Ms Skinnyfat

A Food & Travel Blog from Singapore

I don't know about you but i usually base myself at Shinjuku when i visit Tokyo. The location is relatively central (other than Shibuya) and extremely colorful (Kabukicho is Tokyo's red light district), has easy access to the airport, plenty of shopping, and lots of food. 
It's impossible to go hungry in this relatively mild red light district. If you're looking for something to fuel your late night partying, there are plenty of izakayas here! Check out the smoky Omoide Yokocho 思い出横丁near Shinjuku Station West Exit for all that bbq.

Lest you think i'm going all R21 on you, this post is on the other eats that will last you from dawn till dusk. I'm just scratching the surface as usual with only highlights of what i ate/checked out. 
Wake up to the smell of fresh coffee over at Blue Bottle Coffee! Well this is one of my favorite coffee chains from U.S. and i would buy their packaged cold brew for times when i can't make a pit stop at their cafes. Be prepared for the queue though, this cafe is extremely popular. 
We googled for the best pancakes in Shinjuku and Sarabeth's popped up. Well it's not Japanese pancakes (they hail from NYC)! We would have considered Clinton Street Bakery if not for the fact that it's not within walking distance from our hotel. Sarabeth's is conveniently located at Lumine II Mall right next to Shinjuku station. We had 2 of their signatures- the lemon ricotta pancakes (thin and fluffy with a light citrus, could do with way more syrup), and a creamy eggs benedict. They are satisfying enough but i wouldn't wait more than 30mins for this. 
When you are on the go, sometimes you just want a quick meal. Well here's introducing my favorite comfort food go-to MATSUYA.
If you want a Gyu-don (better than Yoshinoya), you have to come here. I'd dedicate at least 1 meal to Matsuya in every Japanese city that i go to (if available). What's not to love about thinly sliced marinated sweet beef and oozy onsen egg on rice! I always get mine upsized just for the meat! Thank god there are 5 outlets just around Shinjuku station!
I really do love my Ichiran ramen. It's 24h, it's fast, and it's tasty, and there are 2 outlets in Shinjuku. Perfect for that weird-hour hunger pangs. I'll always add their soft boiled eggs! 
On our most recent trip to Tokyo, we also tried another rather popular ramen, Fuunji Ramen. They are very famous for the tsukemen (noodles with dipping sauce) and i tell you.. it's an umami bomb. The super rich chicken broth is topped off with dried fish powder and you'd be surprised by how much of that rich cream the chewy noodles could pick up. I ordered the special without knowing what it entails. Turns out that it's a super large portion of everything, tsukemen style. Their soup ramen is less of an assault to your palate. I'd say go for the small portion, unless you're a big eater. We found it impossible to get through half a bowl each but the petite Japanese ladies don't seem to have a problem slurping theirs. 
Shin Udon is just around the corner from Fuunji Ramen and i've not managed to try it on 3 occasions for various reasons. We were either too full, too hungry, or too tired to stay in line for the handmade buckwheat udon that are made on order. There was always a substantial line for this 6-seater (except the time we were really full). Maybe next year. 
We tried our luck at Tempura Tsunahachi Shinjuku one night, after giving up on the queue at Shin Udon. And oh boy were we lucky to be immediately ushered into this popular tempura establishment without a reservation! Our fellow diners marvelled at our good luck as we tucked into the set meals, priced at ¥2300 onwards. 
The draw here is the fresh live seafood that is lightly battered and fried in sesame oil. Boy the prawns and eel were swimming right before us and we witnessed way eel after eel being skinned and thrown into the boiling oil. The basic set comes with two shrimps, assorted seafood, vegetables, anago (sea eel), kakiage, appetizer; and a set of rice, miso-soup and Japanese pickles. The more expensive sets uses better ingredients such as tiger prawns and you get more items as well. Their omakase is only priced at ¥8,000 (SGD$103). 

