Coffee With A View

I’m exhausted. After a 30-minute and more strenuous-than-expected “walk” up a hilly road, I realised I desperately need to lose weight. Damn all that beer (and these days, soju / makkeoli)!! And the reason for my industry – to seek out this picturesque cafe in the middle of nowhere.

Buamdong, according to my Korean friend, is nicknamed the 사장님동 (Korean for ‘CEO’). That’s because many of the well-heeled and some Korean celebrities live in this neighborhood. And its star attraction is undoubtedly Sanmotoonge (산모퉁이), otherwise known as the filming location of popular Korean drama series “Coffee Prince”. Its breathtaking views justify the steep climb (and prices) I suppose. A cafe latte will cost you 7,000 won, almost twice the price for a cuppa in the city. Cakes start at 7,000 won a piece too. In cooler seasons, the alfresco area would have been fully occupied, but as it is summer, the heat drove me indoors. The view is great, but air-con is what I need at the moment.

Off-the-beaten-track enthusiasts have waxed lyrcial about the quaintness of Buamdong, its charm and mix of art galleries and cafes. Can I be brutally honest? It’s not exactly worth the hike (or the hype). Thankfully, I had also pencilled in an afternoon at Samcheong-dong (삼청동). This is still the place for some aimless wandering, cafe hopping, or leisure shopping at the local designers’ stores. In other words, a wonderful place to bum.

On hindsight, I felt a little silly, having trekked all the way to Coffee Prince Cafe earlier when there are so many fantastic options to choose from in Samcheong-dong. Seoul is caffeine city. There are probably more cafes in Samcheong-dong (or in Seoul for that matter) per square metre than vehicles that you wonder how they actually manage to balance the record books. But who’s complaining? An afternoon at Samcheong-dong is the perfect way to while away that lazy Saturday afternoon in Seoul. And if you’re tired from all that walking, treat yourself to a cuppa at one of those cafes with a rooftop terrace and a “Coffee Prince” view.  LS

DSC08109 DSC08111 DSC08116 DSC08121 DSC08154DSC08167DSC08162DSC08181DSC08176 Cafe hopping at Samcheong-dong, Seoul.

The Best Ramen in Town is Black

Before leaving Kumamoto for Hakata, there’s just one final pilgrimage I had to make – and that was to Kokutei (黒亭). If Hakata has its Holy Trinity of Ippudo, Ichiran and Ikkousha, then Kumamoto’s Kokutei is its undisputed King (of ramen).

Tucked away in a nondescript neighbourhood across from Nihongi-guchi Tram Stop (二本木口電停), Kokutei doesn’t strike one as the Holy Grail of Ramen in Kumamoto. But wait till you check out the lunchtime crowd that snakes around the restaurant. Even at night, there’s no glitzy neon sign that points the way to this ramen shrine. In fact, don’t even bother dropping in after dark (as I found out the hard way). Kokutei’s ramen sells out everyday by 4 p.m. The good news is that you can find Kokutei’s signature tonkotsu (とんこつ) broth in almost every Japanese supermarket worth its salt. As for me, nothing tastes better than the real McCoy.  LS

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Gyozaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

Beppu is not a culinary gem on Japan’s gastronomic map. But if there’s anything the Beppuites can boast about, in addition to Bungo-gyu (豊後牛) or local beef, it is their gyoza (餃子). Gyoza Kogetsu (餃子湖月), tucked away in a tiny alley of the covered shopping arcade across from Beppu Train Station, this mom and pop seven-seater counter shop has been frying some of the best and most crunchy gyoza you will ever find in Kyushu.

I had a hard time trying to locate Gyoza Kogetsu and it was only after circling the shopping arcade thrice and asking the proprietor of a spectacles store that I finally managed to spot this obscure establishment. It’s really tiny, and fitting six people is already a challenge, not to mention seven.

The gyozas are fried upon order, and a 1-person portion will reward you with 30 gyozas. Don’t freak out yet! Because the gyozas are small, an average person can easily polish off 1-and-a-half plate – that’s 45 gyozas!!! And in case you are worried about the oil, the gyozas are so daintily fried that they are crispy without the oil. Kick back on a couple of Sapporos and you won’t even feel the oiliness.

I gobbled down a double portion (i.e. 60 gyozas!!!) And while you’re there, drop by Toyotsune とよ常 (cross the small road in front of the train station, turn left and walk right to the end of the alley) for the abovementioned Beppu specialty – Bungo-gyu (豊後牛) and some superb lovingly fried tempura.   LS

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Hello world!

After not blogging for the longest time (and still a little rusty and unsure if I want to get back into this to be honest), I’ve decided I would give it a shot. I was really inspired by this blog called mykoreaneats which I stumbled upon while doing some research on the best places to feast in Seoul. I’m sure all the foodies out there will fall in love with mykoreaneats.

However, for lonesojourns, I would let my images do most, if not all the talking. These have been captured and exhibited only on Facebook, so it seems like a massive waste not to share them somewhere else.

I’ve titled the blog “lonesojourns” because it is exactly what it says. These images have been snapped during my travels, and I hope you would like them.

I have a special fondness for both Korea and Japan, so many of the snaps you’re going to see came from my sojourns there. Instead of the usual Tokyo or Kyoto sights, we’re heading to Kyushu. In my opinion, this is the most underrated island of Japan but also one of the most beautiful. There are so many things to see and do here, check it out!

Fukuoka / Hakata

Fukuoka, or Hakata as it is more commonly known in the olden days, is Kyushu’s largest metropolis. Its cosmopolitan vibe can be traced back to more than 2,000 years ago when this part of Japan was a lively trading centre at a time when much of Japan is ‘closed’ to the world. The city is famed for its devotion to ramen (ラメン), whether all under one roof, or scattered along the banks of the Nakagawa (yatai or mobile hawker stalls along the streets).

Sadly, when I visited, probably due to the cold weather, there are few of these. In any case, you wouldn’t be short-changed if you chose to dine at any of the famous ramen establishments – Ippudo, Ichiran or Ikkousha – yes, this Holy Trinity of Ramen all originated from Hakata.

Hakata has a lively matsuri calendar, which culminates in a mikoshi (gigantic portable shrines) race through the city (also known as the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri 博多祇園山笠) from 1- 15 July. Other matsuri include the Hakozaki-gu Tamatorisai (筥崎宮 玉取彩 – 3 January) and Hakata Dontaku Matsuri ( 博多どんたく港祭 – 3 & 4 May).  LS

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