Category Archives: Food

Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q2: In-N-Out v. Chick-Fil-A

Continued from Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q1: Chuy’s Tex Mex and South Congress Cafe, Austin

The miserable weather was not letting up, but dinnertime was approaching and I thought, “I’m in Austin and I may never come back here again so I’LL BE DAMNED if I’m gonna let a little bit of rain get in the way of eating some world famous Austin food truck barbecued meats!” I didn’t care if I needed to eat it under an umbrella or stink up our rental car with the smell of smoked brisket, I wasn’t going home without trying it.

With the limited time we had in the city, Franklin was sadly never an option. As much as it broke my heart to forego what many consider to be the best barbecue in America (if not the world!) the four hour wait would have taken too big a chunk out of our precious little time in Austin and I had to make that sacrifice. It was a really tough call, but it was one I had to make.

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Lucky for us, since Aaron Franklin sparked a barbecue revolution in Austin, the city has become known for restaurants and food trucks that take their meat very very seriously and have turned smoked protein into a refined art. A bunch of places have emerged that dare to challenge Franklin’s dominance and my research put two names at the top of the list: La Barbecue and Micklethwait Craft Meats.

They’re both located around downtown Austin, so we took the car to Micklethwait first, only to be . . .

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DENIED. Closed. Only open Wednesday through Saturday. Okay, disappointing, but let’s try La Barbecue.

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DENIED AGAIN. Turns out rain wasn’t even the issue, the problem was that we had lost all sense of date and time, as you do when you’re traveling, and failed to realise it was Monday and that most restaurants are closed on Mondays. This meant that even apart from food trucks there was no viable option for a barbecue dinner in Austin that night.

Cue panic.

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I did not have a non-barbecue Plan B and I could not live with the idea of wasting a meal in Austin at some crappy random restaurant that we chose just because it was open.

This is when Matt cheerily suggested, “Let’s go to In-N-Out!!”

With all the hype I had heard about In-N-Out, I would have been happy to go there for a late-night burger run after a Spurs game but I had not planned on spending a main meal there. Even if it was God’s gift to fast food, fast food is still fast food and I didn’t come to Texas to eat a slightly fancier version of McDonalds! But desperate times . . .

Matt was filled with utter glee at the thought of In-N-Out for dinner. He had tried it for the first time on his last trip to the States and it had been immortalised in his memory as the greatest fast food burger he’d ever tasted. He was like:

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And I was sitting in the car like . . .

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“This better be good.”

Every American I’ve met in Korea gets a big moist-eyed and drooly when they talk about In-N-Out. As someone who’s (surprisingly) not that into junky fast food burgers, my question is always, “How good can it be?” They can never quite specify exactly why they love In-N-Out as much as they do, but they all seem to be in agreement that there’s nothing on earth that quite equals the burgers at In-N-Out.

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The first thing I noticed was that the menu is REALLY basic. Three burgers, fries, and drinks. And the burgers are all just variations of the same hamburger. While most fast food restaurants these days have 100-item menus that are constantly changing with seasons and trends, the In-N-Out menu has stayed the same since it first opened in 1948.

I think people love the story of In-N-Out as much as they love the burgers. It’s a family-run business that, despite its cult-status and popularity, has only 300 locations in the USA (compare that to McDonalds’ 15,000 locations) and has refused to franchise or go public. It’s recently branched out to Texas (WIN for us) but is still pretty much exclusive to the state of California. They care about quality in a way that is really rare in the fast food business, and they only use fresh ingredients – freezers are not even allowed in any of the restaurants.

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Our server was super cheery – in fact all the staff seemed genuinely happy and friendly. A nice change from Maccas servers who treat you like you’ve stolen their will to live. The friendliness is probably the fruit of the company’s strong Christian values and the fact that unlike almost every other fast food business, the workers get paid significantly more than minimum wage.

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There’s only one In-N-Out in Austin and it’s relatively new so the place was packed out.

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The kitchen is completely open so you can see the workers at the assembly station putting together the elements of each burger with tender loving care. Thanks to their dedication to hamburger excellence, you aren’t given sad, wilted burgers that make you want to take to the photo on the menu up to the counter and complain “THIS IS ALL A LIE.” You end up with this beauty:

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DOUBLE PATTY!

