Cooking… sort of: a Japanese-style breakfast

Breakfast for one!
Breakfast for one!

As you may have read in my last post, I got a little carried away with buying goodies from the Hobby Cook Show. So of course I have compelled myself to make some delicious food. And we all know how much I love breakfast! Yet I prepared all of the above without doing any cooking at all… Continue reading “Cooking… sort of: a Japanese-style breakfast”

Hobby Cooking Fair 2015 – April 23rd-25th, Tokyo Big Sight

Hobby Fair - purchases and samples
Hobby Fair – purchases and samples

I have a friend who works in the food industry. He gets lots of free samples of many delicious things and he always knows when their is something food-related going on. I tell him that that is the only reason we’re friends.

This week was the Japan Hobby Show, which involves an amazing array of crafts. I wish I’d had time to look around because there was everything from knitting, jewellery-making, art… and many kinds of creativity that I simply don’t know the name of! However, I’m not creative in that way. I’m only creative when it comes to finding different ways of filling my stomach with delicious things and sharing that deliciousness with all of you.  Continue reading “Hobby Cooking Fair 2015 – April 23rd-25th, Tokyo Big Sight”

Review: The Gallery Café (Vegan/Vegetarian)

The Gallery Café

I may have a reputation as a fearsome meat devourer, lover of all things beef, especially STEAK. And burgers. And roast beef. (Oh shut up, Pheebz, and get on with the review!) Well, just because I am a devoted carnivore does not mean that I am unable to appreciate vegetarian and vegan food. In fact, I recently went to The Gallery Café, where most dishes are completely vegan.

OK, so the truth is… I didn’t go there knowing it was a vegan/vegetarian café, but I liked it so much that I’ll go back!

My friend recently moved to East London and she’d heard very good things about The Gallery Café. So we set off to Bethnal Green and stopped by to find a bustling room with mismatched furniture, and rather tasty-looking home-made cakes lining a wooden-top counter.

More muffins


We eyed up the sandwiches to one side. That’s funny, we thought. The sausage sandwich looks like it has vegetarian sausage in it.

We eyed up the menu. Mmm. Nice big breakfasts. That’s funny, we thought. They serve scrambled tofu. Where are the eggs?

The menu

It wasn’t until half-way through our munching that the penny dropped. After which, we laughed quite a lot at how slow our brains were to engage.

My friend took the scrambled tofu on  sourdough toast (£4) with garlic mushrooms (plus £1.50). I was VERY sceptical as I’ve never eaten tofu outside of Asia that I’ve actually enjoyed. But actually, this was great! Seasoned well, mixed with spring onions – it was really tasty and I actually want to go and order it. The garlic mushrooms were also superb, again to my surprise.

Scramble tofu and garlic mushrooms with sourdough toast
Scramble tofu and garlic mushrooms with sourdough toast

Now, I wasn’t especially hungry due to eating a lot beforehand, so I just took a bowl of chips (£1). Look at these beauties. Just £1 for this large portion. They were crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and really, really good. And they were £1. Wow.


I also had a chocolate brownie with walnuts. It wasn’t as dense or gooey as brownies tend to be served, but it was pleasingly moist with a rich, warm flavour.


I didn’t have anything to drink but they offer a lot of speciality teas. 

I obviously can’t comment on the rest of the menu, but I’ll be sure to update you when I head there again. I want to test some of the dishes. Can they persuade me to order more vegan food? We shall see…

The Gallery Café 4/5 – OK, so it’s in East London, it’s vegan and it offers fancy teas. Yes, it sounds a little hipster. But really it’s just a casual, laid-back place. And come on – who can refuse a bowl of chips for £1? Or garlic mushrooms on sourdough toast for £3? This place is cheap and yummy. 

Where: The Gallery Cafe, St. Margaret’s House, 21 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PL

When: Monday-Friday 8am-9pm; Sat: 9am – 9pm; Sun: 9am – 9pm


Japanese Food – The High Quality Stuff!

My most read blog post to date – The REAL Japanese Food – highlights the everyday junk you will find in Japan in attempt to dispel the pervasive image of delicate sushi being eaten at every meal. So it’s only fair that I take your saliva glands on a tour of the more traditional stuff, especially the over-the-top feast we got served at a luxury ryokan (Japanese-style hotel with baths).

Back in Janaury, Calle and I snagged ourselves a bargain – a bargain so good that you’ll think I’m lying. Let me explain…

Tanabe is a small, rural town, in Wakayama prefecture, to the south-east of Kyoto. It’s a depopulating area with agriculture as its main industry. As a result, the Tanabe Tourism Bureau is striving hard to change this quiet, mountainous region into a must-see tourism destination. Combine these factors with the Japanese government’s attempt to gain back all the tourists scared away by the tsunami and earthquake, and you’ve got a lot of money being thrown into new tours for tourists.

Of course, someone has to go on the “trial” tour and provide feedback, namely, a questionnaire at the end. Of course, Calle and I were more than happy to be the test subjects. Especially when we got a three-day tour, all transport and accommodation (farm-stay and top-quality ryokan) for a mere 10,000円 (that was about £85 at the time, currently £76.60). Whatever the conversion, the tour was practically free.

