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Musings on Travel, Fashion & Fun


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Yilan, Taiwan – Yoshino Cherry: A Minsu which feels like Home

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿A homely and comfortable minsu I stayed at while in Yilan was at Yoshino Cherry Minsu 吉野櫻民宿. The spacious two-storey house is the home of Chen-jie 陳姐, who stays with her family at a smaller house just behind this main building. The minsu is named Yoshino Cherry as Chen Jie’s husband likes cherry blossoms, and the minsu is also home to some cherry trees.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿I like the feeling of being welcomed into a real home as opposed to checking into an unfeeling hotel room when I travel. The airy living room made me want to sink right into the inviting couch (which I did at night, chatting with my friends, Chen Jie and her husband before heading to bed).

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿There are only 4 rooms at the minsu, with one of them having 2 rooms (that’s why there are 5 keys here). Each room has a different theme, and opening each room door brings a gust of anticipation.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿The Eiffel Tower room is the only room located on the first floor. It would be good for elderly who cannot climb up the stairs or couples who want more privacy (which was taken by the only pair of lovebirds in our group).

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿I stayed at the Royal Earl Room. Something tells me it will be my kind of room from the crown painted on the room sign.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Woohoo! Grand-looking Victorian bed, red chandeliers and a silver couch – #like. It comes with a balcony too.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿I was lusting after the Rose Garden Room too – just look at the gorgeous rose headboard with matching rose cushions!

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿The Mediterranean Room comes with 2 bedrooms, so it would be suitable for a family or 2 couples.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿I felt like singing “Under the Sea”…kids would like this room.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Welcome to Greece…well even for just a wall mural. I like the four-poster bed and cosy ambience.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Yoshino Cherry is surrounded by farmland so it would be lovely to have a leisurely high tea at your room balcony and basking in the serenity of Yilan’s naturescape.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Are those hearts I see in the garden?

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿High tea is served every afternoon, and Chen Jie prepares everything herself. One unique thing about this minsu is that it offers one free DIY activity for its guests daily – it can be baking pastries with Chen Jie, or a pottery class with your little ones.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Guests are welcome to use the kitchen. I can almost film a cooking show in this huge space!

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿The big kid in me was pretty happy with the swing I discovered at the back of the garden.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿There is also a children’s play pool. I lost no time in getting pally with the resident Willy the whale. In addition, the minsu has some electric mini cars which are a big hit with kids so parents won’t need to worry much about kids getting bored. The minsu can also arrange for BBQ for you.

Places you can visit near the minsu include Luodong Night Market 羅東夜市 and Dongmen Night Market 東門夜市 which are about 15 minutes away by car, and Sophisca 菓風小舖 a popular DIY candy store is only 5 minutes drive. Kavalan Whisky Factory 金車威士忌酒廠 and several parks are also nearby (see their website under ‘Scenic Spots‘).

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿We checked out the field opposite the minsu after high tea. Look at those papayas! If only they were ripe…

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Most of the areas around were rice fields.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿There were small patches of vegetables grown as well, such as spring onion. They must be one of the plumpest spring onions I have seen.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Brinjals

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Time seems to slow down here where life is simple.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿The highlight of this minsu for me is definitely their breakfast. It is one of the most delicious and nutritious meals I have had. Chen Jie serves Chinese or Western-style breakfast, and both are just as good. Chen Jie epitomizes the spirit of minsu owners very well – we feel her warm hospitality and passion to make her guests feel at home from every little detail at the minsu.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿Yoshino Cherry presents their guests with a souvenir before they leave. Chen Jie used to be a special needs teacher before starting the minsu, and these handmade soaps are made by her former students.

Yoshino Cherry Minsu吉野櫻民宿The road ahead is long, and I know not what awaits. So just smile and enjoy the present moment :)

Yoshino Cherry Minsu 吉野櫻民宿
Address:
宜蘭縣員山鄉惠好村賢德路二段91巷10號
Tel: +886 3 922 7900; Mobile: +886 939 930 116 (Chen Jie 陳姐)
Email:yeafua@yahoo.com.tw.
Website: www.sakurabnb.com.tw
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/YilanYoshinoCherryBedandBreakfast
Room rates start from TWD2,400 to TWD11,000 to book out the entire minsu (good for 12 pax)
Nearest Public Transport: Yilan Train Station宜蘭火車站or Yilan Bus Station宜蘭轉運站; followed by a short taxi ride (about TWD220 – abt USD6.80/SGD9.90)

Read more of my travels in Taiwan

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Tokyo – Get up close with Japan’s Cutest Hooters at Akiba Fukurou Owl Cafe

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウWe have seen our fair share of pet cafes with dogs and cats, but it is in the land of the strange and wonderful that you will find owl cafes. Located on a little street off Tokyo’s Akihabara district (also known as the land of the otaku/geeks), you will find Japan’s first owl cafe featuring over 30 feathered hooters.

