Memoir of Bhutan Trip – Itinerary and some practical info

Where is Bhutan?

This was a question I got  most of the time when I said we are going to Bhutan.

Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas, sharing the border with Tibet and India. This small kingdom has been on my “To Go”list for a long time. Why? Because! Bhutan is known as the “happiest country” in the world. Everyone wants to be happy, don’t they !!

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Tiger's Nest
Tiger’s Nest!!! There are about 750 stairs!
Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Thimphu Festival
The Biggest Festival – Thimphu Tchechu

Obviously, I had a high expectation towards this country and I would like to confirm now that my experience in Bhutan has exceeded my expectations. This kingdom is full of purity and beauty. If I have to describe Bhutan in one word, I would say “Genuine”.  People, food, nature, air…,I felt that everything was genuine.

Throughout the trip, I felt the people were super nice and trustworthy ( but not like “Japanese”nice…We, Japanese, have a good reputation as “kind” or “polite” people, but we are trained to act that way and which is different from”nice” I think, if you know what I mean. The food was simple and tasty (I will write about Bhutanese food another day).  Taking care of nature and their culture is part of their life.

So, did I feel happier now by visiting Bhutan? I have to say YES. I do not know what it is, but I somehow feel calmer and more relaxed.

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Dzong
Beautiful Punakha Dzong

I would like to record our trip here, which maybe helpful to the people who are considering going to Bhutan, as I assume that not many people around you have already experienced it.

Travel Period : 7 days / 6 nights

Travelling Season :  Autumn. We chose September as there were quite a few big festivals (Tsechu) on in September.

Flight: Perth Australia – Bangkok (Thai Airways) – Paro Bhutan (Druk Air) – We flew out to Kathmandu after that. Thai Airways have a relationship with Druk Air, therefore, our luggage could go to Bhutan directly (we did not need to pick it up at Bangkok). We did not need to go through immigration in Bangkok to transfer to Druk Air.

Travel Agency: Raven Tours. This was a great choice! Highly recommended.

To go to Bhutan, booking the trip via Bhutanese government approved travel agency is a must. Once you decide your travel agency, they can book everything for you including Visa, Hotel, and Druk Air flight tickets, thus, you do not need to worry about anything.

Raven made a personalised tour for us. Our guide was a super cool and smart lady who made our small wishes (but important) come true, such as wearing Bhutanese traditional cloth and taking us out for dinner every night (as we are foodies).  I have no hesitation to recommend them to anyone.

Currency: Bhutanese Ngultrum or Indian Rupee. Take USD. The best place to exchange money is Paro Airport (before immigration).

Cost: minimum $250 USD per person. It might sound too much, but we felt not…. (I know it is not cheap, but!!). This normally includes everything (Hotel, meal tour etc), thus, you will only spend a little in Bhutan (all we spent there was for beer and a little souvenir for ourselves).  If you would like your travel agency to book flights or upgrade the hotel rank, it will be at additional cost.  We went for standard 3 star hotels, but all hotels were great!

Itinerary: Thimpu -> Punakha -> Paro

Thimphu (2 nights) : Attend the Festival at Tashichho Dzong, Hike to Tango Monastery, Largest Sitting Budha, Memorial Chorten, Tashichho Dzong, Nature Hikes.

Punakha (2 nights): Attend the Punakha Festival, Punakha Dochula Pass, Punakha Fortress, Fertility Temple, Talo village and Kham Sum Yule Temple Hike.

Paro (2 nights): Tiger’s Nest, Paro town, Farm House, Archery, Hot stone bath.

Recommendations: The best was I have to say – a usual suspect – Tiger’s Nest. It was really hard to get there, but it was so rewarding. The temple itself was just beautiful. We found a little quite corner in the temple and mediated for a while. It was so peaceful and I felt like my heart was cleansed…. I highly recommend to take a hot stone bath after the hike!

I also enjoyed attending the festivals with the locals – ask your agency to dress you in the Bhutanese traditional cloth!

Next I will write about Bhutanese Food!