If you can't get into Tempura Tsunahachi Shinjuku, you may get lucky at the other very popular tempura restaurant, Funabashiya Honten, which is just opposite.
I wanted Unagi-don and the nearest to us was Unagi Unatetsu (Nodaiwa and Izumoya are too far from Shinjuku). Well.. lunch turned out to be at least a 45min wait in the smoky restaurant as the chef lovingly grilled the fresh eels over charcoal. We could not understand the menu but it seems like there are other skewers available. We simply ordered the unagi-don, and a una-tamago as a side. As the wait progressed, we regretted not ordering a bigger portion (we both went for medium). The silky tamago helped to ease the hanger pangs a little. 
What's great is that the don wasn't overly doused in sauce, even though it could do with a little more oomph in the flavor. The portions could also be a bit more generous! We paid about ¥8000++ for the 2 of us. It's definitely not as satisfying as the one i had at Atsuta Horaiken in Nagoya.

If you're wondering why this is under the 'take it slow' category, it's because the wait is long. But once the food to you, you really wanna gobble it and leave before you smell too bad. 

Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima is where i'd want to really take it slow for dinner. This one Michelin-starred restaurant offers traditional Japanese cuisine made with seasonal ingredients. For dinner, their Chef's selection is priced at ¥15,000, which features their specialty soup dish, the Owan. Their sardine lunch set is but a fraction of this price at ¥800 and you get to choose from 4 types of preparation- Sashimi - raw sardine with seaweed and sesame, furai - fried sardine, nizakana - sardine in soy sauce and yanagawanabe - sardine cooked with egg.

Now now, with so many options to pick from, why wouldn't anyone wanna base themselves in Shinjuku on a trip to Tokyo?

Japan is such a diverse country with multiple prefectures, each with their own crowning glory. When we speak of Japanese tourism, the usual suspects are Hokkaido, Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto etc. However, there are multiple hidden gems interspersed amongst the many cities that make up Japan, and Niigata is one of them.

With the Shinano River running through and irrigating the city before opening into the Sea of Japan, Niigata is a port city renowned for their seafood, rice, Sake and fresh produce. From now till 30 Dec 2016, Tóng Lè Private Dining has partnered with Niigata City Prefecture to feature a set menu incorporating freshest ingredients direct from the famed “Rice Kingdom”.
We loved the Snow Crab (featured in the dinner menu), which consists slivers of the sweet, briny snow crab flesh marinated in two types of rice wine, served on a bed of Japanese tomatoes and topped with ikura.
Ama-ebi, or sweet shrimp, is an extremely popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine. What is special about the sweet shrimp featured in this specially curated menu is that their color and shape resembles that of chili peppers or 'nan-ban', earning them the nickname of Nanban Ebi. In order to preserve the sweetness and texture of these prawns caught off the coast of Niigata, Chef Ling of Tóng Lè has chosen to top the raw prawns on a light, velvety smooth pumpkin soup with delicate Japanese mushrooms.

No one does Wagyu like the Japanese, and the Wagyu beef we had was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and rich in flavour. Also excellent was the succulent greens and roasted chestnuts served on the side.
Japan is one of my favorite destinations and i think it's quite perfect for a foodie because every region/prefecture has its own specialties and they have such great seasonal produce as well and therefore it never gets boring even with repeated visits. On my last visit, we stopped by Nagoya (well SQ flies direct) and it being a short transit before we make our way to the slopes, i made sure we covered most of the must eats. So here is my list! 
HITSUMABUSHI- Broiled Eel Rice Bowl 
There is the regular unagi, and then there's the Nagoya unagi. Nagoya is the country's largest producer of fresh water eel (unagi), which is slit open along the belly, grilled without steaming, slathered in a rich, dark sauce, and served over rice. I'm not going into the whole Tokyo v.s. Nagoya unagi but anyhow this is damn delicious. 

There's no better place to try the eel other than at Atsuta Horaiken, an unagi institution founded in 1873. They trademarked their method the Hitsumabushi, which sees the eel being served in a traditional wooden tub accompanied by a rice bowl, a plate of condiments and chazuke (broth).
The Hitsumabushi method splits the serving of eel into four portions. Portion 1- have it the original way to savor the smokiness of the eel with sweet soy. Portion 2- have it with the sides of spring onions, nori, a touch of wasabi. Portion 3- add on the ocha to Portion 2 to make a chazuke. Portion 4- eat as you like it. I liked the condiments with my unagi, and the chazuke style was really yummy too. 
For ¥3600, the Hitsumabushi is a tad pricy but it was too darn good really. The portion is massive but nobody shared their bowl. There are other unagi sets which are slightly cheaper but you don't get as huge a portion of unagi. Make sure you try the Umaki (eel in omelette) as well! It's super darn good.

