Friday, 8 August 2014

Travel: Japan 2014 Day 1 // Nara // Stay: Ryokan Matsumae // Eat: Edogawa Naramachiten, Tofu-an Kondou

At around 6 a.m. Osaka time, we arrived at Kansai International Airport. We then headed over to Departure area (just boarded the elevator to level 6) to pick up the Pocket Wi-Fi that I have booked for rent during our stay in Japan. I booked it from Global Advanced Communication and opted for the 75mbps device. It is highly recommended as the speed and reception signal have been excellent so far, and this little gem does not have any problem having multiple devices connected to it at the same time (between 1/2heart and I, we bring 2 iphones, 1 ipad, and one laptop).
The pack also contain a return envelope - returning the device once the rental period is over is very easy - just put the device in the provided return envelope and put the pack inside a Japan red PO box (could be found pretty much everywhere).

After setting up our phones ad ipads onto the wi-fi, we headed to the bus terminal to board the bus to Kintetsu-Nara. We will be staying in Nara for the next couple of days.
Limousine Bus costed 2050 Yen one-way per adult.

You can buy your tickets here or at one of the ticket vending machines located outside, just by the bus terminal

Schedule can be checked here. We reached Kintetsu-Nara at around 9.10 a.m. and we already liked the neighborhood with so much fooooooddddd.

Awesome refreshing Green Tea (125 Yen)

Just another looked-too-real food plastic replica to entice customers...

And oh Mister Donut, how I have missed you!

Black Sesame Soft Serve Ice Cream - JPY 300

 If you come to Nara and spot this shop - buy some mochi. It's good! and at JPY 130 per piece:

** -- **
During our stay in Nara, we are staying at Ryokan Matsumae. It is very conveniently located and only took us 10 minutes to reach the ryokan from Kintetsu Nara station.

The place is great, some of the staff speak good english and provided great tips for walk around the area.

The room itself is small but it's clean and functional and japanese style :) We also opted for a room with toilet (you can choose for room without - the ryokan has communal toilet & bath/shower), although we have to use the communal shower/bath to take shower/bath.

The ryokan provides house yukata for guests to wear. This is what it looks like:

The communal bath/shower

small japanese garden just outside the dining area

Ryokan Matsumae price is fairly reasonable too. For a room with toilet (no bath), we are quoted JPY 10800 for 2 people per night. Breakfast would cost JPY 864 per person (per breakfast), and they can also serve dinner for JPY 5400 per person.

** -- **

Exploring our surroundings, we quickly concluded: Nara = deers.

Actually, they wouldn't even blinked an eye at you. That is, until you bought some deer snacks (deer senbei or so the sign said) from some vendors in the vicinity. Then this would happen:

Someone has the magic flute of hamelin

 These guys are ruthless and hungry. Yes, this guy was munching on 1/2heart's shirt.


But apart from deer, the cultural and traditional aspect of Nara is equally as charming.
Five-stories pagoda

Ichi-no Torii Gate of Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Yeah, more deers... why not...

** -- **

For lunch, we headed to Edogawa Naramachiten, conveniently located at only 5 minutes walk from Ryokan Matsumae.

You know what I mentioned about getting a mobile/pocket Wi-Fi? It makes it so much easier to find a place: your hotel, eateries, attractions - when you are on the go. All you have to do is put in the intended address in google map or any other map application on your smartphone, then off you go with the direction.

Edogawa Naramachiten
43, Shimomikadocho, Nara-shi, Nara, 630-8365
630-8365 奈良県奈良市下御門町43

This place also has english menu, and for your reference and enjoyment, I put them here :)

The place is stunning!
The front facade

When you entered the building, you will need to leave your shoes/sandals inside the lockers and wear their slippers to walk around the inner building.

And then you shall sit at the sunken tables and enjoy the charming traditional Japanese feel of the place.

The inner courtyard

dining room
 We were served some warm towels to clean our hands and some hot tea. 1/2heart ordered ice oolong tea (JPY 350) to cool him down after getting sun-stroked walking around in 31 degrees day-temperature.

For the actual lunch, he chose Machiya Bentou (JPY 2160), a very healthy meal set (probably too healthy for him :D) consisting some sashimi, various pickles, and grilled chicken.

closer look of the pickles
He also ordered some Assorted Tempura (JPY 850), but unfortunately we both agreed their tempura was disappointing. They arrived kinda soggy and lost their crunch entirely just after a few minutes.

Apparently Edogawa Naramachi-ten is well known for their eel, so of course I had to get one!

