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Saturday, December 20, 2014

A pre-Christmas dinner at Donosti, a trip to Japan in the spring, and two meals at Noma in Tokyo

In Manila tonight, living a Travelife, I had a pre-Christmas dinner at Donosti with three couples who are quite old friends. We'd all done a trip together in Japan some years back, and since then, we always get together for a long wine dinner just before Christmas.

This pre-holiday dinner has become an annual tradition, and it's quite nice, especially as we see too little of each other the rest of the year.

One couple actually traveled with me around France and Spain earlier this year, while the two other couples were in Tokyo at the same time as I was, last October.

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One of the pairs is even spending the year-end holidays in Hokkaido, and visiting some of the same restaurants and the same hot spring town that I'd gone to last October.

That's me in Hokkaido last October,
living a Travelife.

Of course, I gave them the low-down about a wonderful Michelin three-star French restaurant in Sapporo that we'd loved, and a two-star sushi restaurant that we'd had to miss out on because we just didn't have the time.

In other words, we're all crazy about traveling.


This time, we had really entertaining discussions about ghosts in Europe, grocery shopping lists, common friends, and good restaurants in Tokyo.

We also decided to plan a trip to Japan together in the spring, and I volunteered to create a trip to places they've not been to yet, to discover the local side of Japan.

Fortunately, they're all game and lots of fun to be with, so I'm really looking forward to planning this and it looks like this is going to be a good Travelife to Japan.



"When's your next Travelife?" Someone asked me.

I'm actually staying put for the holidays, as it's a really nice time to actually not be traveling.

I plan to catch up with friends, get some work done, do some mental and logistical housekeeping before the year ends, and also to walk around a polo field at least three times every day -- just to get some much-needed exercise done.


Then, mid-January, I'm off to Tokyo for a pretty big foodie trip that involves two meals at Noma and a meal at the most coveted restaurant in Japan in between.

Two people are very kindly taking me to Noma, and I'm still trying to decide who to ask for a meal at the most coveted restaurant in Japan.

I don't know how I could be so lucky with my restaurant reservations, or with my friends. Or with my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife, for that matter.

Dreaming of a Moroccan chicken tagine with preserved lemons

At home this morning, living a Travelife, I woke up at 5 AM and the first thing that came to my mind, for some reason, was the idea of making a chicken tagine.

I guess food has been on my mind since yesterday, as I've been thinking about possible menus for the sit-down dinner that Mr. Jaded and I are hosting at his home as a farewell for an ambassador, right after New Year.

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The chicken tagine is a Moroccan dish that can be ever so tasty when done well.

And I woke up thinking of making one with a thick sauce, lots of olives, and also lots of preserved lemons.

I decided I would make it in my Le Creuset tagine and then serve it in this beautiful handcrafted blue and gold tagine serving dish that I'd brought back from my last trip to Morocco.


There was just one hitch.

I'd run out of preserved lemons, as I make my own preserved lemons for tagine and salads, and I'd used up the last batch on a very successful tagine dinner I'd hosted for some friends recently.

It takes at least three weeks to properly preserve lemons, and here I was practically salivating over a really delicious tagine.

I don't know any other place to have a better tagine in this city, other than at my own home, because I preserve my own lemons and I don't scrimp on ingredients. I'd tasted many tagine on my last two trips to Morocco, but I realise I like the way I make it the best.



But this just means I'll have to wait until early next year to cook a tagine, just because the preserved lemons won't be ready, and preserved lemons are crucial to the kind of tagine I like.

So tomorrow, I'm heading to the organic market to buy a bunch of lemons to preserve, so that I can host another tagine dinner for my friends as soon as possible, on just another wonderful evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Best of a TRAVELIFE 2014: The most delicious tempura in Tokyo is at Mikawa Zezankyo

This was taken with my iPod and posted on Instagram.
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So one day in May, I had lunch at Mikawa Zezankyo, widely considered by many Japanese foodies as the best tempura restaurant in Tokyo.

It has one Michelin star, which is very respectable, but of course not as prestigious as having two Michelin stars, such as in the case of 7-Chome Kyoboshi, another tempura restaurant in Tokyo, located in Ginza.

Incidentally, 7-Chome Kyoboshi lost its third star this year -- which is why it's only a two-star restaurant for 2014. And since I wrote about Mikawa Zezankyo in this blog last May, I heard lots of people from my part of the world have been trooping to this restaurant in a most nondescript part of Tokyo.



I let someone else choose this restaurant, and he decided on this out of all the restaurants in this city that we could have gone to, because so many Japanese consider Mikawa Zezankyo the best for tempura.

The master chef is revered almost as a national treasure in Japan, for faithfully making tempura in the Edo style for at least 30 years

This was taken with my iPod and posted on Instagram.
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In this day and age of shock value in Michelin-starred restaurants, when you are almost not supposed to understand what you are eating, or when you are supposed to be incredibly surprised by what you are eating, a restaurant like Mikawa Zezankyo feels like such a safe place.

A restaurant where things are always the same, no matter when you go.

"Edo style" means that the chef only uses ingredients for tempura that were available and used during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

How's that for real tradition?


No one travels like us.
Or eats like us. Or writes like us.
This is why we're #1.



On another subject, it really intrigued me how a restaurant so widely considered the best in Tokyo could only be rated a one-star by the Michelin inspectors.

But when I got there, I understood why.

Restaurants rated two or three stars by the Michelin inspectors -- I know one of the Michelin inspectors in Japan, by the way -- are very sleek in presentation, even if they are traditional restaurants.

The marketing aspect is never under-estimated, in the three-star restaurants I've been to so far, all over the world, including Japan.

Everything in a Michelin three-star restaurant is delicious, flawless and aesthetically beautiful, whether it is a simple or a complicated by design.

This was taken with my iPod and posted on Instagram.
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In contrast, the Mikawa Zezankyo is a hodge-podge of sorts, especially in the upper floors.

On that first visit in May, we arrived early and were ushered to a waiting room on the third floor, which was full of all kinds of memorabilia ranging from screens to statues to ink brushes.

All very interesting -- but you really don't know if this is someone's home or a famous Michelin-starred restaurant. 

In my humble opinion, this is one factor in the star ratings, which take into account the entire experience.

Even if a restaurant is casual or informal, it must be perfect in a casual or informal way, if it is to rate three stars. There should be no dilution of message, in marketing-speak.


Meanwhile, the meal, which we had on the nine-seater counter with the National Treasure himself cooking tempura for us, was an entirely different experience.

We all sat down to eat at the same time, and it seems we all ordered the lunch for around US$100 a head, as we were all served exactly the same thing.

They also have a $170 o-makase (leave it to the chef) menu, which we declined to order. The more modest menu we had was so much food that the idea of what the o-makase might have been like leaves me breathless.

This was taken with my iPod and posted on Instagram.
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The entire process took just over two hours and everything worked like clockwork for a very efficient but incredibly delicious meal.

If you are looking for fantastic tempura at a price that won't break the bank, this is it.

The best tempura were the seafood, which was interesting to me as I usually like vegetable tempura way more than seafood tempura -- with the exception of the kisu fish.

But that day, the seafood tempura was spectacular, while the vegetable tempura of shiitake and asparagus was just okay.

At least for me, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

PS: This degustation meal ended very simply and beautifully with three slices of sweet lemon-limes, so beautifully presented as below.

And, of course, I've been back to Mikawa Zezankyo several times since then. Each time was very delicious, but it was this very first meal here that was most memorable.