Paddy’s Market & Market City (the mall for Asian tourists) in Sydney Australia’s Haymarket

In a way this building tells you a LOT about this section of Sydney. It serves the needs of multiple populations living right on top of each other but that somehow remain utterly obvious to each other. Paddy’s Market (open Wednesday –> Sunday), the basement of this building, has a long and complicated history that extends back to 1834, when Sydney’s Governor had moved all of the towns hay & grain markets out of the city into an adjoining area, that henceforth became known as Haymarket. What started out as simply a local market has over the years evolved into arguably one of Sydney’s major tourist attractions, that sits at the edge of the tourism district in the Haymarket neighborhood. And sitting upon that base is a Market City, a mall targeted directly at upper middle class Asians (the 20%), both those who are visiting as tourists and those who live in Sydney

I NEED TO TAKE A PHOTO OF THE BUILDING’s EXTERIOR!!! ARGH!

In actuality, Paddy’s Market is something of a chain. While it still maintains a branch at the original Haymarket address (for locals and tourists) its larger branch is located about a half hour west in Flemington, which also offers a flea market section and night food market. Combined, the two locations offer up over 1000 stalls selling food, fashion and just stuff. The Flemington location is where the Sydney markets were moved too when the city grew well past the Haymarket in the 1960’s (wholesale markets for the metropolitan area that sell fresh… from the ground …perishables, like fruits, vegetables and flowers to NSW and ACT florists)

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Currently the tourist attraction part of Patty’s is in a massive space on the ground floor/basement level (the building sits on a slope) of a multistoried entertainment and housing complex, where it was moved to in the 1970’s

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_bb76.jpgThe lowest floor is of an old-fashioned brick construction (I have the feeling that it had its exterior walls preserved), can get very hot and uncomfortable… and house’s Paddy’s, while a modern, air-conditioned, steel and glass structure towers above it,

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which houses both the Market City Shopping Mall (with 30+ factory outlet stores on its 2nd floor, a food court and wide selection of restaurants) and a separate/connecting apartment building, .

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That said, Paddy’s Market, which sits in the basement of the structure– in what could have easily been the parking area based on the look of the place… is in fact broken into two parts. In the southeast corner of the area, Paddy’s maintain’s it original purpose as a”Farmers Market” that manages to maintain its popularity with locals for the breadth and depth of its offerings, even though there’s an Asian Supermarket (IGA X-press Thai kee) located just above it in Market City, and there’s a Woolworth grocery store just kiddy corner from it, offer up way more in terms of packaged and bottled options. In large part it is because Paddy’s boasts a combination fresh foods which these other more modern stores just can’t really compete with

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…the reality is that in those areas, the more modern markets can’t really compete… that said, I was initially seriously wondering how the new ‘refrigerated’ section of Patty’s manages to compete with them in anything other than convenience

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Thai Kee Butchery

I ultimately realized that both the meat market at Paddy’s, and the fish area is actually owned by the Asian market, Thai Kee, that is upstairs in the modern mall, Market city

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20e4.jpgand as such seem to be offering up the sort of bits and pieces its customers want but that the modern market upstairs doesn’t sell (that market has no fresh meat of fish sections, just frozen). So for instance, the meat market down in the basement has: tripe, tendons, small intestines, pigs ears, ox-tails, duck, wagyu beef, and shoulder-blade steaks. In a way this makes in that the market’s smelly meat and fish sections are not up in the shiny clean section adjacent to places selling clothes, etc., but are down in the basement, bothering no one.

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… that said, I had difficulty understanding how their seafood section was able to complete, considering their clientele were from the looks of it, mostly Asian (who take freshness in their seafood way more seriously than westerners do); and considering just how nearby this market is to Sydney’s seafood market, which is just a short ride away from Paddy’s by light rail

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And the seafood here is well… NOT so fresh… the eyes of the fish was all clouded and bulging, and the flesh didn’t even look firm… so how this seafood place stays open considering a predominately Chinese clientele, I don’t know.

