Grilled as you like it

Ichiran Ramen September 28, 2008

Filed under: Eating,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 12:02 am
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After our trip to Yokohama Chinatown, we returned to Tokyo. We did some shopping in the sporting goods district in the Jimbocho area. We returned to Ueno station and had time to grab a bowl of ramen for dinner before we had to catch our train home. We went to Ichiran, a well known ramen shop that specializes in tonkotsu, Kyushu’s rich pork broth for ramen. The chain is based in Hakata, the home of tonkotsu.

At the door, you tell the hostess how many seats you’ll need at the counter while you buy your tickets for your ramen and toppings. The seating area is actually a long counter with individual “stalls” to provide customers with some privacy from the patrons to their right and left while they eat. After you’re seated, you fill out a sheet with options to personalize your ramen: how rich do you like your broth, how spicy, a lot of onion or a little, how well done do you like your noodles, and so on. You place your sheet and meal tickets on the bar in front of you, and a server comes to the other side of the counter and takes your tickets. A few minutes later, you recieve a steaming bowl of ramen prepared to your specifications. Since you’ve already payed, just eat and leave when you’re finished. Someone will probably be waiting to take your seat as soon as you stand up.

The menu is fairly bare bones: it’s pretty much just the bowl of ramen and some optional add-ins such as a soft boiled egg, kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), extra pork, extra noodles, and some drinks. What they lack in variety they make up for in quality. I really recommend the soft-boiled egg (han-yude tamago), which is cooked just right here. Alex got the kikurage with his ramen, which is pictured above. The broth is rich, creamy, and flavorful and the noodles are tasty too. If you have an average apetite, this bowl of ramen will surely fill you up, and if you eat more than the average Joe, you can order extra noodles. If you’re sensitive to spice like me, look out for the chili sauce that you can add to the broth: it’s hot!

The restaurant is located in the Ueno Station building, so it was really convenient for us to grab a quick dinner here before heading home. If you find yourself in Ueno with some time to spare, I recommend you check out Ichiran for a bowl of delicious tonkotsu ramen. It’s even open 24 hours a day, how convenient!


Yokohama Chinatown September 27, 2008

Filed under: Eating,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 11:32 pm
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I’ve been pretty busy lately, so I’ve been gathering a lot of photos, but I haven’t had time to post them. I’ll be trying to catch up with some posts about our summer adventures over the next few weeks.

a popular shop selling nikuman, steamed pork buns

A few weeks ago, Alex and I took the train down to Yokohama to check out the famous Chinatown there. Once you pass through one of the many gates marking the entrance to Chinatown, you will notice souvenir shops, Chinese groceries, tea shops, and arcades, but most of all, there are Chinese restaurants. There are probably a hundred or more Chinese restaurants packed into an area that’s just a few blocks in each direction. Many of the restaurants offered overpriced dim sum buffets, while others sold just a few specialties, such as dumplings, steamed buns, or ramen.

charshu-man, steamed pork buns filled with Chinese-style barbecued pork

Alex and I picked out a restaurant that had rows of glossy roasted ducks and chickens hanging in the window, and a substantial waiting list. We found, however, that the dim sum plates were small, even for two, and the service was often slow and forgetful, so we didn’t leave feeling like we had gotten our money’s worth. We did, however, leave with pretty full stomachs after trying a good variety of dishes.I think if we were to go to Chinatown again in the future, I would skip the dim-sum buffets and pick and choose dishes from the dumpling vendors that line the streets or the shops that let you order just one dish (for a lower price of course).

A popular ingredients in Chinatown is fuka-hire, or shark’s fin, but I’m not a big fan since it’s not very sustainable to hunt such a large fish just to eat the fins and throw the rest away. I don’t think it has much flavor anyways, it’s more of a texture thing I guess. So I was avoiding a fair number of items on the menu.

One dish that I was glad to get because I can’t seem to find it in Gunma was the charshu-man, steamed buns filled with charshu, Chinese barbecued pork. I think they’re much tastier than the regular niku-man that you can find at convenience stores. I also had my favorite dim-sum dessert of sesame balls.

Shark’s fins hanging in a shop window in Chinatown

After lunch it was raining, so we didn’t hang out for too much longer. We did take some time to go to a few of the Chinese groceries to pick up some ingredients so that we can try making our own dim-sum at home sometime. I got some dried lotus leaves and Chinese sausage for making lotus-leaf wrapped sticky rice and we also picked up a variety of seasonings like chili-garlic sauce, tobanjiang (chili bean paste), and fermented black beans. I’m looking forward to trying some new recipes soon!

This kitty know’s where the good stuff’s at, “Let me in…”

Copyright 2008 LMS


Giant white bean and chick pea salad September 21, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,recipes — laurel @ 10:30 pm
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I’m excited to try some recipes from my new salad cookbook, おなかいっぱい サラダ (Onaka Ippai Salada, Full Stomach Salads). Although most salad cooking is more assembling than cooking, I had bought the book because it featured a good variety of Asian flavored salad dressings. I’m hoping to make more dressing at home instead of buying bottled dressing so that I can be sure that I’m eating only wholesome or at least recognizable ingredients with my healthy salad lunches.The book also has some interesting salad combinations that I’m looking forward to.

