Spoiler-Free Book Review: “The Queen’s Resistance” by Rebecca Ross

The Queen’s Rising, American writer Rebecca Ross’s debut novel, was one of my favourite fantasy reads of all time. I was enchanted by the world, Ross’s gorgeous atmospheric writing style, and the story of Brienna, a heroine who wasn’t over-the-top feisty and quirky, but believable and likable.

Ross didn’t originally plan to write a sequel, as she described in her Instagram post:

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Today, my second book comes out, and I honestly can’t even believe it! 😭✨ THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE almost didn’t happen, and what I mean by that is it was originally supposed to be a companion novel to TQR, not a sequel. A companion novel which would focus on a new heroine in the world, because I believed I had finished Brienna’s story. * * In 2016, I wrote a companion novel. Hated it. Scrapped it. Wrote another companion novel. Still wasn’t satisfied with it. I was beginning to panic, because it was about time for me to deliver something to my editor, and I had no idea what my second book needed to be. The companion books were lacking something, and I didn’t know what that *something* was. All the same, I wasn’t going to publish a book I was not 100% in love with. * * In February of 2017, I was sitting on my back deck, throwing the frisbee to my dog. I had a journal open on my lap, and I was trying to brainstorm. And out of the blue, Brienna returned to me and quietly said, “Continue my story. And Cartier? He has a lot left to tell, too.” * * I did exactly as she said: I started to write this book by hand, reuniting with Brienna. And I knew she was right: her story was not finished, & this book was as much Cartier’s as it was hers. * * The words began to flow. This story caught fire—I had been seeking that spark, which my companion novels lacked. And this book poured out of me in 24 days. * * It was a magical, emotional, cathartic experience. And I knew that my second book was meant to be this—a continuation. A book where I could dig deeper and build upon the first. * * THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE marks the end of the series. It is bittersweet, but I think you will understand why this is the end when you reach the final page. Which I bawled like a baby when I wrote it. * * Thank you all for your love & excitement & support! Thank you for purchasing, requesting, recommending & reviewing my books. I cannot tell you how grateful I am, and how much it means to me. * * I hope you enjoy this little story of mine. It is a book I poured my heart into. And I know my name is on the cover, but this book doesn’t just belong to me anymore. It belongs to you. 🧡✨

A post shared by Rebecca Ross 🌙 (@beccajross) on

TL;DR: she eventually decided to write a sequel that she liked. It carries on immediately from The Queen’s Rising, so of course, be sure to have read that one first.

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“Brienna is a mistress of knowledge and is beginning to settle into her role as the daughter of the once disgraced lord, Davin MacQuinn. Though she’d just survived a revolution that will return a queen to the throne, she faces yet another challenge: acceptance by the MacQuinns.

But as Queen Isolde Kavanagh’s closest confidant, she’ll have to balance serving her father’s House as well as her country.

Then there’s Aodhan Morgan, formerly known as Cartier Évariste, who is adjusting to the stark contrast between his pre-rebellion life in Valenia and his current one as lord of a fallen House. As he attempts to restore the Morgane name, he let his mind wander—what if he doesn’t have to raise his House alone? What if Brienna could stand by his side?

But Brienna and Cartier must put their feelings aside, as there are more vital tasks at hand—the Lannons’ trial, forging alliances, and ensuring that no one halts the queen’s coronation. Resistance is rumbling among the old regime’s supporters, who are desperate to find a weakness in the rebels’ forces.

And what makes one more vulnerable than love?”

Much like the first novel, it took a while for the action to begin. I really enjoyed this in TQR as I loved exploring Magnolia House, Brienna’s life studying the passion of knowledge, and the culture of the world around her. In Resistance, it took a while for me to get into the story. Brienna and Cartier are in Maevana preparing for Queen Isolde’s coronation, and various problems crop up, building in seriousness until things get dangerous about two thirds in.

That being said, the story is filled with many enjoyable twists and turns, many of which I did not see coming. As many readers do, I made guesses as to what was coming, and though I was right about a certain character, there were many other things that surprised me. Predictability can kill a story, and Ross did an excellent job of keeping me on my toes.

Much like Allegiant by Veronica Roth, the chapters switch between Brienna and Cartier’s perspectives. Unlike in Allegiant, however, Ross did a great job of distinguishing their voices so it was easy to follow whose eyes I was seeing the world through. It was a joy to get inside Cartier’s head, to understand how he felt and thought and what many emotions he held back. I thought I could guess the reason for this style of writing, but I was happily proven wrong.