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Adjacent to the food section of Paddy’s there’s a stall that sells every form of uniform a person might night need, from Chef’s and waiter’s uniforms to construction worker’s safety gear. And beyond that is ….

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the flea market!!! THIS section of Paddy’s is what makes it a mecca for the tourist in the tourist in the know…  these guys have pretty much everything a tourist might need from really high quality and affordable leather goods — These guys had HIGH quality leather men’s belts for about $30 AUD/$20 USD… best prices I’ve seen on comparable belts in the USA was $35.

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I got a particular hoot out of their Ned Kelly statue out front — he’s sort of the Jessie James of Australia. After having learned about him in via some general Australian history books, they all mention him, and then reading the Booker Prize winning novel, the “True History of the Kelly Gang” … so that I pretty much knew as much about his as the average Aussie, I was lucky enough to pass through Ned Kelly’s Home town Glenrowan last year, which of course. The statue basically shows the home-made armor he crafted for himself before his final showdown with police — where he was completely outnumbered.

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There’s no shortage of new ageie, paganie, stuff scattered throughout the market, including scented candles, crystals, incense, taro card and palm readers, massage and reflexology booths, etc., you name it

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There’s sexy costumes and kinky wear for folks who are getting ready for things like Sydney’s Mardi Gras/Gay pride festival in March — which I was lucky enough to attend last year.

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There’s hats and clothes of all variety, and no shortage of suitcases for sale to load them into — so you shouldn’t be restricted by the fullness of your luggage when you came here

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And probably the MOST common shop in this section… I counted at least 5 of them but I’m guessing there’s more … and this doesn’t include ALL the places selling Australian T-shirts… there’s more than a few….  are shops selling souvenirs for tourists… everything from the obligatory boomerangs, to the grotesque … furry kangaroo balls attached to a back scratcher, all crammed together into a small space, so that’s kind of hard to find what you’re looking for or even really see what’s being sold.

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BUT, and this is a big BUT… all of that is just on the ground floor of the building. I suggest taking the elevator upstairs and checking out the modern multilevel Asian/tourist focused shopping mall that’s sitting on top of Paddies.

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YUP, THIS is what’s sitting on top of that, and it’s like a different world. This mall is like every mall in South Korean. Granted, it’s a modern shopping mall so on the surface not so different … but here’s the thing… the whole time I was walking around it I kept feeling like I was back in South Korea, and I mean at the mall that was located across the street from my house when I worked there as a professor.  All the types of products and stores you see in Korea were on sale here. I kept feeling like if I lived in Australia, and went to visit Korea, I’d be sad cause I’d be like… everything here is what’s for sale at Market City in Haymarket…. And then I saw THIS store… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20e5.jpg

And I was like, “Oh my God I AM in Korea!!! 100%!!” …. this proved it to me. Giordano is a REALLY common brand there, and I was, I shit you not, actually wearing one of their T-shirt the first day I first found this store…. I’ve got BOXES of their clothing stored back in Chicago that I had shlepped back with me when I moved home after dad died.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20e3.jpg

That said, my favorite part of this mall is the food courts on the first floor of this building that are full of highly authentic, highly affordable, Asian treats aimed at tourists visiting from Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and China…

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Look at all the people in these photos… I was one of the VERY FEW White people here… the place is like being in Asia

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They even have a Hakata/Fukuoka style Ramen place

On the Top floor of the building there is a whole collection of sit down restaurants, that are AS authentic, and where again you’ll find very few white people having a meal

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Up there, they have a conveyor belt sushi place that I had fallen in love with. I could stuff myself silly with really fresh sushi, for only about $20 US, which is ridiculously cheap… for sushi

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Adelaide Australia

I was only in Adelaide for about two and a half days (arrived Feb 15th, around dinner time, left Feb 18th, 2018, around noon), and most of that time was spent convalescing (from the massive concussion I was suffering), so I really didn’t get to see more than glimpse of the place. That said, I would happily go back again. It’s the sort of city that’s big enough to have a bit of everything you’d want in a city, but not so crowded that you can’t find a parking space. (Sort of like Evanston, IL, or Chattanooga, TN) — also not many photos were taken

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The first night we were there my travel buddy (who is an Aussie himself) walked me over to the “Rundle Mall” partly just to see it, but also because we needed to run by the local Target (yes Australia has this chain too) in order to pick up REALLY BASIC things the Airbnb host had not thought to provide for us, and I’m talking pillows and towels sufficient for two people. (This Airbnb sucked so bad that the sheets on the bed didn’t pass the sniff test — not by a long shot — for having been washed after the last guest had left.)

