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Monday, August 03, 2015

Sashimi chicken, Kurobuta pork and wagyu beef in Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan

Kurobuta pork shabu shabu at Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima

Kurobuta pork is like the wagyu of the pig world, prized for its juicy flesh, intense flavour and heavy marbling of fat. Kurobuta means "black pig" in Japan, and this specific breed - the same one known as Berkshire pork in England - is exclusively bred in Kagoshima, after first being exported about 120 years ago.

Our Japan travels mapped from Tokyo to Kagoshima

Kagoshima sits near the bottom of Kyushu, the third largest and southernmost island of Japan. We took the shinkansen bullet train from Osaka to Kagoshima, a journey that took about 10.5 hours. It's a scenic journey, passing through rolling fields and quaint townships.


Kurobuta Alley

Black Pig Alley at Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima

We only had one night in Kagoshima and ended up eating most of our meals at Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, a manufactured village of 25 stalls specialising in Kagoshima food, also known as Satsuma cuisine. Before its current name of Kagoshima, the prefecture was formerly known as Satsuma.

The yataimura can feel a little touristy at times, but it's an efficient way of trying a number of local specialties in the one spot. Most staff only speak limited English but all stalls should have an abbreviated English menu in their front window with a list of their recommended specialties, an initiative by the local tourism bureau.

Kurobuta pork skewers at Black Pig Alley in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Kurobuta pork skewers 500 yen / AU$5.50

We stop at stall number one which translates as Kurobuta Alley, focussed on kurobuta pork sourced directly from Minami-shu Farm on the Osumi Peninsula. The Kurobuta pork skewers are a delicious way to start, with five different parts of the pig threaded onto skewers and licked by the charcoal flames of a grill.

Kurobuta pork skewers at Black Pig Alley in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Kurobuta pork liver, heart and tongue skewers

We chomp our way through all parts of the pig, starting with thin slices of pork tongue, moving onto the impressively rich liver, and savouring the lush fattiness of Kurobuta pork belly.

Kurobuta pork gyoza at Black Pig Alley in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Kurobuta pork gyoza 300 yen / AU$3.30

The pork gyoza, too, are made with Kurobuta pork mince. These may be dainty in size, but the pocketful of pork mince is sweet and tender, sealed into thin pastry dough that has been steamed and then panfried until golden.

Kurobuta pork shabu shabu at Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Shabu shabu with Kurobuta black pork ribs 800 yen / AU$8.80

Our eye-opening highlight of the evening, however, is the shabu shabu Kurobuta pork. It's a simple affair but proves that no fussiness is required when using prime ingredients. The wafer thin shavings of Kurobuta pork rib are more fat than meat, with each tinted a faint rosy pink.

Kurobuta pork shabu shabu at Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima

We add a handful of Chinese cabbage, enoki mushrooms, tofu, carrot and shallot into a boiling pot of water and then gently swirl a slice of Kurobuta pork for mere seconds. The fat melts immediately and as you transfer the quivering softness into your mouth, it's impossible not to feel your toes curl with satisfaction. It's a life changing moment. This pork is amazing.


Satsuma Grill

Satsuma Grill at Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Satsuma Grill 

Around the corner, we find ourselves at Satsuma Grill. The smell of charcoal is hard to resist, and we park ourselves at a table in the alleyway. Inside is already full, with just eight diners crowded around a u-shaped counter.

Grilled kurobuta pork at Satsuma Grill in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Grilled Kurobuta pork 700 yen / AU$7.70

The Kurobuta pork offering here is a pork fillet, cooked on the charcoal grill until smoky and caramelised at the edges. Ladled across the top is a refreshing citrus dressing. We savour each mouthful with wilted bean sprouts and finely chopped green onion. A squeeze of the chargrilled lemon adds extra zing.

Grilled Japanese black beef at Satsuma Grill in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Grilled Satsuma Japanese black beef 1200 yen / AU$13.20

Kuroushi or black beef is another breed specific to Kagoshima. The black cattle are a type of wagyu beef, and it's evident in the eating. We marvel first at the supreme pink hue of the grilled steak and then rejoice as we relish its melt-in-the-mouth juiciness.


Tagiruba

Tagiruba Grill at Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
The cosy stall set-up 

We ate at Tagiruba for lunch, one of our memorable meals where we ended up chatting with the chef, befriended other diners, and mangled our way through hybrid conversations of English, Japanese and a lot of sign language.

