Biryani @ House of Pakeeza Restaurant

House of Pakeeza

House of Pakeeza is a rather strange restaurant. It looks like it had gotten lost in the 1970’s and popped up almost 50 years later. This eating establishment is located at a block of shops called The Right Angle in Section 14, Petaling Jaya. It’s a stone’s throw away from Jaya Shopping Centre. If you work around here, you’ll know that this area is horrifically congested. The narrow streets are often double, sometimes triple parked.

Pakeeza Restaurant

I was craving for some nasi biryani and decided to pop over for lunch. The dimly lit interior is manned by waiters in white starched uniforms. The dated chequered tablecloth is topped with old school wine glasses and adorned with a plastic rose in a glass bottle. It doesn’t look nostalgic as much as lost in time, with the disco era wall panelling reinforcing the illusion. It was also empty. I was the only customer there and it sounded like I was the only one who’s come in for a while.

Beef Biryani

House of Pakeeza used to serve good nasi biryani, or at least that’s how old timers remember it. This might be true decades ago, but it certainly isn’t now. I ordered a Beef Biryani (RM 15) and was disappointed to see that the sad biryani rice is barely spiced and the beef isn’t cooked together ala Hyderabadi style. It’s just a very plain mound of biryani rice with chopped spring onions scattered on top (something I’ve never seen before) and a few slices of beef on the side. The beef was tough and barely edible.

Salted Lassi

However, the eggplant curry served on the side was quite delicious. It had tons of flavor and was actually hot, compared to the room temperature rice and meat. I also ordered a Salted Lassi (RM 5.40) which also turned out to be good. The salty and acidic yoghurt drink was excellent.

Kulfi

Pakeeza specializes in Moghul cuisine and they also carry a Northern Indian ice cream called Kulfi (RM 5.20). I had kulfi when I was in Sri Lanka and I loved the saffron flavored creamy frozen dairy treat. Kulfi is technically not “ice cream” per se but a type of frozen dessert from the Indian subcontinent. I was served a grainy cardamom and pistachio flavored scoop full of ice crystals. It tasted sandy and gritty, like it’s been melted and refrozen many times and way past its use by date. It’s the antithesis of a smooth kulfi.

Pakeeza

I would give House of Pakeeza a pass if you’re also tempted to try them out. The bill for lunch cost me RM 28.16 which is slightly below average for a similar Indian themed meal at the nearby Anjappar. However, it doesn’t taste very good and left my craving for good biryani unfulfilled. There is a good reason this place is deserted while another Indian restaurant down the street is doing a roaring business. I should have gone around the corner to Anjappar instead coz they have really delicious biryani but I wanted to try Pakeeza. Oh well, I know where to go next time.

Ekiben from Otaru, Hokkaido

Ekiben

Ekiben (駅弁) is a special type of bento which is only available at long-distance train stations like the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). It’s a bento that’s meant to be eaten on the train while traveling and it features local delicacies in the area you’re at. It’s not just a bento, but a really cool Japanese boxed lunch with different local specialties. I really wanted to eat one during our trip to Otaru so I told my better half to save some stomach space for it.

Featured Ekiben

This is the selection we saw at JR Otaru station. You’ll usually find the ekiben at a specialty shop only selling ekiben or a konbini/department store closest to the train entrance. There will always be one “featured” ekiben – this is the bento that is most representative of the region you’re currently in. Otaru is well known for its fresh seafood (especially uni) and the flagship ekiben is a beautiful uni and ikura ekiben.

Otaru Train

The ekiben boxes are really nice lacquer boxes too. Some of them can even be reheated instantly using the same technology in military MREs (Meal, Ready-to-eat). There were a wide variety in a refrigerated corner of the shop and my dear wondered if anyone actually bought them. Well, her question was answered when we were about to go back to Sapporo – there were only a few ekiben left! I picked up the featured ekiben while she chose one that caught her eye to eat on the train.

