Visiting Weir’s Lane Lavender & Apiary during a heat wave

Visiting Weir's Lane Lavender & Apiary during a heat wave

There are still plenty of adventures to share from Japan, but I wanted to write about what I’ve been up to in (and around) Toronto. I especially wanted to write about Weir’s Lane Lavender & Apiary before the lavender season ends.

After planning to visit a lavender farm for months, I finally made it to Weir’s Lane. It was the perfect time to see both the English and French lavender flowers. Although, I do wish it wasn’t during a heat wave.

I breathed in the relaxing scent, as I walked among the lavender rows. Since the sun was beaming down, and the field was fairly small, I felt that I had made the most of it after a few minutes.

When I headed back to the car, I saw some people walking down the path. I figured that’s where the shop was and decided to check it out. As the path curved, an even bigger lavender field revealed itself. I forgot all about the heat, and excitedly walked towards the fragrant blooms.

Neighbouring farms and trees hid the roads, cars, and buildings. It felt incredibly peaceful to be surrounded by nature. The only two other people in the field were quietly taking photos. Before leaving, I did the same. Apparently my silly poses gave the other people ideas for new angles, and they stayed behind continuing to snap photos.

Visiting Weir's Lane Lavender & Apiary during a heat wave

On my way to the shop, I noticed thousands of bees buzzing around stacked boxes. One of the owners casually asked if I was interested in bees. My gut reaction was to say nope and keep on walking, but he reassured me that the bees wouldn’t risk their short lives to hurt me. He then continued to explain all kinds of fascinating tidbits about bees. When he found out I was vegan, he shared the gentle way in which they treat the bees. They never move the hives, and only gather honey once a year before it overflows the hive. They gather the honey long before the winter, ensuring the bees have enough time to adequately stock up for the cold.

The ticket prices included a coupon for the shop, and after learning about their honey I wanted to give it a taste. I ended up buying two jars of lavender infused honey. There were also lavender plants for purchase, but the owner advised that they would only thrive directly in the ground.

Visiting Weir's Lane Lavender & Apiary during a heat wave

As soon as I got home, I ate a spoonful of the lavender infused honey. It tasted sweet and fresh with just the right amount of lavender flavour. The distinct taste was there, but it didn’t feel like eating a bar of soap as I feared. The liquid gold tastes great in tea, but my favourite way to enjoy it is as a crepe filling. I either spread it directly on the crepes, or prepare a paste with the honey and ground up black sesame seeds. Just typing this is making me crave it.

If you don’t get a chance to visit a lavender farm this season, you can always start planning one for next year.

 

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

One of the first restaurants on my list was Chabuton in Osaka. Mostly because both their website and reviews confirmed they had vegan options. Chabuton was also more likely to be open, as well as easily accessible, as it was located at Yodobashi-Umeda. The incredibly busy department store was on the subway line, making it the perfect lunch spot on the way to drinking tea in Kyoto.

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

When the plant-based ramen arrived, it was reassuringly similar to all of the pictures I’ve seen online. Unfortunately, it turns out the reviews also accurately described its flavour. It was great as a vegetable soup, but far from a traditional tasting ramen. Now of course I’m no expert, especially since I’ve only ever had vegetarian ramen. However, ramen broth is usually much thicker and has a deep complex flavour. This dish tasted more like a light soup with fresh vegetables and noodles. While I’m grateful they had a vegan option at all, I’d love to taste V2.

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

Since I was still hungry, I ordered the green veggie gyoza. I had to triple check the nutritional info, and rejoiced every time I saw the veggie gyoza were in fact vegan. The gyoza were pan fried and perfectly crisp. There was even a gyoza and rice set, which I planned on getting if I returned.

Two things to keep in mind when ordering a dish that comes with a dipping sauce in Japan. One, never assume the dipping sauce of any dish is free of fish-based dashi. Two, if all else fails there’s usually plain soy sauce nearby.

Soy Chai Latte at Yodoyabashi Odona in Osaka

Soy Chai Latte in Osaka 1

After a very early breakfast of convenience store goodies, I started to get peckish. Since it was only 10 am, I stopped at a Starbucks to refuel.

The Starbucks at Yodoyabashi Odona was quiet and classy. The glass display case was full of the usual items and some extra decadent treats. I skipped those as I figured my drink would have plenty of sugar already.

The friendly barista greeted me, and I placed an order for a medium soy chai latte. My go-to size is a small, but in Japan I get a medium. This isn’t because of the minuscule difference between Canada’s mL sizes and Japan’s cc sizes. It’s because a small is interpreted as a Tall in Canada, and a Short in Japan. Yes, I’m the annoying customer that forgets to use Starbucks’ official size names. I get flustered enough trying to remember my order and to ask for soy milk. While waiting in line, I always wonder if I should say soy latte or latte with soy milk. The first sounds better, but the second emphasized the soy more and might be more in line with the register process.