Black satsuma chicken lunch set at Tagiruba Grill in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Kuro satsuma-dori lunch set 700 yen / AU$7.70
Black satsuma chicken with rice, salad and soup

The lunch set menu offers incredible value. Just 700 yen nets you a multi-course meal of black satsuma chicken, salad, rice and miso soup.

Black satsuma chicken at Tagiruba Grill in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Black satsuma chicken grilled sumibi-yaki style over charcoal

Kuro satsuma-dori is black satsuma chicken, raised free-range and prized for its texture and flavour. Just like black satsuma pork and beef, it's only the outside of the animal that has black skin, coats or feathers.

Here the chicken has been grilled over charcoal. We notice the difference in texture immediately, quite lean and chewy but markedly stronger in flavour.

Onsen egg on rice at Tagiruba Grill in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Onsen egg on rice

Taking a cue from other diners, we asked for an onsen egg on our rice. It's a extra 70 yen, or less than a dollar, but worth it for that gooey blanket of rich egg yolk.

Chef preparing our black chicken sashimi at Tagiruba Grill in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Preparing our black chicken sashimi

We also order the black chicken sashimi, a bewildering thought for most Westerners, but a dish that's not uncommon in Japan.

Kuro satsumadori torisashi black chicken sashimi at Tagiruba Grill in Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Kuro satsuma-dori torisashi 
Black chicken sashimi

It does look a little intimidating at first, but I'm reassured by the Japanese obsession with hygiene, and the fact that chicken sashimi is always from a chicken slaughtered that morning.

The first mouthful is irrefutably raw. Soft and squishy with a chewy layer of fat and skin across the top. It's a bewildering sensation, and one that threatens the sensible side of your brain. "This is raw chicken. You'll get salmonella. You shouldn't be eating this!" it yells.

But the jaws plough on, and while your brain processes everything, it starts to appreciate an alluring freshness about it, like the difference between cooked and raw salmon. You can taste a faint hint of sweetness in the flesh, and notice the gentle chew of the chicken flesh.

On the side is a sweet soy and vinegar dressing, along with raw onions, shallots and a dollop of raw minced garlic.

Tagiruba Grill at Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, Kagoshima
Tagiruba by night

Sakurahima Cherry Island volcano in Kagoshima, Kyushu
Sakurajima Cherry Island, an active volcano

We didn't have much time in Kagoshima, but we did catch the train down to Sakurajima, or Cherry Island, an active composite volcano. The volcano has regular mild eruptions. It had erupted that morning, making the skies hazy with ash. The last major eruption was in 1914, killing 60 people and destroying 3,000 homes. Originally a volcano island, the spray of molten lava continued for so long that the river of lava cooled into a land mass that turned that island into a peninsula connected to Kyushu.

Today residents regularly endure volcanic ash, and often carry hardhats, umbrellas and masks for protection.

Giant Yakult drink in Kagoshima, Kyushu
Giant Yakult drinks make me happy

We didn't notice any volcanic ash in the air from where we were standing, but we did zero in on the giant Yakult drinks in the vending machine at the station. Forget those tiny bottles of Yakult. This baby was 500 millilitres of probiotic happiness.


Kagoshima Morning Markets

Grocery store at the morning market in Kagoshima, Kyushu
Grocery store at the morning market

Unfortunately the major market, Asa Ichi, was closed on the one morning we were there (they're open Monday to Saturday only) but we wandered around until we found a local morning market, a small nest of shops covering 1.5 blocks.

Sweet potatoes at the morning market in Kagoshima, Kyushu
Sweet potatoes, a specialty of Kagoshima

Kagoshima is known as "the land of sweet potato", producing more sweet potatoes than anywhere else in Japan.

Local shoppers at the morning market in Kagoshima, Kyushu
Local shoppers

It was barely 7am but there were quite a few locals out and about doing their shopping for the day.

Local fishmonger at the morning market in Kagoshima, Kyushu
Local fishmonger

Ripe tomatoes at the morning market in Kagoshima, Kyushu
Ripe tomatoes

Japanese hotel breakfast in Kagoshima, Kyushu
Japanese buffet breakfast at our hotel

The early start means we really can do the hotel buffet breakfast justice, a smorgasboard of rice, pickles, miso soup, meatballs, vegetables and shredded cabbage. The fresh butter in a sachet squeezes out perfectly onto the super thick slices of toast.

