast at 進々堂 Shinshindo

Nothing is more comforting than the smell of melty butter and coffee brewing in the morning. Whipping up some of the freshest breads in town, Shinshindo Teramachi makes for a great breakfast stop. The original Shinshindo was founded in 1930 and is an iconic Kyoto institution located across from Kyoto University campus. Like many great cafes around the world, Shinshindo was a place for students and activists to congregate for political and social debates throughout the decades. The founder of Shinshindo, Hitoshi Tsuzuki, wanted to provide authentic French breads that were made fresh every day and his grandson operates the boulangerie chain in that spirit today.

Teramachi Shinshindo 進々堂 (try to visit the original one across Kyoto University if you can!)

Madeleines and financiers (my favorites treats to have with coffee)

A really fresh selection of baked breads; iconic selections include the curry-pan and the melon-pan

Morning cup of coffee with a cheesy pastry that I just couldn’t pass up. If you opt to dine in, they warm up your breads so they’re served fresh and toasty

11 a.m. Visit Ippodo Honten for some tea leaves and omiyage

If you don’t try green tea in Kyoto, can you even say you visited? Second stop, swing by Ippodo Honten for some omiyage shopping and be dazzled by the number of tea leaves you can choose from. I also love to pick up Ippodo powder tea because they’re great for making ice matchas in the summertime. In my previous Kyoto post I introduced Kaikado’s beautifully designed chazutsu tea caddies. Well at Ippodo Honten, you can actually pick up a Kaikado chazutsu with the Ippodo seal on it to store your tea leaves–a worthy buy if you’re a tea lover. If you still  haven’t splurged enough, sit down in the adjacent Ippodo Tearoom to enjoy some tea and wagashi 和菓子 because now it’s your turn to treat yourself.

Ippodo Tea Company 京都本店 is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood with a nice tearoom for those that want to sit and enjoy freshly brewed green tea

For the brave ones, try to crack the Ippodo menu written in Japanese. Or if you fail, there’s a tea tasting room when you first walk in; simple put your name down and then you’ll get a 10 minute time slot to try teas and decide which ones suit you best

Kaikado x Ippodo chazutsu are great gifts. They’re stunning and a great way to keep tea and coffee fresh. I actually picked one up at Ippodo and have been polishing it every day to keep that shine since

1:00 p.m. Indulge in a 3-Michelin Star Kaiseki at Kikunoi Honten

Reserve a table at Kikunoi Honten ahead of time and you’ll be rewarded with an impressive dining experience. At Kikunoi, every single course served has an unique story and flow to it. The menu is fluid and changes every month, showcasing Chef Yoshihiro Murata’s creative use of fresh seasonal ingredients. As each dish is brought out, your private server will treat you with a short narrative about how the inception of the dish. If you’re an English speaker, the server will present you a colorful Kikunoi book that illustrates the stories behind different courses and ingredients.

For our visit, we tried the Fumizuki (July) menu and were presented with an assortment of tasty summer fishes. Highlights include the grilled ayu sweet fish and the hamo pike conger. The use of shiso flowers everywhere were lovely reminders of summer as well. Overall an incredible kaiseki experience celebrating seasonal ingredients.

Assortment of July appetizers: hamo sushi, octopus roe, dried green gourd, shiso flowers, baby abalone, and brook shrimp

Sashimi of blanched hamo (pike conger) and tai (red sea bream) with colorful shiso flowers and curled cucumbers

Braised pork belly with potato purée that tasted as hearty as it sounds

Uni tofu with wasabi jelly was my favorite dish of them all, subtle flavors that just flowed together really well

Salt-grilled ayu (sweetfish), such a simple concept but the execution was flawless here. We made a joke to our server that it was so incredible we were going to try it at home and she gave us a polite smile, as if to tell us we could never achieve the same umami flavors at home

A fragrant bowl of hamo (pike conger) over rice

Corn sorbet with grilled corn kernel (this was incredible and had a smoky creaminess to it)

5 p.m. Evening stroll through the historic Gion District

Historic and trendy, the Gion district is prettiest at dusk when the store lights just turn on. Strolling along the Shirakawa River, you’ll spot interesting cafes and restaurants all housed in machiya townhouses. I particularly love Pass the Baton, a chic second-hand shop that has one of the most eclectic but interesting retail spaces I’ve ever visited. Because Pass the Baton has unique brand collaborations with local and international brands, the vintage trinkets on display are all one of a kind.  If you’re a design and crafts lover, this is the place to pick up an unique gift in Kyoto.

