Archive for the ‘Asian’ Category

Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most varied on the planet.  From the Chinese and Khmer dynasties, Indian empire and Japanese occupation but in particular, the French colonial rulers.  Vietnam is a delicious mix of the food of its colonial visitors and native techniques and flavours.  War, climate and immigration tell the tale of Vietnamese cuisine.  

Vietnamese cuisine is incredibly light and fresh; herby-fresh: lemongrass, mint, coriander and Thai basil frequently mixed through dishes.  Fish sauce is used liberally but is never as pungent as the Thai variety (nam pla) and vegetables such as carrot, cabbage or green papaya are chopped into crunchy batons adding colour and texture to a dish.

People sat curbside on plastic stools enjoying a bowl of pho or congee before dealing with the rest of their day; the smell of food wafting through side streets and intoxicating the senses.   Food is pivotal to Vietnamese lifestyle and can be found on every street corner.  The food served in local cafes and restaurants just as good as the street-food served by women carrying a yoke around the town or balancing baskets on hips.

All dishes are created with the Asian principle of the five elements creating harmony. The principle of yin and yang providing balance that is beneficial to the body: wood (sour), fire (bitter), earth (sweet), metal (spicy), water (salty).

So having just got back from my travels in Vietnam I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and try and recreate some delicious Vietnamese dishes with these principles in mind.

Here is my version of a Vietnamese Chicken Salad with noodles using the ingredients I had in the fridge at the time.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad (Gŏi Gá).

IMG_0062

Ingredients:
For the dressing:
Limes
Palm sugar
Fish Sauce
Garlic
Hot Water
Chilli (to taste)

For the salad:
Carrot
Cabbage (White or Asian)
Red Pepper
Sugar snap peas
Rice Noodles (vermicelli)
Cooked chicken breast
Mint
Basil (use Thai Basil if you can find some)
Coriander
Roasted peanuts (red skinned)

Method:

1st: Prepare the sauce by adding the juice of a lime, palm sugar, fish sauce, minced garlic, chilli and hot water to a jar and shake well until all the sugar is dissolved or place into a blender and blitz until everything is thoroughly mixed together.

2nd: Cut the carrot and red pepper into batons.  Roll the cabbage leaves and slice into strips.  Tear the cooked chicken breast into mouth sized pieces.   Cut the mint, basil and coriander.

Thai Basil v Italian Basil
Thai basil has an aniseed, almost liquorice, flavour to it whereas, Italian (Mediterranean basil) is sweet.  Both are incredibly fragrant.
If you can’t find Thai basil which is generally difficult to source outside of Asia, just use a combination of Italian basil and mint.

3rd: Pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and allow to rehydrate for 2/3mins.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Drain and shake off excess water.

4th: In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together and add a splash of the sauce.  Toss together.  Add more sauce and lime juice to taste and drizzle with sesame oil (optional) and top with roasted peanuts.

90ADE8EF-EC6B-423B-89F7-D95E42E9FC38 (1)

Serve heaped on a large plate in the centre of the table for everyone to serve themselves as part of a main course or make it small enough as a light lunch for one – the ingredients can be doubled up and changed to suit what you’ve got in the fridge.  During the summer I tend to have carrots and cabbage knocking about in the fridge to make coleslaw and I’ve always got red peppers in my deep freeze.  Remember to use veg that you can eat raw as you need it to be fresh and crunchy to work in this dish. I used nuggets of palm sugar brought back from Cambodia but regular granulated sugar works just as well.

The great thing about dishes like this is that you can tailor make them to suit your needs – instead of chicken add duck for a different taste, fried squid to make it a super light summer meal, tofu to keep it meat-free.  I say chilli to taste as depending on how much heat you can take will determine whether you use birds eye chillies or opt for a milder variety.  Always remember you could make this very fresh and mild and provide either birds eye chillies or tabasco sauce for those who can take a bit more heat.

Chúc ngon miêng
Bon apetite!

Advertisements

Red lanterns hanging aloft; a trail guiding Chinese lions to the city centre.  With drums and fireworks, Gibraltar welcomed in the Year of the Rooster.  If like many, you went into town to watch the spectacle and then headed to a regular Chinese restaurant for a mid-week-food-blow-out, great!   For those of you that missed out, all hope is not lost as any time between New Year and the Lantern Festival on February  11th is still considered auspicious, so why not celebrate the Year of the Rooster cooking up any of the following three fantastic Chinese inspired dishes;  or if you’re feeling adventurous make all three!

