Japan, Days One and Two

I first visited Japan in 2009 with my sister, where we spent nearly two weeks traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto on the shinkansen train. This time, I was returning to Tokyo with Nishan, and I was just as excited to eat my way through Japan as the last time.

After our plane landed at Narita and we checked in to our hotel in Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district, we took the train to Tokyo Station. If you know anything about Tokyo’s subway and train stations, you know that they’re practically cities within cities, complete with top-notch restaurants, shops, and amenities. I can literally spend a whole day in these train stations and not get bored. Tokyo Station includes a number of themed underground “streets,” including Ramen Street.

Yes, you read that right. Ramen Street. It’s just as incredible as it sounds.

Tsukemen

The tsukemen at Rokurinsha on Ramen Street is supposed to be among Tokyo’s best so we stood in the long line, awaiting our turn to be seated at the counter for a huge bowl of noodles to slurp and an accompanying bowl of dipping sauce. And oh, that ramen egg. Perfect glorious egg of perfection, how I love thee. How I love your jewel-like yolk, your delightfully soy-seasoned exterior. I wish I could replicate you.

Suffice to say that the tsukemen was well worth the wait, even if I was too full to finish my bowl of noodles.

We spent the rest of the evening exploring Tokyo Station before heading back to our hotel to call it a night. The next morning, we took the train to Tokyo Tower and explored the neighborhood before arriving at Tofuya Ukai for a kaiseki tofu-themed meal. To be honest, Tofuya Ukai’s gardens practically stole the show before the meal had even begun.

Tofuya Ukai

Cuttlefish stuffed with rice

We started with the cuttlefish stuffed with rice, and topped with a seasonally appropriate cherry blossom.

Tofu coated with miso

Next came my favorite course: tofu coated with miso and served alongside a piece of rolled omelet.

Assorted sashimi

We were also treated to a serving of assorted sashimi. Next came a plate of simmered pork and potato — a nod to the chilly, drizzling weather outside.

Vinagared octopus, chilled pea soup, bamboo shoot shrimp

After that came the vinegared octopus, chilled pea soup, and bamboo shoot shrimp.

Tofuya Ukai

Tofu in seasoned soy milk

Our next course was tofu in seasoned soy milk, which looked incredibly unassuming, but topped with an accompanying preserved seaweed, it made the dish hearty and umami-laden.

Vinegared rice with salmon roe and wild plants

We were next presented with a tray of vinegared rice with salmon roe and wild plants. This was another one of my favorite courses at Tofuya Ukai.

Soy milk pudding and sweet azuki beans

Our last course was a dessert of soy milk pudding and sweet azuki beans. Everything at Tofuya Ukai was presented so beautifully, so seasonally, that this meal became one of our most memorable in Japan. Entrenched in its lush garden, you’d think we were in the Japanese countryside instead of central Tokyo.

Tofuya Ukai

Back in the bustling streets, Nishan and I took the train to explore Nakameguro District before heading back to Shinjuku to visit one of my favorite places in all of Japan: the Takashimaya food hall. The basement levels of Japan’s department stores are dedicated to all manners of perfectly presented food, and I try to visit as many as I can during each trip. The baked goods, wagashi, sashimi, and homestyle Japanese cuisines here are some of the best I’ve ever had.

Takashimaya food hall

For dinner, we headed to Roppongi to meet with Nishan’s friend and former colleague Jumpei. We had an omakase sushi meal at Seizan, and it was one of my favorite meals during this trip. (Listen, I know I’m saying that about half of the meals in Tokyo so far, but come on. It’s Tokyo. Everything tastes amazing.)

Sushi Seizan

Sushi Seizan

Sushi Seizan

Sushi Seizan

Sushi Seizan

Sushi Seizan

Bali, Day Seven

Our seventh and last day in Bali was the epitome of chill. We got a taxi to take us to Sanur, located on Bali’s southeastern coast. We’d heard so much about the famed brunch at the Fairmont there and wanted to try it out. We arrived after an hour-long drive and checked out the beach first, which was much less busy, much prettier, and much hotter than Seminyak’s.

