035 Japan: A Land Of Food Temptations

  • One More Food Indulgence To Go

I have a confession to make.

Even as I raised alarm over binge eating in Japan in the previous blog post, it did not stop me from having Kobe beef steak on the day of departure. Too many friends told me not to give it a miss since I was already in Kobe.

It wasn’t the first time I had Kobe beef. And as always, it did not disappoint. Its flavour, tenderness and marbled fat, called shimofuri, which dissolved at low temperatures, gave it a melt-in-the-mouth sensation. And not to forget those crispy and flavourful garlic chips which went very well with the rice.

Just in case you ask, here is the location of the steakhouse, Steakland (ステーキランド, pronounced as su-te-ki-ran-do). For the lunch set, it cost about ¥3,200 (S$40).

  • The Battle Ain’t Over

Unless you intend to fly home empty-handed, the lure of Japanese food does not simply end after you leave this country of many food temptations. The second round of battle: Japanese snacks.

Here are some of my family’s favourites:

No. 1: Hokkaido Grilled Scallops

No. 2: Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory

No. 3: Tokyo Banana

No. 4: The Loved Ones In White Winter (白色恋人, shi-roi-koi-bito)

And be impressed by the Japanese creation of Pocky, Pringles and Pretz snacks available. They come in all sorts of flavour such as sakura, takoyaki and even cow tongue!

The fun part was to pick and pack the snacks for our loved ones according to their preferences. I gave my wife and the two children each a goodie bag of snacks. I told them it’s a fortune bag (福袋), a pack of surprises given during the New Year celebrations in Japan. They were delighted by the choices I made.

As for me, I kept away from the snacks. Heeding the words of a wise friend Anding, I have been taking light meals since my return. And I raised the intensity of my exercise regime a few notches. The result was a flattering remark from my son Conan this morning,

”Dad, do you see the toning of your tummy muscles? Keep training and you are going to see your six packs soon.”

That was really encouraging. But son, that was because I was holding my breath! (laughs)

William W. K. Tan

11 March 2018, Sunday

034 Falling Into The Trap Of Binge Eating Overseas

  • Overseas Travel Presents Opportunities Of Over-eating

I arrived in Kobe, Japan on Friday morning for an annual education Conference. As a food lover, the temptations to overdo the eating and drinking were everywhere. The local delicacies, the hotel breakfast and the networking dinner at the Conference were readily available.

  • Hard Not To Over-Eat

My tendency to eat in excess was manifested from the first meal after arrival. It was meant to be a simple fare of Japanese curry to accommodate the dietary requirement of an Indian colleague Y. However, the dictum of “eating simple” apparently slipped my mind when I chose one of the most voluminous items on the menu — The Triple Flavours of Beef (ビーフ三味)a Japanese curry rice accompanied with beef cutlet, grilled short ribs and beef sauce.

(Picture above: Lunch at Coco Ichibanya Curry House, a popular chain restaurant of Japanese curry.)

Sleep-deprived by the overnight flight, I felt no remorse over my less than healthy choice of food. Feeling sluggish after the heavy lunch was precisely what I needed. I fell into sleep almost immediately the moment I hit the hotel bed after check-in.

  • Hard To Say No To Delicious And Affordable Food

Kobe beef was top on my list of must-eats in this trip. On the first evening, I contemplated going to Steak Land, a wildly popular steak place known for delicious and somewhat pricy (About ¥3500 or S$44) Kobe beef in Sannomiya. But I had to give it a miss because a colleague A who was joining me for dinner was not a beef-eater.

As a consolation prize, I found a restaurant “The Chicken Nobles” (鳥貴族) that received raving reviews for its wide variety of chicken dishes, with everything priced at only ¥321 (S$4).

The signature dish was yakitori, skewed chicken flavourfully grilled with teriyaki sauce. Other yakitoris included chicken hearts and skins, which I avoided.

Even so, you would still be spoilt for choices. There were chicken wings, grilled pork and sour cream fried chicken and so on.

And there were non-meat options such as tofu, edamame, ramen noodles and mushroom rice.

I enjoyed the dinner so much that I brought a bigger group of friends and associates to the same restaurant the next day.

  • Hard To Say No When It’s Delicious And Free

It’s often said that there is no free lunch in this world. But the truth is hotel breakfasts are mostly provided for during work travel. Luckily, Japanese breakfasts are healthy treats.

