A traditional Japanese ryokan with onsen

Shikotsuko Daiichi Hotel Suizantei

We wanted to experience a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn) complete with onsen hot springs and a full kaiseki ryori dinner and Shikotsuko Daiichi Hotel Suizantei (支笏湖第一寶亭留 翠山亭) fit the bill perfectly. My better half had researched the 3 ryokans in this area and I booked it several months before we flew over to Hokkaido. This was the one we went for since it had all the features we wanted (and more).

Hokkaido Snow

It was snowing very heavily when we got to Sapporo, which added to the charm. The ryokan will send a shuttle to pick you up from JR Chitose station. The driver didn’t speak a word of English but that didn’t matter, he was very polite and managed to identify us without much problems.

Mount Eniwa

The drive to Shikotsuko Daiichi Ryokan took about an hour. It went through perilous mountain roads where road crews were constantly shoveling away snow and we saw an accident on the way up. A car managed to plow off the icy roads and into the snow bank, but I don’t think anyone was seriously hurt.

Ryokan

The ryokan itself is beautiful! The staff all lined up and bowed to us as the shuttle pulled up.

Japanese Sweets

We were seated by the warm lounge as soon as we arrived and the owner served us traditional Japanese sweets with steaming hot tea. The check-in service was very personalized and very relaxed, everything was brought to us and we were made to feel very welcome with the hot towel and the staff ushering us to our rooms.

Ryokan Snow

I wanted to have a private onsen session, which costs JPY 3,480 (about RM 150) for 40 minutes. There are public onsen hot springs but (I read) that people with tattoos are generally discouraged from visiting. It’s some yakuza thing, even if you’re not one, apparently your ink makes people uncomfortable.

Onsen Tattoos

I didn’t test it out though, coz the public onsens are separated by sex e.g. guys are at one area and females at another different one.

Ryokan Rooms

We wanted to soak in the onsen together so the only way to do that was to book a private onsen session. We made ours at 3 pm and after changing, we put on our yukatas and slipped on the hotel slippers before making our way to the private hot spring.

Ryokan Lounge

There is a wooden block you’re supposed to hang at the door to signal “Occupied” but since we had booked the entire place, no one would come in anyway. There’s a shower area with a small stool where you’re supposed to clean yourself before going in.

Onsen Shower

We took turns showering and washing our hair before slipping into the hot onsen. It was an amazing experience!

Onsen

I must say, visiting Hokkaido in winter was the best decision ever! The snow was falling very heavily at the time so it was very cold. I think the temperature was -11 Celsius for the day. However, the onsen hot spring is SUPER HOT so it’s quite hard to soak in (at first).

Onsen Hot Springs

I had to slowly lower my body and my legs (and balls) were screaming NOOOOOO. Haha. It takes a while for your skin to get used to the scalding temperature in the onsen but we both did it.

Onsen Naked

I have to say, the cold really does a number on some of your appendages. smirk

Onsen Snow

I enjoyed periodically jumping out of the onsen and lazing at the chair naked while the snow fell on my head and my superheated body slowly radiated out heat until I felt cold again. The process actually takes about 3 minutes, that’s how hot the water was! It felt good to cool off before climbing into the hot onsen again, not just for the extreme temperature difference but also coz I wouldn’t be able to sit in the hot water so long otherwise.

Onsen Us

We both enjoyed the onsen experience. I still have a lot of fond memories of soaking in the water with my dear while it snowed heavily beside us. This ryokan is part of Jozankei Onsen and uses the area’s natural, mineral-rich hot springs. The view was mesmerizing!

Zen…

Kaiseki Dinner

The ryokan also provided all meals. Dinner was scheduled at 7:30 pm. You can choose the time and we opted for this slot. This is a traditional Japanese full course dinner known as kaiseki ryori. The chef will come up with lots of different plates of food – from raw, to steamed, to fried etc and there are multiple courses. I’ll write a full post about the kaiseki soon!

Sapporo Morning

We also walked out to see Mount Eniwa and Lake Shikotsu the next morning after our (huge) Japanese breakfast. It was a trek through (knee deep) snow but we managed to take an awesome winter photo together.

