Exploring the Freezing Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam

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During my birthday in October of 2018, I made the decision to take a week-long tropical vacation to Vietnam—baby’s first trip to a Communist country.  It has taken me nearly 2 years to find time the proper time to write about it, but take my word that this next article series will be worth the wait.  We will be exploring some of the craziest places and seeing how Communism shaped the culture here.  Going to Vietnam changed my life and is yet another adventure I’ll never forget.  In fact, people don’t talk about this country nearly enough!!

Why Vietnam?  

It all started during my first week Tokyo when I went clubbing in Roppongi (when it was still good) and met one of my best friends who is half Japanese and half Vietnamese.  She likes drinking and dancing as much as I do so naturally we hit it off.  One night while we were having dinner she couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the beaches in Vietnam were.  Since I had already been to Okinawa (I still need to write about this) and Yakushima for my previous birthdays which are considered some of the most beautiful getaways in Japan, I decided it was time to get out of the country and see these renowned beaches for myself.

I researched and found that Phu Quoc is known as the most beautiful island in Vietnam.  Ho Chi Minh is the cheapest place to fly to from Tokyo likely because it is a large international business hub.  I paid around $400 USD through Vietnam Airlines for a roundtrip flight.  I decided that I wanted to see Hanoi too because that is where my friend is from, so I came up with an itinerary that looked like this:

Tokyo ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ⇒ Hanoi ⇒ Phu Quoc ⇒ Pineapple Island ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ↻ Tokyo

Though this only hits the major areas, I booked some private tours to remote temples that I will mentioning in this series.

Getting a Visa in Vietnam

Since Vietnam is a Communist country, tourists will need to apply for a visa BEFORE they arrive.  Unlike other countries, applying for a visa upon arrival is usually not permitted.  I chose to purchase one online through Vietnam e-Visa, which is a legitimate and trustworthy service that you can safely submit your documents to.  Your visa will last 1-3 months and usually costs around $25 (there is sadly no way to avoid this fee).  You can also apply directly at the Vietnamese Embassy in your country.  For my lifestyle, it was much easier to apply online and I received approval within 3 days.  Easy.

ICE Coffee

After arriving at Ho Chi Minh Airport and successfully passing through customs with my e-Visa (fortunately it was an easy process that didn’t require much time), I hired a taxi and drove to the very first destination on my list: ICE Coffee.  This is one of the most unique coffee shops in Vietnam that has a deep-frozen room full of furniture and sculptures made of ice plus an adorable Husky you can pet!  I was lucky because I came in the afternoon when no one else was there.  I ordered a simple strawberry milk drink and began my journey through the frozen lands of Ho Chi Minh (fortunately winter jackets can be borrowed at the entrance with no extra cost).  To my surprise there was a bed that you could take a nap in too.  Exactly what I needed after my long flight!

I loved the design of this place because it had an avant-garde ice cave feeling to it.  The neon lights that reflected off the ice ornaments added a really cool city pop (cave pop?) aesthetic:

I had previously thought about staying in an ice hotel in either China or Hokkaido, but now that I’ve been here and taken plenty of pictures I really don’t feel the need.  This is the perfect place to chill with your friends and plan your trip around the city (or by yourself like me).  The temperature is quite cold, but the blankets on top of the ice furniture will keep you warm.  The hot drinks definitely help too!

Access

262 Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

When I exited Winters and headed back towards Summers (pardon the Earthbound joke), it started downpouring rain.  That’s when I saw a familiar character’s face just up ahead—it was none other than Donkey Kong!  Not wanting to get drenched in the rain or awkwardly re-enter the coffee shop I just left, I ran towards the mysterious DK shop.  Whatever this place was, it had to be good.  Unbeknownst to me, it was another tea and coffee shop called Aroma Tea!  While I waited for the rain to subside, I decided to order the weirdest drink on the menu: Cream Cheese Tea.  The best part was that DK was smiling proudly on my cup:

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DK AROMA TEA IS HERE!

