Organic Café Choice.

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DSC_0690The waitress’ smile wides in recognition as we step out of the Kyoto night and into the restaurant. This is our second visit today alone. Not because choice (pun intended) is limited for the kyotan vegan. In fact, the city is a bit of a haven for veg grub in Japan and that is just what sets the scene for places like Choice to flourish.

So what is it then that makes us return for dinner mere hours after we have left from brunch? What makes Choice stick out among the crowd?

Well, first and foremost – by making and offering their own range of vegan cheeses! *angels singing*

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The backstory

With an increased interest for plant based foods and  particularly ways to make vegan cheese, the café founder set out to meet Miyoko Schinner in California back in 2011. Schinner, about to become somewhat of a “health food superstar”, had namely just succeeded in making a fermented cheese out of plants.

Applying the techniques taught by Schinner, albeit adjusted to suit the Japanese climate, soon resulted in the variety of (nutritious yet delicous) nut- & soy cheeses that are served at the café today. Plenty are being used along dishes from the menu, but may I suggest the cheese platter to try a select few?
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It is a full concept

Choice is formed as an open space that invites for conversation between its visitors. The interiors are bright, woodsy and contains plentiful of beautifully printed chalk boards revealing the daily specialities. On the menu you will find veggie burgers, risotto and pancakes along with freshly pressed juices and raw cakes.

One thing I am a big fan of is when chosen coffeeshop or restaurant has spent some time on their menus. A neat layout and something to read while awaiting the food. Choice does this brilliantly with little booklets for anyone to grab. (Even providing me with facts to use in this blog post!). To any café owner out there: do this! This gives customers a chance to be impressed by your particular story, and gives you a chance to brag and boost your efforts, ingredients, awards or whatever you please.


Choice Café & Restaurant
Where |89-1 Suzukikeiseigeka Bldg. 1F,
Ohashi-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Subway | Sanjo-Keihan, Exit 2
Website
Cuisine | Vegan, Gluten Free

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Japan Photo Diary, Day 10-12: The Lost in Translation One & Museum Hopping in Hakone

Koya-San

I put so much effort into planning our route FROM Koyasan, that I seem to believe getting TO Koyasan sure cannot be that difficult. All I know is that we need to take three trains.

Of course, taking rural countryside trains are a bit more of a hassle than the metro that run every 5-or-so minutes with clear signs even foreign eyes can comprehend.
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After catching the first two departures alright, I seem to have a flick on the third and get us off one station too early. We end up seemingly in the Middle of Nowhere, or at least that is what I imagine this train stop would translate to in English. Getting off a station too early is not a big deal. Unless the next train will not arrive for another hour.

This one event seems to be the first in a long row of domino bricks of mistakes. To make a long story short: We leave Kyoto around 7am and arrive on top of Koyasan just after 4pm…
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Getting to Koyasan is a bit of an adventure on its own. (Like, without the extra detour to Nowhereland). For the final bits the train winds its way up the mountain, with its wall on one side and steep valleys on the other. At the final station, you catch a cable car to reach all the way to the top.
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Most people visiting Koyasan will stay in shukubo (aka temple lodgings).
As a) I do everything last minute and b) this is high season, we however spend the night at a capsule style backpackers called Koyasan Guest House Kokuu.

It has a design that brings chapels slash stables to mind along with the best English spoken staff encountered the entire trip. (One has even studied in Scotland and gets muy excited when hearing about me arriving from Granite City!)
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The biggest attraction is undoubtedly Oku-no-in — where the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi resides surrounded by circa 200’000 tombstones and monuments. Kobo Daishi was the founder of the Shingon Buddhism that Koyasan is a pilgrammage for; he was last seen in year 835 and according to legend he is to this day sat in meditation inside his mausoleum awaiting the arrival of Miroku (the Future Buddha).

It is a really atmospheric, almost eerie feel walking about the cemetery as the sun begins to descend. Despite knowing we are most certainly not alone as visitors of the mountain, it sure feels like it as you vanish into the large grounds.

