Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hello Kitty Day pt 2

I can't tell you how excited I was to go to Sanrio's Puroland (aka Hello Kitty Land). They actually have 2 theme park that's Hello Kitty and friends based. The other one is way down south of Japan, it was easier to get there via Russia or Korea than from Japan. Crazy, huh? I'll take this any way I can.

Sanrio's Puroland actually have 4 places for food, suitable for all budgets and taste. As you enter the park, you're technically on the 3rd floor of the place. The main level doesn't have much except Information, Gift Shop, some lockers, and characters photo spot. The next thing we did was to walk upstairs. They have a small gift shop which is really Viviex, a small Cinnamon Dream cafe, a very hidden fancy restaurant Yakata, and a Robot Cafe.
I had actually hoped to go to the fancy Restaurant Yakata, because on their site, it looked like a nice fancy buffet. But, we were so hungry after all the walking from the morning to Hello Kitty Bakery in Timbuktu, that we were happy to see a sign of food. It was also kinda getting late by the time we got there, we wanted to make sure to get food and squeeze in all the stuff we can inside the 'park'.
We ended up at the Robot Food Machine Cafe. It was cafeteria style, but the way they presented the food is very much on par w/ the name sake of the restaurant. You have this giant machine looking thing, which is a mask for the kitchen in the back. You go thru each 'station', which has rotating food or drinks. One would be for children, their food/snack/juice box; one station would be for appetizer, one would be for hot Westernized food, and one for Japanese food. Then you have a drink station, and then you pay. Much like Luby's. Their staff will help you w/ your tray and help you to your table. Each table is equipped w/ a Hello Kitty high chair, because not all people who go to Puroland is a crazy 30-something girl who drag her mother with her. Urm.. yeah, that was me.
There is a Gourmet Bazaar is inside the 'park' which is on the 1st Floor. It's a fast food style snack place. Things are relatively cheap as far as themed park goes. We walked in and took a quick look and turned around. By the end of the day, I was ready for some 'snack' so I got a chestnut tart from Cinnamon's Dream Cafe. I was sad to report the macaron wasn't fresh, and the tart was only dismal in taste, but hey, it sure was fun to be there.

On the way to the hotel, we needed to switch trains at Shinjuku. Their train station is a major hub for the working masses and also a jointing point for different JR lines so there are shops and restaurants built inside the station. This 'sub floor' between 1st and 2nd floor is basically built as a circle w/ food either to go, fast food, or sit down all in this circle.
One of my MUSTs was Unaju from the authentic place. So, Unaju it is... I must say, it doesn't taste any better or worst, but you feel the tradition and the food when it is presented to you sitting there. It came with miso soup, which by the way, they don't put in diced tofu anymore. Instead, they put in fried tofu skin, which is kinda crunchy but soften by the soup. Some small veggie and ginger.
That meal was the most expensive meal we've had in Japan. Most of our meals doesn't cost more than $10US per person, this one dish by itself was more than $20US. That's a shock to me because how cheap everything else is by comparison, this is on the higher end. But now I can check off my list of food to experience while I'm in Japan.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hello Kitty Day pt 1

So, one of the MUSTs I have set out for this Tokyo trip is to go to the Hello Kitty Bakery. It's really called Promenade de Kitty. This is the only Hello Kitty Bakery that they have in the entire country. =^.^=

Their website is all in Japanese and not updated very frequently. They did say that they recently renovated in preparation of Kitty's birthday, which was Nov 1st. So, I know that by the time I get there they'll be open.

Getting there, however, was not fun. When we asked the front desk of the hotel, the lady with her very broken English was trying to tell me how far it is. Which, I do know about that, just didn't really know how far it really is. The front desk lady was very nice and picked up the phone and called the place. The lady that was at the place had some very screwy instructions to get there. Frankly, their Yahoo directions was no better than the ones I got from Google.

There's never been English instructions to get there, and I think I'm going do this for my own memory and if there are other non-Japanese speakers that wanted to make that pilgrimage to see the big kahuna, this is it!

Now, I stayed in Central Tokyo, so getting there wasn't exactly a piece of cake. We stayed along the Hanzomon Line (半蔵門), they do have a train that takes you straight to Chūō-Rinkan Station (中央林間). If the train you took dead ends to Shibuya (涉谷), that's ok, you can switch to Tōkyū Den-en-toshi Line (東急田園都市線) and you can straight there.
Once you get to the station, you exit and head South towards a major roadway. Oh yeah, by the way, good luck in finding the name of the street... it wasn't easy. The way you know it's South, is that you have 7-11 behind you, and a parking lot w/ 2 wood board map of the surrounding area to mark. If you head down the street of where that parking lot is, and keep going, you'll deadend to the major street. And if you happened to see a taxi, grab it, because it is a very long walk. No lie! *If you do take a taxi, print out the Japanese address, since most of them don't do English very well.*
What we did was that we walked down that main through-fair till we saw Nissan, and turn left. That is the section of Komatsubara (小松原), 1st Section. You head straight down, and this is the not so pretty part. You have alot of warehouses, factory-like places. Tons of small homes but alot of industrious places where truckers pull in.

