Travel Diary: Farm Tomita, Furano, Hokkaido, Japan

Furano, a city to the south of the Kamikawa Subprefecture and rather central in the landmass that is Hokkaido, is a paradise of natural produce. Furano was our stop after Asahikawa and before Sapporo, and I was absolutely thrilled by the prospect of all the farms we would get to visit and the photographs I’d seen. The lavender fields would only be ready in July, but in June, we had melons, strawberries, and other delicious fruits.

It was back at the start of June 2014, a few weeks into the Hokkaido Spring, and the fields were already full of colour. For some of the later blooming flowers, the buds were transitioning into blossoms as the heat was coming on, although we could still cool down quickly by hiding out in the shade because the humidity had not risen too much yet.

Poppies in Furano

I remember trodding up the sandy path leading farther into Farm Tomita. That turned quickly into a half-run once I saw the bold dabs of colour at the end of the field. The poppies were in full bloom, spotting the lush green field with its starburst centre surrounded by its bright white or red chiffon-like petals like skirts in the wind. There are a few greenhouses near the edge of the farm as well, which houses an assortment of flowers in rows on rows. Looking out from the inside of the greenhouse, beyond the flowers potted in the window sill and to the field beyond, I tried my best to capture the beautiful scene and lock it in my memory for a future revisit.

Flowers at Farm Tomita Greenhouse

Flowers at Farm Tomita

Although the lavender was not in season, Farm Tomita was selling its famous lavender ice-cream anyway. I thought it tasted absolutely amazing and it was the prettiest shade of… well, lavender. I’ve tried lavender ice-cream on several occasions and came away with an expanded awareness of the range of taste – from soapy to powdery. But this… was a different matter altogether.

Lavender Ice Cream

It was like eating perfume. I know how that sounds, but trust me, it was great. You have to try it if you ever go that way. There was a certain sweet creaminess in the ice-cream and as I ate it, felt like I was inhaling a lavender perfume. I would describe it as “tasting the scent”, if that makes any sense at all.

I sat together with my family in the shade of an umbrella, colored in the same pine green shade that colors all of Farm Tomita’s signs, thoroughly enjoying the ice-cream while watching children run around in the sun, trying to avoid having their melting lavender ice-cream drip on their toes.

Pancho Buta-don Restaurant ぱんちょう豚丼, Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan

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SCRIBBLES

Category: Japanese

Nishi 1-jo Minami 11-19, Obihiro 080-0011, Hokkaido 

We were early for Pancho Buta-don, and yet we knew the restaurant from a few blocks down because of the queue that had formed even before it was open. Buta-don is actually quite a simple dish – rice topped with strips of barbequed pork, quite commonly found on restaurant menus across Hokkaido. Obihiro was a relatively quiet town with not a whole lot to see, so I was surprised to realize on hindsight that the best buta-don I’d taste on the entire trip would still be my first buta-don encounter – and that would be at Pancho Buta-don.

Damage: $

Honestly I don’t recall exactly how much it was, but there were two sizes available – regular or large. Large was actually the same amount of rice but with more meat; and if I were to go back, this would definitely be what I’d go for without a seconds hesitation. We couldn’t read the Japanese menu, so we ordered the signature Buta-don and probably spent around $10 per person, or slightly more.

To go: Yes! If ever we are in Obihiro 😀

The place is pretty compact and isn’t that big – I’m guessing it can take up to around 35 people. I’d make a note to get there early before it even opens, but anyhow, it’s definitely worth the wait.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

Queue at Pancho Butadon

I spotted the queue outside Pancho as I walked across from the JR station. Most of the people who were waiting were locals, which checked off the “authentic” box in my mind – I’m not sure about you but whenever I see hordes of tourists arrive at a restaurant or any establishment for that matter, I immediately think of “tourist trap”, “rip off prices”, and the conclusion that whatever it is they have is “probably not authentic”.

In Japan, the dining places always have a bamboo rod with the shop’s banner hanging from it going across the entrance, which they put up when they’re open for business and take down when they close for the day. A neat little lady came out and put the rod was up as everyone watched, and we were invited inside to our seats shortly after.

Pancho Butadon entrance

The interior was simple and mostly wood, with the menu in calligraphy on parchment framed up on the wall, simple rectangular tables and straight-backed chairs. It was very compact, and with our coats, there was barely any space between the chairs. The Japanese are incredibly efficient and within minutes of ordering, our food was served, along with yellow pickles and our add-on mushroom soups.

