May I wish you all a very happy new year and thank you for reading and / or following my blog.
Actually, I would like to reward my new and existing followers with a prize. Last May 2018, in collaboration with GPSmyCity, I launched a giveaway contest to win afree one year subscription (worth $18.99/year) on walking tours and travel articles that work for iOS and Android users for 10 winners.
Therefore I feel somewhat guilty this new year because I haven’t announced the winners of the contest as a gratitude. Probably, most of you have forgotten or think the contest is just another pep talk. I get it and so sorry about that.
Without further much ado, here are the 10 winners (drumrolls, please…..):
Situated in mountainous Hida region in Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is best known for the main access and the closest city to Shirakawago and Gokayama, UNESCO Heritage Site listed villages known for their gassho-zukurihouses. Don’t make Takayama just a transit city, however. Spend a day or two instead, strolling around the morning markets and Sanmachi Suji, a quaint old town with beautifully preserved shop and private houses over 300 years old, made of high quality cypress and cedar wood. Everything you’re looking for is literally there along the way, from souvenirs, traditional handicrafts, jewelry stores, snack shops until a must to try signature food which is “inevitable” anywhere in Takayama: Hida beef.
What’s so particular about it?
Hida Beef comes from a black-haired cow breed grown in Gifu Prefecture for at least 14 months. It’s one of the highest quality meat, specifically the marbling. Marbling fat texture is responsible for great taste, as it protects the aroma, tenderness and juiciness of the meat from escaping.
You actually can get Hida beef anywhere in Takayama, not just the old town, but it’s an ideal way for those who don’t have much time to travel too far from the main attractions to chase the beef.
Nonetheless, if you only relate Hida beef to beef steak, you got it all wrong. Since I didn’t specialize my visit on trying all types of Hida beef dishes, I was happy enough that I managed to try 1 beef steak and 4 non-steak menus. Mostly, I had them to go to save time and money, therefore I didn’t have to sit down and get tempted with all the additional menus like sweets, shakes and fries.
a. Hida Beef Bun
At a glance, it looks like a Chinese bun or ba pao, which is true. The differences lie on the Japanese inscription on the surface of the bun and the Hida minced beef inside, not just any kind of meat. The meat sauce is probably shoyu-based, which is very common in Japan. But the juiciness of the meat is top notch, while the role of the savoury sauce is neither dominate nor conceal its real taste, except to enhance the already good quality meat.
At Kihachiro Beef Bun, you can get Kihachiro’s Beef Bun, using no other than Hida beef labelled as “premium” for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50) and it’s totally worth it. Other options are matcha and red bean bun, black sesame and red bean bun and sweet pudding.
Beef Bun and Cafe Kihachiro. 29 Kamisannomachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0846. +81 577-62-8811
b. Hida Beef Burger
It’s indeed an American style burger with beef patty made of Hida beef. So what’s so special about it, as you may ask, and I don’t blame you for that. But still, I recommend you to give some spare capacity of your tummy for this one. The size of the burger is rather smaller than usual, yet the taste of the patty is fresher and more juicy than those of McDonald’s, plus additional caramelized flavor because of the home made barbecue sauce coating its surface. Apparently, Hida beef makes ordinary food extraordinary. For ¥ 800 ($ 7.20), it’s a bit pricey because of the size, but it’s worth it.
My curiosity arose when I saw someone bringing sushi on a cracker plate. When I realized that it’s Hida beef sushi, I sacrificed my impatience by being in (long) line with the crowds. I ordered the basic menu, Hida Beef Nigiri ¥ 500 ($ 4.50) , as seen on the picture on hanging board.
I got 2 pieces of the Hida beef nigiri sushi placed on the rice cracker or senbei, whose sushi rice is nearly invisible (except from the sides) since each of them is covered with Hida beef slices brushed with sweet sauce on top. It’s moist, juicy with hints of blood taste since I have it medium. I love the taste although it’s a bit chewy for me. In my opinion, it’s medium rare. May be when it’s medium, it could be less chewy but still juicy. Nothing really particular about the taste of the crackers other than light savored, as it’s not expected to overpower the sushi taste. Nonetheless, it’s a unique experience to have crunchiness collides with firm and sticky sushi, which is probably not obtainable anywhere else.
You can have it with additional Hida beef maki or sushi roll besides the nigiri ones on the cracker place since its maximum capacity is 3 pieces of sushi, but of course it costs more than ¥ 500 ($ 4.50). More premium grade options could be around ¥ 700 ($ 6.30) to over ¥ 1000 ($ 9).
