Ubud is famous for Monkey Forest, Ubud Market, The Royal Palace as well as shops, restaurants and cafes along the way that are often quite pricey and touristy. Well, suppose you step away a little bit from the crowds to Kedewatan Village in the outskirt of Ubud, that takes about 20 minutes, you’ll find a rather ordinary house façade saying “Nasi Ayam Kedewatan Ibu Mangku”, translated as Mrs. Mangku’s Kedewatan Chiken Rice, on both neon box and engraved limestone.
Mrs. Mangku started selling her signature chicken rice back in 1960’s on a flea market around Kedewatan Village. Before she succeeds, she moved from one place to another until she has many regular customers and settles at the present location.
Once I arrived at the restaurant, I didn’t quickly take a seat in an ordinary dining room in front of me. Instead, I walked further to find the beautiful Balinese house hidden behind it. The 6-pavilion house is the residence of Mrs. Mangku family and one of them is the kitchen to produce the signature chicken mix rice. The atmosphere is very homey rather than a commercial place and peaceful with soft background of Balinese keroncong music. The scenery is fantastic and the combination of red brick, engraved wood, gold and red color make the house look earthy and elegant at the same time.
The seatings are situated on the side of each pavilion and some on stage, like the ones near the pond and the rice barn. Most of them are performed with lesehan style, meaning that you will dine using a very short table and seat on a carpet, that somehow similar to a traditional Japanese dining style. Since the house is spacious and the distance from 1 seating to another is a bit far, it is very suitable for those who love privacy and tranquility. Take some to walk around the house, the greenery and serenity are completely relaxing your mind and refreshing your eyesight.
Although the signature menu is called nasi ayam (chicken rice), probably it is more suitable to call it nasi campur ayam (chicken-based mix rice) because unlike the Chinese food Hainan Chicken Rice, it is a mixture of different kind of chicken-based dishes, from sate lilit ayam (minced chicken satay), boiled egg, crispy chicken skin, ayam betutu (Balinese style chicken), lawar (mixed vegetables) and peanuts.
Bear in mind that don’t do what I did by asking, “Is there any other menus other than chicken rice?”, because they only have 1 menu for many years and there haven’t been any new ones ever since. Therefore the waiter asked me if it was my first visit to the restaurant. Certainly, it was!
The only variety is how it’s served, either all contents in one plate including rice and poured chicken soup on the rice or in different plates, where rice and soup are served separately. Nonetheless, it’s the same food. The chicken-based mix rice in one plate costs Rp. 25.000 ($ 2) and the separate one costs Rp. 35.000n ($ 3) because it has a bigger portion of rice and soup. I was hungry, so I took the Rp. 35.000 dish.
All I can say is I got more than I paid. It was very delicious with all the rich spices penetrated into the chicken dishes and the soup tasted so heavenly. I struggled with the burning hot soup, to be honest, since I’m usually not a spicy food eater, but it was all worth it.
Fresh juices are sold starting from Rp. 7000 ($ .50) to Rp. 20.000 ($ 1.6). There are some varieties of chips, crackers as well starting from Rp. 1000 ($ .10) for a thumb size package of snack you can get in front of the cashier and the price range for the rest is about Rp. 5000 to Rp. 10.000 ($ .30 to $ .80).
No wonder why the business lasts for over 60 years, how cool is that! I was lucky that I could choose the seat very easily since I came around 2 pm on weekdays where lunch time was over.
My experience tells me (and you) that this is not a tourist trap and nothing scammy about it. You definitely don’t need to empty your wallet for dining in an authentic and instagrammable place and satisfy your appetite with great food.
Nasi Ayam Kedewatan Ibu Mangku
Address: Jl. Raya Kedewatan No.18, Ubud, Bali Phone: 0361 974795 Opening hours: 6.30 am – 8 pm
Tugu Kunstkring Paleis is situated in Gondangdia, an administrative village in Menteng district in South Jakarta, Indonesia. Menteng itself was designated to be a middle to high end residential area in Jakarta during the Dutch colony era developed between 1910 and 1918 by a Dutch architect Pieter Adriaan Jacobus Moojen from NV. Bouwploeg, the first property and architecture firm in the capital city of Indonesia, whose building now has been functioning into Cut Meutia Mosque since 1987.
Suppose you notice the word “Boplo” used in the neigbourhood of Gondangdia, such as Pasar Boplo (Boplo Market) and Gado-Gado Boplo restaurant, actually it has something to do with Bouwploeg. “Boplo” is a local way of saying Bouwploeg (of NV. Bouwploeg) since it is too hard to pronounce for most people.