Pass the Baton in Gion is the brand’s third boutique shop, with the first two located in Tokyo

My type of indoor slippers (love these aesthetics)

The second floor feels like an exhibit. There’s even an alcove full of vintage items (think Birkin, Prada, and traditional kimono pieces) that you have to take your shoes off to view

You never know what you might find in Gion–we passed by a beautiful Hermes storefront and it turns out Hermes was having a limited time pop-up store in Gion. Although the pop-up shop has now closed, who knows what you might find there next!

Post-rain Gion glistens in the evening light. Wait a little longer and maybe you’ll catch a geisha running to her evening engagement

8 p.m. Order some Ichiran Ramen from a vending machine

Whether it’s for dinner or late night cravings, Ichiran Ramen is the best way to end a night. In case you haven’t heard of this Japanese ramen chain, Ichiran is a wildly popular ramen-ya specialising in flavorful pork-bone broth and house-made chili paste. Because it’s open 24hours, you will always have incredible ramen noodles whenever you want, and however you want it. After ordering your ramen noodles (~$7) and desired toppings from a vending machine, you will get to choose how creamy you like your broth, how well done you want your noodles, and the condiments that go into your soup base.

My recommendation? Regular broth, firm noodles, a soft boiled egg, kikurage mushrooms, and extra chashuu pork slices.

Order your noodles on the magical ramen vending machine, and if you’re like us… get lots of toppings

Soft boiled egg is a MUST!

Bottom of an Ichiran bowl is a privilege only true ramen slurpers can see

Saturday

11 a.m. Savor Japanese bites at Nishiki Market, ‘Kyoto’s Pantry’

If there’s Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, there’s Nishiki Market 錦市場 in Kyoto. There’s something charming about perusing colorful food stalls and wondering which one to stop at. When at Nishiki Market, I can never pass up the fried fish cakes or takoyaki, both popular street snacks. Apart from fresh seafoods and snacks, the market is a great place to try various Kyoto specialties such as pickled vegetables and mackerel sushi. After indulging, hop over to the adjacent Teramachi shopping arcade for some kitchenware and Japanese condiment shopping.

Takoyaki with shiso salt, freshly made and piping hot

Fried fish cake with a piece of burdock root in the middle

BAKE, a cheese tart heaven that’s a must visit whichever city I go to in Japan

How many is too many? With a creamy filling that was still warm, these BAKE cheese tarts were easily polished off

2 p.m. Visit Kiyomizu-dera & make a short frappe stop at Ninenzaka Starbucks

Go to Starbucks… in Kyoto? Trust me on this one, I seldom get Starbucks coffee when I’m traveling because like many coffee lovers, I want to experience local cafe culture. But the Ninenzaka Starbucks is worth visiting in Kyoto because it’s a great way to see the interiors of a machiya, a traditional Japanese wooden house. I mean, where else can you have matcha frappuccino in communal tatami-style seating? If that’s not enough, there’s even a charming Japanese rock garden to appreciate as your barista makes your coffee. Cheers Kyoto, you even do Starbucks in style.

Right by Ninenzaka, you’ll find the world’s first tatami-style Starbucks housed in a gorgeous machiya

Starbucks Ninenzaka also has a charming loren 暖簾, a traditional fabric divider for doorways

Uniquely set up, Starbucks Ninenzaka does tatami seating so you can take off your shoes and lounge in a traditional Japanese style

Matcha cake, matcha frappuccino, and cherry garcia chocolate chip latte (I was secretly hoping to find a sakura blossom one)

Just a casual beautiful rock garden in Starbucks

Starbucks is located right by the famed cobblestone alleyways, Sannenzaka & Ninenzaka 三年坂二年坂. Full of traditional Japanese omiyage stores, the area is great to visit rain or shine. Of course, make sure to hike up the adjacent steps leading up to Kiyomizu-dera if you want to step out onto the temple’s wooden stage for a Kyoto city view. *Note that Kiyomizu-dera’s main hall is going under construction until 2020.

