Posts Tagged ‘ramen’

Fun for one, online and off

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

While Japan’s konkatsu, or “marriage hunting” boom is into its third year, it seems that Japanese companies are embracing the fact that there are plenty of people out there who are rolling solo. Pulse has looked at a yakiniku restaurant that takes the embarrassment out of cooking meat by yourself, as well as places that serve ramen for one and cater especially to women looking to grab a solo drink and snack on the way home.

Dinner for two... sort of.

For the working woman who simply wants to have a relaxed meal at home with a little — and only a little — company, there’s the iPhone app Kare to gohan (Dinner with My Boyfriend). The English version is called PlusBoys. The app has photos of clean-cut young men who each have personality profiles and back stories: Biker and college student Tatsuya is “friendly, but a luck pusher. He likes going to rock festivals by himself.” There are photos of each of them whipping up a meal for two, accompanied by screens of cheerful “welcome home” banter. The instructions warn that checking on more than one character might make them jealous. (Is nothing simple?) As you proceed through the stories, you can buy new characters from within the app.

For guys, there are a handful of apps that will liven up a dinner for one – or make you seem popular with the ladies when you’re out with friends. That is, as long as your friends don’t see who’s actually calling: These apps send you “phone calls” from anime characters or, equally unlikely to actually call you, pop stars. A recent version of Dream Call requires you to pick up the phone and make appropriate “I’m listening” noises in response to the recorded pre-programmed chat and scores you on your “mm-hmms” and “I sees.”

And then, for the . . .  actually, we’re not sure who this is for. Hatofuru kareshi (pigeon boyfriend) is a dating simulation game where you are a second-year student at the St. Pigeonation high school, finding yourself increasingly attracted to your male classmates, who are all pigeons. If it comes to this, please, put down the iPhone and get out of the house.

While you’re out there, may we suggest checking out OneKara, the new karaoke place for soloists only? There’s no shame in a little hitokara. Rent a room for one and rock your own socks off.

Cola Lemon KitKat? Let’s take a vote on that

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The best drinks created on Creap Cafe Producer will actually go on sale in cafes

In Japan, where new varieties of familiar products appear and disappear with the seasons, consumers are often left feeling bereft when their favorite flavor suddenly becomes unavailable. “What happened to that delicious Milk Tea KitKat?” shoppers moan as they scour konbini shelves for that elusive treat. But a couple of campaigns from Nestle and Nissin have brought a small degree of relief to those suffering from this first world problem.

Both companies launched grand election campaigns this year, allowing customers to vote for the reintroduction of their favorite flavor. Nissin kicked things off earlier this year with its Cup Noodle election campaign. Visitors to the election website were able to vote for their favorite retro flavor out of a possible 73 options. The winning product, with 133,144 votes was tempura soba, and will be available in stores from January next year.

Not to be outdone, Nestle, the maker of KitKat, has also launched an almost identical campaign in which voters online get to choose their favorite discontinued variety of the chocolately snack. However, KitKat’s campaign is a little more limited in scope: the candidates include only 19 varieties. And one of my friends did grumble that their favorite Cola Lemon KitKat didn’t make the list.

Continue reading about consumer elections →

Cool foods for a chilled-out summer

Friday, July 1st, 2011

For obvious reasons, many of the summer’s food trends are being geared to beat the heat, from unusual sauces for somen (cold noodles) to original recipes for chilled seafood ramen.

Kagome's tomato somen tsuyu serving suggestion

According to Nikkei Trendy, the somen tsuyu (sauce) trend, which began back in 2008, has really caught on this year. While somen has always traditionally been served with shiso (green perilla) as a garnish, Yamasa was the first company to incorporate that flavor into a somen tsuyu. These new readymade sauces, which fall somewhere between salad dressing and soup, are designed to be splashed on top of somen and go well with salad, vegetables or meat. Since the product’s launch, Yamasa has brought out different flavors each year (this year’s is yuzu and pepper), but  according to Nikkei Trendy, the most popular product by far has been their chilled curry sauce; the novel idea of cold curry is said to appeal to young and old.

Yamasa isn’t the only food company riding the trend.  Kikkoman launched their first Salad Men Tsuyu in 2010 (shredded onion, vinegar and olive oil flavor) and this year have added an extra yuzu ponzu flavor to the range. Mizkan, Kagome and Marumiya also launched similar sauces in 2010. Kagome’s tomato tsuyu was particularly popular, echoing the success of their tomato nabe sauces. The trend definitely echoes the winter nabe soup trend we wrote about late last year, in that both give a Western twist to traditional Japanese cuisine.