PAJ Moojen’s next project was to build a Dutch rationalist architecture style building called Bataviasche Kunstkring (Batavia Circle of Art) in 1913. Inaugurated by Willem Frederik Idenburg, the governor of Dutch Indies in 1914, it signified the first property building ever created by NV Bouwploeg after its own head office.
The building held several art related exhibitions, from paintings, music performances, until a gathering spot for art lovers. It reached a higher reputation after exhibiting finest works of Van Gogh, Chagall, Picasso and Gauguin between 1939 and 1943.
After 1942, the function changed into The Islamic Council of Indonesia main office, Central Jakarta Immigration Office, until Buddha Bar that brought a controversy. Since 2013, Tugu Hotels and Restaurants Group renamed it into Tugu Kunstkring Paleis and transformed it into a fine dining restaurant that simultaneously becomes an art gallery like how it used to be.
NOSTALGIC DINING ROOMS AND GALLERIES
Exhibiting antiquity inheritance from Oei Tiong Ham, a sugar trading tycoon, the old glory of Bataviasche Kunstkring has returned. Not only did a courteous waiter instantly welcomed us once we stepped in a century-year-old heritage building, but also opulence and prosperity, accentuated by gold and red colours used in many objects.
Passing the gracious golden gate with “MN” initials, that belonged to one of the Surakarta Kingdoms, Mangkunegaran, we headed to the dining rooms, bar, wine tasting, gift shop, ballroom and a balcony. Also, don’t miss the cozy coffee and bread corner situated on the left side of the entrance door before the golden gate. It’s simply a perfect place to get light snacks and zipping coffee, tea or traditional hot drinks like wedang jahe (ginger drink), for instance.
The biggest dining room in Tugu Kunstring Paleis is Diponegoro Room. The 9-meter-painting of “The Fall of Java” painted by the restaurant owner, Anhar Setjadibrata, is the most sought object in the room. The Fall of Java is the 3rd version of “Submission of Prince Diponegoro to General De Kock” by Nicolas Pieneman, whose 2nd version is “The Arrest of Prince Diponegoro” by Raden Saleh. Other Surakarta Kingdom treasures are golden crown-shaped canopies with “PB” initials, that stands for Pakubuwono, placed above the paintings on sides of the room.
Go straight ahead to the giant Diponegoro painting and turn left, then you will find an oriental style lounge so-called Suzie Wong Bar. The bar name is inspired by a famous novel by Richard Mason in 1957. The love story about a prostitute named Suzie Wong with Robert Lomax, an American architect, was a hit when it was filmed in 1960’s. The original movie posters from a theater in Menteng is displayed on both sides of the bar. It felt homey at the lounge as if we visited someone’s peranakan house with an intense Chinese atmosphere, from lanterns on the ceiling, wooden partition, engraving, until a Hong Kong style rickshaw. I personally love this lounge so much!
The next room on the right side of Diponegoro Room is brighter than any other rooms since the sunshine can pass through the windows and glass roof. Apart from dining tables, it displays local souvenirs and artworks for sale, such as accessories, pillows, pottery and many more.
Also, check out the 3-tier rack dedicated to Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, aka Ahok or BTP, a former Jakarta governor known for his straight forward, strong-willed attitude, honest and once jailed for blasphemy case for 18 months.
Besides communal dining rooms, Tugu Kunstring Paleis has 8 other private rooms, occupying from 4 to 25 guests. Each room has its own name, mostly inspired by prominent people in Indonesian history (Soekarno 1950, Raden Saleh and Multatuli Room), legendary Greek God (Hercules Room), and a popular classic movie (Darna Room), which is also one of the owner’s favorite movies.
Of all the beautifully-decorated rooms, the most impressive one is Soekarno 1950 room. Depicting a small part of a great man’s life, a large painting of Soekarno surrounded by Balinese dancers and clippings of his burial procession are some memorabilia of Indonesia’s first president that are well-kept in the room, occupying up to 25 guests.
To access these private rooms, we took an elevator to the 2nd floor. Taking pictures are allowed, as long as you don’t use any professional camera with a tripod. Lights and air conditioner are usually off unless the rooms are used to save electricity and to protect the paintings from colour fading.
There’s also a painting gallery on the 3rd floor, which is also a ballroom available for bookings, including the balcony.
