Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Eating in Kuala Lumpur 2013 - Muratama Ramen

Ramen craz has finally come to Malaysia. In a span of a couple of years, more then half a dozen specialty Ramen shops have cropped up in Kuala Lumpur - and most of them with Japanese legacies to boot. The one that started it all was Santouka Ramen at Tokyo Street in Pavilion KL about 2 years ago, which I had blogged about here.

One of the relative newcomers is Muratama Ramen. Tucked at the back of Farenheit 88 Shopping Mall in busy Bukit Bintang, this place is relatively obscure unless you know where to look. The decor is quite simple and unpretentious, not unlike some of the Ramen shops in Japan. When I went there around dinner time - it was totally empty except for another table of 4. I was wondering whether I had made the right decision to come here.

Muratama specializes in Ramen with Tori Paitan (creamy chicken) broth. Unlike most other Ramen which is served with a pork broth, Tori Paitan broth is made by boiling chicken bones for long hours to extract the flavours. I ordered the Kakuni Negi Tamago Ramen which came with Char Su, stewed pork belly, seaweed, tamago and lots of spring onion. 

The noodles are quite thin and cooked al dente - but a touch too soft I felt. The broth - though rich, was much milder in flavour compared to regular Tonkotsu broth. Both the Char Su and pork belly were melt-in-the-mouth tender, but I was more partial to the pork belly which were more flavourful. The egg was cooked just right with the requisite soft centre.  

I couldn't resist ordering the pan-fried Char Su. It came with some chili powder on the side - and a wedge of lemon which was a surprise. The acidity of the lemon juice cut through the richness of the pork nicely, and it was a satisfying side dish.

The Ramen at Muratama is not bad, but I still prefer the richer Tonkotsu broth. This is for those who prefer a milder taste to their Ramen.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Kuala Lumpur 2013 - Parkamaya at Farenheit 88

Parkamaya is a newly opened Japanese-themed concept store at the top floor of Farenheit 88 Shopping Centre along Jalan Bukit Bintang. It is aimed at the young and fashion-conscious crowd, and features urban fashion labels from Japan, Korea, Malaysia and anywhere else that is hip and trendy. If you are over 30, you'll probably feel a bit out of place going there. With camera in tow, I bravely ventured where I'm probably not welcome and at the risk of being ridiculed as a fashion dinosaur. A couple of security guides did try to stop me from taking photos - but not before I managed to snag these.

It reminds me of similar fashion stores in Bangkok targeting the same young and trendy crowd - but the ones in Bangkok are visually a lot more interesting and the fashion more cutting-edge. There is some catching-up to do before KL can claim to be at the same level as Bangkok and Tokyo.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kuala Lumpur 2013 - KL Harajuku Girls

Lately Kuala Lumpur is going through a bit of Japanese craze. While pushing through busy Bukit Bintang I bumped into these Harajuku girls in front of the newly opened Farenheit 88 Shopping Centre. They were promoting a new Japanese-themed concept store at the top floor of the shopping centre - Parkamaya. It is good to see new concepts opening in KL instead of the same-old-same-old that is everywhere.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Japan 2012 - Wagyu Beef Dinner at Ginza

My posts on Japan is coming to a close, and as usual I have saved the best for last. For those who love their beef, Wagyu beef has got to be the ultimate meat indulgence. And where better to enjoy this delicacy then in Japan, where the Wagyu breed of cattle originated.

Wondering around the back streets of Ginza, I finally came across a Yakiniku restaurant with a sign showing that they serve Wagyu. As I was prepared to splurge on this meal, I ended up ordering the Wagyu Sampler - top A5 grade Wagyu in 4 different cuts costing 10,000 yen - or around RM 240. This was less then half of what I would have to pay back in Malaysia - so a very good deal.

The meal started with some vegetables for grilling.

The platter - when it arrived, was very impressive. The portions were very generous, and all the cuts showed wonderful marbling. With ingredient this good you don't need to do much to it, so a Yakiniku is the perfect place to enjoy the Wagyu. Just a pinch of salt and pepper, and the meat goes on the grille. As you are doing the cooking - you can decided how you like the beef to be cooked. I prefer mine well charred on the outside, and pink on the inside.

When the beef goes into the mouth - it just melts, and all the great beef flavours permeate your taste sensors giving you the most enjoyable eating experience you could hope for. A must if you are in Japan.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Japan 2012 - Sushizanmai Honten at Tsukiji Market

Many visitors to Tsukiji go there searching for the ultimate sushi experience. Nothing can be fresher then eating fish right at the fish market. Behind the tuna auction area are a number of small food outlets serving mainly the market workers. One of the outlets here - Sushi Dai -  has acquired such acclaim that people would readily queue up for a couple of hours just for a taste. There is another less famous outlet - Daiwa-Zushi - but you would still have to wait around 1 hour depending on the crowd. Not being the kind of person that would wait around for a couple of hours no matter how good the food, I went to Sushizanmai Honten instead - the original outlet of the famous Japanese sushi chain restaurant.