  • Duck wraps
  • Pork and prawn dim sum
  • Pork bao buns

Each of the following recipes can be created as standalone dishes, however, if you are making the bao buns remember that they need time to prove so it’s best that the dough for this is made first.  Once the bao dough is proving in a warm place, proceed to make the rest of the dishes.

Duck Wrapsimg_4142

1st: In an oven proof dish, place the scored duck legs and breast.  Sprinkle over Chinese five spice and add a few more star anise to the dish.  Season and drizzle lightly with oil (remember that the duck will render out a lot of fat.  Keep this rendered fat for amazing roast potatoes!)

2nd: Roast for 2 hours at 150˚C.  After two hours, the duck will be cooked and succulent but the skin will be pallid – crank up the heat until the skin crisps up.

3rd: Cut spring onions and cucumber into batons and set aside.  Remove the meat off the duck legs and slice up the breast meat, set aside.

4th: These are easily demolished with a drizzle of plum sauce over.

Pork and Prawn Dim Sum

img_41441st: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl; 200g pork mince, 100g peeled raw prawns, 2 spring onions finely chopped, a thumb-size piece of ginger grated into the mix, a dash of soy sauce, a dash of rice wine, squeeze of limb and a couple of table spoons of corn flour.  Season with salt and pepper.  Coriander is optional.

2nd: Use bought gyoza or wonton wrappers.  Place a small spoonful of the mixture into the centre of each gyoza circle, fold in half and crimp the edge.

3rd: Place each dim sum onto a carrot slice and sit in the steamer.  After 10-12mins, the dim sum will look translucent.  Dipping sauce can be made with soy sauce and a couple of drops of sesame oil.

Pork filled Chinese Bao Buns

img_4141

1st: Mix together 1 tbspn yeast, 1 tspn sugar, ¼ cup of flour and ¼ cup of warm water.  Mix and allow to stand for 30mins.

2nd: Mix in ½ cup of warm water, 1½ cups of flour, ¼ tspn of salt, 2 tbspns sugar, 1 tbspn veg oil and ½ tspn of baking powder.  Leave to stand for 2½ to 3 hrs.

3rd: Punch down dough, and kneed for 5mins.  Cut the dough into 12 equal sized balls and leave to stand for 30mins.

4th: Roll out each ball and place a generous tspn of your chosen filling (we used a slow cooked asian pork recipe from sortedfood.com).  Rest the dough in your hand and gather the edge of the dough and crimp at the top.  Using a chopstick, open a steam-hole in the centre of the gathered dough.  Steam for 15mins.

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy New Year!

Noodles in a Jar – the perfect lunchtime snack!

I get asked regularly, “What would make a healthy, lunchtime meal for a school child’s lunchbox?”  But as much as we want children to have a nutritious meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the reality is that a simple sandwich, a piece of fruit and plenty of fresh air is all they need to keep them going until home time; especially as many children have a substantial tea when they get indoors.

I’m more inclined to help the grown-ups who often struggle to eat properly at lunchtime.

The working adult worries me the most – diminished lunch breaks, snatching something quick on the go, scoffing food at their desk, eating greasy take-aways, paying ridiculous prices for a filled roll or forgoing lunch altogether.

Mundane lunches leading to calorie induced foraging come 5pm.

All that can change with these simple to prepare, convenient and easy to eat noodle soups in a jar.  If you’ve only got a short lunch break, these are ideal and can also be conveniently eaten, if sadly, you’re chained to the desk.

Shrimp-Pho-Noodles-in-a-Jar-937x703.jpg

noodle jars – photo taken from phillymag.com

There are no rules; no wrongs, just a few simple points to bear in mind whilst you assemble your jars.  The idea is that everything is piled into the jar in clean layers; without the items swilling around before you’ve added the water, hence, keeping your ingredients fresher for longer.

