Nagoya & Kyoto, Japan

From Y3K Recipes issue no.24 (May-June 2005)


Spring signals the arrival of cherry blossoms throughout Japan.

Group photo in front of Osukannon Temple, Nagoya.

Sakae is the shopping and entertainment centre, the descending steps houses more shops and transit rail station below.

Japanese pancakes - Okonomiyaki.

Highlight of Ohsu in Nagoya is Braised Eel Rice priced at RM58 per portion. Local eels are nowhere in comparison with their variety.

This is a snack that has become in Japan. Six cuttlefish balls (Takoyaki) are coated with paper-thin grilled bonito slices.

Not far from our residing hotel are two eateries frequented by the locals. The best dishes are the grilled, skewered foods-Yakitori.

Morning at Nagoya Castle.

In Fushimi district, Hilton & Roynet Hotels are co-neighbours. The later recently opened last November, has rooms at a more affordable. Price at RM518 per night.

Unforgettable Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki And Eel Rice in Nagoya
By Catherine Chia, photography by Richard Er

I need a break so I am going on a short holiday but before I can enjoy carefree days, work matters have to be organized. The Flight MH56 left KLIA at 11p.m. on 23rd March and reached Nagoya, Japan some six hours later. Local time was seven a.m., one hour ahead of Malaysian time as the plane touched ground. I arrived with a keen feeling upon the descent into a new destination.

This trip is totally arranged by our Penang friend, Mr. Ooi, who had studied and lived in Japan for many years. He brought along his wife and two children. Two other couples joined us, Ah Soon, Ah Tan and their spouses. Incidentally, Ah Soon is also conversant in Japanese and Ah Tan is a foodie man, having covered many countries around the world.

Spring is a beautiful season here with pleasant weather of 15°C during daytime. It is fairly similar to the coolness of Genting Highlands apart from the cold winds blowing at unwary visitors. The sudden chill is quite bone wrecking. We passed through airport procedures and boarded the public transport to reach Sakae, an excellent shopping area. Taxis here ferried us to our designated hotel, Roynet which is quite central in the city.

Without wasting any time after the check-in at nine a.m., we roamed the streets immediately as our trip is a brief five days visit. Took a rail to Ohsu, a district known for the Eel Rice and the Goddess-of-Mercy Temple built in 1324. The temple was restored to its former glory in 1970 and brought many visitors here. Next to the temple is a street looking like our Petaling Street of Kuala Lumpur. All shops are stocked to the brim with fashion-wear, electrical appliances, cutlery, antiques, daily basic essentials and surrounded by many tiny eating shops.
The adjacent eating shop near the temple is adorned with an eye-catching red coloured signboard. Three Japanese ladies were seen preparing Dorayaki, those tasty red beans filled pancakes. But another snack, Okonomiyaki caught our attention. Locals named it as ‘Japanese Pizza’.

A lady poured a thin batter into the patterned moulds of a heated grill measuring two feet by four feet. The grill had a design of three panels and each panel had eight moulds. With deft hands, she used a small spatula to check the texture of the grilled snacks. A quick topping of sliced octopus, cabbage shreds and some deep-fried tempura ginger shreds were placed in. quickly, she breaks an egg into each mould before adding in some pork slices and extra cabbage shreds. The surface was covered with extra batter. Egg yolk was pierced to let it become runny before flipping the snack over to brown it evenly. A glazing of bbq sauce was spread on top and garnished with bonito flakes. It was sliced into halves and wrapped individually in foil. We really like what we have purchased. The first round of 24 pieces of the snack were snapped up instantly by the crowd lined-up outside the shop. The aroma is beautiful, octopus is fresh, cabbage a nice crisp, fried ginger has a spicy yet savoury taste, both the egg and pork are fragrant. The sauce lends her sharp, distinct taste to perk-up the flavours yet the snack is not greasy at all.

As we have to leave space for the Eel Rice, we decided against second helpings. To enjoy local fare, we went to visit a shop in Ohsu, which is reputated to sell Takoyaki(Octopus balls). Only 11.30a.m, yet the location is easily marked by the presence of an early crowd. The signboard was red coloured too and this place has to be good, judging from non-empty tables. It has a see-through glass window kitchen. We watched the cook in action as he stained a tiny piece of cloth with some oil. He greased the two rows of semi-circle shaped moulds before drizzling in batter till half-filled up. A filling of diced octopus was added in and topped with extra batter. The cook kept on checking the cooking stages of the batter with two bamboo picks. When it was well-set, he flipped them over and drizzled in a dot of oil to crisp the exterior.