In restaurants, Tokyo Walker has spotted  new types of chilled ramen being served with seafood, such as eel, snapper and shrimp. Though “traditional” chilled ramen has been a specialty of Yamagata since the 50s (and is served there no matter the season) it’s really took off nationwide in recent years as a cooling food for summer months. Eel too is seen as a cooling food, so the idea of using it instead of slices of pork to ease our woes during an especially difficult summer is a no-brainer.

Foodies might want to take note of the Tokyo Walker’s seafood cold ramen restaurant recommendations for the summer: Chilled sea bream soup ¥780 from Shinmen Shirohachi; chilled seafood soup ¥900 from Menya Busashibukots; and conger eel and green tea soup ¥980 from Men Yashiyouno.

Table for one? Right this way

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Eating yakiniku alone can be embarrassing but a new restaurant aims to change that

Many people in Japan feel that slapping some meat down on a sizzling grill while chatting about your day is a fundamentally social experience. That’s probably why you’ll get some strange looks if you go into a yakiniku restaurant and ask for a table for one. But a new restaurant in Ueno has taken away the stigma for lonely yakiniku lovers.

Hitori (one person), which opened on April 14, caters exclusively to solo diners. Each booth in the restaurant is equipped with its own grill and servings are just enough for one. The layout is reminiscent of an Internet cafe as the booths shield the diner from prying eyes, allowing them to indulge their carnivorous gluttony without shame.

Rocket News, who went to evaluate this new dining experience, gave it the thumbs up, describing the meat as extremely reasonable for the price: slices of karubi (beef ribs), for instance, come in at ¥250 and harami (tender meat from the diaphragm) is ¥190. They also think the restaurant will be a big hit with female diners.

According to “What Japan Thinks” a survey taken in 2009 by DIMSDRIVE shows that Japanese diners are particularly reluctant to eat yakiniku alone: Only 4 percent of respondents said they often ate out alone at yakiniku restaurants. The survey also showed that while women are comfortable eating out in fast food restaurants and cafes, they were significantly less likely to eat out alone in sushi bars, ramen stores, beef bowl restaurants and izakaya (taverns).

(more…)

New-style ramen targets female noodle-lovers

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Old school ramen, high in calories and sodium, is often seen by women as a naughty treat.

Traditionally, men tend to make up the majority of customers in ramen shops. Because it’s high in calories and sodium, and low in vitamins and fiber, ramen is often looked on by women as a naughty treat. But new styles of ramen that feature a lighter stock and healthier ingredients are proliferating, and this has had the knock-on effect of attracting more female customers.

According to Nikkei Woman Online, one of the driving forces behind the trend is Italian ramen. Taiyo no Tomatomen Next, in the Shinjuku MyLord shopping complex, specializes in making a ramen with a light tomato and chicken soup stock. In Ebisu there’s a little mobile ramen stall that serves up Genova Ton Shio Ramen, which has basil and cherry tomato on top of a salty soup stock. Both shops appear to be extremely popular with women: 90 percent of Taiyo no Tomatomen’s customers are female.

Though the lighter soups are attractive to women on a diet, the fusion aspect of the meal is winning points. Taiyo no Tomatomen do a cheese topping for one of their noodle soups, and fresh cream is the surprise ingredient in Boku no Miso Ramen, served at restaurant chain Ramen Kagetsuarashi. The butter bolognaise-style ramen, designed by celebrity chef Tatsuya Kawagoe, also contains ground pork and three types of miso paste.

But it’s not just about Italian fusion. One ramen shop in Takadanobaba has made a collagen ramen aimed at women. Potano San No Beji Pota Soup, which is also high in fiber, is said to give you glowing skin. In Nakano, the cooks at Heibon make Yasai Tappuri ramen, which is filled with 12 different kinds of veggies, including bean sprouts, cloud ear mushrooms and carrots. Reportedly popular with women, the dish is only available one day a month.

Presentation also appears to be a factor in attracting female clientele. Nidaime Ebi Soba Keisuke in Takadanobaba uses elegant crockery and serves up a shrimp soba in a sweet teacup. Their sweet shrimp and white soy sauce ramen is also popular with women and around 40 percent of the store’s clientele are female.

Women who want to find out more about female-friendly ramen stores can consult Jyosei Ramen-bu (Women’s Ramen Club) or read the book written by the website’s authors. There’s also a website All Japan Women’s Noodle Association which, since 2009, has been introducing not only ramen but other kinds of noodles to female gourmets across the country.

Trends in Japan 2010: food and drink

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This year’s hottest product, quite literally, was taberu rayu, a spicy sauce that made it into the top keywords of the year and even beat smart phones to the top spot of Nikkei Trendy’s hit product list for 2010. Back in July we reported on how the chili-infused condiment, which contains minced onion and garlic, had gone from a foodie novelty to one of the Japan’s hottest new sauces in just under a year. Figuring out that it tasted delicious on burgers, big-name brands like Mos Burger picked up the trend and ran with it. The chain’s crunchy rayu burger, designed by Terry Ito, was a huge hit this summer.