Oh, and he told me that in Australia the term ‘a mall’ tends to refer to a human-traffic only shopping street (cars are excluded), which may or may not be covered, as if not more often than it means a massive indoor shopping town, as it almost always does in the USA. An arcade by comparison isn’t a place full of games, but rather it’s something like the picture below (which is closer to an American idea of a mall, only it seems to be one walkway with shops on each side)fullsizeoutput_41c4.jpegThis sculpture located in mall and according to my  is fairly iconic to Adelaide, and is titled, A day out. I only took the one picture, but it actually consists of a four different pigs scattered about….

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If you look carefully at the bench where the guy is sitting and talking on his phone, below it is a 2nd pig….

Alongside the pigs statue (I’m blanking on the correct word, I’m finding my ability to recall words is still not back to 100% even though it’s almost six months since my accident)… OH, remembered it… the ‘art-term’ I was searching for was an installation, since it’s actually a collection of statues rather than one.

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Adjacent to the pig statues stood this group of protestors, the screens were all showing a movie that demonstrated the conditions of pigs on farms, including how they were killed, and the squeals. The protesters stood there silently. Add the two things together and you really do essentially have a performance art piece… even if it wasn’t what was intended by the artist of the pigs.fullsizeoutput_41c3

This art piece is another Adelaide landmark called either Mall’s Balls (I have a feeling this is Aussie humor), or ‘the spheres’ that serves as a meeting spot for people.

(the google map refuses to embed, so please check this link for the location)

Personally, it reminded me as an inferior version of Chicago’s (my home town) Cloud Gate, affectionately referred to, and better known as “the bean” — in fact I doubt most Chicagoans could tell you the proper name.

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During my time there I ate at one fairly decent restaurant, a Japanese place called Gyoza-Gyoza, which is apparently a local chain Japanese Izakayas (sort of the Japanese version of a pub, where folks come after work to drink and eat).

IMG_2124Overall the food was pretty good, very authentically Japanese

Denny’s in Japan: much better food than you’d expect!

[Updated August 2019]

I LOVE Japanese food…  Anyone visiting Japan quickly realizes that Japanese food in Japan is on average WAY better and significantly more varied than what you’ll find in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan. Additionally, there are on average WAY more restaurants in any Japanese town or neighborhood than you’ll normally find in the states, and because all Japanese are foodies, 99% of these eateries are on average BETTER than what you’ll find in most American towns. In essence, while you CAN of course use review services, such as Yelp for instance, if you want to experience the sublime (in Japan I’ve had meals that were better than sex)… the fact is that the Japanese take their food culture so SERIOUSLY that you don’t need to do that to find a good meal — as you might in the USA. [That, and anyone who has seen the film Tampopo knows that they are SO serious about food that it borders on funny.] As such, a chain like Denny’s of Japan, which offers up 24 hour offerings, has GOT to be better than it would be in the USA if it’s going to survive here.

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First thing to realize is that unlike in the states, Denny’s Japan doesn’t tend to have a specific architecture… in fact except for the signage, no two buildings seem to be exactly alike (because the Japanese — unlike the Koreans — prefer uniqueness). I didn’t actually take the above image, it’s from commons.wikimedia.org, but of all the ones depicted it’s the closest in appearance to the one I was eating at.

I spotted it as my taxi was driving me to my airbnb near Sasazuka station in Tokyo, and since it was ONLY about 2 blocks away (and open 24 hours) I thought I would definitely explore it’s food options. That said, I was a bit nervous about it — because well, Denny’s, so I googled Denny’s Japan and found this article about why you should DEFINITELY try it while there, which assuaged my fears.

