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Duvel

Tales from the Fragrant Harbour

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“… and so it begins!”

 
Welcome to “Tales from the Fragrant Harbour”!

In the next couple of days I am hoping to take you to a little excursion to Hong Kong to explore the local food and food culture as well as maybe a little bit more about my personal culinary background. I hope I can give you a good impression of what life is like on this side of the globe and am looking very forward to answering questions, engaging in spirited discussions and just can share a bit of my everyday life with you. Before starting with the regular revealing shots of my fridge’s content and some more information on myself, I’d like to start this blog and a slightly different place.

For today's night, I ‘d like to report back from Chiba city, close to Tokyo, Japan. It’s my last day of a three day business trip and it’s a special day here in Japan: “Doyou no ushi no hi”. The “midsummer day of the ox”, which is actually one of the earlier (successful) attempts of a clever marketing stunt.  As sales of the traditional winter dish “Unagi” (grilled eel with sweet soy sauce) plummeted in summer, a clever merchant took advantage of the folk tale that food items starting with the letter “U” (like ume = sour plum and uri = gourd) dispel the summer heat, so he introduced “Unagi” as a new dish best enjoyed on this day. It was successful, and even in the supermarkets the sell Unagi-Don and related foods. Of course, I could not resist to take advantage and requested tonight dinner featuring eel. Thnaks to our kind production plant colleagues, I had what I was craving …

(of course the rest of the food was not half as bad)

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Todays suggestion: Unagi (grilled eel) and the fitting Sake !

 

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For starters: Seeweed (upper left), raw baby mackerel with ginger (upper right) and sea snails. I did not care for the algae, but the little fishes were very tasty.

 

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Sahimi: Sea bream, Tuna and clam ...

 

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Tempura: Shrimp, Okra, Cod and Mioga (young pickled ginger sprouts).

 

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Shioyaki Ayu: salt-grilled river fish. I like this one a lot. I particularly enjoy the fixed shape mimicking the swimming motion. The best was the tail fin :)

 

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Wagyu: "nuff said ...

 

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Gourd. With a kind of jellied Oden stock. Nice !

 

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Unagi with Sansho (mountain pepper) :D

 

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So, so good. Rich and fat and sweet and smoky. I could eat a looooot of that ...

 

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Chawan Mushi:steamed egg custard. A bit overcooked. My Japanese hosts very surprised when I told them that I find it to be cooked at to high temperatures (causing the custard to loose it's silkiness), but they agreed.

 

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Part of the experience was of course the Sake. I enjoyed it a lot but whether this is the one to augment the taste of the Unagi I could not tell ...

 

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More Unagi (hey it's only twice per year) ...

 

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Miso soup with clams ...

 

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Tiramisu.

 

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Outside view of the restaurant. Very casual!

On the way home I enjoyed a local IPA. Craft beer is a big thing in Japan at the moment (as probably anywhere else in the world), so at 29 oC in front of the train station I had this. Very fruity …

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When I came back to the hotel, the turn down service had made my bed and placed a little Origami crane on my pillow. You just have to love this attention to detail.

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On a completely different note: I found this Uji Matcha tea capsules at the little supermarket at the Chiba Minato station. As I do own a Nescafe Dolce Gusto, I am very curious how that tea does compare to the real thing. Will report back in due time …

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I love smoked eel but it does not return the favor so it is a rare treat. The eel you are eating looks delicious. The food presentation of the Japanese is always something that captures my heart.

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Thank you for taking the time and effort to share your fantastic travels and delights with us. 

 

Curious, were there many bones in the eel (hard to tell from the photo).  I love eel, but after an incident as a child with a fish bone caught in my throat and a trip to the ER, those little elusive calcium needles have always frightened me!

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The amount of detail given to the food presentation, starting by selecting the right dishes to present, followed by the right (complementary or augmenting) color, texture, taste of the different items and the coorect order in which they are served was something that has drawn me to Japanese food from the very beginning.