5 p.m. Afternoon reading at Keibunsha, one of the world’s top ten bookstores

Trek to Keibunsha 恵文社 to see a quieter side of Kyoto and wind-down with some afternoon reading. Located in Kyoto’s Ichijoji neighborhood, Keibunsha was selected as one of the ‘World’s top 10 bookstores’ by the Guardian. While not the most glamorous, there is something very charming and authentic about Keibunsha’s old-school atmosphere. Books are categorized by themes and curated lifestyle goods that compliment Keibunsha’s books also have their own section.

Keibunsha Ichijoji

Take a stroll from the station to Keibunsha–you’ll pass by a lovely creek in Ichijoji and see a much quieter side of Kyoto

8 p.m. Wagyu time at Hafuu Honten, a butcher-shop turned restaurant

Marbled wagyu steak with a glass of red wine served in an open Kyoto kitchen–it doesn’t get any better than this. Hafuu Honten used to be a butcher shop that has since transformed into a cozy restaurant offering amazing cuts of wagyu steak. Opt for the ‘Original Dinner Course’ (10,000yen), which includes lightly roasted beef, seasoned brisket, and wagyu sirloin steak. It’s  such a feast for the eyes to see the pieces of marbled beef being grilled and served. Ask a staff for Hafuu’s special beef cutlet sandwich for takeout after your meal–no such thing as too much wagyu.

Lightly roasted beef served with three different condiments for dipping

Colorful Octopus Confit (this is part of the ‘Hafuu Course’ which is a little lighter on the meat with more seafood as part of the course)

Thinly sliced beef brisket

As you sit at the bar, you can watch and listen to the chef grill the pieces of wagyu

Buttery and tender Wagyu Fillet Steak with crispy slices of garlic on top

Steak set with rice, miso soup and tsukemono (you can also opt for fresh bread)

Peach ice cream with creme brûlée

love,
eatprayjade x.

夏 in Kyoto: Hotel Anteroom and Cafe Hunting

Kyoto is charming because it’s both a place for traditional Japanese crafts, as well as trend-setting designs. I’ve visited Kyoto a couple times now, but every time I find myself discovering new cafes, traditional woodhouse machiya’s (町屋), and beautiful hideouts. This trip, I chose to not visit as many historical sites in Kyoto, mainly because I wanted to explore more of Kyoto’s growing cafe and creative scene where young Japanese artists are trying to blend modern touches with traditional craftsmanship in various fields. Japan Handmade is an example of this–you’ll see some of their creative aesthetics in the pictures of Kaikado Cafe below.

FUN FACT: This time around, my dates coincided with the annual summer festival in Kyoto, the Gion Matsuri. While I didn’t participate in any festival events, a lot of restaurants I visited had special menus and tea sets for the matsuri. If you’re interested in watching the iconic float processions in honor of the festival for your visit, here’s a more comprehensive guide.

There’s a 夏 in Kyoto Part II coming soon, which will show more of the traditional Japanese shops we visited and our travel itinerary, so stay tuned. I also finally splurged on a kaiseki meal in Kyoto at Kikunoi 菊乃井 本店, a 3-Michelin Star establishment so that will also be included in Part II.

Places that are featured in this post (click to directly skip down):

Stay

Hotel Anteroom

Cafes

Kaikado Cafe
Weekenders Coffee
La Voiture
% Arabica


Kaikado Cafe

This year I’ve been fascinated by design and when I saw the Kaikado objects collection for the first time, I immediately fell in love with Kaikado’s chazutsu. The understated but beautiful airtight designs completely fit my aesthetics. Crafting beautiful tea caddies or chazutsu in Japanese, the KAIKADO brand was established in 1875 in Kyoto. They have since paired up with Danish design firm OEO to create Kaikado Cafe, as well as the Japan Handmade initiative. Both projects aim to breathe life back into traditional crafts and showcase Japanese design aesthetics to more people.

Kaikado Cafe is located in a quiet neighborhood, walking distance from the Kyoto Station. When I first stepped into Kaikado Cafe, it was like stepping into a visual showcase of Kaikado objects. The airy cafe incorporates a stunning array of materials–wood, brass, glass, and stone. With minimal decorations, the shelves in Kaikado Cafe are all adorned with Kaikado tea caddies. Each a slightly different shade because as the caddies wear over time, the colors change to a more muted color.

Danish OeO Studio’s design blends a variety of materials beautifully together–wood, bronze, and glass to name a few

You’ll find Postcard Teas London in Kaikado–this was where Kaikado chazutsu caddies were first sold overseas!

