Posts Tagged ‘ramen’

Morning ramen, breakfast of Tokyoites

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

First slurp of the morning to ya.

The new early bird special: quick, cheap and filling ramen

Summer is here, finally, in all its hot, sticky, muggy-with-a-chance-of-rain glory. What better way to recover from a jammed morning train and get ready for the work day than with a nice . . . steaming bowl of ramen? That’s how a growing number of Tokyo office workers are starting their days, if Walker Plus is to be believed.

Asa-raa, Japanese shorthand for “morning ramen,” is something of a tradition in other parts of the country like Shizuoka and Fukushima. Now it’s making inroads into Tokyo Metro city limits, with an increasing number of shops in business areas offering morning-only deals. Mezamashi TV reported that there were only 20 or so ramen shops open in the morning 10 years ago. The Japanese website Ramen Database now lists 65 shops in Tokyo that are open either early or non-stop, with some ladling out noodles as early as six or seven.

A quick bowl of noodles in the wee hours is to many hungry Japanese drinkers what a late-night slice of pizza is to a New Yorker or a curry for a Londoner. In contrast to the heavy booze-sopping broth popular in the late-night incarnation, the breakfast version often features a lighter soup, fewer toppings and a smaller portion of noodles. Keika near Shinjuku Station opens at 6:30 am, and Hinomaru in Shinbashi opens at 6.

The appeal? Those interviewed on Mezamashi said the top draws were that it was cheap, quick and filling. The early bird specials are often ¥100 or so less than the rest of the day, with many at the magical ¥500 “one coin” price point. Some said that with a belly full of noodles, they were fortified enough to wait until after the noon lunch rush subsided to get lunch, while some said a bowl of asa-ra let them skip lunch all together.

Skipping lunch could make after-work drinks on an empty stomach a little rough. And thus the day might end as it began, with a nice… steaming bowl of ramen.

Have you tried ramen in the morning? Would you?

The link for Mezamashi TV is on its own down here because we wanted to warn you that it launches loud.

Ramen photo by mahiro1322.

Pulsations (06.23.10)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Pulsations? Glad you asked. They’re links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are …

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.”

To instant noodles, we slurp-salute you

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Instant noodlesThis week we celebrate the anniversary of the instant noodle in Japan, which was first introduced on Aug. 25, 1958. Much loved by students on a budget, most instant noodles take only 3 minutes to prepare once you’ve added some hot water. Below are some recommendations for next time you’re in the convenience store.

  • The original and the best, Nissin’s instant cook Chicken Ramen. These were invented by Momofuku Ando in response to post-war food shortages. The noodles were seasoned, fried and then dehydrated before being packaged into bricks. They were called magic noodles because of their miraculous transformation into real food. (There is a scene in Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” where Ponyo is totally gobsmacked watching instant noodles being made for the first time.) Traditionally a raw egg is cracked into the finished mixture and Nissin’s adverts for Chicken Ramen still show the meal being prepared this way.
  • Robot fans might want to get their mitts on these Gundam Cup Noodles that come with a free Gundam figure. Nissin is still the biggest player in the instant noodle market with their Cup Noodle range. Ando also invented the Styrofoam cup which is used to this day.
  • So cute: Q-cup do a range of instant noodles that have naruto (small fish cakes which traditionally have a swirl in them) with really cute pig faces on them. They’re worth trying just for the kawaii (cute) factor.
  • Cup Noodle has also cornered the market on weird flavors, none stranger, in my opinion, than the cheese curry flavor. Try it at your peril.
  • My last choice is a personal favorite. There aren’t very many spicy cup noodle flavors in Japan, but if you like chillis this will blow your socks off. Ace Cook’s Tantanmen is not only packed with chillis but it also has a special spicy sauce to add too.

Ramen otaku already know this … but if you want to learn about instant noodles visit the Momofuku Ando instant noodle museum in Osaka.

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