What you need to make your Noodles in a JarIMG_3102.JPG

I like to use a ½ Litre Kilner Jar with a clip-top but a mason jar would work just as well.  The jar can be as small or large as you want it to be; but unless you plan on making, and subsequently eating, vast quantities of the soup try to keep the size at around 500ml or less.  A pint size is ideal.

A flavour base is very important for your noodle jars, as otherwise you’d just be eating noodles swimming in hot water, which would be extremely disappointing considering that we are trying to achieve maximum flavour for minimum effort and fuss.  Feel free to use any savoury paste/cube/stock that you prefer.  I’m trying to get through some miso paste (fermented soya bean paste) at the moment but a soup stock paste, curry paste etc can be used.

Soy sauce, coconut milk, sesame oil, chilli sauce, tomato paste, etc can be used as extra flavour enhancers.

This is a great way to use leftover cooked meats – especially the scraggly ends of a Sunday roast; alternatively some frozen prawns, dried mushrooms or hearty greens would provide satisfying ingredients to make your pot tasty, nutritious and filling.

noodles

The noodle part of your soup can take many forms: dry vermicelli, cooked ramen or yakisoba noodles, cooked udon noodles, there are others too.  For total convenience you could even use a pouch of pre-cooked noodles from the supermarket.

I always like to top my soup jar with fresh ingredients such as coriander leaves, sliced spring onions and a wedge of lime.

img_3080

 Assembling your noodle soup jars

Assembling the jars is a simple process:

Empty jar → Flavour base → Meat/Prawns/Veggies → Noodles → Fresh ingredients.

1st: Place your flavour base at the bottom of the jar and add any of your flavour enhancers.  Make sure to spread this around so that when you pour the hot water it will mix through easier.

2nd: Add your meat, prawns or veggies to the jar.  It doesn’t matter if they mix into the flavour base but try to create layers of different items.

3rd: Pack the noodles down – if they are cooked they might stick a bit but they will untangle once you add the hot water.

4th: Top with the fresh ingredients.  Seal and refrigerate.

Place in the office fridge when you get into work but take the jar out at least 1hour before you think you’ll be available to have your lunch, as otherwise the jar and the ingredients will be very cold and your soup will become tepid very quickly.  The jar will keep unrefrigerated for a couple of hours.

When you are ready to eat;

1st: Fill the jar with boiling water, cover and steep for 3 mins.  A recently boiled kettle is best but I use the tea urn at work.

2nd: Stir thoroughly with chopsticks or a fork, making sure to scrape the paste from the bottom of your noodle pot so that the flavour mixes throughout the whole soup.

3rd: If you stored the fresh ingredients separately to the rest of the soup in the jar, scatter them over the top of the soup and eat right away.

0cb609bc-a196-4a21-886e-c21fd279fb3f

It is probably easier to mix the soup as you decant the jar into a bowl but your soup can be eaten directly from your noodle jar; especially if you are trying to ease on the washing up and eating at your desk.

I’ve tried two flavour combinations so far with very similar ingredients in both:
King prawn and coconut milk with dried vermicelli noodles, and
Beef with miso, tomato paste and soya sauce with cooked ramen noodles;

both layered with baby sweetcorn, sugar snap peas, mange tout, spring onions and coriander.

60638d13-5d7b-4d23-a966-fdef7454cea0

The pots can be put together in a matter of minutes and eaten just as quick.  I definitely think I’ll be trying to make noodle pots for lunch again.  I’m already thinking about a pork belly and ramen noodle pot for next time or maybe a chicken, vegetable  and vermicelli soup pot or maybe a lemon grass, ginger and chilli marinated king prawns noodle pot with coconut milk, fish sauce, lime and vermicelli noodles.  Lots of fresh coriander.

Pot noodle …but posh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Wagamama, Gibraltar was faring the best across Europe!”  Rumoured the naughty child.

And after shifting 1 month’s worth of duck and beer in 3 days I can see why!

Wagamama_logo (2)

When I first came across Wagamama in London in the late 90’s, I nostalgically remember it as the perfect antidote to a night of student revelling London-style (stylie).  We’d wake up and trundle down to the nearest Wagamamas and cluster around their long tables and immediately get a vitamin boost from their super green, super fresh, body cleansing, high antioxidant smoothies followed by a bowl of something spicy with plenty of carbs – if my mind goes that far back, I think my dish of choice was always a Pad Thai.  It would beat going to Maccy-Ds any day!