Indeed, we were mesmerized by every detail put in the interior of the paleis, a Dutch word for palace. Nostalgic feeling is inevitable, dragging us to the glory of the old times long before we were born. The invaluable treasures are not only heaven for art lovers, but also become part of human civilization. They also remind us that we can learn a lot from the history behind them, especially someone (important) once owned and used them.
When you go down, take the stairs instead of the elevator, observe the red walls along the way as it displays pictures of the heritage building from time to time dated 100 years ago.
Additionally, I advise you to visit all the rooms after finishing your meals, since you may be carried away by its beauty that you forget that your orders could be already cold after returning to your table.
IS THE FOOD AS GOOD AS THE GALLERY?
The lavishness and precious antiquities inside the building that ceaselessly amaze me only left one question. Is the food and beverage quality as good as the majestic palace? I mean, it’s not my first time to dine in a fancy restaurant with so-so or even lousy taste.
Serving Indonesian, oriental and western cuisine, we decided to try the Indonesian food to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Keluwak Fried Rice (Rp. 78,000 / $6) is one of the menus I recommend. Keluwak is a black fruit with sweet taste used in popular East Javanese cuisine, rawon (keluwak beef black soup). Inspired by rawon, the fried rice is mixed with keluwak, turning it into dark brown colour. The condiments, such as prawn crackers, raw bean sprouts, chili and beef, are the same as those in rawon, except cucumber and fried egg. I love the savoury taste with hints of sweetness and spices.
Gulai Iga Kambing or mutton rib curry (Rp 108,000 / $9) is definitely my favorite! The meat is soft, tender, and the intense smell of the mutton is successfully lessened to the minimum. The curry taste itself is just right, not too thick and not too light. Moreover, the veggies and baby potatoes are served in generous amount. The price is considered affordable, as it is not much different compared to those mutton meals at the malls with such a quality.
Although I think the Keluwak Fried Rice is more unique, the Nasi Lemak Kunstkring (Rp 88,000 / $7) is worth to try as well. It’s savoury rice mixed with salted fish, fried chicken wings, kangkung belacan (watercress with shrimp paste sauce), omelette, cucumber relish and black baby squid. I love the baby black squid, by the way, as the black sauce from squid ink completely rocks!
From mocktails, tea, coffee, cocktails, smoothies, traditional iced drinks until wines and beers, Tugu Kunstring Paleis has it all. In my first visit with Wisata Kreatif Jakarta, I tried Meik Wei Meik Wei (Rp. 45,000 / $3.5), one of the best-selling mocktails with concoction of fresh lime, strawberry, sprite and brown sugar. A great choice for those who search for refreshment after dealing with hot weather.
I was curious with the home made Lemongrass Tea (Rp. 42,000 / $3.5), especially it’s made of freshly boiled and smashed lemongrass. Therefore I took it in my second visit. I think a simple drink will do best for heavy and strong taste meals. The lemongrass tea didn’t disappoint me at all. It tastes tangy, lemony, earthy and refreshing at the same time.
I heard from another guest that the Pisang Goreng Raja or Raja banana fritters (Rp. 48,000 / $4) is very good because the bananas are carefully selected and tastes naturally sweet. I haven’t tried this, but perhaps you can prove it in your next visit.
In general, it costs approximately between Rp 150,000 and Rp 200,000 ($13 to $18) per person, which a bit costly, yet still makes sense. Tugu Kunstkring Paleis has great quality of food and beverage with service excellence, where all guests are treated like kings and queens. Moreover, the grandiose, lavish interior, surrounded by precious antiquities that could grab a lot of attention makes your visit unforgettable.
Tugu Kunstkring Paleis
Address: Jl. Teuku Umar No.1, RT.1/RW.1, Gondangdia, Menteng, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10350
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 in 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 mix vegetables with raita (yoghurt-based condiment). The options are vegetarian, chicken, panner (Indian cottage cheese), kofta (meatball or meatloaf dishes made of minced meat), 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Cambodia was the country where I had the most memorable culinary experience ever. On my first day on Pub Street in Siem Reap, $1 fried tarantula, scorpion skewers and hints of cocoon as free tester from the vendor were my appetizers, while waiting for the real dinner in the restaurant next door.
In my point of view, the most challenging part of tasting insects is that they are served in their original form, that certain (perhaps, many) people may find it disgusting and unappealing. When I found out that tarantula tastes like beef floss and scorpion is savoury without the excess of weird insect smell (thanks to the marinating process I guess), I felt like I just won the (culinary) challenge and ready to conquer the world as a foodie!
As we continued to enjoy the night in the most vibrant area in the city, we happened to see the sign that manage to get our attention: Crocodile Burger sign! I mean, really? This is interesting.