Lake Shikotsu

Shikotsuko Daiichi Hotel Suizantei is actually one of three ryokans (Shikotsuko Daiichi Hotel Suizantei and Jyozankei Daiichi Hotel Suizantei are owned by the same company with similar rates) in the area so it was just a matter of finding the one that suited us the most. This is the most “Japanese” one so I wanted my better half to experience this. We had an awesome time here. It was truly memorable, especially the onsen and the kaiseki dinner.

Mount Eniwa Us

A visit to Japan without staying at a ryokan would be truly a waste for this is one of the classic Japanese hospitality experiences which you should not miss. It’s quite expensive (around RM 2,000 for a night) but well worth the price.

Ryokan Me

The entire ryokan experience was truly unforgettable. I highly recommend you stay at one for at least a night if you’re ever in Japan.

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.

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!

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)

20 photos from my trip to Kapit

Kapit Boat

I went to Kapit a while back for a 2D/1N stay. Kapit is a town 3 hours from Sibu by express boat. There is no other way to reach it – you can’t drive there and you can’t fly in either, the river is the only route.

Sibu Kapit

This is a uniquely Sarawakian feature, there are a lot of random towns that is connected only via Rejang River and lacks the proper highways or road connections to civilization.

Express Boat View

The funny thing is that you have to fill in a form detailing your name and IC number so they know who’s on board. This didn’t exist before, it was the high profile express boat capsizes and accidents resulting in multiple deaths that initiated it.

Live Chicken

I meant human deaths, not livestock. ;) You can find lots of interesting cargo onboard, including live chicken!

Kapit Sibu Express

Interestingly, they don’t overload the express boats anymore too. This makes it a lot safer compared to previous journeys. Previously, there would be people *on top* of the boat, hanging on to the side rails.

Kapit Jetty

We arrived in Kapit 3 hours later and had to disembark.

Sarawak Express Boat

You do this by walking along the side of the express boat. I’m used to it coz I’ve done it when I was a kid, but new people might find this disconcerting since the river is just beside you.

Kapit Town Square

Kapit is a very small town. You can walk around town in a matter of minutes and that’s what we did. We passed by Kapit Town Square on the way to our hotel.

Star Hill Inn

We stayed at Star Hill Inn, one of the best hotels there.

Kapit Hotel

I took a room and my bro Eddy took another room.

Kapit Shoplots

The hotel is in a shoplot, as you can see from the view.

Kapit Roti Canai Goreng

One of the highlights of the trip was eating roti canai goreng. This is a distinctive Kapit invention, they literally fry the roti canai inside a wok of boiling hot oil. Ingenious, and very tasty too.

Kapit Fair

We managed to have some time off the next day and went to see what was going on in Kapit Town Square. It turns out there’s a lot of games of chance, like an indoor funfair of sorts.

Fun Fair Games

I took a spin as well. You pay RM 1 for a can of soft drink and put it at a color of your choice. You get a 1 in 6 chance of winning equal odds e.g. you win 2 cans if you wager 2 cans.

Fun Fair

This works by throwing a tennis ball into a receptacle with 6 possible colors which matches the one on the table. You get unlimited tries, there’s no penalty if you miss or if the ball bounces back up. You simply try again until you get the ball into a color square.

Kapit Gambling

Behold! These are the high rollers of Kapit! smirk

High Rollers

Seriously though, these whales are betting cartons of 24 cans at once. We thought that was quite funny.

Durian Isu

I also managed to get some wild jungle durians to bring home. This is a native durian called durian isu. It’s very different from regular durians, it only has 4 segments. I’ll do a comprehensive review during the weekend.

Maggi Instant Noodles

We had a quick lunch of Maggi instant noodles at the wharf the next day before we departed…

Kapit Wharf

…and caught the afternoon express boat back. It was a really fun overnight trip with my bro Eddy. I haven’t been to Kapit in such a long time!

Roti Canai Goreng in Kapit

Roti Canai Goreng

I first heard about this wonderful creation a couple of months back. Fried roti canai is a staple in Kapit and one of those quirky inventions that can only take hold in a small town. I decided then and there that I must personally investigate this dish and planned to go on a trip downriver. Kapit is a small town that’s only reachable by boat – you can’t drive or fly there.

Roti Canai Goreng Kapit

The journey to Kapit takes 3 hours via express boat from Sibu and I went down with my bro Eddy for a night. It’s not just to eat roti canai goreng, but that certainly was a highlight (at least for me). Haha. The stalls in question are located at Gelanggang Kenyalang (loosely translated as Kenyalang Court). It’s an assortment of stalls under one roof, an indoor food court of sorts.