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Himalaya View
Himalayan View from Lungchuzekha

 

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My mum’s Recipe : Anko – Japanese Sweet Red Bean Paste

My memory of Japanese sweets is my mum’s homemade Anko (Japanese Sweet Red Bean Paste).  Well…, it is not exactly the anko itself…. It is more like my mum and my sister.

They love anko. They sometimes had this sudden craving for anko (and I do not know why, but this happened always at night), and the next day, my mum would make it. When they ate it, they looked super happy… The homemade anko must have had some sort of magical power to make these 2 powerful Osaka ladies (especially if you know them…, you know what I mean) calm and speechless…

On the other hand, I have never been a big fan of Anko…. Somehow, I felt it was too sweet….That’s why I had never made it before. However, as I became older, I started missing the sweet anko – age does funny thing to humans!

So here it is! I recreated my mum’s happy Anko. As always, she gave me the instructions and tips  (well, of course she does not know the measurement…). I think it is quite good.

Anko Red Bean Paste 1 a little bit of soy

I made Dorayaki (Red Bean Pancake) by using this anko this time. You can use if for anything else – such as Zensai (Sweet Red Bean Soup), Daifuku (mochi rice cake filled with anko), or even western style sweets (cupcakes and pound cakes will be good!).

It takes time to make, but it is easy. Try it when you have time!

Ingredients:

220g Azuki Red Beans

1200ml of Water

140g of Caster Sugar

1/4 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

Method: 

  1. Soak Azuki red beans overnight (15 – 20 hours).
  2. Rinse the azuki red beans.
  3. Place the azuki red beans and 1200ml water into a big pot. Bring it to the boil. Once it is boiled, turn the heat to low. Skim the scum off the top.  Keep cooking over low heat for about 1 hour or until the azuki red beans become soft and tender.
  4. Add caster sugar and sea salt into the pot. Keep simmering until the liquid is evaporated. This will take about 1 – 1.5 hours.
  5. Once the liquid is evaporated, mix and mash the azuki red beans to the consistency of your liking. Cool it down to use. You can wrap and freeze the anko if you are not planing to use it straight away.

This is Dorataki (Japanese Red Bean Pancake Sandwich). I used this recipe.

http://www.ntv.co.jp/3min/recipe/20100923.html

Dorayaki_Anko_A little bit of soy

Gari – Pickled Ginger

Today, I would like to share with you my mother’s Gari recipe.

Pickled Ginger Gari 2

Gari is Japanese Pickled Ginger, you might know it as the free side you get with sushi. It is perfect for refreshing and cleansing your palate. To make this pickle, it has to be young Ginger. Young Ginger has paler skin and pink tips. The flavour is much milder and juicier than the normal ginger. It is only around from late summer to early autumn. The season is short, so if you see young Ginger in the store, make the most of it! (if you are in Australia, it is now 🙂

Here is my mum’s recipe. The ginger will be quite spicy as she likes that way. If you would like to make it less spicy, you can boil ginger before pickling (see the method below).  Hope you enjoy!

Ingredients:

800g – 1kg of Young Ginger

30g of Sea Salt

1 liter of White Vinegar

200ml of Caster Sugar

5g of Dried Kelp (if it is too difficult to find, you do not need to use it)

Method:

  1. Wash young ginger. Using a spoon scrape off the brown hard skin part from the ginger.
  2. Slice the ginger VERY thinly. Soak the sliced ginger in water while you are working. ( if you prefer less spicy, boil the ginger for 1 minutes here)
  3. Remove the sliced ginger from the water. Sprinkle sea salt over the ginger and put it aside for 30 minutes.
  4. In the mean time, put white vinegar, caster sugar and dried kelp in a small pot. Heat it over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Put it aside until it is cooled down.
  5. Squeeze the excess water from the sliced ginger and place it into a clean jar. Pour the vinegar mixture (method 4) over it. Store the jar in the fridge for 4-5 days, and then it will be ready to eat.

 

This is before

Pickled Ginger Gari 1

This is after – PINK!