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Let’s zoom out a bit now:

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One Double-Double, one Cheeseburger, and two fries, ALL “Animal Style.” What is this crazy Animal Style, you ask? Well, as it turns out, while the menu may look deceptively simple on its face, behind it lies a universe of infinite permutations and customisations that In-N-Out aficionados refer to as the “secret menu.” There is an official “Not-So-Secret Menu” that In-N-Out has on their website, and this includes Animal Style (burger with extra Thousand Island spread, grilled onions instead of fresh and mustard-grilled beef patty; fries topped with melted cheese, grilled onions, and spread), but there is SO MUCH MORE that I didn’t know about and am KICKING myself for not studying earlier.

In particular, I would have liked to try:

  • Patty cooked medium-rare (pink in the middle and super juicy!)
  • Burger w/ chopped chillies (sport peppers chopped and pressed into the bottom of the burger)
  • Fries well-done (for extra crispiness – we found the fries a bit soggy and disappointing, but well-done would have cured this I’m sure)
  • Whole grilled onion (for extra stinky breath goodness)
  • 3×3 (3 patties, 3 cheese slices. Not for me, but Matt would have been game and it would have looked really sexy in a photo)

The 4×4 (4xPatty, 4xCheese) is actually listed on the official Not-So-Secret menu which I find INSANE. Not sure if even Matt could even stomach that. Wait, I just asked him if he could take it and he said “GLADLY” so I guess it’s not as crazy as I thought. And it doesn’t even stop there; you can go as high as you want. 100 x 100 anyone? Man, if I had known all this beforehand, this blog post would be a lot more fun. Oh well, I guess that’s just one more reason why I need to go back to Texas someday soon.

But what did we actually think of the burgers? Matt’s face says it all.

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(The second photo is from when we went again in San Antonio. We asked the server to give us a paper hat. Pretty sure they’re only meant to hand that out to kids.)

It was just as good as he remembered. Like a beastly Manu monster dunk in a championship winning game, it’s rare, it’s like a dream, but when you get to experience it in real life it’s the absolute greatest thing in the world.

Manu Dunk

As for me, I liked it a lot. It’s the best fast food burger I’ve tasted and I really appreciated the attention to detail like the crisp toasted bun, melty melty cheese, the freshness of the lettuce and tomato, and the patty that actually tasted like real beef. But a burger is still . . . a burger. It wasn’t something so revelatory that I wanted to scream or jump or cry or die. It was a solid, satisfying Danny Green triple-double fist pump.

Danny Green Yes

That brings me to the next American fast food icon that I was even more intrigued to try. Chick-Fil-A was a name I wasn’t at all familiar with until I moved to Korea and made friends with people from the American South. When I asked them what I needed to eat in Texas, before the Tex Mex, before the barbecue, before any other restaurant, they told me: “CHICK. FIL. A.”

Chick-Fil-A specialises in chicken sandwiches and the classic sandwich is just a deep fried chicken fillet, with two pickle slices between two soft buns. That’s it. My expectations were set pretty darn high thanks to the overwhelming praise of my southern friends, but was also tempered by my “How good could it actually be? It’s just a chicken sandwich” skepticism.

That night (yes, the same day we had In-N-Out – we were on holiday and just rollin’ like fatties) after a really great bar-hop of Sixth Street’s live music bars, we went on a late night Chick-Fil-A run just as its doors were about to close.

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The sandwich came in this sturdy foil-lined paper bag. It opened up to reveal this…

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… and my heart just went:

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The FATTEST chicken fillet I’d ever seen in my life. It was fatter than both those buns combined! And you can’t really tell from the grainy inside the car at midnight photo, but the batter was dark gold and looked so crispy. I ripped open a sachet of the signature Chick-Fil-A sauce (a combination of honey mustard, BBQ, and ranch) and squeezed it all over the that fat fillet and took a biiiig bite.

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And my brain, my mouth, my everything just went,

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I am not a good enough writer to adequately explain to you all how good this little sandwich tasted. So I’ll try to express it through the language of Spurs gif.

Manu Flame Pass

It was like, Obi Wan Ginobili half-court magic fireball pass good.