That was not all. The networking dinner for Conference participants had all the all-time-favourites of Japanese cuisine such as sushi and tempura, among other food and drinks.

All these food were consumed in just two days. And as if it was not enough, some of us decided to have a taste of ice-cream in the cold winter. It was sinfully splendid.

As I thought about the food I ate, I became alarmed at the extent of over indulgence. But what surprised me most is how easily I had slipped into the trap of binge eating, despite all the past efforts to be health conscious.

There is still one more day before I depart tomorrow night. Looking at my bloated tummy, I know I have to banish all thoughts of Kobe beef tomorrow. Better be wise.

William W.K. Tan

4 March 2018, Sunday

Written in Kobe, Japan.

032 Chinese New Year Tales From SG: Food! Food And Food! Versus Health Efforts

How not to put on weight during festive celebrations? We eat more and exercise less, especially so, during Chinese New Year’s celebrations.

  • All We Do Is Talk, Eat And Drink

The only body part that gets real busy during this period is the mouth. All that everyone does is talk, eat and drink. Period.

Like many Chinese families in Singapore, we had lots of seafood such as abalone, cuttlefish, prawns, scallops and a variety of meat such as chicken and pork, and even pork liver that went into a steamboat at reunion dinner, which marked the start of a 3- day food indulgence.

I’ve heard that CNY celebrations last for as long as 15 days in mainland China, while the Taiwanese across the island enjoy a break from school and work until the 5th day, though the celebrations very much continue till the Spring Lantern Festival (元宵节), which falls on the 15th. Thankfully, we adopt an abridged version in Singapore. Just 3 days.

I took no picture of the reunion dinner this year because it was no different from any other years. The above picture is taken from the internet, but it looks almost identical to what I had at home. Here is a picture of my children and their cousins having reunion dinner last year.

That was not all. Below is a glimpse of some dishes that my culinary-gifted sister Marilyn had cooked for family, relatives and friends when they visited my parents’ place this year.

(From top-left clockwise: Stir-fried giant tiger prawns, fried yam rolls, stir-fried vegetables, mixed mushrooms with fried chicken, and oysters-omelette.)

And let’s not forget to mention all the CNY goodies and snacks that were served round the clock.

The above picture shows some of my all-time favourite CNY goodies: pineapple tarts, mini prawn and pork floss rolls, sweetened BBQ pork aka Bak Kwa and egg rolls aka love letters.

As a person who adheres to time-tested traditions (laughs), I cast my cholesterol concerns temporarily aside for three days and succumbed to the lure of CNY delicacies. Constantly, I reminded myself to eat in moderation. The tricky part was I wasn’t sure how much was too much when it came to my irresistible favourites like Bak Kwa and pineapple tarts.

  • Guilt-lessening Efforts

To lessen my sense of guilt, I immediately switched to drinking a self-concocted Apple cider vinegar green tea throughout the days after I failed to resist a can of Kickapoo, a sugary lime-flavoured carbonated drink that brought nostalgia of childhood memories.

I knew that I had to find time to exercise. Despite the disrupted morning routine, I stole time to visit the gym twice, but did lesser than usual because of time constraint. I was even caught in video doing exercise at my mum’s place.

In the background of the video, you’d probably hear the chatter of children. It was the voice of my children and their cousins. Guess what they were doing on the first day of Chinese New Year’s celebrations?

  • Learning Discipline From Children

They actually did some serious school homework together! This is how some school-going children celebrate Chinese New Year the Singapore way. As a disclaimer, I had no part in orchestrating this scene at all.

It just happened that the kids were given too much homework by their school teachers. Conan’s eldest cousin, Sherman decided that he had to do homework. Shernice, his diligent younger sister and Conan, my self-professed less-hardworking younger son followed suit. There was no study gloom as they listened to pop-music and enjoyed CNY snacks while solving Maths problems on practice papers.

On normal days, I’d have told Conan off for putting in half-hearted efforts. But I decided to cut him some slack that day. He was at least enthusiastic and focused to keep up with his diligent cousins for an hour or so, before falling prey to playing games on his mobile phone later.

I am no better in the department of discipline. But I’ve learnt something from the children. Sometimes, when it becomes too hard to do it alone, do it together with others. Perhaps I should start asking friends out for exercise soon. Care to join me?

William W. K. Tan

19 February 2018