The Jeju Chronicles: Exploring Udo Island

During Golden Week of 2018 I decided to venture to Korea for the 2nd time and explore its most famous beach resort island: Jeju.  This island is extremely unique because not only does it have the best beaches in Korea, but it also has the Nexon Computer Museum with the world’s longest running MMO.  There’s also the tallest mountain in Korea (Mt. Hallasan), a folk village with traditional houses, and a fairly famous sex museum.  As you can see, Jeju has something for everybody because there is a huge diversity of attractions to see.  A lot of people that live close to Korea come here to spend their honeymoons or school vacations, but there are many backpackers like me who travel here too.  In this article series I will be detailing my 5 day stay in Jeju in hopes that other people will decide to come in the future.

Traveling to Jeju

The best way to travel to Jeju is to take a direct flight from Seoul.  Jeju Air has the cheapest flights that range from $30 – $50 USD roundtrip.  The flight only takes about an hour.  Jeju is comparable in Okinawa in Japan, but is much smaller and doesn’t have as many islands you can travel to.  However, traveling here is much cheaper than most islands in Japan and it has a different vibe.  One of the best islands you can visit in Jeju is called Udo which is the very first place I went.

Udo Island Day Trip

Udo Island was my first destination once I reached Jeju Airport.  Fortunately you don’t need to fly here and can instead take a relaxing 15 minute ferry.  The reason I wanted to go to Udo is because it is the perfect cycling destination.  The island was named for its somewhat rectangular shape that looks like cow lying down.  I also chuckled because the name reminded me of U-DO in Xenosaga.  You can see most of the attractions on Udo within 3 – 4 hours via electric bike.  E-bikes can be rented for around $10 per day and are extremely worth it.  This was my very first time riding an e-bike, but fortunately it wasn’t scary!  You can see the ocean from any point in Udo making it a wonderful spot for photography.  Everyone rides slow so they can stop to take pictures.

Since I was starving, I stopped at a local seafood restaurant near the bike rental shop.  I couldn’t speak much Hangul but I was able to place an order.  They whipped me up some spicy crab and muscle stew which tasted amazing.  For dessert, I decided to try the peanut ice cream that Udo is famous for.  They placed two adorable teddy bear crackers on it too.  The salty and sweet combination makes it worthy of all the praise that it gets.  You can find this food literally all over the island and it’s much cheaper than food in Seoul.

Finally feeling full, I decided to make my way down to the beaches.  Gwakji Beach and Hamdeok Beach were my two personal favorites.  Both can be reached via e-bike in less than 30 minutes and are found on the north side.  Exploring these beaches can take up to an hour.  I came here in late April so it was a bit cold to swim but the weather was near perfect.  Korea’s weather is similar to Japan’s but is slightly more mild.

Besides the swimming and biking, there are many other exciting things to do on Udo.  You can go horseback riding for a short time if you talk to someone near the stables.  If you like art, most of the buildings are painted in bright colors and there are murals all over the island.  The food here never disappoints.  The octopus-shaped bread I tried was filled with cheese and absolutely amazing.  Just the  atmosphere of being on a small beach island is awesome too.  I enjoyed walking inside the the giant shells that were near the pier and also petting the store owner’s dogs.  Everyone here is extremely friendly so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier.

On my way back to return my e-bike, I stumbled upon one of the best DJ booth turned ice cream shop ever.  The chef was spinning some fresh island beats as he was whipping up ice cream.  This was an extremely rare vibe that I was not expecting:

The store Udo Prince Story (우도왕자이야기) has both phenomenal food and music. If you come all the way out here, be sure not to miss out. This was the best instant dance party I ran into here and was the perfect way to end my day trip.

After an exciting first day in Udo, I rode the ferry back to the main island where my accommodation “GreenDay” was.  There are a few hotels on Udo, but there is much more selection and nightlife on the main island of Jeju.

I chose GreenDay because I thought the name was hilarious and the dorms are only $15 per night.  I couldn’t pass up staying in this colorful little house:

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Taking a “Holiday” at GreenDay.

GreenDay Address: 251-9 Samdoi-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea

Udo Access

I took a cheap taxi to Seongsan Port, then a 15 minute ferry to reach the island.  The ferry ticket is only $10 one way.  Please see the Udo Ferry Time Table for reference.

In my next article, I will be talking about some of the quirky museums that I explored.  Please stay tuned for more!

 

“A Knight Out in Nagoya”: Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2

 

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Bis-Tria Gatsby, Nagoya: A sparkling suit of armor keeps watch over us as we feast like kings and queens.

If you told us that we’d be dining at a rooftop bistro in the presence of shining suits of armor adorned with jewels, we wouldn’t have believed you. But since the burger place that we wanted to go to was sadly closed, this was where we ended up.  Nagoya food and restaurants are seriously underrated, which is why I’m writing Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2 today.  This is just the beginning of greater food adventures that are yet to come.

I’ll be expanding this list as I find more places, but feel free to suggest any you recommend in the comments!  Please see Vol. 1 for reference.