For anyone wondering what those options were, here’s the Denny’s menu that was available when I was there (like all things Japanese, the menu rotates seasonally) … and if you look you’ll see there’s very little “American” food on it, and even what’s there when you see it up close and personal has been heavily altered to meet the Japanese palate and concerns (while not listed on the menu above, if you look at this menu — which is the current webpage — good luck finding a desert that is over 800 calories, and most are between 240 and 550 calories — if you click on the red button to left of the food item, and above the English text, it’ll take you to the nutritional info page for that item). Another difference from the USA is there are NO HAMBURGERS on the menu, there is however a very large selection of “Hamburger steak” otherwise known as Salisbury steaks, with various toppings… and while there are pancakes, they’re relegated to the dessert section of the dinner menu, or to the breakfast menus (and that’s only available during breakfast hours — its not 24 hour breakfast).

The first time I went I opted for the healthiest food options on the menu. I was really happy to see that every food item on the menu includes calorie counts.

I opted for the grilled fish, with came with a little mound of grated Daikon (the white stuff) on the plate and a small dollop of a type of seaweed salad you almost never see in the USA (there are actually MANY types of seaweed, and many different recipes for seaweed salad… most Japanese restaurants in the USA only ever serve one of them). And of course, this being Japan, it came with bowls of white rice, and of miso soup. For my side dish I had a choice of cold tofu (which would have added a few calories), or the item in the picture, a salad of Spinach topped with grated Daikon root, and bits of grilled eggplant.  I chose the latter.

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When it arrived, the image below is what it looked like… not all that appetizing… and it didn’t smell so great (i.e., the fish was a bit fishy)…  it tasted ok (mostly because it had a miso marinated, which kills all ills).  That said, everything was reasonably tasty, and the whole thing came to 510 kcals (while beating the crap out of any lean cuisine I’ve ever had, while simultaneously offering MORE food). — the price of 1,049 ¥(en) in dollars translates to something just shy of $10.49, depending on what the conversion rate is that day; a price that is pretty cheap by Tokyo standards for a meal you sit down to eat.

In Tokyo many people live in apartments so small that they can’t really afford the space for a dinner table — my airbnb didn’t have one — so you’re paying for the land the restaurant sits on as much as you’re paying for the food. To this end, many restaurants will sell you the same meal cheaper if you order it to take out.

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And then for Dessert I ordered pounded rice balls (Mochi), red beans and Green Tea ice cream, 156 calories, where what showed up looked as appetizing as the picture. (About $3.49)

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Menu is top left, my photo bottom right

Warning, the green tea ice cream at Denny’s is for people who really love their green tea… as in, it has almost no sugar in it so you get a VERY intense green tea flavor.

With this I also ordered access to the all you can drink, “drinks bar,” which offered various kinds of tea, coffee, orange juice, and a selection of sodas.

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From then on every time I went to Denny’s  I just got hot water, which is free.


The next time I went I decided to get Denny’s version of Mentaiko Pasta, a Japanese-Italian fusion dish that usually uses a spicy pink cod roe mixed with cream on spaghetti instead of tomato sauce.  (It’s USUALLY a heck of a lot tastier than it sounds, although sometimes it’s not. First time I had it was from company cafeteria when I was doing a summer internship at Eisai Co., when I was in my 20’s, and that stuff was kind of disgusting — in my opinion; my Japanese co-workers actually looked forward to Wednesday lunch because that was when it was served. That said, when it’s done right it’s REALLY tasty.) The Denny’s version is Squid and cod roe, which doesn’t seem to be spicy at all, and had relatively little cream compared to other versions I’ve tried. That said, according to their on-line menu’s dietary page it has only had 14.9 g of fat.

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It arrived also looking pretty much like it’s photo, and while neither as spicy nor as creamy as it can be when really good, was pretty decent. That said, because it was neither spicy nor creamy, there was a there was a very slight fishy aftertaste which won’t bother the Japanese, but might not be appealing to westerners.