You can also watch the monks do their morning chanting in the early am’s over at Okunoin, as we did the following morning. Brings me back to my week at Doi Suthep in 2014.
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Koyasan has recently gotten a new supermarket that stays open until late, but other than that everything closes early (like 5pm max). Which in this case means I did not have time to try out Shojin-Ryori — a traditional buddhist veggie (vegan actually) cuisine — typical for the region. Alas, the more reason to visit again!

On the bright side, it brings people inside and together — we spend the evening drinking copious amounts of tea at the hostel, chatting to fellow travellers about our Japan feels.

Hakone

DSC_0114DSC_0081Fresh out of the chanting, we hurry off to catch the cable car back down to the train station. With the disastrous logistic failures of the day past, we were on a roll. The perkiest bit was when I realised we could get off the shinkansen already in Odawara, instead of travelling all the way back to Tokyo to swap trains. Ha-le-lu!

It is still quite the bus trip to reach the top of the mountain though. Once we are checked in at our hotel Mount View, we head straight out and into Museum of the Little Prince just up the road. Which must be the most unpredictable of locations to find a museum dedicated to a French childrens tale?
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Apparently the founder was so fond of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book that she felt a museum was in order. It is a full on experience, with a French style townscape and gallery of St Exupéry’s life doings. (Most of the accompaning captions with the works found in the latter are in either Japanese or French though… Of course I do not really mind just watching photos).
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Back at the hotel (it is so alien to me staying in a hotel that my fingers automatically add an extra s in there) we change into our yukatas to get into the groove. We head downstairs for dinner, then spend the remains of the evening in the public outdoors onsen.

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The following morning I dress up in my most museumy outfit and we take the bus to Hakone Open Air Museum. It is a very hot morning and thus the sun creates some really harsh shadows over the works unfortunately.
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Hakone turns out to be a right mekka for art museums – there seems to be something for every taste, at every other bus stop.

This makes me completely forget what we really came there for – to catch a glimpse of infamous Mount Fuji…
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Unfortunately the installation I am most keen to watch, The Symphonic Sculpture, is having maintenance work made on this very day (what are the odds?!) so there is no entry.

They do host an enchanting photography exhibition by Kishin Shinoyama – a series of portraits of fellow artists, including Yoko Ono, in their right element. That along with the vegan friendly sushi bar down the road makes it a pretty decent excursion anyway.


This was part 6/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, the previous entries can be found below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.
Neon lights & deers of might.
A historical hike & a last, lazy day in Kyoto.

Japan Photo Diary, Day 7: Neon lights & deers of might.

Remember my post the other week from a rain covered Osaka? Well, here is the prologue leading up to that evening. Welcome to Friday and day seven of our Japan trip, an intense day travelling from temple sites to urban jungles.

Nara

DSC_0701DSC_0703We start off the morning touring Nara – Japan’s first ever permanent capital; today renowned for housing one of the world’s largest bronze statues and about 1200 deers who roam around the town as they please.
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The Bronze Statue in question is the near 15 metre tall Daibutsu (‘giant Buddha’). To give you an idea just how giant it is, one nostril measures about 50 centimetres(!). While we are on a number dropping spree, the statue is also kept in one of the world’s largest scale wooden buildings. Pretty impressive, hey?

Originally the creation was completely covered in gold leaf, making it a construction that brought Japan close to bankruptcy back in the 8th century.
DSC_0733DSC_0759The deer on the other hand were in pre-buddhist times believed to be messengers of the gods; a reputation they are still enjoying the benefits of as they wander around town; slowing down cars and chasing (particularly the children of) tourists that are unfortunate enough to carry food around.
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Nara is a fairly compact town, so we manage to do a loop around its main sights before the rain does so.

We have lunch at Kinatei; enjoying our warm meal with the dusky weather hovering outside, then place the first ever pins for “Umeå” on the owner’s map over her guests.