It was surprisingly sweet and easy to drink.  Obviously a lot of sugar and milk was added to create a satisfactory flavor.  Exactly what I needed after my strawberry milk, right?

I spent some time here planning out the rest of my day.  Fortunately the rain was only expected to last for 3 hours and I could still go out at night.  Because the traffic was starting to get heavy, I kindly asked the staff to assist me with calling a taxi because I couldn’t flag one down.  I severely underestimated the craziness rush hour here.  The majority of people in Vietnam ride motorbikes and it’s extremely hard to cross the road until you get the hang of it.  Most drivers will slow down when you start to walk across, but some remain driving at full speed until they’re right beside you!

Another thing to watch out for is the exhaust from all of the bikes.  I noticed it in my lungs immediately when I went for a run the next day.  Though I don’t have asthma, it was harder for me to breathe than usual.  Luckily I had planned various excursions outside of the city so I wasn’t breathing it in all the time.

When the taxi arrived, I had them drop me off at my hotel so I could check in and put my suitcase away.  After that, it was time to get changed into fancy clothes and party!

Dining in Ho Chi Minh (Nha Hang Ngon)

Even after sipping on all of those sugary drinks, my hunger was still unsatisfied.  I hadn’t eaten anything all day so I decided to dine at a beautiful restaurant called Nha Hang Ngon.  This place has all sorts of Vietnamese cuisine you can try with a gorgeous interior decor.  The menu is in English and has pictures of the dishes so it’s the perfect place to try things so you know what you like.  I ordered coconut shrimp, chili crab, and coconut ice cream while dining in the garden area.  The food and service was amazing!  Plus the rain had subsided so I was in a happy mood.  Who wouldn’t be when they’re eating here?

Even upscale restaurants in Vietnam are extremely affordable.  I only paid around $30 USD for all of this and it was very fulfilling.  Next it was time to hit the clubs!

Clubbing at Apocalypse Now

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I had a list of clubs written down, and Apocalypse Now was at the top of the list because of its iconic name…  In no time was drunk and ready to take on the apocalypse.  The club had no entrance fee and I immediately made friends with several Vietnamese girls who invited me to their table (probably due to my extremely blonde hair at the time).  They spoke simple English and we danced to better-than-what-you’d-expect remixes of popular EDM songs.  The club’s interior was very beautiful and had red lanterns.  I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was too focused on having a good time and sipping on Coronas.

Though my time here was short because I had a huge itinerary, I still stay in touch with the girls I met through social media.  I enjoy seeing them travel around Vietnam because it inspires me to come back!

Clubbing in Ho Chi Minh is safe because there are always officers in uniform around keeping watch.  However, they don’t act like bouncers do.  They simply observe and ensure that no suspicious people try to sell drugs or anything.  Drugs are quite rare in this country so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting your drink spiked.  It is always a good idea to keep your eye on it, however.

Accommodation

I stayed at a private room in Blue River Hotel for $20 per night.  It was quiet, clean, and located near most of the attractions that I wanted to see so it was perfect for me.  With a little more money, you could likely stay in an upscale hotel with a spa and more luxurious amenities!  I was on a budget so I wasn’t able to stay in the nicer hotels, but I plan on checking them out in my next trip!

As far as transportation goes, I recommend using Grab app so you don’t get scammed.  The price is automatically calculated by distance so you don’t have to worry about dodgy people.  I’d like to believe that most people are honest, but I was scammed by an old taxi driver who hid the meter with a piece of cloth.  I can’t remember how much I lost, but it was likely the equivalent of $50 USD and I had no way to determine the correct amount.  I reluctantly paid and got out.  Vietnamese people are not rude or dangerous, but they will try to take advantage of tourists.  Please be careful while traveling here.

In my next series of articles, I will be writing about the rest of my adventures around Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Phu Quoc Island.  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!

