Afuri

I stopped eating ramen shortly after moving to Japan (I got sick of it) and now mainly stick to udon or soba. Last night, I was dragged to my neighborhood Afuri after dinner and was shocked.

Wait, let me back up since this might be confusing for people who have never been to Afuri. At Afuri in Japan (and a lot of fast, casual joints), you can only order through a vending machine. And in only six months (or maybe longer?) the buttons got an overhaul and there’re now a ton of buttons I don’t recognize! AND they’re also in English!!

Just in case I’ll leave some tips explaining the new buttons (or new to me) because the English translations are weird/not self explanatory:

 

Very bottom right button (and also pictured in the close-up): hand pulled noodles for ¥167 extra
Next to that one is konjak-men: gluten free noodles (they sell them stateside as ‘Shirataki’ noodles)
The little rice bowl on the yellow button is okaka gohan. Okaka is katsuobushi (skip jack tuna shavings) tossed with soy sauce over a bowl of rice. It sounds a bit unapproachable but this combination is a traditional, beloved flavor pairing from centuries ago.

Also, this is VERY important. Afuri is expanding all about Tokyo but the original branch is the Ebisu location. The Ebisu location makes the ramen stock for all the other Afuris and deliveries the stock throughout the day in these big metal cans.

Don’t get me wrong, all of them are good but the Afuri in Ebisu is the only one I eat at and recommend.

You’re welcome.
PS: I also did a ramen round-up here

Ippudo x 7-11

The other day I stumbled onto Ippudo instant ramen in a box. Ippudo is a beloved ramen chain in Japan and the U.S. I swear, the Ippudo in NY costs about $15 a bowl before tax and tip with lines that are out the door and around the corner. In Japan, Ippudo is popular but not as popular as they are in the States.

It’s bizarre to see such a loved chain collaborate with 7-11 and Nissin (the Top Ramen people – Top Ramen sells those 5 packs of instant ramen for a dollar) and why they would bring $1.50 Ippudo branded ramen is beyond me.

There are so many ramen choices here, I would never buy and eat this. Cheap instant ramen is a bit scary. Hi, MSG bomb.

Japan!

Ode to My Hometown

Lucky Peach recently published a piece on the ramen of my hometown: San Mateo, CA and of course, I have to share. 

I’m copying and pasting part of the comment I wrote on my friend’s post he shared via Facebook:

San Mateo’s Japanese food game has actually been on point for years tho! I’m so fortunate to have lived (eaten?) through its rise. Nice to see a shout-out to my hometown.

I know I am guilty of repeating this, but I am so appreciative I grew up in an era before what I affectionately call the Asian Invasion and fortunate to see many chefs starting out in other restaurants go to open their own.

What a town and era I was raised in!
Read the Lucky Peach piece here (ramen-centric, though).

My Mom’s Perfect Instant Ramen

I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area long before the Asian invasion. At school kids made fun of me for eating ‘gross’ sushi. My mom packed bentos which was super weird. Rice? Who eats that? Me. That’s who. I remember feeling sorry for myself for being born to immigrant parents. Why was I forced to speak Japanese? Why did we have to take shoes off at home? Why couldn’t we eat fish sticks for dinner every night? Oh woe is me.

As tragic as my life seemed, my mother had her own struggles with food too.

Our family was fortunate to arrive to California (from Canada, where my brother and I were born) when the Japanese economy was booming. There were many Japanese companies head quartered in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley and a robust Japanese community.

Lucky for us the Japanese culture is very food-centric. Because groups of very important people from Japan were forced to live abroad to head international branches, foods and ingredients from Japan were quickly exported and made available for purchase. There was even a tofu man who moved to California, built a mini tofu factory and distributed fresh handmade tofu on a truck.

Despite our good fortune living in an area and time where almost all basic ingredients needed for Japanese home cooking (including fruits and vegetables) were accessible, my mother would endlessly complain. What is wrong with this daikon Japanese radish – why is it bent like this? The skin on these nasu eggplants are too tough. Why can’t we get yuzu here? What is wrong with the quality of [beef, chicken or pork]. The fish sold here smell. Why are they not fresh? Why aren’t there more choices for [konbu, katsuobushi, niboshi, sake, mirin, vinegar, soy sauce, miso, salt, insert whatever condiments and seasoning]. On and on the complaints would continue, every day, when grocery shopping. I immediately learned to tune her out and just nod my head in agreement.

My mother was a pretty smart person and an incredible cook (her older sister, my favorite aunt, was the best — she was the one who taught me to cook but that’s a story for another day). And even if most of the foods and ingredients were so terrible they are insulting she said, as the resourceful person she was, found clever ways to hack recipes to transform these bastardized foods and ingredients into sufficiently palatable dishes. Looking back, she was indeed, pretty amazing. 

One of the most memorable is her modified instant ramen. There are hundreds possibly thousands of delicious instant or semi instant noodles in Japan. Back in our time, the availability was limited, especially abroad. Since our decent ramen options were extremely few, my mom had no choice but to use what was available, and here is her recipe.

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Ramen

Everyone get excited. It’s ramen time!

Ramen, ramen, ramen, RAMEN — everyone loves ramen. With ramen, it’s all about equal opportunity. From ramen in cups, to cheap bajillion packages for a dollar instant ramen, to lining up an hour and a half for craft ramen in NYC, there is something about a bowl of piping hot broth and squiggly noodles that makes the world a better place. Confession: I didn’t like ramen until my late adult years, but that is a story for another day.

Lucky me, there are several notable ramen joints all within a half mile radius of my home. I really, really love my neighborhood.

Conveniently located right by the station is Afuri, popular among locals and tourists.

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Ippudo in Hakata, Japan

*Note: this is one leg of an eight night, nine day in 15 or so different cities around Japan.

 

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What is it with the south and women?

In the US, there are Southern Belles. In China, the area south of the Yellow River was famous for beautiful women. And in Japan, Hakata Bijin (博多美人). Hakata is a southern region of Japan. Bijin means beauty. This region is known for the beautiful women and…ramen.

I’m standing in front of the original Ippudo in Hakata, Fukuoka — the Kyushu area of Japan. The queue is short. The store front has character. Everyone around me is ecstatic to eat at the original Ippudo and I’m just… not hungry.

Those who know me, know I eat. I mean EAT. Like, what-the-fuck-you-are-unlady-like-you-put-Texans-to-shame type chowing down.

This isn’t really anything to brag about, but I’m rambling on, hoping my fingers channel some room in my stomach.

It’s not really working.

What am I doing anyway? I’m hanging out here to have a bowl of Ippudo ramen made at the mothership just so I can say: I ate the original Ippudo — take that, foodies.

That is a bit lame. Which reminds me, I haven’t seen a Hakata Bijin yet. Hakata bijins are more interesting to me at the moment, so maybe I’ll just leave and go search for one.

Besides. There is an Ippudo across the street from my apartment in Tokyo and I rarely go. Afuri, known for their yuzu ramen and charred pork more aligns with my palate anyway.

Everyone I know in the States, is obsessed with this darn ramen. And I just can’t be bothered. I guess you can take a girl out of New York, but you can’t take the NY attitude out of the girl.