With it I got a bowl of the corn soup, which is one of my other favorite Japanese-western fusion dishes. I’ve had corn soup, and cream of corn soup, in a lot of different places, but it never tastes like the Japanese version of this dish, which is in fact my FAVORITE version of it.  The Japanese do a really good corn soup, to the point where even their cup o’soup instant versions of it are pretty good.

[On the topic of corn soup: I recently flew on Japan Airlines from Chicago to Australia — with a change in Tokyo — and on the drinks cart they were offering hot corn soup as an option. It ROCKED. When the cart initially came by and I asked what they had she hadn’t mentioned it to me, assuming I think that as an American I’d be freaked out at the idea of sipping soup instead of coffee. But then I noticed it when reading their menu — one of these inserts in the pocket, alongside the emergency instructions. Next time the cart came by I asked for it … she looked genuinely surprised, and I drank that for the rest of the trip.]

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Again, this Denny’s version of corn soup wasn’t the BEST I’ve ever had, but it was decent.

Together the 598 calories of pasta and soup left me with room for what promised to be a decadent dessert based on the photo in their menu

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image on right is mine, what showed up at my table

And THIS ladies and gentleman is why you don’t see a lot of fat Japanese ….  310 calories for THAT you ask? In the pictures on the menu it looks huge, like any American desert

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But in reality NOT so much… and keep in mind I have really really tiny hands (does this desert make my hand look big?), hands that are abnormally small for someone my height (usually girls with hands my size don’t top 4 foot 9 inches). So what you’re getting is a tiny portion of mostly a low fat chocolate jello type thing, a tiny sliver of chocolate brownie— both of which are far more chocolatey than sweet, with a tiny serving of cream, and an equally small one of vanilla ice cream, all topped with chocolate syrup. 

[Portion sizes is part of why you rarely see anyone fat in Japan, and when you do they are at best pleasantly plump by our standards. Japanese care far more about their food being flavorful than they do about seeing a massive amount of food on the plate, where in the USA those priorities are often reversed. I just recently saw an article talking about how a new nutrition group is being formed in the USA — which includes food industry leaders — to try to reign in portion size inflation in the marketplace. The goal is to erase the link in Americans minds between the value of a meal and how much food is on the plate, and to make it more about the quality and flavor of the foods used, like is the case in Japan. According the article, “Between 1993 and 2013, the average [American] bagel got 100% bigger; burgers got 78% bigger; cinema popcorn bags 120% bigger; and fountain sodas 207% bigger, according to the CDC. ” If you travel the world, you’ll realize an American small drink is served in what in the rest of the world is a medium sized one, and the large cup doesn’t have a comparison, let alone the extra large cups.]


The third time I went I tried what was described in a few different websites and youtube videos devoted to Denny’s Japan as their “Star” dish, Denny’s runny rice omelet (no this is not a spelling mistake). Even their own site describes it as “The popular No.1 menu of Denny’s became more and more delicious!” (again, NOT a mistake, that’s what the menu says — Japanese translations to English are often a bit odd). The two previous times I was there I had myself noticed that it appeared to be the dish most often ordered by the Japanese. It is a fried rice type thing covered with egg  and some sort of brown sauce … since there weren’t any veggies on the plate, I ordered the same vegetable side I had eaten the first time (the spinach thing) and a bowl of miso soup …

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Doesn’t look good, in my own opinion

Because it was 754 calories, and 39.6 g of fat (!!!), i.e., completely off my doctor’s prescribed diet for my fatty liver disease,  I decided to only eat about half of the egg dish and instead fill up with the almost fat free veggie side and miso soup.

