Apr 21, 2015

Japan Travelogue: Food Hunting & Attractions Hopping in Osaka (25 Oct 2014)

Morning View from Hotel Consort's Twin Room
My brain still couldn't wrap around the idea of sunrise at 6am. By 7.52am, the sun was already up and blazing. Waking up was made harder by the lovely bed in Hotel Consort Osaka; bedding was so fluffy soft and cosy that my body just refused to accept why anyone would want to leave its comfort.

Random Instant Noodles for Breakfast
Similar to my first breakfast in Haneda Airport, my second breakfast was some random instant noodle purchased at Lawson across Hotel Consort. For about 300yen, what I got was soba noodles and a fried cracker topped with chopped vegetables. I must say it was actually quite yummy!

Lawson Milk
To go with my not-so-healthy main course, I had Lawson's milk, which was happened to be on promo. Though I half expectedly it would be somewhat different, it tasted no less different from what I could get hold of in Malaysia.

All Ready for Osaka
Right after we were all prepped and filled, we took a 1km walk to ShinOsaka Station, headed to Osaka Station (via JR Tokaido/Sanyo Main Line), switched to Osakajokoen Station (via Osaka Loop Line), and took another 1.5km walk to our first destination, Osaka Castle.

Ducklings at Moat @ Osaka Castle Park
On the way up to Osaka Castle, we passed by one of the moats, historically used as a defence line, now manned by these cute ducklings cruising on the water. Birds were chirping, the sun was shining, the water was rippling. Morning couldn't be lovelier.

Osaka Castle 大阪城天守閣
Shortly after the moat, Osaka Castle, standing tall and glorious, finally came into view. It was hard to believe such beauty was once served as the stronghold of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, which attributable to his success in unifying the nation of Japan.

Side View of Osaka Castle 大阪城天守閣
Visible even from far, the gold adornment on Osaka Castle was a living proof of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's fascination with gold. According to, he ordered that gold be applied to furniture, weapons, armor, and furthermore. There is even a golden tea room in Osaka Castle!

Banana Milk
Considered an unfortunate timing, on the day itself, there was some events going on in Osaka Castle. Not only queue to enter into Osaka Castle was long, the entrance ticket prices were higher than usual! Since we figured that we would be better off not entering the castle, we explored around Osaka Castle and found this unique banana milk in one of the drinks dispensers.

Fighting over Banana Milk
This banana milk was lovely. Not only it was smooth to the tongue, it also tasted strongly of banana (yet did not taste like chemical).  With barely 300ml in this tiny can, tanner half and I had to ration between us. He would gave me this look whenever he thought I drank too much but truth is, I am the one with smaller gulp here.

Overlooking Osaka City from Osaka Castle Park
Standing at the higher ground of Osaka Castle Park, one could overlook Osaka city, surrounded by the changing autumn color. Imagine all the trees had turned, it would be lovely. Though it was my first time experiencing autumn, I am already fallen in love with it.

Subway @ Osaka Business Park Station
After an hour or so in Osaka Castle Park, we made our way to our lunch destination, Usami-Tei Matsubaya. We walked 1.2km from Osaka Castle to Osaka Business Park Station, took a subway train (240yen) to Shinsaibashi Station, and walked another 500m.

Front View of Usami-Tei Matsubaya
For one to food hunt in Japan, you must either be able to read Japanese or able to recognise the shop from images online. We were the latter. If it weren't because of google images, we would never be able to locate Usami-Tei Matsubaya on our own!

Interior of Usami-Tei Matsubaya
With about 20 pax seating, Usami-Tei Matsubaya was almost full. It was lucky that we managed to grab a table but generally it was not a worry as Japanese does not usually hang around after they were done with their meals in small establishments.