Bis-Tria Gatsby

Bis-Tria Gatsby is by far the fanciest restaurant I’ve been to in Nagoya, but it’s surprisingly welcoming and affordable.  As we walked in we were amazed by the huge collection of wines on display and the rare Dark Souls DLC suits of armor.  Despite us being in casual wear (because we were only planning on eating burgers before), we were politely seated and handed three different menu.  After some careful thought, we decided to order the tomato and cabbage pasta, a platter of octopus and marinated vegetables, a fancy pineapple frozen cocktail, and some chocolate cake for dessert.  This was the best meal I had in Nagoya and we only paid around 3000 yen when we split the bill.

I will never forget these aesthetic suits of armor:

This bistro is ideal for dates and birthday parties (we saw two Japanese girls celebrating their birthdays here).  I would gladly come back again given the occasion.

ANDY CURRY

I was going through food recommendations on Instagram when this giant glorious egg caught my eye.  ANDY CURRY offers some of the most satisfying curry dishes in Nagoya with a selection of seafood, chicken, and vegetarian options too.  I chose the seafood option and enjoyed the mussels in my curry sauce.  The egg on top is perfectly prepared so it melts into the rice giving it a zesty flavor right as it is served to your table.  You can customize the level of spiciness in your order as well.  I was very impressed to see that they offered takeout options during the emergency state of Japan.  We chose to eat in, but in the future I would love to grab a curry that I could take on the go or eat in a park!

THANK YOU, BAKE

THANK YOU, BAKE was yet another spot-on recommendation that came up in my feed.  The cute crocodile mascot totally sold me on coming all the way out to Kanayama to try the delicious vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry sauce.  They have delicious cookies, cakes, and pastries you can order to go as well!  The crocodile on their packaging bears and uncanny resemblance to the popular Japanese web comic “The crocodile who dies in 100 days” that ended just as the COVID pandemic started.  It’s definitely worth a read as it adds a layer of irony to this bake goods shop.  All the more reason to come out here and try their food!

Menya Hanabi

Menya Hanabi is a seriously amazing noodle joint that I had no idea existed until my boyfriend pointed it out.  The store originated from Taiwan and specializes in mazesoba which consists of noodles mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, minced pork, and other toppings that you can choose.  Since I don’t eat meat, I opted for raw egg and as many vegetables as they had on their menu.  The flavor it packs is out of this world.  The broth is extremely light so you can focus on the taste of the toppings.  I would say that mazesoba tastes a lot better than ramen, but I would still recommend trying both!

Vegi Kitchen GuGu

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You literally can’t go wrong with star-shaped curry.

Vegi Kitchen GuGu is a healthy vegan restaurant located on the outskirts of Nagoya.  I had my very first meal in Nagoya here after World Cosplay Summit dressed as Futaba from Persona 5 so it was extremely on-point.  Their star-shaped vegan curry is to die for!  I still remember the taste even though it was nearly 3 years ago.  Unfortunately due to the emergency state, the restaurant is only offering takeout options.  Fortunately there is a Campfire Fund for small businesses in Nagoya that has already met its goal, so hopefully in the future this restaurant will offer its full menu again!  When it does, I’ll be sure to go back and eat there again.

6/30/2020 EDIT: The full menu has returned to the restaurant and you can dine in now!  The vegan curry I ordered with my boyfriend earlier this month looks even better than before:

Antico Caffeé

Antico Caffeé is a modest cafe located in the Dai Nagoya building near the main station, but it never disappoints.  Their spinach and mushroom sandwiches, coffee, and canolis are all very fulfilling.  If you are looking to grab a quite bite to eat on your way out that’s affordable, then this is one of your best options.  Though quite simple, this cafe will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first place that my boyfriend and I went on a date together.  I think it will always be a place I come back to!

Critical*Hit

I saved the best for last—Critical*Hit is one of my favorite gaming bars in Japan and also the a place I always make my rounds to each time I’m in Nagoya.  Whenever I’m here, I either make a new friend, discover a new game, or having extremely invigorating discussions with other people.  There are a number of console games plus rare games (such as LSD and other classics) that you can choose to play, or you can sit and converse with others which I usually do.  I still stay in contact with a lot of the people I’ve met here because Nagoya has a really close-knit community.  There are a mix of foreigners and Japanese people as well that frequent here.  I am really fortunate to have met my first boyfriend here on a night when he was playing Metal Gear Solid!

That’s all the aesthetic food finds for this week.  As more places in Japan open up, I’ll hopefully have a lot more to write about!

Aesthetic Food Finds in Nagoya Vol. 1

Here is a collection of aesthetic food finds in Nagoya, Japan (Volume 1). ♥

This country has no shortage of of aesthetic foods so I will continue to share cafes that I stumble across in future posts!  Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, most dessert cafes in Nagoya remain open as of March 2020.

Ai Cafe

On the very first day of my recent trip to Nagoya, my best friend and I decided to rise up to the challenge and order all 3 bears on the “Spring Fair” menu at Ai Cafe.  This included sakura ice cream bear soda, strawberry bear toast, and a whopping king bear parfait.  This challenge is not recommended for the weak due to the large amounts of aesthetic food you will receive—we were completely unprepared for the massive pink ice cream and extra thicc toast and waffle dishes all shaped like bears that stared back at us.  But with careful strategy and pacing, we defeated them all and washed them down with a Kenshiro Coffee.  The staff was super accommodating to take the time to make this for us.

