Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Haru Cooking Class in Kyoto, Japan & other vacation food

This is the FOOD post that accompanies my Asian adventure travel post from the other day. It didn't turn out quite as exciting as I think I made it out to be, but I hope you enjoy the photos and bits of information about the food we ate in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. I'm going to mention the food on our trip in reverse order, starting with Japan and ending with the Philippines because I want to make sure the best part--the Japanese cooking class in Kyoto-- is at the top of this post.

As many of you know, I love food! Who doesn't? I love trying new foods and my favorite food next to treats and desserts is Indian and Thai. I really didn't know much about Japanese food before our trip other than the sushi, yakatori and yaki udon we typically order at local NJ sushi restaurants. I honestly just haven't put much thought or exploration into the cuisine before. Needless to say when my husband suggested a Japanese cooking class as part of our itinerary while in Japan, I jumped at the chance (He found it through TripAdvisor). I'm so glad I did, too, because The Haru Cooking class that we attended was absolutely the highlight of my culinary experience on our recent trip to Japan. The Haru Cooking class is hosted by a Japanese husband and wife team who have put together a small group cooking class right in their Kyoto home. The class size is limited to six people, so our group consisted of our family of four plus a couple also from the US.

Our host, Taro-san emailed us detailed instructions on which bus to take from Kyoto station and which stop to get off the bus. Taro-san met us at the bus stop at a predetermined time and we walked with him to his home from there. It was very easy. His adorable little daughter accompanied him and she immediately stole our hearts. Not only is she very cute and gregarious but I have to admit little girls speaking Japanese is one of the sweetest sounds! Honestly.

Once at Taro-san's house, we met his lovely wife who welcomed us into their home and served us cool drinks and snacks. The cold tea we were served was fire roasted tea. It had a fairly strong smokey scent, so the girls didn't like it so much, but Gabe and I found it appealing.

We spoke for a little while to get to know each other and then we promptly began learning about every day Japanese foods and cooking techniques, including Kobe beef which is extremely exclusive to a specific region of Japan and only very, very recently exported to a very, very small number of restaurants. I think only two in the US and only in the last 8 months. So basically if you think you've been served Kobe beef in the US, you weren't.

Taro-san also answered any questions we had about Japan and Japanese culture in general. Taro and his family were so lovely.. warm, welcoming and patient. And of course, the food was wonderful! I can't wait to try some of the recipes at home!

Here are some photos from our cooking class:
Haruko playing

Taro-san showing us how to make dashi
(Japanese broth used in everyday cooking)

Haruko inspecting the cooking students' work

Haruko looking up to Maria 

Haruko playing ball with her friend.
Plating up the food!

Our beautiful table!  "itadakimasu.."
[translation: "I gratefully receive.."]
Before eating, we put our hands in prayer position and balanced our chopsticks in the space between your thumbs and first fingers. Gently bow your head and say "itadakimasu" before eating. This translates to "I gratefully receive". Then enjoy! Slurping soups is a sign of a good meal and encouraged. :)

Hosting a cooking class is hard work! 

I loved the cooking class experience. Not just learning some basic Japanese cooking, but also the experience of meeting and dining with a Japanese family in their home. Just lovely.

Our other food experiences in Japan mostly include ramen, sushi, pastries and ice cream.

When we were in our cooking class, I asked Taro-san what the average Japanese person eats for breakfast. I was curious about this because the only places we found serving food at breakfast time were coffee shops serving a few pastries and convenience stores. Taro-san explained that most Japanese eat a simple meal of seasoned rice for breakfast, a bit of fermented vegetables (similar to kimchi) and on a good day, breakfast will include a little bit of cooked fish. We ended up frequenting a small coffee shop near our hotel for iced coffee, bagels and pastries, grabbing a yogurt at the convenience store a few times. I must admit that I think I ate a sweet red bean bun with coffee for breakfast every morning in Japan.

My standard Japanese breakfast:
red bean bun and coffee
While walking from bus stops to the different shrines, sometimes you find a really great cafe food or snacks from street vendors such as these...

