Indian Vegetarian Restaurant in Pasar Baru II: Gokul Vegetarian Resto

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”.

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.

gokul resto

“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.

gokul resto

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.

gokul resto

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.

mango lassie
mango lassie

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.

gokul resto
the chips and salad condiment

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.

briyani rice
before

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!

briyani rice
after

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.

Gokul Resto

Address: Jl. Ps. Baru No.12, RT.15/RW.4, Ps. Baru, Sawah Besar, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10710

Opening Hours: 10.30 am to 7.30 pm

Phone: +62 21 3521949 / +62 21 3810492

 

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Indian Vegetarian Restaurant in Pasar Baru I: Waytuki Vegetarian

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.

vegetarian restaurant

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.

restaurant

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.

briyani rice
mutton vegetarian briyani rice

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.

vegetarian restaurantI 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.

Waytuki Vegetarian

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

Phone: +62 21 3814146

Opening hours: 10 am – 9 pm

 

 

How to Spend an Evening in Shibuya beyond Shopping

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.

shibuya
Shibuya in spring

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?

TAKE A PICTURE WITH HACHIKO STATUE

Suppose you have watched Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, played by Richard Gere, you should know what’s the story is all about.

hachiko
Hachiko statue

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.

shibuya
evening in Shibuya

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.

shibuya

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.

shibuya crossing
men’s turn

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.

shibuya crossing
cars’ turn

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.

shibuya
Starbucks Coffee Shibuya

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.

shibuya
shiny happy people

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.

starbucks
delicious vegetarian food

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
let me entertain you

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.

shibuya
goat man on the street

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!

 

Adventure Dining in Mangga Besar: Cobra Skewers, Blood and Bile in West Jakarta

A GLIMPSE OF MANGGA BESAR AND COBRA 34 PAIS

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.

mangga besar

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.

sate cobra
pouring the blood and bile

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.

sate cobra
this one is about to be our dinner

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.

DSCF2296 copy
head, bone and meat

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.

sate cobra
at a glance, no difference between cobra and chicken skewers

MEDICAL PRODUCTS

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.

salep cobra
cobra balm

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

Tel: +62 812 8777 5387

Opening Hours: 5 pm – midnight

shirakawago

Ochudo Restaurant: Tasting Home Cooking in Shirakawa-go Heritage House

A GLIMPSE OF SHIRAKAWA-GO

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

shirakawago

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.

shirakawago

shirakawago

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.

shirakawago

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?

shirakawago

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.

shirakawago

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.

shirakawago

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.

shirakawago

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.

shirakawago

shirakawago

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.

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dining room

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.

menu
the menu
shirakawago
I spotted another hanging tea cup spot close to my seat

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.

japanese curry

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.

shirakawago

“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

Phone: +81 90-5458-0418

Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm

 

How to Explore Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Its Surroundings

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THE HISTORY OF KIYOMIZU-DERA TEMPLE

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon, the  Buddhist God of Mercy, situated in the mid-slope of Mt. Otawa in east Kyoto, on the site where Otawa Waterfall produces pure and clean water ceaselessly everyday. It has been listed on UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1994.

The foundation of Kiyomizu-dera Temple began in 778 when monk Enchin discovered Otowa Waterfall after he had a vision of meeting an old man in white who asked him to find pure water. Near the waterfall, he met Gyoei-koji, the priest who was the incarnation of Kannon. He gave monk Enchin the sacred tree and asked him to carve the thousand-armed Kannon to guard Kannon’s sacred place.

In 780, a warrior named Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro came to Mt. Otowa to hunt deer. Nonetheless, monk Enchin forbid him to take lives in a sacred land of Kannon and taught about Kannon’s virtuous deeds instead. Deeply moved by his teachings, Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro built a temple called Kiyomizu, literally means pure water, to worship Kannon.

In the beginning, the temple adopted Hosso sect doctrine until 1965 when it formed its own Kita Hosso sect, a reformed Buddhism with more contribution to the society,  founded by Onishi Ryokei Wajo.

Repeatedly burned over the centuries, the buildings you see today at the temple complex were mostly built in 1633.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE MAIN TEMPLE

kiyomizudera temple
the starting point of Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex

The day after my dining experience in Gion, I continued exploring Kyoto by visiting one of the most-visited temples Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple. From Kyoto Station, I took bus no. 110 (other options are no. 86, 100, 106, 206, depending on which one comes first) going directly to the temple.