Kitsune Udon @ Usami-Tei Matsubaya (580yen)
There were plenty of choices on the Japanese menu but we were here for only one thing, i.e. Usami-Tei Matsubaya's famous kitsune udon. With just three key ingredients, i.e. udon, soup and aburaage (sweetened deep-fried tofu pockets), this was the simplest piece of heaven served! Every part of this kitsune udon was flawlessly executed, by that I meant, silky smooth chewy udon, flavourful soup base, and sweet soft tofu pockets.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 1,160yen

Random Donut @ Mister Donut (194yen)
After our simplest yet most satisfied meal at Usami-Tei Matsubaya, we headed southwest to Shinsaibashi Shopping Street and there we chanced upon Mister Donut, which also has presence in Malaysia. Curiosity had gotten the better of me, we decided to give it a try. Truth is, Malaysia or Japan, it was all the same. The texture was cold and slightly tough, which was a stark difference to soft fluffy texture that I personally like.

Total Damage = 194yen

Famous Glico Man @ Dotonbori 
Shinsaibashi Shopping Street was women's heaven. Skincare and cosmetics were common trade, so was fashion. From local skincare and cosmetics brands to famous counter brands, bargains were up for grabs (FYI I am comparing to same brands available in Malaysia). The whole shopping street is really long but at the end of it you would find yourself overlooking this signature view of Dotonbori, where I finally met Glico Man!

Creo-Ru くれおーる 道頓堀店
Our arrival at Dotonbori meant that we were now one step closer to takoyaki, kushikatsu and yakitori. There are plenty of takoyaki stalls along the main street of Dotonbori but Creo-Ru was what we were looking for. Famous for its takoyaki, the queue for takeaway (4 lanterns outside Creo-Ru) was terribly long that we had to wait for half an hour for our order.

Takoyaki Menu @ Creo-Ru くれおーる 道頓堀店
Tanner half and I were not a fan of octopus to begin with. To be safe, we steered clear from any variation of the famous product and ordered takoyaki octopus dumplings.

Compiling Ingredients @ Creo-Ru くれおーる 道頓堀店
Made of wheat-flour based batter, tenkasu (also known as tempura refuse), diced octopus, spring onions, takoyaki is something I would never try in Malaysia but here I was, in Osaka, where takoyaki thrives. I just had to try.

Tossing & Turning @ Creo-Ru くれおーる 道頓堀店
All the takoyaki maker needed was two pointy sticks to work his/her magic. From the flat mixtures, a toss and turn with these two pointy sticks formed takoyaki balls within split seconds.

Close Examination of Takoyaki @ Creo-Ru くれおーる 道頓堀店
Patience is essential in making (and also eating) takoyaki balls. After tossing and turning the mixture into takoyaki balls, more delicate cooking is required to ensure it was golden brown outside, yet semi molten inside.

10 pcs of Takoyaki Octopus Dumpling (730yen)
After 30 minutes of wait, finally we received our piping hot takoyaki octopus dumpling, topped with sauce and bonito flakes. Crispy on the outside, semi molten inside, I could almost feel the diced octopus swimming in my mouth. Creo-Ru has definitely done it right. My advice to you, "Do not pop it whole into your mouth, or you would end up with a scorched tongue".

Total Damage = 730yen

Osaka Night Market @ Dotonbori
Along the same street as Creo-Ru, you would come across Osaka Night Market, where you can find store after store, restaurant after restaurant, selling similar products. More shopping avenue for shopaholics, if Shinsaibashi Shopping Street does not satisfy.

Daruma Nanba
Now that we had checked the takoyaki box, our next mission was to find Daruma for some kushikatsu. The closest Daruma from Creo-Ru is no other than Daruma Nanba. Again, if it were because of google images, I wouldn't have recognised Daruma and gotten my kushikatsu.

Staff Buzzing Around Getting Order
Truth was we were not that hungry but we ordered some anyway. The thing about dining in Japan is wherever you go, there will be free flow of green tea on your table. Especially quenching after a whole day of walking, drink up while you wait for your food. Alternatively, have a pint of draft Kirin beer for about 300yen (God, beer is cheap in Japan!)

4 Sticks of Kushikatsu (120-240yen/Stick)
Here we had chicken skin (120yen), classic beef kushikatsu (120yen), sausage (120yen) and karaage (240yen) to share. All kushikatsu was so marvellously done. Its crispiness was not by chance, but by way of consistency. Almost vinegar like, but well balanced with sweetness, Daruma's dipping sauce was unusually appetizing. I must say it was the best fried skewer I had so far in my life!