When I was staring at clippings attached on an announcement board at Guest House Ouka, one of the guest house employees greeted me, asking me if he could help me with anything. Indeed, I was looking for a recommended Hida beef restaurant and everything written on those clippings sounded tempting. Finally, he advised me to visit Suzuya Restaurant. A lot of tourists visit it and they love it. Additionally, one of his friends work there. Okay, this could be a subjective opinion, but there was no harm to try.
I ordered its best selling menu, Hoba Miso Beef Steak Rice set. It’s the 65 gram sliced Hida beef steak grilled on hoba leaf with miso paste, mixed vegetables (shimeji, shiitake mushroom and spring onion) that comes with rice and tea for ¥ 1944 ($ 17.50). I admit, it’s an affordable rice set with quality taste. It takes 6 to 10 minutes until the meat reaches the medium level of rareness. When the tender and juicy meat blends with the lightly fermented and savory taste of miso paste, it’s fantastic!
In fact, Suzuya was the only restaurant where I dined in a complete relaxation and cozy atmosphere, without eating while walking and snapping pictures here and there. I mean, who could enjoy eat hot and sizzling grilled meat on the move? The service was excellent as the waiter, the guest house employee’s friend, was super friendly. Surprisingly, he understands a few words of Indonesian language!
Only the A5 grade, the highest grade of Hida beef, does Rokujuban use in all the menus, from skewers to stewed beef. I took the Standard Hida Beef Stew for ¥ 800 ($ 7.20). It turns out that the soup reminds me of Hungarian goulash soup that I love so much. The only thing that disappoints me is that about 50% of its content is the fat that I dislike the texture, although it is undoubtedly contributes a lot to its rich taste. Other than that, it’s a great choice. Suppose you like poached egg in your stewed beef, just add another ¥ 100 ($ 0.90). Or, if budget is not the issue, you can try the most expensive menu, Hida Beef Stew in a sealed pouch for ¥ 1300 ($ 11.70).
If I knew that there would be a lot of fat in the stewed beef, I would rather get the skewers instead, such as Hida Beef Meatball Salt for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50), Standard A5 Loin for ¥ 600 ($ 5.40) and Special A5 Loin for ¥ 1000 ($ 9).
Perhaps, you’d like to conclude your dining experience with local sake, why not? Rokujuban offers it for ¥ 500 ($ 4.50).
In addition to those I mentioned above, other Hida beef dishes that deserve to be on your bucket list are the deep fried versions, such as Hida beef croquette and Hida beef katsu. However, I didn’t try those because I’m allergic to any kind of fried food.
Make sure you don’t leave Takayama without trying Hida beef unless you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, a pescaterian or simply not a meat lover.
A few months after dining at Waytuki Vegetarian, I revisited Pasar Baru (previously spelled as Passer Baroe, literally means New Market in Indonesian), known as Little India, since most Indian settlements in Indonesia have been establishing their life and business since the 19th century.
However, finding Gokul Resto, an Indian vegetarian restaurant, was purely accidental. At first, I purposely returned to Galeri Jurnalistik Antara because of my assumption that there’s a cafe restaurant on the other side of the exhibition room. Stupid me, there isn’t. It was just an office space for Antara News Agency employees.
Damn, I was starving! I entered Pasar Baru area, passing the eclectic Passer Baroe gate to find something to eat. A few minutes later, I noticed a music store on my right side and a neon box mentioning “Wijaya Musik” and the other one below mentioning “Gokul Resto”.
It reminds me of what Wisata Kreatif Jakarta tour leaders said about an Indian vegetarian restaurant we couldn’t visit because it’s closed on Sundays and finally we ended up dining at Waytuki Vegetarian on that day.
But today’s Wednesday. So, it must be open!
I came inside Wijaya Music Store building, asking for a confirmation from one of its employees if Gokul Resto is open for real. Having said “yes” to my question, he showed me an elevator on the left, separated with a tempered glass door, telling me that it’s located on the 4th floor.
After reaching the 4th floor, it was unexpectedly quiet and didn’t seem like a well-known restaurant everyone recommends. Minimalist was the key of the dining room, accentuated by Roman style pillars attached on the walls. To deliver more comfort for the guests, the blinds covered all the windows to avoid direct sunlight during the daytime.
“Good afternoon.” A short, lean woman with a yellow veil greeted me.
Despite my confusion, I was happy that I came at the right time. Since most guests are employees in the neighborhood, office break time and after hour are the peak hours. Simultaneously, Gokul serves many delivery orders from huge online delivery services like Go-jek and Grab. Gosh, I was glad that I missed those busy hours.