Pickled Ginger Gari 3

Happy New Year – 2018

Happy New Year! May your 2018 be peaceful and fun with a touch of excitement.

I cannot believe that it’s already 2018…. It still sounds like the future to me….

This is this year’s Osechi –  a set of several dishes prepared for New Year’s Celebration. (Please see my previous post about the Japanese tradition of New Year).

Osechi 2_a little bit of soy

Menu is:

Nishime (simmered vegetables – Konjac, Carrot, Daikon Radish, Okra, Shiitake)

Kohaku Namasu (pickled daikon and carrot)

Gomame/Tazukuri (dried sardines caramelised with sugar and soy sauce)

Kurikinton (chestnuts and sweet potatoes paste)

Kuromame (Simmered black beans)

Konbu Maki (rolled kelp)

Koya-dofu (simmered dried tofu)

Ebino Umani (prawns cooked in soy sauce, sake and mirin)

Chicken Terini (Chicken simmered in teriyaki sauce)

Hokkaido Scallops Sashimi

Ozoni (soup with mochi/rice cake)

As this was the 4th year for me to prepare Osechi, I have to say that I was pretty organised and it did not take that long. I am quite satisfied the outcome too. Tasty!!! YEYYY!!! I have presented Osechi this year on  a set of beautiful plates which were given to us by my husband’s auntie and uncle. The white plates are so classy and Osechi looks good on them.

Osechi 1_a little bit of soy

Well, I think I made a good start . I am determined to keep it up throughout 2018.

 

Simmered Taro Roots (Satoimo no Nikkorogashi)

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For the last decade, I had been wondering if this vegetable called Taro roots in Asian veggie shops was actually the same as “Satoimo”. “Satoimo” is a common vegetable in Japan. It is a small round vegetable with brown and hairy skin. Once the skin is peeled, the inside is white. The texture is very similar to potato, but the difference is that it is slimy.

We sometimes call “Satoimo” as “Taroimo”. OK, the name is similar. Their looks are quite similar too, but the “Taro Roots” that I had seen before was quite big compared to “Satoimo”. So I had never had the courage to try “Taro Roots” as I was not quite sure.

Then the other day, I saw this “Small taro Roots” in an Asian veggie shop in Subiaco, which looked exactly the same as “Satoimo”. I took a photo of it and sent it to my mother to see what she thought. She confirmed that it WAS “Satoimo”. Great!!!

The only dish that I can think of with this “Small Taro Roots” is Simmered Taro called “Satoimo no Nikkorogashi” – one of my favourites among my mother’s simmered dishes. I have to admit that Satoimo might not be for everyone – especially for people with a Western background, as I believe that slimy food might not be as common as in Asia. However, I would really recommend if you would like to try something different or are interested in traditional Japanese food. Of course, the flavour is guaranteed.

When you prepare it, please be careful with your knife as it is slimy – quite slippery. Please also wash your hands carefully after dealing with it. Your hand might feel itchy if the sliminess is left on your skin. Hope you enjoy.

 

Ingredients:

400g of Small Taro Roots (Satoimo)

2 Tablespoons of Salt

200ml of Dashi Stock

50ml of Cooking Sake

1 Tablespoon of Sugar

1 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce

1 Tablespoon of Mirin

 

Method:

  1. Preparation for Taro Roots. Slice a little bit of the top and bottom of the taro off, and then peel the skin. It will be easier and look better if you peel it from top to bottom. If the taro roots are big, cut them into about 3 cm cubes. Place them into a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Wash and rinse them by hand. This is to remove the unnecessary sliminess, and to make the taro absorb flavour easily.
  2. Place the taro roots, dashi stock and sake in a saucepan. Heat it over medium/high heat. Once it is boiled, reduce the heat to low/medium and add sugar. Simmer it for 10 minutes with a drip lid.
  3. Add soy sauce to the saucepan and simmer it for another 10 minutes with the drip lid on, or until the taro roots are cooked.
  4. Remove the drop lid and turn the heat to medium/high. Add mirin to it and simmer it for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until the sauce becomes shiny.
  5. Turn the heat off and let the taro cook down in the sauce. Serve it warm or at room temperature.