Lunch: rice, pickles, stewed veg, tempura, miso soup.

The tour got off to a good start when we were informed that we would be eating in a very good quality restaurant in central Tanabe. Not the fanciest of lunches, because we wouldn’t have time. But it was more than substantial. Tempura, stewed vegetables, rice, soup and pickles. Although tempura is, by its nature, deep-fried and battered, the quality was really evident – the flavours of the vegetables and shrimp stood out, and the batter was crisp and non-greasy. I’m making myself hungry just thinking about it.

Tempura. Those shrimps were fantastic!
Veg, egg and “fish cake” stewed in an awfully bitter sauce. I was not a fan but it looks pretty.

Our evening meal was with with a Japanese family – the “farm-stay” part of the tour. Dinner consisted of yet more tempura (you can definitely have too much of it – in fact, you get sick of it very quickly!) but also these amazing rice cakes. The rice has spinach and some other kind of leaf in it. It’s topped with grated egg and minced chicken / salmon. Intriguing and more tasty than it sounds.

Chicken rice cake

We also got given some chicken and shrimp sushi (due to a misunderstanding of Calle’s “vegetarianism”. Chicken and shrimp is OK, right?!)

Egg and shrimp sushi and minced chicken sushi

But I want to particularly commend my host mother on the breakfast. I’ve always been a breakfast person. Within half an hour of waking, I’m ready to turn to cannibalism unless someone feeds me quickly. I can pretty much eat anything in the morning. Fortunately, my host mother was a woman who understood my desperate needs and prepared a feast, including freshly baked bread and the most delicious pumpkin soup.

Pumpkin soup – warming and delicious!

Next up…dieters, get excited by the best diet food in the world – こんにゃく (konnyaku). It’s a gelatinous substance made from the corm (fleshy, potato-like bulb) of a potato-like plant. Virtually tasteless, it’s about 97% water but incredibly filling, making it a great diet food. Of course, your body may also be nutrition-starved…

Konnyaku with a miso sauce

Check out the other delights:

Crisp, fresh salad
Rice wrapped in cabbage – surprisingly good!
I’m not a tea drinker but I loved this!

Finally, the ryokan. 

Reception area

Fujiya Ryokan is a luxurious ryokan with an outdoor bath and two indoor baths (and ping-pong that cost 250円 per 30 mins – rip-off!) It’s located almost opposite the Kawayu Onsen, a natural wonder where 73degC spring water flows into the river and is cooled to ~40degC, making it bearable enjoyable to humans. We could glimpse this wondrous bathing area from our bedroom window but sadly, by day, it looks a little like a gravel pit. At night, however, it was very relaxing to sit in it and gaze up at the trees and moon.

Kawayu Onsen

Our room was a perfect example of interior design – minimalist and simplistic. I find the style too sterile for my liking – although I feel it works very well in a hotel context.

Our room
Calle is Guardian of the Window

Plus we arrived to a snack and hot tea. And we got to wear Japanese bathrobes!

Tea and snacks! The snacks were a sweet rice puff bar with some kind of dried fruit – sounds naff, but they were really addictive!
Well, this is a fetching ensemble! (Yes, I know the shoes shouldn’t be on the tatami!)

Of course, the most important aspect of our stay was the food. Now please don’t judge me too harshly. But I didn’t get the fish dinner, I got beef. I love beef (gyuniku in Japanese). I love gyuniku so much that an unfortunate essay on “My favourite things” in beginners Japanese class earned me the nickname “Gyuniku Girl”.

To my delight, this is what greeted me when I took my place at the dinner table.

Look at that beef! And the beautified mushroom.

This is prime quality beef, as can be seen from the beautiful fat marbling. The Japanese really understand the need for fat in the meat to infuse it with taste, whereas people in the UK seem to commonly make the mistake in trying to find the leanest joint.

I had to quickly boil the beautiful beef and the accompanying vegetables and dip them in a soy-based sauce. The method supposed to emphasise  the natural and delicate flavours of the ingredients, which I am all for – I wouldn’t want anything strong to mask the taste of the beef. But couldn’t everything have been boiled in some kind of broth? Surely salt in the water is a basic necessity? As a result of this minimalism, I was a little bit sad as the potential of the beef wasn’t realised.

Fortunately though, I was also served this:

“Roast beef”

Have a look at the other delights we got served:

One large shrimp
Home-made udon – delish!
More konnyaku – this time with wasabi
The obligatory pickles to go with the rice. Includes an umeboshi – pickled plum, a speciality of the Wakayama prefecture.
Aubergine gratin – the only fail of the evening. Cheese isn’t common in Japan. Being able to cook well with it is even less common.
I’m allergic to strawberries 😦
What would be considered cheap sponge cake in the UK but is apparently luxurious in Japan. Cake blog post coming soon…

At breakfast, it really was fortunate that I could eat anything at any time in the morning.

Strong, bitter, green vegetables with fish flakes
More pickles
Tofu *sigh*
Mushrooms with sesame
Baked egg with broccoli

Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the ryokan experience. I’m not someone who likes relaxing. And I don’t like lounging around in baths. Hot springs normally make me feel very faint. But with careful “heat management”, good company and good food, I could easily go again. In fact, the plans are currently being made…