Sales of All-Free were suspended in August due to high demand

Japan’s unusually hot summer was cited as part of the reason behind the taberu rayu craze (spicy food is said to be cooling in hot weather), and other brands profited from the sweltering temperatures as well. Stocks of Japan’s favorite retro ice lolly Garigari-kun were dangerously low at one point during the summer, causing makers to officially apologize to disappointed customers. Suntory also found it hard to keep up with demand for their new All-Free non alcoholic low calorie beer, and in August, according to Daily Yomiuri, were forced to temporarily suspend sales until September.

One of the more unusual food trends to break over the summer was the new Tokyo-based fad for chowing down on a big bowl of ramen noodle broth for breakfast. The idea is for busy workers to stock up on calories ahead of a grueling day, enabling them to either skip lunch or grab a small snack on the fly during the day. While the number of restaurants serving ramen has increased in recent years, the trend hasn’t quite reached epidemic proportions yet. The idea of morning mochi provided an attractive alternative to those seeking a seeking a hearty breakfast at home: Marushin’s Good Morning Breakfast Mochi, launched in April this year, proved much more popular than the company initially expected with sales figures 180 percent higher than the company’s typical mochi sales.

On the marketing end of things, dozens of companies tried to cash in the Ryoma Sakamoto boom, spurred by the popularity of the yearlong NHK taiga drama “Ryomanden.” Be it associated with burgers, soft drinks, ramen chips, curry, or beer — the face of the legendary samurai was everywhere.

Dining out continued to get cheaper during 2010 as izakaya scrambled to outdo each other with cut-price deals. The biggest gimmick of 2010 was offering free drinks of shochu to get customers through the doors. Another gimmick, which isn’t so new but was in full effect during 2010, was the use of cute young girls to entice male custom. We’re not only talking about Hooters’ arrival in Japan, which opened its doors for the first time this year in Japan but other establishments such as Katsuyama Dojo Style Pub and Nadeshico Sushi, which also entered the restaurant market: Both establishments hired bevies of cute girls to serve food to, mostly likely, an exclusively male clientele.

Taking stock: new trends for the Japanese hot pot

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The supermarket shelves stock an ever widening variety of nabe

The supermarket shelves stock an ever widening variety of nabe

Nabe is comfort food for many Japanese, a proletarian dish that brings people together to share from a bubbling hot pot of goodness. Of late, though, this traditional dish has seen some mutations, such as curry nabe, cheese nabe, tomato nabe and even collagen nabe, all aimed at satisfying the public’s appetite for novelty.

The proliferation of new readymade nabe soup-stock products also gave time-strapped consumers a wider choice of ready-made stock. According to Asahi.com, food companies such as Kagome and Nagatanien have taken their tips for nabe trends from restaurants that push the nabe envelope. For instance, when in 2006, curry nabe appeared on the menu at Denshibou in Sangenjaya, the following year saw instant curry nabe stock, like this curry nabe from House, appear on supermarket shelves.

The collagen nabe boom followed in 2008 and was extremely popular with women looking to take advantage of the reported skin-smoothing benefits of chicken or pork collagen. Next up was tomato nabe in 2009. That year both Kagome and Nagatanien introduced tomato nabe soup stocks that proved hugely popular with children, as the rich red soup stock goes well with either cheese or eggs to produce kid-friendly pizza nabe or omuraisu (rice omelette) nabe concoctions.

This year it look like ramen nabe will rule the dinner table – or that’s what Nissin, who’ve just brought out two new types of ramen nabe stock, is banking on. Will this latest product enjoy the same success as its predecessors? A strong indication that it might is the fact that the dish has been appearing in many Tokyo restaurants lately: Umibun Nabebun in Hamamatsu make a ramen nabe, Manbutaki in Sangenjiaya serve up a rafute (okinawan glazed pork belly) nabe and Chiyomoranma in Kanda do a chicken leek ramen nabe.

So what makes ramen nabe different from normal ramen? Well,  in the case of all the above restaurants, you cook your nabe on a pot over a burner at your own table instead of having it served to you. Also, like other nabe and unlike traditional ramen, you add plenty of vegetables. If you’re cooking at home, what you put in your ramen nabe soup is up to you but if you need guidelines, check out this recipe on Cookpad.

While Nissin’s ramen nabe, which comes in both tonkotsu and chicken with soy sauce flavors, looks set to take off as the next big thing in Japanese supermarkets, there might be one last obstacle standing in the company’s way: This year’s unusually hot summer has seen vegetable prices soar. As consuming lots of tasty green veggies is one of the main attractions of cooking up a pot of nabe, many consumers may think twice before they decide to cook up a healthy hot pot.

Japan by the numbers (07.29.10)

Friday, July 30th, 2010

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