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It was like, Tony Parker in the paint laying it up like nightcrawler good.

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It was like, Timmy D buzzer-beating game-winning jumpshot good.

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It was like, BoBo to Kawhi with the OOP good.

Do they use drugs? Do they use magic? Do they sing Beyonce’s hits to their chickens and raise them on a diet of foie gras and champagne? It’s a chicken BREAST fillet but there is no trace of the stringy, tough, dryness that is expected from white meat. My teeth just glided through that fillet like it was a chicken-flavoured marshmallow. There MUST be some deep, dark secret to how they get their sandwiches to taste so good because if it was anything less than sorcery, everyone would copy the recipe and our world would be filled with perfect tasting chicken sandwiches.

There are a few theories floating around. One of the most popular is that the chicken fillets are brined in pickle juice, and a lot of the copycat recipes recommend using this method when trying to replicate the sandwich at home. This makes a lot of sense because it explains both the explosion of salty salty goodness that cannot come from the chicken breast alone, and the super succulent, tender texture of the fillet. Others suggest that a more ordinary brine of salt and water will do the trick. I’ve been always been a brining skeptic (mainly because I’m lazy) but when I saw the physical transformation that brining achieves, I was almost convinced that this must have been the key. But I’d still prefer to believe that the secret involves some magic breed of a chicken that bathes in milk and has a personal masseuse.

I wouldn’t stop going on and on about how good the chicken was and how I needed to eat it at least one more time before leaving the States but Matt just brushed me off, saying that I only liked it so much because I had experienced something he calls “The Drunken Munchies.” Okay, yeah I had enjoyed a glass of wine and some Sangria cocktails that night. And yes, I may have fallen asleep in the car while he was out getting the sandwiches, but it was past my bedtime and I was just tired, okay? How dare he suggest that the integrity of my tastebuds was compromised by a few measly drinks.

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There was only one way we could settle this . . .

Fast-forward to our last meal in San Antonio. We drove 30 minutes west of downtown so Matt could have In-N-Out one more time. We picked up his Double-Double and Cheeseburger order (both for him), and then went around the corner for my much-anticipated dinner at:

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This time, in full daylight and perfectly sober, I went inside myself and ordered a chicken sandwich and some of their famous waffle fries.

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I was just going to get the original sandwich again, but when I saw the spicy option I couldn’t resist. Because I like my chicken fillets the same way I like my meatballs,

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. . . SPICY!

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This time around the fillet wasn’t as giant as the one in Austin, but it was still bigger than the top bun. The crunch of the batter was actually visible and begging to be bitten into.

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The Fil-Ayyyyy was as juicy and tender as I remembered it. The spiciness added a nice kick, but I wasn’t so awesome that I would always choose this over the original. In fact, I think I liked the original (and whatever secret herbs and spices it has in its batter) better. And yeah, I’ll admit that while this had all the same qualities as the first sandwich in Austin, it didn’t blow my mind in the same way. But it wasn’t because my judgment had been impaired that first time, it was because your first Chick-Fil-A sandwich is like your first kiss. You may have it again dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times in your life, but nothing will ever compare to the moment when you first experienced that completely new and sweet sensation that was unlike anything you had felt before.

Chick-Fil-A, I bestow upon you the highest honour: the coveted, prestigious, and freakishly oversized

kawhi 5Klaw

KAWHI-FIVE.

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TEAM CHICKEN 4EVAAAA!

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Christmas Turkey: a Retrospective

It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s almost time for my annual roast turkey feast. Except that this year, I don’t have an oven. Little bit of Korean household trivia for you: the kitchens in this country generally don’t include ovens. It is partly a space issue but is also due to the fact that while Koreans like to fry, steam, braise, boil and pickle, they do not bake or roast. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest shortcomings of Korean society. A messed up education system, rampant gender inequality, and ovenlessness is what is really keeping us back as a nation.

So to help me grieve over the fact that I can’t roast a turkey this year (it actually really upsets me and makes me not want to celebrate Christmas at all), I thought I would write a “turkey retrospective” of sorts and also share the tips and techniques that I have learnt in the art of turkey roasting over the years.