Flash-forward over 20 years and in June 2016, after a social media frenzy of freebie tickets, £5 sittings and press evenings, we are treated to our very own Wagamama here in Gibraltar.  With the stunning setting that Ocean Village provides, Wagamama, with its roots in Japanese-inspired cuisine, fits right in amongst the palm trees and ferns that line the promenade.

long tablesUpon arrival everything seems to be at one with nature –chairs are large wooden blocks with simple metal legs, rattan chairs out on the terrace; long wooden-topped tables (ideal for families) presented in a minimalist Japanese canteen style with spotlights aimed along the centre of these.   Fully opening glass doors bringing the sea into the room.  The 3 large mirrors at the back of the room creating  a sense of depth, reflecting images of staff whizzing from station to table.  And last but not least, its vast open kitchen and prep area with its denizen of chefs glancing from screens to chopping boards to woks to plates.

The menu is not organised as ‘starters and mains’ but as: Sides – to order with your main dish or to share; Gyoza – either steamed or fried dumplings filled with goodness; Ramen – a bowl of hot soup filled with noodles; toppings and garnishes; Curry – fresh curries served over rice; Teppanyaki – sizzling soft noodles with crunchy veg/meat/prawns; Omakase – 4 different Chef Specials; Donburi – a big bowl of steamed rice and stir fired meats/veg; Salads -2 stir fry salads and Extras – miso soup, Japanese pickles, ‘century’ egg, kimchee, chillies or rice/noodles.

I found the exemplary waiting staff to be very cheerful and friendly at all times.  Their knowledge of the menu evident as they would translate dish numbers into dish names; scribbling your order onto your placemat.  Before leaving our table, the waiter asked us if we’d been to Wagamama before so as to clarify how our food would arrive.

For the uninitiated: as your dish is created it is served – regardless of whether there are 2, 4 or 6 of you dining; there is no procession of courses.

Fried duck gyoza

fried duck gyoza


Steamed pulled pork gyoza

steamed pulled pork gyoza

We ordered some Gyoza to see how they fared against authentic Japanese gyoza, which are dry-fried on the base and then steamed to perfection.  As the menu advertised either fried or steamed gyoza we tried the fried duck gyoza (99) – delicious, deep decadent duck meat in a deep fried gyoza, however, not what we were expecting.  Preferring a steamed gyoza we ended up stopping the waiter to order some steamed pulled pork gyoza (105) which were much more authentic in flavour and texture and upon reading the menu a second time realising that the steamed gyoza are served grilled!

Omakase – entrust the chefteriyaki lamb

Trying to avoid my Pad Thai Wagamama staple, I decided to let the chef recommend me one of its four Omakase (Japanese for ‘to entrust the chef’).  The grilled Teriyaki lamb served on a bed of soba noodles in a pea and wasabi dressing with grilled asparagus, kale, mushrooms and mangetout – simply scrumptious; grilled teriyaki lamb, grilled veggies, soba noodles.

Since then I’ve been again and had the chilli squid (107) crispy fried squid dusted with shichimi, served with a chilli/coriander dipping sauce – tongue tantalisingly tingly and the pork ramen (30) which even though I slurped my way through, could have been hotter – both in temp and spice, and saltier; however, I suppose that’s why there is soy sauce and chilli oil on every table!

banana katsuAs part of the ‘harmony, balance and chilli’ mantra that Wagamama is legendary for, ending your spicy meal with Banana Katsu (142) – banana covered in panko bread crumbs and deep fried with salted caramel ice-cream equals perfection.  I’ve asked for the mochi balls (124) and the sweet onigiri (135) but unfortunately they still haven’t received them from the Uk.

I suppose that if we are dependent on Uk deliveries for the food to be franchise-exact we will, on occasion, have this wait-time on certain dishes when items expire.  Next time I go I know I’m going to try the prawn itame curry (39) and here’s hoping that they’ve got the pork ribs (97) in stock!