Mini Ju Set (JPY 1800) was satisfying and eel lovers will definitely love this place. The eel was perfectly barbecued and retain their smoky flavor. The kabayaki sauce was also generously provided if you ever need to add more sweetness to it.

Love this pepper they provided at the desk. Very herby flavor
For dessert, we ordered Hoji-cha Ice Cream (JPY 350). This one was also nice, especially when outside was so smoldering hot.

Total damage: JPY 5510
I asked Ryokan Matsumae to make a reservation for me at Tofuan-Kondo for dinner. Well, at first, I wanted to have my first night's dinner at Matsumae, but apparently for a few days, Nara is hosting To-Kae Matsuri - a festival where lots of lantern will be lit up at night around the temples, the park, and ponds vicinity.
As the lantern festival supposedly would start at 7, we were booked for dinner at 5. The place is also quite close to Matsumae - around 7 minutes walk. 

日本, 630-8334 奈良県奈良市西新屋町44.

44 Nishinoshinyacho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8334

16 glorious course of tofu, its derivatives, and any variation of it. JPY 4617 per person. 

By the way, although this place has English Menu (you can't really choose, as they have a set 'degustation' menu), it is highly recommended to have your inn's or hotel's Japanese host/waitress to arrange the reservation for you. By the time we were halfway of our course, this place was full.

The dish that came did not really follow the order of the menu. 
First, we had no 1: unsweetened soy milk that tasted very rich. Although I enjoyed it, I couldn't have drink more than the served quantity (which was only in one small tea cup)

Then came no. 4: Oborodofu. On the menu, they showed which condiments to try the dish with.

These are the four condiments to mix with the dish to enhance their flavors: Yuzu-Kosho (citron and green chilli pepper paste), Black Soy Sauce, Milder dashi Soy Sauce, and Algae Salt.

Then no.5: Yubasasimi. This was also a very refreshing and mild dish. For me, it's best eaten as it was, not with any condiments provided.

Then no 3: the mixed Hors D'oeuvre. I think the chef's skills in processing tofu and soybeans into various dish really shines in this particular dish. The different pieces presented were beautiful bursts of flavor, with different taste and texture.

No. 7: Namafu Dengaku. Soft and not-so-chewy mochi-like cake smeared with miso paste.

No. 9: Sirae. The tofu acted like a sauce here. It had slight but still noticeable sesame flavor that added sweetness to the vegetables.

No 10: Assorted Tempura. These were all tempura from vegetables and sweet potato, and a much much better tempura than our lunch. There was also a bittergourd tempura, stuffed with tofu, which I think was quite nice and unusual.

No. 6: Boiled Tofu in Soy Milk. Well, this was not really served after the tempura, but rather - this dish had been constantly heated/simmered since we arrived. At around this time, the tofu pieces inside were cooked and ready to be eaten. Some yubasasimi also formed on top of the soy milk.

The induction cooker the tofu in soy milk was being boiled on.

No. 12: Tofu Salad with caviar-shaped seaweed from Okinawa.

No. 11: Tofu No Musimono. Steamed tofu cake with some mushroom and (I think) carrots pieces inside. Tasted kinda like chawanmushi with smooth egg-like texture.

No. 13: Gomaoboro. Blended with black sesame, gave the tofu a very different flavor.

No 14: Hirosu no Nimono. Some mixed vegetables with bean curd cake.

No. 15: their rice dish. And thank God it's not big. By around 4 dish ago, I could hardly breath anymore - I was that full. I tasted a bit of the rice (which tasted great actually. Kinda like ochazuke), and gave the rest to 1/2heart.

But of course, always had room for dessert (no. 16). Beautiful 3 small delectable light desserts: green tea tofu pudding, mochi with brown sugar syrup, and pudding with green bean paste.

Overall, if you wanted to try something different, definitely visit Tofuan-Kondo. If you don't like tofu, I guess there is not much to eat here - the whole course is based on it. Allow 2 hours to finish the whole course, enjoy the new flavors you never thought you could taste from tofu. And by the time you finish, you will appreciate this humble soy product.
Or maybe, like me, you wouldn't want to eat or see tofu anymore for a while...

By the way, if you noticed I was wearing yukata in one of the pictures I posted above while eating at Tofuan-Kondo, that was supposed to be for the To-Kae festival we were going to go after dinner. Unfortunately, it rained pretty hard to cancel most of the lantern shows :( They are going to have another go tomorrow night but will likely to cancel again as the weather forecast predicted typhoon-rain.

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