The first recipe that I tried was a recipe for a creamy two-bean salad. The beans are chick peas and Japanese white beans, which are much larger than typical white beans that I would find at home. Make sure to soak the beans and cook the two types separately in case they don’t cook at the same rate. The recipe also features the ever-popular Japanese kewpie mayonnaise. I substituted rice vinegar for the white wine vinegar since that’s what I have on hand and the flavor was fine. In addition to the fresh parsley called for in the recipe, I also added some minced fresh thyme. The earthy flavor of the time was a good match for the otherwise simple flavor of the beans and mayonnaise. This salad made a great simple and tasty side dish for my lunch.

White Bean and Chick Pea Salad

adapted from Komatsuzaki Akemi, Onaka Ippai Salada

80 grams dried giant white beans (190 grams cooked)
80 grams dried chick peas (190 grams cooked)
1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 clove of minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced white onion
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
grated Parmesan or Romano cheese to taste
minced parsley (or other fresh herbs) to taste

Soak beans (separately) overnight. Boil until tender. Drain.

Put white beans and chick peas in a bowl. Add vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and onion. Mix. Refrigerate until chilled.

Add mayonnaise. Mix.

Before serving top with grated Parmesan cheese and minced parsley.

copyright 2008 LMS


Taki’s Soba September 12, 2008

Recently my supervisor invited me to his house to play Wii with his kids and have handmade soba for dinner. We had gone out for soba lunch before and talked about how I would miss fresh soba in America because I can’t get it there. He said he likes to make soba a few times a year and would like us to join him for dinner. After we arrived he set up the Wii and we played a few games together before he snuck away to make the soba. I was a little distracted by the games, so I didn’t get to see the whole noodle-making process, but here are some photos that I was able to get between turns on Wii Sports.

First he mixed the buckwheat flour, a little bit of wheat flour for elasticity, and water in a large, flat enameled bowl. Then he kneaded the mix together to make a dough (sorry, I didn’t take any pictures up to that point). Then he got out a large wooden board (it must have been at least a meter square), put it on the dining table and rolled out the dough. Occasionally he would roll the dough around the long rolling pin and rotate it. After it was rolled thinly enough, he folded it into a packet, gave it a few more rolls to press it to an even thickness and cut the noodles. Soba cutting knives are big specialty knives that remind me a little bit of Klingon blades from Star Trek. They have a long, flat cutting surface and your hand is positioned over the midpoint of the blade instead of behind it as it would be on a chef’s knife. They look pretty scary, but the shape and heft of the knife really work well for cutting noodles.

While my supervisor made the noodles, his wife harvested some vegetables from the kitchen garden and made tempura of shishito, okra, shiso, and chicken. One of my shishito was what’s known as a “bomb pepper.” Even though they come from the same plant, most are mild but some are really spicy.

copyright 2008 LMS


The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred: September 8, 2008

Filed under: Cooking — laurel @ 10:42 pm
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hello durian

The Very Good Taste blog’s Omnivore’s 100 is making it’s way around the internet. Here’s mine: item’s that I’ve had are in bold while items that I would never try are crossed out. I’ve put my own comments in italics. I also noted foods that my husband Alex has tried that I haven’t. Many of the more “strange” items were eaten right here in Japan. The tally? 63. Looking over the list reminds me of some foods that I haven’t had recently that I should try to have again soon (huevos rancheros, eggs benedict, bagels and lox), and some foods I want to try (where better to be to try Kobe beef?).

The Omnivore’s 100 also got me thinking about Japanese food. At dinner we talked over what foods would be must-eats for travelers in Japan, so hopefully I can put together an Omnivore’s Japan list and post it here soon.

So how’s your list? Is there anything here that you wouldn’t try?

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding: not yet, but the spicy blood sausage I had at Ibu Oka in Bali was actually pretty tasty

7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper: actually a habanero, but I figured it was close enough. I hope I don’t have to have eaten the whole thing
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O: I assume this is the party favorite Jello shots
39. Gumbo: I haven’t had it, but Alex has
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV: Alex has
59. Poutine

60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst

65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs:
at the izakaya down the street, delicious!
67. Beignets, churros,
elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette: I haven’t had American-style chitterlings or andouillette, but I’ve tried the Japanese equivlent, horumon (grilled pig intestines)
71. Gazpacho: I‘ve heard the real thing is so much better than what we call “gazpacho” in America, so I’ve left it unmarked on my list
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill: so tempted to cross this one out, but maybe I’d try it if someone offered it to me
76. Baijiu
: Wikipedia says the flavor is often compared to rubbing alcohol or diesel. Maybe that’s what this weekend’s “Spiritus” shot was
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail: does sea snail count?
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum

82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef

86. Hare: as in rabbit, right?
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse: sashimi style in Kyushu
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake: Alex has