Friday, June 17, 2016

Travel | Kyoto 2016: Ramen- Impossibly large, delicious and firey!


Ramenso Chikyu Kibo

Our Airbnb host had kindly provided us a guide to the local area, and starred all the restaurants he recommended- this was the only one with three stars so we had to try it. If you’re anything like me and plan your trip around recommendations on the internet, you’d never end up at this restaurant (search the name up on google and you’ll barely find a mention). About the tiniest ramen bar I’ve been to, Ramenso Chikyu Kibo inconspicuously tucked away within the quiet residential area of Fushimi (not to be confused with Fushimi Inari).

Blink and you’ll miss it.

There’s no signage to the restaurant, nor is there any type of fancy décor. When we first walked past it before they opened, we honestly thought it was a warehouse. And we probably wouldn’t have realised it was the restaurant we had on our itinerary were it not for the line of people outside!

Before you hop in line, order from the vending machine- we’d used a couple of these before at other ramen shops so we thought we’d be fine…..until we realised none of the options were in English. Since the only word I could really read was “pork” and “noodle”, which wasn’t particularly helpful in this situation, we took a random stab at the machine and ordered two of the dearer options thinking it’s probably be more interesting than the cheaper ones.

The machine spits out coloured plastic tags instead of tickets, with a different colour corresponding to a different ramen (there were a couple of people in line with the same colour as me so I figured I was off to a good start). As the waiter informs us, the shop sells large sized ramen- so if you don’t think you can finish it all, add a peg to the tag to indicate you want a smaller portion. You’ll probably want to add the tag, even if you think you’re hungry, because if you order the regular size, you have to finish it all!

The restaurant is mostly self-serviced- there’s a little shelf at the entrance where you grab your heated hand towels, chopsticks and water. Place your tag on the counter and your ramen will be served. Hopefully you will be hungry too…..

Mystery Ramen #2 (regular size) 900yen

Because they were not kidding when they said their ramen were large!

For the regular sized ramen, the bowl is filled to the top with noodles, and then topped with a ridiculous amount of meat. Forget the two thin slices of chashu you usually get with your ramen- these are big, thick chunks of stewed pork, with enough pieces to cover the noodles completely!

Topped with enough garlic to give you garlic breath for a week (optional), the ramen was definitely not lacking in flavour! The broth was soy based, and not too heavy, such that the meat was what was giving it most of the flavour. The noodles are of the thicker variety and remind me of the maze soba I had in Osaka, although maze soba is dry whilst this one is in soup.

Mystery ramen (small sized) 1050yen

For the smaller sized ramen, the bowl is filled with less noodles, but still easily enough to feed two. We’d ordered two different ramens but we soon figured that the only difference between the ramen options were the toppings. The 1050yen version is the most expensive on the menu, and comes with a mountain of meat, made up of pork belly chunks as well as the slices of stewed pork. The meat is surprisingly tender and moist, especially the sliced chashu which we see cooking away in a big pot in the kitchen (I’m not as much of a fan of the pork chunks which are quite fatty). There’s enough flavour without being overly salty and the meat could easily be served as a dish in itself! Even if impossibly large serving sizes aren’t your thing, you’d want to come and try the ramen for the pork slices.

We're slow to make progress, with all 6 other diners who started at the same time as us leaving before we’re even halfway through (we’re not used to eating at a fast pace!) but we did end up finishing our ramen, a feat we do feel proud of!

Arashiyama Bamboo Groves

There's only really two tourist spots we're particularly keen to see in Kyoto, one being the red gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha, the other being the bamboo groves in Arashiyama. It's my second time visiting and it's interesting how much more details I noticed this time, for example these mini stone set models set up on the side of the path.

But food first! We love the little set up of small stalls right at the entrance of the bamboo groves and we're eyeing all the ice cream options, given the warm weather.

We end up going for the super creamy soft serve, which is very reasonably priced considering its location!

The bamboo groves are as beautiful as we remember, and just like the photos although with the crowds, it is impossible to take a perfect shot. 

We venture further in hopes of finding the perfect photo spot, without the crowds and end up stumbling upon this beautiful lake.