Otaru Ekiben

This is my ekiben. It’s the signature ekiben of Otaru, grandly named 海 の 輝き or “Sparkle of the Sea“. This 1,580 JPY (about RM 65) bento totally deserved the hyperbolic designation though. It was the most delicious bento I’ve ever had in my life! I’m a little embarrassed to say that it was actually one of the best things I’ve eaten in Hokkaido. Haha!

Uni Ikura Ekiben

It’s filled to the brim with uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), Shiitake mushrooms, flying fish roe and Japanese rolled egg. I used chopsticks to grab a mouthful and was surprised to taste just how well the creamy uni goes with the popping, salty ikura. The savory umami mushroom slices and crunchy flying fish roe is offset by the sweet Japanese egg and blends the multitude textures and flavors together into one orgasmic experience.

Uni Ekiben

I hesitantly said “Dear, do you want some?” hoping she’ll say no. I’m kidding (or am I? smirk). I’m always happy to share with my better half. I cleaned every single morsel from the wappameshi (わっぱ飯 – thin, bent wooden box) and regretted not getting two.

Oyster Ekiben

My dear went for the 1,080 JPY (around RM 45) Otaru oyster ekiben. I had just eaten Otaru oysters at the 1 Michelin Isezushi and I loved the freshness of their local oysters. This was a full complement of five (5) pieces of oysters on top of a bed of rice with some tsukemono (pickles) on the side. The juicy oysters were really flavorful – all the braising liquid seeped into the oysters so they pack a flavorful punch!

Otaru Oysters

The best part about her ekiben is the rice. The rice has been cooked with Shiitake mushrooms, scallops and oysters and resulted in a beautiful golden brown that tasted wonderful! It’s really very good.

Japan Ekiben

You won’t find ekiben at train stations with only regional commuter lines or subway lines. Ekiben are only sold at stations with long-distance trains going in and out. I really enjoy this cultural quirk of Japan and I hope to try more ekiben when we go back next year. There are so many special ones like Yamagata domannaka featuring local beef to Ibaraki raised Rose Pork ekibens. I’m really looking forward to eating one while traveling by Shinkansen in Japan again.

Crab Feast in Hokkaido: Raw King Crab Donburi and a Trio of Crabs (Crab Steamed Bun, Crab Gratin, Crab Miso Soup) in Nijo Fish Market

Crab Donburi

Look dear!” my better half exclaimed while tugging at my arm. We were at Nijo Fish Market in Sapporo and there was a stall selling a trio of crab delicacies. We just ate at the Michelin rated Nanabe but I could tell she was intrigued by the crab bonanza so I ordered a set for us to try. You can get a Crab Steamed Bun + Crab Gratin + Crab Miso Soup for 1,200 JPY (about RM 50) or individually for 500 yen each.

Hokkaido Crab

Hokkaido is famous for their fresh and local crabs. Red King Crabs and Snow Crabs are the most well known ones but they have other delicious and more obscure species that only foodies would know, like the Horsehair Crab and Spiny King Crab which we ate the day before. Otaru also has a variety called the Sand Crab. They’re all really good and if you want to have a crab feast, you’ll do no wrong in coming to Sapporo.

Torching Crab

The friendly owner did the Crab Gratin right it front of us. There is a makeshift bench and chairs in the open where 3-4 people can sit down while eating. The crab in the shell was brought out and torched on the table. It was quite cold in Hokkaido and he suggested moving inside (to opposite the road) where they had a restaurant to get out of the wind and snow and so we did.

Hokkaido Crab Restaurant

It was about time for lunch and although I was still full from the Bib Gourmand ramen, I thought I should eat local Hokkaido crabs while I still can. The place specializes in donburi – a rice bowl with regular hot rice topped with fresh sashimi. I went for the Fresh King Crab Sashimi Donburi (2,700 JPY or RM 110) and it was glorious!