Gerai Makanan Islam Sri Suria

There is one stall that’s famous for their roti canai goreng but everyone essentially does it the same way nowadays. I went to Stall #25 Gerai Makanan Islam Sri Suria and the kind lady manning the frying pan told me about how the roti canai goreng is made. I was quite surprised to find out that it’s not grilled first – the raw dough of the roti canai is slipped into boiling hot oil and fried straight away.

Roti Goreng Kapit

The same treatment is done for the roti canai telur goreng (fried roti canai with egg). The egg is folded into the dough and deep fried till crispy. It’s served Sarawakian style with curry chicken and a sweet sambal sauce. The latter is truly local, I’ve never had this saccharine sambal anywhere else except at home.

Roti Canai Kapit

The roti canai goreng costs RM 2 and it’s plain roti canai that’s been deep fried. The dough is cooked through, with a crispy exterior. You can taste the sweetness of the dough by picking up the sliced pieces and munching on them. It’s very satisfying!

Roti Telur Goreng

Roti canai telur goreng comes in at RM 4 and it tastes totally different with an egg. I was surprised at how distinctive the two are! This one has a pockmarked surface (from the hot oil) and it tastes a lot more savory than the previous one.

Roti Canai Goreng Inside

Here’s a look at the inside. The egg is perfectly cooked from the heat of the cooking oil. The funny thing about the two roti canai variants is that the egg version is rectangle in shape while the plain is round and circular.

Roti Goreng

Roti canai goreng has a distinctive texture that’s very moreish. I could eat several of them, although it’s probably not wise to do so as it’s quite oily and I feel that excessive consumption would probably be bad for your cholesterol.

HB Eddy Kapit

This is definitely worth a try. I’ll come again just to eat this! You can only find it in Kapit, so if you’re ever in Sarawak and looking for something different, take a boat here and eat their famous roti canai goreng! :)

Bebek Bengil Dirty Duck Diner @ Ubud, Bali

Bebek Bengil Dirty Duck Diner

We were looking for something local to eat and happened to chance across Bebek Bengil in Google Maps. It actually took us more than 30 minutes to walk over but I thought it was worth it since it’s touted as “The Original Crispy Duck Since 1990”. Bebek Bengil Dirty Duck Diner is known for their crispy grilled duck.

Bebek Bengil Waitresses

This is a different dish from the popular bebek betutu in Bali. Bebek Betutu is a seasoned steamed or roasted duck that’s popular in Bali. Bebek Bengil (which means dirty duck) serves crispy duck. You can even order 1 whole duck for IDR 300,000 if you book one day in advance. It’s a pretty good deal at RM 94/duck if you want to go for it. The service by the uniform clad waitresses is pleasantly discreet and unobstructive.

Bebek Bengil (IDR 125,000)

Bebek Bengil

I had this original dish, which is half a duck steamed in Indonesian spices which is then deep fried for a crispy finish. It’s served with rice and Balinese vegetables and it cost RM 40. It’s their flagship signature dish and it tasted alright. I’m not a huge fan of deep fried duck and I thought it was slightly too crispy but personal tastes aside, it was pretty good.

Thirsty Duck (IDR 44,000)

Thirsty Duck

This is what my better half had – it’s a concoction of pure orange, markisa (passionfruit in the local language) and melon sugar.

Ice Bebek Putih Jambul (IDR 39,000)

Ice Bebek Putih Jambul

The drink I had was chosen at random from the duck-themed options. It turns out to be a shaved ice confection with lots of interesting goodies at the bottom – love the white squiggles and fresh fruit slices.

Bebek Pelalah (IDR 122,000)

Bebek Pelalah

My dear ordered this dish. It’s one of the specialties and the Balinese recipe came from one Ibu Agung Raka Sueni. I have no idea who that is but the owners of Bebek Bengil thought it was noteworthy enough to highlight this in their menu. This is the grilled version of the duck (as opposed to my steamed and deep fried duck) with Balinese sauce and steamed rice. It’s very spicy! I really like the sauce here.

Bebek Bengil Bali

I thought the ambience of Bebek Bengil is unique – the place is totally dark (as you can probably gather from the photos) with the exception of mood lighting from the pavilions where we were seated. There were not a lot of people due to the higher than usual prices. The meal came up to around RM 140 for the two of us and it’s worth a visit for the atmosphere alone. The water features around the raised dining pavilions made it really romantic.