The buta-don (featured picture) was extremely fragrant. It was served covered with a bone china lid which could barely conceal the beautiful textured pork slices beneath. There were random green peas in the buta-don; they didn’t add to the dish but I didn’t mind because they did add colour and constituted greens of sorts. The sauce was a very tasty sauce which I believe was soy-based – it reminded me of the dark soya sauce most Chinese families would have at home, except it was thinner and had greater depth of flavour. The barbecue process had successfully infused the sauce into the pork slices, intensifying the flavours. We ate enthusiastically, and to my right, a little child with cheeks flushed pink reached out for one more slice of buta.

Rokkatei (六花亭), Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan

SCRIBBLES

Category: Japanese – Desserts

Rokkatei 2F, S9 W2 Obihiro-shi MAP. Tel, 0120-012-66

Rokkatei (六花亭) is well known for its desserts, especially its butter cream sandwich (マルセイバターサンド). They have a few branches around Hokkaido, including in Sapporo and Otaru. Rokkatei‘s branch in Obihiro was a little difficult to find – the entrance was through a little zen Japanese-style garden with slate-like stepping stones amongst the otherwise pebbled garden, a wooden bench and wispy trees. It was wedged deep between two low-rise buildings. We happened to be early so it was still awfully quiet, and we almost thought we’d mistakenly walked into someone’s house if not for the only thing that gave it away – a Japanese garden lamp along the pavement, bearing the words “六花亭”.

Damage: $

Compared to Singapore, the quality of the confectionery was higher and more affordable as well, which I thought surprising. I must say the Japanese are extremely devoted to their crafts, and desserts-making is no exception. While they tend to come in bite-sized packages (i.e. quite small), I’m pretty sure the same item would have costed about 2 – 3X more back home. On average, the snacks averaged around $1.50/pc and around $4/slice for the cakes, and especially when compared to cakes which cost $6 and up per slice back in Singapore, I thought I’d struck the lottery.

Biscuits, wafers, snacks galore Cutest cakesTo go: Yes! When in Japan! 😀

They have an amazing selection of desserts from mochi, to chocolates, to cakes. I personally recommend for you to try the butter biscuit (why, of course), and have a slice of cake or two while you’re there. Even if you can’t read Japanese and would like to delight your eyes with Rokkatei’s wide selection, you can view their catalogue here.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

Rokkatei was the first of several renowned dessert shops which I made a point to visit while in Hokkaido, and while I came to realize that the standards are high across all of them and the packaging is always phenomenal, more often than not, each of the dessert houses hold their own.

We tried two slices of cakes (feature picture) when we were there – one being a coffee cake with chestnut cream, and the other was a matcha cake with azuki beans. The cream on both cakes was extremely light and flavorful, and for someone who doesn’t really like chestnuts (except when toasted in a wok like on the streets in Seoul), I found the coffee-chestnut cake to be a great choice for the morning. I am a hardcore matcha lover, so my eyes lit up once I saw that on display and I just had to try it. It didn’t blow me away (which is the problem with matcha cakes because they are everywhere and mostly made in a similar way), but it was good. The azuki beans were interspersed in the layers of cream, and in a dollop on the top.

Definitely, the butter cream sandwich would be the pick for Rokkatei – White chocolate, raisins and hokkaido butter (nope, it’s no ordinary butter) sandwiched between two biscuits. It is creamy and melts in your mouth, with the sweetness of the raisins coming through every now and then.

Rokkatei Butter Cream Sandwich, Hokkaido

The Lime Tree Cafe, Dubai, UAE

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Category: Arabic/Western – Breakfast/Brunch

Jumeirah 1, Jumeirah Road, Dubai 

We had our best brunch in Dubai at The Lime Tree Cafe which I’d read about ahead of the trip. We got a little lost trying to find this place and the taxi driver had no idea where it was. Turns out it was along a row of little single-story buildings which can be spotted if you looked hard enough past the open carpark.

The entrance to Lime Tree Cafe was enshrouded in lush green leaves, and stepping in, I felt like I’d chanced upon Eden. Wood featured heavily in the decor which gives it a homey feel (which I personally have a soft spot for), further augmented by the many families who bring along their dogs to brunch in the little garden. The cafe seemed to be especially popular with expats.

Damage: $

I wouldn’t say it was cheap, but it is around the same cost as a typical brunch at one of the independent cafes in Singapore, which is about 25 bucks – still, I’d say there was more bang for the buck at Lime Tree.

To go: Whenever we go to Dubai 😀

I really liked the middle eastern influences in the menu, and when I walked to the counter, I was delighted to find an entire shelf of all kinds of wraps, sandwiches and the like, which featured lots of colour and greens.