Crowds in Daruma Nanba
With about 30 pax seating, Daruma Nanba is considered huge in local restaurant standard. Look at the overwhelming crowds at 5.30pm. In fact, we had to queue for about 5 min for a table for two.

Total Damage = 777yen

Kamigata Ukiyoe Musuem
Right opposite Daruma Nanba, you can find Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum and Hozenji Temple. For fans of Japanese art, you could pay a visit to Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum with 500yen entrance fee. Some sample of Ukiyo-e art was seen adorning the exterior wall of Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum.

Hozenji Temple
For fans of temples, Hozenji Temple could also be your pitstop for your prayers of good luck. Throng was seen queueing up right outside of the temple at 6pm.

Peacefulness of Hozenji Temple
In contrast, this corner of Hozenji Temple, where one could pay a token and post some blessing, was deserted. I found this corner had its exuding peace which one could feel by merely passing by.

Hozenji Yokocho Alley
Passing through Hozenji Temple, you would find yourself at Hozenji Yokocho Alley, where restaurants flanking both sides of the alley. Despite the numerous restaurants in the vicinity, we had hard time deciding which to go to.

C1000 Lemon Water (100yen)

Take a break, have some lemon water. Besides banana milk, this lemon water was the best drink off dispenser. With light citrusy flavor sans sugar, it was particularly quenching after a long day of walking.

Entering Hottokeya Doutonbori
After much exploring and hesitating, we ended up in an izakaya named Hottokeya. Quietly tucked in a higher floor, it is totally missable if one paid little attention. If it weren't because of their funny mascot downstairs, we could easily be one of the many whom missed the restaurant.

Salad @ Hottokeya Doutonbori
Hottokeya Doutonbori has a comprehensive menu for one to choose from but what was better to try than Osaka's specialty, i.e. kushikatsu and some yakitori for variety? Shortly after order was made, a small portion of salad was served. Dressed in citrusy dressing, it was particularly appertising.

Yakitori @ Hottokeya Doutonbori
Under the grilled skewer section, there are 9 types of yakitoris for one to choose from, out of which 3 are innards. That left us 6 options, so we ordered each a pair of chicken thigh (90yen/stick), chicken skin (120yen/stick) and chicken thigh with green onion (120yen/stick). So tender, juicy and flavorful was the yakitori that I must applaud Japanese for their attention to details.

Kushikatsu @ Hottokeya Doutonbori
Fried skewer section, on the other hand, has 32 types of kushikatsu for one to choose from. To make your life easier, they do have kushikatsu combos with different mixtures. Worry not, none of the kushikatsu has innards, so we safely ordered a 10 sticks combo (1,350yen). Compared to Daruma Nanba, Hottokeya's kushikatsu was pretty decent. Each kushikatsu had golden crispy coat, which enhanced what was enwrapped. Its dipping sauce shared similar traits of Daruma's, albeit less intense.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 4,590yen (including 1 x 450yen ume liquor, 2 x 390yen beer, and some entertainment charges)

Random Alley on the way to JR Namba Station
Our food hunting had proved to be fruitful so far. At the end of the night, we were exhausted but satisfied nonetheless. During our 850m walk to JR Namba Station, we passed by this unique alley, brightly lid with white fluorescent light, in contrast with the usual yellow lights hung outside restaurants/shops.

MOS Pork Burger (340yen)
From JR Namba Station, we took a train (via JR 大和路線 line) to Tennoji Station, before boarded another (via JR Tokaido/Sanyo Main Line) to ShinOsaka Station. On our 1km walk back to Hotel Consort, we dropped by MOS Burger to try out their MOS Pork Burger (340yen). With pork patty, chopped onions, tomato based sauce and tomato, the burger itself was small but decent, though nothing to shout about.