Bebek Bengil Ubud

Bebek Bengil Dirty Duck Diner
Jalan Hanoman, Padang Tegal,
Ubud, Bali

Ubud Morning Market & Ubud Traditional Art Market

Ubud Morning Market

We went to Ubud Morning Market as part of our cooking class. There are actually two markets in Ubud, both interconnected. The Ubud Morning Market is where the locals go while the Ubud Traditional Art Market is a more tourist oriented market. The latter was featured in Eat Pray Love and is known locally as Pasar Seni Ubud.

Ubud-Wet Market

I thought that going for a Balinese cooking lesson was a cool thing to do while on vacation, although I can’t claim credit for it. My better half was the one who thought of it and booked us the classes. The van picked us up in the morning and we went to the Ubud Morning Market for a tour of the place and to sample some local produce as well.

Bali Spices

Our guide took us through the sight, sounds and smells of the Ubud Morning Market…

Bali Market

…and I thought it was very refreshing that there was no attempt to sell us on anything (probably coz these are mostly produce).

Ubud Market

The fruits, vegetables and meat are mostly familiar except for this unusual specimen:

Bali Passionfruit

This was described as a “sweet passionfruit” to us and we all got a taste of it. I thought it was a buah salak at first. It’s not passionfruit as we know it, this is a South American breed called granadilla. Unlike our purple passionfruit, this is orange and features a seed matrix that looks like kiwano (horned melon).

Granadilla

It’s very sweet with no sour notes and nice to eat by itself. The pulp is very tasty.

Balinese Orange

A clockwork orange. :)

Bali Grapes

Bali is also able to grow their own grapes now. I tried one of the first batches of Balinese wine made from Balinese grapes in Club Med Bali in 2013 and it was decent, if rather immature.

Ubud Handicrafts

There are also knives and other local goods on display at the Bali Morning Market.

Bali Crafts

My dear spotted a mortar that she really liked – it’s made out of volcanic rock from Bali! I paid IDR 60,000 (about RM 20) which is quite a good deal.

Ubud Traditional Art Market

We also walked around the touristy Ubud Traditional Art Market after we finished our cooking lesson. It’s worth a stroll even though you’ll find most of the things here are mass produced souvenir kitsch. My better half also had a theory that if we were carrying a certain color of plastic bag, it means that we were willing to spend more, or rather am susceptible to be conned more easily. Haha!

Pasar Seni Ubud

I don’t know how true that is, but I had limited headway while bargaining for a set of three kittens that my dear liked. I think we ended up paying RM 80 for it. I don’t think there’s a plastic bag conspiracy though, it seems quite unlikely in the free market everyone-for-themselves nature of the tourist trade, but you never know. smirk

I touched a dolphin @ Yehliu Ocean World, Taiwan

Dolphin Show

Yup, I got an opportunity to pet a dolphin in Yehliu Ocean World in Taipei, Taiwan. I actually did it twice, once in front of the crowd and the other time during a behind-the-scenes tour. It was a remarkable experience, dolphins are a lot more intelligent than cats and dogs, and they’re one of the few creatures in the world which are self-aware (like us).

Sea Lions

The show started with sea lions. This is a male and female pair trained to perform various tricks.

They can even play basketball!

Sea Lion Show

They called for volunteers to come on stage and I was the first to offer myself.

Sea Lion Tricks

I got a peck on the cheek from the sea lion for my trouble. :D

Sea Lion Kiss

It felt very nice.

Russian Clowns

The show at Yehliu Ocean World also incorporated clowns (a Russian duo) and synchronized swimmers.

Russian Swimsuit Girls

There was a man who remained resolutely immobile throughout the entire show, even when the sea lions and dolphins came on stage but excitedly clicked away with his smartphone the moment the Russian girls in their swimsuits came on stage. He nearly fell off his seat in his excitement, which I found puzzling. I wonder how his wife (who was sitting beside him) felt about that. smirk

Yehliu Ocean World

The dolphin show was the highlight of the session.

Dolphin

They asked for a volunteer from the crowd to come on stage and interact with the dolphins. Naturally, I was the first to put my hand up (again).