Simple Kitsune Udon

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Kitsune Udon is one of the Osakan people’s soul foods. We eat Udon when we are sick, before we go for a trip, after we come back from a trip, when we feel a little bit hungry, when we have upset stomach, when we are hungover…well, in short, any time.

The most important is the combination of the Udon Soup and Sweet Kitsune Topping (Aguraage – Deep Fried Tofu Pouch). After biting the sweet and juicy Aburaage, you have to have a sip of Udon Soup straight away. Then have some Udon noodles while the flavour of the Dashi is still in your month…. So yum….  This is my comfort food. Hopefully you enjoy my home town food. Here is the recipe.

Ingredients (for 2 people)

Udon Noodles

100g Bread Flour

75cc Water

½ Teaspoon of Salt

Soup

400cc Kelp and Bonito Stock Dashi Stock

2 Tablespoons of Mirin

2 Tablespoons of Sake

1 Tablespoon of Light Colour Soy Sauce

2 pinches of Sea Salt

Kitsune Topping

2 Aburaage (deep fried tofu pouch)

160cc Kelp and Bonito Dashi Stock

1 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce

1 Tablespoon of Cooking Sake

½ Tablespoon of Mirin

½ Tablespoon of Sugar

 

1 Spring Onion – finely chopped

 

Method

  1. Make Udon Noodles. Mix water and salt. Make sure that the salt is dissolved completely. Place bread flour in a bowl. Pour the salted water over the bread flour bit by bit, while you are combining them by hand. Bring the dough together and knead it until it becomes elastic and smooth. Shape it like a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 15-30 minutes. Keep repeating this process 3 times.
  2. Make Soup. Put all ingredients in a pot and bring it to boil. Turn off and set aside.
  3. Make Kitsune Topping. Pour boiled water (not included in the ingredient list above) over aburaage. This is to remove the excess oil from the aburaage. Cut them into 2. Place stock, soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring it to the boil. Place the aburaage into the pan. Reduce the heat to medium/low. Put otoshibuta (drop lid) on and cook it for about 5 minutes. Let it cool down.
  4. Now come back to the udon noodles. Dust the dough with flour. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 5mm thick. Fold the dough into 3. Cut the folded dough into thin strips. Dust the noodles with flour, and pick and unfold the noodles one by one. Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain and wash them with cold water.
  5. Place the udon noodles in a serving bowl. Pour the soup over the noodle and top with Kitsune and chopped spring onions.

 

 

 

SALMON NAMEROU – Another Tataki

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Tataki is one of the Japanese cooking methods. Here in Australia, “beef Tataki” or “tuna tataki” are very common, which is that a piece of protein is seared and the inside is almost raw.

However, today, I would like to introduce another Tataki. This Tataki includes a completely different cooking technique from the seared Tataki. Tataki means “beat” or “slap” in Japanese. To make this Tataki, you need to beat the ingredients with 2 knives (that’s why it’s called Tataki!). And, when you mix the beated version of Tataki with miso, it’s called Namerou.

I cooked my Salmon Namerou for The Chef’s Line, along with my seared Beef Tataki… Well…, Executive Chef Dan Hong seems to not have enjoyed this dish as much as I do…. But I am still a big believer in this dish. Maybe you can try it out and to see if you enjoy the dish as much as I do?

 

Ingredients  (Serving 2-4)

120g of Salmon Fillet ( Sashimi grade, deboned, skin off

1 + 1/2 Teaspoons of Red miso (japanese shinshu red miso)

2 Teaspoons of Soy sauce

1cm cube of Ginger – finely chopped

1 Spring Onion – finely chopped

Method:

  1. Cut up Salmon and Ginger into very small pieces with 2 knives on a chopping board.
  2. Mix the salmon with other ingredients until it becomes sticky,
  3. Serve the salmon in lettuce cups (optional)

 

 

This is how to chop the Salmon!daaaa!!

 

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