At 4 pm, lunch time is over and dinner time hasn’t arrived yet. It means that my food would be first come first serve since nobody but me was at the restaurant. She passed me the menu. Like Waytuki Vegetarian, Gokul also serves wide variety of vegetarian version of Indian food, from panner tikka masala, mutton curry, tandoori roti, masala dosa, chicken briyani to cheese uttappam. However, Gokul has more Indonesian dishes than Waytuki, such as nasi bumbu Bali (Balinese style mixed rice), mie godog Jawa (Javanese style noodle soup), siomay (steamed dumpling) and more. Average price for main courses is between Rp. 35.000 and Rp. 55.000 ($3 and $5) per pertion.
Focusing on trying its best-selling dishes, my preference went to a separate menu highlighting Claypot Briyani Rice Set Menu, served with Indian style rice crackers or papad, and side salad. The options are vegetarian, chicken, panner, kofta, and mutton, starting from Rp 55.000 ($4.5), serves for two. But in reality, a lot of customers can finish it themselves without sharing. For sure, all kinds of meat are 100% vegetarian made of soybean.
I would go to mutton briyani (Rp 75.000 or $6), as I couldn’t get enough with it after going to Waytuki . I had no idea whether I could finish it all by myself or half of the portion would be to go. It didn’t matter at all. Same story for the drinks. I chose the best seller, which is mango lassie (Rp. 25.000 / $1.5).
The beauty of dining in off-peak hours is that it didn’t take long to wait for my orders to arrive on the table. My mango lassie and the salad side dish, consisting of sliced onion, tomato, cucumber, lime, green chili, yogurt sauce, and papad came first.
The mango lassie truly deserves to be everyone’s favourite, as it was fresh and not too sweet. Next, I dipped the papad in the yogurt sauce. The sourness of creamy yogurt balanced with earthy and herbaceous spices made it tasted heavenly when paired with the lightly salted papad.
I wondered if I should do the same with the salad dish, especially the green chili and onion. She confirmed that my guess was right. Indian people are used to dipping all those veggies in the yogurt sauce. Well, I tried to be like them by squeezing the lime, sprinkling its water evenly on the veggies and dipping the cucumber and onion in the yogurt sauce (but not the tomato and chili because I don’t like them). The combination of cucumber and yogurt was fine, yet it surprised me somehow that raw onion actually matches very well with the sauce, although I couldn’t finish the onion in the end.
Not long after that, the mutton briyani arrived. I noticed the different appearance between briyani rice in Gokul and Waytuki. At Waytuki, the briyani rice is golden brown when served. On the other hand, the one at Gokul is white with hints of saffron yellow colour, sprinkled with parsley and spring onion. The main spices are buried under the basmati rice. To get the golden brown coloured rice as it should be, you have to mix it yourself or ask the waiter to do so. I chose to mix it myself.
Harmonious blends of nutty, earthy and herbacious notes on the rice was something I love the most from the dish. Honestly speaking, briyani rice at Gokul is more savoury than that at Waytuki. Although I like both of them, my preference goes to the one having more intense taste of the spices like Gokul.
Not sure whether I was too hungry or the rice was too delicious, I finally managed to finish the briyani set menu meant for two!
I don’t know know about you, but in my perspective, the combination of briyani rice and mango lassie feels too rich in my mouth that I really need water to gargle to remove their excess taste. May be I should have ordered unsweetened tea or just plain water next time when ordering any kind of rich taste food.
Regardless the latter personal opinion, it doesn’t change the fact that I was really satisfied with the quality of food and drinks at Gokul Resto and I definitely would like to come back someday to try other menus offered.
Address: Jl. Ps. Baru No.12, RT.15/RW.4, Ps. Baru, Sawah Besar, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10710
Established in 1820 during the Dutch conquest, Pasar Baru (previously spelled as Passer Baroe, literally means New Market in Indonesian) is one of the oldest shopping districts situated in Sawah Besar sub-district, Central Jakarta. Being the melting pot of different cultures, from Chinese, Dutch, Indonesian and Indian, the area is so-called Little India, since the majority of Indian settlements in Indonesia live there running textile business.
Pasar Baru is an inseparable part of my childhood memory back in 1980’s, where my parents usually bought me black Bata shoes for school uniform and household goods long before shopping malls replace its role as hip places to hang out. I hadn’t been there for the last 15 years, not knowing what’s in there recently, until I signed up for Little India Food Tour with Wisata Kreatif Jakarta (Jakarta Food Tour) Nonetheless, the last trip of the tour was my major reason to join: dining in an Indian vegetarian restaurant I had never visited. Hopefully it would become my new favourite place to eat.
Surprisingly, the rest of the tour members couldn’t join until the last destination of the trip for some reasons, which was so unfortunate. All I can assure you is that it happened not because the tour didn’t run well. In the end, I was the only one left with Ms. Ira Lathief (the founder of Jakarta Food Tour), Ms. Hening Paramita and 2 other Jakarta Food Tour tour leaders.