A professionally Tweeted summary of the 3 bear challenge:

Interestingly enough, Ai Cafe’s closest station is Gokiso Station, which I made a hilarious Japanese pun of: ごきそさまでした!

You may not think it’s funny, but I do.

Psychedelic Pattern Smoothies at Tuwl’s

While exploring the charming little shopping area of Osu Kannon, we stumbled upon a very small smoothie stand called Tuwl’s that sells psychedelic pattern smoothies.  Unfortunately this place does not seem to be on a map yet, but it’s easy to find if you are walking towards the Taito Station.  The smoothies are not only intricately designed, but they also taste out of this world.  You can choose the fruit juice you want with a base of seeds, tapioca, or granola.  I chose avocado juice with the seed base and was happy to find it was mixed with chopped strawberries too.  My friend got the raspberry banana version which looks very similar to mine but has a different taste and pattern.  All I can say was that the smoothie trip was worth it and it’s worth trying at least once.

Lyrical Coffee Donut

At one point during my trip to Nagoya, I thought I woke up in an alternate universe where coffee and donuts were “lyrical”, flowers grew from the ceiling, and it was snowing in Tokyo during sakura season but still sunny and pleasant in Aichi Prefecture.  However, I learned that this was just every day life at Lyrical Coffee Donut (almost).  This little cafe and flower workshop is tucked away near Kamejima Station making it still somewhat central to Nagoya.  We ordered the sakura and coconut donuts (which we shared with our son, Waddle Dee), and also tried a floral jelly drink with the sandwich set.  It tasted beyond delicious, and because it was sakura season the flower donuts were quite popular.  I hope to come back here and try some more variety in the near future.

Yama Coffee

Not wanting to completely break our bear diet, we set off to Yama Coffee near Osu Kannon to try the infamous marshmallow coffee set.  The marshmallows come in various shapes and sizes, but I had my heart set on the panda ones because they were the most aesthetic.  I was delighted to see that they had added pink ones to the set to commemorate sakura season.  I ordered a latte and they drew a macha leaf pattern on it which added to the panda theme.  I feel like I can never drink coffee without marshmallows again because they add a perfect fluffy texture that packets of sugar can’t obtain.  Yama Coffee is a coffee experience that I think everyone should have.

Queen’s Healthy Diner

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Soy Chicken is Best Chicken.

After experiencing a sugar-induced coma from consuming all the bears, we realized we should eat something a little more healthy for dinner.  My friend introduced me to Queen’s Healthy Diner which is not far from Sakae Station.  This little diner is owned by a nice woman who prepares much of the food all by herself.  I had a vegan salad and soy milk macha drink with alcohol, and my friend ordered the soy karaage (fried chicken) with homemade mayonnaise.  I have to say that they karaage was by far the best thing on the menu.  It tasted like like fried tofu and had the texture and appearance of karaage but was much healthier and easier to digest.  In addition to this, there are vegan burritos, pizzas, and pastas available.  This restaurant is every vegan in Nagoya’s dream come true.

Ogura Toast at Cafe Gentiane

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I’m not sure who exactly came up with the strange idea to spread azuki bean paste on top of buttered French toast, but it somehow became a popular dish in this region after the first World War movement.  Bean paste isn’t the first thing I’d think to add to my toast, but it surprisingly makes a delicious topping.  The texture is a bit thicker than jam or jelly, but it’s just as sweet and usually comes with a side of butter or whipped cream as well.  This dish is dubbed “Ogura Toast” and can be found all over Nagoya and other places in Aichi Prefecture.  Since we were short on time, we settled for a place called Cafe Gentiane in Nagoya Station, but you can find Ogura Toast in a lot of other cafes here.  You really can’t go wrong with French toast in Japan because it has a lot of rich variety.

Now Closed: Little Baby Dogs

When I first attended World Cosplay Summit dressed as Futaba from Persona 5 in 2017, I stumbled upon a small ice cream place in Sakae called “Little Baby Dogs“.  The beautiful chocolate-dipped ice cream cones and heart-shaped toppings made this place a real charm (not to mention the name).  Unfortunately this shop is now closed, but my memories of cosplaying and eating ice cream here will last forever.

Bonus: Balllls

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http://www.balllls.com

Have you ever had a craving for Balllls?  Though most tapioca places in Japan seem to be closing due to the trend dying off, Balllls Tapitera in Osu is actually just moving to a new location.  I look forward to its grand re-opening and seeing more strange places like this in the future.

Thank you for reading Volume 1 of my aesthetic food journeys in Nagoya.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be writing more volumes in the future.

Aesthetic Food Finds in Kansai Vol. 1

Here is a collection of recent aesthetic food finds in the Kansai region of Japan focusing on Kyoto and Osaka (Volume 1). ♥

This country has no shortage of of aesthetic foods so I will continue to share cafes that I stumble across in future posts!

