Friday, September 29, 2017

A-Nara amazing day

Day 6 (Thu, 28 September 2017)

Day trip to Nara! It's a direct train from Namba station via the Kintetsu-Nara line to Kintetsu-Nara station. The trip takes about 40 mins on the express train. The express train doesn't run as frequently as the local trains, so you might want to check the timetable.

We had planned to have brunch in Nara and it was a special arrangement. Initially, we wanted to have lunch at a popular eel restaurant (Edogawa Naramachi) but Andre stumbled upon this lesser-known restaurant called Terakawa on TripAdvisor that serves soba and small plates of food, tapas style. People have said that the chef goes out of his way to please and cater to individual requests, all at very reasonable prices.

The restaurant opens only at noon and I had messaged the restaurant on Facebook last week to ask if there was a chance it opened earlier. Quite to my astonishment, the chef replied very quickly and said he would open the restaurant half an hour earlier and reserve a table for me. Talk about great service! He speaks English, since he's worked in Singapore for three years, so communication was easy.

The restaurant can be a little tricky to find since the road it's on doesn't have any signs. What you need to do is from Kintetsu-Nara station, simply locate the 7-Eleven directly across the road. Walk along Higashimuki-Kita road next to it, right to the end (about 350m), then turn left and you should see Terakawa.

Chef Fumi was there to welcome us and he's basically a one-man operation. He sets the table, waits on us and prepares the food. The settings are all colour-coordinated - so very pretty.

You can order individual small plates of food, but we opted for the Omakase, which means you leave it to the chef to decide what to serve you, based on his expertise and the daily special. Most Omakase meals cost a bomb but at Terakawa, there are three very affordable options for only Y1,000, Y1,500 or Y2,000 (the higher the price, the better quality the ingredients and number of plates).

We asked Chef Fumi how much we should order. He recommended two Omakase and two soba sets for the four of us to share. Of course we heeded his advice. He started us off with an appetiser of Edamame beans.

Then after some activity in the kitchen, he appeared with this:

It's so utterly gorgeous! Because we were sharing one set between two people, Chef Fumi repeated the plates. This arrangement is just one of the Y2,000 sets. Each set had double of these plates:

1) Japanese cucumbers with miso paste + Japanese fish cake
2) Potato salad with tiny shrimp
3) Yellow tail sushi
4) Home-made tofu

The food was downright delicious. It was a feast for the stomach as well as the eyes. All the flavours complemented each other perfectly. I usually don't like tofu but this tofu was unlike anything I'd every tasted. It was gooey and delicate, almost like Chinese carrot cake, without that beany taste I dislike.

After that, we were served the soba. When it arrived, I was taken aback by the amount. Each of us received a heaping plate of soba and a full bowl of soup. I confirmed with Chef Fumi that this was only 2 portions and he nodded, but admitted shyly, "I put a little more".

This man is generous beyond words. Just look at that soba! The soup that we were supposed to dip the soba in was incredibly rich, with tender pieces of chicken. Chef Fumi came by and scraped a little yuzu rind into the soup, which gave it a flavourful tang. Delicious.

When we had finished the noodles, Chef Fumi asked if we wanted some rice, as it can be dunked in the remaining broth for steamy Japanese-style rice porridge. Unfortunately, we were too stuffed even though the suggestion sounded wonderful.

All of us agreed that among the wonderful meals we've enjoyed in Kyoto and Osaka, this easily ranks one of the highest. And it only cost us Y5,600 (about S$70)! What a scrumptious experience. I highly recommend this to anyone who's planning on visiting Nara. Support Chef Fumi!

With Chef Fumi

After lunch, we staggered out the restaurant to burn off some of the calories. Very quickly, we encountered the famous Nara sacred deer. They're everywhere and there are deer crossing signs all along the main roads.

Deer selfie
Deer selfie 2

Andre decided to buy some deer crackers to feed the deer. Know that the minute you do that, deer will start following you like bees to honey. It's quite hilarious to see some people shrieking the minute they realise that they're surrounded by hungry deer, some more aggressive than others. Running does NOT help. The deer will chew on your plastic bag or bag straps if they think you have a tasty treat.

Guess what, the tales of bowing deer at Nara are true! (They head butt too). Just take a look.

After that en-deer-ing experience, we walked on to Todai-ji Temple. This is one of the main temples in Nara and we were blown away by the scale. This is the gate:

And this is the entrance to the Big Buddha Hall. Note its size in comparison to the people.

You enter the humungous gates and the first thing you see is the Great Buddha (Daibutsu). To give you an idea of how large the statue is, the length of its hand is 2.56 metres.

We decided not to pay to visit the Todai-ji museum and instead, walked to the Yoshiki-en Garden. This is free for foreigners.

We were expecting something similar to what we saw at Nijo-jo Castle and Osaka Castle, but this was waaaaay better. There's a pond garden, a moss garden and a flower garden. The entire grounds are absolutely stunning. Every corner looked like something out of a postcard, we had to stop just to soak in the beauty.

This was by far the most gorgeous garden we've seen on this trip, and Todai-ji Temple the most impressive temple. So Nara is definitely well worth a visit.

Then it's another 40-minute ride back to Namba station where dinner awaits us at Hanamaruken Ramen. We knew we wanted to eat ramen on this trip, and Ichiran is usually the hot favourite, but we had already eaten at Ichiran in Hong Kong, so decided to try something else. Hanamaruken came up on quite a few blogs - it's a 24-hour ramen restaurant very close to our hotel.

Their specialties are the pork rib ramen and Happiness ramen.

Happiness ramen - the seaweed comes with writing!
Pork rib ramen with a massive rib

Our verdict? The broth and egg at Ichiran are better, but the pork rib at Hanamaruken is pretty spectacular. It's fall-off-the-bone tender and very well marinated. Kenneth, who doesn't love ramen, tried a piece of the pork rib and immediately ordered it with rice (that dish doesn't exist on the menu, by the way. The chef did it just for Kenneth!)

Finally, we ended the day with dessert. We had spotted this shop a few steps away, on the same street as our hotel, which sold the ubiquitous fish waffle with red bean filling. It's a very traditional Japanese snack that you seldom see nowadays.

The guy makes it individually, expertly adding the batter and filling, and turning each waffle pan.

For a mere Y180, you get a fantastically crisp snack bursting with red bean. So addictive. So satisfying.


Fuminori Yamamoto said...

Dear Ms. Monica san

Thank you for visiting Terakawa, also introduce us such as like wonderful restaurant.

I'm so glad to hear that you could enough enjoyed lunch time with us.

How was this your family-trip?? Everything ok for you?? I hope this trip will be good memory for you all in the future, also hope to see you again when you visit us or when I visit your hometown,thanks.

monlim said...

Thank you, Chef Fumi, for that wonderful experience at Terakawa! If we ever make it make to Nara, we'll be sure to look you up again :)