Pet cafes gained popularity due to the impracticality of pet ownership in Tokyo’s tiny apartments, as a place where one could still enjoy having a pet to play with. Owls are especially popular in Japan as not they are only adorable, owls are also a symbol of good fortune.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ
While there are a number of owl cafes in Tokyo, I chose this particular one as customers are allowed a high level of interaction with its owls. Reservation is also mandatory, which meant I could avoid wasting time queuing. The cafe allows up to 12 guests per session (1 hour), and guests are requested to arrive 15 minutes ahead of the reserved time slot for a short briefing on dos and dont’s. Payment is also collected upfront, so get ready the cash. The place is also not huge, so do make this the first stop of your day to avoid carrying your entire shopping there.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウPick your favourite Hooter from the Akiba Fukrou family. Apparently, these owls have a pretty good life. They go home to rest with the owner after a day’s of work, where they are rewarded with a feast of, erm, frozen white mice. I guess none of the customers would want to witness feeding at the cafe. I would freak out.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウYou seem to have stepped into another world once you enter the café – one where you have to speak in low voices and not move in sudden movements to avoid startling your new feathered friends – which is a direct opposite from the busy streets just outside. No flash photography is allowed, unless you want to risk being pecked by a whole gang of angry owls.

I was very fascinated with the variety of owls perched in this little room – I never knew there were that many! The well-behaved bunch consisted of a mix of native and imported species in widely-differing sizes, bred and domesticated from birth. You are allowed to touch the owls, and the correct way would be to gently stroke them with just one finger. While it may be tempting to cuddle them like a Pokemon soft toy, it would be best to keep them at an arm’s length. Afterall, they are still wild at heart.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThe owls are named after their personalities, and their names are indicated in the green sign above them. This huge fella named Takoyaki was almost half my body length. I wondered if it got its name – and size – from eating too many takoyaki. If I saw it in the wild, I would probably have shrieked and fainted.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウJust look at its claws!

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThey have their respective rest times too, which is indicated with a pink signage (ZZZ…) above its name.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis fella was probably feeling a little anti-social that day, perching itself near the ceiling.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウSome others were trying to catch forty winks.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウWhile another pair looks to be in a domestic quarrel.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ“I am not talking to you.”

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis little feather ball almost had me exploding in laughter – SO CUTE!

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウWhat beautiful animals they are.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウMeet Mr President. I bet it would make a better president than the recent ones we have.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウMr President is also a very curious creature. Don’t you adore his big round eyes?

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウI found myself trying to match the size of their eyes.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウAnd this one threw me a dirty look, hermp.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウEach customer is invited to choose to an owl and sit at one of the small tables with it. This one named Gorilla caught my fancy with its ‘shocked’ look.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウUnfortunately, Gorilla was rather camera-shy – no matter how I turned it, its head remained right in the same position – away from the camera and away from me. My hand was also getting tired from holding the sizable bird.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウOthers got into mischief and climbed on top of a customer’s head. Another one pooped on the pants of the customer, to which the staff cooed “He likes you.” Wow, what a way to show love.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウBy then I was getting a little restless as I searched for my second owl to hold. I was drawn to these two docile barn owls who watched me as I moved aimlessly around the place looking for THE one.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウI love its heart-shaped face! This little sweetie is called Whitebait, or しらす (shi ra su) in Japanese.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis time, the staff put Whitebait right on my shoulder instead of perching it on my arm. I was initially a little apprehensive that it would poop on me or peck my eyeballs.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis little sweetie quickly won me over. It was so tame and sweet. Its feathers felt so soft too. I had so much fun with it, I really wanted to bring Whitebait home.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis was my first encounter upclose with this creature of the night. Apart from being menacing prey hunters that we usually see in photographs, they are also affectionate, soft to the touch and so adorable.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ*Heart melts again*

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Owl be back for more. (Couldn’t resist the corny pun :p)

 

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロ
Address:
67 Kanda Neribeichō, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to, 101-0022, Japan
神田練塀町67 アキバフクロウビル1F
Opening Hours: 12:00PM – 6:00PM
Website: http://akiba2960.com
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/akibafukurou
Email:  akiba2960@gmail.com
Price: 1,500 yen an hour, cash only. Reservation mandatory, book online up to 3 days in advance.
Getting there: Take the train to Akihabara station, followed by a 5-min walk. Directions here.
Note there is no phone at the cafe, so communication is via email only.