The Queen’s Resistance was much, much darker than the first book. We see much more of the effects of King Lannon’s tyrannical rule and much of the action was much darker than the first. In a way, this symbolises how much Brienna grows throughout the stories; when we first meet her, she’s a pretty innocent seventeen-year-old with not much to worry about except getting her passion cloak; in Maevana, she witnesses brutality, torture, and cruelty. No more details here without reading it yourself!

Ross kept her poetic writing style that caused me to fall so hard for her first novel. Though I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first, this is still an excellent book. I love Brienna; she’s strong without falling into the stereotype of the “witty tomboy” we often see in modern books. I also enjoyed seeing the tougher side of Cartier’s character. I give The Queen’s Resistance four stars out of five.

4stars

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@HomeCafe Maid Café in Akihabara, Tokyo

Akihabara is the place to go for “nerd stuff”: anime, comics, figurines, electronics, and video games. I took my brothers there today and we decided to get lunch in a maid café.

There are several maid cafés in Akihabara. We chose @homecafe as it’s highly rated and close to Super Potato, a retro gaming store.

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Rules of Visiting @HomeCafe

  1. No pictures (except of food and drinks).
  2. Credit cards accepted.
  3. Don’t touch the maids or ask them for any personal information.
  4. All guests have to order at least one item from the menu.
  5. There is an additional fee as well as food and drink of 700 yen per adult, and discounts for seniors and students.

Upon arriving, we were greeted with a happy “welcome home, masters and princess!” Maids are there to make you happy and give you what you need. All the maids, dressed up in cute outfits, had smiles on their faces and were very kind.

Our server, Aqua, said some cute, quirky stuff like she was from Aqualand in the deep ocean and that she had eaten magic food that made her 17 years old forever.

We ordered the Food Combo, which included one food item from the menu, one soft drink, and a picture with the maids. We all ordered the omelette rice, where the maids draw a picture of your choice on top in ketchup. I got Princess Peach and she did a pretty good job!

The boys got milkshakes and I got a mocha latte where I could also choose the picture on top in caramel sauce. I requested Wario.

We even managed to catch a cute show where the maids sung and danced on stage. Because why not, right?

Here’s me with Aqua. She was awfully sweet and she definitely had the biggest smile out of all the maids in @homecafe.

Kawaii as heck.

A maid cafe is always a fun experience; just expect to plonk down around 3,000 yen for your meal and experience. It’s an experience you should try while in a Japanese city.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “My Mum Tracy Beaker” by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child. Most British kids who like reading have at least heard of her. I’ve written about her top ten books, though she’s now written over one hundred. Her stories are mostly about little girls in the working class dealing with real-life issues such as bullying, poverty, abuse, and family issues.

When I was small, my aunt bought me a set of some of Wilson’s best titles, such as The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Bed and Breakfast Star, Bad Girls, Buried Alive!, The Suitcase Kid, and Double Act. I read those books dozens of times all the way through my childhood and teens, and even got a couple of them as ebooks for a reread.

I bought Wave Me Goodbye last year and it was cool to see that Wilson’s writing style hasn’t changed much. I came across My Mum Tracy Beaker and immediately bought it; I liked the first three Beaker books and it was cool to see that the little girl I grew up reading about was now grown up with a child of her own.

91KcVczAr6L“Tracy has returned, hand in hand with her daughter Jess, she’s ready to make her childhood dreams come true. 

Jess and Tracy Beaker are the perfect team. They do everything together. Jess thinks Tracy is the best mum ever, even when she shouts at her teachers!

Tracy has made the perfect home for Jess, leaving The Dumping Ground far behind her. Yes, their flat’s a bit mouldy. It’s only just big enough for two. And the Duke Estate is a bit scary. 
But it’s their happy home. 

Until Sean Godfrey, Tracy’s rich boyfriend, whisks them away to his mansion, life of fast cars and celebrity stardom. Will Jess’s brilliant mum turn into a new person altogether? And will Tracy realise that her childhood dream might not be what she needs after all?”

Despite having modern references such as selfies, Instagram, the internet, and cell phones, it was diving into this 400-page paperback still held the nostalgia of the ’90s with references to things like The Magic Faraway Tree (an old book by Enid Blyton, another childhood favourite) and The Wizard of Oz.

Tracy Beaker is still fierce and short-tempered, but she’s also a wonderfully sweet mother to Jess (from whose view we see this story). She always takes her daughter’s feelings into account, takes her seriously, and does her best to take care of her. Though Tracy has many problems from her difficult childhood, she’s extremely loyal and independent. She makes a big fuss of people’s birthdays, no doubt because she always had “half a birthday” in the Dumping Ground, the home she grew up in.