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Usami-Tei Matsubaya - 3.5/5
    • Mister Donut - 4/5 
    • Creo-Ru - 1/5 (no designated seats for takeaways, so you have to eat standing)
    • Daruma Nanba - 3/5 
    • Hottokeya Doutonbori - 3.5/5 
  • Price
    • Usami-Tei Matsubaya - 5/5 
    • Mister Donut - 2.5/5 
    • Creo-Ru - 2/5 
    • Daruma Nanba - 3/5 
    • Hottokeya Doutonbori - 3/5
  • Food
    • Usami-Tei Matsubaya - 5/5
    • Mister Donut - 1/5
    • Creo-Ru - 4.5/5
    • Daruma Nanba - 5/5
    • Hottokeya Doutonbori - 4.5/5
  • Verdict
    • Usami-Tei Matsubaya - Super value for money, i.e. less than 600yen for a proper meal
    • Mister Donut - Steer clear, if you may
    • Creo-Ru - Must try their takoyaki, totally worth the long wait
    • Daruma Nanba - Excellent kushikatsu, queue is required but wait is not long
    • Hottokeya Doutonbori - Quite pricey in total bill, visit sparingly if you may

My personal attraction verdicts for:
  • Osaka Castle - Interesting architecture with gold adornment, serene park (good for leisure and/or sports)
  • Shinsaibashi Shopping Street - Totally recommended for those wanted to shop for skincare and make up! I did buy quite a fair share here too :)
  • Dotonbori - Food and shopping intertwined, best of both worlds
  • Hozenji Temple - Small but high traffic, worth a visit if you were around the area

Mar 26, 2015

Japan Travelogue: Heading to the Land of Kobe Beef & Okonomiyaki (24 Oct 2014)

I could barely fell asleep; every alternate hour was a slow drift in and a jerk out. When the clock stroked 6am, I wandered to the bus stand where Japaneses were waiting for the next bus. Rushing cold breeze welcomed me. I clung tightly to my jacket, while strolling and listening to the morning breeze and roaming buses. The air was cold but fresh, a drastic change from homeland.

Beautiful Morning @ Tokyo Haneda International Airport
In Tokyo Haneda International Airport, there are two trains stations: Keikyu Shinagawa Station and Tokyo Monorail Hamamatsucho Station. For those who want to get Pasmo card, you can go to Keikyu Shinagawa Station. Simply select English language at the self service machines, purchase your Pasmo at 1,000yen and top up accordingly.

Coffee Milk @ Air Lawson in Tokyo Haneda International Airport
While waiting for JR East Travel Service Center to open, I had this coffee flavored milk on promo and a bowl of instant noodles from Air Lawson for breakfast. Flavored milk was all but unusual to me. Though most value for money, greedy me was having hard time finishing on my own.

Exchange Order and Japan Rail Pass 
By 7.45am, tanner half and I headed to JR EAST Travel Service Center in Haneda Airport to hand in our exchange orders for 7-day Japan Rail Pass (29,110yen/USD275). For tourists whom are planning to travel between cities in Japan, Japan Rail Pass is the most economical way to go. All you need to do are:
  1. Order your exchange order at in your home country
  2. Wait for it to be delivered (USD19 delivery fee) 
  3. Upon arrival in Japan, head to any JR EAST Travel Service Centers 
  4. Fill in a form and collect your Japan Rail Pass on the spot
14-Day OCN Mobile One Prepaid Sim (3,980yen)
To collect my OCN Mobile One prepaid sim, we then headed to Haneda Aiport Post Office, located in Terminal 1 Building, via shutter bus (free of charge). For those who do not want to pay so much for a pocket wifi/local phone, OCN Mobile One prepaid sim is a super economical option. For 3,980yen (including 200yen service fee), you get 100MB data per day, with maximum speed of 150Mbps. To get yours:
  1. Order your prepaid sim at
  2. Specify delivery to any address in Japan, including airports
  3. Upon arrival, collect your prepaid sim at specified address at (2).
Soup of the Day @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
With both Japan Rail Pass and OCN Mobile One prepaid sim ready, we boarded our train in Terminal 1 Building, heading head first to famous Wakkoqu to have a lifetime experience of Kobe beef! There are two Wakkoqu in Kobe: one in Kitano, another in Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue. Wakkoqu in Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue, connecting to Shin-Kobe station, was no doubt our first choice.