My journey to the real-life village from “Your Name”: Hida-Furukawa

Right before Japan declared its widespread emergency state in response to the COVID-19, I took a final trip to a place that has been on my travel list for quite a long time: Hida-Furukawa.  Located in the mountainous region of Gifu, this town is the real-life location of the fictional town “Itomori” in the movie Your Name.  Like its fictional counterpart, it is removed from the city and has a lot of wonderful nature you can explore.  In this post, I will be detailing my experience here and all of the main places captured in the movie.

Please see my photo documentary for detailed side-to-side comparisons with the anime!

The major points of interest are:

  • Hida-Furukawa Station (so you can see the cattle mascot Hida-gyu)
  • Hida City Library
  • Ajidokoro Furukawa (the same restaurant where the characters eat mochi)
  • 旧落合村バス停 (the infamous bus stop)
  • Hie Shrine in Takayama

But there are many other museums and hot springs to see during your trip!

Traveling to Hida-Furukawa Station

I woke up at 6am and rode the shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Toyama Station which took around 2 hours but was a scenic trip.  From there I switched to the Hida Limited Express and traveled 1.5 hours to reach Hida-Furukawa Station—the main location of the movie outside of Tokyo.  The journey takes 3-4 hours and costs around 14,000 yen in total, but is worth it for the amount of things you can see.  Even if you’re not a diehard fan of Your Name, Hida has a rustic charm that you won’t find in other places in Japan.

As soon as I got off, I was greeted by a cute cutout of Hida-gyu.  Hida is famous for its beef so it would make sense that its mascot looks like this:

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Welcome to Hida City!

Dining in Hida

Since I was starving I decided to stop by a local eatery called Fab Cafe Hida.  This restaurant is not in the movie, but it’s definitely worth trying because they have sweet sake chai and delicious salmon sandwiches.  I came here in early April so it was still snowing a bit even though there were some cherry blossoms in bloom.  I was happy to see that they had space heaters scattered throughout their cafe so I could stay warm.

A restaurant that is in the movie however is called Ajidokoro Furukawa, where the characters feast on glutinous mochi.  You’ll know this place when you see it because it has posters of the movie hung up around it.  The staff is extremely friendly and will give you a guestbook to look at and draw in while you wait for your food.  I was amazed by all the detailed drawings that people had sketched inside.  In addition to mochi, there is a lot of Japanese food here that you can order too.  I’m not a huge fan of mochi, but this was exceptionally delicious.  I can see why the place was featured in the movie now!

Hitting the Library and Local Shrines

One of the early scenes in the movie takes place at the Hida City Library which you can easily reach on foot from the station (almost all the major attractions I listed are within walking distance from here).  It’s quite an expansive library with multiple floors, toys and reading circles for children, and a number of classic titles.  This is the biggest library I have ever been to in Japan so I will always remember my experience here.  It brought back the memories I had renting books as a child in the days before ebooks existed.  What a time it is to be alive!

In addition to the library, you can check out the Hida Tourism Center for a free map and also stop by some of the city’s local shrines.  There are three shrines that are said to bring good luck in love if you visit them: Enko-ji, Shinshu-ji, and Honkou-ji.  Every January 15th there is a festival here that celebrates them.  Though the festival had long ended since I arrived here, I still had a lot of fun checking them out!

One of the major shrines in the movie (called Hie pictured above) is actually in Takayama.  Fortunately, Takayama is very easy to reach.  From Hida-Furukawa, you can take the Takayama Line to reach Takayama Station in 30 mins for 290 yen. Hie Shrine is around a 25 min walk from the station and is free to enter (or you can take a taxi).

There’s not much else to see in central Takayama, so I would recommend coming here after you fully finish exploring Hida-Furukawa.

The Infamous Bus Stop

This bus stop is arguably the most difficult place to get to, but is totally worth it for the comparative picture.  It’s literally out in the middle of nowhere—forests and a single vending machine are the only things that surround it.  Only a few number of buses stop here per day making it a real challenge to get here and back (you may be waiting for hours).  The nearest train station is Tsunogawa Station, but since this area is somewhat remote the trains are infrequent too.  But if you come all the way out to Hida, you might as well go for the gold.  I opted to pay a taxi driver 6900 ($60) for a round trip from Hida-Furukawa Station to here and fortunately he cut me a deal.

