Hokokuji Temple – Kamakura

img_2713
Hokokuji Temple

Hokokuji Temple is a Buddhist Temple in Kamakura. It is probably most famous for its bamboo garden.

img_2712
Torii Gate

Once you enter through the torii, there is a small narrow path leading you past some statues and a small bamboo water feature.

The temple and grounds are somewhat small.  There are small stone statues adorning the courtyard area in front of the temple.

img_2722
Courtyard

Past the temple is another smaller courtyard with a tree and a very small rock “garden”.

Beyond that, is Hokokuji most famous feature, the bamboo forest.

Through the thicket of bamboo lies a small tea house where, for a small fee, you can enjoy a glass a matcha while contemplating life and enjoying the view of the bamboo forest.

After leaving the tea house, the trail leads through more bamboo and onto another garden.

This garden peers out to three small caves, which are inaccessible to visitors.

The path then leads to a tranquil rock Zen garden.

Hokokuji is quite far away from Kamakura station, and the other main sites that I visited. It was somewhat disappointing in that I was expecting the bamboo forest and grounds to be a lot larger.

If not pressed for time however, I would recommend a visit as the grounds are very calming, relaxing and beautiful.

Matsubara-an – Kamakura, Japan

img_2710
Matsubara-an

Kamakura Matsubara-an is one of the more highly regarded restaurants in Kamakura. They also have a sister restaurant in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo.

The restaurant specializes in soba noodles, which are handmade daily. They are also known for their duck preparations as well dashimaki tamago.

img_2709
Zen Garden

The restaurant sits in a residential neighborhood and is on the smaller side. Upon entering the restaurant grounds, there is a small Zen garden surrounded by outdoor tables. As I did not sit in, or get a very good look at the interior, I cannot provide any comments. It does appear to be on the smaller side however.

At lunch, there are set menus, in addition to ordering from the menu.

I chose the Matsubara course, as I wanted to try as many dishes as possible.

The appetizer course consisted of sashimi, vegetables, fried eggplant, fried soba, duck, tofu and edamame, and a fried rice cake.

img_2698
Appetizer Course

The appetizers were beautifully and simply presented. The fried rice cake reminded me of savory mochi, as the exterior was nice and crisp, while the interior was nice and chewy. Instead of dipping it into kinako and sugar, this was sitting in a mild fish and shoyu sauce. The tofu was very soft and tender with a strong yet subtle soybean flavor. The duck breast was nicely medium rare with a slightly gamey flavor. The fried soba skin was very crisp with a slightly nutty flavor with a slightly salty miso paste. The eggplant was nice fried and not greasy. It had a nice strong eggplant flavor. The sashimi was marinated and sat atop a couple of potato slices and paired with a tomato and snap pea. Lastly, there was fried eel sitting atop a small salad. The eel had a crisp skin, and was rather mild in flavor.

img_2699
Duck

The next course was thickly sliced duck. The duck had plenty of seasoning, and reminded me of roasted port when first presented. The duck was slightly overcooked and a bit on the dry side. The seasoning added a punch of flavor while the lemon added brightness and acidity.

img_2700
Soba

The next course was the soba course. I chose the kake soba which is served in a hot soup. The soba noodles had a nice nuttiness and chew.

The soba was served with shaved green onion, freshly grated wasabi, and soy and mirin base. The soup was served in a separate kettle, which is flavored with bonito.

img_2702
Tempura

The next course was the tempura course, which consisted of shiso leaves, octopus, fish, squid, and shrimp. I paid the small upchare for the seafood tempura.

img_2703
Salt

Unlike the United States which serves tempura with a soy based sauce, tempura is paired with coarse salt in Japan.

img_2708
Dessert

Dessert consisted of a jelly made out of agar and was topped with azuki beans in a slightly sweet syrup.

Service was very good and attentive, as you would expect in Japan. The staff spoke decent English, much better than my Japanese, LOL.

img_2706
Blanket

Little things have been thought of as well, such as blankets at each seat to cover your legs in case you get cold. Little baskets are provided to store your purse or belongings.

Dining outside overlooking the Zen garden also made it a more peaceful and tranquil experience. I would highly recommend this restaurant when in Kamakura.

Francis Bakery – Jakarta

img_2382
Francis Bakery

During my brief trip to Jakarta, I was mostly disappointed at the places I ate at. The one shining star I came across was Francis Bakery. They are a Japanes-French based bakery using Asian ingredients.

