Ezokko Paseo Ramen, Sapporo

Ezokko Paseo Ramen

Sapporo is famous for their butter and corn enriched miso-based ramen. It’s quite distinctive from other Japanese ramen. We were walking around in JR Sapporo Station after we got back from the ryokan and wanted to get something to eat. I remember a few omurice restaurants around the Paseo area, but we chanced upon Ezokko Ramen (えぞっこ パセオ店), which offers a JPY 1,800 bowl filled with crab, scallops, and shrimp!

Ezokko Paseo

My better half wanted to eat here so we popped in to have a proper Sapporo ramen meal. Their noodles are all freshly made daily and it’s the thicker wavy yellow Sapporo style ramen which is very different from the Tokyo style noodles we get locally. It’s more substantial and chewy. I asked for their recommendation and got the house special (which was the RM 82 bowl of seafood goodness).

Ezokko Sapporo Special Ramen

Ezokko Sapporo Special Ramen (1,800 yen or RM 82)
This looked exactly like the menu! It has crab, scallops, shrimp, pork, corn and butter. The seafood components are all local produce from Hokkaido. The corn and butter is a Sapporo thing – they add the two to their ramen. You’re supposed to melt the (creamy) Hokkaido butter in the soup before you eat it. I went for miso soup, as the waitress recommended, as that’s how the locals eat it.

Hokkaido Scallops

There is a slotted spoon for you to eat the ingredients, as well as a regular spoon (which fits nicely on the rim of the bowl). The broth is pork based and it’s been cooked for 12 hours with several kinds of vegetables. It was very rich and filling, although I found the house speciality spicy miso soup to be a little strange at first. I got into the groove and learned to love it though. I liked the abundance of seafood inside. The scallops in particular was very nice with the ramen.

Sapporo Gyoza

Gyoza (380 yen or RM 20)
We also made an order for gyoza (4 pieces). The pork filled dumplings were surprisingly good!

Sapporo Butter Corn Ramen

Sapporo Butter Corn Ramen (950 yen or RM 45)
My dear had this bowl. It’s Sapporo style ramen with corn, butter, roast pork, bamboo, leek and a sheet of nori. She had a shoyu (soy) based soup instead of the traditional miso soup and it was pretty good too. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite like the noodles, it’s very filling compared to the ones we’re used to. The fare is heartier in Hokkaido due to the cold weather.

Hokkaido Almond Milk Pudding

Hokkaido Almond Milk Pudding (270 yen or RM 12)
There was a sign which says they produce only 30 bowls of this Hokkaido milk almond pudding each day and it’s not available once sold out. Luckily they still had one for us. It seems to be something similar to annindofu but made with Hokkaido milk and it was very rich and milky. The cold pudding was the perfect ending to our meal!

Ezokko Us

My better half didn’t finish her ramen coz she claimed she was already full. I suspect she didn’t quite like the Sapporo style noodles here. We ate at a Michelin rated ramen shop on the last day (not this one) and she really liked that. I love how they stuffed my bowl full of Hokkaido seafood and I think the price is decent. The bill came up to JPY 3,400 (RM 158) for both of us and the service was excellent!

Ezokko Ramen

The Ezzoko Paseo Ramen mascot was hilarious too.

Isezushi: Omakase at a Michelin Star sushi bar in Otaru

Isezushi Sushi Chef

This is one of the highlights of our trip. Isezushi is the only One Michelin Star sushiya (sushi bar) in Otaru and I wanted to eat there as soon as we made plans to go to Hokkaido. I made reservations weeks in advance. You have to call them as they don’t accept Internet reservations. It took two calls of about 20 minutes to get the message though but I managed to get us counter seats!

Isezushi Counter

It’s always important to get a counter/bar seat if you’re going for the omakase. The experience is diluted if you’re seated at a table as you can’t watch and interact with the sushi chef. You want a counter seat as the tempo is dictated by the sushi chef, putting pieces of sushi on your personal board one-by-one, as it is made, instead of all at once if you’re seated at the tables.

Isezushi Bar

This is how sushi is meant to be eaten and I’m glad I took the time (and long distance call charges) to communicate that I wanted a counter seat at all costs.

Isezushi Otaru

Isezushi is located about 6 minutes away from JR Otaru Station. The restaurant is very minimalistic on the outside. You won’t be able to know what they’re serving if you don’t read Japanese and there are no signboards in English. The doors are perpetually closed with no waiter outside. This is a strict reservation-only place and it’s very prim and proper.

Isezushi Me

Our reservation was at 12:30 pm but I made sure we arrived nice and early at 11:50 am as I know they are very particular about punctuality. Sure enough, the sushi chef was pleasantly surprised we were there early and seated us promptly. There were two other Japanese women beside us on the counter and a lone Japanese male taking up the last seat. The two tables behind the counter were full too!

Isezushi

There are three different omazake tiers – this is the classic Sho/Chiku/Bai trio of price levels in Japanese dining. The most premium one is called Jun (JPY 6,300) and has 16 pieces of sushi. The middle tier is Dai (JPY 3,600) and it’s made up of 12 pieces of sushi made exclusively from Hokkaido ingredients. The budget set is Gin (JPY 3,000) and has 10 pieces of sushi. I went for the Jun and my better half opted for the Dai omakaze.

Isezushi Jun Omakase (16 pieces for JPY 6,300)

Soi Rockfish Sushi

Soi (Rockfish/大とろ)
This is a nice start to the meal. I love how the sushi chef masterfully seasoned everything with just enough citrus/soy/wasabi/salt so you’re not supposed to use any more yourself. I’ve also never seen citrus being used to season rockfish before and it was tender and flavorful, with a sharp and refreshing bite.

