Monday, March 30, 2015

Typically Japanese: Soraben Packed Bento Lunches/Dinners

One of the things typically Japanese that fascinated me to no end is ‘Soraben’ (or ‘Sora-ben’). It is a type of bento box for take-away at the airports. It is basically a packed lunch or dinner for passengers to eat during their journey.

So the pack food is very nicely presented in a bento take-away box and in it are a variety of small portions of food. I was very tempted to buy a few boxes to try out. They looked so attractive, tasty and intriguing. I mean where else in the world can you buy packed lunch or dinner in style and this pretty?

These soraben boxes though I saw at the Haneda Domestic Airport. You cannot miss them with their excellent packaging. I thought at first they were souvenir gifts, but worse than that I thought they were culinary books, lol. It’s pretty lame but these are the things that I like about discovering another culture, you see new and different stuffs.

In this Japan trip I did a number of airport changes (7 changes in total!) and I noticed that the soraben boxes were mostly sold at the domestic airports. They seem to be explicitly made for local travellers taking short-haul flights and are quite popular under the business travellers.

When I go back to Japan, hopefully soon, I think I am going to feast on the many types of bentos.

The bentos sold at railway stations though are called ‘Ekiben’ (or ‘Eki-ben’).

Travel Period: November 2014
Destination: Tokyo, Japan

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ordering Pork Ramen and Gyoza in a Restaurant in Tokyo via a Vending Machine

Japan is a vending machine land. Everywhere you go you see vending machines on the streets and on every corner. The same thing goes with Japanese fast food restaurants. Their fast food here is mostly ramen = noodles, rice toppings and a few more dishes that are easy to cook such as gyozas = dumplings.

I love ramen! Noodles are a big part of my life actually.

At least the choices are visual enough. Food by the way in Japan is cheaper than we have initially thought. Much, much cheaper than in the Netherlands, so we are happy campers.

Because I was sick I didn’t really crave for food in the mornings. I also preferred to eat something warm and liquid such as a noodle soup. So when we arrived in Asakusa we right away searched for a ramen restaurant.

We found this low-key fast food restaurant on one of the main streets in Asakusa. There were large ad posters of the noodle soup outside, which attracted me right away. We went in and noticed a few people queuing up in front of a large vending machine by the door. Upon a closer look we realised that it is actually a food ordering machine. Oh, cool! So we order food this way at this restaurant.

Dutchman and I were a bit tickled with this style of no human contact when ordering food so we queued up waiting for our turn. The food ticket will be used as proof of receipt which will be collected later when the food is delivered to your table.

We decided to share our lunch. We ordered a big bowl of pork noodles, a plate of gyozas and some rice.

I can see many advantages of having such food ordering vending machine. The downside is always bringing cash with you. The Netherlands being an almost cashless soceity has pampered me with paying through debit card (sometimes credit card). I almost never carry cash with me.

I cannot read Kanji but I chose the pork ramen with the egg, see the top poster.

This was quite a big bowl so I shared this with Dutchman.

Dutchman ordered some gyozas (dumplings) for himself and a cup of rice. The kitchen made a mistake of sending over 3 pieces instead of 6 which they later corrected.

The Netherlands also has a bit similar food vending machine with the ‘automat’ or ‘automatiek’—the fast food on the wall by Febo and Smullers which you can find in the main cities in the Netherlands and at all train stations in the country.

A much newer version is from a few McDonalds branches in the Netherlands where instead of lining up to order your food from a cashier/server, you go to a self-service kiosk and order your food and wait until your number is called.

Travel Period: November 2014
Destination: Asakusa, Taito (Tokyo), Japan

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Rickshaw Rides and the Kaminarimon Gate in Asakusa, Tokyo

Because Japan was heavily bombed in the 1940’s there are not many places that remembers us of Japan during the Edo Period and before the war. Asakusa is one of the few places in Tokyo that will give you a little peek into life in the past.

The Kaminarimon Gate in Asakusa with the giant chochin, this serves as the outer gate of the Senso-ji Temple.

Rickshaws or Jinrikisha parked in front of Kaminarimon Gate.

Dutchman and I came here with the Tokyo subway. It’s just a few stops from our hotel in Kodenmacho, Chuo so I thought it would be an easy outing for me. I was sick with Bronchitis during this trip which unknowingly to us already developed into Pneumonia. I have been sick a few times while on holiday but this was the worse I have experienced so far. But nothing deters me from going out; I have had enough of the 4 walls of the hotel room. I need some air, some space and something to see and enjoy. I just need to take extra precaution and do things slow.

When we alighted in Asakusa, Dutchman and I followed the noise and the crowd and found ourselves in a busy intersection where the Kaminarimon Gate stood. The gate is one of the oldest in Tokyo, it is the outer gate leading to the main temple, Senso-ji.