Francis Bakery also does regular bakery goods such as bread and bagels in addition to their “specialty breads”.

img_2392
Kyoto Choco Mochi

The Kyoto Choco Mochi bread, has a nice crunchy crust, and a soft chewy exterior. The chocolate chips add a nice punch of sweetness. This bread reminds me of a sweet version of “Pao de Queijo”, or Brazilian cheese bread.

img_2393
Dark Chocolate Cream Cheese

The Dark Chocolate Cream Cheese Bread may not be a thing of beauty, but the dark chocolate is offset by the zing of cream cheese. The amount of cream cheese is also very generous.

img_2394
Kohi Mocca

The Kohi Mocca Bread combines coffee and chocolate. The only problem with this bread is that both flavors were rather subdued. The walnuts added a little bit of bitterness and textural contrast. The bread was also a little dry. Definitely not the favorite.

img_2395
Choco Durian

The Choco Durian Bread has a strong, pungent scent and is dotted with chocolate chips. To me, the bread had a very strong durian flavor, but perhaps it stood out more since I am not a fan of durian. My wife said that she hardly tasted the durian, and it was on the “crunchier” side, meaning younger durian that doesn’t exude as much flavor as more mature durian.

img_2453
Choco Bun
img_2826
Choco Bun Bag

Surprisingly, the star of Francis Bakery isn’t found on any of the shelves. The Choco Bun are placed into little bags containing 5 pieces of bread that were located right on the front counter, and kind of off to the side. If you didn’t know, you would likely pass them up without blinking an eye, and that would be a shame. The bread is reminiscent of a fudgy brownie in bread form, but there is a molten center of chocolate that oozes all over the place when you bite into the center. At 30 cents a piece, or $1.50 for the bag of 5 this is a must buy. Hoard as many of these as you can, and stuff them in your suitcase to bring back home if only visiting Jakarta.

I would definitely try more of their vast selection of offerings when returning to Jakarta, but I would be sure to bring an extra suitcase for the Choco Bun.

 

Bake Cheese Tart – Hong Kong

img_1864
Bake Cheese Tart

Bake Cheese Tart, of Japan fame, recently opened a branch in Hong Kong. Located inside of the SOGO Causeway Bay Mall, it sits in the basement along with the rest of the restaurants, food stalls, and supermarket.

img_1865
Display

I had heard that lines were crazy when they first opened, but have since died down.

img_1879
Cheese Tart

The crust has a satisfying crunch, but it is the filling that is the star of the show. Based in Hokkaido, which is famous for their dairy products among other things, the filling is light and fluffy with a slight citrus finish.

img_1902
Packaging

Like all things Japanese, the packaging ingenious as well. The box protects each cheese tart from getting smashed. It’s like a mini-capsule hotel.

I think the ones I had in Tokyo were just slightly better than these, but still worth the trek if needing to satisfy your Japanese cheese tart craving.

Hokkaido Beef – Isetan – Bangkok

img_1228
Hokkaido Beef

I happened to go to Isetan during my trip to Bangkok. I know, bit mistake going to a Japanese store while in Thailand. However, Isetan is one of the higher end stores in Japan, along with Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi to name a few.

Although department stores in Japan have outrageously good food stalls and vendors, I wasn’t planning on eating here. I then stumbled across this sign that Hokkaido beef was being features. There was actually a whole “Hokkaido Festival” going on.

Hokkaido is known for their seafood, dairy, ramen, and their snow beef, perhaps some of the best Wagyu in the world.

Wagyu from Hokkaido is arguably better than Kobe beef, but most people only know the name “Kobe” when it comes to Japanese wagyu and dismiss the rest.

The Hokkaido Beef sign caught my eye and reeled me in.

img_1229
Chuck Roll Set

The Chuck Roll Set came with a steak that was cooked then sliced, a small side of vegetables, a small bowl of miso soup, rice and a dipping sauce.

Unfortunately, this was one of the worst steaks that I’ve ever had. It was mostly fat and gristle. There was not much edible meat. What there was, actually tasted pretty good and was tender. The miso soup was standard fare, while the portion of vegetables was meager to say the least.

If I run into another “seasonal” or “featured prefecture” festival, I’ll think long and hard before jumping on board again.