Ramen Sen No Kaze

We were yet to have our ramen fix for the day, so we queued up at Ramen Sen No Kaze which I’d bookmarked from somewhere (but had no recollection of it). The wait was quite long, and I must admit, we almost decided to give up and try the ninja restaurant across from it instead. But boy were we glad we didn’t!

We’re seated right at the bar so we watched all the action whilst we waited- all ramen are made to order, so be prepared for a bit of the wait. You can order the ramen alone, or for a little bit more in a variety of sets which may include anything from rice to gyoza to salad. I still don’t understand why people eat rice with ramen but maybe that’s just me. 

We order ours with gyoza, which are premade and frozen and then slid onto the gyoza grill to heat for a couple of minutes. We’ve enjoyed every gyoza experience in Japan and this was no exception- with its delicate thin wrapping and beautifully crisp bottom. There are three sauces to dip them in, but I find the soft pork and cabbage filling tasty enough to eat on its own. 

But as delicious as the gyoza are- save your stomach space for the ramen!

The menu notes that the most popular ramen are the Yamato no Miso and the Kyo no Shio- with the miso variety more popular with the tourists and the shio variety more popular with the locals. Of course we try both!

The Yamato no Miso soup base certainly packs a punch, with a strong bold flavour from the miso- I can definitely see why it’s so popular with the locals. There’s a good balance of flavours such that the lightness of the pork broth is still noticeable, and the miso too salty nor overwhelming. The noodles are nice and bouncy, and there’s quite a bit going on with the toppings, in the form of bean sprouts, shallots and minced pork.

And while we’re speaking about the toppings, let me draw your attention to the chashu. I don’t usually really care much for chashu in ramen- it’s nice and all, but there’s a bit too much fat for my liking and not that exciting. This chashu however, is not simply a matter of stewed pork belly- they even dedicate a special grill just for heating the pork belly slices! Each pork slice is grilled until golden with a light char- it’s not a simple process, and we watch quite a few get thrown away from being overcooked. But the result is quite amazing- the grilling enhancing the complexity of flavours and imparting a light smoky flavour. And the fat is so crispy, it’s like bacon. Only better. 

The Kyo no Shio is apparently more popular with the locals, but as even tourists, this one is the one that really knocks our socks off. The toppings are basically the same, and again the chashu are three slices of heaven that we wish we’d ordered more of. But with this ramen, even the chashu can’t steal the spotlight away from the soup base. 

Whereas the miso flavoured broth had quite a strong flavour, the shio (salt flavoured) one is much lighter and subtle. It’s surprisingly creamy, almost like drinking a milk based soup but with the fragrant taste of pork, and it’s one of the less oily soup ramen broths I’ve had in Japan. There’s quite a few reviews on Tripadvisor rating it as the ‘best’ ramen they’ve ever tried, and whilst I don’t really usually believe anything ever the ‘best’ (everything’s relative right?), I’m actually quite tempted to join that clan.

We head to the Nishiki markets for a quick stroll after lunch- a long covered market with plenty of food offerings which we find quite similar to the Kuromon Ichiba Markets in Osaka. As tempting as all the offerings are, we’re a little too full to try anything so we let our camera do all the ‘eating’ so to speak……


We’re back at Fire Ramen for dinner as they re-open at 6pm- it’s not quite as popular as we’d imagined, despite its high Tripadvisor rating, with only a handful of tourists when we arrived. We were imagining long queues but maybe having ramen lit on fire isn’t everyone’s thing.

No photos for this one, because cameras and fire are a no-no. The whole counter looks a bit oily and burnt, but they do take safety seriously, with a number of safety instructions prior to serving the ramen- almost like the mandatory safety demonstrations you get before a flight. All personal belongings are to be placed out of the way, aprons are given to protect clothes, hands are to be kept behind you and running away is not allowed. Any fringes need to be tied up, fountain style specifically (for the lols), and they even provide a selection of coloured hair elastics for this purpose. Talk about Japanese hospitality!

We opt for the ‘special set’ (2150yen) because it is the only one which comes with a ‘cool badge’. It also includes fire ramen, fried rice, gyoza and fried chicken but who really cares about that when you have a cool badge?

