Oh gosh, it feels so foreign writing on this blog and I’ve missed this so so much. I can’t even begin to describe how sorry I am. Previously, I have stopped writing temporarily quite a few times and I have given trivial excuses but I hope you can understand that this time I am really, genuinely sorry. School is starting soon and I hope that I can find my pace again, to write regularly. Although I hate to give you another episode of Flora’s excuses, I hope you can forgive me under the circumstances where I’ve had a hectic summer filled with reading, learning and internships, as well as a major laptop incident (which the thought of gives me goosebumps throughout my body). These event have all contributed to the delay in my posts.
Prior to my summer holidays during April to Mid-June, I had undergone (and survived) one of the most stressful periods of my life~my IGCSE’s. Since writing about this experience doesn’t bring any good memories nor evoke interest in you, the reader, I shall quickly move on to say that “I am a free elf (student)!” Over this summer, I have perused over a number of blogs and magazines which I have inspired me by broadening my view towards writing style, perspective and photography. So excuses aside, I am filled to the brim with excitement and elation to be writing again and share my story in Tokyo and Osaka with you. However, please take note that this is my unconventional, anecdotal rendition of a travelogue. Let us begin…
June the 18th.
(yes, this did happen two months ago yet I’m writing this today—this verges on embarrassing but I assure you that I remember my experiences as clear as day)
I woke up today feeling slightly hazy and disorientated as I grappled aimlessly in the darkness to turn off my alarm. Slowly, I peeled my eyes open and I adjusted to my surroundings. Exhaling slowly, I basked in the brief moment of quiescence before it hit me. Japan! The thought of this trip instantly got my heart galloping, and I could feel the corners of my mouth lift of their own accord, stretching quickly into a wide grin. After all those torturous weeks of exams, my accolade was finally, finally here.
I’ve had acrophobia ever since I could remember. With this irrational fear, I’ve always lived in low-rise buildings, which are a rarity in most areas of Hong Kong. Whenever I took a plane, each take off and landing would cause my muscles to contract, my heart to clench and I would breathe short, shallow breaths till the plane was in Taxi. Funnily enough, as I grew up, the sadistic side in me would force me to overcome this fear; I would peer out the double paned windows for as long as I could bear (just a few mere seconds really) before looking away at once to find something to distract me which was often counting the amount of people that had fallen asleep already. Yet, once the plane was flying at a high altitude amongst the clouds, I never really had the fear of falling down. I would always imagine myself racing, bounding and leaping across the clouds. This seems strange considering my phobia but I believe the blame for these thoughts lies on a combination of my over-active imagination, watching A Whole New World from Disney’s Aladdin a few times too many, as well as the psychological thing where young children imagine themselves doing impossible physical acts, unattainable in reality.
Soon enough, it was lunch time. Having never sat in Business Class, I was excited to compare the differences and frankly, to my surprise the food was of similar quality, just presented in a more aesthetically pleasing presentation. But I must say despite the pretentious display of the food with that white table cloth, the leg room and space definitely account to a much more enjoyable trip.
Since I didn’t take a photo of the main course, we can conclude that the ice cream was clearly more worthy a photo than the meal.
After dropping off our luggages at our hotel (Nikko Hotel Osaka), located in Shinsaibashi, my mother and I decided to go and find the well-acclaimed Chibo Okonomiyaki and Teppanyaki restaurant which conveniently had one of it’s stores located across the street from our hotel, in the Daimaru Shopping Mall.
Stepping out onto the street, a strong gust of icy wind rushed past whilst the grey cloudy sky drizzled slanted rivulets of rain water before my eyes. Despite the dismal weather, I was giddy with excitement to finally be in Japan, my second home.
In spite of being supposedly one of the major shopping districts in Osaka, I was shocked to see how sparse the streets were compared to Tokyo’s shopping districts e.g. Shibuya. Dotted scarcely along the pedestrians were middle aged women or the elderly ladies holding the typical transparent long-handled umbrellas, nipping along the street. As my mother and I waited to cross the road, we huddled closely as great bursts of wind gushed past and cyclists skirted around corners nimbly.