But all is good with the world when you end your meal with jasmine flower tea…

 ​

​ 

 

 

 

 

Little Bay5

Whilst the refurbishment took place through the long drawn out winter months, the team at Little Bay made sure to keep tantalising people with morsels of information about their warming exotic food menu, enticing cocktails and ultra modern decor.  When they finally opened in April 2016 people were intrigued and couldn’t wait to sample Little Bay’s alluring Eastern delights as presented to us through social media.

“Cumin, cardamon and clove.”

I eventually made it down there one Thursday evening in mid-May and the place was buzzing: groups of friends, individuals, couples – of all ages.  I think we may have even been the second or even third sitting that evening!

“Comfortable decadence.”

Little Bay1

Dominating the centre of the restaurant is the heart of Little Bay – its circular bar.  The bar staff shimmering between the glinting glassware and beaten copper water jugs, mixing enticing cocktails.  Guests are encouraged to sit at the bar on plush stone coloured velvet bar stools studded with metal rings hanging off the backs whilst waiting for their tables to be set.  Masala Mules being everyone’s cocktail of choice.

The menu is varied but not extensive; 14 starters and 16 main dishes – a good balance of chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian options, as well as the ubiquitous rice dishes, naans and sides.

My menu choices were as follows:

Little Bay2Starter – Chicken 65 (Chilli Chicken)
Marinated pieces of chicken breast, stir fried and tossed in spring onions, chillies and coriander.  This was a very generous starter.  Succulent chicken pieces, fresh zingy ginger coming through the heat of the chillies.  Like popcorn chicken – but grown up; delicious.  With some rice or a naan this could have been a very decent lunch.  I would have liked to have been encouraged by the waiter to have perhaps ordered some raita to go with, not because it needed to be tempered but just as another texture/sensation on the tongue; hot chicken pieces, fridge cold raita.

Main – Keema MattarLittle Bay4
On the menu there is a “Little Bay recommends” next to this dish and I was not disappointed.  Spiced, minced lamb cooked in a tomato and spice infused sauce, freshened up with vibrant green peas. Rich and full of body, this dish was perfectly accompanied by a plain naan and steamed basmati rice.  Any other flavours would have conflicted with the musty-heavy scent of cumin, cardamom and clove.

We decided to forgo dessert as I didn’t really want chocolate cake, carrot cake or pecan pie after a delicious Indian meal.  What happened to the Indian desserts normally served in Indian restaurants?  Mango kulfi? Mango Lassi? Kheer (milky rice pudding)?

Gibraltar desperately needed a proper Indian Restaurant in the leisure areas.  Since Masai Grill, Viceroy and then Laziz shut down, we’ve had to succumb to the Indian takeaway.  Little Bay, which I can’t help but feel, should be called, The Bay Leaf, is a high end Indian Restaurant with high quality food.  A restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place next to London’s The Cinnamon Club or The Red Fort.  Its Directors have worked hard to create an image of comfortable decadence.   Their dynamic team of managers, exciting bar staff and committed waiters making the place buzz with youthful exuberance.

There is an Indian tapas menu which has many dishes from the a la carte menu so that guests may discover the menu, however, I would like to see more “Little Bay recommends” next to different dishes to encourage diners to choose something delicious but unfamiliar.  All tables should be offered a copper pot of poppadums and accompanying chutney whilst diners peruse the menu – we weren’t.

Little Bay6

Masala Mule

I, for one, can’t wait to return.  Promises of exotic spice and Eastern delights did not disappoint.  Next time though, I’d make sure it was in a large group so that I could try lots of different dishes!  And I’d make sure that I tried one of those Masala bad boys!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1415Slurp, slurp, slurp can be heard throughout Japan as people slurp on their ramen noodles.  Ramen was made for slurping.  It is believed that as you slurp the ramen noodles, you create a greater umami experience.  In one of my poorer attempts at this, I wore my ramen broth down the front of my tailored shirt!  Simply put and almost disregarding the recipe’s complex flavours, ramen is Japanese noodle soup.  But leaving the description there is unflattering at best and insulting at worst.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup consisting of Chinese-style wheat noodles (alkaline noodles) served in a meat or fish broth, flavoured with soy sauce or miso and served with sliced pork, dried seaweed and green onions.  Nearly every region of Japan will have its own ramen variation.

Ramen has become a staple food in Japanese culture and is more popular than sushi with many salary men queuing up for hours at the more popular ramen hotspots to get their bowl to slurp.

