Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Tag Archives: broth

Japan, Tokyo 2011-12: Ichiran Ramen

Ramen.

It’s the one dish to nuke your diet so far out of the water you’re going to need binoculars to see where it went.

It’s the one dish that, in my opinion, throws the entire Japanese diet into disequilibrium – one that most would consider the epitome of health and longevity. Ramen singlehandedly manages to shake all preconceived notions of the Japanese diet. It seems to exist to be a reminder that, underneath the glimmer and rosy-hued tint of squeaky cleanliness, an oddity lies, quite like Tonkatsu and Curry Rice, but none more sinful.

I shall call it the Japanese Paradox – inspired from the French Paradox (of a diet high in saturated fats but a lifespan among the top ten in the world).

Think about it. It’s a paradox! It’s baffling! The only ingredients that look remotely like dietary fibre in a bowl of ramen are the slivers of spring onions. That’s all! There should be a fourth level to the food pyramid, above all the sugary, fatty criminals. Ramen should be there – at the top.

But then there is Ichiran. And all I can say is thank heavens it’s all the way in Japan or I would bugger off the side of a building in self-despair and wanton gluttony.

I’m only saying this because, if Ichiran didn’t exist, keeping Ramen up there wouldn’t require much discipline. There just isn’t any other ramen that would make me tell my reasonable eating habits to have a vacation and never come back.

So, the usual situation: Freezing cold weather, and the prospect of having piping hot soup blipping away in the tummy.

The poison of choice: Ichiran Ramen.

I had it on my list, but with no address and barely any research on it. So when we stumbled across it on the way to Harajuku, we immediately spun around and made the detour up its steps at 11.30am before the lunch crowd poured in.

Now there is a process to Ichiran, but it’s not too difficult. Trust me.

1. Vending Machine: Choose your ramen, and any additional toppings you wish to have. (Please pick the tamago (egg). It was to die for.) Slot in your money, collect your ticket, and head on inside.

2. Direction Board of Vacant Seat (it is named as such, do not mock it): Check the board for seat vacancies. Green lights indicate vacant seats. Red indicates occupied seats.

3. Cubicle: Yes, you have a cubicle, do behave. You may unfold the partitioning if you must see your dining partner. Customise your ramen with the order sheet. Ask for an English one if it is not given to you.  Choose your Flavour Strength, Richness, Garlic, Green Onion, Roast Pork Fillet, Secret Sauce (chilli), Noodle’s Tenderness. I would recommend one full clove of garlic, and firm noodles. Cross your fingers with the chilli. I liked mine Regular.

4. Hand Order Sheet Over To The Disembodied Hands Behind Your Screen: There are wait staff scuttling back and forth behind the screens. If that unsettles you, the appearance of your bowl of ramen should appease you.

I loved every bit of my bowl of ramen. It had one of the best – if not the best – creamy tonkatsu-based broths I have tasted. My noodles came completely submerged in a generous portion of spicy soup. I was tearing and sniveling, and was probably a hideous sight to behold, but that’s what the partitions in your cubicles are for. They will not, however, give you privacy from the chorus of slurping all over the restaurant, so as with any other choir, you are expected to contribute to the chords.

Also, the tamago is served separate from the ramen, and still in its shell. I will let the picture speak for itself.

I was surprised that you can get additional noodles (buttons to order more are at your cubicle), but if you’re like me and found the broth absolutely divine, then you would have practically inhaled all of it. They do not give you additional broth, unfortunately. I polished off my bowl, and let me tell you that I do not polish off bowls of noodles. Ichiran was an experience of many firsts. I could rave, but I shan’t. Needless to say, this is ramen you mustn’t miss – not even on pain of death – when you’re in Tokyo.

Waddling out of the restaurant full and replete, we smugly squeezed past the snaking queue into the cold, stumbling down steps and feeling mightily invincible with the furnace in our bellies. Like I said previously, you can’t have this daily. Because feeling this luxurious every day would render the mysterious Japanese paradox void, and just be boring ol’ reality instead.

Ichiran Ramen

Address: Jinnan, Shibuya, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan

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Japan, Nagoya 2011-12: Atsuta Shrine Kishimen Noodles

I realise that punching out posts from my recent trip to Japan will very probably unleash a rabid desire for Asian food, seeing as how I’m stuck with European food here in Switzerland, St Gallen, for a summer study. This is a bad idea, surely. Cheese, bread, and yoghurt? I love you all very much, I promise that I do. It’s just that you aren’t the same as sushi and – oh how I swoon – a piping hot bowl of kishimen noodles whipped up à la minute in a tiny stall at the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya.

