Monday, 5 December 2016

FoodPunk Visits Japan

Japan was without a doubt the most bonkers, craziest, surreal country I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. For such a tiny island, it's in a little bubble of its own where at times I either felt like I was transported twenty years into the future or had gone back in time visiting feudal Japan.
We had such a blast and we tirelessly soaked up and took in as much as we could in the nine days that we were there. Thank God for the bullet trains because without that mode of transportation, there was no way we could have done all of the things we did. It's so hard to explain what Japan was like because honestly you have to visit yourselves to really know what this country is all about. Not everywhere was the same and the cities and towns offered many different things. For instance Tokyo as you'd expect was mad but at the same time fucking brilliant. For a city that was so condensed and heavily populated it was remarkable to see how efficient, clean and chilled out it was. I mean, yeah it was busy but it didn't feel like we were rushed or in a hurry to get anywhere. However, it was bloody difficult trying to get to places because at the stations there no English translations on any signs or maps but luckily we worked together to get from A to B.
Not only that Tokyo was like a party 24/7 especially in the area of Shinjuku where arcades, shopping centres and bars fill the streets and my word were they ridiculous. But for us we smashed some really cool foodie places and bars. In small, tight  alley ways there were a  strip of small bars where we snacked on little finger food sized sticks, drinking some of the finest beers on offer. The food was amazing with a variety of small plates of meat, fish and vegetarian. No word of a lie, Japan did the best tofu dish ever. It was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, drizzled with a generous helping of soy and garnished with spring onions. They turned something that has the reputation of being shit into something simple and special.
 Still with the food, Tokyo wasn't the only place that did great tasting stuff. In Kyoto, we went to a restaurant that was famous for its iron pot gyoza and it was incredible. It was crispy, meaty, mouth watering and again probably the best gyozas of all time....OF ALL TIME.
We all know about Wagyu beef and in Kobe, you can guess it, we had Kobe steak. If there's something better than sex, Kobe beef would be that something. It was just love on a plate and when the chef was preparing it fresh straight in front of me, my mouth just filled with saliva. Each bite got better and better and better and better. It seriously melted in my mouth, I hardly chewed at all and for two hundred grams costing nearly one hundred pounds, it was money well spent.
Osaka did these insane savoury rosti/pancakes called Okonomiyaki. I think it was a mixture of shredded mooli and potato, but anyways it was gorgeous and there were a few different toppings we had. One was overloaded with meat, topped with a fried egg and the other had shavings of meat with gooey, stringy melted cheese, topped with more meat.
Now obviously Japan is known for Sushi and its everywhere more so than McDonalds over here in London. Its to die for and I sound like a snob for this but after eating the sushi during my nine days, there's no way I can eat it over here. Moreover, the sushi in Japan costs a fraction of the price over here in London. Seeing the sushi chefs effortlessly slice fish and making different varieties in front of my eyes made the whole experience worthwhile.


As I mentioned earlier Japan has got so much going on for itself and if it wasn't for the bullet trains, it would have made life a tad difficult for us. For instance we landed at Fukuoka which is 684 miles from Tokyo. Now that's a whopping distance but because of how fast the bullet trains were, it only took us about six hours to get there and that was with a change. They were fantastic to be on. So smooth and ridiculously fast. Osaka and Tokyo were similar in character with massive tall buildings filled with bright neon lights and super sized screens, bars, clubs, restaurants and huge shopping districts but places like Nara, Kobe and Kyoto offered a more elegant and traditional touch.
Granted Osaka and Tokyo had beautiful palace gardens and castles which offered a peaceful vibe and a welcome change of scenery to the hustle and bustle of both the cities but Nara, Kobe and Kyoto had more traditional surroundings and areas. You cant get more traditional than seeing World Heritage sites such as the Imperial Palace and gardens. I even managed to sneak in a selfie with a deer.



  And there's no way I can finish this blog without mentioning the Japanese themselves. They for me would win the most polite people in the world contest. They're patient, considerate and friendly to the point of being OTT. They constantly bowed and cheered if we did something good. Take this for example, we arrived at our stop on the underground and I did the polite thing of letting this lady and her children off the train first, she bowed a few times and once I stepped off the train, she waited for me and bowed again. A small gesture went a long way. It was as if I performed some sort of miracle. Even when we played darts and one of us hit the bullseye, the whole place would erupt with cheer as if we had won a major tournament. The Japanese were a great group to be around, so approachable and friendly.
So my friends, that is the end of my little adventure in Japan. I had such  a memorable experience, eating some of the very best foods, learning so much about Japanese culture and visiting some breath taking landmarks. And without a doubt spending time and partying hard with my best friends was the icing on the cake to what was already an epic adventure.