Believed to have been brought back from China at the end of the second Sino-Japanese war, many soldiers, familiar with this Chinese cuisine, set up Chinese restaurants throughout Japan serving ramen.  But like everything the Japanese do, they made it better.  Eventually the instant ramen created by Momofuku Ando allowed anyone to make a simple ramen dish at home just by adding boiling water – indulge me if you will – Japanese pot noodle but better.

Unapologetically absolutely delicious!

However, if you are aiming for authenticity in your kitchen you need to plan well in advance.  If you want a bowl of ramen on Friday, you need to start with the recipe on Wednesday!

ramen10Momofuku

If you follow Dave Chang’s Momofuku (Lucky Peach) recipe, we’re talking

BROTH: 1) steeping Kombu (kelp seaweed) in hot water for 1 hour, 2) adding chicken backs and necks to this water simmering gently for 5 hours, 3) skimming, straining and chilling the stock,
TARE: 4) make the tare by roasting chicken backs for 20 minutes until mahogany brown, 5) deglazing the pan with sake, 6) adding mirin and soy sauce, 7) add pork belly/shoulder pieces to the liquid, 8) simmer gently for 1½ hrs, 9) strain the meat and bones out of the tare, 10) chill the liquid and remove the fat that rises to the top (Keep this fat to add to the ramen dish when serving).
ASSEMBLING THE RAMEN DISH: 11) season the broth with tare and salt, 12) add bacon fat, 13) serve with whatever accompaniments you want.

There are so many stages – each adding levels of depth to what inevitably becomes a complex flavoured dish screaming UMAMI at you from every direction.

Even though the stages themselves are not complicated they are time consuming and no-one has the time or the inkling to carry this out in today’s busy routines.  So I’ve come up with a cheat’s version of this dish cutting out the need to boil kelp for hours on end and roast chicken carcasses into the mahogany spectrum.

Cheat’s Ramen – serves 2

Ingredients:
1 pouch of good quality chicken stock                      1 carrot
4 spring onions                                                                Ramen noodles
4 Dried Shitake Mushrooms                                        Bean sprouts
Pork belly                                                                           Soy sauce/Miso paste
2 boiled eggs                                                                      Nori
Seasoning

To make the tare:
Olive Oil
2 cloves of garlic

Method:
1st: Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan and heat gently.
2nd: Add 3 spring onions cut in pieces from root to tip and add to the stock.
3rd: Cut the carrot into chucks and add to the stock.
4th: Reconstitute the dried shitake mushrooms in boiling water and add this to the stock with some of the mushroom flavoured water (mushroom dashi), simmer gently until the dish is ready to assemble.
5th: Season to taste with soy sauce, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 20 mins.
I used chestnut mushrooms as dried shitake mushrooms are sometimes hard to find.

6th: Put the pork belly into a 200˚C oven for 20-25mins until the pork is cooked through.
7th: Prepare the tare by heating olive oil and pouring it over the grated garlic.
8th: After the pork belly is cooked bring it out of the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Pour the rendered fat into the chicken stock.
9th: Boil your ramen noodles following the instructions on the packet.

Ramen1

ramen

10th: Assemble and serve: Pile your ramen noodles into the centre of your ramen bowl and assemble the shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, pork slices, sliced spring onions, and boiled egg around this.  Pour ladles of your chicken broth into your noodles until you have a bowl filled with soup.  Spoon some of the tare over the noodles.  Serve with a nori rectangle.

I know it is inauthentic but it’s a long way from pot noodle, ingredients are accessible, easily recreated and unapologetically absolutely delicious.

Ramen6

ramen

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan around 7:30am.  Jet-lagged, disorientated and in desperate need of coffee, we waltzed into the nearest STARBUCKS from our Hotel.  Immediately, I thought, I can’t believe I’ve come all the way to Japan for a STARBUCKS!  But that wasn’t necessarily the way the rest of the trip was going to (Ja)pan out!

Once we got our bearings around the area we decided to head into air conditioned paradise (any shopping mall; be it over or under ground) just to get out of the scorching heat and stumbled upon a lunchtime spot that seemed to be ending its lunch service but were quite happy to take us in.

