Today we are so happy to ask some questions to Eka Wong, author of the “Hungry in Tokyo”, “Hungry in Osaka” and “Hungry in Kyoto” books.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi there! My name is Eka. I am from Singapore. I work as a medical doctor. During my free time, I like to read, discuss and dream about Japan and its cuisine. I am fortunate to have the time and capacity to travel frequently and to write about Japanese restaurants which I have compiled in three books, namely “Hungry in Tokyo”, “Hungry in Kyoto” and “Hungry in Osaka”.
2. Why did you come to Japan in the first place?
I first travelled to Tokyo in the year 1999 as a curious tourist together with my family. During that trip, I fell in love with Japanese food and the language. That sparked off my adventures in Japan for the years to come.
3. What do you like best about Japan?
I love that the Japanese appreciate and celebrate the seasons in both small and big ways.
I enjoy visiting Japan most during late March when the Sakura flowers are in full bloom, and all the supermarkets are stocked with sweet fragrant strawberries. The strawberries I like to sink my teeth into are the Amaou, Benihoppe and Tochi Otome varieties.
Another great time to visit would be during autumn when trees are bursting in all shades of red, yellow and orange. Restaurants are stocked up with delectable seasonal fish such as Nodoguro (black-throated seaperch) and Sanma (pacific saury) as they prepare their autumn menu. Let’s not forget about the grapes that are in season during that period. These guys come in all shapes and sizes. Popular ones include green Muscat grapes, succulent seedless Nagano Purple grapes, huge wine-like flavoured Kyoho grapes, and small candy-like Delaware grapes.
4. I don’t need to ask if you like Japanese food, right?! According to your Instagram feed, it seems to be 99% food photos! What are your favourite Japanese dishes?
This is a really difficult question because I adore all the Japanese food I have eaten so far. Right off the bat, I declare that I love sushi. Seasonal fish, cut to the right thickness, placed on a mouthful of well-vinegared rice. Despite its simple appearance, it is packed with flavours. I relish sitting at the sushi counter where I can watch the chef at work.
Yakiniku is another favourite of mine, which caters to the carnivorous side of me. I take pride in grilling my beef to the desired doneness over the gas grill, though I prefer the smokiness imparted from charcoal. The cut of the beef plays a big part in the experience so whenever I can, I’ll look for Zabuton or Chateaubriand which always has an amazing marbling.
Lastly, I am fond of a good plate of Yuba. This dish is prepared by harvesting the top layer a.k.a. the skin of soy milk after the surface has solidified. The creaminess, and soft texture is what wins me over.
5. What do you think about food tours as a way to explore?
Japan is a place brimming with interesting and good restaurants. Many of these places are not located within plain sight and require reservations. Hence, food tours are an awesome way to explore an unfamiliar area. With the help of a guide, the participants of the tour can learn about the history, the significance, and nuances of the dishes they are brought to appreciate. The guide will help you optimise your eating journey without you having to lift a finger.
6. You recently published the second edition of your “Hungry in Tokyo” guide book. Can you please tell us more about it?
Hungry in Tokyo is a picture travel guide for foodies on the go. The book curates good and unique restaurants with a reasonable price point in areas which travellers commonly visit. This helps to streamline one’s itinerary as time is a limited commodity.
In a land where roads have no names and buildings are numbered chronologically instead of geographically, the beautiful hand-drawn maps are labelled with landmarks (e.g. convenience stores) to help readers find the restaurants easily. Each area has a short write-up of interesting sights and activities, accompanied by a poem that encaptures the spirit of that area.
7. How did you choose the places listed in your guide book?
I designed my travel guide to aid both first-time visitors and seasoned travellers on their journey in Tokyo. Starting off, I would ask friends living in Japan for recommendations and trawl through Japanese food websites for restaurants which look promising. As I shortlist the restaurants, I would keep in mind what kinds of food that district is well known for. For example, Asakusa is well known for Tenpura, and Jiyugaoka is famous for her patisseries.
I also give special attention to hidden gems like hole-in-the-wall restaurants which are not known to the international crowd. The other criteria for the restaurants is that they have to fall within the areas which tourists commonly visit. The concept is that one should not have to travel out of their way to eat. There is good food everywhere. The main question is ‘Where?’. Finally, after dining at the restaurants I have shortlisted, I would write up on the ones that I would want to return to again.
8. Where’s your favourite foodie area or neighbourhood in Tokyo? Do you have some restaurants to recommend to our readers?
My favourite foodie area in Tokyo is Jiyugaoka, a trendy and laidback district which has a number of amazing patisseries. “Paris S’eveille” is the brainchild of Pastry Chef Yoshiaki Kaneko who honed his skills in some of the best restaurants in France. Chef Yoshiaki’s creations are creative. The last cake I had there was a dome-shaped pear jelly cake, whose centre is filled with creamy-smooth custard filling, sitting on a base of sponge cake.
On the northern end, one can relax at “Mont St Claire” which was opened by Hironobu Tsujiguchi, a young patissier who is decorated with many awards. One of the popular choices amongst the many local patrons is “C’est La Vie” – a refreshing white chocolate mousse cake. Whenever I visit Jiyugaoka, I have got to visit them.
9. You also wrote guides for Osaka and Kyoto, what are your favourite dishes in those cities? And of course, I have to ask: About Okonomiyaki – Osaka style or Hiroshima style? 🙂
My favourite dish in Kyoto is Tofu. It is calms the palate, much like the meditative scenery that envelopes the temples. On days where I want something deeply savourly which goes well with a glass of ice-cold draft beer, I would hunt for Osaka’s signature Kushikatsu, and Okonomiyaki. Between Osaka-style or Hiroshima-style, I prefer the former. There is something primal about its preparation which appeals to me.
10. Thanks a lot for your time and answers. Please feel free to add anything you want to share about you or Japan with our readers and followers!
Lately, I have been travelling outside of cities, discovering beautiful scenery while sussing out local delicacies. It has been an exhilarating adventure so far. If you have the chance, rent a car, and zip off into that unforgettable journey of your life.
If you’re looking for a great read about Restaurant recommendations in Japan, be sure to check his books!
His website: adventuresofekawong.com
Follow him on Instagram: @Eka.wong
Buy his books here: Hungy in Japan