Jess is much shyer and is reminiscent of some of Wilson’s other books: she likes reading, she’s shy, gets bullied, and doesn’t have many friends. A sympathetic character like this is a Wilson trope.

We see characters from the first three books. Cam is there, of course, still with a wonderful relationship with Tracy, whom she refers to as her mother and says she loves her, showing how grateful she is the woman fostered her. There are other familiar faces, too, but no spoilers here!

A neat little easter egg is when Jess read two books; though they aren’t named, they’re described enough where I could understand they were Hetty Feather and Lola Rose, the latter of which is my favourite book by this author.

The story was pretty good, though it could have been shorter. Tracy can’t let go of her childhood dream; those who read The Story of Tracy Beaker might know she always dreamed of being rich and living in an enormous mansion with posh furniture. Jess, however, is happy with their little flat and it being just the two of them. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it’s Wilson’s best. Then again, it’s aimed at children so maybe I’ve just grown too big for it!

If you read this book, I’d recommend reading the first three books so you can spot the references. I give My Mum Tracy Beaker three stars out of five.

3stars

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3 Weird KitKat Flavours

Japan is famous for distributing a bunch of different flavours of KitKat. There may be hundreds out there, changing with the seasons, the most popular, such as green tea, enduring at sweet shops and airports. They even release a sakura flavour for cherry blossom season.

I’ve got a soft spot for Kit Kats because back before Nestlé bought them, the producer was called Rowntrees and based in York, the city where I went to university.

Here are three crazy flavours of KitKat I recently tried.

1. Roasted Green Tea

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Roasted green tea is yummy; I love getting lattes from the convenience store. The KitKat tasted almost the same, containing much of the same ingredients and a pleasant tea-like aftertaste.

2. Wasabi

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Wasabi is spicy Japanese horseradish served with sushi. I don’t like wasabi at all, but someone at work gave me this so I gave it a try. It’s actually not bad, though the wasabi and chocolate flavour together is a little strange. It has a spicy aftertaste but it’s not as strong as the real thing. Oddly, it kind of reminded me of mint.

3. Grape

You can get a lot of grape-flavoured goodies here. Fruit and chocolate is always good together, and this pink treat was tasty, though honestly, tasted quite artificial.

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I’ll be adding to this list when I come across new Kit Kat flavours. What kinds have you tried?

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Four Dead Queens” by Astrid Scholte

I’ve been reading a lot of debut authors by big publishing houses recently. I came across the newly-released Four Dead Queens by Australian author Astrid Scholte, and immediately loved the cover, which screamed romance and magic and fantasy. Anything with “queen” in the title catches my interest at once, so I pre-ordered the paperback and eagerly awaited its arrival.

It’s so pretty!

9781760524418“Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but she’s, in fact, one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. He runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie both find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead. 

With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavoring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.”

The book is an interesting blend of sci-fi dystopia and fantasy. Every other chapter was from a queen’s perspective and another from Keralie’s. This was fascinating as I expected the queens to be dead right at the beginning of the story, and learning about their intricate lives and secrets gave them details that made me care about them even when I knew they were going to perish.

I was actually more interested in the goings-on of the palace than in Keralie’s story, partly because the queens were more fantasy and the MC’s was more dystopian/sci-fi. The seventeen-year-old, whose personality and storyline is very reminiscent of the Divergent trilogy, is a fairly typical YA tough girl, short but spunky, kicking and punching and always with a smart joke on her tongue. I suppose she was likable if you like those kinds of characters, but I cared far more about the queens, who seemed much more vulnerable and real, and the identity of the mystery assassin.

My favourite queen was Corra: her past, the pressures of pretending to be a stoic Eonite, and her secrets that threatened to tear her world apart. Every queen had her own motives and personality, and it was bittersweet to find out so much about them to know that they were going to be murdered.

I wasn’t keen on the romance between Keralie and Varin. For all they went through together, there didn’t seem to be much chemistry, apart from her (slightly pervy) attitude towards his perfect body and skin. He was stoic and handsome, but there wasn’t much else to him. The book would have been just as satisfying if they’d turned out to be best friends.

The twists were what made this book really fun for me. Every time I had a prime suspect or assumption in mind, I was proven wrong. Earlier today, I hit a plot climax and had to tear my eyes from the book to go to work. It was all I could think about throughout my shift!

All in all, this was a great debut novel that I’ll probably read again in the future. I loved the world-building, although there could have been more detail about the wars and the quadrants themselves, such as a closer look at Ludia. The palace sounded fascinating, and I loved the relationships between the queens, how they worked hard to take care of their lands even when their clashing personalities sometimes made things difficult. The murders themselves were also thrilling, Ms. Scholte carefully concealing the gender of the assassin to keep our minds open about who it could be. I honestly didn’t guess until it was revealed, and I’m super happy I didn’t see the twist coming.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Ms. Scholte and her work. I give Four Dead Queens four stars out of five!