Walking on the 13th floor of the Daimaru Shopping Centre, I was shocked to find most of the restaurants empty. The consequences of Japan’s economic recession over the past decade can be seen in here. Since April 1st 2014, the Consumption Tax in Japan has been raised from 5% to 8% causing the overall spending to increase by 3% for each product. As a result, the desire for consumption for locals has lowered and as tourists, my mother and I noticed the differences of how people dined out less and popular restaurants which required queueing a few years back had tables to spare now.
My mother and I received a warm welcome into the Chibo restaurant. We decided to order the dinner sets-one Wagyu sirloin and one Wagyu Rib-eye teppanyaki set.
The appetiser was a lukewarm salad with spinach, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and lightly fried bacon dressed with a classic sesame salad dressing often featured in Japanese salads. The lightly wilted spinach allowed flavours to coalesce much better; creating a harmony that embraced Japanese condiments with typical western ingredient combinations. In addition, the thickly cut ham and the small but crisp croutons gave plenty richness and texture.
After this, came the grilled vegetables which were seasoned simply but adequately and made the quality of the ingredient truly shine. Out of the four vegetables, what stood out was the onion which was cooked gently for a long time, allowing the natural sugars in the onion to be brought to our tastebuds whilst maintaining a soft crunch at each bite.
Now, came the first remarkable highlight of our meal. You guessed it, the Wagyu Beef. My mother and I requested our chef to halve the portions of the beef from each set, so that we could both try and compare the two different cuts of meat. Wagyu Beef is the paragon of all beef. The king of beef, (at least in my opinion). I still remember the first time I had Kobe Wagyu Beef which was on my 10th Birthday. I was awestruck by how the meat did not require heavy seasoning or flavouring but just salt and pepper which would be sufficient to do the beef justice. Sizzling Wagyu Beef fat was the most fragrant smell to have ever graced my nose, no flowers, no perfumes, but only the smell of white marbled fat just melting would be enough to send my olfactory system to a state of transcendence.
I preferred the sirloin’s texture over the rib-eye although the rib-eye had a clear depth of flavour which definitely was why it was more expensive than the sirloin. At this moment, I admit that I am salivating in my room as I recall how the beef just melted in my mouth as it took me to oblivion. Accompanying the beef were two sauces and fried slices of garlic. The sauce at the top is a shoyu-mustard sauce which I preferred over the sauce below which was a shoyu-sesame sauce with a hint of spice. In both sauces, the shoyu base was definitely a good choice; adding just enough sweetness to balance the richness. However, what stood out for me was how the heat from the mustard cut through to the beef and melded with the natural fragrance emitted from the Wagyu beef. I’ve come to realise how amazing it is when fusional condiments come together such as shoyu-mustard and shoyu-butter, to create this unexpected attuned amalgam.
Following this, came the fried rice and miso soup. Both were satisfactory but rather ordinary to our disappointment.
But at last came the famous Okonomiyaki also known as 大板烧. Okonomiyaki is famous in Osaka as we can tell from the kanji form in Japanese; the first two characters mean Osaka. For the Okonomiyaki, aside from the original base ingredients e.g. egg, cabbage etc. we were allowed to choose two different toppings, for which we chose scallops and octopus. The okonomiyaki was absolutely beautiful. The eggs tasted fresh, rich and creamy, allowing the textures and flavours of the Okonomiyaki come together as one. The cabbage and octopus gave the pancake it’s chewy and crunchy texture whilst the scallop added richness. But the magic of Okonomiyaki lies in the sauce: Okonomiyaki sauce is very similar to the Tonkatsu sauce with a base tasting faintly of Worcestershire sauce, but Okonomiyaki is slightly sweeter. However, both sauces are a magical companion alongside mayonnaise which was drizzled onto the okonomiyaki pancake. As garnishes, seaweed powder and dried bonito flakes were added on top.
Details for Restaurants:
Okonomiyaki & Teppanyaki, President Chibo