Engawa Flounder Edge Sushi

Engawa (Edge of flounder/さば漬け)
This is a very rare piece of sushi which you can only get from the high end Jun omakaze. You can’t get it from the a la carte menu. It’s described as “flounder’s edge” and the sushi chef showed me the piece of fish where it came from. It’s a crunchy and chewy neta.

Akamizuke Tuna Sushi

Akamizuke (Tuna belly marinated in shoyu/本鮪の漬)
This is a piece from the tuna’s belly called “zuke”. It’s marinated in soy sauce for a while and served on top of sushi. This is the best tasting and highest quality akamizuke I’ve ever had! I’ve eaten a lot of “akamizuke” which are just pieces of cheap tuna in soy sauce and it tastes completely different from the real thing.

Otoro Tuna Sushi

Otoro (Fatty tuna belly/大とろ)
This requires no further explanation. It’s the most expensive and most premium piece of sushi. There’s only a relatively tiny amount of meat on a bluefin tuna that can be properly classified as otoro and they usually sell for USD 30 or more per piece. The otoro was deliciously fatty, with a rich and lingering buttery mouthfeel. I’m very happy to have had experienced this.

Sabazuke Mackerel Sushi

Sabazuke (Mackerel marinated in shoyu/鯖)
Yum! This perfectly complements the otoro that I had just eaten. Just to be sure, I cleansed my palate with pieces of pickled ginger before starting on each piece of sushi. The mackerel is sliced very well, the difference between a high end sushi bar and a conveyer belt sushi is nowhere more apparent than here – the cuts are precise and there are multiple ones done on the surface of the fish so it produces an explosion of flavor when it touches your tongue.

Botan Ebi Shrimp Sushi

Botan-ebi (Sweet jumbo Japanese shrimp/ぼたんえび)
This is the large sweet shrimp that’s only available in Japan. They’re also called Toyama Shrimp and they’re found in Hokkaido. It’s a highly seasonal item that’s only available from November to March so I’m lucky to catch the tail end of the season (no pun intended). It’s my favorite piece of sushi – I love raw shrimp.

Hotate Sushi

Hotate (Scallops/帆立貝)
Hokkaido has a HUGE local scallop industry and I’ve eaten a lot of scallops in many forms (sashimi, dried, and even in ramen) while I was here. They’re possibly one of the sweetest sushi toppings around. It’s delicious and I closed my eyes in pleasure while eating it. No joke.

Hokkigai Sushi

Hokkigai (Surf clam/ホッキ貝)
Crunchy! It’s very fresh too since the surf clam is sourced right from Otaru on the very day itself. I liked the contrasting texture between the soft scallops to the crispy surf clam.

Tsubugai Whelk Sushi

Tsubugai (Whelk/ツブガイ)
I like whelk and I love how the sushi chef carefully sliced this from the shell, pounded it a few times with his knife and made small and shallow cuts diagonally to tenderize and let the flavors out.

Shako Sushi

Shako (Squilla mantis shrimp/シャコ)
This is what we call Mantis Prawn back home but from a different species. Squilla can only be found higher up, like in Japan. It’s cooked in mirin and sake and the cook time is quite unusual. It comes off as slightly textural, with many “grains” due to the amount of time it has spent and I found out that’s how the Japanese like it. It’s very sweet and has the ENTIRE shrimp on top of the sushi, both the body and tail, stacked on top of each other.

Zuwaigani Sushi

Zuwaigani (Snow crab/ズワイガニ)
Snow crab is one of the trio of crabs that’s abundant in Hokkaido around this time. It’s very sweet and pleasant tasting. This is one of the rare cooked sushi (the other is the Mantis Shrimp) and I’ve eaten it both raw and cooked in Sapporo and I prefer raw snow crab meat. However, cooked works better with the omakaze tempo.

Ikura Sushi

Ikura (Salmon roe/イクラ)
This is the first of the Gunkanmaki (Battleship Roll) – so called coz of the strip of nori (dried seaweed) that goes around the perimeter to hold in the topping. The salmon roe burst in my tongue, and the ratio was perfect (and generous).

Shirauo Icefish Sushi

Shirauo (Japanese icefish/白魚)
I have heard a lot about these tiny transparent fishes and I saw them on the sushi counter when I came in. I vowed I’ll order them a la carte if I didn’t get it in my omakaze. Luckily, I did get one as part of my meal. It was another exclusive for the most expensive Jun set. I loved the way the little fishes rolled around my tongue. It’s ticklish.

Namagaki Raw Oyster Sushi

Namagaki (Raw oyster/生ガキ)
Yum! The saline and moreish raw oysters (there are two on the sushi) blew me away. It’s ultra fresh and local.

Uni Sushi

Uni (Sea urchin/うに)
What is heaven? I think this may be right beside it in the dictionary. Behold! The sea urchin in Otaru is Grade AAA compared to the sad specimens we get locally. This is a premium variety called ezo bafun uni (short-spined sea urchin) that’s caught in Hokkaido and best during spring. It was so creamy and delicious I nearly came in my pants. I know that’s not what a proper gourmand should be writing in a review but it’s true, so there! smirk

Wakame Sea Mustard Sushi

Wakame (Sea mustard/若布)
This is my last piece of sushi. It’s a palate cleansing topping of edible seaweed, what they call wakame or sea mustard. I’ve seen a similar item as the cheapest version of sushi at local conveyer belt places but this tastes nothing like it. It’s very slippery and fresh.