Japanese Udon

Green tea ice cream! yum

goma dango (yummy!)
sweet glutinous rice ball with sesame seed and honey paste
I later saw these similar fun Japanese snacks while helping my daughter shop for gifts for her friends back home. I should have bought them when I saw them, because I didn't see them later when we were shopping for gifts.
hanami dango
Recognize them from the iphone emojis?

I only learned exactly what they were a couple of months ago myself, but it was fun seeing the real thing. They are hanami dango or sweet glutinous rice dumplings.  The green are flavored with green tea powder, the white are either plain, almond or vanilla flavored and the pink is either flavored with rose water essence or sakura, which is cherry blossom flavor. I really regret not buying a box! [740 ¥ is about $7.40 US]

One evening, my husband and I went to a sushi restaurant recommended by the couple with whom we took the Haru-Cooking class. It was one of those conveyor belt sushi restaurants - have you heard of those? The sushi chefs are in the middle of the room making different kinds sushi and they set them on little plates that go around a conveyor belt. When a plate comes by your table that you'd like, you just take it! You can also ask the chef to make something specific for you. Each plate costs 137 ¥ or around $1.37 or so and the end of the meal, the waitress counts up your plates and you pay. So easy! Except it was also easy to eat something you thought was raw fish and was really something else like I did. Oy. Anyway, I thought the sushi was just okay. Very plain. Next time we're in Japan we'll do some research ahead of time and try a different sushi restaurant with good recommendations.

Previously in Tokyo, we ate many of the same foods as in Kyoto.. lots of ramen, pastries and ice cream. On our first day in Tokyo we sampled some yummy food near the popular Sensoji shrine. my first snack food was a ningyo yaki (a pancake filled with sweetened red bean paste), which is popular in the street of vendors leading up to the Sensoji Shrine in Tokyo.
ningyo yaki in shape of bird

The inside of a lantern shaped
ningyo yaki
We also got ice cream cones in this street area. We tried chocolate & vanilla swirl, green tea & vanilla swirl, red bean and blueberry ice cream (we think!). Omg sooooo good! I liked the red bean best, but the green tea swirl comes in a very close second.

We scream for ice cream!
Sorry I cropped off our faces..  Anna is inadvertently making a funny face squinting in the sun and would be so mad if I posted that. ;)

We grabbed a quick lunch at a small restaurant where we ordered dishes of dumplings and ramen. In this restaurant, there's a vending machine when you walk in the restaurant where you place your order. You put your money in the machine, then press the button to select what you want to order and a little receipt pops out of the machine. Then you sit at a table and give the receipt to the waitress who brings it to the kitchen. Within minutes we had our food! Oh and by the way, ramen in Japan is nothing like the instant ramen soup you can buy in cups at the grocery store. In Japan, ramen is a big bowl of flavorful broth with thick udon or ramen noodles and assorted Japanese additions such as seaweed, other greens such as spinach, pickled plums, hard boiled egg, maybe sliced pork or even tofu. Very delicious and filling.

Oishi (delicious) Japanese Ramen!
..with seaweed, egg, pork, spinach and fish ball with swirl
We had lunch in the Museum Cafe at the Studio Ghibli Museum and were delighted when our dessert was served on a Totoro plate! It was delicious, too! We shared a delicious strawberry shortcake and a sponge cake with sweet red bean filling.
Strawberry shortacke on a JiJi plate!
[From the film "Kiki's Delivery Service"]
Sponge cake with read bean filling
on a Totoro plate!
[from the film "My Neighborhood Totoro"]
On our way back to Tokyo from the Ghibli Museum, we passed this quaint bakery at the Mitaka train station. I have to say the Japanese are excellent pastry chefs! Absolutely delectable pastries that could really give Paris bakeries a run for their money!
Adorable Bakery at Mitaka Station,  Japan
From the platform in Mitaka station, I spotted a little Italian Pizzeria. I would have loved to have tried pizza in Japan to see how it compared to New York pizza! What do you think?
Spotted a pizzeria in Mitaka, Japan
from the train platform.. 
As I mentioned in my previous post, there is a profusion of vending machines in Japan. They are everywhere! Very convenient and actually quite affordable, I think. You can find a good selection of cold teas, cold coffees, water, carbonated drinks, sometimes fruit juices and even beer!
Beverage vending machines are EVERYWHERE
in Japan. 
One evening we hunted down the world famous Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Ginza station, which is where you can supposedly find the world's best sushi. It is also the subject of the documentary "Jiro Loves Sushi."  We were tickled pink to find the restaurant and to have even caught a glimpse of Jiro himself!
Sukiyabashi Jiro