Inside the bus stop are more sketch books and posters of the movie.  It’s amazing to see how many people have made it out here!

Address: 旧落合村バス停  (If you show this to any taxi driver in Hida, they will know).

Other Points of Interest

While walking through Hida, be sure to look out for the Setogawa Canal!  This street is lined with beautiful buildings and you can also see koi fish swimming around.  It’s extremely picturesque:

There are also a number of sake distilleries you can walk in and see.  I found a sculpture of a life-sized robot near one of the shrines too!  It truly surprised me how much there is to see in this little town.

Though I didn’t have enough time to visit any museums, here is a list of some I’d want to visit in the future:

Final Remarks

Traveling to Hida and Takayama was definitely a great excursion out of the city for me.  I had the chance to relive some of my favorite parts of Your Name and also create my photo documentary so I will forever remember this trip.  However, even if you’re not a fan of the movie you will still enjoy this area if you like exploring rural Japan.  I did this entire trip in one day, but you could easily expand this into a 2-3 day trip if you stay at an onsen resort or ride the Hida express all the way to Nagoya or Osaka.  The local train that runs through Gifu is considerably less expensive than the bullet train.

In my next article I will be writing about Gero Onsen which is between Hida-Furukawa and Nagoya so it makes the perfect side-trip for those who are traveling here.  Please look forward to my future adventures!

Miracle Romance! A trip to Tokyo’s new Sailor Moon Restaurant: Shining Moon Tokyo

With its beautiful character design and story that have captured the hearts of people from around the world, it’s no wonder that Sailor Moon is still a popular series today.  As someone who grew up with the English dub of the anime in America, I am proud to say it is still one of my all time favorites.  Though there have been a number of pop-up Sailor Moon cafes that last for a limited time, a new and permanent theater show restaurant called Shining Moon has permanently opened this year.  I decided to check it out with one of my best friends and I genuinely enjoyed my experience here.  The live performances definitely added a lot to it!

During dinner time two immaculate shows with professional actors are performed.  One is recordable and the other is non-recordable.  Both will keep you on your toes because they feature a lot of fighting, singing, and dancing with colorful visuals.  One began with Usagi dancing at a ball with Tuxedo Mask, only to wake up and find it was all a dream!  Another was completely original and showed the girls visiting different areas of Tokyo (like Harajuku and Asakusa), then being swarmed by villians that they need to defeat.  The shows did a good job in showcasing each girl’s abilities and giving them equal time on stage.  It really felt like I was watching a live version of the anime.

At this time the restaurant only features the inner senshi and it is unknown if other characters will be featured.  I see it being possible in the future as long as this restaurant continues to attract customers (which it is).

Before entering the cafe, you must make a reservation online in advance (we did a few days before) and pay by using credit card.  This cafe is a bit more expensive compared to the other themed ones; dinner is 8500 yen for S seats and 7500 yen for A seats.  The lunch time option is only 3500 yen but doesn’t include the show.  However, a drink and a meal is included in all of these prices.  Here are some of the things that we ordered:

I genuinely enjoyed the Jupiter Seafood Pasta and Venus Crepes I ordered.  They had drinks for all of the Sailor Scouts too!  Every food item that you order comes with a free Sailor Moon plate which makes the entry fee worth it.  They also have a gift store you can buy special goods from.  The menu items seem to rotate every month, so please check the online menu in advance to see what’s available.  Fortunately they had some vegetarian options available.

At the end of the shows, all of the actors will come out and wave at you!  It was amazing to see them up close.  Their outfits were very detailed and they stayed enthusiastic until the very end.  It was a very memorable experience!