King Crab Donburi

The donburi was topped with beautiful thick slices of raw Red King Crab. It was slightly more than a leg’s worth of crab meat. If you’ve never eaten King Crab before, the legs are super meaty. It’s not like mud crabs or flower crabs at all. The size of the meat from the King Crab leg is the same dimension as those highlighter pens you used in high school.

King Crab Sashimi

The raw crab was slippery, clean and sweet tasting. Wonderful stuff. There’s nothing quite like eating king crab with shiso (perilla) leaves and a dab of real, freshly grated wasabi. They serve a mean bowl of crab miso soup too. It’s complimentary with my order of donburi so naturally it wasn’t as good as my dear’s 500 yen bowl.

Crab Three Ways

I present to you, the 1,200 yen trio of crab! This was taken in the cold outdoor seating before we came inside.

Crab Gratin

The thing that actually caught her eye was the Crab Gratin. The kind proprietor actually helped us to take the dishes into his other shop across the street. There is a generous amount of King Crab meat in addition to the melted cheese, breadcrumbs, and butter. Good heartwarming stuff.

Crab Steamed Bun

The Crab Steamed Bun was decent too. I knew my dear liked it so I didn’t eat too much (and besides, I had my own donburi) but the tiny bite I had tasted delicious. There are only two items inside – vegetables and crab. They really stuff a lot of real Red King Crab meat inside.

Crab Miso Soup

Check out my better half’s 500 JPY bowl of Crab Miso Soup from the “Crab 3 Ways” set. It’s truly a luxurious bowl of soup. They use Horsehair Crab, Red King Crab, and Spiny King Crab inside – all three are wonderful in soup, especially miso soup.

Nijo Fish Market Us

The stall at Nijo Fish Market actually sells all varieties of local Hokkaido crabs so the dishes are made from fresh crab meat. There is a lot of said crab meat too, I guess what they don’t sell in time gets turned into food. The Japanese are really serious about freshness – even a day is considered “old” so you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you eat crab in Sapporo. There are also many “crab buffets” in town but I would personally avoid them. The locals don’t go anywhere near crab buffets coz the quality is nowhere near as good as the stuff you pay for in the markets. I don’t mind paying extra for awesome quality crab and this was the best!

Save electricity like a boss!

El Nino

It’s the El Nino season and that means we’ll have plenty of hot, sunny days to look forward to! Or not. Most of us dread the heat wave that comes every time this year. We turn to the air conditioning on full blast and shut ourselves indoors to stay away from the heat. Heck even our home appliances like fridge operates on more electricity to stay cold; influenced by the residual heat from our home.

TNB has released figures which shows Malaysians use a peak demand of 17,171 MW last month (a staggering figure and an all-time high) and there have been news reports which featured a few residents getting shocked by their bill (not literally).

Here are some other tips which might help you cut down on electricity usage and save a little:

Air Con

1. Clean your air con filter

This really helps. Keeping your air conditioner filter clean is important in making in run efficiently. More cool air flows out of a clean filter so to take a huge amount off your bill, take out your filters and start dusting them. It’ll also help make the air cooler!

2. Watch the lights

Turn off the lights when you’re going out. You really don’t need a lamp to be on while you’re out, it just wastes electricity. That little bit can really add up so make sure all your switches are off before you go out. If you tend to be forgetful, you can try sticking a bit of tape beside your switch to remind yourself to switch it OFF before you leave. This works wonders in an office too – put something up like “Last one to leave, hit the lights”.

Lights Off

3. Use energy saving light bulbs

The energy saving light bulbs might cost more at first but they really do use a lot less energy in the long run. It’s just a little bit more to pay up front and you can easily recoup the cost back via energy savings (and then some). There are also slim florescent lights like the T5 variants which provide more brightness while consuming less energy so if you’re still using an old model or a non-energy saving bulb, make a trip to your local hypermarket to pick up one and start taking a huge chunk off your bills today.