Bottlenose Dolphin

There is a floor mat with disinfectant which you need to step on before you can go on the stage. You have to use liquid hand sanitizer before you can touch the dolphins too. I was also told that dolphins do not have good eyesight (which makes sense considering they use sonar to communicate) so I have to exaggerate my movements.

Fun With Dolphins

I was trained to use my hands to direct the two dolphins to jump – it was quite an unforgettable affair!

Jumping Dolphin

The dolphins are capable of flinging themselves a remarkable distance up from the water.

Kissing Dolphin

One of the dolphins even allowed me to kiss her (!!!).

Dolphins Up Close

I was taught to bring her up using my hands and she used her flippers to balance herself while I came over on her right flank and nuzzled up against her side. She felt wet and smooth and slippery.

I felt very privileged to be part of the dolphin show.

Dolphin Training

We also got a backstage tour after everyone had left. I realized that I shouldn’t have volunteered for the dolphin show since we got *another* chance to touch the dolphins. I didn’t know or I would have let someone else in the audience have the opportunity.

Feeding Dolphins

The practice training session was going on and we were beside the dolphin trainers while they worked.

Dolphins

It was a wonderful chance to see how the dolphins and trainers interacted up close.

Dolphin Food

We also saw the frozen fish food storage where the dolphins are fed frozen fish as a treat during summer. This is also a backdoor for their medication – apparently dolphins don’t like taking pills and thus vitamins, supplements and meds are inserted into the body cavity of small fish before being fed to the dolphins.

Dolphin Pharmacy

The guide also led us through the secure on-site pharmacy. You’re lucky I don’t read Chinese. Haha.

Dolphin Anatomy

One of the trainers even gave us a detailed dolphin anatomy lesson.

Training Dolphin

All the dolphins here are bottlenose dolphins – the ones you’ll normally associate with the word “dolphin”.

That’s how the dolphin show is done. It’s very interesting stuff!

Dolphin Kiss

I managed to get a photo taken up close by the Yehliu Ocean World photographer while I was hugging the dolphin. :)

8 course dinner at Cross Straits Restaurant in Taipei

Cross Straits Club

This was what we had for our final dinner before we all left Taiwan. Cross Straits Club (known locally as CS Club) is a rather swanky place in the middle of Taipei.

Braised Shark Fin with Abalone

Braised Shark Fin with Abalone

I thought it was really good – everything was hidden underneath that piece of cabbage. Please, spare me your PETA rhetoric, I’m really not interested in being evangelized to when I’m not going to convert. smirk Shark fin tasted good in this dish. Full stop.

King Prawn in Superior Soup

King Prawn Pasta

This dish is quite misleadingly named. I’m sure the Chinese is more descriptive. It’s actually the best one of the night – a huge big head prawn in beurre blanc (very buttery!) paired with hand made pasta. Blew my mind.

Stewed Osso Buco with Burgundy Wine

Stewed Osso Buco with Burgundy Wine

Yup, what are we doing eating a Milanese dish in Taiwan? I don’t know but it was delicious! I loved how fork tender and juicy the osso buco was. There’s a lot of melt-in-your-mouth cartilage too.

Vegetables with Dried Scallop

Vegetables with Dried Scallop

This is some kind of crunchy root vegetable but deceptively some of the white bits are actually mushrooms. Nice surprise.

Steamed Fresh Fish with Tofu

Steamed Fresh Fish with Tofu

I love fish so this is a winning combination! I like the whole piece of tofu under the fish too, since we didn’t have rice, the tofu does a nice job in absorbing the flavors.

Xiao Long Bao

Xiao Long Bao

There are two pork xiao long bao and the odd one with prawn roe on the top is filled with truffles! I love the truffled xiao long bao, the earthy stock that came out when you piece the skin into your soup spoon was good.

Seasonal Fruit Platter

Beautiful Fruit Platter

A very nicely arranged selection of fruits. I like how CS Club portions their dishes individually, it’s thoughtful for them to think as a diner and make the appropriate cuts and slices to make your dining experience better too.

Sweetened Hashima with Crystal Sugar

Hashima with Crystal Sugar

This is also known as hasma, the dried fatty tissue near the fallopian tubes of frogs. It’s not frog sperm, contrary to popular belief, it’s the complete opposite. Tastes wonderful in a dessert.

Cross Straits Restaurant

Cross Straits Club also has a London style red telephone booth which they sealed up and filled with water and fish. I thought that made for a unique entrance feature. :)

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