3-16-1, Sakae, Naka-ku, Nagoya-shi, Matsuzakaya Nagoya Shopping Center South Building 10F  (go to this one as it is slightly less crowded i think. Yabaton is on the same level!)

Jingu 2-10-26, Atsuta-ku 名古屋市熱田区神宮2-10-26
MISO KATSU- Fried Pork Cutlet in Miso Sauce
Nagoya is crazy about miso and i love them for that. They can put miso in everything and i'll eat it up. For some delicious Miso Katsu (fried pork cutlet), join the queue at Yabaton, a Nagoya franchise established in 1947. A thick cut breaded piece of juicy Southern Kyushu pork is drenched with a thick Aka Miso (fermented red soybean paste) sauce, thickened with broth and seasoning for that super umami flavor. It tastes familiarly of the red chee cheong fun sauce (Singaporeans and Malaysians would know what i mean) but the enhanced version. Don't be greedy. Each portion can feed 2 easily.

Yabaton (みそかつ 矢場とん )
3-6-18 Osu, Naka-ku, Nagoya

Kill 2 birds with one stone by eating the Cochin Chicken Miso-Nikomi Udon at Yamamotoya Honten, one of the best known restaurants hawking this flat chewy udon noodle cooked in a miso-bonito stock dish (yes miso again!) The cochin chicken is kinda chewier, leaner and richer in flavor than the regular chicken. I think it's the Japanese version of the Malaysian Kampong chicken, or wild/free range chicken. It's a prized meat that even the Japanese don't have this often. We weren't that impressed with the meat but i would have that udon anytime. Perhaps a better way is to enjoy the meat would be the yakitori style. For that, you may want to check out Kinboshi.  

Yamamotoya Honten
Nakamura-ku, Nagoya, Sakae 4-1-1, Chunichi Bldg B2F. (Underground arcade at Sakae subway station)
4-3-25 Meieki Minami, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi-ken; 052-541-3050.
TEBASAKI- Chicken Wings
Who can resist deep fried chicken wings? Tebasaki is so famous in Nagoya, it's one of those gifts that Japanese will take home when they visit Nagoya. #SRSLY Well head on over to Yamachan for crispy wingtips that are seasoned first and then fried without batter (they double fry it for extra crispiness), and then basted with sauce on both sides while being turned, seasoned with salt and pepper, and coated with white sesame seeds. This is perfect bar grub for ¥400 (for 5 wings). You can also get miso-katsu at Yamachan but don't miss the tebasaki. 
Yamachan 世界の山ちゃん
Many locations around Nagoya. There's one right at Nagoya Station.

TENMUSU- Tempura Rice Balls
Rice balls are done a little differently in Nagoya and they prefer some fried shrimp tempura in their rice instead. The Nagoya people treat this like an art, focusing on how well they wrap the tenmusu. First timers may find it a little bland as the rice is not seasoned, and so it's all left to the shrimp and nori to give the snack its flavor. This is simple take away food really and rather convenient to eat. Since i've never seen these anywhere else in Japan, I got some of these for my train ride to Gero Onsen.

Jiraiya (地雷也)
1-739 Tokugawa, Higashi-ku, Nagoya
Senju - Nagoya-Famous Temmusu (めいぶつ天むす 千寿)
4-10-82 Osu,Naka-ku, Nagoya

Well, there isn't a specific specialty dessert in Nagoya i think so i'm just throwing this in for good measure. I fell in love with Sadaharu Aoki's macarons after tasting them in Nagoya. I would say that this is the best Asian substitute for Pierre Herme (sadly none in Nagoya. i checked.) Love the shells, the light sweetness, and intense flavors. Very nicely done. If you can't get PH, SA is yums.