AKICHI

While wearing a butterfly-patterned dress, I managed to find butterfly ice cream at AKICHI in Namba (Osaka) that perfectly matched my drip.  This colorful little alley functions as both a photo space covered in murals and a nook full of bakeries and cafes.  I tried the strawberry and vanilla milk-flavored ice cream from Deglab; the “soft cream laboratory”.  Not only was it topped with an elegant white chocolate butterfly and edible pearls,  but it was also mouthwatering delicious!  It felt like a dream come true.  There is also a tapioca shop and bakery upstairs if you are looking for other desserts, but the ice cream is some of the best in town.

Wagurisenmon Saori

There’s nothing like eating a bowl of noodles in Kyoto.  Or a Mont Blanc ice cream dessert disguised as noodles, because that makes perfect sense.  At Wagurisenmon Saori in downtown Kyoto, you can confuse your taste buds by digging into these dessert noodles with a spoon and tasting a thick layer of cake and ice cream below.  Kansai cooking is nothing short of amazing:

The taste of this dessert was average due to the “noodles” being somewhat tasteless, but as an aesthetic food enthusiast I could not pass this opportunity up.  Definitely try it if you like the concept, but regular Mont Blanc sold in French bakeries throughout Japan taste a lot better and are cheaper.  I will never forget this experience though.

Jinen Sushi

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All of my Japanese friends that travel to Osaka continually talk about butter unagi (eel) sushi, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  I’ve eaten eel many times and think that it’s tasty and a good source of protein, but the downside is it’s considerably expensive compared to other foods.  However, Jinen Sushi offers a pretty good deal on their nigiri and sushi rolls and you can order them individually.  I eagerly ordered the unagi butter and confirmed that it was worth the hype.  Eel normally has somewhat of a tough texture, but the sticks of butter add a softness to it that you normally wouldn’t expect.  Because you can only get this in Osaka, I ordered another round.  In America butter is a normal topping found in mass quantities, but here it’s far less common so you really treasure moments like this.

Happy Labo Popcorn

While I was going to a show in Osaka one day, I noticed mysterious steam coming from a street vendor.  Curious to see what it was, I was surprised to find that it was actually frozen rainbow popcorn that turns your breath white!  Happy Labo Popcorn definitely has a unique theme going for it and sells some interesting ice cream too.  Usually I’m not a fan of flavored popcorn, but when frozen it actually has a sweet but still mild taste.  It’s definitely attention-grabbing and fun to walk around with.

Cocochi Cafe

I was browsing Instagram one day when I came across an orange on my feed, but it wasn’t just an ordinary orange.  It was an orange (wait for it)… WITH A FACE.  Not just any face, but it had googly eyes and mustache.  Truly blessed with poise and perfect symmetry.  Whatever it was, I had to order it.  My aesthetic food journey took me to Cocochi Cafe in Kyoto which is a cozy dessert place near the Imperial Palace.  I can proudly say that drinking orange juice out of an orange with a handsome face is one of my biggest life accomplishments.  There is also a cute dog at this cafe that is happy to greet you!

JTRRD Cafe

JTRRD Cafe started out as a small restaurant in Osaka that eventually became so popular that it opened branches in Kyoto and Nagoya mainly due to its patterned rainbow smoothies.  Unfortunately the day I went they were out of ingredients for the smoothies, but I still enjoyed the paprika curry and omelet rice (which I shared with a friend because the serving size was so big).  It was probably some of the best curry I have ever tasted due to the way it was seasoned.  Paprika is truly an underrated ingredient.  Next time I come back to this area, I will make an effort to try the famed smoothies too!

Panbo

By this point I’ve experienced a lot of unique desserts in Japan, but pancake skewers are a new thing to me.  At Panbo Osaka, you can choose the size of skewer you want (which consists of mini pancakes and fruits on a stick) then add chocolate, sprinkles, and other toppings to flavor it.  The mini pancakes are surprisingly filling, and the marshmallow at the top makes me feel like I’m at a campfire.  Speaking of camping…

Hammock Cafe

Picture a hammock cafe where you can relax and drink with your friends in hammocks.  Now picture that same cafe with all you can drink alcohol.  Welcome to Revarti Osaka, maybe one of the best watering holes in all of Japan.  I’ve been to hammock cafes in Tokyo before, but they sure didn’t have the all you can drink option (maybe they will in the future, but this place was way more relaxed).  I was brought here with my bartender friend from Space Station, and with a group of 4 people I’m pretty sure we only paid around 1500 yen each.  They had everything from wine to high balls to vodka cocktails too so I indulged in everything.  We also tried dunking crackers into chocolate fondue with huge marshmallows baked into it.  This was by far one of my best drinking experiences in Osaka that was followed by a 12 hour party at club dapnia.  A night I will never forget!

The Longest Softcream in Japan

At Long Softcream on American Street in Osaka, you can eat the longest soft-serve ice cream in Japan standing at a whopping 40cm.  But be quick~  It will melt fast if you try to eat it during the summer.  The irony is perhaps compared to the average size of American desserts, it’s not so long after all.  The taste is pretty ordinary, but I bought it mainly for the meme factor.  I will be writing more in detail about the wacky things you can find on American Street in the future because this is just the beginning!