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This task was made WAY easier because to my mind, …. this rice thing was kind of seriously disgusting … Honestly, for the life of me I don’t get why it’s their #1 dish, it reminds me of the really disgusting concoctions I came up with in middle school when I was first experimenting with creating my own recipes. Not only does it look disgusting, but there’s some sort of tasteless cheese-product type substance in it, which I THINK is supposed to be mozzarella…  and not only is this thing pretty fatty, it TASTES fatty (blech) … So I ate less than half (focused on the egg and not the rice) and ordered what I thought based on the menu photo was a chocolate ice cream dessert for 184 calories

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What appeared to be chocolate ice cream turned out in fact to be red bean paste- Anko (koshian), on top of pounded rice stuff, seaweed gelatin cubes (don’t knock it, they’re good), bits of banana and mandarin orange… and a dried apricot…

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As per the picture, it came with a sort of molasses to pour over… but I didn’t, as I didn’t think it actually needed it, and probably saved myself a few calories.


The next time I went in was for a late night snack. I had been going to sleep later and later, in preparation for my going home (for a variety of reasons I had to be good to go the day after I arrived, so I figured I would work through some of the Jet lag/time change issues while still in Japan — happily Tokyo is a 24 hour kind of a town, sort of like New York City.

This time I got what I THOUGHT might be a smoked salmon and cream cheese sort of appetizer.

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what arrived instead was smoked salmon on mashed potato (?!), which explains how it was only 198 calories…  with a sort of sweet onion sauce on top of the blobs of potato. Definitely a rather odd dish.

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Initially I ordered it with what I THOUGHT was going to be a glass of Kiwi juice. Happily, the waiter, realizing I couldn’t read Japanese and was just going by the pictures, pointed out that the Kiwi juice was in fact an Alcoholic drink….

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and pointed out something that till that evening I had completely overlooked….. Denny’s in Japan serves BOOZE!!! As in beer, wine, sake and fruity drinks…. I suppose the word highball should have keyed me in, but wasn’t expecting martinis at a Denny’s.

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When I told him I really wanted some sort of fruit juice, and NOT the orange juice offered at the drink bar, he pointed me towards the special seasonal menu which had on offer all things strawberry (I just noticed on their online menu that the next seasonal menu is going to be all things mango), and what he promised was a fresh squeezed strawberry juice for 76 calories (versus the strawberry juice with alcohol in it which was 129 calories)

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I followed this up with an Acai berry & yogurt dish, because I was feeling sort of dairy deficient in my diet.

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What arrived on my table didn’t look very appealing, not as pretty as in the picture, but it was VERY tasty, and crunchy with bits of fresh mint on top.

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One evening I decided that I wanted to try one of their salads. I opted for one that appeared to have grilled chicken and a poached egg. From the image, I assumed the salad had a blue cheese type of salad dressing

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(I later learned it was in fact a Caesar salad dressing) and asked if it could exchanged for what looked to be a Japanese sesame dressing instead — offered with a salad with a much lower number of calories.

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From the look on the waitresses face this was NOT a normal request (Japanese don’t futze with a chef’s creation), in fact she looked a bit freaked out by it… but their chef agreed to do it. (After the fact I no longer think it was sesame… but rather some other sort of  dressing with nutty seeds). That said, the salad was REALLY tasty.

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For the last meal I forgot to take any photos of my food … sorry, my bad: I had the Ginger grilled pork (which I found to be a bit oily — in retrospect I think it may have been pork belly such as the Japanese like to use in ramen… I kept having to pull off bits of fat… and ended up leaving about 1/2 of the serving on the plate as a result). Normally it comes with some mayonnaise on top of it (MORE fat) and mayonnaise potato salad; but I asked them to hold that, and instead paired it with the spinach/dikon side, and the seaweed salad that had come with the fish…. and of course miso soup. Additionally, I only ate about 1/3 of the bowl of  rice. Overall, not bad, but not great.

Sitting across from me was a ridiculously cute four or five year old girl who was in the Denny’s with her mom… this girl clearly LOVED her egg carbonara pasta. Her mom had ordered an adult size, but was spooning it into a child sized bowl for the girl… and she had enthusiastically slurped up two bowls of the stuff… really cute

Later, looking on Youtube, I found this series of videos of things that are usually pretty mediocre in the USA that are MUCH better in Japan, which included an episode on Denny’s:

note, in the video the sister says the disgusting rice dish which is Denny’s top seller is her favorite item on the menu…

All in all, while not EVERY dish on the menu was a winner, I would definitely suggest that if there’s a Denny’s in your neighborhood while visiting Japan, and your in search of some decent and cheap eats, you not overlook it as an option.

