Rai is a singer-songwriter from Singapore, and plays in a band called Jack and Rai. They've cut a studio album and perform regularly in Singapore and around Asia. Aside from that, Rai also runs a Japanese restaurant called The Flying Squirrel with his bandmate Jack and Jack's wife Angelina. This time, they go on a food hunt in Japan, and they are taking us along!
What kind of traveler are you?
The big word for me when travelling is EXPERIENCE. I love to travel to places, where i can get to know the people of that country, and share in a 'local' thing to do. Visiting landmarks and tourist sites are not a priority, unless they are of historical interest to me. Usually, I travel to a city/country, and explore the vicinity around me on foot mostly, from point to point, and I've done that for 4-6 hours at a go, stopping at anything that catches my eye. For that reason, I travel often alone, just for kicks.
Tell us why you love Japan.
I have been fascinated by Japanese things for a number of years now... from food, to sake... to music, anime and movies. Visiting the country is always an awesome experience and something I look forward to. Plus, I have been learning Japanese for a few months now, and being able to read and speak the language is definitely helpful, while travelling there.
You are in Japan now for an inspirational food trip. Tell us all about it!
For starters, in Osaka, Dotonbori is a street lined with food. The best bets there are their specialties, Takoyaki (a ball-shaped pancake, stuffed with ingredients ranging from cheese to octopus) and Okonomiyaki (a flat pancake of batter, vegetables, and meat pieces), which Osaka is famous for. I don't think you can really go wrong whichever stall you choose - our pick was Mizuno Okonomiyaki. For me, the fun was hopping from shop to shop having little bites and discovering more bites along the way. It would be a good experience too, to head to Kuromon Ichiba which is Osaka's Seafood market. We stumbled across a specialty Fugu (Puffer fish) restaurant, and ate everything Fugu, fried, hotpot and sashimi.
Pictured above: Mizuno Okonomoyaki (credit: The tale of two tings)
We also went to Kyoto, a more peaceful, traditional city that houses many temples and shrines. It still maintains a relaxed yet reserved ambience, and you will notice the absence of tall buildings and bright lights, unlike in Osaka and Tokyo. One might even spot a traditional geisha or two, along the streets of Pontocho or the area of Gion. Food-wise, we tried a restaurant called Hatakaku for Botan Nabe, Wild Boar Hotpot. It is a century-old restaurant, which has a limited, seasonal menu. Come prepared to sit cross-legged around a stove built into the ground, with a charcoal-heated hotpot. Quite an experience, and reservations are a must.
Pictured above: Hatakaku (credit: Kyoto Foodie)
In Tokyo, Sushi Iwa presented us with an immersive Omakase experience, for those who love their sushi and sashimi. Located in Ginza, and a little hard to find, it is a restaurant that is separated into two 6-seaters, located in blocks across from each other, along 8 Chome. Our chef, Tsukiuda-san and his assistant took us through a well-paced 2hr dinner, with fresh, simple cuts, some accompanied by great garnish, and seasonal specials as well. While most would come across Sushi Kanesaka or Sushi Yoshitake as the trailblazers in omakase, we highly recommend Sushi Iwa.
Pictured above: Omakase at Sushi Iwa
And watering holes?
Tokyo houses some of the best cocktail and whiskey bars in Japan. We visited Star Bar Ginza, Bar High Five and Tender Bar, famous for its chief bartender's signature Hard Shake mixing technique. The head bartenders of these bars are all well-respected in the industry, and serving a drink is as serious as a school exam. From the cut of the ice, the clarity of the ice block, down to the method of shaking a cocktail, the Japanese are extremely precise with their pours. These bars, though small, extend a hospitality and service etiquette like no other.
How do you research where to go and eat? And do you have a strategy? I mean, how do you eat without bursting at the seams at every meal, because I assume that you want to try as much as you can physically stomach?
I personally prefer reading through travel blogs, because I find that sites like TripAdvisor, though useful, tend to drift towards the obvious tourist choices, which is not what I look for when I travel. I like to stay in one place over a period of time, simply so that I can take my time to try the food without bursting at the seams. Well-paced travel is my strategy to learning more about a place, in terms of food, drink, culture and music!
What are some of your must do's when you travel?
I am superstitious (just slightly). When I check-in to my accommodation, I always 'apologize' for invading the space, just so that I won't be disturbed by any... ummm... unseen forces, especially since I am alone often.
I also always wear the same Dave Matthews Band t-shirt every time I go to the airport for a flight out of the country, so that has become quite a ritual for me.
What are your 5 travel essentials?
- iPod + X-mini speakers
- Daily Multi Vitamins
- Victorinox Swiss Army Knife
- My favorite, comfy tank top and shorts for snooze-time
- Hair trimmer (for the facial hair)
Where would you like to go next?
Maybe Okinawa. Some of the beach apartments there look awfully gorgeous, yet humble and simple. I would love to stay in a nice, beachside apartment, with a great view.
Pictured above: Okinawa (credit: RoyalCaribbean)
Stylish places to stay in Tokyo
This bright and fully furnished studio is located in a prime location right next to Roppongi Hills.
Going to Tokyo? Check out more places to stay in Tokyo on Roomorama.