Isezushi Dai “Hokkaido Special” Omakase (12 pieces for JPY 3,600)

Hirame Flounder Sushi

Hirame (Flounder/平目)
This is my dear’s omakaze which features only local Hokkaido seasonal ingredients. The first one was flounder or fluke.

Wazake Salmon Sushi

Sake (Japanese salmon/鮭)
A beautiful slice of Japanese salmon. Too bad you’re supposed to eat sushi in one bite or I’ll have loved to try it.

Kibinago Herring Sushi

Kibinago (Japanese herring/黍魚子)
These are not the herring we’re using to seeing. The silver-stripe round herring is a Japanese species that’s very popular as sushi and sashimi in Hokkaido.

Japanese Shrimp Sushi

Botan-ebi (Sweet jumbo Japanese shrimp/ぼたんえび)
This is the same thing that I had, a local in-season sweet raw Japanese shrimp.

Scallops Sushi

Hotate (Scallops/帆立貝)
I also had the local Hokkaido scallops. I was surprised to see that my dear liked it too!

Surf Clam Sushi

Hokkigai (Surf clam/ホッキ貝)
This was also on my Jun omakase. It’s a different picture though, due to the slight variations in the way it’s cut by the sushi chef.

Mizudako Octopus Head Sushi

Mizudako (Octopus/たこ)
This was actually described as “Head of Octopus” to us. I guess that means this meat is from the head of the octopus instead of the tentacles of the cephalopod.

Squilla Sushi

Shako (Squilla mantis shrimp/蝦蛄)
Yup, there are a few items that popped up on both our menus coz it’s a local Hokkaido specialty. My dear didn’t like the texture that much though. I personally thought the creamy sauce they made with the head of the mantis shrimp to top this sushi is out-of-this-world!

Snow Crab Sushi

Zuwaigani (Snow crab/ズワイガニ)
Snow crab leg. I also had this and it was delectable.

Salmon Roe Sushi

Ikura (Salmon roe/イクラ)
These are roe from local salmon, very rare.

Saffron Cod Roe Sushi

Komaiko (Saffron cod roe/コマイ)
I’m not sure if I got the hiragana correct or not but the romanji is right. Komaiko means saffron cod roe and it’s quite an unusual topping for sushi. The sushi chef sprinkled a few toasted sesame seeds on top. I wish I could have eaten this too but I know etiquette says you’re not supposed to share so we didn’t. I did order a la carte after though. Haha.

Sea Urchin Sushi

Uni (Sea urchin/雲丹)
Her Dai omakaze ended with luxurious uni as well. The sea urchin gonads are exquisite! Hokkaido uni is said to be the best in the world and this is ezo bafun uni, the best of the best. It’s nicknamed sea chestnut coz it tastes like chestnuts and comes in beautiful orange. My better half loved the sushi here (while she’s usually apathetic about local sushi) coz the rice is actually warm/hot instead of cold! The rice-to-neta ratio is very generous too and it’s just better in every single way.

Miso Soup

We were given a miso soup fortified with botan ebi (sweet Japanese jumbo shrimp) at the end of our meal.

Shrimp

I actually ordered two pieces of sushi a la carte after this. The first was to make up for a mistake. I was so enthusiastic about eating that when my tsubugai (whelk) sushi was served up, I actually *ate* it before my better half could take a photo. -_- Thus, I ordered it again so my dear could snap a quick picture. That’s how I have a photo even though I ate it before she could take it. We ordered it TWICE. She had it this time but didn’t like it coz it was too crunchy.

Shiro Mirugai Geoduck Sushi

Shiro mirugai (Geoduck giant clam/海松貝) JPY 880
I wanted more, especially since I had perused the extensive a la carte sushi menu and found geoduck. I asked for shiro mirugai and was surprised (and a little embarrassed) to hear the collective gasps from the other diners beside us. The two Japanese women muttered amazed exclamations when the sushi chef presented the geoduck sushi to me. The lone Japanese male taking up the last counter seat grunted his approval too. It was very nice. I’ve never had geoduck raw before and it’s so fresh in Japan.

Isezushi Bill

I later realized that the geoduck was the most expensive item in the a la carte menu, which explains the Japanese women’s reaction. My omakaze was nearly double the price of my dear’s despite only having 4 pieces more but the four pieces were premium items like otoro and icefish. The bill for the both of us came up to JPY 11,110 (RM 473 according to my exchange rates) which is very reasonable.

Isezushi Us

Isezushi (伊勢鮨) in Otaru, Hokkaido is a must-visit if you ever go there on a day trip. Be sure to make reservations and ask for a counter seat. The omakaze items changes depending on season so your neta (sushi topping) may vary. Oh, and the two nice Japanese aunties took a photo of us with the sushi chef. :) We were really glad we had an authentic sushi experience at a 1 Michelin Star restaurant. It was truly a delightful afternoon in Isezushi.

Bento in Japan

Bento Japan

Bento boxes are sold in every department store, grocery store and convenience store in Japan. It’s one of the most common items around, especially when there’s a konbini on every street corner. They’re priced very competitively too, but of course there are more premium versions which costs even more than a sit-down meal. We got ours at a huge multi-level shopping mall called Sapporo Factory.

Bento God of Discounts

I’ve actually watched an anime called Ben-To so I know that the best bento box that’s still unsold will get a special sticker. There’s also someone that comes out every day to put a discount sticker on the overdue products. This is the person that comes out at Sapporo Factory. They call her the “God of Discounts”. We waited until she did her thing to see if we could get discounted bento. HAHAHAHA. The ones we wanted didn’t get a discount though, it was only for certain items.