Getting off the bus, it was not directly visible right before my eyes. But I believe I was on the right track after seeing bunch of other visitors going to the same direction, Chawan Zaka or Teapot Lane as part of Higashiyama District, the slope surrounded by souvenir, pottery shops, and kimono rental center. I tried not to get easily distracted by those charming shops since it would take approximately 45 minutes to reach the main temple. Not to mention that I had other destinations to catch in the city apart from Kiyomizu-dera.

The red gate or pagoda, was the first sign that you are already at the temple complex. It was also the starting point where the crowds from various nationalities started to gather for selfie, wefie, or just to save some energy before climbing up more stairs to the famous wooden stage at the main temple.

kiyomizudera temple

kiyomizudera temple
the entrance gate

Probably, the only “weakness” (if you wanna call it that way) of a popular destination is the inevitable crowds everywhere you go, no matter whether it’s high or low season. I came in low season and the crowds were still like crazy.

kiyomisudera temple

Moreover, it was on the same day as a study tour from some local schools. Despite the crowds, I got neither emotional nor impatient while queuing up. Especially, Japanese people are usually very discipline and cutting each other’s line didn’t happen at all.

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school kids queuing up to the temple
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tourists wearing rented kimono

Although Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple, the influence of Shinto remains, distinguishing Buddhism in Japan from that in other countries. For instance, the attributes of Omairi (the ritual of entering Shinto shrine) are available outside the main temple, such as communal basin for temizu (self-cleansing ritual by washing mouth and hands with a wooden scoop) and the prayer to kami (gods) by dropping a coin as an offering, pulling the rope to ring a bell and clapping hands twice.

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communal basin for temizu 
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doing a prayer to kami

The ultimate destination of visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple is the most photographed object of the temple, the wooden stage of the main temple that was built without nails. The thousand armed Kannon statue, the main object of worship carved by the monk Enchin, is kept there. Again, be prepared for the crowds!

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visitors inside the main stage

I was a bit disappointed when I saw the roof of the main stage covered in black cloth for renovation. The bad news is that it stays that way from February 2017 until March 2020. The good news is that thanks to the renovation, the next generation will be able to witness the well-maintained invaluable cultural property in the long run.

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the main stage in ongoing renovation

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Fortunately, the roof renovation didn’t disturb its function as an observation deck, where I could see Otowa Waterfall and its surroundings from above.

kiyomizudera temple

Stretching over 130,000 square meter, Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex also houses Buddhist buildings and other important cultural properties. Among others Okunoin Hall and halls dedicated to Shaka Buddha and Amida Buddha.

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Okunoin Hall

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OTHER ATTRACTIONS AT THE TEMPLE COMPLEX

  • OTOWA WATERFALL

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Since Otowa Waterfall’s discovery by Monk Enchin in 778 and how it became an inspiration of the temple name “Kiyomizu-dera”, meaning pure water, the fame of the waterfall continues until these days. The waterfall consists of 3 separate streams, where each of them is believed to bring success, longevity and love. The sacred water is drinkable, but you only can pick 1 stream, since drinking from all of them defines greed. I didn’t have much patience to line up, though, but I believe it should be fun to “catch” the water using the glass attached with a long pole.

  • JISHU SHRINE

The main temple itself is already a magnificent place to visit. Nonetheless, of all the attractions at Kiyomozi-dera Temple complex, Jishu Shrine is definitely my favourite. Rebuilt in 1633 by Iemitsu Tokugawa, Jishu Shrine is a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking situated behind the main temple.

kiyomizudera temple
entering Jishu Shrine

The main God is Okuninushi no-Mikoto, assisted by his messenger, the rabbit whom he once helped when his skin was being peeled off. The three generations of Okuninushi no-Mikoto family are enshrined here, that includes his parents and grandparents.

jishu shrine
Okuninushi no Mikoto and his messenger

The main hall of the shrine is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen because of the multiple colourful small shrines inside the complex. People come to the shrine to pray for finding a true love, long-lasting marriage, getting pregnant easily and save delivery. No wonder why most visitors I saw were young females, some young couples and a very few elderly people.

kimono

Love stones or Koiuranai no Ishi become the object that draws attention when you enter the shrine because it is believed that if you can walk from one stone to the other one with eyes closed without bumping into someone else means you’ll find a true love. If you need assistance along the way, it means that you need somebody else’s help to find the love of your life.

I spotted a local schoolgirl walking blindfolded with both hands raising to the front, starting from one love stone to the other one about 10 meters ahead. Her schoolmates cheered her while giving some directions to guide her to the right track. I don’t know how long she could reach the other side, but overall it was fun to see people having fun, or truly believe, with the philosophy behind the challenge.

jishu shrine

At Jishu Shrine, there are several ways to say your prayer and wishes. Trust me, doing some of them (if not all) could be a lot of fun whether you’re a believer or not.