BONUS: Individually Sealed Sliced Pieces of Bread

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I can’t remember exactly where this place was, but the fact that it sells individually sealed sliced pieces of bread is simply amazing.  All it needs is a side of unagi butter!

EDIT: The location is Sakimoto Bakery in Osaka.

Thank you for reading Volume 1 of my aesthetic food journeys in Kansai.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be writing Volume 2 focused on Nagoya in the near future.

 

 

Desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul (Vol. 2)

Here is a collection of desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul (Volume 2). ♥

Volume 1 was published yesterday.  I will be writing a full article series on my experience in Korea within the next coming weeks.

Here is a collection of places I stumbled upon which I highly recommend:

Zapangi

Zapangi is by far one of the best not-so-hidden gems in Seoul.  The entrance to the cafe is disguised as a pink vending machine door that you must find the handle to enter (fortunately, it’s quite easy to do so once you get up close).  Inside the cafe you will be greeted by a magical assortment of neon signs and rainbow desserts.  I highly recommend the mermaid cupcake–the tail is just way too photogenic to give up!  I also ordered a rainbow ice smoothie which really hit the spot.  I wish I would have had more room for the unicorn donuts, but alas, I was full.  I recommend coming here twice if you have enough time, because there are just way too many cute desserts to choose from!

Thanks Nature Cafe

If you have internet searched popular cafes in Seoul, then likely this one has already popped up.  Thanks Nature Cafe in Hongdae is infamous for not only its flower tea, but also its fluffy sheep (named Sugar & Honey)!  The sheep are kept outside in a pen and are free to pet as long as you order something from the menu.  This makes waiting way more fun!  You can make a reservation in advance using their website, but I just walked in here without one when I came here in early 2018.  Watching flowers bloom inside of your teacup is an experience I highly recommend seeing:

Milky Bee

While shopping in Myeongdong, I saw a number of people holding this beautiful flower petal ice cream.  Not wanting to miss out on this aesthetic food experience, I had to stop by and try it for myself.  Milky Bee features ice cream and gelato cones that you can customize to your liking.  If my memory is correct, I ordered green tea, vanilla, and strawberry gelato to make my cone look like a lovely bouquet.  It was almost too pretty to eat, but I ate it anyway!

Sulbing Cafe

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If you want to try the famous Korean shaved ice (called patbingsoo), my recommendation is going to one of the Sulbing chains.  They have the most options as far as flavors and toppings go.  I ordered the strawberry cheesecake shaved ice, and even in the winter I thought that it was beyond amazing.  The strawberries tasted so fresh and the cheesecake helped balance the flavor.  I’ve decided I like Korean shaved ice a lot more than the ones sold in Japan, because it has more substance to it and tastes a lot better.  Fortunately a number of Korean dessert cafes have been popping up in Tokyo lately, and Harajuku even has its own Sulbing branch!

REMICONE

REMICONE is a uniquely designed cafe that resembles an ice cream truck in central Gangnam.  There are way too many beautiful sweets to choose from, but I decided on the cotton candy ice cream milk and the moon cupcake (I joked about how this is actually Night Tempo in cupcake form).  There was a mango macaroon ice cream cup that I really wanted to try, but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to.  If you come to this cafe, please try all of the wonderful desserts for me!

Urban Space Cafe

Last but definitely not least, I recommend that all of my fellow lovers of aesthetic things check out Urban Space Cafe.  Relive your childhood memories by diving into a ballpit and lounging in inflatables with a menu of crazy cocktails.  I ordered some strange concoction that was served to me in a mini shopping kart, and I liked it so much I also ordered a cocktail with sparklers in it.  Came here alone?  No problem at all because there are tons of teddy bears that you can use as your date.  I had so much fun taking photos under the neon lights and swimming through the ballpit.  This is true Seoul Cafe culture.  The original cafe I went to was in a remote district of Seoul, but they recently moved it to central Myeongdong so you can access it more easily now.

Thank you for reading my 2nd Volume of recommend desserts in Seoul!  This is all I have for now, but I will be sure to update with more recommendations in the future.

In my next posts I will be writing about Jeju Island, the DMZ, and some of the gardens and art galleries I visited in Korea.  Please look forward to my future posts~

Finding Inner Peace while Backpacking through Hiroshima & Miyajima (Japan)

Over the weekend, I had the grand opportunity to explore Hiroshima and its smaller cities: Onomichi, Fukuyama, and the famous Rabbit Island.  Despite the tragedy that occurred here [which you can still see the remains of at places like the Atomic Bomb Dome], Hiroshima has rebuilt itself into a beautiful city where many people live, work, and come to travel–it has both a sense of peace and adventure to be had.

I had previously visited central Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Museum when I was 19 years old and first studying abroad in Japan, but it took me 6 years to find the proper time to come back here.  I feel so fortunate that I was able to go backpacking and explore the fascinating cities here, because they are truly unlike any place I’ve explored in Kanto, Kansai, Kyushu, or Hokkaido.  You’ll notice that this area is definitely more quiet than other places, but it’s perfect for reflecting on life and spending time with yourself.  I found that it’s also easy to make friends at the local eateries and bars as well.