And yes, I can reassure you, there was no ill effect after the sashimi chicken. Would I do it again? Only in Japan.

<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid


Kagoshima Furusato Yataimura
6-4 Chuo-ku, Kagoshima City, Kagoshima, Japan
Tel: +81 (099) 255 1588

Shop 1 - Kurobuta Alley
Open daily 11.30am-2pm and 5.30pm-12am

Shop 20 - Tagiruba
Open daily 11.30am-2pm and 5pm-1am

Shop 24 - Satsuma Grill
Open daily 5pm-12am

<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/03/2015 01:12:00 a.m.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta

Lao food at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta

Sticky, sweet, salty and sour – it's like a candy shop for carnivores. 

If you’ve ever wondered what beef candy would taste like, quit daydreaming. Phounguen has beaten you to it. Their Lao dried beef or sin haeng ($10) – beef slices marinated in spices and then dried to a jerky – is deep fried so all the fatty bits get extra crispy before being tossed in a sticky syrup. Laos usually eat this with rice as part of a meal. We reckon you BYO and have ‘em with beer.

Lao dried beef at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta
Lao dried beef $10

Phounguen is camped on the other side of Cabramatta station, away from the main strip of restaurants. Things are quieter on this side, but that means parking is easier too. They do a mix of Lao and Thai dishes here – from green curry to pad thai to chicken feet salad. A photo menu makes ordering a cinch.

Lao pork sausages at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta
Lao pork sausage $10

The classic Lao pork sausage ($10) delivers on all fronts: zingy with lemongrass, kaffir lime and chilli, lusciously juicy and cooked so there’s a slight crisp to the skin.

BBQ marinated ox tongue at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta
BBQ marinated ox tongue $10

But what they’re really known for here is the ox tongue ($10). Forget everything you know. This oft-maligned offal is marinated and barbecued into some kind of unheard-of tender, smoky flavour punch.

Lao fried rice with pickled pork at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta
Lao fried rice with pickled pork $10

The décor is pretty basic but who cares when most dishes are ten bucks a pop? Join the rubble of families, locals and uni students and hoe into Lao-style fried rice ($10), a textural bonanza of crunchy rice bits mixed with hot pink pickled pork, scrambled egg, shallots, peanut and shredded coconut.

Deep fried marinated quail at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta
Deep fried marinated quail $17

Get your hands on a pile of deep fried marinated quail ($13/$17), dunking each piece in a lemon juice and pepper dipping sauce.

Lao raw minced beef salad at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta
Spiced minced beef salad (raw) $10

Go hard with the raw minced beef salad ($10), like a fish sauce version of steak tartare with bonus bible tripe.

Beef ball soup at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta
Beef ball soup $11

They do a treasure hunt of tripe in the soups too. The beef ball soup ($11) comes with a clear sweet stock, or get the tom yum beef combination ($11) for a spicy kick.

Lao green papaya salad at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta
Green papaya salad $10

Green papaya salad ($10) is a choose-your-own-adventure dilemma. Thai-style for bright and sweet? Or Lao-style, which is down and dirty with funky, salty fermented crab? You choose.

Lao fried rice, quail and sauage at Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta

Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant, Cabramatta


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Phounguen Lao and Thai Restaurant
148 Cabramatta Road, Cabramatta, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9727 2563

Open daily 12pm-9.30pm


This article appeared in the July 2015 issue of Time Out Sydney in my monthly Food & Drink column Eat This! [Read online

Read more of my Time Out Sydney reviews

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/29/2015 11:29:00 p.m.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Cafe Oratnek, Redfern

Katsuando pork fillet sandwich at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern

Let's talk about katsu, a thick slab of pork fillet, crumbed and deep-fried into one helluva juicy schnitzel. The Japanese love katsu so much, they put it between two slabs of fluffy white bread and call it a katsu sando. Katsu sandos aren't easy to find in Sydney which is probably why they're walking out the door at the newly opened Cafe Oratnek in Redfern, headed up by Bills Darlinghurst ex-head chef, Kenny Takayama.