Previously, an Indian Vegetarian Restaurant named Gokul Restaurant was the designated place to have a dinner, yet since it’s closed on Sundays, finally Waytuki Vegetarian became its replacement.
Situated behind Pasar Baru shopping complex, Waytuki is a South Indian style vegetarian food operating since 8 years ago. Its interior is spacious, cozy with eye-catching wall paintings dominated with yellow colour, depicting scenes of serenity in Asia, that look like landscape in Indonesia rather than that in India, such as lake, mountain, rice fields, elephants and all that.
When it comes to the menu, hunger struck us even more. There were many varieties of vegetarian dish, among others briyani rice, alu gobi, makanvala, panner, bhattura in relatively affordable rate. My first impression of Indian restaurants in Jakarta is “pricey” because many of them are created with fancy atmosphere with the tendency of fine and semi fine dining type that elevates the price, even more expensive than those in neighbour countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
Nonetheless, my visit to Waytuki changes that impression. The average price of main courses, such as rice dishes (including package meal), vegetarian meats, panner (cottage cheese dish) cost about Rp. 40.000 to Rp. 50.000 ($3 to $4) per portion. Roti (flat bread) dishes cost about Rp. 20.000 ($1.5) per portion. Masala tea costs about Rp. 15.000 ($1) per glass. And a bottled 600 ml mineral water even costs you only Rp. 5000 ($0.40). Compared to those at shopping malls and office buildings, those meals could cost Rp. 70.000 ($6) and above (excluding tax and service charge) and the drinks price could be 2 to 3 times higher.
We decided to share the dishes, so we could try more varieties in one time visit. We all agreed that briyani rice is must every time we visit any Indian restaurant. We ordered mutton briyani rice meal served with curry and papad (crispy thin bread of minced flour), additional chicken briyani rice (Indeed, a portion of rice shared with 5 people is definitely not enough!), garlic naan bread (Indian style tortilla bread with garlic flavour), mattar-panner (cottage cheese with spices and green garden) and masala tea for each of us.
For the rice, there’s a choice of basmati and non-basmati rice. We chose the basmati one as Indians use it in daily basis. I think thick Indian curry is best suited with dry and separate grain type of rice like basmati. Of course, all kinds of meat are man-made since it’s 100% vegetarian.
It didn’t take long to wait for our meals since we came at 8 pm and it wasn’t rush hour. The portion of the briyani rice and the mattar-panner were not that big, but not too little either. Or perhaps we were just too hungry after a long walk in Pasar Baru area. The savoury taste of the briyani rice was a bit lighter than I expected, yet overall it was delicious and just in the right proportion. Probably it’s been adjusted to suit the local taste. Well, Indonesian people are used to with strong taste, but the intensity of spices in Indian food is one level higher, probably there are certain types of Indian spices that Indonesian food never use. Therefore, it could be somewhat shocking if it’s too strong.
The vegetarian meat taste was fantastic and didn’t taste fake at all. Compared to real meat, vegetarian meat has softer texture and much less fibrous than real meat.
I love the mattar-panner, by the way. Cottage cheese has mild flavour that doesn’t overpower the curry sauce. It tasted heavenly when we poured the cheese cubes on the garlic naan bread. As garlic taste was not too strong, it blended harmoniously with the cheese and curry. It was a very heavy dish, definitely, and didn’t take long to make us completely full.
Moreover, we all took masala tea, which is a heavy drink since it has a strong taste from the mixture of herbs and spices and sweetness coming from condensed milk. Eventually, I ordered additional mineral water to gargle and neutralize all the strong taste of herbs from both food and beverage that remained in my mouth for quite a while.
Before we knew it, it was 9 o’clock already, which is their closing time, so we asked for the bill. After sharing all the costs, it turned out that we only paid Rp. 60.000 ($5) each. Not so bad at all. Also, we found out that the VAT was not stated there, so we didn’t need to pay tax. Yes, you read me right! I don’t know how it was possible and I was not about to dig it deeper about it.
What I know is that we enjoyed our togetherness a lot and had a great conversation apart from great food, that initiates the idea of sharing and tagging my posts related to my experience in joining Jakarta Food Tour on their Facebook group in the future.
So, the takeaway from my dining experience in Waytuki Vegetarian? It becomes one of my favourite restaurants and one day I’d like to try their other dishes, especially those I haven’t tried or heard of.