We walked alot of the pieces that doesn't have sidewalks and that's the not-so-pretty part. And again, since it's mostly residential and w/ some warehouses and factory, people and normal cars are scarce.
When you get close, you do see a flag type sign on your left, and the right side is another factory/warehouse. That sign will take you to the back of the building. So, you do have to walk past this back of a warehouse and parking lot to get to the 'front' of the building. By the way, dead giveaway, the columns of the place are painted pink. And here's why, turns out, that is one of the distribution points for Japan, Hello Kitty merchandise. They get any irregulars, discontinued stuff. So, I guess as the new stuff comes in, get processed here and distributed, the returned stuff comes in and they sell them at hugh discount... and I'll tell you why I know this shortly.

Let me tell you, when I saw this place I was absolutely estatic, of course this is after walking over an hour, I was thrilled to see anything that resemble life. That said, the bakery itself is very small, but you can definitely smell it. I bought everything Hello Kitty edible possible. The rest are really just a bakery shop w/ nice and pretty bread. I knew they just recently renovated and everything is new. Since we walked for over an hour to get there, we were more than pleased to see cafe-like table and chairs.
The staff doesn't speak any English and our pointing and smiling can only take you so far. That said, they are uber friendly and you can't hate the situation because they're so kind and polite about everything.
I ended up buying these bread-products. The 2 that are bread, actually has custard cream inside. The cookie-like thing is actually toast, in the shape of HK, and coated w/ sugar. And here I thought it was cookie, it was just toast.
When I tried to buy some of their Hello Kitty's in Bakery outfit, the staff pain-stakingly tried to communicate that they are not for sale. With big disappointment on my face, the guy w/ the most English (which is not very much) pointing and jesturing to follow him. Hmm... follow stranger???
Well, he took me to the back of the building where the pink columns are. There, they have a tiny aisle of Hello Kitty products. That's how I found out the leftovers from all over are located there. They have a sticker system like 2 for $1000yen and what not type menu. I actually don't need anything they have to offer and they don't have the HK Bakery to offer, but since he took me there, I felt bad and bought something.
To get back, you can try to wait for the bus, they don't run very often, so you may have to wait a bit. All you have to do is head South to the other major street and you'll see another 7-11 and you turn left that's the main street. We ended up taking a bus to Minami Rinkan Station (南林間) by luck that it came right by, which belongs to Odakyū Enoshima Line (小田急江ノ島線) towards Shinjuku direction (新宿行) and switched train at Shin-Yurigaoka (新百合ケ丘)and headed up to Puroland at Tama Plaza ((小田急多摩センター).
If you're going, good luck... have someone local call for you in case you need more help. But the level of English in a non-commerical area is very slim, so be prepared.
TEL 046-298-1800
営業時間 9:00~18:00
Promenade de Kitty (bakery)
Kanagawa-ken Zama-shi小松原2丁目23−30
Tel: 046-298-1800
Hours: 9a-6p
*this is the only Hello Kitty Bakery in the entire country of Japan*

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Airport and Airplane food

My orders of the entires are all wrong because I totally forgotten about these pics I took of the journey from Hong Kong to Tokyo. Amazingly, the airport has a wide variety of food at the airport. They have the traditional Chinese (i.e. noodle & congee) to dim sum, to set meals, to Burger King. I thought I saw Italian and seafood bar as well. So you'll definitely not starve at the airport, not only that, you would be pleasantly surprise how decent the food and food choices are.

That said, one of the 'fast food chains' in Hong Kong set up shop in the airport food court. I had to highlight the fact that they are 'fast food' like that is because their fast food is not the run of
the mill fast food you and I are used to in the States. We have the McDonald's, KFCs, Burger Kings. Don't get me wrong, they have those too, but their version of fast food is really a cooked meal fast. They have rice dishes, noodle dishes, play on traditional Chinese dishes but fast. So, yes, they are 'fast food' but not as bad for you as the other ones.

I got the soy sauce chow mein, which is very traditional dim sum dish. It's oily and greasy, but that's kinda the charm of it. I'm not quite sure why they put a slice of ham on top like that's giving me the protein I needed. My mom got the set breakfast. As you can see, that's a ton of food but seems to be just right. Urm, hello, they still have this thing called portion! The set breakfast comes with macaroni and ham, broth style, cup of coffee, sausage and egg. For about $40HKG, which is a little more than $5USD you get all that food. It's really a bargain.