Japanese Bento

This is my bento. It costs 518 yen (about RM 22) and has 9 different containers. I believe this is what they call makunouchi bento (幕の内) which is a meal with everything. I love how everything is separated in Japan. They don’t mix stuff together so the taste will not combine – each item is separated by design, either using a separator (a fake plastic green leaf) or in a different part of the container.

Sapporo Bento

It has three (3) types of rice – plain Japanese white rice with ume (plum), soy sauce rice, and multi-grain rice. The six (6) different sides are steamed vegetables (middle – this is the best tasting one, surprisingly), tsukemono (pickled items), iwashi shoyuyaki (sardines sauteed in soy sauce – very nice too), tonkatsu (Japanese fried pork cutlet – hidden under the tamago/egg), and several other things I couldn’t identify but tasted delicious. smirk

Salmon Bento

This is what my better half chose for her bento. Hers is 406 yen (around RM 16) even though it’s smaller coz it has more meat. There’s a HUGE square of nori (dried seaweed) separating the rice from the sides. It has a generous slice of salmon, a pumpkin tempura, a pork tonkatsu, a piece of karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and some other condiments, including a piece of tamagoyaki (sweet Japanese rolled egg omelet) for dessert. I tried it and it was very nice.

Sapporo Factory Bento

I actually put on more than a couple of pounds in Hokkaido. I wanted to try so many different things so we had multiple meals per day. I told my dear, “We must try their bento boxes” and I learned that there are two kinds, the ones I wrote about here and the ones that’s only sold for long distance trips like on shinkansen called ekiben which we also had in Otaru. I’ll write more about the special ekiben soon coz it’s a separate topic. :)

McDonald’s Japan Spring 2016 Menu: Camembert Teritama Burger & Hokkaido Namaeboshu “Names Wanted” Burger

McDonalds Japan

I was attracted by the posters advertising the new limited edition Camembert Teritama Burger which is a pork patty topped with an egg and served in a teriyaki-like sauce. You can also opt to have Ume plum powder with your fries, which is very Japanese (and it’s only available in the Land of the Rising Sun). I read about a new nameless burger made with Hokkaido potatoes and bacon that I was keen to check out too.

Japan McDonalds

I have been bugging my better half to make space in our stomach for a meal at McDonald’s Japan. I like visiting McDonald’s in other countries coz they’re so much more awesome than our own. I started my passion when I was studying in Australia, and since then I’ve eaten at the Golden Arches at many countries, from Germany to Sri Lanka to Korea to Thailand.

McDonalds Japan Spring 2016

They have an English menu in McDonald’s Japan but it only lists the regular menu items. I wanted the special and limited edition sets so I had to order by pointing and guessing what each option was. Unfortunately, this means that I missed out on the Sakura Cherry McFizz. It was there in bright pink but I thought it meant Large so I didn’t order it. It was just a 30 yen (RM 1.50) upgrade. The Ume plum powder for the fries was also 30 yen for a sachet.

Camembert Teritama Burger Spring 2016 Set (690 yen or RM 30)
カマンベールてりたま

Camembert Teritama Burger Japan

This is the new 2016 Camembert Teritama Burger! It’s made with a pork patty with teriyaki sauce, egg, lettuce, and delicious gooey Camembert cheese inside a sesame seed bun. I was quite impressed with the use of Camembert cheese but it was the juiciness of the pork patty coupled with the sweet teriyaki sauce that sealed the deal.

Camembert Teritama Burger

It tasted so good with the locally made Camembert and egg.

Teriyaki McBurger (310 yen or RM 14)
てりやきマックバーガー

Teriyaki McBurger

My better half went for a Teriyaki McBurger. It was decent enough but I thought it was rather unimaginative given the wide range of other options out there which you can only get in Japan. Haha. To be fair, this pork patty is local so in a way, it’s a Japan only burger too.

Names Wanted “Namaeboshu” Burger (390 yen or RM 18)
名前募集バーガー

Names Wanted Burger

Namaeboshu literally means “Names Wanted”. This is the new item which hasn’t been given a name yet. McDonald’s Japan is asking for people to name it for a chance to win a year’s worth of this burger! It contains a delicious top, middle and bottom bun with a beef patty, onion relish, Cheddar cheese, awesome bacon slices and a generous scoop of beautifully buttery mashed potatoes from Hokkaido. It was a symphony of perfection!

McDonalds Nameless Burger

This burger very aptly comes in an special unmarked box.

Namaeboshu Burger

The onion sauce has a hint of burnt soy sauce and the hot potatoes topping it is soooo buttery it’s sinful! I got it a la carte for JPY 390. The beef is local and the Cheddar cheese is from Hokkaido as well. The bun is the best thing about this burger though, it’s a very rich and buttery brioche dough. It’s a lot better than the regular sesame ones. Get into my belly!

Hokkaido Potatoes

I really enjoyed this Hokkaido Names Wanted Burger. It represents everything right about McD in Japan – they have frequent limited edition items. This is true of other Japan fast food chains as well since Lotteria came out with a Shinkansen meal for JPY 1,000 in Hokkaido only which has a pork rib burger in the soon-to-be-launched H5 bullet train box. Plus, the Namaeboshu a.k.a. Giyu Innovation Burger (北のいいとこ牛(ぎゅ)っとバーガー) is made with local Hokkaido ingredients.

