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Ramen June 28, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Ramen” complete with photos and videos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-ramen

Ramen can be considered one of Japan’s national dishes.  Ramen was originally from China, but over time, the old Chinese dish was transformed into what it is today, a very uniquely Japanese dish.  Essentially, ramen is just a bowl of noodles in a tasty, salty broth.  In reality, it’s much more than that.  Ramen is very intricate, where the broth is cooked slowly for days using basic ingredients to make each shop unique.  No two shops create the same broth, and no two visits will ever be the same.  I have been to the same ramen shop over several years and over time, the staff changes and the taste of the ramen changes.  It’s impossible to create the same broth over the years, especially when the chef changes.  You can keep the same ingredients, but the portions and the methods always changes.

There are four basic types of ramen, and two basic methods to eat it.  The major component of any ramen is the soup.  The base is usually the same, but there can be two different bases depending on the shop.  From the base, they alter the taste in four basic ways.  The lightest is “shio” or salt ramen.  It’s a very basic soup where they just lightly flavour it with salt.  The best version of shio ramen is to filter it to remove any solid matter.  The next level would be shoyu, or soy sauce based, ramen.  The main difference here is that they tend to add soy sauce rather than salt as a major flavouring agent.  One of the greasiest and unhealthy is the tonkotsu ramen, which translates into pork bone ramen.  This tends to be heartier than the other two due to the ingredients.  Shio ramen and tonkotsu ramen are almost the same, with the cooking time being the main exception.  Tonkotsu tends to be better as a hearty meal rather than a nice light lunch as shio ramen.  The last type would be miso ramen.  This is one of the fattiest types of ramen.  When you order this, they traditionally serve it with various sprouts and vegetables, but the amount of oil is extremely visible.  Sometimes you can see two or three millimeters of oil and fat on top of the actual ramen.  It makes it very delicious, but you can regret ordering it after you finish.  The two basic ways to eat ramen is either as “ramen”, where the soup, noodles, and vegetables are all together.  The other, a fairly new method of eating ramen is to have tsukemen.  This is where the soup is presented in one bowl, and the noodles are on the side along with the vegetables.  It’s great in the summer as it doesn’t feel as heavy, and it’s not as hot either.  Either way you eat ramen, it’s delicious.

When eating ramen, there are several types of sauces that can be served with it.  The most basic “sauce” would be the ichimi, or shichimi.  These are types of peppers, similar to black pepper.  Ichimi is just one type of hot pepper, while shichimi combines seven types of spices and peppers together.  There is a distinct difference in taste.  Neither of these is very spicy, but they do add a new character to any ramen dish.  You can also add ryu, which is spicy chili oil.  It’s similar to a Chinese version, but rather than including dried chili inside the oil itself, usually ryu is a clear red liquid.  Black pepper is another basic condiment that is available to add to ramen.  While I prefer to avoid this myself, it’s still okay to use it.  If you venture into a ramen shop, you may also get a few bonus condiments.  These are special condiments that are not available in every shop.  You can get things from fried garlic, minced garlic, spicy chili paste, sesame seeds, and many other things.  Do be aware that not all of the sauces are for ramen.  Vinegar and soy sauce are generally not added to ramen.

It is very common to order gyoza with ramen.  This is another Chinese dish that has been molded into Japanese cuisine.  It is very similar to the Chinese dish of potstickers, but very different.  There tends to be more garlic within it, and the sauce itself is slightly different.  They tend to mix vinegar, soy sauce, and ryu.  All of this together makes a perfect side dish to ramen.  Some shops will also offer bowls of rice as an after meal side dish.  After you eat ramen, some people have a lot of soup left.  A bowl of rice is a good way to make use of this soup.  Just ladle it in and you have a good rice soup to finish off your meal.  This can be a real challenge for many people as a typical bowl of ramen is more than enough for one person.  There are countless other types of side dishes that are available, but they aren’t very common.

When looking for a place for ramen, it’s very easy to look in the shopping malls for a shop, but the best thing to do is look around the stations.  There is always a small shop within a few minutes of any entrance to a train station.  Just pick a direction and find a nice looking hole in the wall.  Usually there are only several seats, but no tables.  It can be very difficult to order as menus typically come in only Japanese.  If you do try to venture into one, don’t worry too much.  Just do your best and with a little time, you will get a nice meal.