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11 minutes ago, TicTac said:

Thank you for taking the time and effort to share your fantastic travels and delights with us. 

 

Curious, were there many bones in the eel (hard to tell from the photo).  I love eel, but after an incident as a child with a fish bone caught in my throat and a trip to the ER, those little elusive calcium needles have always frightened me!

No bones whatsoever, just the fillet. The Japanese conger eel Anago (actually a different species) has plenty of bones, but even for that little critter the chef usually takes the time to remove them. You could call it a labour of love, but then again you would not have seen how they gut and skin them :$


Edited by Duvel Spelling (log)
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Aooni IPA is from Nagano. You're right that the craft beer scene in Japan has exploded since the laws  changed. And that's why I went there for 6 weeks just to drink beer (mostly).

 

I had many good beers in Japan but also many many bad ones. Their "beer culture" is still very much in its infancy and needs to look to other countries to learn and improve. Serving all beers in a Weissbier glass in a craft beer bar is odd. Some places do that.

 

OK, never mind. Let's get back to your HK topic.

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Amazing.  I adore eel.  I would adore it even more if there were no bones!

 

Also, those bay Mackerel....unreal.  Never seen those before.  Can only imagine!

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@Duvel 

 

what a fine start !

 

such superb looking food .

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6 minutes ago, Duvel said:

The amount of detail given to the food presentation, starting by selecting the right dishes to present, followed by the right (complementary or augmenting) color, texture, taste of the different items and the coorect order in which they are served was something that has drawn me to Japanese food from the very beginning.

I'm looking forward to taking this tour (it's probably the only way I'll get to the far east!); given the above comment I have to say I was a bit surprised at the tiramisu! Are Western desserts often served after such a carefully ordered meal? (Just wondering, not judging. I'm a dessert person.) The origami crane is beautiful, I used to do origami, but never with such precision. I've seen people use tweezers to get perfect folds! (Just hanging out in Japan a while longer until we get to Hong Kong.)

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1 minute ago, cakewalk said:

I'm looking forward to taking this tour (it's probably the only way I'll get to the far east!); given the above comment I have to say I was a bit surprised at the tiramisu! Are Western desserts often served after such a carefully ordered meal? (Just wondering, not judging. I'm a dessert person.) The origami crane is beautiful, I used to do origami, but never with such precision. I've seen people use tweezers to get perfect folds! (Just hanging out in Japan a while longer until we get to Hong Kong.)

In more traditional places you would have classic desserts such as fruit, bean jellies (yokan) or glutinous rice products (omochi). Despite how nice the food actually looked (and tasted), this was a casual restaurant and western style desserts are most welcome in these places (being maybe more exciting to the average customer) ...

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Aaahhhh. Makes me SO want to go back to Japan. I loved the food, the presentation, the ceremonious service in even the casual restaurants. I loved the country, as a whole.

 

I have had the tiny mackerel, just didn't know they were mackarel. Very good. I loved the food courts in the train stations and the array of food vendors outside the baseball stadium (buy your dinner/snacks, AND beer, and take them inside! Not to mention draft beer in the stands, courtesy of vendors with pony kegs strapped to their backs!).

 

I would go back tomorrow, given a choice.

 

 

 

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What a great appetizer to your HK trip! Looking at your meal photos when I've skipped breakfast is making me wish I hadn't.

 

I am really looking forward to your adventures in HK, as I'm planning a trip there next year. Haven't been there in 30 yrs, so I'm eager to see what's changed (a whole lot, I'm sure!) and what you'll be eating.  Will be taking notes!