Address: Jalan Pintu Air Raya No.28, RT.6/RW.1, Pasar Baru, Sawah Besar, RT.6/RW.1, Ps. Baru, Sawah Besar, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10710
The early settlement in Shibuya began when Shibuya family built a castle in the area during the Edo Period in the 11th century. Its transformation from a wealthy family residential site to the busiest railway station was marked by the establishment of JR (Japan Railway) Yamanote Line, previously known as Shinagawa Line, in 1885. Nowadays, Shibuya Station consists of over 8 lines and to be honest, it is more than easy to get lost in between.
Fear not, though. What you need to remember when you get off in Shibuya Station is to find the most notable exit of the station, which is exit no. 8 called Hachiko Exit, to reach the city center. My friend and I did that the whole time and it worked.
Known as one of the most hectic districts in Tokyo with skyscrapers and their flashing advertisement and video screens, Shibuya is a melting pot of shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. And don’t forget about the crowds too, it’s incredibly insane!
Nonetheless, if you’re not so much into shopping, taking some booze and clubbing (I purposely exclude the “dining” thing because you may some fuel to explore the city although you’re not a foodie), what other things you can do in Shibuya?
Indeed, the movie is inspired by an Akita dog named Hachiko, owned by Professor Ueno in 1920s. The dog always followed him every time he came to Shibuya Station to commute to his workplace, as well as waited for him there until he returned before heading home. One day, the professor passed away because he suffered from brain hemorrhage and did not return. But, Hachiko’s loyalty to his master didn’t stop there. Instead, he kept waiting for him at the same spot, same time every day for the next 9 years. The story became viral after a professor’s former student told about it to the public, then Hachiko statue was erected in 1934 exactly on the spot where he always waited for the professor. One year after later, Hachiko died from cancer at the age of 11.
Once you leave the station through Hachiko Exit, you’ll find a bunch of crowds on your left side waiting for their turn to pose with the bronze dog statue of Hachiko. The line is always long, especially in high season, yet fortunately the queue usually runs smoothly as they don’t cut each other’s line.
We both are dog lovers, so taking a picture with the legendary dog is a must despite the long queue.
CROSS THE STREET THROUGH SHIBUYA CROSSING
I love the vibrant atmosphere in Shibuya, especially in the evening when all interchanging advertisement images and videos decorating the skyscrapers brightening the entire district, as if they wanted to replace the role of sunlight after it goes down. Both local and international brands are competing each other to get the most attention from the crowds below them.
Guess what, the ones that got mine are those with anime characters regardless what the inscriptions say. It’s all written in Japanese and I understand none of it.
When the traffic lights from all directions turn red, that’s when a magical moment actually happens. In locals’ and expatriates’ perspective, crossing the street in Shibuya Crossing is just a small part of a daily routine. But for us, being around those pedestrians from various nationalities and races, apart from Japanese, feels like getting lost in translation. We could be either part of the famous movie scene or nothing more than just isolated strangers.
Anyways, we really enjoyed mingling with other strangers crossing the busiest pedestrian lanes in the world. Blushing one’s shoulder is inevitable, but cases of pickpocket hardly happen despite the packed situation on street. And hell yes, Japanese people are used to walking straight, fast and being alone among the crowds.
WATCH PEOPLE CROSSING SHIBUYA CROSSING FROM STARBUCKS COFFEE
One of the best places to get bird’s eye view of the crowds in Shibuya Crossing is Starbucks Coffee Shibuya Tsutaya, which is probably the highest traffic Starbucks branch I’ve ever seen in my life. I only can imagine how much they earn per day only from selling coffee. There are other options, too, where L’Occitane Cafe across the street could be your choice, yet Starbucks was the first thing to cross our minds.
If you only want to get some coffee to go, you can get it from the counter situated outside the outlet. But, if viewing Shibuya and its surroundings from the upper floor is your number one priority, you should be willing to be in line with the rest inside the outlet on ground floor, so-called first floor in Japan.
Coffee, tea and snacks are treated as entrance tickets to the upper floor to get great spots for photos and video recording. We found our favourite dish, which is not available in our hometown Jakarta: spring vegetables with sour cream sauce. The best thing about it that it’s healthy and suitable for vegetarians.
Once we reached the second floor, all the seats facing the window were full for the reason everybody knows. In fact, about 50 percent of visitors were actually standing, just like us, behind those “lucky” people sitting by the window, pointing their smartphones and cameras attentively to the busiest pedestrian lanes in the world right before their eyes. It doesn’t mean that other seats not facing the window were less preferred, though, as they were completely full as well.
The question when you’ll have your turn truly depends on how much time and patience you have. There are many places of interest in Tokyo and a lot of things you can do in Shibuya, so there’s no way that tourists only spend their time during the stay just to stare pedestrians from above. In other words, they will leave their strategic spot, eventually.