As you will have seen from the few cooking posts I’ve published on this blog, as much as I love food, cooking is not something that comes naturally to me. But there is one notable exception: turkey roasting. I OWN turkey roasting. I would happily and confidently go against Martha, Nigella, Maggie, and Jamie in a turkey roast-off and I would SLAY THEM ALL. My annual roast turkey is famous. By famous I mean renowned and praised amongst family and friends which is as famous as anything I do will ever get, so yes, FAMOUS. My dad even spoke about my turkey in his Father of the Bride speech at my wedding. My turkey is the shiz and ya’ll should listen up to everything I have to say because I am the definitive WORD on turkey roasting.

But before I impart my sage advice with you all, I should probably provide some photographic evidence of my turkey roasting prowess. So here it is, 2008-2014 A Turkey Retrospective.

2008: “Challenge Accepted!”

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In Australia, Christmas dinners traditionally involve barbequed steaks, snags, and skewers and a big bowl of fresh prawns. Roast turkey isn’t actually that common, and is an idea that has been completely stolen from the Amuuurrrcans. In 2008, a group of friends and I had the wild idea of making turkey dinner for Christmas. It was novel, it was ambitious, it was a challenge to make a Christmas dinner that would slaughter all other Christmas dinners. And I took it on with gusto. The above may look a bit rough, but it was a result of hours of research, about ten combined recipes, a full day in the kitchen, and pure, extravagant love. Serving around twelve people, it’s the biggest turkey I’ve ever made, and the most memorable. We made it and ate it not even knowing what a roast turkey was meant to taste like, but it blew all our minds and ruined all future Christmases because we all knew that no Christmas dinner in our remaining lifetimes would taste as glorious as this one did.

2009-2010: “The Dark Ages” 

No photo records exist of these turkeys because we were too hungry and excited to eat them to waste time taking photos. They did exist, you need to trust me on this one.

2011: “InstaTurkey” 

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This year I followed a Neil Perry recipe that introduced me the miracle of stuffing a turkey’s skin as well as the cavity. I never looked back. This is why the turkey looks so swollen and bloated, like it just binged on its own Christmas dinner.

2012: “Crispy Skinned Chicken Turkey”  

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I used a stuffing recipe for roast chicken because it included parmesan and parmesan makes all things better. The cheese also had the pleasant side effect of making the turkey skin deliciously crispy. Oh, and perfectly roasted potatoes.

2013: “Mastering the Art”

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One of the best things about roast turkey is how photogenic it is. Look at that heart shaped breast, those shapely thighs, the red-brown glow of the skin.

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From all angles, she is a beauty.

Now, I send you forth to cook your own turkeys in remembrance of me, who will be spending this Christmas ovenless and turkeyless. To help you on your journey, I will generously impart my invaluable expertise with you all.

1. Don’t be intimidated. 

There is an urban legend going around that roasting a turkey is “difficult” or requires “skills.” DO NOT BELIEVE THE LIES. Preparing and stuffing the turkey takes less than an hour and the oven does the rest of the work. Yes, you do need be at home to monitor the bird and baste it at regular intervals, but most of the time is just spent waiting. Use it as an opportunity to read a thick novel or binge-watch The Mindy Project. You could even do something more productive, like prepare sides and dessert.

2. Buy a good bird. 

The frozen turkeys at the supermarket do the job, but if you want to take this seriously, you need to see your local poultry specialist and order a fresh, free range turkey. To help you decide how big you need the bird to be, you can use one of many size guides available online. I usually get a 6-7kg turkey regardless of the number of people I’m serving because when it comes to turkey, SIZE MATTERS, and the bigger the bird, the bigger the impact. It takes longer to cook, but who cares, carrying the finished product out of the oven and having all your guests bow down to your domestic goddess status makes it totally worth it.

3. To brine or not to brine? 

Most Americans I talk to seem to think that brining the turkey is an essential step. I can see how brining can add to the flavor and moisture level of a turkey, but I’ve never brined and I’ve never had any problems. Prepping and cooking a turkey already takes a FULL day, so spending additional time making a luxurious salt bath for your bird seems to be taking the joke too far. My advice is, don’t bother. You can make a perfectly delicious and moist turkey without it.