Getting to Hiroshima

From Tokyo, I booked a flight in advance for around 25,000 yen from Haneda Airport to Hiroshima Airport through ANA because that is the fastest an most cost-effective way to get here for someone living as a long-term resident in Japan.

You can also travel by train (which I recommend for everyone who purchased a JR Pass because it will be covered), but it can take up to 5 hours from Tokyo.  It is better to take the shinkansen from Osaka, Nagoya, or Kyoto if you plan on exploring multiple areas of Japan.

I stayed at at Hostel Mallika for just under 1800 yen per night (the accommodations are extremely affordable).

Things to do in Hiroshima

My top recommendations for Hiroshima are going to the Peace Museum and Memorial Park, seeing the castle, trying some okonomiyaki, and also checking out Miyajima Island, which is just a short boat ride away!  I boarded the ferry at the pier near the Memorial Park because it was near by hotel (you can see the exact location and time tables from the Miyajima Tourist Website).  Roundtrip tickets are 4000 yen, but I think the experience is extremely worth it!

Exploring Miyajima Island

On Miyajima Island, you can see friendly deer, visit the highly aesthetic Itsukushima Shrine (you will see it on many postcards in Japan), and eat some fresh oysters.  There is a shopping street, a lovely beach, and a ton of other shrines and historical monuments to visit.  It’s recommended to come here during the summer season since the weather will be more pleasant, but I came during late November and was surprised to be able to see lovely fall foliage around the island.

Though Miyajima is a popular tourist destination (attracting grade school Japanese tourists and some foreign ones as well), you will find that it’s far less crowded and more peaceful than other places in Japan.  I had a lot of fun reminiscing here.  Though it’s been 6 years since I’ve last been here, I was surprised to find that it’s almost exactly the same as I remember.  The only thing that has changed is that some of the shops and cafes have become more modernized, but you can still find traditional Japanese food here.

For food recommendations, I suggest trying the green tea ice cream topped with the deer cookie and the oyster soba sold near the pier.  Though it doesn’t really suit the style of the island, I came across some interesting Rilakkuma burgers sold on the shopping street.  You can choose to have an eel or oyster croquette burger, or a dessert burger made.  I tried the eel croquette burger, and I couldn’t believe how delicious it was!  Additionally, I found a bar called “Oyster” on the same street.  You can order your first alcoholic beverage for 600-700 yen, and refills are 200-300 yen depending on what you order.  This is a cost-effective way to turn up on Miyajima, as the convenience stores are quite limited here.

Another thing I loved about this island is how many people brought their dogs.  I saw five dogs and one deer approaching them out of curiosity, yet all of them coexisted in harmony.  I wish that we [as humans] could do more of this.  The other picture I captured of the deer is arguably the most meme-worthy photo on this trip.  Being on this island really taught me a lot!  The average time that people spend here is usually 2-3 hours.

Eating at an Anime Okonomiyaki Restaurant

After fully exploring Miyajima, I decided to head back to the mainland to meet a friend of my boss.  Since I am an avid anime fan, he took me to a popular anime izakaya called “Momijitei“.  This restaurant is small, but has an amazing atmosphere and absolutely delicious food!  The restaurant is plastered with Love Live and Idolm@ster posters, there are cute anime girls beckoning you to order Coca Cola (and other drinks), and anime openings loop continuously on tiny TV screens.  This place definitely is a vibe, and serves some of the best okonomiyaki in town.

I had a nice conversation with one of the staff about Touhou Project.  He was surprised to know that a foreigner knew about the series, but if only he knew how popular the fanbase was outside of Japan!

I decided to order the seafood okonomiyaki with shrimp, drink a few glasses of wine, and enjoy the small but definitely fun nightlife of Hiroshima.  As a special service, the staff brought out a dessert with little ice cream bunnies.  At this point I was definitely tipsy and overcome with happiness.

The irony was that I was planning on going to the Rabbit Island the next morning, so this was the perfectly chosen dessert.  I was sure to thank everyone there for their hard work and hospitality.

In my next articles, I will be covering smaller towns outside of Hiroshima and also the Pasocom Ongaku Club events I went to at small event spaces here.  If you have any questions regarding Hiroshima, please feel free to ask me!

Desserts that will make your heart melt in Tokyo (Vol. 2)

Here is a collection of desserts that will make your heart melt in Tokyo (Volume 2). ♥ For reference, please see Volume 1 here.

Sweets Paradise (Akihabara Branch)

 

Sweets Paradise is an extremely popular buffet-style dessert restaurant with multiple branches in Tokyo.  You can choose from an unlimited selection of multi-colored pastries for 70 – 90 mins.  However, the branch in Akihabara offers a take-out option with cake that looks like actual ramen!  Even the toppings are edible and have an extremely sweet flavor.  The “noodles” are actually just thick layers of frosting.  This is probably one of the most unreal sweets I have ever eaten (appearance-wise), but the taste was definitely worth it!

New New York Club

 

New New York Club became a meme because of its rainbow bagels stuffed with delicious cream cheese.  These bagels sell out fast so sadly I wasn’t able to get one, but they do have multi-colored bagels you can purchase too!  They still taste the same as a regular bagel despite their strange color, and I prefer them to most Japanese bagels because they are larger and softer in texture.  Ikumimama Animal Doughnuts is another cute bakery that is right around the corner from here!  Be sure to pick up some cute cat donuts if you still have an appetite.