Osaka

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On impulse, we catch a train to Osaka rather than returning to Kyoto for the afternoon. I really had no expectations for this 3rd largest city of Japan (rather than it being a massive urban jungle), but boy am I glad that we went!
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After spending some time lost in one of the city’s many stylish-enormous-shopping complexes, we reluctantly head out to the rain and winds outside, trying to catch some sights of the town.
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We followed Lonely Planet’s “Sights of Minami”-city walk, covering about 2.2 kilometres of the city. First on the hit list was the Amerika-mura neighbourhood, which (as you may have guess from both name and photographs) translates to American Village. The name derives from shops that started to appear in the area after the second world war.

The general vibe is sort of futuristic and hip (I feel SO OLD whenever I attempt using the word hip?!), with many things to rest eyes upon; from murals to peculiar street lights and not to forget the miniature Statue of Liberty surveying it all from the rooftops.
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Continuing on, the map takes us down the Shinsaibashi-suji arcade – a market street that routes all the way down to the Dotombori-gawa canal and where you will encounter the bridge Ebisu-bashi.

Take a moment to stop on the bridge for photos of the glittering neon signs reflecting in the canal (well, on a clear day I imagine so) and look back at the crowds making their way down the market arcade.
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Finally, as we were walking down the infamous and buzzing Dotombori Street, I thought to myself

All that glitters is not gold.
Sometimes it is NEON
and that is a heck of a lot better!”

As mentioned, we end the evening at Le Coccole – the cherry atop this pleasant surprise-afternoon, before taking the train back to Kyoto; with drenched socks but with eyes and bellies very well-fed.


This was part 4/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, if you enjoyed this post you can find the previous parts below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.

Le Coccole | A must for any Vegan in Osaka.

DSC_0826Have you ever stepped into a cafe or restaurant so cosy you have been immediately struck by a strong urge to move right in?

That is Le Coccole for you.

It is, undoubtly, also an urge that is massively enhanced after having spent a good half hour trying to navigate yourself around the rain filled streets of Osaka before sundown. Looking up from google maps felt like a right blessing when Le Coccole appeared in front of us.

Because surely Paradise too would be decorated with light bulbs as many.
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Where French Bistro meets the Traditional Japanese

The owner, who singlehandedly runs the place this very April eve, appears a little whimsical (but who would not be on such a multitasking job; seating guests, taking orders and cooking the food fresh simultaneously) but oh-so-lovely!

Having studied the culinary arts in La Belle France she speaks a bit of French alongside her English. Nonetheless, she is a very skillful chef. You can tell the time in France comes through in the style of cooking. Albeit ingredients quentissentally Japanese, there are items typically French, such as quiches and creamed cabbage, to be found on the menu.
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No GMO’s here, no thanks!

Le Coccole prides itself on using locally grown and organic produce to the extent possible. With Japan being one of the world’s largest importers of GM crops, it is ravishing to hear that for most part of the year, the veggies used at this green space are provided by the owner’s own brother and his farm some umpteen kilometres away. (In Nara, where we had just spent the morning — felt like the day had come to a full circle!)

There were a little bit of confusion in regards to the menu. Like Fried Rice around the one thousand yen mark seemed a little over the top. That is, until you realize what a hell of a fried rice it is! I have never in my near 24 years tasted anything like it. Creamy, peanutty undertones and roasted veg.

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We also had a deli plate consisting of hummus stuffed capsicum, a selection of pickled, pureed and cremed vegetables and a tofu quiche. So many delightful flavour combinations! Unfortunately we were in too much of a rush to get back to Kyoto to have time for dessert. There is a version of the menu available in English here.

Plants, light bulbs and mismatched kitchen tiles

Last but not least… the interiors. Oh, we have to talk about the interiors! The deep colours of orange and brown bringing a funky 70’s vibe, knick-knacks like retro coffee tins and souvernirs in shape of fancy hot air baloons (same as I saw in Copenhagen last summer!) from her many travels fill up the space. Plants, light bulbs and mismatched kitchen tiles. There is simply not a dull corner in within this wee gem!


Le Coccole
Where |3-4-1 Kitakyuhojimachi, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Subway | Hommachi Station
Website
Cuisine | Vegan, Traditional Japanese-French Bistro infusion