Sanur beach

Brunch started with a couple of deliciously refreshing passionfruit cocktails, and then we were seated. I’ll say this: the brunch wasn’t what I was expecting. The cuisine was Eurocentric (why eat scrambled eggs and blinis if you’ve traveled all the way to Indonesia?) and the crowd was rude (I saw more than one group of diners belittling the staff. Get over yourselves, dudes).

But back to the brunch.

River lobster egg omlette

My favorite dish was the river lobster egg omlette. It was so outstanding that I ordered another. The egg nouvelle was also good, though unfortunately the rest of the brunch buffet wasn’t memorable. As was the theme with this trip, we ended up leaving the coast early and heading back to Ubud for one last tea time and one last dip in the pool.

Tea time

Saying goodbye to our hotel and to Ubud was, you know, sort of a bummer, but we were excited to head to the airport for the next leg of our trip: Japan!

Bali, Days Five and Six

Bali posed a conundrum for us. We wanted to explore as much as we could during our short stay but we also wanted to laze in the pool and enjoy a drink or two under the hot sun. First world problems, right? We spent our fifth day in Ubud finding a happy medium. After breakfast we headed into town and explored Monkey Forest road and the surrounding areas before stopping for lunch at Warung Sopa.

Warung Sopa

Warung Sopa is a casual vegan-centric cafe but it’s the fresh-squeezed juices that really stood out here. Or maybe that’s the sweltering heat speaking.

Komaneka

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Ubud’s handicraft shops before heading back to our hotel for a sunset dip in the pool. I mean, COME ON. With this view, we couldn’t resist.

Mangosteen!

We ended our evening with a meal at Locavore on Jalan Dewisita. Our set dinner was beautifully presented and my favorite points were the beginning (piquant pickled fruits) and the end (a dessert set which included a creamy, luscious mangosteen). Just give me the Indonesian fruit, please. Locavore’s innovative and bracing cocktails were terrific, too. A note about privilege: Locavore was well above the price point of the average meal in Ubud, making it a special occasion meal but sadly beyond the reach of most people who actually live in Ubud.

Since our one trip to the beach had been a dud, we spent our next day happily sticking it out in Ubud and walking around town, exploring each side street, each rice field, each impromptu festival.

Downtown Ubud

We were soon hungry and stopped at Kafe Batan Waru, our favorite restaurant in Ubud.

Soda gembira

Soda gembira is one of Indonesia’s most popular drinks and it translates to “happy soda.” It’s sweet, strawberry-flavored, fizzy, and creamy — and faintly reminiscent of the South Asian Rooh Afza.

Ayam goreng tepung

Next up: ayam goreng tepung, or flour-battered fried chicken served with a sweet chili sauce. This. Was. SO. GOOD. I could eat this juicy, crispy chicken every day, but I won’t, because you know, arteries.

Kangung tumis

We also had a plate of kangung tumis, or stir-fried water spinach. This was one of my favorite things to eat when I visited Vietnam, and the Indonesian rendition was just as good.

Martabak

Indonesian food shares some similarities with South Asian cuisine, and murtabak is no exception. Murtabak are thin pan-fried breads stuffed with spiced meat and while it originated in Yemen, it made its way back to India, and eventually, Southeast Asia. The Indonesian version includes pickled condiments on the side, which cut perfectly through the murtabak’s richness.

Urap pakis

We capped off our meal with Balinese urap pakis, or steamed wild fern tips served with roasted shredded coconut. Afterwards, we walked off the calories with an excursion at Ubud Palace and returned to Komaneka at Bisma for another dip in the pool.

I’ve mentioned previously how wonderful the hotel’s team was. They’re so wonderful that they knew that I really love Indonesian fruit. They invited me to go pick some rambutan with them, so off we went through the rice paddies for some fresh rambutan. It doesn’t get any fresher than this. Twenty minutes later and I was snacking on rambutan (and salak, another uniquely Southeast Asian fruit), alongside Indonesian sweets. What an experience.

Freshly picked rambutan

Salak fruit

Tea time

Komaneka

Bali, Days Three and Four

I ate a lot in Bali. I mean, it was hard not to. Breakfast was overflowing, and Ubud is full of restaurants and snack stalls waiting to be sampled. On our third day, I had the mee goreng for breakfast with a fried egg on top, because, you know, breakfast.