The fire ramen itself isn’t particularly special, a simple bowl of ramen topped with plenty of green onions. It’s a little on the salty side and quite oily after the fire, but we were really more here for the experience than the noodles. And what an experience it was to have your ramen light up in a massive flame only inches away from your face!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Travel | Kyoto 2016: Matcha Desserts, Wagyu and Toursity Stuff

Fushimi Inari-taisha

If there’s one thing that screams Kyoto, it would be the red gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha. You know. The tunnel of red that’s on the cover of pretty much every guidebook that every existed. We’re not big on temples and shrines, but you can’t really tell people you’ve been to Kyoto unless you have a photo with the red torii gates to prove it!

The problem with visiting during public holidays is that there are too many people to take one of those signature shots with gates and nothing else in the photo, but I did manage to snap a quick one before the crowd got in the photo. I’m happy :)

The red gates line a pathway that goes some 4km or so up the mountain, with plenty of shrines on the way, but as I said, we’re not shrine people (and nor are we fit people) so we only went part of the way before heading back down.

I consider myself much more of a food person (if you haven’t figured out by now), so the market stalls selling food at the entrance to the shrine were of great interest to me!

We tried out some Mitarashi Dango - grilled mochi balls on a stick which were deliciously soft and chewy, though the sweet soy glaze was a little on the watery side.

There’s a little bit of everything at the markets, including these cute drinkable oranges. We’re not quite sure how it works, but it sure is cute!

There’s even ice cream Taiyaki, which I’ve wanted to try forever. Unfortunately these are made with cream, not ice cream but they make up for it by filling it with custard at the bottom and covering it with plenty of chocolate sauce.


There’s no shortage of matcha cafes in Kyoto, especially in Gion where every second shop seems to be a matcha café or matcha themed shop of some kind. We thought we'd walk a little further to try out  Jouvencelle, for their delicious looking matcha fondue but it as luck would have it, we were told that they had sold out of their matcha fondue, and pretty much every other matcha dessert on their menu for the day.

Of the two options left, I chose the vanilla and matcha ice cream stack- two scoops of ice cream sandwiched between three wafer biscuits. The tower was surprisingly sturdy, and the combination of crispy wafer and creamy ice cream was enjoyable, although not the most exciting dessert. We did enjoy the surprising addition of crispy almond caramel hidden inside the bottom wafer layer though!

We would have loved to try more of their desserts, but because there was so offer, we ended up going for a chocolate shake instead. We'll be back next time we visit Kyoto. And we'll make sure we visit earlier in the day too!


After dessert, it's about dinner time and there's an endless array of restaurants with nice views alongside the Kamo river although they tended to be on the pricey side. After walking around for almost an hour we end up at Yaruki, which claims to be the only restaurant in Kyoto that serves real wagyu beef. Whether or not that is true we’re not sure but it’s enough to lure us in.

We love the cute little set up, with each diner having their own little yakiniku grill inbuilt into the table. There are instructions on how to best enjoy your meat, with specific instructions for different cuts of meats and sauces so you really can’t go wrong.

Kobe Beef Rib (3800 yen)

The price of wagyu varies between 3800yen and 12000yen- obviously the more you pay, the better quality you get. We stick to the lower end of the spectrum and try the Kobe Beef Amazing Rib which is as beautifully marbled in real life as it appears in the photo on the menu.

 We can’t say we were particularly impressed with the texture, as it was a lot chewier than we had hoped, although we suspect the pricier cuts of wagyu are more impressive.

Beef Tongue (1880 yen)

We also try the beef tongue slab, which at 1880 yen, is much cheaper than the wagyu. It is surprisingly marbled, and it did take us a while to figure out which was which- especially as it is served in thick pieces (unlike the beef tongue I’ve had in Australia which is usually sliced quite thinly).

We’re pleasantly surprised - it’s quite unlike any beef tongue I’ve had before and is the clear winner for the night. The texture, although not quite melt-in-mouth is surprisingly tender, moreso than the wagyu.

Saryo Tsujiri Honten

We’re not quite full from two servings of meat, so we hop back over to Gion where we have some unfinished business with matcha desserts. Most of the cafes are closed by dinner time but we were lucky enough to find Saryo Tsjuri Honten was still open- and not only open, but without the massive lines outside that we spotted earlier in the day!

