Kitakaro (北菓楼), Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japaneses – Desserts – Creme Puffs

I’d read about Kitakaro (北菓楼) – in particular, about its amazing creme puffs. Like the others in Japan, Kitakaro sells more than creme puffs, and has a range of beautifully packaged snacks and items which you can take home for gifts. Besides the creme puffs, they sell a variety of heavier cakes as well.

7-22 Sakaimachi, Otaru 047-0027 (There is a branch in Sapporo as well, at AIMARU Sapporo, 4 Chome Kita 5 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo 060-0005)

In Otaru, Kitakaro is just slightly further down the street from LeTAO, on the same side of the road. A building of grey slate, it would’ve been easily passed up if not for the bright orange signs on all sides of its entrance, the standing sign by the pavement, and the posters of ice-cream and baumkuchen.

Kitakaro 北菓楼 Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Creme Puff Food Review

Damage: $ – $$

The creme puffs are under $2 – they’re huge, full of generous filling, and well worth the money. I tried the baumkuchen as well, and it might be that I’m not a baumkuchen fan, but I couldn’t quite appreciate it beyond thinking it to be some form of kueh lapis (an Indonesian layered cake that is relatively common in southeast Asia). I spent more money on the items at LeTAO, but I saw people coming out with Kitakaro bags, so I suppose you’d best budget for a couple of $10s.

To go: YES!

Everything else was quite ordinary, and I think you could find comparable items in the other dessert shops. If you don’t have time, just head straight to the back of the shop where they have shelves full of their creme puffs and buy one- or two. The puffs were well-aerated and pillowy, and the cream was light and fluffy with just the right amount of flavour and sweetness. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Kitakaro 北菓楼 Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Creme Puff Food Review

Kitakaro 北菓楼 Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Creme Puff Food Review

Prose by Photograpy: Memories from the Land with an Orange Sun

When I think of Orange, I think of Dubai. It might seem like a funny association, but in March, everything in Dubai is permanently painted in an orangey golden glow from the arabic sun- casting sharp shadows and reflecting off surfaces and into my lens, easily convincing anyone looking through my reel of photos that I’d photographed with a warming filter.

This was the first trip I’d taken with two of my closest friends, and orange reminds me of that as well. It’s a warm, happy colour – a colour which conveys smiles and friendship. We’d explored the souks (marketplaces)- drifting from one into another, into another, getting lost in the alleyways lined with handcrafted arabic slippers decorated with colourful threads one moment, and the next- being draped in shawls and pashimas by shopkeepers trying to make a sale. We laughed, asked questions, observed and took photographs.

City of Gold spice souk dubai bazaar marketplace travel diary blogThen there was the desert- a picturesque memory of undulating fine sand, drenched in orange as the sun began its descent, stretching like waves as far as the eye could see. Stepping out of the jeep, I was taken aback by how strong the winds were and the grains of sand rising up and about in the air, sometimes getting to the eyes or the camera lens, but I soon was so taken in by the beauty of the desert that I forgot all that.

Now, I only recall the dunes, like a smooth silk, rising, falling, rising, falling, and the feel of how my feet sank into the sand slowly and softly with each step, and looking on at the animals which have known the desert for years- and they, as if knowingly safeguarding the desert’s secrets, looked back from behind a soft woven veil.

My other stories from Dubai can also be found here.

Dubai Desert Sand Dunes Dune Bashing Camel Tour

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Orange you glad it’s photo challenge time?.”

Otaru Orgel Museum (Music Box Museum), Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan (Gallery)

On our second day after lunch, we went to the Otaru Orgel Museum, which is synonymous with the “music box museum” simply because that’s the museum’s claim to fame. We drove up to the museum and parked in the open-air carpark just in front of the main entrance, and from the outside, the building looked incredibly plain for something that supposedly housed a variety of interesting souvenirs and music boxes.

Stepping in, however, I could see that I was incredibly wrong and, as they say, looks can be deceiving. A soft, cheerful music filled the entire place, and I was greeted with huge rooms on both my left and right – displays full of shiny, moving things from miniature carousels, to snow globes and photo frames, to intricately carved music boxes within which little ballerinas danced or fabric butterflies flapped their wings. Sort of like a disney shop for grown-ups.