Photo by Spoon & Tamago, because my pictures don’t do the stunning interiors justice 

Kaikado’s artisanal tea caddies, or chazutsu in Japanese, on display

A thick slice of buttered red bean toast with coffee. All else aside, Kaikado Cafe is worth visiting for its coffee (they use Nakagawa Wani Coffee, part of the same initiative ‘Japan Handmade’)

Selection of Kaikado and other ‘Japan Handmade’ objects available for sale

Corner aesthetics

I meant to visit Kaikado Cafe just to pick up a chazutsu, but somehow I ended up sitting in the cafe, eating, and chatting with the baristas for 3 hours. Apart from Kaikado objects, I learned that the cafe also incorporates others crafts from the Japan Handmade initiative. For example, I ordered a red bean toast and it was served to me on a wooden plate. Turns out this plate is made by Nakagawa-mokkougei, a famous Kyoto woodcrafting studio. All the different objects at Kaikado Cafe has a unique story, so don’t be afraid to ask the baristas about them!

I was pleasantly surprised by Kaikado Cafe’s tasty selection of sweets. I loved the red bean toast I got, which was a heavenly combination of freshly buttered bread and sweet azuki. I saw that other tables around me ordered Kaikado’s rare cheesecake, which looked incredible as well. Highly recommend a visit if you love design and want to see some Kyoto crafts at its best.

Weekenders Coffee 

On my second day in Kyoto, I decided to stop by Weekenders Coffee for an ice latte before doing some light shopping in the Karasuma/Nishiki Market area. For those not familiar, Weekenders Coffee has been around since 2005 and they are considered one of the best coffee roasters in town. Of all the different type of coffees I tried this trip, Weekenders’ latte was hands down the creamiest I had.

As I walked up to Weekenders Coffee, I had a sudden deja vu moment. It reminded me of when I first found Omotesando Koffee in Tokyo the summer of 2014 and was delighted by the first sip of my coffee. Although it has since closed, Omotesando Koffee’s charming little garden and the tiny little coffee bar was my introduction to Japan’s vibrant coffee scene. Fast forward to Weekenders Coffee, which is tucked away in a corner of a parking lot. Small coffee shops with a big footprint–a Japanese coffee scene signature perhaps.

Weekenders Coffee Tominokoji

Small storefront located in the far corner of a parking lot–there’s an upstairs seating area as well if you’re looking to relax a bit before heading out to explore the nearby area’s many shops

Extensive coffee list using Weekender’s original roast

Weekenders’ different roasts on display and available for purchase

Small counters can make big things happen

Weekender’s ice latte is strong and creamy–a tad smaller than I would like, but I much prefer this than a watered down latte

At the heart of Weekenders Coffee is the team’s desire to preserve the traditional kissaten culture. For those interested, they offer public cupping classes on the 2nd and 4th Friday of every month so definitely try to visit during those dates if you can.

I actually spent half a day shopping and eating in the surrounding area of Weekenders Coffee. As I mentioned above, Nishiki Market is close by so an entire food market is right next door waiting for you to explore. I enjoyed visiting the nearby Aesop Kyoto which was beautiful, as well as some small stationary stores I stumbled upon. After all, good coffee is the perfect start to a day of shopping and eating.

La Voiture

Perhaps a slice of the world’s best tarte tatin can be found in Kyoto. La Voiture is a cafe that was recommended to me by an acquaintance last year. She told me that every time she visited Japan, she wouldn’t leave without traveling to La Voiture to have a slice of tarte tatin. Having lived in Paris for a while, she secretly admitted to me her favorite rendition of french apple tart… was from Kyoto. From one sweet-tooth to another, I had to go.

Located in the Heian Shrine area on the corner of Okazaki Park, La Voiture is really a quaint cafe. Yuri Matsunaga, or more affectionately Grandma Yuri, was first introduced to tarte tatin when she visited Paris in her 20’s. Upon returning back to Japan, she opened up La Voiture with her husband and began perfecting her recipe. Although Grandma Yuri passed away a couple years ago, her daughter now runs the cafe and continues making incredible cakes.