The menu is rather extensive- I was only really after a matcha parfait, but ended up wanting to try everything off the menu (if only we had more time!). I had quite a bit of trouble choosing within the parfait section of the menu itself, but ended up choosing the Tsujiri parfait because anything with the restaurant’s name is always a safe bet right?

Tsujiri Parfait (1178yen)

And we were not at all disappointed- with the parfait being easily our favourite dessert of the trip. There’s never a moment boredom as you dig through the many components of the parfait, from the incredibly light and smooth matcha whipped cream to the soft matcha jelly, chestnuts, red bean paste, matcha ice cream, hojicha jelly, vanilla ice cream, matcha syrup and lastly the agar jelly cubes. The matcha is layered quite well so that there’s always a bit of matcha with every mouthful, but not too much of it at once.

Tsujiri Gori (973yen)

The parfait is quite a big serving and is probably more than enough for two, but we couldn’t pass the opportunity to sample more matcha desserts whilst we were here so we also ordered a shaved ice, thinking it’d be somewhat lighter. We were wrong.

But we are glad we did order it because it’s quite unlike most shaved ices I’ve had- this one is incredibly light and soft. You can choose your shaved ice to be flavoured with green tea syrup or milk syrup but we take the best of both worlds and choose the half and half option. You can really appreciate the quality of matcha from tasting the matcha side, it’s a pleasantly bold taste without being overwhelmingly strong and bitter. The milk syrup side is surpsingly creamy, and adds some sweetness to balance the taste of the matcha.

The Tsujiri Gori comes with a sprinkle of adzuki beans on top, which are the perfect accompaniment to matcha, as well as a scoop of creamy matcha ice cream. You know- just incase there isn’t already enough matcha. The addition of rice dumplings (mochi) also adds a pleasant textural contrast.

We leave with our stomachs bulging, in a dessert induced food coma and almost rolling ourselves back to our accommodation. But it was so worth it. If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, definitely make some time to try out Saryo Tsjuri Honten- it is truly as good as every raving review of it on the internet!


And easily my most memorable meal of Japan, it honestly deserves a post of its own.

You know what? It will get its own post.

Mos Burger

We were so adamant in trying Mos Burger when we first arrived in Japan, that we went out of our way with a ridiculously long 30 or so minute walk to rural Narita to get our fix of Mos Burger. Perhaps we needn’t have bothered considering the chain is just about everywhere in Japan, but somehow the second time we end up at Mos Burger also involved a ridiculously long walk.

So much so that we will never forget the day we ended up in this Mos Burger.

Call me overdramatic, but we had not one for long walks and after trekking up the long windy sloped road to Hirobun and back we were up for anything other than walking. Our itinerary though, had other plans which involved attempting to chance our way to a silver smithing class (unsuccessfully), walking around the gravel paths of the Imperial Palace (as the daily guided tours were finished for the day) before a never ending walk to Fire Ramen only to find it was closed for lunch.

Teriyaki Burger 390yen

Desperate to sit down, we headed back backwards to the nearest restaurant, which happened to be Mos Burger, where we plonked our tired selves straight into their seats. This time, we tried the Teriyaki Burger which again, was presented just as beautifully in real life as the picture on the menu. It’s quite a saucey burger, with teriyaki sauce drizzled throughout the burger as well as a generous squeeze of mayonnaise on top. We loved the texture of the burger too- with a perfect balance of sweet juicy meat to fresh and crunchy lettuce.

Mos Burger 370yen

And we couldn’t leave Japan without trying the actual Mos Burger could we?

There’s quite a lot going on with this burger, and we struggle to eat it without making a mess. With a tender meat patty, mayo, onions, meat sauce and a perfectly shaped tomato slice sitting between fluffy burger buns, we can’t help but to fall in love with this one. The meat sauce is almost spag-bol like and adds quite a unique taste to the burger. It’s so good grabbed another one.

Fushimi Inari-taisha
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 612-0882 (map)


Kyoto-shi Higashiyama-ku, Yasakatoriimae Minami-iru, Kiyoi-cho 482 Kyoban Bldg 2F (map)

111 Hashimotocho | 1F Shijo Aiburiya, Kyoto 600-8011, Kyoto Prefecture(map)

Saryo Tsujiri Honten
901 Higashishiokojicho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8216, Kyoto Prefecture(map)
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