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@Beebs I don't know what @Duvel has in store for us, but there was a big discussion of dim sum and cantonese restaurants that really helped me plan my trip in 2011 here:

 

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Good morning from Tokyo Haneda airport. My day started rather early today, as I had to commute from Chiba city in the east of Tokyo bay to Haneda in the south-west. It rains cats and dogs today and I shared one train (out of three this morning) with a group of slightly disappointed younger girls – all dressed up in colorful Hawaiian shirts and some sort of jeans dress – heading out for Tokyo Disneyland, still hoping for the rain to clear on the 40 min ride. Unfortunately, it still goes on …

Commuting at this time of the day guarantees for the “full japanese experience”, as everyone tries to squish into the trains. Filling grade reaches maximum very fast – lucky are those who catch a sitting place in one of the origin stations, as some of the poor guys need to stay in the local trains for far more than one hour.

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Arriving at Haneda I headed out for buying the ususal “Omiyage” or small gifts you present to your family and coworkers upon arrival from travels. I choose cookies from Kyoto, made from brown rice flour and flavoured with cinnamon, then dipped in chocolate of your choice (green tea / strawberry – I do prefer the former). They will make some people very happy :)

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The Cathay lounge in Haneda is one of the finest they have, only surpassed by the newer ones in Hong Kong. Usually I’d go for a Japanese whiskey from their very extensive selection, but given the time in the morning I opted for the Japanese breakfast set and an extra bowl of Dan Dan Mian (the latter of course just for the purpose of this blog).

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From the right lower corner (counterclockwise): Salted dried Kombu, Wakame, Miso soup, rice with Umeboshi (pickeled plum), Tamagoyaki (egg), some sort of root pickle, picledDaikon (radish), broiled salmon in the middle. And a bowl of Cathay's Dan Dan Mian as an innocent bystander on the very left. 

 

I am heading out now for the Gate and will report back from Hong Kong in some hours …

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This blog already promises to enlarge my culinary world.  What would be the protocol for eating the breakfast you show above?  Would one eat a small bit of each dish (except the miso soup) using the chopsticks, alternating among the various dishes?  Would one mix them?  Add them to the dan dan mian? Why are the eggs square?  It all looks fascinating to me, but if I were presented such a meal I'd be looking furtively around in hopes of seeing how someone else ate it.

 

The yasuhatchi boxes are charming.  I'd be delighted to receive a gift like that, even if the cookies turned out to be abysmal. 

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Thank you for writing this blog.  As others have said, this will give me a glimpse into a world I know little about.  I look forward to reading further posts.

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20 minutes ago, Smithy said:

This blog already promises to enlarge my culinary world.  What would be the protocol for eating the breakfast you show above?  Would one eat a small bit of each dish (except the miso soup) using the chopsticks, alternating among the various dishes?  Would one mix them?  Add them to the dan dan mian? Why are the eggs square?  It all looks fascinating to me, but if I were presented such a meal I'd be looking furtively around in hopes of seeing how someone else ate it.

 

The yasuhatchi boxes are charming.  I'd be delighted to receive a gift like that, even if the cookies turned out to be abysmal. 

Yes, normally you would eat the pickles and/or the protein always alternating with the rice. For the Japanese it's actually the rice as the main dish and all the other components are optional (but not less welcome, of course). The Dan Dan Mian has nothing to do with the rest of the ensemble. I am just having a bowl of it basically everytime I use their lounges - kind of tasty tradition ...

The egg derives it's shape from being made in a small square pan and rolled up in it a couple of times. As a coincidence I bought a new Tamagoyaki pan on Sunday in Tokyo and will post a picture later with the other spoils of war I got ...

And finally: I do like the boxes too - they are very cute and make great presents. But the cookies inside are even better. Maybe I just open one later ... for quality control 9_9

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The train commute is mirroring the current commute into Manhattan thanks to closed tracks. 

  I don't envy you or my husband! Are the trains equipped with A/C? 

 

Have a a safe flight! 

 

 

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9 hours ago, MetsFan5 said:

The train commute is mirroring the current commute into Manhattan thanks to closed tracks. 

  I don't envy you or my husband! Are the trains equipped with A/C? 

 

Have a a safe flight! 