A fun pop-up menu with three signature cakes (the walnuts tarte was tasty as well) and an assortment of accompanying drinks

Something so charming about a cafe with wooden chairs and carpet, reminiscent of a bygone era

Tarte Tatin with warm yogurt drizzled on top, still made using Grandma Yuri’s phenomenal secret recipe

The slightly charred apples at the bottom had a beautiful caramel finish and the tart yogurt drizzled on top just gave the whole dessert a lovely finish. It’s incredibly soft, with each bite full of slightly tart apples.

My first thought after devouring the tarte was ‘I would love to be a regular at La Voiture‘. I’m a firm believer that desserts do not need flawless execution. Instead, recipes made with love often yield the best use of ingredients and flavors. In the case of La Voiture, you really feel the thought that went into picking the best Fuji apples and then baking them for hours afterwards.

With a slightly retro interior, La Voiture may be a quaint store with a small menu but one slice of the tarte tatin makes you realize why so many regulars frequent the cafe.

%Arabica

On our last day, we had planned on visiting Arashiyama for three things: to see the iconic bamboo forest, have some of the area’s special tofu ice cream, and a cup of %Arabica coffee.

%Arabica seeks to push baristas and customers to “see the world through coffee.” Since founded by Kenneth Shoji in 2014, %Arabica has been brewing up amazing coffee in its beautifully designed spaces. While there are multiple %Arabica locations in Kyoto (all stunning interiors I assure you), the Arashiyama shop has a particularly gorgeous blend of coffee and mountain views.

Upon arriving in Arashiyama Station, cross the Togetsukyo Bridge and %Arabica will be a couple minutes away

Pick your blend and style of coffee

Coffee aesthetics

Night view of the stunning shop, photo credits to Voicer

%Arabica’s creamy house blend ice latte

Arashiyama location’s incredible view–imagine waking up to this every morning

Taking a dip in the nearby Ooi River. We saw a lot of people dipping their feet in the water so thought we’d do the same

After trying %Arabica, I can see why it is so beloved by the locals. The Arashiyama location was so picturesque, the simple act of getting morning coffee there was such a treat. Also, brewing coffee with a gorgeous view must be good for the soul because %Arabica had some seriously beautiful baristas.

Although I didn’t get a chance to visit %Arabica’s Higashiyama store this time, I’ll be sure to visit and try a proper latte next time. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll catch %Arabica’s head barista & latte art champion Junichi Yamaguchi making my coffee.

Hotel Anteroom

An art space meets boutique hotel, Hotel Anteroom is the perfect place for solo travelers and design-loving people to visit when in Kyoto. I’ve read about it through many Kyoto insider guide books and have been dying to visit for a while now. Once I decided on visiting Kyoto for a long weekend, I immediately reserved one of the last remaining rooms at Hotel Anteroom.

The idea of Hotel Anteroom is almost like staying at an artist’s house, where there are unique concept rooms designed by Japanese artists. Unfortunately those were all booked for my dates so I selected the next best option–a Garden Room which had the most beautiful-looking cypress bath. Here’s what my room looked like:

Simple colors and lines (the door in the wall leads to the bathroom)

Hotel Anteroom uses a traditional key and lock system–you can drop off your keys with the concierge before leaving everyday

Beautiful lampshades adorn the room

Wooden workspace

The quaint rock garden was a really serene view to fall asleep and wake up to

A beautiful cypress bath that became my best friend, especially after long days of walking

Provinscia is a new brand I discovered while I was Hotel Anteroom. This lavender-scented bathing gel and shampoo was so lovely and relaxing, I regret not having purchased a set while I was there!

I made some green tea and relaxed with some afternoon reading each day–coincidentally, I was reading about the Ace Hotel through b magazine. In many ways, Hotel Anteroom reminded me of the Ace Hotels’ concept where they blend a hotel space with the local community’s personality, and really make the communal lounge a shared space for not just hotel guests.

Only a door away from the lounge and my daily nightcap

Tea time essentials

The interiors of the room were really simple but the stunning cypress bath that accompanied me every night after a long day, as well as the quiet view of the rock garden, made me feel right at home. I especially found Hotel Anteroom’s lounge space very charming. Every detail of the lounge, from the well-stocked whiskey bar to the specially curated books from Kyoto’s iconic bookstore Keibunsha, was carefully designed. You can feel the thought that went into curating every single object in the Hotel and I really appreciated that.