The highlight of our very limited and very brief culinary experience in Hong Kong was probably our hotel's continental and asian style breakfast buffet. The buffet was a cross of American and English breakfast foods and some Hong Kong dim sum foods. It was a great start to a busy day walking around the city and up Victoria Peak.

omelet and dim sum
at the YMCA Hong Kong
Of course, more ice cream!
Cooling off with ube ice cream
Ube is a purple yam or sweet potato and makes a delicious sweetened potato paste commonly used for desserts and snacks. It's also very common in the Philippines.

I also had my first taste of dragon fruit! Believe it or not, this was on the flight from Cebu City in the Philippines to Hong Kong. I loved it!

Have you ever had dragon fruit? I think it tasted like a softer, more mild kiwi fruit.
Would you agree?

My first dragon fruit!
Our first meal in Manila. Maria eating meat and rice for breakfast like a true Filipina! Would have been an even more authentic if she was using a fork and spoon. ;)

meat and rice for breakfast
 A sampling of Filipino foods for lunch. We were out to eat with Gabe's first cousin (who is the oldest in that cousin generation) and her lovely, lovely family. Her husband and their three grown children, daughter-in-law and their youngest child. It was wonderful meeting them for the first time and spending the day together.
Filipino lunch!
For dessert almost every day, we ordered a popular Philippine frozen dessert called halo-halo made with shaved ice, sweetened beans, ube and other jelly or jellos, sweetened cream and topped with ube ice cream and corn flakes. Sometimes sweet corn and chunks of flan are added. It was different from the way my mother-in-law used to make for us and not as good as hers either. But still delicious! I'm going to try to recreate my mother-in-laws version sometime this month.

halo-halo by the pool
One evening while out to dinner with some cousins (second cousins, actually), I tried a new-to-me main called sisig. It was really delicious. I don't know if I'd call myself an adventurous eater, but I do tend to agree to try foods before someone tells me what's in them. Too trusting, I know. Sisig is a dish that originated from a province called Pampanga because the US residents of Clark Airfield would discard parts of the pig they wouldn't eat such as the ears, cheeks and some inards. So the Filipino people came up with this recipe using those parts, finely chopped and served on a sizzling plate. Hmm. Well it tasted really good.. salty, fatty and delicious. I don't know it I'd intentionally eat it again, though.

Would you try sisig? 

Again for dessert we had more halo-halo and some leche flan. Why not? We're on vacation, after all. Again, neither was as good as my late mother-in-law's!
leche flan and more halo-halo
I mentioned in my vacation post the other day that the crew of our dolphin watching boat cooked for us right on the back of the boat during our time at sea. They grilled chicken and shrimp for us and we also brought along local bananas and steamed rice in these little pouches or baskets woven out of palm or banana leaves that they called 'hanging rice.' I wish I had a good picture of it, but you can see it in the lower left hand corner of this photo of my husband eating his lunch. We used forks at first then decided what the heck, it's easier to just eat with our hands. ;)

Lunch on the boat: grilled shrimp and chicken
"hanging rice"
and local bananas
On our last night in Dumaguete, we had dinner with my husband's cousin and her family. They had so much food prepared for us, but unfortunately I didn't take a single photo! This was the evening after we were at sea all day, so I think I was just so tired. Wait! I just asked my husband and he took ONE photo of dinner that night and of course I am in it with my eyes closed! However.. I am in the photo with Gabe's first cousin whom I met for the very first time and we totally hit it off, so I'm posting it even though I look silly. ;)
A feast prepared for us!
We ate rice, pancit, fresh lumpia, delicious pork adobo and a marinated salad. For dessert we had 'suman' and 'bud bud kabog.'