4stars

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10 Awesome Facts About Mt. Fuji, Japan’s Tallest Mountain

Mt. Fuji, or Fuji-san (富士山) as called by locals, is a volcanic mountain in Japan that has been used in art, literature, and mythology for centuries. This instantly recognisable mountain is well loved and awe-inspiring, prompting millions to visit and thousands to climb every year.

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Here are ten awesome facts about Mt. Fuji.

1. It’s in the Top 50 Tallest Mountains in the World

As well as being the highest in Japan, according to PeakList, Mt. Fuji ranks at the 35th tallest mountain in the world!

2. It Last Erupted Over 300 Years Ago

Mt. Fuji is one of the many volcanoes in Japan, and its last recorded eruption was on the 16th December 1707.

3. It Could Erupt Again Anytime

though it’s been centuries since its last eruption, geologists classify Mt. Fuji as dormant, and technically speaking, it could erupt again anytime. Needless to say, scientists are keeping a close eye on this mighty volcano just in case.

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4. It Can Only be Climbed at Certain Times of the Year

Even the most experienced of hikers are greatly discouraged from attempting to climb Mt. Fuji outside of climbing season, which is from July to September. The tricky conditions mean that it’s incredibly dangerous to attempt to get to the top outside summer.

5. The Oldest Recorded Person to Reach the Summit was 103 Years Old

Japan Times told the story of Masashi Toyoda, a 93-year-old man who reached the mountain’s peak in 2017. Though this is indisputably impressive, and many elderly people climb Fuji every year, according to Sengen Taisha, the oldest ever recorded climber was a whopping 103 years of age.

6. The First Non-Japanese Person to Climb Mt. Fuji was a British Man

Sir Rutherford Alcock (1809-1897) was the first diplomatic representative to live in Japan. He was also the first recorded non-Japanese person to scale the mighty mountain.

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7. Women Weren’t Allowed to Climb it Until the Late 19th Century

The name “Fuji” is said to come from the Ainu people’s Fire Goddess “Huchi” or “Fuchi,” and that since she would have gotten jealous of any woman on the mountain, females weren’t allowed to approach it until the 1860s.

8. There’s a Proverb Saying You Should Only Climb it Once

There is a famous Japanese saying: “A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice.” Of course, no one is actually discouraged from hiking the mountain more than once anymore.

9. There’s a Realm of the Living and the Realm of the Dead

Mt. Fuji is partly famous for the many myths and folklore surrounding it, filling it with a sense of mystery and magic. The stark borders between the mountain’s forest greenery and its lava-burned rock are rumoured to be the doorways between the realms of the living and the dead.

10. You Can Enjoy Amazing Views of Mt. Fuji All Over Japan

Due to its central location, there are hundreds of viewing spots of this gorgeous mountain all over the country. These include Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, parks, other mountains, various well-placed ryokans (Japanese hotels), or from one of its five surrounding lakes. While hiking or enjoying a day out, it’s always a nice bonus when you can catch a glimpse of Fuji on a clear day.

Mt. Fuji is an icon of this great country and thousands more every year challenge the mountain’s trails to try and reach the top. How many of these facts did you know?

7 Drinks From Japanese Convenience Stores

There’s a reason local konbinis are considered convenient in Japan. There is a 7-11, Family Mart, Lawson, the Daily Yamazaki, or another brand of shop on pretty much every street in the country, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, selling food, drinks, makeup, toiletries, gift cards, magazines, and other necessities.

Japan never fails to impress with its endless choices of drinks. I’ll talk about alcohol in another article, so this post is mostly about the different drinks you can grab while you’re on the go. You won’t just find instant coffee, but an impressive variety of thirst-quenchers that go beyond the usual sodas and fruit juices. Here are a few examples.

1. Kiwami Cafe au Lait by Wonda

Canned coffee is a wonderfully weird phenomenon. I try not to buy it too often as it’s often loaded with sugar, but I was jonesing and the word “Kiwami” caught my eye – it’s the name of one of the famous Yakuza video games, which my husband loves. This sweet cup-o-joe-in-a-can was yummy.

2. Butter Matcha

I’m one of those people who just love matcha lattes. I always try different brands but again, try not to drink them too much because of their high sugar content. “Butter matcha,” alongside the “butter coffee,” looked so weird I just had to try it.