To showcase the common spaces+lounge, Upon a Fold’s photos of Hotel Anteroom are simply too beautiful not to share:

A living art space. On the first night of my stay, the space was packed with people with beers, listening to the artist who’s exhibition was on display (photo credit: http://www.uponafold.com)

Grab a magazine and sink into the common couches–you’ll meet visitors who are simply there to grab a drink and enjoy the art space (photo credit: http://www.uponafold.com)

Rainy weather in Kyoto (photo credit: http://www.uponafold.com)

Stylish interiors, curated books, a whiskey bar… AND of course, good food. Anteroom Meals is the hotel’s dining area where I had my breakfast buffets of salads, fruit smoothies, and the freshest pita wraps for 1,000 yen/person. Using fresh ingredients from a locally-based vegetable distributor, I started my day off everyday at Anteroom Meals. It really goes to show, simple food with good ingredients go a long way.

Hotel Anteroom is definitely such an unique place to stay at. Every day I felt like I started and ended my day in my own special space. Definitely don’t be daunted by the fact that it’s in a quieter neighborhood. The Kujo subway station is a 5 minutes walking distance, and within two stops you’ll find yourself right in the middle of Kyoto.

Last Thoughts

I wanted to share the above places all together because I felt that they all fit into a narrative of Kyoto I was privileged to discover for the first time. Each place was the manifestation of a desire to preserve and showcase a craft, whether it’s coffee or bronze chaztusu. In talking to the storekeepers and baristas, I learned about the different founders’ stories and was inspired by their wealth of knowledge and passion. I’ve linked all the stores’ websites above, so you can read about the founders’ incredible stories yourself.

love,
eatprayjade x.

A Brunch Affair at the Commune Social

The Commune Social is my current go-to spot in Shanghai. I love their beautifully-curated brunch menu and the restaurant’s desserts are simply to die for. Plus, it’s located in a stunning space designed by famed Shanghai-based architects Neri & Hu. Good food and a trendy vibe? Be still my heart. For brunch, the set menu is 188RMB for 3 dishes of your choice. Plates are brought out tapas style and great for sharing. I like that you can add additional plates for 68RMB, which is overall a steal for the quality of food you get.

I’ve been wanting to share this restaurant for a while now because a lot of readers visiting Shanghai have asked me what are some of my favorite spots. The team behind Commune Social (led by Chef Jason Atherton with Kim+Scott Melvin) are incredibly talented and I genuinely love how well crafted each dish is. The Commune Social doesn’t take reservations, so queues on the weekend can be 1hour+. If you don’t like waiting, either go early on weekends or visit for their weekday lunch menu.

The Commune Social is ‘食社’ in Chinese, which translates closely to a social space (commune) for food

Right when you walk in, you’ll find the dessert bar on your right hand side (after your meal, you can grab a seat here if you want to watch them make dessert in front of you!)

Berry smoothies as we wait for our party to get here…

brunch plates commence:

 

Scallops with chorizo on toast with a splash of beautiful brunch colors

Super creamy assortment of roasted and pureed sweet potato (photo by the lovely Colin Shun)

Soy marinated scallops with fennel and orange. Look at those beautiful layers of ingredients+colors!

Hot smoked salmon with beets (I didn’t get to try this dish but it looked beautiful)

Roasted eggplants that were super tasty and surprisingly filling (this is a special lunch menu item I had when I came on a weekday)

Tender and savory roasted beef tongue, this is one of my favorites on the menu!

and dessert…

 

The extensive and ever-changing dessert menu (my favorite is the beetroot chocolate cake!)

Pastry chefs at the dessert bar, making magic happen…

Dessert assortment of caramel popcorn, olive oil cake, and scoops of ice cream (the green scoop is their housemade basil ice cream that’s just out of this world, definitely worth trying)

Olive oil cake (this was good but not too different from conventional ones)

A fun and fancy twist on peanut butter & jelly–assortment of red fruits, peanut butter ice cream, and peanut caramel!

Beetroot and chocolate cake, my favorite. Super creamy and thick with a lovely meringue added to the mix

Simple industrial interiors

There’s a central courtyard in the middle of the restaurant that’s perfect for outdoor dining

Connected to the restaurant is Design Commune, an up-scale, and well curated design store for those interested in interior design pieces

I visited Commune Social last weekend with a group of friends so it was fun to try nearly every dish on their current menu. Verdict? Fresh ingredients, and well-balanced plates of sweet and savory. I loved both the scallop options (marinated and grilled), and the beef tongue was phenomenal. Other table favorites include kingfish carpaccio and the sweet potatoes. If you like seasonal menu changes, you’ll appreciate how Commune Social’s dishes are constantly evolving as they swap in different ingredients accordingly.