Orgel Museum Otaru Music Box Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog

Orgel Museum Otaru Music Box Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog

I don’t think you’ll need that much time at this stop – around 45 minutes should do – unless you’re a huge music box fanatic or plan to do some serious souvenir shopping. The upper floors contain some of the most exquisite (and very expensive) music boxes and other vintage items, but really, I spent the most time standing by the shelves pressed up against the wall, picking out little musical movements encased in clear acrylic boxes, labelled and prepped to play everything from Backstreet Boys to Phantom of the Opera to KPOP/JPOP and Classics. I eventually brought home Beauty and the Beast‘s signature soundtrack because it’s my favourite Disney classic, and I thought nothing would be more magical than to have a musical movement which tinkled the tune whenever I feel like winding it up for a listen.

Orgel Museum Otaru Music Box Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog

Orgel Museum Otaru Music Box Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog

LeTAO (ルタオ), Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Dessert – Cheesecake

We made a highly-anticipated stop at LeTAO (ルタオ) in Otaru for their famous cheesecakes. I heard all about the melt-in-your-mouth creamy cheesecakes of LeTAO from friends who’d gone ahead, and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

7-16 Sakaimachi, Otaru City, Hokkaido, 047-0027

Being right at the start of the street as you turn off the main street, LeTAO is impossible to miss.

Damage: $$ – $$$

If you’re heading upstairs to the cafe, you’re not going to stop at one. And if you’re shopping on the ground floor, with the sales assistants smilingly handing out samples of everything delicious (think lots of chocolate), you’re not just going to walk out with one box either- more like a bag, or two, or three!

To go: YES! Definitely!

Needless to say, you have to try LeTAO‘s cheesecakes – A light texture, with soft, smooth, cheesecake, nestled within a bed of feathery light cake crumbs and a light cream. To me, it was as if special notes of the cheese, distilled somehow, were gently whisked and incorporated into the cake, and as it descended upon my tongue, I couldn’t help but feel a smile grace my lips.

For all the hype surrounding LeTAO‘s cheesecakes, I’m surprised no one has made much mention about their tea. The LeTAO tea is incredible! There is an amazing range of flavours, and if you just open the lids of the sample cans, the beautiful scents will hit you like a dream. We bought some to take home with us from the shelves on the second floor (where the cafe is), and we’ve rationed the teas till now because they are simply so precious in fragrance and taste.

LeTAO Otaru Hokkaido Japan 小樽洋菓子舗ルタオ Travel Diary BlogLeTAO Otaru Hokkaido Japan 小樽洋菓子舗ルタオ Travel Diary Blog Chestnut Mont Blanc DessertLeTAO Otaru Hokkaido Japan 小樽洋菓子舗ルタオ Travel Diary Blog Double Fromage CheesecakeLeTAO Otaru Hokkaido Japan 小樽洋菓子舗ルタオ Travel Diary Blog Desserts Double Fromage Cheesecake

Robata Renga 炉ばた煉瓦, Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japanese – Barbecue

3-5-3 Nishikicho, Kushiro, Hokkaido 085-0016

Hokkaido is well known for its fresh seafood, and when we heard about Robata Renga being famous for its do-it-yourself seafood charcoal grill, we wrote it down into our itinerary right away. Ordering was a bit complex for us because none of the staff could speak any English, but we survived with some guessing and pointing, and had a fine meal. There was a good range of seafood from which we could pick out our ingredients for the grill, but I’d say you definitely need some skill going at the charcoal barbecue.

Damage: $$

Robata Renga isn’t cheap, and by that I mean it averaged around $25 to $30 per head for us to feel full, but the seafood is fresh and the cuts are generally good.

To go: Maybe, if you like barbecue and would like to have a go at it yourself 😐

On the whole I’d say the meal was a good one, and because the beer was really inexpensive all the men were more than happy. The mixed platter had mostly one of each kind of ingredient, so it wasn’t the easiest to share (i.e. you’d have to slice it all up to each have a taste) – I don’t think this had to do with the two different sets we ordered because all the pictures seemed to feature only one or two of each item, but perhaps that could be the point. The meats were pretty ordinary. In the end, I think whether it’s worth your while really boils down to who is working the grill. If you’re not a fan of a do-it-yourself, I’d be all for leaving the barbecue to the Japanese chefs because they’re often plenty good at it.

Robata Renga seafood charcoal barbecue

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

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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.

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