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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

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Eccentric) April 27, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Eccentric)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nb

Akihabara is an area that is being transformed from a small centre with hundreds of small or tiny shops into a place that has tall buildings with large corporations controlling the area.  While it is true that things are changing, you can still see some of the craziness and the strangeness of this area if you know where to look.

For those wanting to see anime, anime figures, manga, and toys, heading to the northern area, near Suehirocho Station is your best bet.  There are several shops in the area that sell these goods.  There are also several located throughout the Akihabara area.  The most famous style of shop is the “glass” shop.  This shop can range in size.  It can be as small as a single room, to one occupying an entire building.  When you enter the shop, you will be met with various glass boxes.  Inside each box, there are various figures on display.  You can buy anything that is located within theses boxes, unless they are for display only.  The key is to find out which box the stuff you want is in, and ask one of the staff to help you.  The interesting part of this is that while you might think of this as a stand alone shop, it isn’t.  Each glass box is usually a different shop.  Many people will rent out one of the boxes to either display their goods, or to sell their goods.  It can range from internet companies needing a physical location for some of their items, to regular people wanting to make a few bucks with the stuff they have collected over the years.  It is a very different concept to the traditional shop that is common in almost every other area of the world.

Another thing to look for in Akihabara is the vending machines.  Due to the nature of the area, vending machines are very prevalent.  In every corner, on every street, you will be able to find a vending machine.  While this is also true of most areas of Tokyo, it is special in Akihabara.  They specialize in unique vending machines.  The standard machines that sell drinks of all types are, of course, common, but they also have machines that sell food.  You can buy hot noodles in a can.  These can be very popular, and it even comes with its own plastic fork.  You could also purchase Oden, which is various vegetables in a broth.  I would liken it to a stew, but it’s very different in taste.  Oden is typically found in convenience stores, but there are restaurants that specialize in it as well.  Meat is not typically found, aside from sausages.  While less common, spaghetti can be found, and it is very possible to find anime drinks.  These tend to be your average drink, but with an anime character on the cover.  Do be aware that prices can be jacked up, depending on where you are and what you buy.

Maids are an Akihabara specialty.  When you exit the station on the east side, and all along Chuo-dori, you are more than likely to run into several maids, especially on the weekend.  If you venture to the east side of Chuo-dori, you will find a lot of different maids looking to take you to their shop.  This is a relatively recent trend that has changed since I first visited.  When I first came, maid cafes were starting to become very popular.  You would see various Japanese women, sometimes European as well, dressed in a French style maid outfit.  They would almost cry to get you into their café.  It was all part of their act.  Today, you can find the strangest fetishes regarding maids.  The typical maid café charges a sitting fee on top of a mandatory drink.  One drink is usually good for about 1 hour.  This may change depending on the café.  You are then treated to a dose of acting from all of the maids in the café.  They tend to talk to you as if you are their master, at all times.  They act very cutesy and they play games with you.  Sometimes, there is a stage where they will play games with the entire café.  If you want to have a picture with one of the maids, or play a private game at your table, you will have to pay extra.  You can even buy one of the maid outfits if you really wanted to.  The man target for this is the men, not the women.  Today, they have added a plethora of different theme cafes.  This can range from a maid café where men dress as maids, but it’s relatively the same thing.  You can also see cafes where the girls are dressed more like a school girl, or even a moody school girl that will treat you like dirt, but cry and apologize when you leave.  I have seen various maid style cafes on TV, but I have never personally been to one.  I have seen their prices and can’t imagine entering one based on the prices.  If you really want to check it out, go ahead, but be sure you know how much it costs.  It could be as much as 4000 Yen for just one hour.  The safest place to visit a maid café might be on top of Don Quijote.

When I first came to Japan, Akihabara was only half as busy, but twice as strange.  In the last few years, the Mayor of Taito-ku, the name of the district Akihabara lies in, decided to clamp down on the strange people.  Several new buildings have popped up to act as an IT hub for Tokyo, and the police have done everything in their power to stop any performance that is done on the street.  While there is a good reason for this, they have decided that Akihabara’s original character of craziness has to go, and that it’s better to be a boring town like every other district of Tokyo.  On the weekends, you might be able to see a couple of “crazy” performers.  They tend to be men, and they tend to dress up as female anime characters.  Nowadays, they probably just walk around.  If they stop, the police will probably talk to them.  If they play loud music, the police will move them along.  If they dance to the music, the police will arrest them.  While this may seem strange and a little heavy handed, there is a main reason to this.  In the last couple years, some girls began to dress as maids, or other characters with a very short skirt; stand on a railing, and let people take pictures of them.  In essence, they let dirty men take photos up their skirts.  Thankfully, this has pretty much stopped, but the days when a tourist could walk along Chuo-dori, see someone dancing, take pictures, and say Tokyo is strange is long gone.  If you came to Akihabara looking for cheap electronics and hundreds of little shops, you will be disappointed.  If you came looking for a cool subculture, you will find something, but probably not exactly what you were looking for.  Either way, I still recommend visiting Akihabara.

The Akihabara series continues with Akihabara – For the Civilized and Akihabara – Redux.

Akihabara Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Akihabara
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html
Official Site (English): http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/index.htm
Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/ja/index.htm
Free Akihabara Tours:  http://akihabara-tour.com/en/
Akihabara Map:  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/map.htm
Commercial Site:  http://www.akiba.or.jp/english/index.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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