Because we had such a large party this past weekend for brunch, we didn’t switch over to sit at the dessert bar afterwards. But know that you have that option if there are empty seats! The whole idea is to enjoy the dessert bar where the pastry chefs make your desserts in front of you. There’s even a cocktail bar upstairs if you want to see mixologist magic happen. From the dessert menu, I love the beetroot chocolate cake just because it’s so indulgent without being overly sweet. I think depending on availabilities, different fruits are swapped with the beetroot. The peanut ice cream with ‘red fruits’ (strawberries & raspberries this time) with peanut caramel is also super decadent and a must-try.

Overall, great ingredients, beautiful plating, fun vibes, and always a good time. One of my favorite brunch spots in Shanghai, finally reviewed!

love,
eatprayjade x.

 

The Commune Social
Address // 上海市静安区江宁路511号 Jangning Lu 511
Tel // + 86 021 6047 7638
Website // http://www.communesocial.com
*Closed all-day Monday and closed Sunday for dinner 

A Curated Food Guide to Tianzifang 田子坊

Tianzifang 田子坊 is Shanghai’s charming equivalent of New York’s Chelsea Market+Highline. Once a 市集 (traditional Chinese marketplace), Tianzifang was remodeled in 1998 to become an artsy retail complex. From small trinkets to independent art galleries, there’s no shortage of things to see and eat. The area’s biggest charm? The lines of clothes drying in random corners of the streets, reminding you that older Shanghainese locals still live in the traditional lane houses.

Tianzifang is known to be very touristy but since making my official move this January I’ve discovered so many more unique storefronts. Like most places in Shanghai, Tianzifang is full of little alleyways that are incredibly fun to get lost in. As this area is always on my list of recommendations for visiting friends that only have a weekend layover in Shanghai, I’ve been wanting to consolidate a short list of food options in the area. The below is by no means a comprehensive list of things to eat in Tianzifang but these are a selection of my favorites that all have distinct shop styles of their own.

BREAKFAST

Taoyuan Village

A popular Taiwanese-style breakfast spot, Taoyuan Village is the perfect instagram place to start off the day. I love that they keep their menu simple and can always count on having a nice breakfast here (I adore the sweet soy milk). Taoyuan Village does get quite full on the weekends but turnover is fast. It’s a stone’s throw away from Tianzifang (literally across the street!) and a great place to sit down for a nice breakfast before heading off for some meandering.

Popular Taikang Lu branch has some outdoor seating (these go fast!); while there’s nearly always a queue to order, service is quite efficient so don’t be intimidated!

The aesthetic interiors make it an instagram heaven

If you want a bite of traditional Chinese breakfast, this is the nicest environment you’ll find in Shanghai (although definitely do visit the road-side stalls if you’re curious for a more ‘authentic’ experience)

咸豆花 Savory ‘Douhua’ Soft Tofu is a popular Chinese breakfast item, you can have your douhua in many different ways. If you opt for the savory option above, it comes with pickles, nori, scallions, and a dash of spicy rayu oil!

My FAVORITE breakfast item: 烧饼油条+蛋, which is a griddled ‘pancake’ stuffed with an ‘oil stick’ (think a savory churro), plus eggs. Dream combo!

 

LUNCH

EAST Eatery

*Updated October 2017, EAST has now closed in Tianzifang with new location TBA. 

Located conveniently in the middle of Tianzifang, EAST is a Michelin recommended eatery that serves a wide variety of Asian fusion dishes such as spicy rice cakes, baos, yakitori, etc.  Think of an izakaya style eatery where dishes are great for sharing and even better with a glass of beer. You’ll find more authentic Korean/Japanese restaurants elsewhere in Shanghai but if you’re looking for a place that’s trendy with a twist of fusion dishes, this is the perfect mid-day stop.

Look for the #39 in Tianzifang (or for the shop with lots of Michelin Man on the outside!)

EAST Bao Tasting Platter is a trio of assorted Taiwanese buns stuffed with tasty fillings such as pulled pork & duck

Korean style rice cakes (dokbokgi) that were spicy and sweet–I suspect they give the rice cakes a flash fry before coating it in the signature gochujang because these had a nice crispy skin to it!