About 20 minutes later, the couple in front of us left. We hurriedly occupied the empty seats and became the “lucky” ones. I was so glad that I could make a video recording of those crowds below me. It surprises me somehow when I watched it back home, I just realized that the Japanese walked so fast, even faster than I felt when I crossed the street together with them, that I thought I edited this video. But I didn’t.
WATCH STREET PERFORMANCES
Performances are held best in places where crowds becoming potential spectators are around, and Shibuya totally fulfills the requirement. Street artists makes Shibuya a stepping stone to fame, hoping that one day they will be on air on famous TV stations. Somehow it’s entertaining to watch them after reaching the other end of the street.
Shibuya is also a popular place for TV show or movie shooting location, like the goat man for example. I’m not sure what the show is all about, apart from the man behind the goat mask showed off his muscular body while walking on the street and later on did some silly dancing moves. All the pedestrians around him smiled and cheered him up, anyways. If attention is the main goal of the show, he got it already.
If crowds and flashy ads on skyscrapers are not your thing but you don’t wanna go too far, probably isolating yourself to Meiji Shrine could be a great choice. Other than that, try to go outside those gigantic department stores and mingle with people from all over the world. It truly feels like being in a big party without the need to have an invitation and to pay some amount of money for cover charge! The only building you should get in is the one with a strategic location for a fantastic bird’s eye view of the legendary Shibuya Crossing.
So, how about you? Do you have some other great advise about what to do in Shibuya besides shopping? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Mangga Besar is a densely populated, hustling and bustling area in West Jakarta, the melting pot of bars, night clubs, discotheques, hotels, restaurants and street food stalls. Not to mention the less–known Avalokitesvara Temple and abundant medical clinics situated in residential areas somewhere behind the street food areas.
Joining Wisata Kreatif Jakarta on walking tour to Mangga Besar, the last destination of the tour is what I had been waiting for: eating cobra skewers and its blood and bile. The snake meat itself was not the biggest challenge for me, but the blood and bile were!
Along the street of Mangga Besar Raya, a few hundred meters from the famous Durian Acin, there are several stalls selling cobra skewers, among others Cobra 34 Pais. Established by Pais since year 2000, the family-owned business is inspired by his grandfather who has been selling cobra before 1980s, whose stall name is “34”. In Chinese belief, number 34 means life and death.
Generally speaking, cobra food stalls in Mangga Besar only open in the evening, starting from 5 pm until midnight.
BEST-SELLING COBRA SET MENU
The most well-known dish from Cobra 34, perhaps as well as other cobra snake food stalls, is a set menu of cobra skewers, blood and bile sold for Rp. 90.000 (about $7). King cobra package is sold for Rp. 300.000 (about $25). There are also cobra floss, cobra soup and cobra oil. The non-cobra product is biawak (tropical giant lizard) skewers, soup, floss and oil.
My cousin and I ordered the Rp. 90.000 cobra package. The rest of the tour members hesitated to get one and some would only like to have a bite or two, only if they finally had guts in the last minute.
“Do you want the blood and bile as well?” The vendor asked.
“Well, not this time. But we would like to have it pictured, so don’t throw it away.” I replied.
To be honest, the day before the tour, I promised that I would challenge myself to consume the blood and bile for the sake of compelling story telling in my blog. Nonetheless, my stomach felt bloated in that afternoon for reasons only God knows. Since they would be mixed with alcohol (and honey) to reduce the fishy taste, I wasn’t sure if I could stand the alcohol in my condition. Therefore, I decided not to consume them.
ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?
The “slaughter” show began. After taking the cobra out of the cage, he (the vendor) closed the snake’s mouth with a bamboo clip and chopped its head off. Then, he stretched the headless cobra’s body and squeezed it to pour the blood and bile into the prepared plastic mug. Skinning and separating the cobra’s meat and bone were faster than I thought, less than 30 seconds, by tying the front part of the body with a rope and peeled its black skin with bare hands. The last step was to remove the remaining organs attached in the inner side of the cobra’s meat using a bamboo skewer.
During the 3 minute process of slaughtering, both cobra’s head and its beheaded body kept writhing. Slow but sure, it was a very agonizing way of facing death. If I were the vendor, I would first smash or stab right to its brain before doing anything else to end its pain. Especially the head kept flipping and the mouth kept moving after being left for an hour. Its body stopped writhing after 5 minutes since it was instantly cut and pierced in bamboo skewers to grill.
One cobra equals to one portion of cobra skewers, that consists of 9 pieces. Although it was about 2 meters long, the whole body mostly contains of bone and the organs inside, which are definitely inedible. The only meaty part is located in the outer part attached to the bone, which is not as much as I thought.