Address

〒106-0045 Tokyo, Minato City, Azabujuban, 1 Chome−10, ジュールA

Pop-up Sailor Moon Cafe (2017)

Earlier in 2017 I went to a pop-up Sailor Moon Cafe that was available for 2 months in Omotesando.  Here are some old photos that I took.  I really enjoyed the design of the Usagi and Mamoru pancakes, and the cotton candy Luna drink:

This cafe is now closed, but sometimes they have themed collaboration cafes that open in this rental space and it’s possible there will be another Sailor Moon one in the future.  I will be sure to write about it if it happen!

Desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul (Vol. 1)

Here is a collection of desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul (Volume 1). ♥

Earlier I published Volumes I & II of desserts that will make your heart melt in Tokyo, so I figured I would do the same for my 2nd (3rd?) home which is Seoul.

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:

「 T A P E 」

Located near Itaewon Station, this bakery and cafe was the first place I stopped at on my most recent trip to Seoul!  CAFE TAPE is famous for its beautifully frosted galaxy cakes which resemble avant-garde paintings.  The cake I chose had a fluffy texture and truly tasted out of this world.  I also ordered an iced coffee to balance the flavor.  The inside of the cafe has a unique metallic decor which resembles a spaceship.  I was really impressed by the quality of desserts here and would gladly come back here again!

Stylenanda 3CE PINKPOOLCAFE

Pink Pool Cafe is a super trendy dessert bar located on the 5th floor of Stylenada (a popular cosmetics and fashion mall) in Myeongdong.  They feature a sweets buffet and a number of fashionable cocktails you can order.  Inside the cafe sits a swimming pool and deck chairs with neon signs you can take pictures of to your heart’s content.  I enjoyed eating the coconut mousse and pink cherry martini–both of them were made with high-quality ingredients.  Even though I came here in winter, I definitely felt the tropical vibe!

Haitairo

While wandering around Hongik University, I discovered the cutest little ice cream and coffee shop called Haitairo.  Though it’s famous for its ice cream made with fresh honey, I decided to try its hot menu items since I came here during the winter.  One day I tried the mochi with hot soy milk which was actually surprisingly good.  The mochi melted a bit liked marshmallows when I dipped it in the warm milk and had a really sweet taste.  I came back a few days later and tried the hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and an adorable smiling popsicle cookie.  This was my favorite because it not only warmed up my body, but also my heart.

Sona Dessert Cafe

Situated in the heart of Gangnam, Sona is a fancy dessert cafe that simply cannot be passed up.  The strawberry champagne ball filled with edible flowers is to die for.  I also ordered another seasonal strawberry dessert that was extremely elegant in its display.  Both desserts were very light so I could finish both.  Definitely come here if you are a lover of aesthetic foods like I am.

Banana Tree

Banana Tree was one of the first cafes to start the flower pot dessert trend with the adorable shovel spoon.  Now you can find this style of dessert in Tokyo and other big cities, but I originally tried it here in Seoul.  I enjoyed “digging in” to my miniature flower pot filled with delicious pudding.  I see from their website that they have recently added new flavors and designs, so be sure to check this place out if you are in Gangnam.

FRANK

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Last but not least, one cannot pass up the opportunity to try rainbow cake in Seoul!  I am proud to have tried both galaxy cake and rainbow cake in this country.  I decided to go to FRANK in Itaewon since it was close to where I was staying at the time.  I enjoyed the super powdery frosting and the delicious texture of the cake, much like I did at TAPE.  It’s hard for me to choose a favorite because every cake I’ve had in Seoul is flavorful and delicious.  I want to try them all!

Thank you for reading Volume 1 of my dessert recommendations in Seoul.  Volume 2 is now published!

Take Your Heart: Visiting the Persona 5 Cafes in Japan

One of the best perks of living in Japan and being a gamer is having the ability to attend the amazing pop-up cafes that are available here for a limited time only.  During my stay here, I have been fortunate enough to been able to dine at both the Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal Cafes held at two different locations.  Making a reservation for these cafes can sometimes be a bit difficult as they are quite popular, but I will be sharing my experience in this post to hopefully help and inspire other people to come and visit!