4. Go nuts with the stuffing 

Stuffing is something that is foolproof, easy to make, and for which there are THOUSANDS of recipes online. This means you can just have fun with it and experiment. A quick review of a few stuffing recipes will help you realize that stuffing is basically just whatever you want + stale bread. Seriously, anything goes: from gourmet (wild rice and goat cheese stuffing) to dude-food (tortilla chip chorizo stuffing), to gluten free (quinoa stuffing). Sausage-based stuffings seem quite popular, and I’ve tried it once but didn’t really like it because I feel like heavy meat in your stuffing distracts from the taste of the turkey. Bacon, however, is completely acceptable. As are all bacon-like cured meats such as pancetta and prosciutto. Also, CHEESE. My current go-to stuffing is based on this recipe and includes all the classic components plus parmesan cheese and chopped pancetta. I’m not a huge fan of nuts, but I’ll add some walnuts to please the crowd. My favorite herb for stuffing is sage, because it smells heavenly.

5. Stuff EVERYTHING 

When I learned that you could stuff the skin of a turkey as well as the cavity, this really changed the game. It elevated my turkey from amazing to mind-blowing and I’ve never looked back. You need to be little bit careful when separating the skin from the breast to create a pocket, but the fatty turkey skin is pretty resilient. Stuffing the skin has the quintuple effect of:

1. Adding flavor to the breast meat.
2. Making people more excited about eating the meat meat, which has a hard time competing with the dark meat.
3. Keeping the breast meat moist.
4. (If you use my parmesan recipe) Causing the skin to crisp up and go a gorgeous brown color.
5. Acting like breast implants and giving the turkey a plump, fuller, more youthful look.

One year, I used Neil Perry’s ricotta stuffed turkey recipe and it was a real hit. It wasn’t quite salty enough for my liking, but this was one of my more popular turkeys.

6. Trussing is NOT optional 

If you do not truss your turkey, you will end up with wings splayed, legs spread-eagled, with a crusty bulge of stuffing bursting out from the cavity. Luckily, I did not learn this the hard way, I learnt this from laughing at other people’s mistakes. Your turkey is meant to be photogenic, not pornographic. Please, protect your turkey’s modesty. Plus, trussing a turkey is super easy if you follow a helpful instructional video like this. I would always kindly ask the butcher next to my poultry supplier for a length of butcher’s string, but really, any clean, strong, string will do.

7. The Three “B”s: Bacon, Butter, and Basting 

The no.1 fear that people have about cooking a turkey is the fact that it “dries out easily.” And I’ll admit, dry turkey meat is nasty. It tastes like a hybrid construction material made from cardboard and rubber. But keeping the meat moist is really not as hard as people make it out to be. A lot of recipes will give you different tips and techniques on how to do this, but the key is to just do all of it at once. Everything that anyone tells you about keeping the turkey moist and tender: do it all. This will guarantee succulent, juicy turkey every single time. Here’s what I do:

1. Cover the turkey in bacon. This will flavor the skin as well as keep the breast from drying out. Also, you can eat the baked bacon as a snack later on.

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2. Go to town with the butter. People talk about how turkey is a “lean meat” but you need to un-lean that baby until its fattier than a Krispy Kreme donut. I usually buy two sticks and melt one down to pour and brush over the bird before it goes into the oven, and then I chop up the other one and squeeze as much of it under the skin of the breast as will fit.

3. Baste every 30 minutes. This is probably the hardest part of cooking a turkey, because just getting a 6kg bird out of the oven every half hour is a big effort, but don’t get lazy. It’s essential. Most Aussies don’t have access to a proper baster, so I just used my pastry brush to cover the turkey with the fatty juices and butter pooling at the bottom of the pan.

4. Keep the turkey loosely covered in foil until the final hour of roasting, when you can take it off to let the turkey brown. This is a bit fiddly, especially when basting, but I believe plays a big part in preventing dry-out.

5. Roast at the correct temp for the correct amount of time. BBC Good food have this really nifty roast time calculator that looks pretty accurate. To test that it’s fully cooked, just stab it with a skewer and if the juices run clear, it’s ready!

