Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Freshly Grilled Unagi - A Great Find in Kyoto

Up until now, I have not been to Japan for a holiday so when the timing was right, our family planned to visit Tokyo and Kyoto. When we visited the Fushimi-inari Shrine in Kyoto, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw a restaurant serving unagi - sea eel.

We were actually looking for a place for breakfast when we chanced upon this restaurant just outside the entrance to the shrine. As we walked towards the restaurant, there was no mistaking the smell of grilled unagi… what a smell! And lo and behold, I saw the chef grilling the eel over an open grill.

Firstly, we found our breakfast place and secondly, I found an authentic unagi restaurant! The restaurant has rules! Yes, rules! Firstly, they do not do take out…

Secondly, they do not encourage sharing of food…

I guess the fact that they are a small restaurant means they cannot afford to have a group come in and order one bowl to share. This is the restaurant - although there is a second level (we did not make it to the top).

So order one for each we did…

While the family was having their breakfast, I was busy finding out how they do it. The chef was behind his grill, preparing the eels to be skewered. First he has a bucket full of eels pre-cleaned.

There was a bucket of eel on the side and he would place three eels on the wooden block and with his deft hands measure and skewer the eels from head to tail.

The first skewers start from the head…

Completed skewers are placed into a plastic tray and I suppose to be stored in the refrigerator. But this was early March in Kyoto and the day time temperature was around 2-4 degrees celsius - natural fridge!

Then onto the grill it goes! Some other restaurants steam the unagi before grilling them to rid the eel of the fats. But this one was straight unto the grill.

You wait for the unagi to be grilled and the aroma is just wonderful!

We were there on two separate occasions and witnesses how they were grilling the eel. After having grilled it for awhile, the blanch the unagi with the sauce…

Then back onto the grill…

And soon enough, the unagi was ready…

And this was our reward for waiting! The unagi fresh from the grill! From head to tail.

My son Timothy remarked as he took the first bite - nothing like what we have in Singapore. This has quality written all over it! Soft but firm to the bite and the sauce is not overpowering. Not too sweet that it masks the unagi flesh but just right to compliment the eel. What a meal!

It was pure bliss - to say the least. Freshly grilled unagi - so it was really justified that we went there twice. Outside the restaurant, there was a globe where one can pin the country where they come from.

The freshly grilled unagi are displayed and sold as is - sauce and all. And it was brisk business too.

What I understand from my Japanese friend is that it is rather unusual to serve unagi with the head on - “high class” unagi restaurants typically remove the head before they serve the eel. But high class or not, this was one good unagi meal!

Another look at the restaurant.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Taiwanese Dumpling meal in Taoyuan

And so my Taiwanese culinary adventure continues - this time at a local establishment in Taoyuan, near the international airport.

The restaurant is a stand alone shop, not too appealing on the outside. But our host told us this place is famous in the area. I and totally trust him. As we enter the restaurant, the kitchen is on the left and the seating area is not too big. Ten tables at the most. I took a look at what all the tables were ordering. Looks promising and smells delicious already!

The dishes are not many unlike those in the Taiwanese porridge stall. They too have some pre-prepared dishes. First up some small appetisers - pan fried beancurd with salted vege, anchovies and chilli. Tasty beancurd with a hint of hot from the small chilli.

Then the braised peanuts. Soft to the bite and naturally sweet as one would expect.

We are told that this restaurant is a hit amongst those working around the area. We were lucky to come just before noon - before the main crowd arrived. Our host ordered some signature dishes. First up, the pancake they call "Chong Yu Bing" which basically is the scallion pancake.

Pan fried to perfection! Crispy on the outside, fragrant and moist on the inside. By then, I was so hungry that I just tucked in the goodies. One eats the pancake with a mixture of spring onions, parsley and minced red chilli. Shiok!

Then came the stir fried cabbage. Simple stir fry with soya sauce and Chinese rice wine. Nicely done - soft but still crunchy to the bite.

What came next was the mixed platter. Braised fried bean curd similar to our kway chap style tao pok and tau kwa. Taiwanese lap cheong (sausages), braised pork belly, hard boiled egg and black fungus. Missing is the innards though.

Eat, eat and eat... A table full of food and the main dish is not here yet!

We were 5 of us so when I heard our host order 50 dumplings, I was sure we would have to da bao. No way we can finish 50 dumplings after having all that food.

I was so wrong! The dumplings came in 2 styles - one filled with pork and the other with vegetables (see the slightly greenish ones). Eaten by itself or the same sauce as the scallion pancake, the dumplings were simply delicious. The skin is somewhat thicker than our wanton and I understand they are hand made.

No dessert for us by then. Stuffed, literally! Good food, wallet friendly. I was told the meal cost TWD1,400 which is equivalent to around S$60. This included two orders of take away of the scallion pancake for the office. My favourites were the scallion pancake and the dumplings. For sure I will be back again.