The Original Persona 5 Cafe at Pasela Resorts (Shibuya)

If you’ve played the game, you’ve probably seen a building called “Pasela Resorts” located on the map.  That is because ATLUS had a collaboration with the popular karaoke chain Pasela Resorts in Shibuya from 10/14/2016 – 11/23/2016 with the series.  The original Persona 5 Cafe was located on the 2nd floor of this location and required winning an in-person lottery to attend (meaning it was so popular at the time that you could not make a reservation online).

This was quite a heart-racing lottery, but I was determined to win!  I remember arriving at 10am, lining up with around 100 or so other people on a 6 floor spiral staircase in front of the cafe, and drawing a ticket from a box.  Fortunately, I drew a winning ticket!  However, many people were unable to win.  I went on a Saturday morning due to my hectic work schedule at the time, but perhaps if you went on a weekday you would have a better chance.

Even though I went alone, I had a ton of fun!  I ordered the Ann and Joker drinks as well as the Leblanc curry and dessert pizza.  Being in a room surrounded by other Persona fans filled my heart with joy.  This was one of the first themed cafes I had been to, so it really left a good impression on me.

Persona 5 Royal Cafe at SEGA Collab Cafe (Akihabara)

3 years later I made it to the Persona 5 Royal Cafe in Akihabara–but this time with friends!  Since this was a collaboration held at the SEGA Cafe, the reservation process was much easier.  Online reservation in advance was possible, but you could also look at the cafe’s available seats and walk in on the day you wanted to go if there was space.  That is what we did as a group of six, and we all managed to sit together!  Between all of us, we were able to order almost every item on the menu and swap coasters.  This time they had coasters of both the new P5 art and chibi versions of the characters given randomly with every purchase of a drink or food item.  This cafe lasted from 11/2/2018 – 12/1/2018.  Though I have not played the game yet, I am super excited to now!

If you have missed the dates for these cafes, fear not!  Whenever a new game, movie, or even musical are announced, usually these cafes pop up and you can always search for the special merchandise online.  I hope to attend many more Persona Cafes and events in the future, as it is one of my favorite series that has taught me much about how social relationships can affect you and the world around you!

Laugh of the Day

On our way up to the SEGA Cafe, we noticed a very special claw machine game filled with dozens of Anns… and one sole Ryuji!  What a lucky fellow–if only it were Morgana instead!

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Ryuji Sakamoto is in heaven.

Getting my daily dose of durian at Double Durian Cafe

As a solid tradition, I like to try extremely foreign food whenever I’m in a new country for the experience of it.  When I landed in Singapore, the first cafe that caught my eye was the uncanny Double Durian Cafe.  Famous for its durian pizza and flavored pastries, this cafe has gained quite a reputation.  Situated close to the City Square Market and my Spacepod Hostel, I figured this would be the perfect place to stop for an unforgettable first meal and to see what the craze about durian is all about.

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Double Durian, home of the durians.

The durian, arguably the most smelly fruit in the world, is widely sold in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and other tropical Asian countries.  It is often used as an ingredient in cooking, featured in flavored desserts like durian ice cream, or sold as a whole at the market for those daring enough to eat it raw.  Due to its extremely potent smell, which some have described as smelling like gym socks or fruity onions, it is banned from certain hotels and airports.  Because of its infamous reputation, the fruit has become somewhat of a meme, and its spiky exterior made it an actual weapon in the Battle of Matchan.  Even upon thorough research, the fruit is quite the enigma to those of us who grew up in the west.

In Exploring the Nutritional Contents and Benefits of Durian, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia lists the following benefits from eating durian:

“Durian is widely celebrated for its long list of health benefits, which include the ability to boost immune system, prevent cancer and inhibit free radical activity, improve digestion, strengthen bones, improve signs of anaemia, prevent premature aging, lower blood pressure, and protect against cardiovascular diseases.”