JR Nagoya Takashimaya B1F
1 Chome Meieki, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi
So that's my 5 Must Eat dishes in Nagoya Japan. What's your top 5 list? 
Onsen season has descended upon us once again and there's nowhere better to soak in minerals than in Japan and i swear that Kurokawa Onsen is the best place to do that. It's an amazingly beautiful town, and their onsens and ryokans are impeccable. From open air baths with a starry night sky view, or by the gushing river, or something in the middle of a forest, travelers are spoilt for choice here. 
If you stay at a ryokan, certainly they would have a hot spring for your use. Even still, you should, like the day trippers, go on a Rotemburo Meguri a.k.a. a tour of outdoor baths. Trust me, it's the only thing to do at Kurokawa onsen. Get your hands on the onsen pass for 1300Y which gives you access to 3 onsens, otherwise, the typical single entrance fee is 500Y. 
There are more than 20 participating ryokan and the pass is valid for up to 6 mths. It's a bit crazy to do all 3 onsens in a day but 2 days would be just right. You can get your pass at the tourist info center or at your ryokan. Too many onsens to pick from? Well I'm gonna highlight a couple of the really good ones that you could consider checking out. 

8.30am - 9pm
Accommodation: From 16,000 yen per person including 2 meals
Yamamizuki has one of the best outdoor riverside baths in Japan. It took us a while on foot, because i insisted on wearing the yukata and geta. It's a must ok. 
It's a long and winding road that took us through lovely forests and fields. It's surreal. 
The baths are mainly outdoors here and are separate gender baths. I was greeted with lush greenery and the sound of the running river. I could sit here and meditate to the sound of the rushing waters all day. 
After the really hot soak, take a walk through the rock path (also aptly called the naked path), which will lead you to the smaller indoor baths. 
The water isn't as hot inside so it was a little more comfortable. Plus you get to see a mini waterfall beyond the trees. 
Love this spot. The facilities are quite bare though with open wooden shelves for you to store your belongings and a simple onsen shower inside. Cool yourself down with some ice cream at their little cafe before heading off!

2. Hozantei
8.30am - 9pm  
Accommodation: From 16,000 yen per person including 2 meals
Another outstanding riverside bath you may want to check out is Hozantei. It's surrounded by forests and has a rustic atmosphere but the downside is that it's the farthest from the town center. I don't suppose anyone would want to be walking 3km in those clogs. 

I remember this as the starry night onsen because of its name and also their special mixed gender pool which is a wade out from the private pools. It's much closer to the trees and i'm pretty sure it would be dark enough for you to enjoy the starry night in the open. 
This is the female only pool. It doesn't look like much actually though the falling water is good for back massages. Stay here if you're not comfortable with naked bodies of the opposite sex. 
See that opening in the rock? That's the entrance to the mixed gender pool. It's quite a treacherous path and requires some maneuvering to get to. Did not get pictures outside because i was afraid of getting the camera wet. Anyway, the pool is quite deep so your modesty would still kinda be protected. HAHA.

Ikoi Ryokan is located in the city centre, just some flights of steps down from the bus stop. We first noticed it because it's next to our ryokan and it looks like a lovely place. We only visited because we didn't have enough time to visit another one that is far out and i was pleasantly surprised by their onsens.
Ikoi takes pride in their special pools, which are touted to give you better skin. Perfect for the ladies!
One of the deeper pools pools. The bamboo pools calls for some gymnastic action (only for vertically challenged ones like myself). I ended up doing some core workout on that. I'm not sure what's the actual purpose but i may just be right. 
There are many pools around actually and it's interesting because they are located on different levels. So yea, you gotta climb around a bit in the cold, naked and all but it's all fun! There are some steam rooms/sauna here as well. For in house guests, Ikoi has some pools that are reserved for them so there is some privacy as well.

So head on over to Kurokawa Onsen for the ultimate onsen experience in Japan. Trust me it doesn't get better than this. For more information on Kurokawa Onsen, you'd definitely want to read on here.