I had the Halloumi cheese and pomodoro toastie (feature picture), accompanied by a middle eastern banana and fig smoothie which was so delicious, I made sure I got out every single drop. My friend ordered an Eggs Benedict which looked pretty good (and I’m told tastes pretty good) as well. The food was delicious – we got greedy and added a triple berry parfait to split between the three of us. The cafe also featured lots of juices and smoothies for the health-buffs/conscious.

Yum – I’m definitely going back if I’m in the area.
Eggs Benedict and Berry Parfait with Granola

Mashrabiya Lounge, Fairmont the Palm, Dubai, UAE

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Category: Arabic/Western – Afternoon Tea

Mashrabiya Lounge, Fairmont the Palm, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai

The Afternoon Tea at Mashrabiya Lounge was nothing short of amazing – they offered both a Western style Afternoon tea as well as a more traditional Arabic Inspired High tea for the more adventurous, which was really unique. The Fairmont hostesses were exceptional in making us feel relaxed, making sure everything was just right for a perfect Saturday afternoon.

Damage: $$

For the extensive range of cakes, tarts, scones and tea offered, and not to mention the wonderful staff and amazing view of the gulf, I would say it was well worth 135AED.

To go: Whenever we go to Dubai 😀

We sat Al fresco and the view of the gulf from the Mashrabiya Lounge was just fab. We went at a time of the year when it was relatively comfortable in the shade (none of that 40 degrees in other months like August), so we enjoyed the sun and breeze whilst sipping our tea. Our hostesses Lea and Eunny took such great care of us – their warmness really made the experience even more special. At the end of tea, we all became friends, offering to show each other around should they ever visit our hometown of Singapore, and them, us, around Kenya.

Arabic High Tea

Arabic High Tea

A lot of tea for us three!

Travel Diary: Shiekh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE (Gallery)

After a long afternoon’s journey, there it stood. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: A white magnificence rising out of the ground in the glowing trail of the setting sun. We got lost a few times trying to find our way from Dubai, but when we saw its minarets standing tall against the blue sky, our long walk was made well worth it.

The curves of the domes, intricacy of the workmanship, the grain of the marble and mother of pearl carefully inlaid into the columns, and the endless carpet in the main prayer hall – Truly, a sight to behold and a must-see even for the ones wary of all things touristy.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Travel Diary: Dubai, UAE

I made a short trip to Dubai, March 2014, with two of my closest friends. It was the first of a few things: my first visit to Dubai, my first trip into the UAE, and the first time the three of us were going travelling together.

Dubai is known for many things; from opulence (think Burj Khalifa and the massive Dubai Mall), to the beauty of the Palm Islands. Being in Dubai, you could feel the city’s pulse – skyscrapers towering on either side, a bustling CBD, and on the other hand, there is a rich culture, amazing architecture, people who have come from all over the world to both work and play, as well as delicious local cuisine.

We made a visit to the Souks which are located near the mouth of the Dubai Creek. These marketplaces are just seated right next to each other, so it’s easy to walk from one to another without actually knowing exactly where one ends and the other begins. We found ourselves walking past shopfronts laden with gold jewellery (including a gigantic gold ring possibly 20cm across, which was apparently featured in the Guinness Book of World Records), looking at handcrafted sandals in a little lane slightly off the main street the next, and then strolling along an entire street of spice shops selling sacks of spices of every variety, finding ourselves being draped over with scarves by shopkeepers trying to sell their wares every few steps or so. I stopped by a spice shop a while, and the shopkeeper was friendly enough to entertain my questions about the wide variety of spices, including Myrrh which is common to the Arabic region but a rarer sight everywhere else.

Dubai's Spice Souk

The Dubai Creek is lined with little boats that sail across for just 1 Dirham, and it was such an authentic experience riding amongst the locals, I’ll be sure to do it again when I next get the chance. The boatmen would wave people on as they readied to sail across, and everyone would just head down from the docks, hand them a Dirham when boarding and find a comfortable spot before the boat filled up. We took a quick polaroid and my friend penned in a note to capture the moment.

One dirham boat ride across Dubai Creek

We also spent half a day out in the dunes – pretty touristy stuff, but we enjoyed ourselves plenty. Dune bashing was awesome fun, and we were squealing in the backseat as the driver took us up the dunes and crashing down on the other side again and again, making sharp bends as we went over the top of the golden waves which stretched out as far as the eye could see. We spent the evening dining under the stars in the dessert, watching traditional performances and checking out the different activities from henna to traditional apparel.

Dubai Dune Bashing

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