In just a stone’s throw away, we found another attractive food display covered with microwave safe plastic wrap, exhibiting mouthwatering meals sold in the restaurant called Cambodian Soup, followed by prices written on the blackboard under the display. They sold a wider variety of meat skewers, barbecue and steak, including crocodile and kangaroo. Again, crocodile? Hmm…. I think Cambodians are pretty used to with crocodile meat.
So, I made a decision: I would like to give a shot to have a dinner in this restaurant the following day.
CAMBODIAN SOUP: MORE THAN JUST SOUP RESTAURANT
Don’t let the restaurant name fool you. Yes, it is called Cambodian Soup, but they sell beyond soup dishes. Not only do they offer Asian (mostly Khmer and Thai) fusion dishes, but also tantalize meat lovers by the wide variety of meat, from chicken, beef, fish, frog, mutton, pork to crocodile and kangaroo served as steak and skewers apart from Khmer and Tom Yam soup.
Apart from that, I think the name Cambodian Soup sounds too conservative compared to the edgy interior design. Embracing industrial design as the main concept, it incorporates underground atmosphere with visible pipes, uncovered red bricks, steel lamps and carved stone, inspired by the majestic Angkor Wat temple, on the pillars and lower parts of the wall.
Furthermore, vintage elements spice up the atmosphere at they give more colour and nostalgic feeling, from old-fashion ads, rustic tiles until the most eye-catching decoration hanging on the ceiling, such as bicycles, a Vespa and a rickshaw that mingle with various designs of hanging metal lamp.
I was curious how crocodile meat looks and tastes like when it is served on the table as a dinner menu. Nonetheless, the impression of a scary animal with an intimidating eye gaze, sharp teeth and fags faded away as soon as I looked at the crocodile steak display in front of the restaurant as no one could differentiate it from any regular chicken steak or Wiener Schnitzel.
Compared to insects, tasting crocodile steak seemed to be a piece of cake. Nonetheless, the waiter reminded me that since crocodile meat is chewy, it is more advisable to have the stir-fry minced crocodile with rice and sunny side up for a first-timer like me.
To be honest, I didn’t really feel the sensation of crocodile meat although the meal itself tasted good. Most probably because the appearance of minced meat diminished the sensation of eating exotic dish.
My dad ordered kangaroo steak, that was surprisingly as great as beef tenderloin steak, especially when mixed with the savoury black pepper sauce. Don’t get me wrong, I love kangaroos as cute and lovely animals. I just didn’t know that the meat could be that good.
Of course, there are many other choices for non-adventurous foodies. Thai pineapple fried rice and amok (with the choice of fish, beef, chicken and pork), the most common Cambodian dish served everywhere in the country, are great choices, too. Furthermore, I recommend Khmer Soup (not pictured) to try. Khmer soup is sort of like tom yam soup in terms of sour and refreshing taste of the soup, but not spicy. For those who can’t stand of chili, this could be a perfect option.
FINALLY, CROCODILE STEAK!
On our final day in Siem Reap, nobody had an idea on where to go for dinner. I personally would like to get kangaroo steak just like what my dad had in Cambodian Soup. Since the variety of menu is quite abundant there, they agreed to return to the same restaurant.
However, they ran out of kangaroo steak on that day. That was unfortunate. Yet, they still had crocodile steak. Since crocodile meat is chewy in nature, the waiter asked for a confirmation from the kitchen department whether the crocodile meat they used was the young or old one. A few minutes later, he told me that the young crocodile was the one they used. So, finally I ordered crocodile steak, for real!
Having had previously seen how crocodile steak look like, I expect neither fancy nor exotic appearance from my most awaited dish since day one. I concluded that crocodile meat tastes like chicken, yet more chewy. Nonetheless, it is considered tender for crocodile meat standard.
Overall, Cambodian Soup have good quality food with value for money. Moreover, I love the young-spirited ambiance inside the restaurant. My crocodile steak only cost me $6.50, my dad’s kangaroo steak was $9. Basically, you can get good quality meals for less than $10, excluding drinks.
How about drinks? Well, I only paid $0.50 for a glass of beer! We initially didn’t want to have some beer, but the waiter misunderstood me when I said, “Three separate bills, please.” with “Three beers, please”. In the end, we unexpectedly received 3 glasses of beer. Nonetheless, we were surprised that beers are so cheap after checking the bill as if we paid for nothing.
FYI, in most cases, dining in Cambodia is very cheap. So, there’s no need to have a tight budget for it. Isn’t it great?