You can write your prayer, wishes and gratitude on an ema votive tablet, obtainable at the souvenir shop, and hang it on the designated “tree”. The price starts from ¥300 to ¥800 depending on the design. For those who have a talent in drawing and calligraphy, it’s time to shine. You can express your creativity whatever you like on the table. Isn’t it cool?

jishu shrine
ema

Another way to make a wish is to play Omikuji, a fortune telling game. Shake the provided box while making a wish until the stick comes out, defining a drawer number you need to open. Inside the drawer, there’s a piece of paper telling about your future. If says good things, keep the paper. Otherwise, you can fold and hang it on the “hanger” close to the drawer.

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communal bath for temizu
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souvenir shop

Also, there’s a spot where you can write all the troubles and problems in your life on a piece of paper available inside the box. After that, put it in the wooden bucket filled with water to wash away all your troubles. I wish life could be that simple and easy!

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the place to write all the troubles
bucket
the bucket filled with troubles
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Nade-Daikoku-San on the right

It is believed that patting Nade-Daikoku-San (Daikoku to be patted), a bronze statue of a man carrying a Santa Claus lookalike sack, can make any kind of wishes and prayers come true.

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  • HIGASHIYAMA DISTRICT

After leaving Kiyomizu-dera complex, make sure you spend more time in Higashiyama District, a long street sloping down to the main street where public buses stop, as there are many tempting stores selling souvenirs, artisan jewelry designs, pottery, sweets (from ice cream to mochi), pickles and restaurants.

kiyomizudera temple
crowds seen from top of the entrance gate

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If you don’t like crowds that much, sorry to say that it’s always very very crowded, even in low season. But still, I suggest you to explore this area slowly.

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busy street
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inside souvenir shop

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I was so happy that I finally found my favourite snack at Yatsu Hashi Chou. The choux tasted like nowhere else in the world, with lightly-tasted cinnamon bun with green tea filling. Suppose you wonder how green tea and cinnamon can match perfectly, don’t think too much. For the price of ¥400, it was worth it.

And don’t forget to try the bottled green tea as well. It is a bit expensive though, ¥400 for 250 ml, compared to those from the vending machine, but the quality of the tea is so much better. There are 2 options, sweetened and unsweetened. I tried the sweetened one, and all I can say is that I’d rather have the unsweetened one, although the sweetened one tasted just fine.

 

The mural of a beautiful woman in flowers was the farewell sign of my visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. There’s nothing more I can say that it’s one of the best attractions I visited in Kyoto, thanks to its variety of interests combining fun and holiness simultaneously.

I was happy that I decided to revisit Kyoto the year after and finally could make it to Kiyomizu-dera Temple!

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mural

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/kyoto-1958.html

 

sushi

Lite Bites at Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine

Returning to Gion brought me back to a wonderful memory I spent last spring 2016 with blossoming sakura. Last October, I strolled around the same streets and alleys just to see some colour changes of the autumn leaves in the neighborhood, that I finally failed to find. Nonetheless, Gion remains impressive with rows of preserved machiya houses as if I was in a Japanese movie scene, despite the absence of autumn leaves and sakura.

gion kyoto

I wanted to return to the hotel when it started to rain, until I spotted a bunch of tourists and locals entering one of the alleys situated right behind Kamo river, that I hadn’t noticed its appearance in my previous visit.

Don’t get fooled by the tranquility of the street. I peeped some restaurants and bars from their window, glass door, sometimes from an accidentally opened door by visitors leaving the place, and there was where most of the crowds gathered. Seconds later, something popped up my mind. I’d like to I join the crowds for one reason: to have a dining experience in Gion, one of the most expensive areas in Kyoto, despite it could break my bank account.

It felt like leaving a comfort zone as a budget traveler. And for sure, it was something I had not done in my first visit to Gion. But simultaneously, it was challenging.

gion kyoto
Nikuya Ginjiro facade

I passed by the most “transparent” restaurant along the alley, Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine, where I could see the whole interior and its crowds only by looking from the see-through sliding door. I had a good impression at first sight because it seems like a hip and cool place for hanging out, so my choice finally went to Nikuya Ginjiro.