 

 

Yes, all of them have A/C. And rightnow, with 30 oCand more outside, it's definitely necessary ...

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The flight from Tokyo back to Hong Kong was quite pleasant. Unlike the flight to Japan, where we passed a minor typhoon and had a very bumpy experience, this one was smooth sailing. I was hoping for an upgrade, but no. Lunch was decent: Zaru somen (cold noodles with soy/dashi), salmon roll with rice and icecream …

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As I am back now to my apartment, let me welcome you all to Hong Kong, where we will spend most of the upcoming week !

Maybe first just a tiny bit of personal background: I am a German guy in my early forties, married to a lovely catalan wife and we have a fantastic, almost 4 year old son. About two years ago I got the offer to run a part of the operations / technology for our company in Asia Pacific, so I moved from Germany to Hong Kong. Beside for professional reasons, part of the decision was the prospect to experience all the different cultures that are now at our finger tips. Both my wife and me have already lived in Japan for 2.5 years some while ago at the end of my academic career, so that very positive experience was a big decision  as well to return to Asia.

Hong Kong is ideally located to visit both East Asia as well as South East Asia. In my job I need to travel a lot, mainly to Mainland China, Japan, Korea and Malaysia. Privately, we do have a long list as well, that we diligently work on and so have visited Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, Cambodia and China in the last 18 months. Experiencing the food in these places has always been a big motivator, if not the biggest …

Complying with eG food blog tradition, I’d like to show you my kitchen first:

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I have a 5 burner gas range, and a decent oven. I do like to make bread and pizza and I can’t complain at all about my set-up.

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The obligatory fridge shot(s).

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Don't judge :$

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 Freezer. Mostly meat, frozen stock, Gyoza and Gin ...

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Spices !

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Baking ingredients ...

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Shelves in the storage room ...

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My (limited) booze collection.

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Cookbooks. I could only take a fraction when we moved, but have successfully replenished the ranks …

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Tomorrow I show you around the place where I live on Lantau Island (you’ve seen the beach in the teaser pictures already) and we have a deeper look inside a supermarket …

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And as promised: the spoils of war from my shopping trip last Sunday at Kappabashi in Tokyo, where all the restaurant suppliers are located. Took me 45 min to gather :$ ...

 

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Would you say that the kitchen of yours is of typical size in HK?  I've always heard that HK apartments are very small, but your kitchen is huge!  Do you live on Lantau all the time, or is it a weekend place?  If there all the time, what is your commute like - I assume you work in Central?

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Are those Japanese curry cubes in the yellow package?

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      This is what a lot of local food places look like:

       
       
    • By Lisa Shock
      Years ago, when I visited Tokyo, I ate in a small but fascinating restaurant called 'It's Vegetable' which is now, unfortunately, closed. The chef was from Taiwan, and he made Buddhist vegetarian and vegan dishes that resembled meat. During my visit, several monks wearing robes stopped in to eat dinner. The dishes were pretty amazing. I understood some of them, like using seitan to mimic chicken in stir fry dishes, others used tofu products like yuba, but, others were complex and obviously difficult. One very notable dish we enjoyed was a large 'fish' fillet designed to serve several people. It had a 'skin' made of carefully layered 'scales' cut from nori and attached to the surface. Inside, the white 'flesh' flaked and tasted much like a mild fish. Anyway, apparently Buddhist fake meat meals are very popular in Taiwan and many places, cheap through to fine dining serve them. Yes, if I worked on it for a while, I could probably refine one or two dishes on my own, but, I am wondering if there's a Modernist Cuisine type cookbook for skillfully making these mock meats from scratch? (I have heard that some items are commercially made and available frozen there, much like soy-based burgers are in the US.) I am willing to try almost any offering, even if it's entirely in Chinese. And, I know how to use remailers to purchase regional items from the various local retailers worldwide who do not ship to the US.
    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and lead us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known  for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
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