IF YOU HAVE TIME, GO TO TEMPLE BALCONY
Right above Cambodian Soup, on the 2nd floor, there’s a very nice bar called Temple Balcony, where there are Cambodian dance performances showing 5 times a day and pool tables to rent. Having the same ownership as Cambodian Soup, I noticed the hanging bicycles and the same pillar design used downstairs, but the dim lighting and traditional statues deliver more mysterious atmosphere. Also, you can enjoy the same food and drinks as those at Cambodian Soup, that’s for sure.
So, don’t rush, go upstairs and enjoy your night at Temple Balcony as well!
Suppose you read the first part of this post, you will find out that we came to this ramen shop by mistake. In brief, we were initially advised to go to Honke Daiichiasahi. Nonetheless, since none of us could read Japanese, we didn’t realize that the store where we queued up, the one with a red canopy, was Shinpuku Saikan. On the other hand, Honke Daiichiasahi had a yellow canopy, according to the image shown on Google Map.
Despite the wrong line, we decided to stick to it because the queue at Honke Daiichiasahi was unbearable to wait with an empty stomach.
On that day, the last order was at 10.30 pm. So at 10.15 pm, we were the last guests to be in line. The waiter passed their menu to us and everyone else queuing up outside the outlet. About 20 minutes later, we officially entered the eatery. Even so, our patience was once again put to the test when we still had to stand until the existing guests left their seats.
DAY 1: THE ORIGINAL KYOTO STYLE RAMEN
Established in 1938, it is claimed to be the original style of Kyotoramen. Its neighbour and rival, Honke Daiichiasahi, on the other hand, was opened about 15 years later. The dining room had a minimalist and clean-cut style, dominated with white-tiled wall surrounding that gave an impression of nothing flashy and pretentious about this eatery. The white atmosphere was also reflected at the bar section, including the menu list on top of it printed on white background. There was no particular decoration to beautify the interior except “basic necessities”, such as calendar and clock.
When we finally managed to get our turn, the waiter passed us the menu once more. My choice mostly goes to the original menu every time I come to a new restaurant and I would not change my mind ever since we took the queue outside. So I made up my mind, I would have the tonkotsu ramen. Large portion. I wasn’t hungry. I was starving!
The intense black colour soup somehow still shocked me, although I had previously seen the picture on the menu. I had never seen such a dark sauce from a Japanese noodle dish. The abundant sliced pork, scallion and the poached egg looked very tantalizing, that’s for sure, apart from the very generous portion of the noodle. Remember, I ordered the large one. So it just had to be that way! Since Japanese people seem to love shoyu (soy sauce) so much, I really hoped that the salty taste of the soy sauce would not stand alone.
Once I sipped the soup, I realized my first impression of the black ramen was not exactly right. The soup was actually somewhere between savoury and saltybecause the pork broth taste was able to balance the strong taste of the shoyu itself, even though I still hope that the broth taste could have come out a bit more. But, it’s just my opinion and should not be taken seriously. The noodle was satisfying in terms of its al dente texture and I was happy about it.
DAY TWO: THE YAKIMESHI
Since we saw a lot of people ordered the fried rice, or yakimeshi, the night before, we returned to Shinpuku Saikan to fulfill our curiosity. It was around 3 pm and nobody was in line. We got our seats in seconds. Yeaaay!!
Unfortunately, I was allergic to any (deep) fried food. Therefore, my friend was the one who ordered the yakimeshi and I only allowed myself to have 2 to 3 spoonful of the rice maximum to avoid itchy throat and agonizing cough that may last the whole day.
The appearance of the yakimeshi was slightly darker than Indonesian fried rice, which was not really common for a Japanese style fried rice in my point of view. Unlike the ramen, there was only one type of yakimeshi offered, which was with scrambled egg and diced chicken. Despite its basic ingredients, it was actually fantastic. Another particular thing about the fried rice was that it was served with a small bowl of black soup; the same soup as that of the ramen. To be honest, I found it a bit funny to eat fried rice and sipping the soup simultaneously and I would rather enjoy the yakimeshi alone without the soup.
For us, Shinpuku Saikan delivered a new perspective and experience of eating ramen, as we just knew that it doesn’t always come with clear or thick white soup. Apart from that, it came to our surprise as well that the soup could take part as a condiment for fried rice. Although I was not very accustomed with the soup taste at first, I think it was pretty delicious in its own way.
We considered ourselves lucky to be at the wrong place as it unexpectedly spiced up our culinary adventure.