I was extra nervous about asking for soy milk in Osaka. When I previously asked other restaurants in Japan if they had soy milk, they would only catch the word milk and excitedly say yes. Even though I made a mental note to say ‘soy’ instead of ‘soy milk’, I accidentally blurted out chai latte with soy milk.

Soy Chai Latte in Osaka 1

Turns out I was worried for nothing. The barista clearly understood my request, and even handed me a cute soy milk card to ensure I was given the right drink. I quickly snapped a picture of the card before my drink was ready. Then I snapped another of the condiments bar. There were multiple sugar options (which I skipped), including: white & brown sugar, liquid sugar, and even orange vanilla sugar. There was also something called coffee powder, which looked like finely ground coffee that may or may not have been sweetened.

Soy Chai Latte in Osaka 2

I enjoyed my soy chai latte on a gorgeous red velvet chair, and got to planning the rest of the day.

Soy Chai Latte in Osaka 4

First taste of matcha in Shinsaibashi

First taste of matcha in Shinsaibashi

Prior to travelling to Japan, I had done some research into the best places to buy and sip on ceremonial grade matcha in Uji and Osaka.

The first place I visited was Uji-en (Uji Garden) in Shinsaibashi. The tea shop is located near the end of a covered street in the shopping district, which feels like a large yet crowded hallway. Since there were two tea shops on the same area, I checked out the merchandise to try and figure out if I was in the right place. Taking the time to look around, also helped me spot the tea drinking area. Even though I knew Noren were traditionally draped at the entrance of restaurants, I thought the fabric might be concealing a stock room. Luckily, I got a brief glimpse into the back of the tea shop as another customer exited. It felt impolite to walk in, and so I asked another shopkeeper if I could enter while miming drinking matcha by holding my two hands up and tilting an imaginary matcha bowl to my mouth. The shopkeeper understood I wanted to drink matcha, not just buy a tin of tea, and enthusiastically invited me in.

There were plenty of seats, but I decided to sit by the counter to get a better view of the matcha preparation. Before placing my order, I was given a small cup with a deep caramel liquid. The drink was cold, and had a rich earthy aroma and subtle sweetness. It didn’t have the strong bitter aftertaste of green or black tea. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first taste of roasted green tea also known as Hojicha.

When my matcha was served, it came with yet another small cup. This time the small cup contained a hot bright green liquid. After enjoying the hojicha, I bravely took a sip of the unknown tea. As soon as I caught a whiff of the tea, I knew I wouldn’t like the flavour. It smelled and tasted exactly like vegetable broth. I was convinced it was vegetable soup, but later found out it was sencha. Apparently most people preferred the taste of sencha over matcha, and so it is served to clear the palate.    

After tasting one of the best and worst teas I’ve ever had, it was time for the main event. I won’t leave you in suspense any longer, except to say that this trip has completely changed the way I drink matcha. The first sip was so exceptional that I had to pause in appreciation before taking another. The matcha tasted incredible, and was obviously very fresh and of high quality. However, the skilled preparation took it to the next level. The delicate foam, the fully dissolved powder, and the perfectly warm water were all signs of an expertly made matcha.

Paying attention to details not only pays off in terms of flavour, but it also makes you appreciate matcha more than you would if you had in a plastic to-go cup while rushing to a meeting. It reminds me of a quote by the monk Jeong Kwan, who said on Chef’s Table: “I make food as a meditation.” Both the quote and this tea experience have had a huge impact on the way I prepare matcha and food in general.

If you are curious, here’s how I prepare my matcha.

  1. Boil filtered water and let stand overnight. Japanese tea tastes best in soft water.
  2. Boil water again once you are ready to drink matcha.
  3. Pour the boiling water into your matcha bowl, and let stand for a minute or so.
  4. Transfer the water into another vessel. This helps warm the bowl, and then cools down the water to 80°C to avoid burning the matcha.
  5. Sift two scoops of matcha into the bowl to prevent clumps.
  6. Add a little bit of the warm water into the matcha bowl.
  7. Whisk quickly in a zig-zag shape for approximately 30 seconds. Once foam appears, slow down and get rid of any air bubbles.
  8. Add the rest of the water. If you’d like to prepare a latte instead, then add half of the remaining warm water along with non-dairy milk.

Hanami in Osaka

Hanami in Osaka Japan

During the cherry blossom season in Japan, people flock to the parks to view the blooms and have picnics. The first park I visited was Kema Sakuranomiya Park by the O River in Osaka.

Groups gather on picnic blankets or giant blue tarps. They remove and neatly line them up before sitting in a circle. Employees on their lunch break typically eat store-bought bento boxes, while families enjoy homemade food. Some even prepare a fresh meal on a tiny grill.