5 Star

4. Look for 5 stars

Have you seen these stickers around electrical appliances? This is actually a rating that can help you reduce electricity consumption. Whenever you need a new kettle/fridge/washing machine (or any other electrical appliance) make sure to see how efficiently they run. These stickers rate each device and they can really cut down your bill over the long run. Make sure to go for as high a rating as possible, 5-star if possible. Those are the most efficient appliances and you can rest assured that buying a 5-star device can give you 5-star savings.

5. Turn off the computer

We love to be on Facebook and watch YouTube videos and some of us has even taken off the settings so the notebook or PC is on forever. The features to turn off your monitor and hard disk after a set amount of time is there for a reason – when you’re not using it, it’s better for the device to be off. This can really help you save so make sure the settings are correct and when in doubt, just turn off your computer when you’re done.

Switch

Need more cool tips to help you save? Surf on over here!

Nanabe – Michelin ramen in Hokkaido

Nanabe Michelin

I read about a ramen shop called Nanabe (菜々兵衛) which was awarded with the Bib Gourmand in the Hokkaido Michelin Guide during our trip to Sapporo. I really wanted to go there so we poured over the transportation maps before trekking out to this secluded neighborhood in Shiroishi-ku. This ramen restaurant is located in a residential area quite far from the usual places tourists go so it was challenging to find.

Ramen Nanabe

We trudged through the crunching snow and slippery ice for about 30 minutes after a 1 1/2 hour train ride involving 3 different lines to Heiwa. No one here spoke English and they only have a Japanese menu so ordering involved deciphering the menu with Google Translate app and a lot of gesturing. The crowd consisted almost entirely of salarymen and OL (office ladies) from small businesses nearby and there is usually a bit of a queue to get in.

Nanabe Hokkaido

You need to take off your shoes at the door. I have seen this arrangement in the ryokan we stayed in but it was really unusual to have to do this in the city. However, this isn’t the city center of Sapporo per se, it’s more like a friendly rural neighborhood joint. I took off my soaking wet shoes and lined them up with the row of other customer’s shoes beside the entrance. The tables are shared tables and we were seated beside two friendly lady office workers (who took a photo of us).

Nanabe Ramen

I ordered the flagship Salt Ramen with White Chicken Broth (鶏白湯 塩) for 750 yen (about RM 30). The broth is rich and almost creamy. I practically inhaled the ramen and slurped down the soup with satisfaction. The chashu was perfectly done – a beautiful pinkish brown slice of pork perfection. The generous scattering of menma and spring onions added a lot of flavor to the broth. It’s strange that I find tofu offensive but I’m happy to scarf down menma. The homemade ramen noodles are springy and texturally pleasing. This is ramen done right.

Nanabe Sapporo

The signature ramen served here is not the usual miso soup base which Hokkaido is famous for but a white chicken based broth. They also have a “Nagoya Cochin” style. The noodles they use are not Sapporo egg noodles too, which my better half dislikes, but a more neutral and less rich wheat variant. They also give you a lot of menma (fermented bamboo shoots). Nanabe uses hosaki menma, which is thinner than regular bamboo shoots and more absorbent. There are even menu options for extra menma which my dear looked upon with horror. Haha.

Nagoya Cochin Ramen

She went for the Nagoya Cochin Shoyu Ramen (名古屋コーチン 醤油) for 750 yen (around RM 30) and it tasted completely different from mine. It has a lot of chopped leeks. I ended up eating all her menma. I enjoyed the shoyu broth her ramen was made of, both the original tori sayu shio (my order) and Nagoya Cochin shoyu are good options since they taste equally good but Nanabe is famous for the white chicken stock. You can also add condiments (red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, etc) to your broth to change its character – it’s provided free of charge, together with complimentary ice water.

Nanabe Us

The ramen here is really delicious! It was very rewarding to enter a warm, bustling neighborhood restaurant after walking in the snow to eat a piping hot bowl of ramen. The service here is friendly and personal despite the language barrier – it reflects the country vibe of the place. The bill came up to just 1,500 yen (RM 60), which was a lot cheaper than the Hokkaido style ramen we had earlier. I would highly recommend this place if you’re willing to hunt for your food.

