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Beverages and Western Food in Singapore December 20, 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 “Beverages and Western Food in Singapore” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Kn

Beverages in Singapore are quite standard.  You can easily find various colas and carbonated drinks everywhere.  It is important to keep hydrated when touring around Singapore.  I had become dehydrated a few times and finding a place to get a drink wasn’t difficult.  The one surprise I had was that you had to find an actual shop.  Tokyo has spoiled me as I can just go a block or so and find a vending machine to get a drink.  It is so easy to find them, but in Singapore, I had to look around a bit for a convenience store to get one.  While there are convenience stores everywhere, it isn’t always easy to spot them and you can get a bit of bad luck by zig-zagging and missing them all.  I was pleasantly surprised to find bubble tea shops around Singapore.  While I wasn’t expecting the best, I did try one.  I ordered a simple milk tea with pearls and was asked about the sweetness level.  I said, non-sweet, and the clerk was surprised.  Living in Japan, tea is rarely sweetened and when I went to Taiwan earlier in the year, the bubble tea was unsweetened.  While I like both, on a very hot day, I actually prefer unsweetened to feel more refreshed.  While the bubble tea was just average, I think I can see why people like it sweetened.  The tea didn’t taste as great and the sweetness could mask the imperfect taste.  In fact, I found it impossible to find unsweetened tea in Singapore as they take the western tradition that any cold tea has to be sweetened.

Alcohol in Singapore is something that is a bit strange.  Alcohol is easy to find and purchase.  You can easily buy alcohol at any convenience store and supermarket but it isn’t that cheap.  It isn’t expensive either but when you go to a restaurant or club, it can feel astronomical.  The lunch time specials, called “happy hour”, provide 2 for 1 or 50% off drink deals.  In fact, these deals tended to last from lunch till dinner, rather than just an hour.  After this happy hour, prices are scaled up to “regular” price.  One of the most common types of price scaling was a happy hour from open till dinner; then dinner time; then regular price after dinner.  This made drinking a little expensive but if you stuck to drinking in the afternoon, it was very reasonable.  The selection was also interesting.  You can really feel the influence of western nations as most of the beer was imports from other countries.  While there were regional brews such as Tiger beer and other nearby specialties, it was tough to determine what was local and what was foreign.  I try to support the local economy but in Singapore, I decided to support the European community by trying various beers from Europe.

Western food is also very common in Singapore.  It is very easy to find McDonald’s but it is also easy to find various pubs and bars as well.  I love to visit nice brewpubs wherever I go.  In Taiwan, I had a few drinks in the gay district and had a good time there.  In Vancouver, I often go to pubs where I grab a burger and a beer.  In Tokyo, I often go to various izakaya and drink till the sun comes up.  In Singapore, I found the drinking experience to be more like Vancouver where you have nice brewpubs, but also like Taiwan where you can have outdoor terraces with many drinks being served.  Alcohol is still a very western ideal in Singapore.  Muslims are very strict at not drinking alcohol and I have found Chinese people don’t often drink too much, especially with family.  I read that Singapore frowns upon public drunkenness so I kept myself in check.  Most of the western style restaurants have to cater to those who drink alcohol as that is what is expected in many restaurants.  Whether it is a bottle of wine or a pint of beer, people enjoy a little alcohol with their meal and Muslim Singaporeans respect that.

Singapore is not just about the foods that I have mentioned.  I did see a lot of Japanese restaurants and I feel that they must be delicious, albeit a bit overpriced compared to Tokyo.  I also saw many other places selling foods that I never had a chance to try.  You can spend days exploring Singapore and trying various types of food.  It is a matter of making time to go out and try new things that is difficult, especially when you also want to see everything else that is out there.  You can spend a small fortune eating if you want or save a lot by going to the Hawker’s markets.  It really depends on your personality and your budget.

Beverages and Western Food in Singapore is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

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Food in Singapore December 13, 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 “Food in Singapore” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Kk

Singapore is a wonderful place to eat.  In my previous posts about Singapore, I mentioned that Singapore is a very multi-cultural city and that is reflected in the food options that are available.  From the research that I had done prior to my trip, I never found a lot of information on real authentic Singaporean food.  I found a lot of information on food in general but nothing that would say that this or that was truly originated from Singapore.  People had told me that the food is from Singapore but I had a tough time telling the difference between what I was told to be Singaporean food and what appeared to originally be Chinese/Indian/Malay/Indonesian food.  This was further exacerbated as the closest I came to eating real Singaporean food was in Canada at one restaurant that was a mix between Malaysian, Thai, and Singaporean food.

