Japan has to be one of my all time favourite destinations for its mixture of traditional Japanese culture, history and ultra modernness. Since we are doing our best to reign in our overseas travel as we save as much as we can, I’ve gotten pretty creative with sating my wanderlust tendencies and taken to coming up with “overseas trips” without actually going anywhere. Desperate times calls for desperate measures! And on those days where I’m wishing I was flying to the land of the rising sun, wandering around old Kyoto and zooming around on shikansen’s I’ll go and seek out a little nippon in my corner of the world and luckily, here in Sydney, Japanese culture and activities are easy to be found.
To start my day off right I headed to the Star Casino’s Sokyo for a Japanese style breakfast. With the option of a Traditional “Choushoku” Breakfast or the Sokyo Seafood Bowl, I decided to stick with the Traditional ($28). The breakfast included grilled fish (salmon and glacier 51 toothfish), miso soup, endamame beans, tomago, rice, nori and japanese pickles. A savoury breakfast isn’t something that I’ve used to, though the fish and rice combination has made me think that I should change up my usual oats and honey routine a little. Though I was disappointed that natto wasn’t on the menu, I did really enjoy having breakfast at Sokyo.
Unfortunately on both occasions in Japan, Siu On and didn’t make it to one of the animal cafes, partly due to our lack of language skill in asking the chemist for antihistamine tablets and also due to the fact that we couldn’t decide between cats, dogs, reptiles, owls or anything else for the matter. Despite my terrible allergies to cats, I was determined to enjoy my long black with a suitably long and furry companion.
Catmosphere is one part cafe and one part cat rescue centre that’s located in Surrey Hills. This space themed cat cafe hosts a large number of adult cats as all as kittens, which you can choose to spend your time with in the large (outer) space. All visits will include a coffee or tea of your choice, and a complimentary cat shaped biscuit. The cats are very docile, though can be playful or standoffish, as well, only cats can. On my visit the cats were less interested in me and more in the birds outside of the window, though I did force my affection on a few that were too lazy to sit by the window for an hour ($20).
I must admit that for people who are unable to have a cat, a cat cafe is actually a good idea since I came away from my hour with the cats feeling surprisingly quite relaxed. Catmosphere also runs regular cat yoga sessions and does birthday parties. You can also sponsor a kitty or adopt any of the felines that take your fancy.
Afternoon tea and drinks
By now I was in need of a matcha and cake fix and headed back towards the city for a late and sweet lunch. Cre Asion Cafe is located in an alley way off Alberta Street, not too far from Hyde Park and the Museum Train Station, and should be at the top of any matcha mad person’s list of places to try out.
The guys here are serious about their matcha and you can have a green themed eating fest with no worries. The Matcha Latte ($5) has to be tried to be believed, it comes served in a bowl and the flavour is more reminiscent of the matcha that you would have in Japan, like a mellow sweetness or a moreish umami savoury flavour. The best of the three cakes I tried was the matcha chocolate fondant ($8.50 dine in), with it’s gooey chocolatey interior mixed with the matcha sauce it’s a beautiful match made in heaven. The other cakes I tried were the matcha & macadamia cookies ($2 each) which were delicious, the matcha swiss roll ($4.50) was my second favourite and the matcha tart slice ($4.50) which didn’t have as strong as a matcha taste as I like.
On both occasions that I’ve visited Japan I’ve never been able to resist going shopping. Though the selection in Sydney pales in comparison to the offerings of Tokyo, I was able to find a number of uniquely Japanese shops and stores selling Japanese type products.
Daiso – The original 100 Yen store in Australia sells a huge variety of goods mostly at $2.80. I tend to pick up cute bathroom and beauty items from Daiso.
Muji – This is the store for all your minimalist, no brand, high quality goods that is in the Galleries on George Street. I love the kitchenware items they sell here in particular.
Kinokuniya – A huge Japanese book store that sells probably the largest range of Japanese graphic books and books in Japanese, it is also located upstairs in the Galleries on George Street. And before I forget, Black Star Pastry have a pop up cafe in the bookstore where you can keep on Japaning on (yes I just made that word up) with their black sesame chiffon cake.
Maruyu Japanese Store – The best Japanese supermarket in the city in located on Kent Street, and you’ll know you’ve found it by the giant fake green tea ice cream outside. Not only did I find natto here, I also found wasabi flavoured Kit Kats and more Japanese brand food than any other generic asian food store that I’ve shopped at in Sydney.
Faster Pussycat – Though not a traditional Japanese store, this vintage clothing shop on King Street in Newtown sells a decent collection of original vintage Japanese kimonos. I do have my eye on a short autumn maple leave number which I think I have to go back and get.
The one thing that is sorely missing from Sydney which would have completed my Japan day out, is the lack of an onsen. Though, there is a Japanese style hot spring out in the Blue Mountains, it’s safe to say that with only a day to find Japan in Sydney, I would have been pushing my time limit a little too far to fit in a trip up to the Blueys.
Instead of an onsen soak I opted to browse the Japanese art at the Art Gallery of NSW and attempt to find the fabled traditional Japanese Tea House that’s tucked away in the Gallery… which I didn’t find. Mixed throughout the Gallery’s Asian Collection (entrance is free) are some examples of beautiful Japanese art which focuses on the Edo Period (1615-1868) and includes paintings and calligraphy, ceramics and textile art.
By the time the sun set my stomach was rumbling for some okonimiyaki and takoyaki. Yes, my stomach has very specific food cravings and fortunately I wasn’t far from a place in Spice Alley, aka Kensington Street in Chippendale, that serves up those very particular dishes. Kyo-To serves up a variety of street style Japanese food at a very affordable price point. Though the okonomiyaki ($14) didn’t compare to the amazing ones I had in Japan, the takoyaki ($6.50) was excellent – plus they weren’t stingey with the bonito flakes!
And for the ramen lovers out there (and who doesn’t love ramen!) our favourite ramen places in Sydney are the excellent choices at Ippudu if you want to splash out the cash (price range is between $15-$26, with our favourite the Ippudu located in the Pitt Street Westfield’s food court) and Gumshara in the Chinatown food court for an equally awesome bowl of heaven with the thickest broth you’ve probably ever had, at a lesser price (price range between $10.50 and $25).
The only thing on my list of Japan things to do in Sydney which I didn’t manage to squeeze in was to go for a Sapporo or Asahi beer overlooking Sydney at the Shangri La’s Blu Bar on 36. However, with what I managed to fit in I did feel a little like I was in Japan, even if it was only in a small way. Perhaps, Siu On and I will have to start planning for another trip to Japan in the not too distant future.
Have you ever traveled to other cities and countries in your own town? Or do you have any ideas on where we could go next in Sydney? Just because you can’t get on a plan and go overseas doesn’t mean you can’t have an adventure at home.
Until next time, be brave and go on an adventure
Jelena and Siu On
Photographs by Jelena Auyeung.