Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Tokyo, Japan

Sometimes following your hunger instincts can turn out to be a pleasant serendipity, as it played out when my travel companions and I wandered haphazardly around the vicinity of Asakusa, Tokyo after visiting the popular Sensoji Temple. We were craving tempura and came across Aoi Marushin with its inviting plastic displays of the variety of the tempura dishes they offer (yes, as weird as this sounds, the Japanese plastic replicas of food bear an uncanny 99.9% resemblance to real food and thus totally whets your appetite!)

We flipped opened the menu and saw the variety offered and this helpful pictorial explanation of how tempura is made. The menu comes with English descriptions. I know, I know, this usually screams "tourist trap!", but hey, the restaurant is located in the vicinity of the tourist-friendly Sensoji Temple after all. So we let this red herring pass and because we had a good feeling about this place, we gave it a vote of confidence and splurged on the prime tempura set.

Vote's all goo....oood. This has got to be THE best tempura we've ever tasted! The Prime Tempura set consists of Saimaki prawn (never had it before, but having tasted it, I just want more of it), sea eel, white fish and some vegetables - special mention to the eggplant (my favorite vegetable to be done tempura-style). The seafood and the vegetables were fresh and covered in just nice a layer of the crispiest, most fragrant batter (sesame oil at work here)! Light, delicious and simply lip-smacking with just a touch of the dipping soyu sauce or a squeeze of lemon or a sprinkle of salt here and there. Oishiii.... more tempura please!

And we can't resist ordering one of our favorite Japanese side dishes - Tamago, Japanese omelette. Also, delicious. Nicely done and served with garnish/topping of grated daikon (white radish).

And if the tempura doesn't fill you up. Their sushi is decent as well. All in all, a terrific meal and a terrific find! Our tab for the above three dishes added up to 5100 yen (USD 49, SGD 67), with the prime tempura set going for only 2650 yen (USD 25, SGD 35). It ain't cheap but my companions and I concur that it's money well-spent on a quality meal!

Of course, later when I'm back home and surfing online, I found posts on Aoi-Marushin and apparently it's been serving tempura for half a century already! See for map, address and contact details of Aoi-Marushin or go to the restaurant's official website at for an alternative map. It shows Aoi-Marushin as only 60m from the Kaminari 雷門 (Thunder) gate of Sensoji.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Moreish Hokkaido Snacks

When you leave Hokkaido, you can't resist hoarding back loads and loads of their goodies - snacks, produce etc.

After plowing through the load of snacks I brought back from this trip, below are my three favorites. They are also not too expensive and make for great gifts for your foodie friends, solving that headache of a question "What gifts do I buy back from Hokkaido?"

1. Melon Jelly Cups

There are jellies and then there is the Hori-brand Yubari Melon Jellies. The jelly simply bursts with the sheer intensity of melony sweetness with each bite. And if you come across the bigger-portioned palm-sized melon cup versions, grab them! Chill them in the fridge, peel off the cover and savor the jelly with a spoon. It's akin to scooping from a slice of the famed Yubari melon. Yummy!

In fact, you probably won't go wrong with any of the Yubari-melon flavoured products - melon gummies, melon chocolate, melon chocolate-coated melon gummies and melon flavoured ice cream cone (pity we can't lug this back).

2. Cream Cheese Cookie

One popular snack that folks like to bring back from their Hokkaido holidays, is the Shiroi Koibito Langue de Chat cookies, which consists of a layer of white chocolate sandwiched between two layers of biscuits. While I liked the crumbly biscuit of the Shiroi Koibito, I do find it a tad too sweet and unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of white chocolate. So I was pleasantly surprised when I came across this alternative version while doing some last minute shopping at Hakodate airport.

The red-box packaging reads "Regalo From Powdery Snow" (the intended meaning is probably lost in translation). This cookie resembles the Shiroi Kobito and has the same crumbly biscuits but instead of white chocolate filling, it sandwiches a layer of cream cheese. This speaks out to the cheese lover in me and being a savory filling, it balances well with the sweetness of the biscuits. For me, it was simply the perfect cookie, made in snack heaven!

3. Dried scallop with cheese

This snack to be honest, may be an acquired taste for some. It was for me. I bought this at the Hakodate Morning Market, from the dried goods store and found them among the plain dried scallops. Do note that there is a difference between the dried scallops that are meant to be cooked and those that are meant for snacking , straight from the packet. Better to check with the storekeepers like I did, if you are not certain.

It makes a nice, moreish, savoury snack when the salt binge hits you. Cheese with Scallop. No-brainer.