Here’s a list of animal cafes in Tokyo as well, from owls, dogs, cats, lizards and even snakes. Only in the Land of the strange & wonderful! :)


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Kyoto – Savouring Yuba 湯葉 at こ豆や Komameya

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantEating in Kyoto offers a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Japan’s former capital. Some local delicacies that you should try include Yudofu (tofu boiled in clear broth), Kaiseki (traditional Japanese multi-course haute cuisine), Shojin ryori (cuisine of the Japanese Buddhist monks), Kyo-wagashi (Kyoto sweets) and Yuba (soy-bean skin).

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantYuba 湯葉 is one of the main ingredients of Shojin ryori, and is also nutritious with high protein content. Yuba can be served raw or cooked in various ways, from appetizers, soups, desserts and even as vegetarian meat. At Komameya (‘little bean shop’), a yuba restaurant by Kyoto yuba maker Ueda Yuba Company, you can savour savor interesting dishes made with freshly-made yuba. This is also one of the few places in Kyoto that serves yuba made from black soy beans (kuromame) and green soy beans (edamame).

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantKomameya has two branches in Kyoto. I visited the Nishiki branch for dinner. It is not that easy to spot as it is located on the third floor of a building. The best landmark around would be Ippudo Ramen two buildings away.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe restaurant was cosy and perfect to spend a leisurely meal at.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantKomameya serves a-la-carte dishes as well as set courses for lunch and dinner. I went for the 雪 Yuki Course consisting 10 dishes (it is a sizable feast for ladies).

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantWatching the chefs at work. Such seriousness.

Tofu is especially famous in Kyoto for a few reasons – the city’s large number of underground springs provide excellent water quality for making tofu from good quality soybeans grown locally. Moreover, the tofu-making tradition has been passed down from generation to generation in Kyoto and the competition is fierce to keep up with other shops. Finally, the demand for vegetarian food is large from the priests living in the many temples in Kyoto. Tofu will thus remain an integral part of Kyoto.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantI ordered an unsweetened soy bean drink to start with.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe appetizer trio of black sesame bean curd and fried soy bean balls was a good start to work up an appetite for dinner.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantYuba ‘sashimi’

Yuba is made by simmering soy milk in a large, rectangular pan. As the soy milk boils, the thin, delicate film that forms on the surface and scooped up is yuba (See how it is made here). Asians would be familiar with this in its dried form as beancurd sticks (腐竹 fu zhu). When served fresh, you can dip it with a little soy sauce if desired. I prefer to savour as-is.

If you are there with friends, you can also order the yuba pot and try making it yourself. Otherwise order a-la-carte dishes instead of the set course, else there will be too much food.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantAn odd combination, but I loved the mashed soy bean curd with olive oil.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantInstead of the usual miso soup, the clear yuba broth with citrus was refreshing.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe only meat dish was grilled fish with yuba and cheese.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThis dish of yamaimo (mountain potato), atsuage (fried tofu pocket), and grilled yuba reminded me of oden.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantBraised black soy bean yuba with golden mushroom, garnished with flower petals.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe fried yuba was delish!

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe final savoury dish was Kumiage Yuba-don, a rice bowl covered with smooth soy milk yuba and a raw egg. Not a single grain of rice was left behind.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantFinally, dessert was matcha soy bean pudding (which reminded me of panna cotta), topped with a piece of fried yuba.

I enjoyed my meal tremendously. It was mind-blowing to see yuba prepared in so many different and delicious ways, and at a wallet-friendly price. I look forward to visiting again the next time I am in Kyoto, and to check out other yuba restaurants in the city.

こまめや Komameya

Nishiki Outlet
Address:
3F, Libertas Nishiki-koji Bldg. Nishiki-koji, Higashi-no-Toin higashi iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
〒604-8127 京都市中京区錦小路東洞院東入る西魚屋町619 リベルタス錦小路3階
Tel: +81-75-221-7300
Webpage: http://www.ueda-yuba.co.jp/komameya_fifes/nishiki/nishiki.html
– 3 minute walk from Shijo subway and Karasuma train stations
– immediately west of Kyoto Daimaru Dept. Store north entrance
– 50 metres west of Nishiki Market west entrance
– 5-min walk from Karasuma Station on Hankyu Kyoto Line, or 5-min walk from Shijo Station on Metro Karasuma Line
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2.30pm; Dinner 5.30pm-10pm
Closed on Wednesdays

Nijo Outlet 二条店
Address: 〒604-8381 京都市中京区西ノ京職司町8-1
Tel: +81-75-812-3717
– About 2-min walk from Nijo Station 二条駅
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2.30pm; Dinner 5.30pm-10pm
Closed on Mondays dinner and Wednesdays

Lunch set course (a la carte available)
Yuba set course JPY2,000
Komame-ya set course JPY3,000
Dinner set course (a la carte available)
Yuki set course JPY3,500
Tsuki set course JPY5,000
Hana set course JPY7,000


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Tai Cheong Bakery 泰昌餅家 opens its first Cha Chaan Teng in Singapore

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家Tai Cheong Bakery, a Hong Kong brand known for its egg tarts, has opened its first Hong Kong-style cha chaan teng diner in Singapore. The diner at Holland Village comes after a series of pop-up stores and a takeaway counter at Takashimaya Food Hall.