McD Japan

I dragged my dear for a 40-minute round trip walk in the -9 degree Celsius snow to visit the nearest McDonald’s in Sapporo and I didn’t regret it. 9/10, will eat again!

Hokkaido Soup Stand

Hokkaido Soup Stand

WTF!!!! I can hear you guys scream from over here. smirk Don’t worry, we had 2 meals at Michelin star places in Hokkaido so there’s lots of good food write-ups coming up. This was actually our very first meal in Japan. We were on the way to our ryokan (traditional full service Japanese inn) so we didn’t want to spoil our appetite since we had a complete kaiseki (multi course formal Japanese dinner) due in a few hours.

Hokkaido Soup Chitose

Thus, we decided to grab something light to eat at New Chitose Airport while waiting for the shuttle to pick us up. My better half wanted to eat soup so we came here. Personally, my choice was beef tongue, very popular in Japan, but she doesn’t like beef. I can eat just about anything and I was very happy with the Hokkaido in the title so here we came.

エビとブロッコリーの北海道有機トマトクリーム
Shrimp and Broccoli in Hokkaido Organic Tomato Cream (JPY 910 or RM 38)

Hokkaido Soup Stand Set

This was my order. You can have it by itself for JPY 530 (S) or JPY 690 (M) and I opted for the smallest size since I didn’t want to ruin my appetite. You can have Set A (Hokkaido white rice, sprouted brown rice, circle bread of Hokkaido wheat + one drink) for JPY 380 extra or Set B (just one of the 3 starches, no drink) for a JPY 160 supplement. I opted for the full set and went with Hokkaido white rice (200 grams) and an iced coffee.

Hokkaido Shrimp Organic Tomato Cream

The rice was nice and fluffy and came locally so that was delicious. The real star was the huge and juicy shrimps though. It was my first preview of the wonderful and abundant seafood available in Hokkaido and I fell in love right away. It went very well with the organic tomato soup base with cream. The cream is local too, Hokkaido is a big dairy producer.

北海道白菜と豚肉の中華鍋
Wok of Hokkaido Chinese Cabbage and Pork (JPY 520 or RM 22)

Hokkaido Pork Soup

RM 22 for a soup seems a bit steep but the prices here are actually decent if you don’t convert. A regular meal per pax is usually around JPY 2,000 (RM 85) so it’s best not to convert. Haha. It’s a good thing I brought a fair amount of yen so we could eat whatever we wanted. The pork here was decent and the soup tasted good enough but I preferred mine. My dear had this and shared my rice.

Chitose Airport

I thought this was a good start to our Japan trip. It wasn’t over-the-top delicious or luxurious but that’s good coz we wanted to fit the kaiseki in later. Plus, since our first meal was so humble, the two other Michelin star restaurants we went to, the splurging on uni (sea urchin) with rice, the trio of snow crab, king crab and hairy crab is made all the more special. For that, Hokkaido Soup Stand served its purpose and we were both happy with what we had. Stay tuned for more! :)

Posted: 1:01 am Japan time (GMT/UTC +9)

Konnichiwa from Hokkaido!

Snowing

Brr…it’s a bone chilling -13 Celsius in Hokkaido right now. こんにちは! We’re here on our annual overseas trip and decided to book a room in a classic Japanese ryokan complete with kaiseki dinner for the first night. It’s been snowing non-stop since we arrived and the fresh powder makes it hard to walk around. I neglected to bring proper cold weather boots but at least my parka is very warm.

Sapporo Snow

It’s interesting to hear that getting a voice SIM card is practically impossible in Japan. You need to be a resident in order to get one. However, we managed to get a data SIM from the airport. Yup, you can buy almost anything from a vending machine in the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s JPY 3,000 (about RM 110) for 1 GB.

SIM Card Vending Machine

Another thing I love about Japan is that their combini (convenience stores) have a wide range of interesting and unusual snacks and food items. I have been to many 7-Eleven (called 7 & i Holdings here) and Lawson stores while we were here. It’s not very hard when you can find more than one in a block. I have taken to eating the onigiri when I want a quick bite.

Onigiri

Oh, and the density of vending machines is mind-boggling too. There’s more than two per city block as well and they pop up at the most random places. Here’s the one below our apartment in Hokkaido. You can get both hot AND cold drinks from them.

Vending-Machine

My favorite is corn pottage! smirk
(Yup, you can get savory drinks in cans here)

Corn Pottage

It’s still winter in Sapporo and the temperatures frequently drop below zero. The highest was -3 degrees Celsius and the lowest was -16 degrees Celsius when we arrived. That means the weather didn’t breach 0 degrees Celsius the entire day, needless to say a positive number! We’re having a lot of fun though, there’s nothing quite like having a hot onsen bath outdoors while the snow falls on you.

Japan

It feels amazing! :)

Snowball

I’ll blog again soon. Check out my Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for live updates!

Posted: 7:37 pm Japan time (GMT/UTC +9)

Hyderabadi dum biryani @ Fierce Curry House, Bangsar

Hyderabadi Biryani

Fierce Curry House has consistently won awards for best Indian in the past few years. They have seriously good (and authentic) Hyderabadi dum biryani and I’ve been craving for a proper biryani meal so I popped over after my Invisalign appointment at Imperial Dental Bangsar. Fierce Curry House is just a 5-minute drive from the Telawi area.

