Posts Tagged ‘No Konbeni No Life’

No Konbini No Life: instant maze-soba

Friday, May 14th, 2010

mazesoba2

Instant maze-soba is light on the toppings, which makes it far from faithful to the original.

Nissin launched its line of Cup Noodle instant ramen products in 1966, and to this day it continues to be a big seller, thanks to its low price, portability and reliable taste. Not much can be said for the names and flavors – Cup Noodle, Seafood and Curry are all about being no-nonsense and utilitarian. It’s the kind of generic, survivalist grub that you know the Dharma Initiative would love.

mazesoba1

Myojo Foods’ Maze-soba instant ramen, the latest ramen trend to hit konbini shelves.

While the first generation of instant ramen products may have been lacking in creativity, recent instant-ramen products have finally caught up with the innovations of the past decade’s ramen boom. Buttery Sapporo miso ramen, stinky Fukuoka tonkotsu ramen . . . if it’s popular on the ramen scene, you can probably find an instant version on the shelf of your local convenience store.

One of the newest products on the market is Myojo Foods’ maze-soba. Using Hiroshi Osaki, founder of the RamenBank online database, to promote the product, Myoji clearly wants to capitalize on the recent maze-soba boom. Maze-soba literally means “mixed noodles,” and it is very different from regular ramen. There is hardly any soup at all, but there are tons of toppings, and many of them – such as poached pork fat, raw garlic, raw egg, cheese and crispy noodles – are far more eclectic than normal ramen. Mix it all up and you get a goopy juxtaposition of flavors and textures.

Unfortunately, Myojo’s instant maze-soba is just a variant on the yakisoba style of soup-less instant noodles, which you steep in boiling water and then drain via a small outlet on the lid. The noodles are thick, but the kit contains only a very small amount of toppings, mostly dried bacon and cabbageit doesn’t even begin to approximate the complete maze-soba experience. That said, the sauce is better than the sweet sauce included with yakisoba, so it isn’t a total loss. If you’re looking for something filling, however, it might be best to stick with the tried and true Cup Noodle.

Maze-soba can be yours in just five minutes.

Maze-soba can be yours in just five minutes.

And while we’re on the topic, if you’re looking for online resources to follow the latest ramen trends, there’s plenty out there. In addition to the RamenBank, the Ramen Database is great for keeping up to date on the latest ramen restaurants. There’s also a number of fanatic English-language bloggers covering the ramen scene, and three in particular have received a notable amount of press over the past three months: Brian MacDuckston (Ramen Adventures), Keizo Shimamoto (Go Ramen) and Nate Shockey (Ramenate). Having first met online by commenting on each other’s blogs, they eventually started hunting down rare bowls of noodles together. They often end their excursions at Bassanova, the ramen shop where they first met and where Shimamoto is currently a full-time employee.

MacDuckston guided New York Times’ “Frugal Traveller” Matt Gross around Tokyo, helping him find material for his late-January article “One Noodle at a Time in Tokyo.” In its April issue, Japanese magazine Courrier published a translation of Gross’ article in the regular monthly section “Sekai ga mita Nippon” (Japan as seen by the world), in which they examine how Japan is being reported abroad. You’d be hard pressed to find better insight to Japan’s ramen world than these three websites.

When it comes good places to eat freshly made maze-soba, both Brian and Nate seemed to enjoy Junk Ramen  in Saitama Prefecture, which helped put maze-soba on the map, thanks in part to its connection with the super popular tsukemen restaurant Rokurinsha. “It’s just junk food,” says MacDuckston of maze-soba. “It doesn’t care about presentation. It’s just about the tastiest, fattiest things going into the bowl. The most satisfying things.”

Baum cake blitz

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

baumkuchen

As convenience store chains go, Family Mart is one of the nicest. The quality and cleanliness always seems to be higher than average, which perhaps explains why minimalist retail store Muji chose it as the convenience store to carry Muji products. Or maybe it’s simply because both were originally part of the Seiyu Group, a large conglomerate and operator of Japanese supermarkets.

Many Family Mart locations stock a limited selection of Muji pens, pencils, stationery, condoms, underwear and snacks – tasty old-school snacks such as yogurt-covered cranberries, caramel-flavored marshmallows and chocolate-covered clumps of peanuts. The products rotate in and out, and Muji has kept a monthly column introducing new products and listing popular items since April 2006.

One particularly addictive item is Muji’s line of baumkuchen – known to many Americans as baum cake. Muji stores carry the full line of flavors: banana, sweet potato, pumpkin, milk tea, chocolate-iced chestnut and salt chocolate. A thin cut of circular baum sells for ¥158. Smaller “stick” sizes sell for ¥105 and are available in plain, purple sweet potato and black cocoa. The two newest flavors are lemon and strawberry, both of which are topped with icing and thus are noticeably sweeter than the others.

Family Marts usually offer one or two varieties, and recently the Family Mart near me has been selling the lemon flavor. It’s been two weeks since I discovered this, and I’m averaging 2.5 baums a week.

The non-iced flavors are all very subtly sweet, perfect for the Japanese palate. This may explain the baum-cake madness that can be witnessed outside of Nenrinya cake shops – customers regularly line up for hours in lines that extend over 1 km to buy cuts of gourmet baumkuchen for souvenirs. A single “ridge” of baum runs ¥1,239. Even if you don’t stand in line, it’s always fun to watch the baumkuchen cook on rotisseries in the windows of stores.

All the leaves are brown . . . and the chips are purple

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Calbee's Jagabee purple potato snack

Calbee’s Jagabee purple potato snack

As the leaves begin slowly to change color on the trees, so too do the products lining the shelves of our local convenience store. Many products, such as Calbee ç Purple Potato pot of potato chips, can only be bought during a particular season.

These chips are made from an unusual variety of purple potato called Inca Purple grown in Hokkaido that contains a naturally occurring pigment called anthocyanin. While Calbee aren’t promoting this snack as a health food, the pigment is an anti-oxidant and has been found to reduce the occurence of stomach cancer in mice.

When we bit into the chip it did taste rather greasy. However, we liked the rough cut natural look of the product and thought that the salt flavor was the perfect complement to its slightly sweet taste. While this purple snack won’t be inspiring any prose of the same hue, we thoroughly recommend it as a more natural alternative to your workaday processed product.

If you’d like to try a pack, don’t forget that they’ll be off the shelves in three months.

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