Emphasizing Kobe Beef as their best-selling menus, that costs around ¥ 15,000 to ¥ 18,000 per portion, it is quite a pricey place to eat for budget travellers. For sure, there are other non-Kobe beef menu with price range around ¥ 1500, ¥ 3000, ¥ 8000, depending on parts of the beef they offer. Fortunately, hunger didn’t strike me at all, since I was still in a full stomach from the spaghetti I ate earlier at Kyoto Station.

So, I paid more attention to some appetizer and light snacks, whose lowest price is about ¥ 580 ($ 5.30) excluding tax (about ¥ 620, or $ 5.66, after tax). As a comparison, you can get 1 portion of a small beef bowl for the same price in budget restaurants. By adding another ¥ 200 (from ¥ 580), you can get a regular portion of ramen and another ¥ 500 to ¥ 700 for a large one at common ramen shops.

There’s only a little, or no hope, to dine on the cheap in Gion. Apart from that, steak menus are usually not offered on a shoestring rate.

gion kyoto
the bar

Nikuya Ginjiro’s contemporary look is more like a bar rather than a steak house. All seats use bar chairs and tall tables, that makes it unsuitable for family with small kids. It’s not a spacious place, yet it is efficiently designed to accommodate more guests.

As soon as I got a seat, a Caucasian blonde woman in pony-tailed hair passed me the A3 size of laminated menu and greeted me in native level of English, “Good evening, Ma’am. What do you want to have for tonight?”.

The woman who served me is an American nationality who has been living in Japan for the last 3 years. Besides, she also speaks fluent Japanese, which is a compulsory requirement to work anywhere in Japan.

There’s no doubt that having a native English speaker staff is one of the company’s assets to compete in a touristic area, which is one of the reasons why nearly all visitors at the steak house were foreigners.

carpaccio
wagyu beef carpaccio

Of all the ¥ 580 lite bites listed on the menu, Wagyu Sushi sounded interesting and  unconventional in my perspective. Apparently, wagyu beef is not always related to steak. Moreover, she mentioned that there would be a nice burning show to watch when it comes to the table.

So yeah, why not?

I finally chose wagyu sushi. My dining experience started with a complimentary dish, the 3 slices of wagyu carpaccio served on a rectangle-shaped plate, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and black pepper. The thin-sliced meat was very juicy, especially it was cooked with butter, giving additional creamy and savoury taste of the meat.

wagyu beef
burn the sushi!

Later on, the wagyu sushi arrived, whose appearance wasn’t like what I expected. It was a large and thin slice of beef with sushi rice underneath, served with chopped garlic in a separate single dish. The plate (probably) made of cast iron was almost as big as the dining table and as flat as a cardboard.

Knowing that lately a lot of people love capturing their food and post it on social media, she gave me some time to prepare my camera before the burning show began. When I was ready, the torch burner in her hand started firing the surface of the beef  in certain distance, slowly moving back and forth to ensure it was evenly burned, that lasted for about 15 seconds. I found it a creative idea to demonstrate the torch burning process in front of the guests, that usually done only in the kitchen.

 

Assuming that there would be 2 pieces of sushi in one portion of Wagyu Sushi, I was surprised with a tendency of disappointment, after realizing that I only got one instead. I should have asked beforehand how many pieces of sushi they served on the menu. Moreover, it wasn’t meant for heavy dishes anyways and I shouldn’t blame them for that.

However, putting aside the misconception, I truly enjoyed the juiciness of the medium-cooked sliced meat, just like what I’ve always had in my steak. Adding the chopped garlic served with poured shoyu, or soy sauce, it spiced up the taste of the sushi itself.

wagyu sushi
et voila! yummy….

Overall, I had a fantastic dining experience in Gion. Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine is a  tourist-friendly restaurant with English speaking staff and English-translated menu, without being a tourist trap and leaving their Japanese customers behind. They served great quality of food and service with impressive presentation, although I only took the lowest rate on the menu. But I believe even the simplest dish could be a representative of other menus offered.

Furthermore, they know how to cater what the guests would like to do with their food, like taking pictures, shoot and post it on Facebook and Instagram for instance, by reminding and giving guests a chance to prepare their mobile phone or camera before the “show” starts. There’s no doubt that (high quality) posts from the guests on social media is a great opportunity for their advertising without spending a dime and boost their sales in the future.

Next time you visit Gion, make sure you spare some time to spend the evening at Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine!

 

Nikuya Ginjiro Steak & Wine

Address: Japan, 〒604-0042 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Oshinishinotoincho, 押西洞院590−5 下ル, 西洞院通 押小路通

Phone: +81 50-5590-3440

Opening Hours: 11.30 am – 14.30 pm (lunch), 5 pm – 12 am (dinner)