Fish & chips topped with fried lotus roots–battered cod and salmon

COFFEE

Cafe Dan

Hands down my favorite cafe in Tianzifang, Cafe Dan is where I can always count on getting some writing and reading done. Don’t be daunted by the steep wooden steps at the entrance (they grow on you each visit I promise!), they’re worth the hike up. Once upstairs, you’ll find a Japanese-style cafe bar with owners that really take their coffee seriously. Not only do they roast their own beans, Cafe Dan has an entire section of the menu just dedicated to explaining the various types of coffee they have. My favorite thing at the cafe? Their coffee jello kakigori with a cup of cold brew.

#41 in the maze of Tianzifang, look out for the 丹 character up front

Eclectic cafe bar, full of decorations from Japan (you can watch your cup of coffee being made here!)

Large windows+ceiling windows=NATURAL LIGHT!

Extensive menus for both coffee+traditional Japanese cafe foods

Classic Cafe Dan Blend, with beans they roasted themselves

Cold brew+coffee jello kakigori

Cold brew+coffee kakigori is my dream combination, so you can imagine why I visit Cafe Dan just for this.

Cafe Dan’s special oyakodon is incredibly juicy and comes with a side of miso soup+cup of coffee at the end . Just in case you want a sneak peak of Cafe Dan’s extensive menu!

I’d be lying if I said I only come here for coffee because they can really whip up some simple but hearty Japanese dishes as well. My favorites are the Special Oyakodon and Unagi-don lunch sets, which all come with a miso soup and cup of coffee. Come for the coffee, stay for a bite if you can!

GALLERY+MATCHA

TASTE Shop

A lifestyle boutique shop with a really well-curated collection of lifestyle goods, TASTE Shop is a beautiful space in Tianzifang that also hosts special exhibits. I managed to catch their recent exhibit TASTE | Teibann Tenn which showcased a lot of daily objects and Japanese ceramics. The 1st and 2nd floor of TASTE both have a cafe bar but other than coffees here, I’d recommend trying the iced matcha/matcha lattes. I always love watching them whisk the matcha in front of me, it’s really an art.

Actually, I discovered TASTE Shop when I was walking past it with a friend once, and randomly, this beautiful cat came out to greet us. We were convinced it was a moment from Haruki Murakami’s books because the cat led us into the 1st floor shop where we met the owner, and then up to upstair cafe & gallery space. Either that cat was a great sales person (it is the owner’s cat after all), or the whole thing was orchestrated a little bit like a Murakami moment.

1st floor is where you can find a great collection of home goods and trinkets from Japan & Europe. The careful curated items for sale by the TASTE shop team is amazing! I spotted some amazing artisanal card holders here that I’m dying to pick up next time.

1st floor coffee menu; more seating+food menu is available upstairs on the 2nd floor

2nd floor cafe plus my favorite interior design touch: ceiling windows!

MATCHA! If you order matcha at the bar, (left is the matcha latte, and right is just ice matcha) they will whip it up in front of you

Simple but beautiful photo exhibit of the Japanese artists

Exhibition space on the third floor–check out the Taste Shop social media for updates (instagram: tasteshopsh)

Object and space

An ideal room in my house

Our magical sales person, now a majestic creature lazing around

beautiful #flatlay

So the above places are where I recently find myself when I’m in the Tianzifang area. Since I just discovered TASTE Shop recently, I definitely plan on going back soon to see when & what their next exhibit will be about. That being said, there are so many shops in the area that I haven’t visited. Most of the time, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of people the cobblestone alley ways can fit (the answer is A LOT!!). Tianzifang has its charms but is also quite touristy so definitely be prepared to brace the crowds for your visit.

Hope you enjoyed reading the above recommendations! It’s been a while since I posted, but I promise I’ll be getting back into blogging more. I’ve discovered a lot of new cafes in Shanghai recently and definitely want to put together a blog post on that soon (maybe a coffee+croissants, Shanghai edition).

love,
eatprayjade x.

 

Tianzifang 田子坊
Directions // Take Metro Line 10 to 打浦桥 Dapuqiao Station and follow the signs for ‘Taikang Lu’ and you’ll find yourself right at the entrance of Tianzifang 田子坊. For each individual store front, follow the green number signs.