The Joys of Convenience Store Food in Japan

When you think of convenience stores you generally don’t think of them as a great place to pick up an affordable meal. I don’t know about you but when I see the plastic wrapped food options in their refrigerated cases, or the hot food on display, I tend to worry about food poisoning first, and consider just how desperate I am for food second, and then tend to go for something processed and in a bag instead… like a bag of chips. Except when I’m in Japan, in Japan I actually opt for convenience store food when looking for cheap eats.

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In Japan convenience stores are pretty much everywhere, with about 50,000 of them scattered throughout the country, and they are sort of famous across Asia for the quality of their eats. For example: the other week, my favorite former teaching assistant (from when I was professor in Korea a few years ago) was in town for a few days. (I had told him I was intending to come here after Australia and he had asked if he could tag along for a few days.) This being his first time here, one of his “while in Japan” priorities was to eat convenience store food… I shit you not. Sure, Korea is chock a block with convenience stores, and even has 7-eleven’s of it’s own; and Korean convenience stores have food too…  that will keep you from starving to death and will fill you up in a pinch, but the whole time I was working there I never heard anyone describe them as a first choice for a meal. (And most of the time what I saw folks eating at them were cup a noodles or some other processed and or frozen food warmed up … not generally the ready made stuff (of which there was very little to choose from anyway — probably a catch 22 situation).

By comparison in Japan you’re as likely see teenagers and young adults dropping into a convenience store to pick up a quick meal (which they’ll usually eat at home) as you are to see them dropping into a McDonalds or a any other fast food chain, and by extension the offerings are extensive. While there they’ll pick up freshly cooked but refrigerated meals out of the refrigerators, baked goods, etc., with the same confidence as we would buying precooked foods from the grocery stores’ deli sections.

The concept was brought to Japan in 1974 by 7-Eleven, a brand that started in Texas, and as is true with all other imports the Japanese made it their own, to the point of buying out the brand entirely (the company is now owned by the Japanese, and there are more of them in here than anywhere else, in fact 31% of all their stores world wide). Nowadays, there are essentially three major chains, 7-eleven, Lawson (which like 7-eleven began as a US brand, but the brand name is now owned by the Japanese and the US stores were bought out by, and now called Dairy Mart), and FamilyMart (the only chain to originate in Japan).

Of the three, my favorite is Lawson where a) pretty much everything they sell is in my opinion much tastier than the equivalent at the other two chains

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… but also, and most importantly for me, b) Lawson’s cooked foods tend to have English descriptions on them (making my life a tone easier).

IMG_0766IMG_0767They also sell these little packets of chicken in various calorie sizes… I recently tried the smoked chicken tenderloin one for 37 calories … and oh dear lord it’s tasty and moist! Last year a friend of mine had decided to just throw money at the problem of not having enough time or energy to cook for the twenty people she’d invited to thanksgiving dinner, and had purchased a whole smoked turkey from one of those catalogue food companies (like Williams– Sonoma), which turned out to be “to die for”!!!! This bit of chicken in plastic from Lawson’s was almost that good… and it’s from a convenience store!!IMG_0765

And while under normal circumstances I would NEVER buy something like cooked fish from a 7-eleven in the states, I have purchased it from Lawson’s, and it was good.IMG_0764

by comparison, 7-eleven for the most part does NOT put English on most of their food packets (except for the kcal which, happily for me, the Japanese seem to always list with the western alphabet); what is there is sort of a mission statement about how great their food is, rather than anything useful.IMG_0768.JPG

That and, like I said before, the few things where I’ve compared 7-eleven’s product with the comparable Lawson’s one, I preferred the flavor of Lawson’s food.

The only product where the ‘rule’ about English labeling doesn’t seem to hold up is on Sandwiches, where 7-eleven DOES put an English description and Lawson’s does not

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For the most part I find the FamilyMart brand to better than 7-eleven in flavors, but not quite as good as Lawson in most things… and they rarely use English descriptions on their products either.