This is casava suman.
Bud bud kabog looks nearly identical.
Source:Wikipedia | Author: Obsidian_Soul 
Suman is sticky glutinous rice steamed with coconut milk wrapped in a banana leaf, which I've had before and is really tasty. Theirs was made with a bit of chocolate in it, too. This was my first time having 'bud bud kabog' and I loved it! It is sweetened millet steamed with coconut milk wrapped in a banana leaf. You unwrap the banana leaf and just eat the sweetened rice or millet on the inside. So yummy!

And so it appears I've wrapped up my post on our vacation food with a banana leaf! 

Haha I'm so punny. ; )
Hope you enjoyed it! If you have any questions about the food or our trip, please ask.



  1. Love it--I'm a big fan of Asian food, and I want to try all of these things! :)

  2. How to make ice cream - Yuuummmm....ya, here is the recipe foe delicious dessert. This is really very simple, even kid can try this..!!   Ingredients • Vanilla or any other Flavoured essence 1.5 tea spoon • Cornflou...

  3. OMG OMG OMG, everything looks sooooooooooooooooooo good. I am so glad everyone enjoyed the food. So much ice cream. So much delicious ice cream.

    Omg! Look at the ghibli cafe!! Gah!!! Bliss. I so need to go visit asia again soon. Need to visit so many of those places.

    If you could, which would be the food you'd be willing to fly to just to eat? (Money not being a factor)

    Are you planning to try to make any of the food above? :D

    There are a few good places in LA that has pretty authentic Japanese snacks. HK has the best dim sum, the best. There are also a few good places around LA for dim sum. Lol. Now I just need good place for Filipino food...mostly dessert. :D

    Thank you so much for sharing. Love it!

  4. My goodness!! That's awesome.
    All that food, and I don't even like Japanese food other than Yakimeshi - which I'm very partial to but I doubt is very authentic the way they prepare it here - Haruko looks so adorable :) And YAY from getting experience on what a family actually eats in everyday life. - I knew about the rice for breakfast, but I am an anime fan.

    Also, when that cake showed up in the picture I nearly died. In anime they are always showing these awesome cakes and those you posted totally look like they do on TV.

    Oh and I think my sister would die and go to heaven in Philippines, all that stuff is what she likes to eat

    Thanks for sharing all your wonderful experiences.

  5. Hehe, my hubs would be out of luck for the last dessert as he doesn't like coconut. But, it looked and sounded yummy to me! Thank you so much for sharing all your pictures and experiences. It's so much fun to see everything vicariously!

  6. Oh, your big build-up didn't disappoint ;-)

    Your Kyoto cooking class sounds fantastic. And I'm looking forward to seeing YOUR version of the halo-halo now.


  7. Too Fond Everything was delicious! I want to find a good Japanese restaurant near us, now. Not just sushi.. but other traditional dishes as well.

    How to make ice cream Thanks for the recipe. I've made ice cream like your recipe in the past.. it's not bad but the consistency of ice cream made with an automatic ice cream maker is much better. You should try it! They're not too expensive.

    little_alys Yay! SO glad everything looks good to you. Yeah... we ate A LOT of ice cream. :)

    You'll have to make sure you squeeze time into your next trip to Japan for the Studio Ghibli Museum. It's not very big and definitely geared towards children, but still really sweet and fun.

    Hmm... to go back just to eat one food? Maybe the dim sum in Hong Kong although I would also choose to go back to Kyoto and explore a few more restaurants. A better sushi restaurant and a top rated restaurant that serves impressive and authentic Japanese food. We were only in Kyoto two days. I needed more time there!

    I am planning to make green tea ice cream, halo-halo and maybe the omelet that Taro-san taught us how to make.