The other surprise I had when going to Tokyo was that the other airlines are still serving the food meals we once know and love on the plane. Yes, you can insert the airplane food jokes here, but look at the presentations, even if the food is not that great, you don't see these in the States anymore. You do see something similar on International flights by US airline companies, but let me tell you, something about the foreign airlines that they are doing it up right and you do feel special flying like they do back in the glamourous days.

That said, since alot of Japanese fly that flight, they suit the menu to the audience. They have chicken w/ rice and some veggies, soba noodles (yes w/ wasabi) a cake and a roll. Yes, it's weird, but that's part of the lunch. I would say that the entree and the noodle is good enough to fill you up. That's 2 starches so on top of the cake and the bread, you're really starched up.

Upon arrival, it was dinner time after we settled down. Across the way from the hotel is this cute little restaurant, and again this is the Asian Fast Food... you put money in the vending machine, turn that into the counter and they give you food. The problem is that we don't speak a lick of Japanese, the pictures we see at the outside of the store, which lured us into the restaurant doesn't have a picture inside. So when we tried to paid we don't know which one to pick.

How nice was this little lady who spoke more English than the front desk of the hotel, came up and helped us. Except, she picked the Special they're offering instead of what we wanted. But it was late, we were greatful someone spoke English and helped us. So, we ended up with tempura over rice, which by itself is already tons. But the special came w/ soba noodle, which is another style of making it than the one from the plane. This is w/ warm soup and usually soba is w/ cold sauce, and that gives it a different flavor. And again, that's tons of starch. But since that little old lady was so nice to us, we felt very much obligated. Most of these places offer you water for sure, and they do have tea bags for green tea, not much of a soda nation, altho most of them for extra $100yen, you can get a small cup with your meal.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tokyo Day 1

So, the first day we went to Asakusa in the Northeast part of Tokyo metroplex. I've always seen pictures of Asakusa temple growing up. This is such an icon for Japan and what they represents, their tradition despite the fact that we're probably driving a Japanese car or use any Japanese appliance at our home representing how much technology they have to offer.

After the morning touring, we were hungry for some real Japanese food. "Real" being made by someone really, truly born Japanese. Not like the Japanese food in Texas that is made by some underpaid migrant worker. Just as hard working just not authentic.

Anyway, they are very much into set lunches. Unlike in the States, they come with soup and small sides. Oh yeah, they have the proper portion on food too. I *heart* Japan!

The first one was spicy curry sauce with ham over rice. They come with miso soup and veggies. Of course, that glass of green thing is melon soda. Urm, yeah, if you ever go to the World of Coca Cola and get to the tasting room, you'd get to taste the sodas they offer all over the world and this is one of them. Mind you, it doesn't taste like melon just more like fizzy green soda.

The next thing I love it there is my favorite bean paste pastry. Basically, it's a soft waffle on the outer shell, inside they have red bean paste traditionally. That day I've seen one filled with cheese, apple & cheese, chestnut, pastachio, and strawberry. What I like about that is the new shape they have. As you can see, this is a birdie and a lantern like the one hanging on Asakusa's temple.

They have tons of booths that sell these. Some do it with a machine, which fill the molds put the fillings and bake them. Once it's baked it seal them into little packs. I did find 2 booths that did them by hand.

At night we walked down to a Curry Shop around our area. It's very neat that you buy a ticket from the vending machine. Then you take the ticket to the counter and they give you water and food. Of course, we don't know a lick of Japanese, so we relied heavily on pictures. There's no telling if we're getting exactly what we see, the pictures on the vending machine is tiny (that fits the buttons) so there are no way to see if you're getting exactly what we thought we are ordering.

The way they operate feels like going to Waffle House style that just cooks you your food right in front of you, except not cheap or greasy or dirty. Of course most of the food is pre-measured and needed to heated up. It just the Japanese fast food. It literally did not take more than 5 mins. There are businessmen that just comes in after work, on their way home, and just grab one of these meals. You do get alot for little price. I would say most of time we paid less than 5 dollars US per person per meal. So, I can totally dig this type of fast food.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hong Kong Day 1 ~ Food.

The first thing I usually do when I get off the plane is to fine my favorite food that I don't get when I'm in the States. Most of them aren't super awesome good, 90% of it is really sentimental reasons.
The first thing I do is to gothese mom and pop shops and order fried cheung fun w/ plum sauce and soy sauce fried noodels. It's not that this place in particular famous for this dish or anything. As a matter of fact, you can get this dish in almost all neighborhood, almost everyone has a shop in every neighborhood. Unlike 7-11s and Circle Ks, which were neck-to-neck 3 per block and one set for 7-11 and one set for Circle K.

