One great thing about Japan is that over there, Restaurant Chain is not a dirty term. With their dedication to quality, even the most pedestrian chains serve up food that would be right at home in a casual restaurant in Australia. Take Ippudo for example; despite having 69 branches in 12 countries, it is still very much known for serving up an excellent bowl of noodles that’s comparable to any ramen-ya. Ippudo may be located in a Westfield shopping complex, but the fit-out is rather swank. The dim interior with dramatic down-lighting, and eye-catching bar, makes it feel more like a high-end hotel restaurant than a casual eatery.
The best Korean BBQ I’ve ever had? It would have to be that time in Seoul where I feasted on a whole 600g plate of pork belly. I’ve never before, or since, had pork belly that was quite so indulgently fatty and delicious. Just the thought of that smoky, juicy pork, wrapped with spicy bean paste and scallions in fresh salad leaves, makes my mouth water. Of course, I haven’t been foolish enough to try and replicate that experience since coming back to Australia. Not only do I think that I won’t be able to find any sensible place that will sell me 600g of pork belly at the degree of fattiness I found in Korea, it also just seems a bit too much to have on a regular, non-holiday day. But I will admit that when I laid eyes on Yang San Park, with its outdoor setup so reminiscent of Korea in both appearance and the smoky, meaty aroma that wafted down the entire street, I was a little bit tempted to see if I could make that pork belly fest happen again.
As unbelievable as it may seem, I have finished the first year of medical school! It was simultaneously the longest and shortest year ever; whilst it felt like classes would never end, the assessments just came rushing up one after another. Almost before I even realised, I was stumbling out of my final exams, absolutely drained after the 7-hour ordeal, and ready for some sustenance and a drink. Refusing to walk any more than absolutely necessary (I still can’t believe that Sydney is such a shocker to get around – I miss Melbourne’s trams heartily), I decided to make camp at Since I Left You, aka SILY, a rather hipster sort of bar hidden away between 3 heritage-listed storehouses in the city centre.
Most people are surprised to find out that my sister’s 10 years younger than me. But frankly, what surprises me more is that she’s on the cusp of turning 16. In my head, she will always be an amorphous age somewhere around 6 or 7, and the fact that she will be in first year uni when I’m in my final year of med school leaves me equal parts amused and baffled. For the first time in our lives however, my sister and I won’t be in the same city for her birthday. But thankfully she made a trip to Sydney a couple of weeks before her birthday during school holidays, and we took that chance to celebrate with a lavish dinner at Chat Thai.
I remember being mega-excited when Sydney sushi train, Sushi Hotaru, first opened in Melbourne. At the time, the prospect of a half-decent sushi train that charged a very reasonable flat rate of $3 per plate seemed like a little pocket of heaven on earth. After the novelty and hype wore off however, I have to admit that maybe a budget sushi train isn’t necessarily the world’s greatest thing. After all, there are only so many plates of deep-fried and mayo-drenched nigiri I can eat, even if the variety is large, and the prices are cheap.
Around the time I was leaving for Sydney, there was one thing in Melbourne that was seriously bumming me out – the lack of good ramen I’ve yet to eat. Though Melbourne is no longer the ramen desert it once was, following the growth of the ramen scene in real time meant that I’ve demolished every option on all the ‘best of’ lists I could find. Luckily, I was moving to a city where they had discovered the merits of good ramen long before Melbourne caught on, so my dry spell was over!