Mee goreng

We decided to walk to Ubud’s downtown to burn off some extra calories, making our way down Jalan Bisma until we got to the Monkey Forest.

Jalan Bisma

The Monkey Forest was only mildly terrifying, and after Nishan got his photos of Ubud’s monkeys gone wild, we stopped for lunch at Ibu Oka, the pig-centric restaurant that Anthony Bourdain infamously raved about. I got the spesial, which is a little bit of everything atop rice and greens, and you know what? Sorry Bourdain, but I’m not with you on this one. This little piggy was not my vibe. Too greasy and too porky. Somebody call the harambulance.

Spesial

Aftewards we stumbled over to Ubud Palace which strangely enough is also Ubud’s central pickup and taxi queuing location. We headed back to our hotel after that, eager to enjoy teatime before dipping into the pool.

Ubud Palace

Tea time

The next morning after a breakfast of banana pancakes, we figured we should take a day trip to the coast. Four days into our trip and we hadn’t even visited Bali’s famed beaches.

Breakfast at Komaneka

Banana pancake

The hour-long drive led us to Seminyak, where we stopped at Warung Sobat for their grilled lobster. Warung Sobat is about a fifteen minute walk from the beach, and although it’s a casual spot, make sure to make reservations ahead of time so they can prepare the lobster accordingly. It comes with rice and a deliciously garlicy buttery sauce, and was totally worth our carbon monoxide fume-filled taxi ride to the coast.

Grilled Lobster

Things went downhill once we got to Seminyak’s coast. I won’t even include photos. The beaches were lined with inebriated spring breakers and seemingly miserable families on holidays they didn’t want to be part of. (To be fair, I’d rather be in Ubud over Seminyak too.) Dudes, lay off the Bud Light and EDM.

This was our cue to head back to Ubud. Tea time and a dip in the pool was sounding real good right about then. An hour later and we were back at Komaneka. Ah, much better.

Tea time

Bali, Day Two

One great thing about traveling to Asia is the reverse jet lag. Waking up with the dawn in Bali was no problem. Besides, it’s pretty easy to get up early with this view.

Komaneka at Bisma

On our second morning, Nishan and I had an early breakfast in preparation for a day-long excursion to Mount Batur. I had the bubur ayam, or Indonesian chicken congee.

Bubur ayam

Mount Batur is an active volcano in northeast Bali and the area surrounding is lush and fertile. We stopped at the Tegalalang rice terraces along the way to take in the stunning view.

Mount Batur

Tegalalang rice terrace

Bali’s reputation as one of the most beautiful places on earth is well deserved — but it was the inland regions, not the beach, that I was falling in love with.

We headed onwards towards a kopi luwak coffee plantation. Kopi luwak, or civet coffee, refers to the coffee that includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. Keep the poop jokes to yourselves, folks. This beautiful plantation sold not only kopi luwak, but also herbal teas and locally harvested spices. We bought a bag of restorative ginger and lemongrass teas to take home.

Luwak coffee plantation

Luwak coffee plantation

Fortified with coffee and breakfast, we joined our guide for our day-long bike ride through the region. First up: a quiet, peaceful bamboo forest.

Bamboo forest bike ride

Despite the clouds, Bali is hot and humid, so we soon stopped for a break in Penglipuran village. After a short walk through the village, we were back on our bikes.

Penglipuran

Our guide stopped along the way to point out the fruits that grow alongside Bali’s lush roads. My favorite was the juicy langsat fruit. Oh, if I could only bring these home with me. The fruit in Bali remains the best I’ve ever tasted in my life.

We continued our ride through rice paddies, Pura Taman Narmada Bali Raja water temple, and a Dalem temple.

Langsat fruit

Pura Taman Narmada Bali Raja

Dalem temple

Dalem temple

Once we reached the town of Bangli we stopped for a rejuvenating Balinese lunch of bakso (meatball soup), satay, noodles, krupuk, fried tempeh, mung bean salad, and rice.

Balinese lunch

Back in Ubud, we were exhausted after our day of biking. We rewarded ourselves with a spa treatment overlooking the Campuhan River. The cherry on top was the lime-spiked fruit skewers at the end of the treatment. Delicious.

If you’re interested in a similar bike tour as ours, we toured with Bali Hai Bike Tour based in Ubud. They were fantastic.