Fierce Curry House

I’ve been here a couple of times, usually by myself, since my better half doesn’t like Indian food. I suggested eating biryani over the weekend and she wasn’t keen on it at all so this is something that I enjoy alone. I normally get my “biryani” fix at random mamaks around my place but I wanted something genuine this time. The “biryani” served at nasi kandar places is just pilaf – a completely different dish.

Fierce Bangsar

My first exposure to Hyderabadi dum biryani is (surprisingly) in Sibu. We have a place that serves up good chicken dum biryani and I often went when I was in primary school. My late mom liked it too so that’s probably where I picked up eating biryani from. Hyderabadi dum biryani is kinda like nasi briyani gam Johor – the protein (chicken, mutton, etc) is cooked together with the rice. There’s also an insanely good Hyderabadi dum biryani in Kuching made with camel meat!

Specialty Hyderabadi Dum Biryani

Fierce Curry House has a wide selection of Hyderabadi dum biryani. You can have Lobster Dum Biryani (RM 240), Crab Dum Biryani (RM 140) and Scallop Dum Biryani (RM 80). Vegetarians can also opt for Mock Meat Dum Biryani (RM 25), cheese fans would be at home with the Paneer Dum Biryani (RM 25) and fish lovers would be happy to hear about the Cod Dum Biryani (RM 80).

HB

However, all those meals need a 24-hour turnaround. Fierce Curry House only makes two types of biryani which is available every day – Chicken Dum Biryani (RM 17) and Mutton Dum Biryani (RM 19). It’s their flagship and you’ll see waiters carrying stacks of the dough-wrapped biryani metal containers out of the kitchen. I’ve tried both and the mutton version is a lot better. Their chicken is boneless thigh so it can be dry at times. I have a higher standard since the biryani place I go to when I was young served whole bone-in thighs. smirk

Papadum

You’ll be presented with complimentary papadum when you’re seated.

Papadum Dip

It’s paired with a deceptively spicy dip. The bright and pleasant green looks like mint but it’s actually chillies. Very hot ones. I also enjoyed the tiny shot of soup called rasam which they provide as an amuse-bouche – it’s mouth-wateringly sour, with lots of vegetables and tamarind inside. Perfect to whet your appetite.

Watermelon Lassi

I ordered a Watermelon Lassi (RM 7). It’s the lesser known cousin of the Mango Lassi and it’s fresh – the lassis here are made with freshly squeezed juice. Fierce Curry House has a wide range of lassis, I can recommend the Salted Lassi and the Masala Lassi if you want to try something different.

Dough Sealed Biryani

The biryani container comes sealed with dough around the metal lid. This locks the moisture in during the cooking process.

Dough Seal

You have to peel off the dough before you can dig into the biryani.

Biryani Rice

I went for the Mutton Dum Biryani (RM 19) which is served with Mixed Raita, Vegetable Achar and Gravy. There are pieces of mutton inside the wonderfully spiced biryani rice. The long grained Basmati rice is cooked to perfection – it’s fluffy and you can see the individual grains. It’s delicious! I liked the raita too, the cool yoghurt goes very well with the rich and salty biryani rice.

Mutton Biryani

I highly recommend Fierce Curry House if you’re craving for an authentic Hyderabadi dum biryani. The entire meal just cost RM 26. It’s a very reasonable lunch meal for the quality of food. It’s always packed though so you might have to come at off-peak hours and parking can be a pain in this area. There is a sister outlet in Publika called Fiercer by Fierce Curry House but I feel like the original outlet is still the best. Service is outstanding too, which is a rarity except in high-end Indian restaurants.

The Machine

Guess what this is? :)

X Ray

If you said X-Ray Machine you’re right! It’s an X-Ray machine for your teeth. I just went to Imperial Dental Bangsar coz I had a swollen jaw (!!!). This mysteriously manifested yesterday afternoon while I was eating. It turned out to be an infected saliva duct (seems to happen fairly often to people) and I was put on a course of antibiotics before I’m flying off to Japan. I didn’t get my Invisalign stuff done though, I’m supposed to be on a temporary rubber band therapy to see if the obstinate left backmost molar can be pushed in or I’ll have to do it all over again.

Bad news is I’ve been on Invisalign for over a year and I’ll hate for the time to be for naught. Good news is I won’t have to pay for the new Invisalign moulds as Dr Stephanie kindly told me it’ll be waived in this case.

We’ll see how it goes. I’ll update again at the end of the month when I’m due to go in. Cheers!

Pie Face Malaysia, Wangsa Maju

Pie Face Wangsa Maju

Pie Face! It’s a huge institution in Australia and there are many branches down under, not just in their New South Wales origins but in Victoria. I remember seeing it when we were in Melbourne 3 years ago and I even took a photo of the Pie Face shop. They’re famous for the quirky and funny faces they put on their pies to tell them apart.

Pie Face Malaysia

This was actually a little after my time as my convocation was in 2003. I spent almost 5 years in Melbourne and in between snowboarding, raves and doofs I managed to eat quite a lot of pies. Pies are very big in Aussie, and I do miss chowing down on a nice meaty Australian style pie. Thus, when I passed by Pie Face while finding parking during the weekend, I immediately walked in.

Pie Face Pies

The friendly tudung-clad girl behind the counter told me this branch just opened earlier this month. I think she said 10th of February. I was here for a Hearthstone event at 1 pm but I thought I could spare a bit of time to grab some lunch so I ordered the 2 Mini Pies + Coffee or Tea for RM 10 deal. The mini pies usually go for RM 5 and the regular sized ones for RM 7 so that’s a good deal – the drink is essentially free. I opted for a long black.