Six octopus fish balls were lined artfully in a boat-shaped paper box. Another topping of bbq sauce, mayonnaise or mustard was spread on. The finishing touch was some bonito flakes. The godness exploded in the mouth when consumed piping hot. Which is better, Okonomiyaki or Takoyaki. Well, the former is fluffy and aromatic while the later has a good bite. Both items are the latest craze for snacking in Japan.

Mr. Ooi had managed to locate the shop famous for its Eel Rice. It is a two levels Japanese-styled building. On the door is a brown coloured banner with white characters of eel written on it. This shop is still thriving after 80 years, so it is no surprise this is a landmark place for the lunch crowds. We were arranged to sit upstairs. The heater was left on in the room. As we were all warmed up so off goes the jackets.

The beautiful bowl of rice came. It was real good textured with a delicious topping of home-made Japanese sauce and eel slices. The set-lunch had an appetizer of pickled radish and a Miso soup. What is so special about the sauce? Well, this is cooked perfect to a special recipe based on Japanese brewed soy sauce, honey and sake. The eel is not bland but of superb quality. You can actually pick up each piece with chopsticks. They are firm enough not to disintegrate. Each bowl of rice comes with four pieces of eel meat, sized two inches by four inches and baked to the exact gleaming stage. This set-lunch cost RM58.00 per pax. I cannot consider this meal as pricey as I am getting good value for the supreme meal.


The entrance pass to Kinkakuji Temple looks similar to an amulet.

At night, the Kiyomizu Temple is shrouded in a serene beauty with the lights falling on the surrounding cherry trees.

The landmark of Osaka - Osaka’s Tower beams at night.

Only 30 minutes ride in a bullet train from Kyoto to Nagoya, yet it costs RM182 per person.

Kinkakuji Temple has been accorded a world status in the line of heritage architecture in 1994. It is a blend of palace style with a floor of samurai house and a next floor dedicated to Chinese designs.

A rare sight now to see a lady clad in a Kimono at Ginkakuji Temple.

Glimpses Of Kyoto
By Catherine Chia, photography by Richard Er

Why did our group chose Kyoto over Osaka for a day trip? If it was not fuelled by Ah Tan’s talk of his vivid memories of the place. Having visited Kyoto before, he considers it to be a land of many splendours as he happily remini scences about the enchanting landscape, heritage buildings, mesmerizing temples. Chances of meeting Japanese womenfolk in traditional garb, the kimono, on the streets happened often enough. This is a rare sight in modern Japan as the younger generation are all so trendy. Based on all inspiring notes, can we give this city a miss?
From Nagoya, we took a direct train service to Kyoto, a route two hours away. Fare is about RM93 per person for a one way ticket. We grabbed a quick lunch upon arrival before checking out the comprehensive bus network. Most buses charge a flat fare of RM7.50 per route but buying a bus pass each is a wise investment. A one day pass costs RM18.50 for a good introduction to the city on unlimited bus travel routes.

Our first stop was at Kinkakuji Temple, a very important temple there. Entrance costs RM15 each and strange enough, the passes came in the form of an amulet (a lucky charm to ward off evils). The temple is truly a tourist attraction apart from being a religious center. From the exterior walls rightup to the ceilings and eaves, it was gold plated. The whole temple shimmered, a gold feast for the eyes. Buddhist devotees prayed before the images of deities. Garden was surrounded with cherry trees but totally bared of any blossom. Spring comes late for this place. Some stores around sold an assortment of Japanese pickles and omachi (glutinous rice flour balls). We spent a couple of hours here as it is a vast setting.

As we realized it was getting late, we hurried to visit Ginkakuji Temple but alas, it was due to close its doors for tourists. As we strolled along the residential area, beautiful cherry blossoms were everywhere. However, a shop in the same vicinity attracted our attention. The shop assistants were selling unique home-made ice-cream. It was a combination of green tea and coffee. Despite being tired, this ice-cream perked me up. Another specialty on sale is green tea konnyaku dessert. Cakes made from Japanese sweet potatoes was another special product but the next snack was specially delicious. Local sweet potatoes were steamed and pureed to a paste before being compressed tight into a square plastic tray. It was left to cool before placing into the fridge to chill. Later, it was sliced into pieces and coated with a thin batter comprising flour, sugar, sesame seeds, milk. Coated pieces were shallow-fried on hot grilling plates till cooked. During the grilling process, any excess batter that has popped up was chipped away, making it very neat pieces. This snack is wholesome, nutritious and accordingly, sweet potatoes possess antioxidant properties.

Nightfall came as we visited a must see place, the Kiyomizu Temple. The approach to the temple is a 400metres short walk along a sloping path. Beautiful lighting paints its way into my memory and on this higher ground, I saw Kyoto’s night scene swathed in brilliant hues, the illuminated view is impressive.

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