Aoyama Flower Market Teahouse

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Aoyama Flower Market is a popular florist chain that is often found in Tokyo train stations.  Stopping here is convenient if you want to pick up flowers for a special occasion, but certain locations also have cafes with extremely aesthetic food too!  I ordered this delicious parfait with pink jelly and fruit that looks like a work of art at the Kichijyoji location.  They have a seasonal menu that rotates frequently, so be sure to check online to see what they are serving.  All of the food here has an extremely appetizing look and taste.

Salon Ginza Sabou

 

This upscale restaurant exploded with popularity when they released their infamous green tea boxes.  Under a thin layer of green tea-flavored chocolate topped with green tea powder that you break apart with your spoon, you will find the goldmine of all green tea desserts.  Watch my video and see Sabou’s website for more information.  Other restaurants are starting to copy this style of dessert, but this was the original place that invented it.

Liquid Nitrogen Kit-Kats

 

It’s no secret that Japan is infatuated with Kit-Kats.  Walk into any souvenir store and the first thing you will besides the obvious Hachiko-shaped sweets is corn, sweet potato, green tea, and other strange flavors of Kit-Kats.  The Kit Kat Chocolatory and Café offers a whole different level of strangeness with its liquid nitrogen Kit-Kats.  It was surreal to watch the Japanese waiter pour liquid nitrogen onto a platter where it would perfectly chill a sweet commonly found in the US, but it was definitely worth the experience.  You can customize your own Kit-Kats at this cafe as well!  There are a variety of unique toppings you can choose from and the menu changes its featured items each season.

Doubutsuen Ice Cream/The Zoo

 

Doubutsuen was another dessert place that exploded with popularity in Harajuku due to its cute animal cones.  I opted for the tripple scoop piggy the first time I came here.  Originally you would buy a ticket from the front of the shop that looked like a vending machine and they would make your cone for you behind the curtain, but due to the mass amount of people waiting in line on the street, they moved their shop to the end of Takeshita Street under the name “The Zoo” so they could serve more customers.  The ice cream here is not only cute but also delicious, so I highly recommend it!

Other Ice Cream Recommendations

 

Other ice cream spots I highly recommend trying are Edy’s Ice Cream for their cute customizable cones with unicorn and heart-shaped toppings, Milkcow for their rich and creamy soft-serve ice cream, Coisof for their black ice cream with crunchy colored toppings, and Godiva simply for their unmatched rich flavor of chocolate ice cream.  It’s hard to find bad ice cream in Tokyo, it really is!

Bonus: Rainbow Sweets Harajuku

 

Last but not least, if you are looking for brightly-colored photogenic food then I would recommend coming to Rainbow Sweets Harajuku!  This is right off Takeshita Street and attracts a lot of customers, but the food is all take-out so it doesn’t take much time to receive your order.  I ordered the rainbow grilled cheese and the rainbow ice cream.  These were fun to take pictures of, but the taste was so-so.  Instead I recommend trying the ice cream places I mentioned above because they have a way better taste.

Thank you for reading Volume 2 of my dessert cafe expedition in Tokyo.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be make more volumes in the future!

Shooting Up Nutella in Southern Australia

Have you ever had the urge to just straight up inject fresh Nutella into your mouth with a syringe?  Well at Dex2Rose, one of Melbourne’s most unique gelato spots, you can legally do this without any shame.  In fact, the syringe filled with chocolate and hazlenut spread actually packs a lot flavor you wouldn’t get by simply spreading it on food.  Not only do they have Nutella gelato that seemingly defies gravity, but they also have crepes, waffles, cider, and other brilliant desserts.  This was one of the silliest things I did while I was on my two week trip to Australia, and it was completely worth it for the meme factor.

Another unforgettable dessert I had was Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Ice Ccream at Milkcow.  Who knew that by mixing vanilla ice cream and ground up Cheetos sprinkled with the “flamin’ hot” powder, you could get this beautiful creation:

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Flamin’ Hot ice cream that ironically helps you beat the heat.

The taste of this ice cream is a bit difficult to explain in words, so I recommend that everyone tries it for themselves!  The ice cream was definitely still sweet, but the texture of the powder makes your mouth tingle for a bit at first until the ice cream hits your tongue.  Regardless of the initial sensory processing disorder, this is something I’m really happy that I had the chance to try!

I will be writing about my experience traveling through Melbourne and Adelaide including stories about closeup counters with kangaroos, partying and playing Smash Bros. at the local bars, and all of the aesthetic food I had in the meantime!  I am currently back in Japan writing and doing some freelance work, but I will be planning my next international trip for my birthday very soon.  Thank you for reading, as always! ♡

Sweet Twist: A Vintage Ice Cream Store in Shimokitazawa

Trying unique and adorable ice cream stores scattered across Asia has become a huge hobby of mine. As I was thrift shopping for clothes in Shimokitazawa (which has much better selection than the overcrowded Harajuku), I stumbled upon Sweet Twist–a vintage ice cream store selling a variety of soft cream, gelato, and crepes with customizable toppings.