Ramen Information:

Ramen (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramen
Ramen (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2042.html

Yokohama Ramen Museum (English):  http://www.raumen.co.jp/ramen/

Yokohama Ramen Museum (Japanese):  http://www.raumen.co.jp/home/

Ramen Shop Information (Japanese):  http://ramendb.supleks.jp/

Ramen Restaurants [Note:  All sites are in Japanese]:

FooMoo by Hot Pepper:  http://www.hotpepper.jp/A_11100/smd0_svcSA11_grcG013_grf1.html


Top 10 Foods to Eat in Japan June 21, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Top 10 Foods to Eat in Japan” complete with links to the Top 10 Foods.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-qX

Starting next week and over the next 10 weeks, I will be writing about the various foods you can eat while in Japan.  If you think that Japanese food is all sushi and teriyaki chicken, you will be surprised.  Japanese food can be extremely varied with very subtle differences between each dish.  There are regional specialties for each type of food creating a lot of variety for the same dishes.  They utilize similar ingredients, but combine them in very unique ways.  In recent times, you can even find East-West fusion for some of these foods.  It is impossible to truly showcase everything that is possible to be eaten in Japan, but I will showcase ten things that I think you should do your best to try at least once.  Each of these ten things may not easily be lumped into one thing.  You can spend a single week eating ramen and still never try everything possible.  If you try each one, just once, you should be capable to understanding the basics of Japanese cuisine and be capable of trying new things when you return home.

Restaurant Information:

Please note that these pages are mainly in Japanese.  The Tokyo Food Page, while they have nice restaurants, does not often show the “regular” Japanese restaurants.  They tend to show the higher priced restaurants that still offer good food.

Foo Moo by Hot Pepper:  http://www.hotpepper.jp/A_30300/svcSA11.html
Gournavi (Japanese):  http://www.gnavi.co.jp/

Gournavi (English):  http://www.gnavi.co.jp/en/
Tokyo Food Page (English):  http://www.bento.com/tokyofood.html


Regions of Japan – Kansai to Okinawa June 14, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kyushu, Okinawa, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Kansai to Okinawa” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-F0

Kansai is probably the second most popular area to visit by foreigner.  It is home to Japan’s second largest city Osaka, after discounting Yokohama.  It is also home to the most historically important cities in Japan, Kyoto and Nara.  Kobe is another major city but like Yokohama it can be considered as a suburban city of Osaka.  Kansai is also home of Wakayama which is famous for their Buddhist temples and the ability of foreign guests to spend a night and wake up to the prayers within the temples and Himeji, home to Japan’s most famous castle.  There is so much to talk about in Kansai that it is impossible to summarize it in one paragraph.  The people are very distinct and they have their own dialect.  It is often considered the comedy capital of Japan due to the number of comedians who call Kansai their place of origin.  The people are very outgoing and it is often easy to strike a conversation with a stranger compared to the cold and private Kanto region.  It is often a bit colder than Kanto but the warmth of the people more than make up for it.  There is a bit of a rivalry between people from Kansai and Kanto but I do believe it is more in jest rather than prejudice.  As for the food, Kansai is considered the capital for Japanese “soul food”.  They have things such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki.  They are experts in yaki soba and tonpei yaki.  It is mostly fried food but it is delicious.  Kyoto is a small exception as they specialize mostly in traditional Japanese foods that cost an arm and a leg at times.  Either way Kansai is a food lover’s paradise, unless you are trying to eat healthily.

The western end of Honshu is Chugoku.  It can easily be misinterpreted as China as Chugoku is also the same word for China.  This region is best known as the home of Hiroshima and Okayama however the Sea of Japan side includes Tottori and Shimane which are wonderfully beautiful rural areas in Japan.  The Yamaguchi prefecture is also a beautiful place but I have yet to visit that region.  The Sea of Japan side of Chugoku is best characterized as a rural area that appears to be disconnected to Japan itself.  The people seem to not worry about anything and tend to live life as an independent region to the other regions.  They are a proud area that is popular for domestic travel.  The southern region, in contrast, has been stigmatised by the tragic bombing of Hiroshima.  Most people will overlook Okayama and just visit Hiroshima.  It is a very important historical location and it is a place I highly recommend people to visit if they get the chance.  Unfortunately it can be a terribly humbling place due to the amount of artefacts that remind us of the terrible outcome of the atomic bomb.  You can’t travel within Hiroshima city without seeing reminders left right and centre about the bombing itself.  The people in the city are great and they try to live their lives as normally as possible.  The food is delicious.  They are famous for their oysters as well as okonomiyaki.  Of course Kansai is famous for okonomiyaki but the Hiroshima style is different and in my opinion, better.

Shikoku is a small island that is located just below Honshu.  It is an area that only a few Japanese people visit if they don’t have family in the area.  It also happens to be one of my favourite areas to visit.  It is a diverse region that is made up of 4 prefectures.  Each area is also unique.  The eastern side of Tokushima and the southern prefecture of Kochi often fight over who is better.  There is a very old and popular festival in both prefectures that are visited by thousands of Japanese people each year.  Both festivals claim to be the best and most exciting festivals in Shikoku and to be honest they are both wonderful to see.  While I haven’t been to either in person, it is difficult to travel the region and not see video of the traditional dancing during the festivals.        Ehime is the western prefecture that is well known for its onsen, Dogo onsen.  It is considered the oldest onsen in Japan and has various healing factors.  A little north of Matsuyama is Imabari which is famous for its towels.  In the north, you can also visit Kagawa.  It is famous for its udon noodles and also for Naoshima which is a famous art island.  It is a small island that is filled with various modern art sculptures.  Most of it is free however the main museums are not.  Overall, Shikoku is a very diverse region that rivals most regions of Japan.