8. SAUCE!  

When I made my first turkey, I wanted cranberry sauce because it’s traditional, but I also wanted gravy because GRAVY. Then I came across this recipe for cranberry gravy and I loved it so much that I have used it every single year since. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much it. Merry Christmas and happy turkey roasting! And in times of doubt, always remember:

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Dirt Cheap Dining in Japan (Part 2)

Part 2 of my tight-arse Japan food adventure took place in Osaka and Kyoto… but mainly Osaka. I fell in love with Osaka. And our love story was made sweeter by the fact that it was completely unexpected. Osaka is the third largest city in Japan, but unlike Tokyo which is full of its own charms and attractions, it is mainly used as a hub to nearby cities like Kyoto, Nara and Kobe.

Kyoto is usually the people’s favourite, but Osaka won my heart through my stomach. I didn’t realise this until I arrived (because I planned my itinerary around sightseeing, not eating) but Osaka is the food capital of Japan. You don’t need a guide book to tell you this – it’s obvious as soon as you enter the Dotonbori district and are greeted by the giant crab.

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And the giant gyoza.

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And all the other giant food-themed billboards that line the main strip of downtown Dotonbori.

I visited Osaka and Kyoto during cherry blossom season, hiking Mount Yoshino and its 30,000 blossom trees, strolling the fairy-tale like Philosopher’s Path, and walking through thousands of bright-red gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. But to me, the highlight of the whole trip was Dotonbori, which is probably one of the most vibrant food districts in the world. It is literally buzzing with the sizzle of teppans, the blasting music of pachinko parlors and skill-tester arcades, the hungry footsteps of curious tourists and the enthusiasm of spruikers trying to get you into their restaurant.

I could have spent days there… but I had sadly only planned one night in Osaka so I needed a strategy as to how I was going to make the most of it.

I asked my travel companion, my little brother, what he wanted to eat for dinner. He wanted sushi but I was like… “No! We’re in Osaka! We need to eat Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki and other local specialites” To which he replied “Yeah, we can eat those too. Let’s just eat a little bit of everything.”

Genius idea. Filled me with sisterly pride.

So we found a random sushi train first and limited ourselves to three dishes.

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Tuna roll (350 Yen)

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Seared salmon (200 Yen)

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Classic salmon with salmon roe (350 Yen)

Not the most adventurous of choices, but we were starving and just wanted to eat something delicious and reliable. Which it was – you can tell how high quality the fish was just by looking at the photos. So it’s true that the sushi at any random sushi train in Japan is better than even the most high-end restaurants anywhere else in the world. Sushi is indeed an art, and the Japanese are the original masters.

It was really really hard to stop at three, but I needed to stay focused. This was only the appetiser.

Next, Osaka’s signature dishes…

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Osaka is famous for these little squid balls and they are EVERYWHERE. I did do some research to try to find the best takoyaki in Osaka, but as I mentioned in my previous post, the little restaurants were impossible to find. So we just picked a popular-looking cart with a long line.

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Takoyaki can be a bit doughy at times, but in Osaka they make it with huge chunks of cooked octopus leg resulting in a much tastier meat to batter ratio.

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Our much anticipated street snack – hot off the grill! Covered in sauce and huge moving fish flakes (hence the blurry photo). I think this was around 500 Yen. Very tasty, but not that different from the takoyaki I’ve had in Korea, or even in street markets in Sydney. Maybe we chose the wrong cart… I was tempted to buy another six balls from a different vendor but we didn’t have the stomach space to spare.

And now it was time for Takoyaki’s older cousin, Okonomiyaki. We walked into a restaurant called Creo Ru, which is more famous for its takoyaki, but I figured it’s Okonomiyaki couldn’t be too bad.

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Each table had it’s own teppan… I hear that at some restaurants, they actually make the okonomiyaki at your table but here the dishes were all prepared in the kitchen. I guess the teppan helps keeps things warm?

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Thought some Suntory beer would help wash down my Japanese pancake.

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Okonomiyaki literally translates to “what you like, grilled”, so I think the approach is “put all your favourite ingredients in a batter, mix it, and fry it”. I don’t even know what was included in our pancake – there were a few different options on the menu and I think we chose the one that was equivalent to ordering a pizza with “the works”.