Chasiu

Nanabe was awarded a Bib Michelin for good reason – the food is spectacular and they’re rated as the #1 ramen in Hokkaido!

Sarawak State Elections 2016: Voting at N54 Pelawan, Sibu

Sibu Voting

I don’t know what you’re saying but I agree with everything.

I’m back in Sibu for the Sarawak state elections! I just bought my ticket a couple of days ago. To be honest, I didn’t feel like flying back to vote. There’s been a lot of talk of “political fatigue” and I think that’s the general feeling among the masses. The people aren’t swarming the polling centers like the “Chinese tsunami” last election to protest against the government and the love affair with the Opposition might have plateaued.

Sibu Elections 2016

Whatever the reason, a lot of people aren’t making the effort and spending the money to come back to vote. I felt the same but at the last minute decided to shell out the cash for a plane ticket to exercise my right to vote.

Sibu Kampua

I am privy to a rather interesting political Whatsapp group and despite not contributing much, I read every single post. These are a bunch of diverse people from traditional media journalists to ex-political party members from SUPP, a BN offshoot in Sarawak.

I heard someone mention that this Sarawak state election is a referendum for Najib. I was quite surprised since I have never thought of it that way. I think a lot of people like me don’t see it that way. Instead, we see it as a referendum for Chief Minister Adenan. These are two very different people.

Sarawak State Elections 2016

I’m an Opposition supporter. I vote DAP (Democratic Action Party) every single time. I come from a middle class Christian Chinese family in Sibu, Sarawak. To make parallels with the political scene in the United States, I would be considered as a WASP – a rather conservative voting bloc. I go to the BERSIH rallies. I told my better half that I come from a Chinese majority town and even she was surprised when I showed her the official government census data from my area.

I vote in a constituency known as N54 Pelawan and out of the eligible voters, a staggering 91.2% is Chinese. The distant second is Malay AND Melanau combined for just 4.9%. This is often refered to as the “Muslim” voting bloc but that isn’t entirely correct coz a lot of Melanaus are Christian. Ibans constitute another 3.1% and the dreaded term Others come in at 0.8%. These figures aren’t representative of Malaysia as a whole but it’s fairly accurate for Sibu.

Sibu Church

What surprises a lot of first time visitors is how many churches we have here. We don’t have a lot of mosques – they’re all tucked away in kampungs and such, but there are many churches in town. Sibu is an overwhelming Chinese majority town and a sizable portion of the Chinese are Christians. This unusual quirk is due to the person who first came to Sarawak (he was a Christian evangelical) but that’s history, what is interesting is our demographics now.

Anyway, as I was saying, I (and I bet a lot of others) see this election as a referendum for CM Adenan and to be fair, he seems like a great guy. I can’t deny that he has done a lot for Sarawakians. He has also stemmed the worrying trend of Islamic extremism by keeping a ban list of extremist preachers and passed a controversial law which allows Muslim converts to revert back to Christianity (in the landmark case of Roneey Anak Rebit).

This has endeared him to the local Christian Chinese community and he was also the first to open the civil service to UEC holders (a Chinese examination). The latter doesn’t really affect me since I’ve studied in New Zealand ever since I was 15 and graduated from Australia (this blog started in Melbourne), but it’s nice to know he’s looking out for everyone. He has also pushed for greater Sarawak autonomy and rights. By most accounts, he’s doing a stellar job.

I certainly think so.

(Please don’t lynch me, fellow Opposition supporters)

Sibu Voting Center

However, I was also talking to some older people today and they all saw it as a referendum for not Adenan but for Najib. That makes it an entirely different issue altogether but the problem is, not many people see it that way. I certainly didn’t, and I think that’s one of the greatest successes of the PBB political machine. They have pushed the man Adenan so much that a lot of people (myself included) have divorced the national issues with Najib from the Sarawak state election.

…and that’s dangerous coz if BN does well here, they’ll have the confidence to call the general elections sooner.