Monday, 7 November 2016

FoodPunk Visits South Korea


South Korea was indeed a very interesting country to visit. Not only is it rich in culture and tradition but its also involved in what perhaps is one of the most intriguing yet dangerous political situations to date.
 Korea was probably the country I had little knowledge about out of the whole entire trip, so it was great to learn so much more about its history and the current state it finds itself in. 
We stayed in Seoul for four nights and just like Hong Kong, its a very modern and an efficiently run city. The people of Seoul were a very friendly and patient bunch and for a city that is only sixty miles away from the borders of North Korea, they were so relaxed  and getting on with their business especially when the North consistently threaten with their nuclear and ballistic missiles tests. Its just bonkers to think that Seoul is exposed to such dangerous weapons and that at any moment an attack could happen. But hey, lets not dwell on that because Seoul was such a brilliant place to visit with a lot of fun things to do.
When we first arrived, we took it easy and only being five minutes from Seoul metro station we were able to be flexible in what we wanted to do such as visiting Gyeongbokgung palace which was built in the fourteenth century. With huge grounds containing living quarters, gardens, pavilions and other various halls, I was blown away by the sheer scale of the place and to this day the government are in the process of restoring parts of it which were damaged during the war.

During our stay we discovered a few areas that were just fantastic when it came to eating and drinking.
Firstly Gangnam, yes, that's right Gangnam, home to Psy (of Gangnam style fame). Unfortunately we couldn't' get hold of Psy himself to see if he wanted to party with us but we did bump into John Torode (Masterchef presenter) eating and drinking at a Bavarian bar. Anyways back to the subject on hand, we went to arguably the most epic of all fried chicken places. Korean fried chicken is the bees knees and this particular place (unfortunately for the life of me I can't remember the name, sorry!) was delicious. The chicken is coated in a Gochujang marinade before it is either fried or battered to your liking. Oh and another thing, they do not hold back on the portion sizes either, so you definitely get your Wons worth. Hands down, the Koreans do the best fried chicken around and since that night, I had fried chicken with all my meals and that's no word of a lie.
The other area that we visited was my favourite place in Seoul, called Itaewon. Why? because the people there know how to have a bloody good time and there were a number of banging restaurants, bars and pubs to choose from. Fat Albert's pub was the best for value for money. Like Hong Kong and Japan, alcohol was ridiculously expensive but at Fat Albert's, they do special deals and the Cass (local beer) was dirt cheap and we were drinking there all night long.
Along the same strip as Fat Albert's there was a cracking bar called Ramie's. The food there was out of this world and this place could rival any top restaurant in London as they do Modern European small plates such as ceviche, grilled octopus, forty hour pulled pork sliders to name just a few. My god was it to die for. 
Not only that but next to the Fuller's style pub (which by the way rinsed our good money on crap beer) was a restaurant that did their own take on dishes. There's one dish worth mentioning there and that was the Kimchi pancake and damn that was good as it was loaded with gooey cheese and streaky bacon.
The Koreans love their Kimchi and I'm the first to admit that before coming to the country I couldn't stand the stuff but after relentlessly eating it with every meal I'm a convert and to be honest it goes with everything.

We did the DMZ tour (De-militarized zone) and unless you've been living under a rock your entire life, you should know what this is all about. I implore everyone to do this because it is essential and well worth the money. Get brochures or talk to your local hostel/hotel guides to help you book a day.
We started the day by meeting up with our guide and a group of other tourists. Our guide Han (or his English name, Ron, just don't ask) was brilliant as he had a wealth of knowledge and shared so many bizarre stories about the political situation.
Like I said earlier in the blog, Seoul is only sixty miles away from the borders of North Korea and half an hour into our drive towards the zone we saw outposts and barbed wire fencing along the river banks which went on and on and on. It's crazy to think that a place as chilled out as Seoul, do not take any risks in case something happens. And not only did we think that was bonkers but along the fields, metres away from the roads, the South have laid C4 mines in case the North start rolling in with tanks.
During the tour we stopped at various points to learn more about the zone and why the zone is in place. We encountered tunnels that the North Koreans dug to try and invade the South and even as I write this the South are still trying to locate and discover other tunnels.
We visited the observatory where we met South Korean soldiers patrolling the area as well as being able to look beyond the borders with the aid of a telescope.
There is one positive note about the situation that the South Koreans find themselves in and that is the station and rail tracks they built because they hope this action will bring unification with the North. Even our guide had an upbeat view and a real determination that this will happen in the future but in reality we all know it seems very unlikely as Kim Jong Un is one crazy bastard with no interest communicating and working with the rest of the world. The DMZ tour was mind blowing and it just highlights how fragile the whole political scenario is.

All in all Seoul was a great city to visit and I wish I stayed a little longer there but who knows I could be back sooner rather than later as I want to party with those crazy-fun loving Koreans.