    I think if you find a Filipino place that makes good lumpia and adobo you are set! ;)

    Alex Oh yes, the Japanese make very good friend rice! Haruko was super adorable--we fell in love with her!

    I guess I expected rice to be served at breakfast, but I thought maybe it would be accompanied by eggs or some other protein.

    That is so funny that those cakes reminded you of the cakes in Japanese anime! I thought the same thing when I saw the fresh rice cakes that people were eating for breakfast or snack. How many times do the characters in the Miyazaki films shove those in their mouths! haha!

    I'm glad you liked my travel posts. :)

    Brandy He doesn't like anything about coconut? The coconut in Asia is very different from the coconut here--even the so called "fresh" ones you can buy in supermarkets here. Those aren't really fresh by Asian standards. Fresh coconut is soft in texture and doesn't have that fake coconut scent or flavor. It's actually very subtle and delicious. And the coconut milk used to make the suman and bud bud kabog isn't strong at all.. you can barely taste it. But hey, if doesn't even like that, no problem.. more for me! HAha!

    Glad you enjoyed my travel posts! :)

    bookdaze I'm so glad you weren't disappointed with my food post, Li! ;)
    I should get working on that halo-halo recipe! I'm thinking that halo-halo would be a great recovery snack after a long bike ride with all that protein and carbs from the beans, plantains, dairy and sugar!

  8. Wow!! You certainly were able to try so many different things! I would have been okay with that, not so sure about my hubby and boys though ~ except my little guy, he'll try almost anything!

  9. Thanks, Catherine! We are pretty adventurous eaters, I think.. and Asian food is one of our favorites. My youngest was a bit less adventurous/picky. I admit we grabbed her McDonald's at least three times just to make sure she was eating something!

  10. I can't eat gluten anymore which ruins me for udon and ramen. Two of my fave foods. My mouth was watering while reading this.

  11. How fantastic. Really like the idea of green tea ice cream! Cheers

  12. Your trip sounds wonderful! I'd love to visit all those places and sample all the different foods. I think it was so neat that you got to meet some of your husbands family for the first time!

    Thanks for sharing with us!

  13. WOWOWOWOWOWOW -- what an amazing experience. As I mentioned to you before, that cooking class sounds so wonderful. That feast your cousin-in-law made looks awesome!

  14. Such a great post- thanks for taking us along on your adventure. And I love the idea of taking a cooking class when on a trip.

  15. Yuuuuum, and now, it's only 8am in the morning LOL. I really want to go to Japan one day, sigh. Now, I'm looking forward to it even more. Did you try takoyaki? It looks like the goma dango, but it's salty... and inside, there's a piece of squid :) Van has been making them for us, but I want to try it from a street vendor in Japan LOL.

    Oh and do Japanese restaurants still have the plastic models of their menu? :P What I like about Japanese restaurants is the idea that each restaurant is very specific. Like you have ramen shops, sushi shops, etc. and you won't find ramen in a sushi resturant. I'm lucky that near my house, we have a sushi restaurant with Japanese cooks... so for now, I think I'm close to the real stuff :P Oh and yes, Japanese ramen is nothing like instant noodles LOL.

    How long did you stay in Hong Kong again? I think next time when you go to Hong Kong you have to try their won tons! :P

    Ube ice cream! When I saw that purple color, I thought taro... Hong Kong people are very big on taro! Wonder if it tastes the same as ube... Hmmm. Dragon fruit I've eaten before :) It's good :) And yes, I would agree. The texture is very much like kiwi, but it's not as sour.

    I've never really eaten Filipino food... I don't think anything I'll find here is authentic, but from the pictures, it sure looks yummy! Especially the desserts LOL.

  16. What a complete post! I, too, was surprised about the many vending machines in Japan. I've been posting some articles about my Japan travels that I thought would be helpful to other travelers, and one thing you'd probably enjoy is a soba restaurant in Kyoto that is over 500 years old! It's called Owariya and was a real treat :)


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