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家Diners can have a taste of Hong Kong with traditional cha chaan teng dishes at the 60-seat eatery located right in the heart of Holland Village. With already so many similar Hong Kong cafes in town, I was curious to find out if this one is as authentic.

Cha chaan teng culture came about in the 1950s as a result of Hong Kong’s increasingly cosmopolitan and westernized middle class. Back in those days when Hong Kong was still a British colony, only high-class restaurants served western food and most of them did not welcome local Hong Kong people. After WWII, in a bid to end such discrimination, local Hong Kong people started to open their own restaurants called Cha Chaan Teng (translated into tea hall) serving affordable dishes combining elements of Western dining with unique Hong Kong flavours for people from all walks of life. Such cha chaan teng operate-around-the-clock serving a wide range of food at a breakneck pace to match Hong Kong’s busy lifestyle. In fact, cha chaan teng is so much representative of Hong Kong that it was suggested that the humble local diner should be listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

For me, visiting a (non-touristy) cha chaan teng is a must whenever I go Hong Kong. You learn to adapt to their pace and it’s the best way to experience the local culture. You get to share tables with the locals (tab toi), get scolded for hesitating over your order and overhear the latest gossip in the neighbourhood lol. Sometimes the waiters are the funniest bunch of people to talk to when they are not so busy.

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家Tai Cheong Bakery will have a takeaway counter to sell its signature egg tart and other pastries, including a new durian and cheese tart specially created for Singapore and sold exclusively at the diner. Dine in customers can order up to 2 egg tarts per person and are not allowed to take away egg tarts. Customers at the takeaway counter may order up to 4 boxes/16 egg tarts.

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家I visited the diner during its first opening weekend, and queued for about 45 minutes. You can give your name and mobile number to the staff, and the system will call your mobile once your table is ready. I chose to wait by the diner and feast my eyes on the menu.

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家Piping hot egg tarts are the best! I always love eating them hot when the warm egg filling slides down your throat, and the crispy crust melts as your teeth sinks into it.

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家We started out our meal with a coconut tart and an egg tart to share. The egg tart was up to expectation while the coconut tart was a disappointment – I tasted more flour than coconut.

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家I loved my spicy cola boiled with lemon and ginger; it made me feel like I was in Hong Kong once again. The Hong Kong milk tea went terribly wrong though, it was tannic and didn’t taste anything like the Hong Kong tea we knew. Even after one packet of sugar the taste wasn’t right.

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家The mains fared much better. We ordered the Three Colour Silky Egg with Rice (with roasted pork and crispy pork belly) after seeing it on many of the diners’ tables. The portion was huge. The curry fan in me initially wanted the Beef Brisket Curry Rice but decided against it after seeing the actual pitiful-looking dish being served. So, presentation does play an important part in whetting your guests’ appetite.

Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore 泰昌餅家
The Three Egg Macoroni Soup with Luncheon Meat was comfort food to me, though the luncheon meat strips were really salty. We were feeling a little ‘egged out’ by the end of our meal – almost every single dish had eggs in them so our cholesterol level must have shot up by quite a bit. Overall, it’s a nice casual place to hang out with friends, and I hope the downsides we had were just nuances of a newly-opened eatery. I would probably visit again if I am in the neighbourhood.

泰昌餅家 Tai Cheong Bakery Singapore
Address:
31 Lorong Liput Singapore 277742
Opening Hours: 10:00AM to 10:00PM (Mon to Fri)/9:00AM to 10:00PM (Sat, Sun, PH)
*Note that mains are available at 11:00AM – 2:30PM/ 5:30PM – 9:30PM (Pastries and drinks are available all day)
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/taicheongeggtarts

Tai Cheong Bakery’s original store in Hong Kong
Address: G/F 35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 8300 8301
Opening Hours: 7:30AM to 9:00PM (Mon to Sat), 8:30AM to 9:00PM (Sun & PH)
Nearest Train Station: Central MTR, Exit D2
Website: http://www.taoheung.com.hk/tc/brands/tai_cheong/index.html

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