What to love about Osaka and Kyoto trains and stations

With Osaka as our base all throughout our trip to Japan last March, we spent an ample amount of time in trains and train stations, going to Kyoto, and around Kyoto and Nara. Aside from the Japanese railways’ efficiency, these are some of the things that made my train-loving heart geek out: some cool-looking trains, delicious station eats, and abundant opportunities to people watch.

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Osaka Loop Line. In Tokyo, there’s the Yamanote Line. Osaka also has its own loop line, which has stops in major stations Umeda/Osaka and Tennoji. The line also stops in Osakajokoen, which is the closest JR station to Osaka Castle; and Bentencho, which is two stops away from Osakako (Osaka Aquarium) on the Chuo line.

Hankyu Kyoto Line to Arashiyama. We decided to take the Hankyu Kyoto Line from Umeda (Hankyu) station in Osaka to Arashiyama just because it was the most direct route from where we were staying (in Kita-ku). And the minute I saw the train, I was happy with our decision. It was an old maroon four-car beauty. A Hankyu 6300 series, I found out later on, that has been around since the 1970s and was supposedly refurbished five years ago. Continue reading

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Make your own cup of noodles at the Instant Ramen Museum

Open lid. Pour powder from the packet into cup. Pour hot water. Close lid. Wait for three minutes. Open lid again and have a quick and hot filling cup of instant ramen.

This was how I was introduced to ramen. Since our comforting noodle soups here in the Philippines are of the batchoy and mami varieties (both must-tries if ever you find yourself in the Philippines), my first slurp of the Japanese noodle soup was from a styro Nissin Cup. I didn’t love it but I thought it was genius. No cooking involved! It’s like being 16 and letting that boy you sort of like hold your hand just because you think holding hands is the best thing ever. (That’s acceptable behavior, right?) And then you get to taste the real thing. Authentic ramen from its motherland, fresh noodles, broth that has been deliciously boiling for hours, mouthwatering slices of chashu, the seductive aji tamago… And you fall in love.

On the trip to Japan last March, we made the pilgrimage to Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. As the name suggests, it’s a museum dedicated to instant noodles and cup noodles and to its creator Momofuku Ando. For all my current indifference to instant ramen, I have to admit, it has provided many bellies (mine included) sustenance in a fast and cheap way. We had to pay our respects! Also, my husband likes the stuff to this day.

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Located in Osaka, the museum is around a five-minute walk from Ikeda Station (directions below). We went there on a Sunday and the streets leading to the museum were quiet, empty, and in typical Japanese fashion, very clean. There was just a number of families coming from the museum (the giveaway was that they were lugging around the plastic bag with the instant ramen cup). When we got inside, there were even more families–Japanese parents with their little ones in tow. I guess, the education about instant ramen has to start early on. Continue reading

Bowls of ramen (and a drunk man’s rice bowl) from Ramen Nagi and Hanamaruken Ramen

When the new year came, so did the significant dip in temperature. It reached a cool 17.5 degrees Celsius in Metro Manila, which for our tropical country meant one of the coldest temps in recent history (mountain cities like Baguio, even registered 8 degrees). It also meant you didn’t have to turn on the air conditioning at home, you could take out those jackets out of your closet, and it was the perfect weather for a hot bowl of ramen.

Just a few weeks ago, the weather went back to ‘normal’ (hello again, 30-degree weather), but this shouldn’t stop any self-respecting ramen fan to go out there and have a bowl or two, particularly when there are several relatively new players in the hot ramen scene in the metro. Here are two of them, which I’m finally getting to blog about.

Hanamaruken Ramen

A three-decade old ramen chain from Osaka opened shop in TriNoMa mall in Quezon City late last year. It’s known for its Signature Happiness Ramen (P480), which is a big bowl of shoyu-tonkotsu broth and an even more overwhelming slab of slow-cooked pork rib. Quite a monster, that even the hubby, who can usually put away huge chunks of meat, found it too much. But don’t get me wrong, it was good, the broth was balanced and the meat, fall-of-the-bone tender and flavorful. Just order it when you’re hankering for meat and lots of it.

Signature Happiness Ramen

Signature Happiness Ramen

Or you can order their other varieties of ramen (which will likely provide the same amount of happiness). A less daunting bowl would be the Chasyu Ramen. It has the same steady tonkotsu-shoyu broth but with usual braised pork belly slices and aji tamago (which was just a wee bit overcooked). Continue reading

Rainy days and ramen

What’s better than having ramen? Slurping ramen during a rainy day.

Manila and many parts of the country have been inundated by rain since last month and aside from slurping local favorites such as sinigang, batchoy, mami, champorado and arroz caldo, the Japanese noodle dish is gaining more following in the country.

While a few years back, Japanese restaurants serving good authentic ramen in Manila were not abundant, nowadays you could find one in most parts of the metro. Take Ramen Yushoken in Alabang.

Ramen Yushoken probably tops the list of ramen-ya these days. I know it tops my list. Before it opened, we were already hearing some buzz about it as restaurateur Elbert Cuenca had traveled to Tokyo to go and try bowls and bowls of ramen (lucky!). Months later he opened a ramen-ya serving ramen derived from Japan’s “Ramen God” Kazuo Yamagishi, inventor of the tsukemen (dipping noodles), proprietor of the legendary Taishoken ramen shop in Ikebukuro, and adorable-looking old man who regularly sits outside his restaurant. His successor (or “son of ramen god”) came to the country to make sure that the different varieties of ramen to be served in Yushoken are at par with ramen god’s champion ramen houses. What a build up, right?

Since a queue often forms outside the resto during lunch and dinner hours, we were there even before it opened at 11 am. Yushoken serves ramen in a rich, thick tonkotsu broth base (made from boiling pork bones over several hours). Being a fan of miso (soy bean paste), I stick to my favorite even if it’s described as the most rich soup in the menu; the hubby got shoyu.

Ready for my ramen

Ready for my ramen

Understandably, expectations were high. It opened December last year and it didn’t disappoint as fellow ramen-loving friends kept singing it praises. Because it entailed a bit of a drive from where we lived, P and I only got around to trying it, five months after it opened. And it was worth the long drive, the gas and the toll fee that Saturday morning. Continue reading

Eating in Hong Kong: language barrier, chain restos, and Tim Ho Wan

When you’re traveling and you encounter a menu where you can’t understand single thing, do you a) make an attempt to communicate with the server with only four words you know of the local language , b) point at something in the menu and hope you don’t order something heinous, or c) try your luck in another restaurant with English translations in the menu? I’ve done all three: a) if I am feeling adventurous and , b) if I’m feeling extremely adventurous and c) when exhaustion dictates the need for something familiar and the the only adventure I want to have that day is figuring out the train route.

A common window display

Golden roasted goodness in one of the windows of a restaurant in TST in Hong Kong

In the trip to Hong Kong, a place where good food is abundant, I found myself making all three decisions. In the mornings, when P and I are eager to start our day and before we meet with our friends, we wake up early and explore the nearby streets on our own from where we were staying.

Continue reading