Watching the whole process of turning the venomous predator to be on our dinner plate is either curiosity or something too hard to handle, depending on your personal perspectives.
One of the tour members mentioned about her friend, who had severe acne problem and her prescribed medicines didn’t work, was advised to drink snake blood and bile, but not necessarily the meat. After consuming them regularly, the acne turned dry and gradually peeled off from her skin. Doing so was the last option for her, so eerie and disgusted feeling were swept away by the sense of urgency to get cured.
The vendor justified her story. He added a notion that many of his customers are women having skin problems.
THE TASTE OF ADVENTURE
We were so carried away witnessing the slaughter show that we almost forgot asking about where the blood and bile drink were. It turned out that he only knew that we didn’t want to consume it, but he didn’t get the idea that we still wanted to take a picture of them in the mug . He gave it to the parking lot caretaker instead, who apparently often volunteers to drink them every time customers are not willing to.
One of us asked the parking lot guy how it tasted.
“Nothing really special, just like Vicks Formula 44.” He replied.
Vicks Formula 44 is a liquid cough medicine, that can be obtained easily in drug stores without prescription. Well, I’m not a fan of the taste of any cough medicine, but it gave me an impression that drinking snake blood and bile doesn’t taste terrible at all.
Grilling the skewers took about 20 minutes and added with sweet soy sauce when served to our table. It looked and tasted exactly the same as chicken skewers, and the plus point is that it was completely fresh. Nonetheless, it was more chewy than chicken, but not as chewy as crocodile meat in Cambodia. I remember trying fried snake with turmeric spices many years ago elsewhere and the meat was much more tender than the skewers.
Eventually, some tour members dare to get some bites from us. They said that it’s just like chicken, but the only problem is that they still can’t get rid of the memory of how the cobra is “processed” into food.
Apart from food, Cobra 34 Pais also offers medical products, among others Kapsul Cobra (Cobra Capsule), Minyak Bulus (Softshell Turtle Oil) and Salep Cobra (Cobra Balm). I tried the Cobra Balm, that merely costs Rp. 30.000 ($2) per bottle. Using cobra oil as the main ingredient, Cobra Balm solves skin problems, such as skin allergies, acne, itchy, chapped skin, wounds and so on. I use it to cure acne problems and it works pretty well for me.
In a nutshell, I can guarantee the freshness of the food from Cobra 34 Pais since I witnessed the whole process from the start. All you need to do is to prepare yourself to see how it’s made. Otherwise, you can turn your back away when it’s in progress or watch it blindfolded.
Have a great dining adventure!
Cobra 34 (Pais)
Address: Mangga Besar Raya, West Jakarta, Indonesia
Shirakawa-go lies in the mountains of the north western part of Gifu Prefecture, central Japan, that takes one hour from Takayama city. Ogimachi Village, the largest village in Shirakawa-go, is known for the thatched roof farmhouses resembling a Buddhist monk hand in prayer called gassho-zukuri. Since 1995, Shirakawa-go has been listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Once secluded and unknown among foreigners, Shirakawa-go has become one of the most popular attractions in Japan. The gassho-zukuri farmhouses, mostly built in 1800, are not only nice to see from the outside, but also function as souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, museums, and even guesthouses. However, Shirakawa-go is still a residential area, since other farmhouses remain a place to stay for local people. Therefore, it is very necessary for visitors to respect the tranquility of the area and no trespassing in private houses.
WHAT’S IN A LOVELY FARMHOUSE WITH CUCUMBER VINES
There are over 25 restaurants and cafes listed on the map of Shirakawa-go if you have enough patience to find which one suits your taste. How I chose Ochudo Cafe Restaurant, that I only found out its name in the end of my visit, as a place to eat was truly by coincidence.
I spotted another gassho style farmhouse that got my attention because of the lovely terrace and hanging cucumber vines on the thatched roof like a necklace on someone’s neck. I really thought that it’s a private resident until I saw a tourist sitting on the long chair in front of the house.
Moreover, there were frames placed under the roof mentioning “Coffee”, “Tea”, the menu written in both Japanese and English, an “Open” wall hanging wooden sign and some Japanese inscriptions I couldn’t read.
To be honest, it didn’t offer many choices of meal I expected, most probably because the main concept is a cafe rather than a restaurant. It offers coffee, tea, cafe latte, citron juice, orange juice, toast bread, curry rice and sweet red bean soup or zenzai. Wait! Curry rice sounded like a great choice. I’ve tried Japanese curry before, yet I hadn’t tasted it in Japan during my visit, so why not?
Entering the farmhouse, I noticed that it has experienced some modifications. The shoe rack spot is replaced by stairs to go down to the main dining room, so there’s no need to take off your shoes to enter the restaurant. I was happy that I didn’t have to untie my shoes to get in.