It’s not quite as cold here as it was back in December in Nagoya, but I’d give anything to have this gurgling happily in the recesses of my stomach right now.

This is, by all accounts, a highly affordable bowl of noodles. It starts from ¥600 to ¥850, which is about S$9.60 to S$13.00. This one above is the kakiage one.

Kishimen is a flat type of udon, typical of the Nagoya region. The consistency of these flat noodles are mind-boggling and truly exceptional – bouncy, with a slight chew, and simply cannot be eaten without slurping. Of course, the broth itself was faultless, which was hardly surprising really.

The stall was a little hard to find at first. We were pressed for time, famished, and chilled to the bone from the cold. It’s hard to give directions now, but trust me when I say that you’ll eventually stumble across it. It’s an open-air area, with benches and tables, and the stall behind. The noodles are exceedingly popular among the locals as well it seems, but though they crowd the tables, they leave pretty quickly.

Tempura version was wonderful as well, and … sigh … oh I am beside myself right now.

I probably should stop gushing and get on moving with the rest of the posts, because hammering out a post at night when there’s barely anything in the fridge (save for a lonely slice of cheese, some eggs, and shriveled zucchini, mostly), is excruciating. And if the past week was any indication, the posts on breads and cheeses will help themselves onto the pile of drafts that I already have.

If you are in Nagoya, please, you must go out of your way to the Atsuta Shrine. I’m not sure if it was because of the soothing reprieve from the bitter cold that a bowl offers, or just that the noodles and soup were utterly simple yet done exceptionally well, but whatever it is, you’ll know when you eventually try it. It’s so comforting you could cry.

Atsuta Shrine, Nagoya

Nearest train station: Jingu-mae

Hong Kong 2011: Mak’s Noodle

You’ll never have wanton noodles like Mak’s Noodle. This place has its own Wikipedia page, and that says a lot.

As a general rule, wanton noodles in Hong Kong are a force to be reckoned with. Why? I have no idea. That’s just how things work there.

Of course, things work a little different for me if you tell me that a particular eatery has graced the palate of Anthony Bourdain (one of my all-time favourite food idols with his sharp wit and callously poetic narratives on TV). In fact, there was a newspaper clipping under the glass of the table of Bourdain’s visit to Mak’s. There’s no other better reassurance of great food like slurping up a bowl of wanton noodles under (or above, actually) his trademark blasé gaze. But Bourdain aside, Mak’s Noodle has been around for ages, and is usually on the list of most gluttons’ food itinerary for the land of roast goose, egg tarts, congee, and dim sum.

I’ll let the picture say it all, except for the size. The bowl’s tiny. Really. Tiny enough for this to be a snack and for you to then head on down Wellington street for more goodies to come. It’s about 10cm in diameter, by my guesstimate (I used my palm for measurement, and I have a small palm). It’s not cheap for its size, but it’s worth every cent. I can’t quite remember exactly how much it costs but it’s around SGD$5 for a small bowl. I’d pay gladly if this were available freely in Singapore.

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Din Tai Fung (Junction 8)

 

Xiao Long Bao

 I had this more than a month ago. A really long time ago. 

But I’ll be honest with you. 

I’ll have it every other week if I could afford it – financially and physically. 

What’s wrong with having steamed pork dumplings even more than the occasional chocolate, you say? 

When they start getting more addictive with each little bundle you pop in your mouth is why. And have I mentioned the varying results that occur when you do? Sometimes they burst in an explosion of fragrant broth out of your mouth at your dining companion, which isn’t always a bad thing. But then sometimes they blast back inwards into your throat, and you end up violently hacking up the entire thing, saliva and dumpling and all, at the same dining companion, which is when you realise that there’s much more skill required in handling those humble looking things than you initially thought. You also realise that the diners in your immediate vicinity staring at you. 

So when I say these are addictive, I mean it. If I had a rumbling, sexy baritone of a voice like those movie trailer narrators (This Summer…*dom dom dom* A hero is chosen…*dom dom dom*) I would be able to warn you effectively. But since I don’t – and I will very probably only end up sounding hilariously sleazy if I try – I just have this to say: Watch how many you have eaten. They are worse than snacking on Pringles while watching a Germany/ England match. 

Each famous dumpling skin, when eaten the moment they arrive on the table, is soft and supple yet doesn’t break when you pick one up by its tip. I’m convinced there’s some mad science that has gone into the fine balance between achieving almost paper-thin skin and yet being able to contain a ball of succulent minced pork and broth. Apparently the original Taiwan outlets are even better. I’m almost afraid to imagine. I never used to like XLBs. Never used to like the vinegar and ginger slices either. 

I still don’t know what was wrong with me then. 

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