Sushizanmai was started by Kiyoshi Kimura - a very colourful character in the Japanese culinary scene. Remember the USD 1.7 million tuna ? It was Kimura who paid that price - setting a new record in the process. It was all done for publicity of course. Imagine paying a record price at the first auction of the year - the event was reported all over the newspapers and TV, the free media coverage alone is worth the price.

Some may dismiss Sushizanmai Honten as being part of a mediocre chain store, but I've read good reviews about the place - and being right next to the main wholesale fish market the quality shouldn't be that bad. The store is of medium size.This outlet is not the same as their other branches which tend to serve cheapo "kaiten" sushi. There are normal tables as well as a long sushi counter. I chose to sit at the counter so I can see the sushi chefs in action.

I ordered a Shashimi-Don - a selection of different cuts of raw seafood served on sushi rice. The serving looked really beautiful, and all the fish looked like they had just come out from the sea. And the taste - heavenly ! The best sushi I have ever had so far.

As they say - the proof is in the pudding. I highly recommend Sushizanmai Honten at Tsukiji Market. A must visit !

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Japan 2012 - Tsukiji Market Part II - the Wholesale Fish Market

A little further in from the Outer Market is the Wholesale Fish Market. This is a huge warehouse structure which is curved in shape. It is completely open plan and filled to the brim with the catch of the day. One thing to take note is at Tsukiji you must give way to the vehicles. If you get in the way, expect to be at the receiving end of some annoyed glares and barks.

There are lots of  small "turret trucks" plying the market making deliveries. These look a bit like large garbage cans with a steering wheel on top, and are driven by tough-looking fish mongers that you don't want to mess with. Another important rule is never touch the products - always ask first. If you remain discreet and stay out of the way you should be fine, and some of the merchants are actually quite friendly.

The freshness and variety of seafood on display here is truly amazing. Chances are if you can't find it here, its probably not on the menu at the good restaurants. The prices also can be shocking - in January 2013 a 222kg bluefin tuna was auctioned off at USD 1.7 million - around USD 7,700 per kg ! But these are usually publicity stunts. The average price for good quality bluefin tuna at the market is between USD 40 - 60 per kilo. By the time it reaches the restaurants, expect to pay around double to triple that amount.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Japan 2012 - Tsukiji Fish Market Part I - the Outer Market

If you are a food lover, Tsujiki Market would have to be on the top of your list of must visits places in Tokyo. Many visitors who are really determined would get up at ungodly hours to vie for the limited slots for the tuna auctions which start at 5.00 a.m. every morning. Only 120 lucky visitors are allowed into the auction everyday. As for me, I value my sleep and comfort a bit more, so I only got to the market around 8.00 a.m.

Tsukiji is a huge wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables. It is one of the largest fish markets in the world, and a large portion of fish served in the best shashimi restaurants around the world come from here. In fact many Japanese restaurants would loudly advertise that their fish come air-flown straight from Tsukiji Market - whether or not its is entirely true.

To navigate the market, it is best to bring a map. There is a large outer market which is a maze of little stalls selling all kinds of things from bonito to himono, tamago, nerimono, tsukemono, etc. There are also lots of small eateries and restaurants for those who are hungry. It is worth spending some time to explore this area.

There are lots of stalls selling pre-cooked food items that are good for a snack.

If you are looking for premium Japanese ingredients this is the place, and probably much cheaper too as you are cutting out the middleman. But they don't seem too happy entertaining small quantities.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Japan 2012 - Ramen at Kyushu Jangara in Harajuku

The Harajuku - Omotesando area is one of the most interesting places to explore in Tokyo. At Harajuku you get to experience the chaotic, edgy and sometimes strange youth culture of Japan, and at Omotesando you get to experience one of the premier shopping streets in Tokyo. For the architecture lover, Omotesando Avenue is also full of iconic architectural pieces by architects such as Herzog & De Meuron, Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, MVRDV, SANAA, etc. You will really need one or two days to fully explore the area. As I only had half a day, I was really rushed for time. But one still has to eat, and for speed and convenience you can't beat a ramen shop. Good thing there is a good one in Harajuku - Kyushu Jangara.

This ramen chain which hails from Kyushu has received many great reviews from bloggers. It is also gaijin friendly, with an English menu, and the staff are very amiable. Their style of ramen is the popular Tonkotsu style - with the soup stock made from boiling pork bones for long hours until all the goodness including the bone marrows blend into the soup, making it slightly milky in colour, creamy and delicious.

I ordered their special ramen with all toppings. It cost 1,000 yen and comes with chasu, stewed pork, tamago, mentaiko, bamboo shoots and wood ear fungus. It is not a very big bowl compared to other ramen shops, but it was easily one of the best I've had in Japan. The stewed pork was melt in your mouth and to-die-for !