Like most sweets stores in central Tokyo, the store is tiny, but the bright pink exterior and colorful signs advertising a variety of desserts seemed extremely inviting.  Not to mention the fluffy mascot that’s printed on all of the cups is the epitome of cute!

I decided to try the strawberry topped soft cream first. Like the name implies, the ice cream is extremely light tasting and sweet. The strawberry topping tasted much like strawberry chocolate so I really enjoyed the taste. Since the portion size I ordered was small (I regret not doing the 2 scoop option), I decided to try the raspberry gelato as well. They have a variety of flavors like green tea, coconut, chocolate fruits, etc. and you can choose extra toppings for just 50 yen. I liked the ice cream slightly better due to its sweetness, but I imagine everything here is really good!

The interior design with the neon pink flamingo and framed photos of Audrey Hepburn and other nostalgic icons was also a pleasant experience to take in. This neighbor hood has a lot of vintage shops that you should definitely check out if you have the chance.  I will definitely be back here in the future to try more delicious flavor combinations!

Backpacking through Canal City (Otaru, Japan)

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I’ve never been to Hokkaido in the summer, but since it’s the only main island of Japan where I haven’t gone swimming yet, I figured I’d explore one of the port towns over the weekend.  The advantage to coming to this island in the summer is there is a lot of flower farms in bloom, the weather is near perfect, and there’s tons of fresh ice cream everywhere!  Well, actually there’s ice cream here year-round since Hokkaido is known for its dairy, but this is the optimum weather for it.

I took a discount flight through Jetstar by booking it a few months in advance from Tokyo to New Chitose Airport, then took the express train from there to reach Otaru.  Otaru is a historic port town with amazing seafood and ice cream.  Almost all of the major attractions are within walking distance from the main station, and it has a very bubbly shopping street.  There are a number of landmarks and famous buildings, as well as the relaxing stroll down canal street!

I started my trip with a stop at Popura Farm Otaru to try their famous melon bowl ice cream.  It did not disappoint.  With newfound energy I wandered to the canal street for some photography.  It truly looks like something out of a Venetian movie!  They offer boat rides here, but since I was trying to steer away from crowds, I opted not to go.  Being in this pleasant weather was sure relaxing though.

Next I traveled to the shopping street right down the road and saw some interesting shops!  You could buy almost anything here: crab buns, green tea, music boxes, sushi, Sniw Miku goods, art, and more.  They also had Peanuts and Hello Kitty themed  restaurants.  What a happening place.  My favorite shop here was LeTAO, because they were giving amazing free samples of cheese cake and cookies here.  Shops on this street close around 7pm, so be sure to come early so you can see everything.

At the end of this street was a very unique music box museum!  They had adorable sushi cake music boxes for sale, as well as the Orpheus music box you could see (not for sale), which is one of the oldest and most famous in Japan.  Although the first floor was a bit of a tourist trap with nothing but souvenirs on the tables, the upper floors had a lot of rare music boxes and were exciting to see.  This museum is very small but has a homey feel.

Afterwards I decided it was time to go to the beach!  The weather was perfect and I was in an elevated mood that comes with traveling to a new place.  I grabbed my swimsuit and took a local bus to to Higashi Otaru Beach, which was one of the closest swimming beaches to Otaru Station.  From the photos and reviews on Google Maps, it looked like quite the promising place for a swim.  However, I was quite disappointed its overall condition and how small the swimming area was.

This beach is right next to the railroad tracks, so you need to walk a long distance down the side of a highway to get to an area where it’s safe to cross.  When I finally got there I noticed the sand was very rough, and there was litter on the beach.  I tried to go swimming but I couldn’t get far–there were a lot of rocks and it just didn’t live up to my previous expectations for it.  Instead, I decided to make up for it by drinking two mini bottles of wine that I had stored in my backpack and relaxed for a while.  This was the first time that I’ve been disappointed by a beach in Japan, but I wasn’t about to let it ruin my trip.  I found a rock to sit on and gazed at the beautiful horizon while I rested.  From this point of view, it looked like a stunning beach:

Not wanting to accept disappointment, I decided to make my way back to the central city and find a hotspring.  Except I was slightly buzzed and couldn’t find the bus stop.  I decided to walk on the side of the highway until I found a taxi.  But I was on the wrong side of the road.  How to cross… That’s when the free shuttle to Otaru Kourakuen miraculously arrived and stopped for me.  I decided that’s where I was going next!  Adorable otters greeted me at the door, and a dip in the hot springs was exactly what I needed to regain my spirit.  I was back again!  Back from disappointment.

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I owe my life to this hotspring.

Afterwards, it was getting to be dusk so I decided to make my way back to the center of the city and grab dinner.  I decided on a seafood place near the melon ice cream restaurant and ordered some delicious crab leg avocado sushi.  If you’re going to try seafood, Hokkaido is the place to do it!

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It looks American!

Feeling extremely satisfied I decided to make my way back to Sapporo where I was staying, just because it has cheaper guesthouse options.  I had a very good time here in Otaru though!  After living in Tokyo for over three years, I am always glad to spend my time in the scenic countryside.