I've always been a fan of the curly yellow Sapporo ramen because i love love miso ramen. Well, that's till i had the most famous variant of ramen, right from ramen city that is Hakata, Fukuoka. This is the birthplace of famous ramen chains like Ichiran 一蘭 and Ippudo 博多一風堂 and any decent ramen fan ought to visit Hakata at least once. 

It's hot spring weather and there's no better place than the pretty Kurokawa Onsen to soak away the burdens and load accumulated in the year. This is one of Japan's most attractive hot spring towns, and i knew exactly why when i set my eyes on it. Despite it being a 'resort' town, there was none of those touristy and gimmicky vibe or huge resort and tour group presence. Instead, there was a peaceful calm in this traditional town where local tourists roam about in their yukata (light Japanese cotton robe) and wooden clogs.
Getting there
Buses run from Yufuin and it was a short 1 hour ride. Kurokawa Onsen is also connected to Mt Aso and Kumamoto Take the Odan Bus (Direction Beppu towards Kumamoto). Click here for the timetable.
When it comes to picking a ryokan in Japan, i would say that it is hard to find something that sucks. Well, then again just make sure you do some research. For my Kyushu trip, i did my planning really late and little did i know that it kinda coincided with the Japanese long weekend and hence the popular ryokans in Yufuin and Kurokawa were all booked! The horror!

Well, i managed to find something in Yufuin (read my Yufuin travel review here) and it's call Yufuin Onsen Ryoso Yufuin Yamadaya (由布院温泉 旅想 ゆふいん やまだ屋). My considerations for the ryokan in Yufuin was that it shouldn't be too far from the train station so that we didn't have to worry about transportation around the town.

Yamadaya is just a short walk away (7-10 mins stroll) from the station. On the way, we walked past the main stream and there are many ryokans along the streams. 

I liked that there are lots of open spaces in this ryokan.
Little garden right in front. 

Another open garden at the back. The outdoor onsen is located here too.

This is our room! Each room is decorated such that it looks like a little house by itself and it is amazingly spacious.

This is our sitting area/bedroom.
We also have another dedicated dresser/sitting area facing our private garden. 

I picked a room with a private hotspring. Well it turned out to be on the puny side. I don't have an issue using the shared onsen facilities but it's nice to be able to go in for a private soak any time of the day. :) The good thing is that there is a little shower by the side and i do not have to use the public one when i need to shower. 
Another awesome thing about Ryoso Yufuin Yamadaya is that they have a variety of shared hotspring baths!

Clean facilities.

A mix of indoors and outdoors.

Private Family Baths. No booking required. You just need to lock the door from inside. :)

There is also a rooftop bath!
This is the outdoor garden bath i was talking about. Mandatory yutaka shot. :)
Then it was dinner in our own room! I didn't know what i ordered because i had to make the meal booking with the room and they didn't state what's on the menu other than some generic pictures. So i picked an option that showed sashimi and wagyu. Hee. Our first X course was the fresh sashimi with 6 little side dishes and this amazing plum with miso dish.  There was also a tofu dish.

Meat for our shabu shabu! Yum Yum!
Cold udon with eel. Not a fan of the eel but they had me at the udon.

I really love the meal times at these ryokans because they feed you sooooo well. I woke up early for another soak in the onsen before breakfast and it really helped with the appetite. I obviously don't need much encouragement.

Japanese breakfasts are my favorite because there's always a huge variety! And they served me my favorite pumpkin salad, fresh omelette and some pickled vegetables.
We also had freshly fried bacon. Dayums.
Overall, a lovely stay at Ryoso Yufuin Yamadaya. Here are some details on the room that i've booked.
Room: Japanese Style Room (R8) with Shower and Toilet
Meal Plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Price: 18900Y/pax/night including accommodation tax and bathing tax (approx 200-400Y)

If you are looking for other ryokans in Yufuin, these are the others that i was considering. Hope it helps!

Kamenoi Bessou

Yadoya Ohashi

What do you look for when picking a traditional accommodation in Japan? Share it in the comments section!

Yufuin Onsen Ryoso Yufuin Yamadaya
Address: 2855-1, Yufuincho Kawakami, Yufu-shi, Oita, 879-5102 Japan
Tel: 0977-85-3185