Vote

Despite what I personally think about CM Adenan, I feel like it’s healthy to have a strong Opposition and that’s why I will always vote for DAP. It’s not coz they have a realistic chance of winning – it’s about not giving the current government such free and unchecked reign.

DAP

I voted for David Wong Kee Woan (DAP).

Durian Hunting with Lindsay: Durian Kembong (Chanee) and Udang Merah

Lindsay

Lindsay is back in Malaysia! Well, at least she was yesterday, she’s since flown off to Bangkok for more durian adventures. I picked her up for some durian late afternoon and we headed down to Sri Hartamas to check out a stall that has been around for over a decade. We saw some durians for sale at another stall before this but they weren’t really good so we moved on.

Durian Truck

This one only had two types of durians – Durian Kembong and Udang Merah (Red Prawn/Ang Heh).

Durian Stall

Lindsay chose the durians – she’s way better in these things, having volunteered in durian farms and such.

Kembong Durians

The durians they sell as Durian Kembong (I’ve never heard of the name) is actually D123 Chanee according to Lindsay. I’m not sure if “kembong” (which means inflated) is local slang or some kind of identifier but it’s not in the list of durian clones.

Durian Kembong

D123 Chanee

This is a 1.7 kg beauty that Lindsay picked out. It costs RM 25/kg. The durian comes from Gerik in Perak.

Durian Kembong

The Durian Kembong flesh is a pleasing saffron color and the seed can be seen “peeking” out, much like a Chanee or Musang King. I thought it tasted quite nice – there was little to no fiber and there is a sheen of slippery flesh on top of the main bulk, which makes eating it a pleasure.

Kembong

The durian was mostly sweet, with hints of bitterness and overall a decent, if not exceptional, durian.

Udang Merah

Red Prawn

This Udang Merah comes from Gerik, Ipoh instead of Penang. It’s a small 900 gram fruit that was going for RM 28/kg.

Durian Udang Merah

This small durian only has a couple of seeds but it was awesome! The vivid golden bronze flesh looked beautiful and the intense flavor was spot on. I was very pleased with the taste – it was rich, flavorful and strong, everything I look for in a durian. Creamy and succulent, no complains about this one.

Udang Merah

It’s a good thing that we opened this as our second durian and not the first, or the Durian Kembong would have fared poorly in comparison. Haha. The total came up to RM 65. This stall also sells tempoyak (fermented durian paste) made from lower quality durians they couldn’t sell.

HB Lindsay

It was good to meet up again Lindsay! I really had fun talking to you. Sorry I had to run off so quickly after the durians. Catch up soon when you’re back! BTW, if you guys are interested in durians, Lindsay is running a durian tour in Bangkok from 25th May to 3rd June. You can surf over to her blog to register – she responds promptly (better than I do with my emails anyway) and the tours are open to all. It’ll be fun if you want to learn more about durians.

Durian Chanee

See ya when you’re back and have fun in Thailand! :)

MAHBUB Restaurant, Bangsar: The Best Nasi Briyani Ayam Madu

Nasi Briyani MAHBUB

I’ve loved nasi briyani ever since my late mom took me for my first taste of it when I was around 7 or 8 years old. Unfortunately, my better half does not share the same love for nasi briyani so I often go to eat it alone. I was talking about Fierce Curry House (which has really good Hyderabadi style nasi briyani) with Samantha and Michelle the other day when Sam told me about this awesome briyani place in Bangsar.

Restaurant Mahbub

I’ve actually eaten at Mahbub Restaurant before but didn’t think much of it at the time. It serves briyani with ayam madu (honey chicken) – a distinctively Malaysian-Indian take on the dish. I do like the sweet taste of the honey chicken but I prefer my protein to be cooked *together* with the briyani ala Hyderabadi. However, I decided to pop over again after my Invisalign appointment to reacquaint my taste buds…after all, my last trip was over a decade ago.