Also, if you’re in Japan, needing to pick up some cash, and not able to find a bank ATM that will accept international bank cards, every ATM I’ve looked at that’s in any of the three chains accepts international cards. I haven’t used them, so I don’t know if there are any extra fees involved.

An interesting factoid that most travelers will never need to use: I’ve read that, because of their omnipresence in Japanese cities of all sizes, anyone who needs police protection such as battered wives, can run to one any convenience store and the clerks are tasked with protecting them till the police arrive.

Found this good video on the topic:

 

Momotaro Japanese Restaurant; Chicago, IL

Some friends and I went to dinner at the Momotaro Japanese restaurant, which is considered by the Chicago Tribune’s food critic as the 5th best restaurant in Chicago (with 50 eateries in the list). And overall I was seriously impressed. It was GREAT Japanese food at really reasonable prices.

Over the last 5 years I’ve either been S. Korea, or dealing with family stuff, or traveling. Apparently, during that time Chicago — my home town — had undergone a food revolution that I took no part in. Recently I’ve been reading these lists talking about how Chicago was one of the best restaurants towns in the US, only I’d not only never eaten at any of the ones on the list, I hadn’t even heard of them.

So when some married friends and I decided to have dinner, I really wanted to try one of the restaurants on the list… as it was a Sunday (and most of the best places are closed Sunday nights) that immediately limited our options, and then there had to be things on the menu that I could eat. Finally we thought about how hard or difficult it might be to find parking. Ultimately we narrowed the list to Momotaro, Longman and Eagle, GT fish & Oyster, & lula cafe…. but ultimately picked Momotaro because they had Mentaiko Spaghetti on their menu.

For those who have never spent any real time in Japan, this is the Japanese version of Spaghetti, the CHEAP kind, the kind you find in train stations and school cafeterias. Instead of tomato sauce the fish is covered in the cheapest fish eggs out there. I did a summer internship once for a Japanese company in Tokyo, and we’d have this every Wednesday for lunch… I thought it was the most disgusting thing ever… so seeing it on the menu of a restaurant that was supposed to be among the top 5 in Chicago, amused me no end.

MENTAIKO SPAGHETTI….. tokyo specialty, organic egg, chili spiked cod roe

So Momotaro’s it was going to be … because you know, Japanese cafeteria food at $18 a serving….

But ultimately, it turned out to be a Mea culpa moment for me … let’s just say that IF the spaghetti with fish eggs at the company cafeteria had tasted ANYTHING like what we had, I’d have been chomping down on it with relish… when I took my first mouthful I actually yelled out, “OH MY GOD!!!” it was an orgasm of the mouth… unfortunately we forgot to take any photos of it before we ate it… but I STRONGLY suggest ordering it if you go there… it was amazing!

There was also an equally amazing seaweed salad called “Ogo” made with all sorts of seaweeds and edible kelp I’d never tasted before, apparently flown in specially from Hawaii … “Hawaiian seaweed, nopales, konbu” … again no photos, but probably the best seaweed salad I’d ever had. It was so good we were tempted to order seconds.
I also had a very tasty, but not mind blowing, CHAWAN MUSHI; while it’s normally one of my very favorite Japanese dishes, a sort of steamed egg custard dish often served at breakfast ….. and while this one was made with with alaskan king crab, black truffle
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I have to admit it didn’t rock my boat. They had made it more complicated but not better
Then we had the “WILD ALASKAN SALMON DON BURI” ….. yuan yaki salmon, smoked roe, simmered spring vegetables … which was also very tasty.
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This was also very good, but again didn’t amaze me anywhere near as much as the seaweed salad had.
This was followed by:
CEDAR ROASTED KURODAI…..whole sea bream, yakumi, shiso dressing
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And we also had this… only I don’t think it was on the regular menu…
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All in all it was some of the best Japanese food I’d ever had. Dishes were “elevated” without being westernized, which is is a pretty impressive feat to pull off. I would HAPPILY eat here again.