Kyushu is the final region.  It is the western most main island of Japan.  It is famous for its food and onsen as well as its nature.  Most people will travel only as far as Fukuoka and northern Kyushu.  This is the area that has the best onsen as well as the best food.  Fukuoka is well known for its regional delicacies as well as being close to Nagasaki.  Nagasaki is not as popular but important for foreign tourists.  The southern region is not as well known but they are famous for shochu and various poultry and pork products.  One of the more interesting, yet overlooked, areas is Yakushima.  It is a small island just south of Kyushu’s main island and setting for Hiyao Miyazaki’s Princess Monomoke.  It is one of the few natural environments unique to Japan.  South of Kyushu is the Ryukyu Island chain which encompasses Okinawa.  Most people will lump Okinawa and the Ryukyu into Kyushu but that shouldn’t be the case.  Okinawa is, in its own right, a separate area.  They have a different history compared to Japan and have been fighting for their own rights as a small “nation within a nation”.  The entire chain of islands is beautiful, from the pictures I have seen, and make a nice vacation spot with lots of opportunities to relax on the beaches.  The culture is very unique with a unique style of music, dress, and language.  The food has been heavily influenced by the regional natural fruits and vegetables as well as the heavy presence of the US military.  One of the most famous items has to be Taco Rice which is basically taco filling on a bed of rice.  They also make use of bitter melon which is unique in Japan as other regions cannot grow bitter melon easily.

There is one region that almost never gets named when talking about regions of Japan.  These are the Izu and Ogasawara Islands (Bonin Islands).  These are a set of small islands that stretch south of Tokyo for over 1000kms.  The Izu Islands are a set of islands that are somewhat populated.  They have a lot of tourism however don’t expect access to be easy.  Farther away are the Ogasawara Islands in which only two islands are inhabited.  The Ogasawara Islands are historically more important that the Izu Islands.  Iwoto, or previously known as Iwo Jima is part of this group of islands where the US fought hard to get a foothold in taking down the old Imperial Japanese Army.  It has been a long time and few people visit these sets of islands.  In fact it is very difficult to get to any island other than Chichijima and Hahajima.  Most people in Japan never even consider visiting these islands so they have evolved into a very self sufficient area.  It is hard to believe that they are Japanese yet they are very much Japanese.

As you can see, Japan is a very long and diverse country.  Each region ranges from cool temperate to sub-tropical.  Japan is bound by 4 seas and 1 ocean.  There are 4 main islands and hundreds of other small islands that span over 1000 kilometres from one end of Japan to the other.  There are several mountain ranges and many diverse rivers.  Each region has their own distinct version of Japanese culture along with their own distinct foods.  People imagine Japan as being a homogeneous culture but they either forget or neglect that there are two indigenous groups, the Ainu in Hokkaido and the Okinawans in Okinawa.  You can also see the various culture differences between each region of Japan that is accentuated by the differences between people in the Kanto region and the Kansai region.  It is a wonderful country with many things to see.  Visiting only a few areas is not enough and visiting at one time of the year is not enough.  It can take a lifetime to fully explore every corner of Japan and even then you’d still have trouble experiencing everything.

Regions of Japan Information:

Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Kansai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansai_region
Chugoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABgoku_region
Shikoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikoku
Kyushu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ky%C5%ABsh%C5%AB
Ryukyu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryukyu_Islands
Okinawa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okinawa_Prefecture
Izu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izu_Islands
Ogasawara Islands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonin_Islands

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.html


Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido June 7, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EX


Japan is a small country that happens to be very long.  From end to end, Japan is well over 1000km long.  It is larger than Germany in terms of land mass and has a very diverse ecosystem.  You have the cold snowy north and the sub-tropical south.  It is a common misconception that Japan is a small country.  I would also argue that many people feel that any country that is outside of their own region is small, especially for Americans and Canadians.  It is important to know that Japan, while small overall, is actually very long which helps create the illusion that it is small.