I joined the few individuals sitting on benches. My lunch seemed fairly basic, but I noticed many others also picked up their lunch from a nearby FamilyMart, Lawson, or 7-Eleven. Despite my hesitation, I soon understood why convenience store food is so popular. Of course it wasn’t a gourmet meal, but it was better than the food served at some restaurants.

My cold lunch set consisted of soba noodles and Inari. The sushi was incredibly fresh and delicious. On the other hand, the soba noodles appeared to be a disaster. They were all stuck together, and impossible to eat. Then I discovered that they came with a clear packet that appeared to be water. Once I poured the water in and mixed the noodles, they separated like magic. The soba noodles tasted even better with the shredded seaweed and green onion toppings. Since the sauce provided appeared to have bonito in it, I made a note to grab plain soy sauce packets next time.

After I was done my lunch, it proved to be impossible to find a garbage bin. My usual hack for Japan is to check for one in public washrooms, but that only works when they have paper towels. While walking around, I heard a sound reminiscent of an ice cream truck. Weirdly enough, this turned out to be a coca cola sponsored garbage truck. It seems that people threw their garbage bags into a fence enclosed area, and so I did the same. Then I walked upwind.

Hanami in Osaka Japan


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Baked Goods Breakfast

Baked Goods Breakfast

Baked Goods Breakfast

After months of planning my trip to Japan, the cherry blossom season started 9 days early. Instead of sleeping in after 30 hours of travel, I rushed out towards the O River on my first day in Osaka. Luckily, the beautiful Sakura trees were still in bloom. Even though the cherry blossoms were the priority, there was no way I’d be able to fully enjoy them on an empty stomach. I stopped worrying about missing out, and started to think about breakfast.

Baked Goods Breakfast

Since I still wanted to make the most of it, I tried to find something to eat by the river. I spotted a bakery called Pompadour, and was drawn by the sweet scent. The bakery had trays and tongs at the entrance, which meant I could wander around and take my time deciding which treats to get. I loved not feeling rushed and pressured to place my order. The bakery also had enough variety to satisfy my needs, but wasn’t overwhelming. 

Baked Goods Breakfast

This place was heaven for someone with a sweet tooth, even if it was far from ideal for someone used to eating mainly vegan food.

Baked Goods Breakfast

When it was time to pay, I was delighted by the level of care taken into packaging my custard filled bun, cheddar and onion bun, and the cutest strawberry shaped bun. Since the strawberry bun was pretty fragile, it was placed in it’s own perfectly fitted container. While people were taking pictures of the cherry blossoms, I couldn’t resist taking pictures of my yummy breakfast.

Baked Goods Breakfast

The strawberry shaped bun did not only look adorable, but it also tasted magical. It had incredibly fluffy cream inside that tasted exactly like a strawberry milkshake. It wasn’t the healthiest breakfast, but sometimes you just need to indulge.



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A late lunch at Green Earth in Osaka

Lunch at Green Earth in Osaka

Before getting hangry, I search through the restaurants on my map. There’s plenty of options, but they are all a train ride away. I’m not sure if I feel like figuring out train fares and transfers. It’s a 20 minute walk to the closest vegan restaurant, Green Earth. The beauty of this place is that it doesn’t close between lunch and dinner, so it’s perfect for jet-lagged travellers.

When I arrive at Green Earth, the place is empty. This can be a bad sign, but considering it’s a weird time I don’t let it throw me. It turns out to be a good thing because I get served quickly before fellow travellers and locals start to trickle in. Since I’m starving, I order the mysterious lunch of the day.

Each daily special has a different type of main and soup, and is served with rice and two salads. I love meals that consist of multiple dishes in one course. The variety feels like a mini buffet for one. I like to sample each dish, and save my favourites for last. This proves to be a difficult task since every flavour in my lunch is spot on.

The stew is rich and hearty, and goes well with the rice topped with sesame salt. The hot soup is comforting. The salads are lightly tosses in divine dressing, and sprinkled with roasted nuts for a nice crunch. My adventurous choice pays off. I’ve read that in Japan it’s considered wasteful to leave food behind, but I don’t have to worry because I’ve devoured every last crumb.

Since Green Earth is close to my hotel, I’m tempted to save it as a backup for when other places are closed. But everything was so delicious that I definitely want to return sooner to taste the rest of the menu.


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The All Nippon Airways Experience

The All Nippon Airways Experience - Danielle Geva

When booking flights to Japan, I was willing to endure a couple of layovers to get to fly with All Nippon Airways within my budget.