Salad @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
One thing you must know in Japan, lunch menu is always the cheapest, any day, everywhere. Yes, even in famous restaurants like Wakkoqu! Greedy us ordered all 3 on the lunch menu:
  • Lunch Wakkoqu Course (Tajima and Sanda Beef from Kobe) - 5,280yen 
    • Sirloin 150g, Grilled Vegetable(six kinds), Today’s Soup, Salad, Rice & Japanese Pickled, Dessert, Coffee) 
  • Lunch Course (Tajima Beef from Hyogo Prefecture) - 4,280yen
    • Sirloin 130g, Grilled Vegetable(six kinds), Today’s Soup, Salad, Rice & Japanese Pickled, Dessert, Coffee)
  • Lunch Set (Tajima Beef from Hyogo Prefecture) - 3,280yen 
    • Sirloin 130g, Grilled Vegetable(six kinds), Salad, Rice & Japanese Pickled, Miso Soup)
Garlic Prepping Time @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
Soup of the Day and salad were both interesting: the soup was almost mash potato like but creamier, salad was citrusy and light. Before I finished both, the Kobe chef started prepping thinly sliced garlic in front of us. Piece by piece he examined to ensure all were coated in a gown of golden brown, I must say it was my first time seeing such intricacy being put into grilling a thin slice of garlic!

Tajima Sirloin and Sanda Sirloin @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
While I was so engrossed with the garlic prepping, two big slices of sirloins were brought up to us. Gosh, look at the fat distribution! I almost melted on the spot, even the chef chuckled at our faces. If my memory serves me well, you are seeing Sanda sirloin at the front, Tajima sirloin at the back.

Grilled Sanda Sirloin @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
Barely a second required, the chef deftly flipped the raw beef onto the grill and cut it into tiny cubes. The fat sizzled and the smoke swirled with triumph as the beef turned brownish. I fell in love with the beef already. Resistance was non existent, cube after cube of Sanda beef melted in my mouth. Grilled to such perfection, it was little surprise of its juiciness. Sanda beef had definitely pushed up the benchmark for Tajima to match.

Grilled Tajima Sirloin @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
Being the cheaper beef on the menu, I had lower expectation for Tajima beef. But I was wrong. I was utterly impressed with Tajima beef! Though it had less impressive fat distribution, Tajima beef had richness so much more intensified. Personally I liked Tajima beef more as I am a person of taste.

6 Different Types of Grilled Vegetables @ Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 (Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue)
To go with the beautiful Sanda and Tajima beef, 6 different types of grilled vegetables were served. Among these vegetables were tofu, brinjal, potatoes, and chilies. Rather bland on its own, I believed it was very much intentional to clear the palate. Being a Malaysian, I dipped mine into two different sauces served for beef, for a little twist.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 15,224yen

View of Kobe City
Words simply couldn't illustrate the sense of fulfilment, having to try Kobe beef at last in the very land of Kobe, Japan! Wakkoqu had definitely lightened up my very second day in Japan. Reluctantly we left Wakkoqu, walked 1.2km to JR Sannomiya Station, took a train to JR Sumiyoshi Station, in hope to visit Hakutsuru Sake Museum.

Waiting for the Train @ JR Sumiyoshi Station
However luck wasn't on our side. By the time we reached JR Sumiyoshi Station, it was 9 minutes towards the close of Hakutsuru Sake Museum. We figured out that it wasn't worth the run as it was a 1.3km walk from JR Sumiyoshi Station.

Traveling with Crumpler & Nike
Dejectedly, we waited for the next train bound for Shin-Osaka Station. Upon our arrival at Shin-Osaka Station, friendly Japanese offered direction to us but it was of little help. We were so disorientated that it took us half an hour to locate Hotel Consort, many thanks to the unreliable Google Map (web version) that kept loading (yet missing current location marker!)

