Song Tea and Japantown

Stop #1: Benkyodo

Stop #1: Benkyodo. Because you want to get there while the selection is good. I took this picture at home, though.

Well, this isn’t the post I’d planned on doing, but at least it’s an actual post, so yay? As you may have guessed from the title, this past weekend I was in Japantown, in San Francisco. It’s hard to talk coherently about that, because for me, going to Japantown feels sort of like going to a favorite supermarket. (A lot like that, actually, because one of my stops there is the supermarket.) “I don’t know. I got eggs and milk. The lines were short. What do you want from me?” Only replace the eggs and milk with things like arare and tonkatsu sandwiches.

That having been said, it was a very nice visit, and very productive, in that I got most of the things on my list. And the weather was good–unusually warm for San Francisco, despite some clouds–which made it all the easier to walk from Japantown to Song Tea & Ceramics.

Song Tea has been on my radar for a while, but it made it onto the “must visit” list when I had some of their tea at a Berkeley cafe. The tea ended up being over-steeped, so it was bitter, but beneath that bitterness it seemed delicious. I decided that at some point, I would have to get more of it.

The good news is that from Japantown, Song Tea is extremely walkable. And once you get there, you might be able to fit in a tea tasting, which I enjoyed quite a bit. (It’s an especially good deal if you buy something, in which case they waive the $10 fee. Policies change, so I would check this before committing, but still–it’s very nice.) Thanks to that tasting, I got to try some teas I don’t usually try, like some greens, and a delicious aged tea that was way out of my budget, but that seriously tempted me anyway, and also made me think about things like gaiwans.

After Song Tea, it was back to Japantown, to visit favorites like the stationery store and the supermarket (again). Then back home, with some wonderful things I’m looking forward to trying. Here’s a sample:

-Some Things I'm Looking Forward to Trying

Notebook from Maido, okonomiyaki pack from Nijiya, and tea from Song Tea

Seeing Japantown made me miss Japan again, but that also brings me to something I’ve been thinking lately. As much as I miss traveling, living life deeply isn’t always about going somewhere new. (ETA: like a new state or a new country. I still want to go to new places.) A lot of it is about perspective. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love California. It’s beautiful, and diverse, and there’s so much to do. And now, thanks to my trip, I don’t even have to leave my house to try some of it–tea and an okonomiyaki pack. I am more excited than my lack of exclamation points would suggest.

So anyway, I hope you all had a lovely weekend, and that you have a wonderful week, full of everyday fun and maybe–if you want it–some pleasant new adventures. And who knows, maybe some of mine will make it onto this blog, along with all the books and food and other things.

Japanese Food to Go (Sacramento)

I was in Sacramento again this past week, and even though I was pretty exhausted, I couldn’t pass up the chance to try a Japanese bakery and a ramen shop that I’d read about on Yelp. (Ah, Yelp. That’s a whole other post.) These are the places I tried:

  • Mahoroba Japanese Bakery (couldn’t find a website, but again: Yelp)
  • Ryujin Ramen House

The bakery was adorable. I got there after 11:00, I think, and there was still a good selection, so I got to try all the things I’d been reading about online. It’s funny, when I lived in Japan, I remember being frustrated by how light everything was. Not to say it wasn’t delicious (obviously I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to obtain Japanese baked goods if I didn’t like them), but sometimes I just wanted a dense chocolate cake or a brownie. So I don’t know, there’s something fitting about taking the time to track down a Japanese bakery now that I’m back in California. Plus, trying new food is always fun, right? It was this time, at least.

My lunch stop that day was Ryujin. Ramen is one of those things that I’ve never been able to finish in one sitting, so getting it to go was a pretty solid option there. And a couple of things stood out with that experience: first of all, the ramen broth was delicious. (I also liked the gyoza, but the ramen broth edged it out slightly as my favorite thing in the order.) Second, the way they packaged the ingredients was phenomenal. You can see in the picture that the noodles and other components were separate from the broth, so nothing got soggy on my trip home. It was a subtly brilliant thing that I wasn’t expecting.

So anyway, that was my outing last week. Next up: tea, food, and/or books, I’m thinking. But we’ll see. In the meantime, I hope you’re all having a wonderful day, and I’ll be back for another post (hopefully) next Monday.

A Rainy Sunday Afternoon in Napa

Yesterday was one of those days when I just wanted to get out of town for a while. So I headed off to Napa for some food, some more food, and then, to mix things up, some more food.

The good news: I’m not much into wine, so the rain didn’t get in the way of any wine-tasting plans. Places where I stopped:

  • Oxbow Public Market
  • Bel Aire Plaza

Oxbow was surprisingly crowded for such a damp day, but I found myself enjoying it. The close-packed people, the rain falling outside: it was all wonderful. I snagged an ahi burger at Gott’s, and then, since finding seating at Oxbow is often a bit of a challenge, I ate in my car before heading off to Bel Aire Plaza, which was quieter.