Mini Pies

There is a wide selection of pies divided into roughly two categories – Australia Premium and Local Favorites. I got one from each, the Mini Chunky Steak Pie and the Mini Beef Rendang Pie. You can choose to have “The Ultimate Aussie Stack” as an add-on. This is a topping of mash, peas and gravy for the pies and I highly recommend it. It costs RM 3 for The Stack (regular sized) and RM 1.50 for Mini Stack (mini pies).

Pie Face Stack

This is more of a Perth and Sydney thing, back in Melbourne we mostly just ate pies with ketchup on top. It is quite good though and the hot mash and peas goes very well with the chunky steak pie. It provides a more substantial meal too – all those carbs are quite satisfying to eat.

Chunky Steak Pie

You can see the generous filling of the pies here.

Pie Face Takeaway

I liked the mini pies, it gives you an opportunity to try out more flavors since the pies are about 1/2 the size of regular ones. You can also have them to go – I packed 6 of the mini pies back for my better half for RM 18 (a dozen mini pies are RM 34) as part of their Pie-tastic Deal. I got one of each flavor: Black Pepper Chicken Pie, Creamy Mushroom Pie, Curry Chicken Pie, Spicy Chicken Pie, Creamy Vegetable Pie, Classic Mince Beef Pie.

Pie Face

I think the two premium Australian pies from Pie Face are the best – Chunky Steak Pie and Classic Mince Beef Pie. The local favorites can be a little hit and miss. Some, like the Black Pepper Chicken Pie is decent but others like the Curry Chicken Pie is quite awful with too much potatoes inside. The latter tastes like a badly made karipap (local curry puff).

Apple Crumble Pie

I also grabbed an Apple Crumble Pie (RM 6) for dessert. Pie Face has a couple of sweet offerings as well and this was palatable enough.

Pie Face Me

It was good to see Pie Face in Malaysia. I know they opened an outlet in Sunway Pyramid but I’ve never seen it or heard about it until the weekend. I went to the recently opened one in Wangsa Walk Mall and I just happened to spot it coz I was parking to go to a Blizzard event. I actually started eating pies when I went to New Zealand for high school when I was 15 so I’ve been scoffing them for a while. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever hankering for a good ol’ Aussie pie. :)

The 2016 Chinese New Year Fireworks and Firecrackers Roundup!

Chinese New Year Fireworks

It’s Chap Goh Meh today! As per sixthseal.com’s custom, we’ll be doing a roundup of the wonderful fireworks and firecrackers we’ve bought this year. There were no firecrackers last year due to my mom’s passing so this year sees the return of firecrackers. I got a huge fireworks cake, it’s larger than the 2015 flagship fireworks cake in some ways.

Fireworks

I also ordered two large 2″ fireworks cakes. These large bore shells make the cake taller than they are wide, producing a unique and beautiful format. I got this a month ahead and it was delivered to my place for safekeeping until Chinese New Year. I have 9 fireworks cakes and 3 firecrackers this year, mostly 100 shots and up.

530-shot VIP display-in-a-box 22 kg fireworks cake

530 Shot Fireworks Cake

Behold! This huge fireworks cake produces a staggering 530 shots and lasts almost 5 minutes!

Biggest Fireworks

It measures a very respectable 73 cm x 52 cm x 17 cm. Here’s an iPhone for comparison. smirk

Yup, there are 530 individual mortars arranged together in this 22 kg cake that requires two people to carry. It’s made by VIP Fireworks and is the most expensive individual cake I’ve ever purchased. It just came out this year in their 2016 fireworks lineup. I’ve never even heard of a 530 shot fireworks cake before this. These things are marketed as “5-minute display-in-a-box” fireworks in the US for professionals.

530 Shot Fireworks

I waited until my sister and her family came back before I let this one off. This is my centrepiece for this year.

I have another video recorded in 1080p in 60 fps which makes for a more beautiful (and smooth) viewing experience here! This large fireworks cake has an INSANE start – full sky saturation and mine effects to kick it off in intense style before the pace picks up into wonderful segues and loops till a shattering finale. Awesome stuff!

2″ 25-shot fireworks mine cake

25 Shot 2 Inch Fireworks

I’ve always loved these large bore formats. 2″-4″ fireworks cakes tend to be taller than they are wide. This is coz the larger shells require a longer mortar in order to fire the aerial bursts, comparatively the normal 0.8″-1.2″ fireworks cakes are quite short/shallow. These large shells produce a large burst in the sky too, which tend to be more beautiful breaks.

I should note that this fireworks cake is actually a mine! Mines are ground level effects, meaning the pyrotechnics start from the ground. You can see the glitter charge shooting up from the tubes before the main break in the video. Mines are starting to be less common nowadays, I have no idea why but it seems that demand has largely ceased.

2 Inch Mortars

It’s nice to be able to purchase a nice mine fireworks cake again…and in large format breaks too! Check out the 2″ mortar tubes. These come packed 2/1 – this means there are two fireworks cakes in one box/carton. I let one off during Chinese New Year eve and the other when my niece and nephew were back.

You can view the 60 fps vertical oriented video here. I feel this is the best way to view a mine fireworks cake. It’s 25 shots, which may sound unimpressive at first, but each shot is more than 4x the size of regular 0.8″ fireworks cake in power and effect!

258-shot Saturn Missile Battery

Saturn Missile Battery

This is a 258 shot Saturn Missile Battery. Saturn Missiles are smaller rockets which whistles up and usually comes in 50/100-shot cakes (most common format). This larger format is round and cost RM 35. The interesting thing is that you can let this off in the day or night – it doesn’t make much of a difference.