Cake display counter at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Cake display counter

Cafe Oratnek only opened on July 20, but on Saturday - only its sixth day of trade - the kitchen was forced to close early after literally running empty on food. Locals have taken to this Japanese fusion cafe like ducks to water.

Quince at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Quince ripening on the counter for future desserts

The breakfast menu runs all day. A separate lunch menu kicks in at 11.30am. Breakfast is all about things on toast: smashed avocado; honey caramelised figs; wild mushrooms with miso butter; jamon serrano with mashed green peas; or vine tomatoes with cucumber, goats cheese and house made chilli jam. Hipsters can settle in with chia and quinoa porridge pots with almond milk. Everyone else can hang loose with bacon and free range egg rolls and banana loaf with caramel butter.

Cake of the day at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Cake of the day $4.50

In the display cabinet at the front is a range of cakes, brownies and slices made daily.

Banana loaf at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Banana loaf served with caramel butter $5.50

The Japanese influences are more evident in the lunch time menu, like the salad with daikon and wild mushroom or the hot dishes of miso bbq boneless beef short ribs, sake steamed clams and a Japanese slow cooked lamb casserole.

Piccolo latte at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Piccolo latte $3.50

Coffee beans are supplied by Mecca. Tea is by Mariage Freres. An alcohol licence means you can settle in with a beer (Asahi, Sapporo or 4 Pines Hefeweizen at $8-$9) or a glass of wine ($8-$10).

Matcha latte at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Matcha latte $4.90 large

The matcha latte I ordered was very much on the weak side, but staff did mention this was the first one they'd served and took my feedback on with eagerness. Non-caffeinated drinks include housemade lemonade and ginger beers, thickshakes and a mint and cucumber soda detox.

Indoor dining area at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Indoor dining area

The interior of the cafe is completely on-trend with subway tiles, wooden school chairs and an open counter. On a mild winter's day, it's worth sitting in the leafy front courtyard. Outdoor gas heaters will keep you toasty if the temperature dips.

Fire grilled capsicum and tomato stew at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Fire grilled capsicum, feta, shallots, herbs, tomato stew and sourdough $16

The kitchen pumps out an impressive selection of hot meals. The fire grilled capsicum and tomato stew is the perfect bowl of warmth on a mild winter's day. Thick strips of smoky and tender capsicum mingle with soft and squidgy tomato wedges. Its one big umami bomb, lifted by pops of feta and a scattering of fresh herbs. A chargrilled slice of Brickfields sourdough helps you mop up all the sauce.

Katsusando pork fillet sandwich and Japanese fried chicken sandwich at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Pork fillet katsu sandwich and Japanese fried chicken sandwich

There are currently three sandwiches on the menu: pork fillet katsu, smashed egg and Japanese fried chicken, each at a wallet-friendly ten bucks. I could have done without the oversized chopping boards though, impinging on table real estate as well as making my sandwich look smaller.

Japanese fried chicken sandwich at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Japanese fried chicken sandwich with kimchi mayo $10

The Japanese fried chicken has less batter than you'd expect, but there's a welcome zinginess from the marinade. The chicken thigh fillet is plump and juicy, with a light crunch at the edges. It's sandwiched into a soft bun with cabbage kimchi and kimchi mayo.

Katsuando pork fillet sandwich at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Pork fillet katsu with cabbage, Japanese BBQ sauce and mustard $10

And their pork fillet katsu sandwiches are so popular they're doing a roaring trade in takeaway lunches. The katsu sando yields a hefty slab of impressively tender crumbed pork fillet, sauced up with Japanese tonkatsu fruity barbecue sauce and horseradish mustard. A generous amount of raw shredded cabbage provides bonus points on the healthiness scale.

The crusts are cut off, just like they do in Japan, leaving you with a thick pillow of fluffy white bread (also from Brickfields) contrasting against the gentle crunch of the pork katsu.

Stepladder pot plants at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern
Stepladder pot plants

And what does Oratnek mean? If you haven't already worked it out, it's Kenny Takayama's first name in reverse: Kentaro.

Outdoor seating at Cafe Oratnek, Redfern


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Cafe Oratnek
4 Pitt Street, Redfern, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8065 4625

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday 7am-4pm
Sunday 8am-4pm


Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Redfern - House of Crabs
Redfern - Moon Park
Redfern - Three Williams
Redfern - Town Bike Pitstop


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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/27/2015 12:55:00 a.m.



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