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My guess is chicken, pork, seafood and a variety of vegetables? Definitely not the simple and sophisticated Japanese style of food we’re used to, but this sort-of pancake, sort-of omelette, sort-of deep-dish pizza has its own, humble appeal. This was around 1,000 Yen, but I’m sure you can get it cheaper from street vendors or smaller restaurants.

The other notable thing I ate in Osaka was from a little restaurant down the road from our Air BnB apartment.

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Handmade tamago bukkake udon (around 400 Yen). I had this for breakfast both mornings I was in Osaka – fresh noodles, chopped scallion, raw egg, tempura flakes and a tablespoon of rich soy sauce (with a korokke on the side). So simple and perfect and delicious – totally worth the salmonella risk. I’m used to my udon being served in soup or stir-fried but I now know that udon is at its best when simply covered in a gooey, salty, egg-soy sauce. I know this won’t be the same with store-bought noodles, but I’m going to try to replicate it at home.

Now moving on to Kyoto… which has much to see and do if you’re looking for nature, culture and history but very little to offer in terms of food. Everything is so touristy, which means it’s expensive and of low to average quality. If I had hundreds to spend on a Kyoto ryori course meal, I’m sure it would have been amazing, but our budget didn’t allow for that.

What you will find amongst the temples and palaces are tea-houses, some even offering a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Though these seemed like tourist traps, I couldn’t leave Kyoto without trying some Japanese matcha, so on our last day, we found a lovely modern-style cafe called Ten, on the road leading down from Kiyomizu temple.

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Ten is also a gift shop that sells hand-made and hand-painted paper goods, well worth a visit if you can find it amongst the frantic crowds and souvenir shops of the area.

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We ordered a roasted tea set – which included a pot of Hojicha and three traditional sweets. The green tea jelly was my favourite. The Hojicha was lovely too – made from roasting tea leaves and stems over high heat, resulting in a tea that is low in caffeine and has a really gentle flavour with none of the bitterness of a typical green tea.

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I chose a less traditional green tea latte, which came with a cute little fabric cup holder and a matcha whisk. Larger versions of these whisks are used in the traditional method of brewing matcha as it creates a layer of froth. I’m not sure exactly why matcha needs to be frothy, but I guess all beverages are more fun with a little bit of froth on top.

We really wanted to eat sushi one more time before we left Japan, so we managed to find a place downtown with pretty decent reviews on TripAdvisor called Musashi.

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I didn’t take any pictures of the sushi because it wasn’t worth photographing… this was one of those every plate for 130 Yen sushi trains and the quality of the sushi reflected the price. Also,  it was a bit like a sushi roulette because the chefs were really rough and inconsistent with the amount of wasabi they included in each nigiri. Kind of contradicts my above theory about sushi trains in Japan… but this didn’t stop us from eating around 20 plates between us. Only 130 Yen per plate! We went to town.

For our final meal in Japan, we wanted to try some ramen. Lucky for us, on the tenth floor of Kyoto Station we found Kyoto Ramen Koji – a food court of eight ramen restaurants that each specialises in a particular regional style. Because we had a train to catch, this time we had to chooose the place with the shortest line.

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It’s a pretty cool concept if you’re a ramen lover but don’t have the time or the money to travel around Japan to try all the different types. The food court is styled like a traditional Japanese street, with wooden store fronts decorated with red lanterns and noren curtains.

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The restaurant we chose turned out to be Hakata Ikkousha, a franchise that seems to be very popular in Singapore and Indonesia. Prices are decent too with most ramen under 1,000 Yen.

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We both had the “Special” which was a very thin noodle with mild broth, in a bowl completely lined with thinly sliced pork. It looks almost sickeningly heavy, but the thin noodles were so light and easy to eat.

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And finally, some karage chicken. One the closest things I’ve experienced to PERFECT fried chicken. Batter was crispy and full of flavor, and the meat was so tender and juicy.  This, of all things. was what my brother liked most out of all the food we ate in Japan.

If were to do Kansai again, I would stay in Osaka as a base and do day trips to the surrounding areas just so I could eat something new in Dotonbori every single night. Actually – that’s what you should do. I’ve already seen the sights – I’ll just stay in Osaka and eat all day and night. Only a short plane ride away – I hope to be back soon!

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