MAHBUB Bangsar

No kidding, MAHBUB Restaurant has been around since 1974! They also have an air conditioned space where you have to pay a small premium to sit in. It’s attached to the main restaurant and has a different menu with slightly higher prices but I thought it was a small price to pay for the comfort. It’s so hot lately with the heat wave that I almost lost my appetite from heat stress so air conditioned dining is a must.

Ayam Madu

The main draw here is as mentioned the Nasi Briyani Ayam Madu (RM 13.50). The honey chicken is really quite good and the portions are generous too. I was quite surprised to get more than a regular portion. I was given 1/2 a wing in addition to the huge chicken breast. I usually don’t like chicken breast coz it can be dry if not cooked properly but there are no such issues here. The honey soaked chicken breast was tender and full of white meat. It was very satisfying to eat.

Nasi Briyani Ayam Madu

The honey cooked chicken is perfectly balanced too. It’s slightly on the sweet side but the nasi briyani is served with achar pickles on the side so the acidity cuts through the richness of the chicken. They give you curry dal on the side too and everything is nice and hot instead of the lukewarm stuff other places tend to have. The nasi briyani is decent too – lots of spices and herbs inside to give it that distinctive flavor.

MAHBUB Restaurant

I thought MAHBUB Restaurant is a satisfactory stop if you’re craving for nasi briyani. The meat portion is huge! They definitely don’t skimp on the protein here. The entire meal set me back just RM 16.65 with a drink. They also have Bukhara style nasi briyani on Fridays which adds more spice to the rice so that’s something to consider. I’ll definitely be back for more, especially when I’m hankering for a good ol’ chunk of white meat to go with my spiced rice!

LeTAO (ルタオ) Double Fromage Cheesecake in Otaru, Hokkaido

LeTAO Cheesecake

LeTAO (ルタオ) is a famous bakery, café and sweet shop with branches all over Hokkaido. We saw one in New Chitose Airport when we landed in Sapporo and again when we went shopping in Daimaru but my better half wanted to eat at their head store in Otaru. Otaru is a quaint little town where they have a huge presence – it’s where their HQ is, as well as their chocolate shop (called LeTao le chocolat) and lab (LeTAO Cheese CakeLab).

LeTAO PATHOS

There are at least six (6) different LeTAO shops in Otaru, all selling something unique. We saw one in Otaru Station when we arrived which is called Ekimo LeTAO and they sell roll cakes in addition to their regular product lines. My dear wanted to check out their sit-down café though so we walked over 30 minutes in search for LeTAO PATHOS – their largest store and café in Hokkaido.

LeTAO Otaru

LeTAO actually pioneered the “Japanese Cotton Cheesecake” craze. This is a soufflé-like cheese cake with a distinctive look. However, LeTAO doesn’t call it that themselves (no one in Japan does). It’s called the Double Fromage by LeTAO and it’s one of their most famous products. LeTAO also has a presence in Thailand but if you want to eat the real thing made with Hokkaido dairy, you better get your ass down to Otaru…and that’s what we did.

LeTAO Menu

The café at LeTAO PATHOS is huge and you’ll be escorted to your seat by a nice Japanese girl who’ll take your order while kneeling down (!!!). This really surprised me and made me a little uncomfortable. However, it’s part of the renowned Japanese approach to service and they even make a point of stating that their tea is not ready made – it’s only brewed each time there’s an order so it’ll take a while for drinks to arrive.

Double Plate with a drink (1,404 JPY or RM 58)

LeTAO Cafe Double Plate

This is all of LeTAO’s favorites on a plate! It contains two of their most popular cheese cakes – Double Fromage and Chocolate Double together with a crème brulee tart called Venezia Rendezvous. I have no idea why this is called a “Double Plate” when it contains 3 items but I suspect the Japanese words mean something entirely different.