Ramen, spicy chicken and misoWith my limited Japanese and pointing at pictures in a menu, I ordered a set meal with a bowl of ramen – a Japanese noodle soup dish which was flavoured with ox tongue – and spicy chicken pieces served over rice and the ubiquitous miso soup.

All dishes are accompanied by miso soup – a traditional Japanese clear broth made of stock called “dashi” into which softened miso paste (fermented soya bean paste) is mixed, tofu is often present in white blocks floating in the soup.   Miso soup is quite savoury, so I can only imagine it being fundamental in helping people replenish fluids and salts lost through sweat!

In the evening, we walked around the area of Ikebukuro and were somewhat intimidated by going into small, local establishments with only 5 seats available at a counter, full of locals and or people leaving work, as we almost couldn’t communicate with the proprietor without picture menus!  However, using Trip Advisor, we eventually found a conveyor belt sushi place that came very highly recommended.  The chefs and head chef in the centre of the track creating the sashimi/sushi, often to order, treated every dish as if it were the best dish they would be creating that evening.  Precision and skill evident in every piece.  The fish was delectable and easily washed down with green tea, poured directly at every seated station.  Great fun – delicious food; Oishi!

The following morning we headed to an area of Tokyo called Roppongi and once again dived into the nearest STARBUCKS for a dark chocolate-mocha frap which is the only way to battle the morning heat!  And after much tall building climbing, temple hunting and shrine locating we had worked up a bit of an appetite.  This time we settled for steamed dumplings, gyoza, and spring rolls (vegetable and prawn).

That evening we took a trip to Ginza – the 5th Avenue of Tokyo – and in a local basement bar sampled Yakitori.  Japanese IMG_1546chicken pinchitos! Yaki – grilled; tori – bird in the context of food, therefore, put it together = Yakitori is technically grilled chicken skewers but in Japan it’s not just thigh meat that gets a turn on the bbq.  Chicken liver, heart, gizzards and chicken skin are also given the bamboo stick skewer treatment.

So we ordered some fried calamari which were succulent and delicious and a plate of these varied 5 ‘meat’ yakitori.  I quite like offal depending on the way the product is cooked – the yakitori were  bold and gutsy in flavour; salty with a charcoal edge – very tasty, however, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the chicken skin which was pallid and uncooked!

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo is the world’s largest fish market and is a prime tourist sight – especially for jet-lagged tourists.  It opens at 5am but if you want to be allowed into the world renowned Tuna Auction you have to get there at 4am to try and get a place.  Being there early does not guarantee you a visitor’s pass!  But wondering around the market at 9am when the stall owners are beginning to clear up is worth a viewing.  The various fish, molluscs and crustaceans that are caught and sold wholesale are an impressive sight.

After this and a river cruise to Asakusa for more temple spotting in the heat, we stopped for a very necessary cup of shaved ice.  Imagine slush puppies that hold their shape as a mountain of ice flakes and squirted with whatever flavour syrup you want: from fruit flavours to matcha green tea flavour.  I enjoyed my watermelon flavour as a reminder of summer back home.

However, on the return to the hotel and needing a pick-me-up we stopped at cafe Italian Tomato, for an iced coffee and a huge slice of lemon meringue pie!  Buzzing with sugar and caffeine we were ready for the evening in Harajuku.

Warning:  the Japanese slurp their food as a way to create ‘umami’ the 5th flavour (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami) plus slurping cools the noodles down.  So if eating a bowl of ramen, slurping away to your heart’s content, your shirt will exhibit the effects!  As happened that evening over dinner!

We left Tokyo the following morning and headed to Matsumoto via Nagano; home of the Soba Noodle.

Not only did we get to try amazing cold soba noodles with tsuyu (a dipping sauce made with dashi, sweet soy and mirin) but we were fortunate enough to see a Soba Master rolling buckwheat dough out to make these thin soba noodles.  In summer, soba noodles are usually served cold on a bamboo tray called a zaru with seasonal toppings – we ate ours with vegetable tempura.  I particularly liked this meal; the noodles were light and did not sit heavily on the stomach as pasta can sometimes.  The tempura, crispy and incredibly light.

With full bellies we packed our bags and headed to the station for the next stage in our journey.  Join me.