The soy sauce fried noodle is very no frills. It's really cooked noodles w/ soy sauce. This dish is mostly found during dim sum but slowly went to the streets. They usually have these at shops that sells cheung fun but they also have them at the tea restaurant. What exactly is a tea restaurant, it's really a small scale 'fast food' restaurant that serves everything from egg an
d toast to noodles like this, to fried rice, to congee. A variety of things...

For lunch, we went to Stanley Market which is a tourist hot spot. It's mostly known for it's flea market style shopping. 90% of them are souvenir related but occasionally you can find some good deals on factory outlet or something like that. I used to come here all the time because there's a beach near by and it's not very deep and that's the closest 'beach' there is. Now that I'm grown, that place seems small. When I was younger, I felt like we can walk and walk and walk on forever. Now, we polished it w/in an hour. Mind you take about just that much to get there thru this windy 2-way road that took alot of skills to avoid the mountain on one side and on coming traffic w/ the other. Let's just say one lady sitting in front of us was squealing because she knew back home you wouldn't drive that way.

Anyway, the food we had also from the reminiscent category. It's fish egg (not roe/caviar) noodle w/ iced lemon tea. Here's the thing about drinking tea in Hong Kong, most of them are already sweeten w/ a couple of exception. They use syrup to help sweeten whatever cold. None of the pink stuff, blue stuff or yellow stuff. It's straight shot to the tea.

This noodle dish is super easy. It's egg noodle w/ this fish mixture in a shape of a ball and some yummy soup, and there you have it. We added some Chinese broccoli for good vegetable serving.

For dinner, my aunt and my uncle, sister and brother of my mom respectively, wanted to have dinner w/ us. My aunt picked this Teochew or Chaozhou Cuisine. Chaozhou is a providence of China. While they share characters w/ the Chinese language, the way they speak it is entirely different. When my family get together and talk excitingly, that's what they speak. They are known to be very fiery people. Everytime they talk it feels like they're yelling at each other.

Anyway, their food is supposed to be famous. For this one restaurant in particular is so famous that he opened 3 shops all 3 next to each other w/ a couple of things in between. And it was funny as we walked up and tell them how many in our party, they asked if we have any reservations. Before they moved into the shops, they cooked on the side of the street. Who was taking reservations then?! But after waiting for 4o mins we got our table. This is located on Upper Central where there's still alot of Chaozhou people live and conduct import/export business there. They mostly deal w/ rice or dried goods and they still use an abacus to calculate things.

That said, their food used to be cooked on the side of the street but they are known of seafood. You can read more about the cuisine characateristic here. We had the meat platter, which as fattening that must've been, it was good. All were braised in one shape or another. There are pork, chicken, tofu, and I don't remember if there was duck or not. Then we had the cold crab. We also ordered fried oysters and they gave us a dessert and the Gungfu tea. It is said to help you be strong... I'm thinking it's because it's loaded w/ caffeine, but hey... That's part of the tradition.

Meals in Hong Kong

Friday, November 12, 2010

Going International

This new few entries will be Patty going international. I have a leave from work, so decided to go 'home' for the time I have. Home is actually Hong Kong, but we'll be side tripping to Tokyo as well.

That said, let me just tell you that nowadays airline service not only horrible, they don't give you peanuts or pretzels anymore. But for the low low price you too can get whatever you want, just select it from a menu. No, seriously, we went on board and the front pocket has your usual barf bag, the airline's magazine, the SkyMall, and now this menu. It cost $2 for a prepackaged muffin, and by the way, they don't take cash. So the 'correct change is always appreciated' is no longer needed. They only take charge anyway. They have anything from breakfast such as muffin, parfait to classic snack box that cost $5. Yeah, it's not exactly worth my money. For now, soda and water are still free.

Now, International flights on the other hand, night and day difference. We are served 3 meals and free movies. I must've watched 4 movies, 5 tv shows and just dozed off in between. But don't worry, I didn't missed the food portion.

Dinner wasn't half bad. I had the beef and rice w/ salad. It's very no frills. Beff w/ sauce and rice. You have some
vegetable and that's about that. They had a triple brownie on the tray, but I kept it for later.

Almost till about 4 hrs when we are getting ready to land, they served 'snack'. Which was cheeseburger and ice cream. Don't get me how they came up w/ that combo... but such as it is. I skipped the burger and stuck w/ ice cream; and added my triple brownie. So, here's the thing... the ice cream is good, but the brownie wasn't so much, which was disappointing because I had hope it'd be yummy and good. But it wasn't.

An hour before we land, they served 'breakfast. It was either omlete or Chinese noodles. They were trying to mimic the Chinese street noodle where it is essentially fried noodle plus soy sauce to give it that flavor and color. Now? Well, the airplane meal was hard and crunchy. They did come w/ dumplings except it was totally dried up.

Overall, I say it's not the best food ever, but for airplane food, you can't ask for more... sad, but true.

Service/Menu by Continental Airlines.