LeTAO Double Fromage

I really enjoyed LeTAO’s Double Fromage. It’s made with three (3) different cheeses – Italian mascarpone, Camembert and cream cheese. All the cheeses used here are produced in Hokkaido from a local dairy. The upper layer is a creamy and smooth no-bake cheesecake and the lower layer is rich and tasty baked cheesecake. Insanely good stuff…

LeTAO Venezia Rendezvous

The Venezia Rendezvous is a mascarpone crème brulee made using mascarpone from Lombardy, Italy. The cheese is added to LeTao’s original fresh cream in Hokkaido and flavored with natural vanilla beans from Madagascar. The light and crispy tart provides a nice texture to the 42% milk fat cream used in the filling and the natural sugar beets grown in Hokkaido. The dessert is not sweet at all, the only sugar used is from the locally grown sugar beets.

LeTAO Chocolate Double

The Chocolat Double is the chocolate version of their bestselling Double Fromage. They combined the cheese cake with a chocolate cake to produce a two-layered chocolate cheesecake. The cocoa is from Europe but all other items are local and the bitterness of the cocoa makes the cheesecake more suitable for adults. It cuts down the mildly sweet Double Fromage with some bitterness to produce a slightly bitter dessert.

Strawberry Mille-feuille with a drink (1,816 JPY or around RM 72)

Strawberry Mille-feuille

This beautiful dessert can only be ordered in LeTAO’s café. It’s made with LeTAO’s original custard and Hokkaido grown strawberries for a towering treat that looks almost too good to eat. My dear saw this highlighted in their menu and didn’t want to order it coz it was over RM 70 for a plate of pastry. We had just eaten sushi at the 1 Michelin Star Isezushi so this was primarily a dessert run but I insisted on ordering it coz I knew she wanted to try it.

LeTAO Strawberry Mille-feuille

The custard was very good – it was speckled with real vanilla beans from Madagascar and there are superbly tart red currants strewn throughout the plate. However, I thought the crispy sheets of pastry was slightly over-done and bitter. Granted, desserts in Japan are an order of magnitude less sweet than Western or local counterparts but we’ve had really good mille-feuille from 2 Michelin Star Le Relais LOUIS VIII in Paris, France so it can’t really measure up to that (especially when the mille-feuille was the star dessert that got them their two Michelin stars in the first place).

LeTAO Hokkaido

LeTAO is a great place to visit if you want to have a luxurious and warm sit-down dessert in Otaru. The café in LeTAO PATHOS also serves savory food like pasta – it’s the only one that does that so it’s something to think about if you’re heading here instead of the main store. It’s also larger than the head store or LeTAO Plus. The bill came up to 3,220 JPY (about RM 130) for the two of us, including drinks and the service was excellent. I would highly recommend eating at LeTAO if you’re ever in Otaru – after all, this was where LeTAO was born.

Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream

Hokkaido Ice Cream

Hokkaido milk is loaded with one of the highest butterfat content numbers I’ve ever seen. The 4.8% milk fat from local cows is higher than any “whole milk” product in the US and Australia. It tastes more like half and half or cream. I was truly impressed by the extraordinarily creamy milk they have. Thus, when we passed by this little mom-and-pop ice cream parlor in Otaru, we immediately went in and got one…even though it’s the middle of winter.

Ice Cream Sign

They even have a little sign out front which tells you to be careful with your cone should you take photos of it, lest it tip over. I found that hilarious, the lengths to which the Japanese go to be considerate is quite amazing. Of course, I’ve had Hokkaido milk before, but it’s the inferior 3.8% stuff they sell in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve also had mind-blowingly delicious Channel Island milk while I was backpacking in the United Kingdom.

Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream

However, the ice cream made from Hokkaido milk in Sapporo is peerless. The best specimen we had was near Chitose when we just arrived, and the 8-flavor ice cream cone is pretty decent too. This one was slightly disappointing compared to those but at 300 JPY (about RM 12) you can’t really complain. It was still better than any ice cream I’ve had in Malaysia. The high milk fat in Hokkaido milk makes the ice cream taste so creamy and rich we had to eat it, despite the cold weather. :)

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