My main concern with long flights is the food. There is little you can bring through security, and you can’t rely on the options at the airport. Some airports have decent food, but it’s difficult to plan ahead since food varies from terminal to terminal, gates may be announced late or change, and places may be closed around departure time. That leaves you with notoriously awful airplane food. Worse yet, there were times where the airline didn’t even have a meal for me.

ANA impressed me from the get go. For starters, their site lists several different meal options that worked for my dietary restrictions. Another reassuring sign, was a glowing review of ANA’s food that included a useful timeline of when to expect the meals. As if that wasn’t enough, ANA’s meals were actually voted on and chosen by customers.

Despite these high expectations, ANA still delivered above and beyond. The food was delicious, and the incredibly friendly crew members made it taste even better.

The All Nippon Airways Experience - Danielle Geva

After takeoff, a crew member confirmed my meal choice and put a sticker on the top of my seat to avoid confusion. Shortly after, it was snack time. This wasn’t your typical dry pretzels though. ANA’s snack was amazing seaweed rice crackers. The sweet and savoury treat was clearly marked as vegetarian, and a crew member also reassured me it was suitable for me when they handed it out. I spent the rest of the trip searching for a similar snack in grocery stores.

The All Nippon Airways Experience - Danielle Geva

It wasn’t long before the first meal arrived. The hearty main consisted of rice, spinach, and tofu marinated in a vegetable tomato sauce. There were also two sides, and a dessert. The leafy greens came with lemon dressing, which I used for the grilled tofu and vegetables side. The dessert was juicy fruit pieces. It’s worth noting how ANA’s attention to detail made the meal exceptional. The tofu in the main was cooked in flavourful sauce to keep it from being bland, while the grilled tofu and vegetables weren’t drenched in oil. The salad had a variety of leafy greens, rather than the standard iceberg lettuce. Finally, the fruit wasn’t dry or artificially sweetened, instead it actually tasted like freshly sliced fruit.  

The All Nippon Airways Experience - Danielle Geva

The drinks in between meals were also lovely. The hot/cold Japanese green tea, and the Aromatic Kabosu were both welcome changes to the concentrated juices usually served on planes. If you travel in First Class with ANA, you’ll also get to enjoy an authentic bowl of matcha.

The All Nippon Airways Experience - Danielle Geva

Before the final meal, I woke up to nibble on a cute finger sandwich filled with grilled vegetables. Then two hours before landing, a mouth-watering vegetable noodle dish was served. There were sides, but I was fully focused on the perfect seasoning of the noodles. This was definitely a meal I can’t wait to replicate at home.   

The All Nippon Airways Experience - Danielle Geva


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Carry-on snacks

Danielle Geva Travel Snacks

When I’m last-minute packing for a trip, I always throw in a couple of snacks in my carry-on luggage. Here’s what I packed for my flight to Japan.

Danielle Geva Travel Snacks
dav

Chocolate Milk or Juice Boxes

Before I even make it to the airport, I have a snack for the bus, train, or cab there. It’s usually too weird of a time to eat, so a chocolate milk or juice box make for the perfect alternative. It’s a good way to get some energy, and calm down the anxiety and motion sickness. After security, I refill my reusable water bottle with more liquids to avoid getting dehydrated on the flight.

Tic Tacs

Yes, the first snack was consumed hours before departure. And yes, Tic Tacs aren’t technically food. However, Tic Tacs are also must-have on any journey. Beyond freshening my breath on this ~30 hour trip, they’ll come in handy if the food isn’t great (either to get rid of the weird taste or distract from my hunger). Tic Tacs also help prevent my ears popping during takeoff and landing as I fidget nervously with the container. Can you tell I’m not at all stressed about flying?

Granola Bars

The only thing worse than bad airplane food, is no food. Last time I travelled to Japan, there was a mixed up with my meals. Both ways. Luckily granola bars are very filling for their size. This time around, I have 6 different varieties since I get extra picky when I’m overtired. The vegan Clif Bar is a white chocolate macadamia nut flavour, which used to be my favourite Tim Horton’s cookie. I have the Chocolate Chip, Mixed Berry, and Strawberry MadeGood bars. These vegan bars somehow contain one full serving of vegetables, which makes them sound even healthier. Finally, I have Nature Valley’s Sweet & Salty bars. These are a family favourite, since we grew up on peanut butter. Instead of the traditional peanut butter though, I went with almond butter and toasted coconut.

Maria Biscuits  

When I don’t feel well, I crave bland foods. I used to travel with a loaf of bread (yes, really), but have since switched to Maria Biscuits. Growing up, I had Marie Biscuits (the British version), but apparently Maria is the original name. These biscuits are the equivalent of toast and butter to me, as they provide comfort and some sustenance without an overwhelming flavour.

Hopefully this list helps you pack from your next vacation. If you’re thinking of visiting Japan, I’ll be sharing my favourite foods from Osaka and Kyoto next!


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