Japan is divided into 8 main regions with a few sub-regions.  In the north is Hokkaido.  I have written a lot about Sapporo and the various festivals there.  It is a winter wonderland and also a great summer getaway.  In the winter, people head up there for skiing and to enjoy the delicious seafood.  In the summer, the seafood is still around but people go to escape the heat and humidity of the south.  Compared to other regions in Japan, Hokkaido is a relatively stable and sparsely populated region.  It isn’t the “wild west” but it isn’t like Tokyo either.  Getting from point A to point B in Hokkaido can be very difficult due to the sheer distances between cities and towns and the lack of trains can make it a difficult task.  Renting a car is definitely recommended if you want to see the local areas such as Shiretoko but it isn’t a necessity.  The bus network between cities is pretty good and you can get from Sapporo to most cities in Hokkaido by bus.  Planes are not so popular and trains are good for the major cities.  Unfortunately the trains can take a long time to get from place to place but keeping on the main belt from Asahikawa to Sapporo, then down to Hakodate via either Chitose or Niseko is relatively easy.  Be prepared for long travel times and you will have a good time.

Tohoku is the northern section of Honshu, the main island of Japan.  The main island forms an ‘L’ shape and Tohoku is at the top of the ‘L’.  It is a region that is very similar to Hokkaido yet also very temperate in nature.  The most common starting point is Sendai.  Including Sendai, all points north are considered Tohoku.  Points below Sendai are generally Tohoku as well but places such as part of Fukushima can be considered part of the Kanto plains.  Honshu itself is a very mountainous area with mountains bisecting the entire island into the Pacific and Sea of Japan side.  This creates a very distinct feel in each city depending on which coast you are on.  On the Pacific, the winters can be cold but there isn’t a lot of snow.  The Sea of Japan side which includes Akita and Yamagata receive a lot of snow in the winter.  In the summer, this area is more pleasant but the southern regions can be pretty hot and humid.  It is literally a transition between Hokkaido and the temperate south.  There are many local delicacies such as the Aomori apples and the beef tongue of Sendai.  It isn’t a popular place for tourists as there aren’t many things to see and do compared to other regions.  Hokkaido is well known for seafood and snow, but Tohoku doesn’t have a major drawing point for tourists.

Kanto is the centre of Japan.  It is a small section of Japan that includes Tokyo and located at the bend of the ‘L’ of Honshu.  It is where almost everyone goes when they visit Japan and it is a pretty small area.  The entire Kanto region can be considered as Greater Tokyo as many people do commute from the edges of Kanto to get into Tokyo.  Some would argue that there are major cities and industries as well such as Yokohama but the shear size of Tokyo makes Yokohama feel like a twin city similar to the twin cities in Minnesota.  Of course this is not the same however the idea that both cities can be considered the same city, rather twin cities, is true.  There isn’t really much to say or add to this region as most people know about the Kanto region already.  It is the heart of Japan.  Most companies and most people live in this area.  There are not a lot of historical places to visit anymore but places such as Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone are excellent places with their own unique feel.

Chubu is a very complex region.  There are several sub-regions to Chubu due to its geography.  It is a region that is bound by Mt. Fuji, bordering the north-western area of Kanto and extending west to Kyoto.  It is also one of the most “visited” regions in Japan yet most people never stop to enjoy the region.  I am also a victim of just passing through the region more times than not.  Most people will go up to Mt. Fuji or pass through on their way to Kyoto.  The few people who do go to the Chubu region will usually head off to Niigata and Nagano or do a little business in Nagoya.  Due to the geography of the area is further subdivided into 3 regions.  The lesser known is the Koshinetsu region that encompasses Nagano, Niigata, and Yamanashi.  This area is well known for its snow and excellent onsen however the use of the name Koshinetsu is not popular.  They are more commonly known by their own respective prefectures.  The Hokuriku region is an area on the Sea of Japan side that is bordered by Niigata and Kyoto.  It is considered a northern path to reach Kansai but it is often overlooked by people.  It is still a somewhat remote area that is easily accessible by plane.  Trains do travel to the region but the new Hokuriku Shinkansen isn’t expected to be finished for a long time.  The main sections allowing access from Tokyo to the heart of Hokuriku will be complete in 2014 but the final section to Osaka has yet to be finalized.  As it stands, this area is often overlooked due to its remoteness.  The Tokai region is the most famous region as it is the main route for the Tokaido Shinkansen that links Tokyo to Osaka.  Shizuoka is one of the biggest prefectures in Japan yet very few people will visit it.  The most famous area is Nagoya where you can enjoy many delicacies.  Nagoya is not a particularly interesting for those visiting other cities but it is famous for its castle, local deep fried delicacies, chicken wings, and Toyota.  Toyota has their main factories located just outside Nagoya with a large museum as well.  Nagoya is also one of the most popular cities for people wishing to see races at the nearby Suzuka Circuit, but the circuit is located in Kansai, not Chubu.

Note:  Due to the amount of information available, this is only part 1 of 2.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Regions of Japan Information:

Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Hokkaido:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaid%C5%8D_Prefecture
Tohoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dhoku_region
Kanto:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%C5%8D_region
Chubu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABbu_region
Hokuriku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokuriku_region
Koshinetsu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dshin%27etsu_region
Tokai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkai_region

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.html


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