As you can see, the durian is quite the versatile fruit which led me to trying this cafe.  I decided to order the famous durian pizza and cake to see what they were really like.  The cake wasn’t as sweet as I was used to, but it had an extremely unique texture and I really enjoyed the spiky green frosting!  The taste of durian was very subtle, so I would recommend trying a durian dessert before trying the extremely potent fruit itself.  One cake is the perfect size for one person.

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In addition to durian cake, there are cheese and fruity flavors available at Double Durian!

Though covered in cheese and prepared with a western style of cooking, the pizza was definitely overpowering to me.  The pieces of durian were quite large and visible, and the taste was extremely noticeable despite the other toppings since there was no sauce included in this recipe (it was basically cheesy durian bread).  If they minced up the durian and added sauce, I think it would taste a lot better to me.  I would only recommend trying this if you are extremely brave or interested in unique durian cuisine, because this is definitely a challenge.

Whether you use durian as a pizza topping or a weapon of self-defense, I would recommend trying it at least once if you are ever in an Asian country!

Vegan Lunch at Ain Soph. Journey, Shinjuku

Recently my hobby has been trying out vegan restaurants in Tokyo because their vegetables taste a lot fresher than most places, so I decided to stop by Ain Soph Journey which is right near my boxing gym in Tokyo.

I ordered the vegan taco rice salad and tiramisu cake. Both exceeded my expectations! The taco rice had delicious fresh avocado and tomato, and the “meat” tasted like salsa which was the perfect dressing. The tiramisu cake was very light and creamy! This was definitely one of the best lunches I’ve had here in a while.

Sometimes it’s hard to find a good salad in Japan because they often use cabbage leaves that taste extremely bitter, or sprinkle bits of meat and corn on it which throw off the texture. Fortunately I’ve been finding a lot of luck at local vegan restaurants and my body had felt a lot better. I’ll be sure to share my findings in the future!

Hello Kitty Desserts at EGG & SPUMA

A diner and dessert restaurant called EGG & SPUMA located in the Shinjuku Lumine building serves up some of the most delicious Sanrio collaboration items you’ve ever laid eyes on.  They serve a lot of comfort food like omelettes, risotto, and pancakes on their menu that changes with new featured items each season.  Cocktails and sweet drinks are also available.

I ordered Hello Kitty pancakes topped with apples slices, custard, and whipped cream.  They melted like butter in my mouth and had an extremely soft texture!  I also tried pink lemonade topped with a Hello Kitty donut.  Thought it was an extremely unlikely combination, it was amazing!  The donut was extremely thick and completely covered in strawberry frosting.  The lemonade size was noticeably large compared to most drinks here.  I wanted to try more, but felt extremely full after this!

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the quality of food here for it being part of a theme cafe.  Be sure to try their seasonal pancakes if you ever get the chance to stop by!

My Favorite Noodles: Sweet Potato Cream Soba

In the trendy Ebisu neighborhood of Tokyo lies a famous soba noodle restaurant called Shodai (初代) that specializes in some pretty unique dishes. On a cold night in December, I decided to try it and thus discovered my favorite dish: Sweet Potato Cream Soba. Though sweet potato cream may seem like an unlikely soba topping, the cream actually adds a lot of delicious flavor and texture to the broth.  You can’t even really taste the potato–it truly just tastes like a light fluffy whipped topping, but isn’t even that sweet.  When it melts in the broth to coat the thick soba noodles, it truly creates an exquisite taste! Some cheap soba broths aren’t that tasty, but this is definitely one you want to try!

Whenever I walk outside this restaurant, it is usually very crowded so it is recommended to make a reservation in advance.  However, if you are by yourself then it may be possible to walk in and find available seating without reservation.  There are many soba and traditional Japanese dishes available for you to order, as well as sake!

So far Shodai is the only restaurant where I have seen this dish available, but is likely there are more soba restaurants that use similar culinary techniques!  I hope to try them out in the future.