Twin Room @ Hotel Consort, Osaka
After an almost sleepless night and a day of walking, finally seeing a comfortable bed awaiting was the best part. The twin room in Hotel Consort was rather small (14 sq. m) to Malaysian standard but it was well equipped: hairdryer, kettle, fridge, water heater, bath tub, Shiseido toiletries etc. After a long soak in bath tub, we were ready to hunt for our dinner.

Queues @ Shin-Osaka Station
It was a 1km walk to Shin-Osaka Station but this time, we learned the easier route. Shortly after, we arrived at Shin-Osaka Station, which looked completely foreign. No doubt, it was a huge station with many exits. To ensure you catch the right train to your destination, you have to first check which platform, then you have to check which marker you have to queue at.

Sunset on the way to Osaka
Even though it was a fast and furious day, we did not miss the sunset. So beautiful, I thought, more so in a foreign land where the air was fresh and cold. I couldn't wait for the days to come to explore this beautiful land.

Entrance to Tengu @ Shin Sankei Building, Umeda
Located in Basement 1 of Shin Sankei Building, Tengu was a wild find. First of all, Google Map would neither direct you to the correct Tengu restaurant nor show any result for "Shin Sankei". Second of all, resources mostly state "near Hilton Osaka Hotel". But fear not, based on the full address of Tengu, just type in 2 Chome-5-2 Umeda and this would bring you close enough to Shin Sankei Building. Take the stairs down then locate Tengu, which was on the right of this picture.

Scallop Okonomiyaki @ Tengu (780yen)
In Tengu, okonomiyaki is pre-made in the kitchen and brought to table grill, where you can keep it sizzling while graciously top the okonomiyaki with bonito flakes and mayonnaise. The scallop okonomiyaki was cooked to nicety: slightly moist but not undercooked. Paired with slightly crusty outer layer, it was a great combination of texture.

Pork Okonomiyaki @ Tengu (830yen)
Though the filling was slightly varied, both okonomiyakis shared the same texture and flavour. Sometimes, it was quite hard to tell it apart as if one were to blindfold and taste.

Sake @ Tengu (360yen)
Nothing can beat having sake with piping hot okonomiyaki. It was served in a nice clay flask, which was actually not that much (about 500ml or so). Between the borderline of strong and mild, it tasted like one of those expensive sakes you pay in Malaysia but much cheaper.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 2,170yen

Dessert @ 7 Eleven
Now that we had our main course, it goes without saying dessert was a must! On our way out, we stumbled across a familiar convenience store, 7 Eleven. We checked every isle to see what they have in Japan which we don't in Malaysia, ended up bringing back an ice cream and green tea KitKat to try. Both were surprisingly good, and sure enough we bought more green tea KitKat as souvenir.

IN SUMMARY, my personal dining ranking based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 - 5 out of 5 (fine dining, no joke!)
    • Tengu - 3 out of 5 (it was a small establishment with tight seating)
  • Price
    • Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 - 4 out of 5 (lunch sets/menus are super value for money)
    • Tengu - 4 out of 5 (about 1,000yen is cheap for Japanese standard)
  • Food
    • Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 - 5 out of 5 (heavenly good!)
    • Tengu - 4 out of 5 (our only okonomiyaki experience but it was a good one)
  • Verdict
    • Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店 - Strategic location, superb Kobe beef and value for money lunch sets/menus
    • Tengu - Tucked so tightly that it can be hard to find but it is cheap and good! Plenty of working crowd after work

Wakkoqu あぶり肉工房 和黒 新神戸店
3F Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue
1, 1-Chome Kitano-cho Chuo-ku Kobe-City
Operation Hours: 11:45 - 22:30 (Last order 21:30)
Tel: 078-262-2838

Toyosaki 3-15-19, Nakatsu, Osaka.
Shin Sankei building 2-5-2 B1F, Umeda, Osaka
Operation Hours: Not mentioned (should be opening until late nights)
Tel: +81 (0) 6 6372 7676
Credit Cards: VISA (tried!)

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