In front and around the Kaminarimon Gate are many jinrikisha (rickshaw) peddlers stationed. They are going at 8,000 Yen for a 30-minute tour ride of Asakusa. I would not mind trying them out but I am with the Dutchman who will cringe when we do ‘too touristy’ stuff so I constrained myself from becoming too excited.

What’s interesting with these rickshaw pullers, or shall I say drivers is that they wear ninja outfits--ninja leggings and ninja shoes. The ninja shoes have split rubber soles and are called jika-tabi. Interestingly, one of the largest manufacturers of these shoes have a factory in Cebu, Philippines near my hometown. I’ve heard stories of the factory as a child about the kinds of shoes they make there but wondered where it is used for since I have never seen anyone wearing them except ninjas in ninja movies.

So yes, the rickshaw pullers in Japan do wear them, as well as construction workers, gardeners, farmers and other work men involving manual labour. Wearing shoes like this gives you tactile contact with the ground therefore having utmost control of your balance and movement.

Hi there! My souvenir picture with the chochin (red lantern). Excuse me for looking a bit bored here, I was sick, very sick that a week later I was admitted to a hospital.

Here is a rickshaw peddler in a ninja outfit and traditional hat trying to sell the Asakusa tour to tourists. Many of these rickshaw peddlers speak English. We were even approach by one; they really go out of their way to sell their services.

The gate leads to Nakamise shopping street and then to the inner gate, the Hozomon Gate before reaching the Senso-ji Temple.

This is the wooden carving of a dragon on the bottom of the huge red lantern (chochin).

More rickshaw peddling action here in front of the Kaminarimon Gate. If you want a rickshaw tour, just come here and speak to one of these guys. No need to book in advance.

This outer gate of the temple has been destroyed many times and this building was a reconstruction from the 1960's. The big red lantern is not the original one anymore though. 

Must be a lot of hard work to pull this thing? Well, it did gave me a different perspective about horses pulling carriages.

Travel Period: November 2014
Destination: Asakusa, Taito (Tokyo), Japan

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Cosy Unspoilt Nissaki Bay Beach in Corfu, Greece

It is always the same story every time we holiday in the Greek Isles. I always end up with a few favourite places at the end of the holiday. In Corfu I have a few on the list and Nissaki is one of them.

The bay beach is small and cosy which makes it really attractive and inviting. Because we were there just before the peak summer season, we didn’t have to fight for a spot on the beach. I guess Dutchman and I are spoiled with regards to this. It’s one of the perks of not having any children. You can go during off peak seasons and enjoy a normal and relaxing holiday without the rush, the crowds and expensive prices.

Nissaki is located in the north eastern part of the island, just before reaching Kalami, Agios Stefanos and Kassiopi. Dutchman and I spent an afternoon here. We didn’t really do much here except park ourselves on the beach, luckily though we were able to find a spot on the small beach with some shade. We did some swimming of course. Dutchman snorkelled. I did some ocular inspection of the surroundings and went inside a shop to buy snickers ice cream. It’s become our favourite afternoon snack on the beach. Summers are always scorching hot and what better way to damp the hotness of the afternoon with some ice cream. And oh, sleep. Yes, we sleep a lot on the beach in the afternoons. It has become a tradition =)

It is very nice actually to sleep outdoors with the warmth around you, under the shade and hearing the sound of the water splashing on the beach shore. Its therapeutic.

So the beach is a pebble beach with rock formation along the shore. The Mitsos taverna sits on top of the rocks beside the beach which is quite a nice place to have lunch and drinks. There are rental boats moored here as well. However the Dutchman and I are lazy; we prefer to lay down on the beach, do nothing much and just watch the world go by.

This is our route from our holiday apartment in Kato Korakiana near Dassia Beach Resort to Nissaki:

You can move the map by holding it with your mouse, as well as zoom it in and out by clicking on the + and - signs on the lower right hand side.

Our view from our spot. We managed to get a place on the beach under the tree. Half an hour later a group of Spaniards arrived and took the rest of the free spots under the tree.

On the other side of the beach is a little harbour.

All the beds and parasols were taken so we have no choice really but to camp. It is nice to actually sleep on the beach.

A beginners scuba-diving class practising on the shore.

It is so idyllic here. Love that the bay beach is small, cosy and not crowded at all.

Yours truly =). In this holiday trip, I forgot to bring my bikini and bathing suits, so I had to quickly buy one in the capital. We also forgot to bring our beach towels, so we bought a set at one of the China Shops.

The little harbour beside the beach just behind the taverna on the rocks.

Mitsos taverna on the rocks of Nissaki beach.

Our usual afternoon snickers ice cream snack on the beach.

This place is beautiful and serene, unspoilt from all the commerce and development of today's soceity. This is just how we want our afternoon on the beach to be like.

If you do holiday in Corfu, do visit Nissaki.

Travel Period: June-July 2014
Destination: Nissaki, Kassopaia (Corfu – Ionian Islands), Greece

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