I should have looked closer. See the picture of the fit woman in the background? And see the zero at the top? Since when has a healthy version of anything been delicious?!

This nasty, watery mess was disgusting. Don’t buy it.

3. Hojicha Latte

DUDE! Hojicha, or roasted green tea, is just awesome. If you’re not keen on sweet lattes, at least try real hojicha at some point if you come to Japan. There are quite a few hojicha lattes out there, and this one was creamy and delicious.

4. Sakura Chocolate with Strawberry Jelly by Starbucks

I mentioned this drink in another post, appearing right after Valentine’s Day in time for the much-loved cherry blossom season. It’s an imitation of their sakura drinks (way more expensive if you buy them in an actual Starbucks, and ranging from 200-300 yen in a convenience store).

It was a little too much for me, but I understand why those with a sweet tooth might enjoy it.

5. Chocolat Drink by Ken’s Cafe Tokyo

Now this is the kind of sweet drink I can get behind. It’s not really a chocolate milkshake, though it was served cold; it was creamy, rich, and pretty much a dessert in a cup. If you’re a chocoholic, I can recommend this one.

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6. Cafe Latte by Georgia

(Sorry, I drank this one before taking the picture).

I’ve loved Georgia’s cafe lattes for ages, and you can usually find them in vending machines or the ‘HOT’ section of convenience stores. Just keep in mind that konbinis usually struggle to keep their ‘hot’ drinks, well… hot. A lukewarm Georgia coffee is still nice on a cold day. Just remember that it’s sweet.

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7. Yasai Days Vegetable and Fruit

This is my favourite drink of all time! The photo below is the drink at a supermarket and the convenience store packaging may be different, but it’s all the same stuff. Yasai Days has LOADS of different fruit and veg inside, including lemon, apple, spinach, kale, carrot, bell peppers, and more.

It apparently contains all your vitamin C for the day. Drinking this stuff is really good for you and it tastes nice, too; most juice, like pure orange juice, is far too sweet. Definitely give this one a try. It’s good for ya.

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I’ll probably add more to this list as time goes on. What’s your favourite konbini drink?

Cook-It-Yourself Monjayaki: How to Experience This Tokyo Dish

Monjayaki is a Tokyo-based Japanese dish that, despite being delicious and diverse, doesn’t seem to be as well-known as other foods such as sushi, ramen, tempura, and sashimi.

Maybe it’s because it doesn’t look as good as the others. To be fair, while it’s cooking, it looks like mush at best. Don’t let it deter you, though; the flavour makes up for it. There are plenty of monjayaki places in and around Tokyo. It’s the capital’s answer to the better-known okonomiyaki, a cabbage-based dish that came about in west Japan when there was a shortage of rice.

 

What can be intimidating about monjayaki is that you’re expected to cook it yourself. Sometimes, during quieter times in a restaurant, a waiter will do it for you, but this isn’t always guaranteed.

There are various monjayaki restaurants dotted around Tokyo and beyond, but a great place to try different kinds is Tsukishima’s Monja Street.

Step 1

The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of monja you’d like to eat. The dish consists of cabbage, various vegetables, and flour, but the possibilities for fillings are virtually endless. Here are some fillings you might find.

  • Pork
  • Mochi (small, chewy lumps of pounded rice)
  • Kimchi (spicy Korean cabbage)
  • Cheese
  • Garlic
  • Prawns
  • Spring onion
  • Corned beef
  • Curry (very weird, never tried it)
  • Ginger
  • Mentaiko (salted pollock roe; one of my favourites)

The types of available fillings depend on the restaurant, but pork, kimchi, and prawns wherever you go.

Step 2

The waiting staff will bring a bowl of raw ingredients to your teppan, or table with a hotplate. They should also switch the hotplate on for you. After spreading some oil onto the hotplate, mix all of the ingredients together in the bowl.

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Step 3

When it’s all mixed together, pour the ingredients onto the hotplate, leaving the liquid in the bowl. Make a sort of crater or circle in the middle like in the photo below.

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Step 4

Pour the liquid in the middle.

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Step 5

Let it bubble!

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Step 6

When it’s ready (a couple of minutes of bubbling until the ingredients are cooked), use a moji-bera, or small metal spatula provided, to scrape bits of the delicious mix onto your plate. From your plate, you can eat it with chopsticks.

This rich and flavoursome dish doesn’t look all that great, but it’s soooo good. One serving is about enough for one person, so if you’re sharing, be sure to order more than one. Most monja places also serve okonomiyaki, so an ideal meal for two is one serving of monja and one serving of okonomiyaki.

That’s how you cook your own monjayaki! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.