The traditional sunken hearth kitchen or an open fireplace called irori is transformed into a table, surrounded by benches instead of sitting on the flat pillows on the floor, where customers still can witness the traditional way of boiling water and cooking food in more comfortable way.
I looked up to the ceiling and it’s surprisingly see-through, inner side of the construction was visible, including that of the thatched roof.
The pantry is dominated by collections of (English style) tea cups and their matching saucers kept neatly arranged in the shelves, where the rest of the cups were hung on the wooden lease of the pantry together with the lanterns. What’s so cool about the hanging cups is that customers who order tea and coffee can choose one of them for their drinks. Creating a memorable customer experience doesn’t have to be complicated.
Another thing I like about the interior is how they use leftover spaces and personal belongings to deliver homey atmosphere inside a commercial place by displaying children’s drawings, family pictures, a table lamp, toys and again, tea cups. Functioning unused chairs into tables by placing tablecloths on the seats is also a great idea.
Was I entering my relative’s home or a restaurant? Good question.
SERVICE EXCELLENCE: WHEN SPEED, QUALITY AND HOSPITALITY MERGE HARMONIOUSLY
Accommodating about 20 to 30 people maximum, the dining area is not that big. No wonder why it quickly became full, especially at lunch time. Only 20 minutes later did I get my seat after two Caucasian ladies left their spot. But it doesn’t mean that it was not busy any longer.
A couple in their 50’s ran all the operational activities, that I assume the owners (let’s call them uncle and auntie), who kept going back and forth serving customers, from taking orders until bringing food and drinks to them. I was curious whether there was any chef helping them in the kitchen, but I didn’t see anyone appearing from there. Honestly, I admit that the uncle and auntie had a quick response, amazing speed and agility for their age.
The uncle greeted me, passing me the artsy handmade menu on the table. Having a shape like a palette paint made of thick cardboard, it was covered with pumpkin orange colour recycled paper and the menu list was written by hand on both sides. Lovely!
I instantly ordered curry with rice (¥ 900 or about $ 8), but not the set menu that comes with sweet red bean soup (¥ 1300 or about $ 12) because red bean is not really my favorite, although it’s one of the best sellers in Ochudo.
My curry rice came with a sliced pumpkin and some beans, red ginger as a side dish and a glass of water, that usually served for free in any restaurants in Japan. I previously thought that I would get a chicken curry rice, therefore I didn’t expect that it would be a vegetarian dish, but that’s okay.
Even though I’m more a fan of Indian and Thai curry, I also like a Japanese version of curry with a tendency of sweet taste rather than emphasizing strong spices. Compared to the one I once had in a big restaurant chain, my sense of taste could tell that the curry sauce at Ochudo was purely home cooking with fresher ingredients, so it was just tasted better and nothing fabricated. Or perhaps I was just I carried away with the homey surroundings inside the heritage house.
What makes it more special was the rice, gosh I loved it lots! Instead of using regular steamed rice, the curry was served with zakkokumai, rice with mixed seeds and grains, giving purplish colour on the rice. It had al dente texture, subtle sweetness with earthy taste, that completely blended well with the curry. The only thing I didn’t touch was the red ginger, simply because I don’t like ginger at all.
The uncle started a small talk with me when he cleared up my table, asking how the food was. I frankly said it was great and really liked the rice. I wanted to know what he put in the rice besides azuki or red bean, but he only said, “It’s made with many beans.” Most probably because either he didn’t have much time to explain or his English was too limited to elaborate the answer.
I said to myself that it could have been better if there was more content in the curry sauce itself. But it wasn’t a big deal at all.
“Where do you come from?” He asked me again.
I replied, “Indonesia.”
“Oww… Indonesia. They also come from Indonesia.” He pointed a group of six sitting across my table, who originally came from Surabaya, East Java.
Knowing that I was travelling alone, he passed me a book to read about Shirakawa-go to accompany me. On top right of the book, I saw hand-written Japanese characters with Latin letters right below it mentioning, “Ochudo.” It was the moment I realized that the cafe restaurant name was Ochudo since I didn’t look at the map at all.
I was touched by the uncle’s hospitality and sensitivity despite language barrier and limited time in peak hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to communicate with the auntie since she was at the pantry all the time, but I believe she was a nice woman, too.
Overall, I had a great time and great meal, giving me more energy to continue strolling around the village. Anytime you visit Shirakawa-go, make sure you take your time dining at Ochudo Cafe Restaurant when hunger strike.
Ochudo Cafe Restaurant
792 Ogimachi, Shirakawa, Ono District, Gifu Prefecture, Japan