Napa is pricey, so that’s something to keep in mind. (One reason why I can’t be going out there all the time.) But for yesterday, it was nice to have a treat. And both Oxbow and Bel Aire are relatively friendly stops for rainy weather. Oxbow is mostly indoors, except for places like Gott’s, so once you get to the main building, you could theoretically stay there for a while. Bel Aire you might want to bring an umbrella to, if you’re planning to walk to the different stores. But (unless you feel a need to seek out dirt) you’ll basically be walking on sidewalks and concrete when you’re outside. That’s great for me, because honestly, I’m not that fond of walking on dirt or grass or nature-stuff in sunny weather. In wet weather: sidewalks, please.

With that, I hope you all managed to stay dry this weekend! And, as ever, that you’re having a wonderful Monday.

San Francisco Tea Weekend

Lately I’ve been wondering if it would be a good idea to switch to loose-leaf tea. It seems like it might be a more ethical way of drinking tea, and it’s also arguably a small thing that’s quite doable for me–most days, I only drink one cup of tea (maybe two), and I technically have enough time to make that cup a good one. So this weekend, I decided to investigate some tea shops in San Francisco and Berkeley, along with my friend Grace. (Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube! There might even be some pictures of me somewhere on one of those accounts, thus proving that I am a real person.)

The city was lovely, and the tea shops were a lot of fun. Here are the ones we visited, in order:

Red Blossom was definitely my favorite, in terms of both the particular teas that I like, and the price (not all their teas worked with my budget, but there were some good ones that did). I also really liked that you could open up the canisters and smell the tea without having to ask someone behind a counter to get things down. (Smelling teas: both fun and surprising.) That having been said, though, I didn’t have bad experiences at any of the tea shops. Unless you count not being able to make up my mind, and not having infinite money to spend on every tea that interested me.

We ended up buying teas from two of the places. From Red Blossom Tea Company, we bought keemun, genmaicha, and lychee black tea. And from Asha Tea House, I got the House Blend Assam. Then, the next evening, Grace and I tried brewing these teas for ourselves. (By which I mean that Grace brewed the teas, really. It worked out great for me.) The teas were still lovely, and we’re not loose-leaf experts or anything, so that bodes well for the future. I even managed to make some tea myself this morning, despite my complete lack of an infuser. And it was delicious.

All in all, I’d definitely like to try some more loose-leaf teas and tea shops. But the next step, for now: to try drinking only loose-leaf for a few days, and see if my taste buds notice the difference when confronted with bagged tea again. (My taste buds are not generally very picky about tea, so all bets are off there.)

Other notes:

  • Thanks to this article for helping start this particular adventure!
  • Loose-leaf tea is not as hard as I thought. You can tell because I made it, and enjoyed it. (Thanks to another article for helping clarify some things.) Supplies I used (aside from tea and water, of course): water heating device, spoon (for scooping out tea), measuring cup (for steeping the leaves–great because it pours really well), a sieve (for catching the tea leaves), and a mug.
  • Loose-leaf tea also does seem to taste subtler than bagged tea, but this might be partially because I expect it to. It also smells wonderful–not just in those splendid canisters, but the actual cup of tea. I don’t know if I’ve ever noticed that about bagged tea before.
  • I don’t mean for the book/reading/maybe-sometimes-writing posts to go away! I’ve just been enjoying life-type things recently.

As ever, happy Monday to you all! And now off to make another cup of tea work. Definitely work.

Mini-Trip to Sacramento and Davis

When I was in college, I used to take a lot of day trips. That was less exciting than it sounds; I remember checking out bookstores and libraries, and one bakery in particular stands out. Post-college, it got a little harder to manage that kind of thing. But today, albeit for less-than-fun reasons, I had to be in Sacramento rather early, which left me free around late morning/early lunchtime to have some unscheduled out-of-town fun.

Because I’ve changed a lot since college, the first thing I looked up was a bookstore. Because I really have changed since college, though, I was kind of too tired after the bookstore to mill around Sacramento anymore, so I hopped back onto the freeway. And because maybe I haven’t changed completely since college–or maybe I have, I’m not sure how impulsive I was back then–I decided not long afterwards that I could probably swing one or two more stops in Davis. Maybe. Yes, why not, ok then.

It ended up being very pleasant. Mostly because it felt good to go someplace new–to walk into a store and not know what I was going to find, and to look around at the neighborhood, getting a sense of a different place. And then on the way back, I got to roll my windows down and let the cool air billow into the car, as the clouds ate up more and more of the sky ahead of me. Maybe not what people picture when they think of California, but it was splendid and freeing and peaceful, and it spoke to that part of my mind where the wanderlust still apparently runs, ready for more adventures.

For those of you who really want to know where I went:

I definitely felt safer in Davis than in Sacramento–I’m not saying Sacramento is less safe than Davis, because I have no idea what the statistics are for that, but you know. Take the necessary precautions, so you can enjoy your trip. Also, unrelatedly, crepes are delicious.

And with that, it’s probably time to do some work. I hope your Monday is going well (or whatever day it is, if you’re reading this on another day), and that this last full week of January is treating you kindly.

ETA: Somehow this picture is showing up attached to this post in my reader, so if it’s going to be there, I’m going to explain it. With a caption!

Book (and bookmark!) from Time Tested Books, candy and mini notebook from Newsbeat.

Book (and bookmark!) from Time Tested Books, candy and mini notebook from Newsbeat.