I quite like this red, green, yellow and white Saturn Missile Battery which finishes with a report. It’s not very fast, unlike some batteries, so some people may like the duration. This clocked in at almost 3 minutes from the time I lit the fuse to the end of the cake.

39,999 Chinese firecrackers

Firecrackers

This is the largest commercial Chinese firecrackers for sale. Of course, there are larger counts e.g. 188,888 fireworks, which requires a lorry to transport and a crane to lift up before it can be lit but those are so expensive it’s usually only set off by companies, not private individuals. Keep in mind that these class of firecrackers are almost like salutes and are rated 1.1G – they’re very illegal!

Longest Firecrackers

This is coz the firecrackers are very large and contains a chalk plug (which essentially makes it a salute).

Huge Firecrackers

There are 39,999 individual firecrackers in this string but it’s not very long compared to the 3,000 string firecrackers coz the single firecrackers are larger and it’s stacked on top of one another for a 3-layered firecracker, making a very intense and loud burn compared to the “regular” 3,000 count firecrackers.

Biggest Firecrackers

You can see the difference here. I had to light this directly coz I lost the Visco fuse. Haha! I pulled my hand away as soon as the firecracker caught (this is more from experience than reaction, as you can see).

I really like this video, give it a spin to see what the firecrackers we get in Sibu look like.

3,000 Chinese firecrackers

Firecracker

These are the “common” firecrackers which you can get in KL and even the US. These firecrackers are a lot smaller than the previous one – they don’t break the skin if you light one in your palm/hand so they’re very safe. The “ending” is just a bunch of the same instead of the salute-like power you get in the 39,999 traditional Chinese firecrackers.

I see a lot of places like KL are starting to switch to this coz they’re not as harmful (you can hold them in the hand, not to say that you should coz it’ll still burn you, but it won’t break the skin) compared to the traditional kind (as per above, the 39,999 Chinese firecrackers) which won’t be so kind to your hands and fingers. Unfortunately, they’re also not as loud or powerful so generally most people in Sibu don’t favor this kind. It’s very cheap though at RM 12.50. The 39,999 roll is more than 10x the price of these kid-friendly crackers.

36-shot Chai Yuan Guan

Classic Fireworks

This is a classic fireworks cake with 36 shots. It’s been around for a while – I actually got this from a friend’s house. She had heaps of these lying around and I let it off during Chinese New Year.

Unfortunately, I think it’s starting to show its age – most of the tubes didn’t go off. There were 8-9 mortars which didn’t fire.

This is the 60 frames per second version. It’s really a nice old fireworks cake, this was the epitome of greatness back in the late 90’s.

25-shot vintage fireworks cake

Vintage Fireworks

This is another beautiful classic fireworks cake. It’s not as impressive as the newer firework cakes with fancy breaks and effects but it’s a nice reminder of how the fireworks cakes looked 10 years ago.

It’s a trip down memory lane.

This is the vertical view with 60 frames per second (you can really see the difference). This slow tempo fireworks cake is characteristic of an older design which is less favored now. It’s still lovely to watch for sentimental reasons though.

100-shot classic fireworks cake

Fireworks Cake

This is also a more traditional 100 shot fireworks cake. It unfortunately exploded while the last row was firing so there was a bit of a fireworks malfunction but it’s still quite beautiful to watch.

It’s a classical fireworks cake that’ll give you a nice dose of nostalgia.

This is the 60 fps vertical version.

100-shot New Wild Billy

Italian Fireworks

This is a cake by Morena Fireworks. Yup, that’s an Italian fireworks brand, much like the Jupiter Fireworks horseshoe fountain fireworks I got in KL last year. Morena Fireworks makes a lot of 100 Shot Assortments and New Wild Billy is one of them.

It’s a nice example of their 100 shot fireworks shows.

111-shot 2016 fireworks cake

New Fireworks Cakes

This is a new 2016 fireworks cake. The new cakes all have two fuses – the primary fuse and the secondary fuse. This is to make it easier to link up fireworks cakes for a show e.g. you can just use Visco fuse to run a line from the secondary fuse of a cake into the primary fuse of the second. What happens is that the primary fuse burns, the cake goes off, and the secondary fuse burns last after the cake is done so this in effect makes a cascading effect where each cake goes off in sequence. You can also run them into the primary fuse if you want them to go off together. There’s a lot of flexibility built into the new cakes and the quick match fuses (blue and red) already have a Visco end so you can just cable tie two (or more) together. Also, the effects are quite varied in one cake.

There is an initial array of 8 x 8 tubes going straight up for 64 shots of effects after the primary fuse. This is followed by 3 x 5 angled tubes. The 15 fanned shots following the first set of effects are angled for complete sky coverage and it’s of a larger size than the first. This is followed by a 8 x 4 tube array for the finale which produces a 32 shot finish for a nice 111 shot cake.

That’s all I have for this year! Here’s a video I made of all the bigger fireworks cakes I let off this year in Full HD 1080p 60 frames per second smooth viewing glory. Click on this one if you’re just going to watch one video, you won’t regret it. Hope you all enjoyed the fireworks and firecrackers videos and the explanations I wrote to give non-fireworks enthusiasts a glimpse into the world of pyrotechnics.

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Fireworks 2016

I had a lot of fun letting this batch off. Rest assured, I’ll be saving up for a better display next year – I’ll keep an eye out for even larger cakes! Gong Xi Fatt Chai everyone and have a happy Chap Goh Meh! :)

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