While it may be difficult to tell the difference between real Singaporean food and dishes that had been localized with time, there are three distinct Asian types of food that can easily be found in Singapore.  The first is Malaysian, or rather South-East Asian.  One will have to forgive me if I am not in touch with the differences of each country’s local cuisine, but unfortunately I am not an expert on Singapore.  The first dish that I can think of that is part of the area is Kaya Toast.  Kaya is a type of coconut and egg spread and Kaya Toast is when you take this spread and put it in a toast sandwich along with a small wedge of butter.  It reminded me of eating cinnamon toast as a child with lots of sugar.  It was delicious and something that I would eat, not just for breakfast but also for a snack.  The typical way to order Kaya Toast is to get a set with Singaporean coffee and eggs.  Singaporean coffee reminds me of what I think is a Vietnamese style, or rather originally French coffee.  Using a tall metal pot and a high pour to add air into the coffee itself is wonderful technique that is employed in Singapore.  They also use condensed milk and hot water to keep the coffee from being too strong.  The eggs are soft boiled eggs that can be used as a dip for the Kaya Toast or eaten plain with or without soy sauce and black pepper.  One might wonder, what is the “correct” way of eating Kaya Toast, and if the Discovery Chanel is true, there is no correct way of eating Kaya Toast.  You can eat it in any way you’d like.

Another traditional dish I noticed would have to be the noodle dishes.  Dishes such as Mee Goreng and Bee Hoon were great.  They are a regional take on Chow Mein or Yaki Soba.  Almost every Asian country has their version of fried rice or fried noodles.  The version I had in Singapore was delicious with heaps of seafood.  In every food court and hawker’s market I could find these home style foods.  The smells were great and there were small citrus fruits included with these dishes that looked and tasted like sudachi in Japan.  The small citrus fruits were a perfect complement to the spiciness of the noodles.  I also had a chance to eat Lahksa, which is more Indian in style.  It was a spicy soup, almost curry like, with noodles that reminded me of a soup curry rather than an actual Singaporean dish.  One item that I didn’t have a chance to try was the satay.  I was always unlucky when trying to order it.  I always wanted to have satay in that region as I wanted to compare it to the satay that I could get back in Vancouver.  Rather than allowing it to be a regret, I thankfully think of it as just one more reason to go back to Singapore.

In terms of Indian food, there is a lot.  With Little India just a stone’s throw away from my hotel, it was easy to get Indian food, but I never went to Little India for it.  The first chance I had for Indian food was at Boat Quay.  I went to a restaurant that advertised Northern Indian food and it was delicious.  I don’t know what the difference is between Northern and Southern Indian food but my guess would be that Northern Indian tends to be “drier”.  By this, I am comparing it to Indian food that I have bought in Tokyo, which is highly unlikely to be authentic.  I ordered what would seem to be regular food from India.  I had some samosas, naan, curry, and tandoori chicken.  The Samosas were delicious and very much alike the potato samosas I had in Vancouver.  I also had papadums.  These are similar to Indian “chips” with a mint dip and a mango dip.  It was not what I expected but not terrible either.  The naan was a surprise.  I am used to the huge triangle shaped naan in Japan, but these were simple circles and probably more traditional of India or northern India.  The curry was also a bit of a surprise.  I ordered a chili chicken curry that had almost no sauce.  Rather, the sauce was so thick that it looked more like sweet and sour chicken, but a lot spicier.  While it was a surprise, it was also very delicious.  The tandoori chicken was the house specialty and it was as expected.  Not too dry as some places do but just the right amount of spice for me.  I had one other opportunity to have Indian-like food in Singapore.  I ordered some curry in a food court and it was also a bit dry overall.  While the dry curry was good, it was just something I had to get used to as I had a bad experience with dry curry in the past.

Chinese food is by far the easiest food to obtain.  Everywhere I went I could see various types of Chinese food.  Growing up in Vancouver, I had a great opportunity to taste various types of Cantonese style foods.  In Singapore, chicken rice is very famous.  It is actually Haianese food but it was delicious and the ginger rice that I had with it was perfect.  The rice had the scent of ginger but it wasn’t too spicy either.  I also had a chance to eat some Chinese style pastries.  Within the food areas of department stores, I could find various cakes and pastries.  Singapore has many bakeries that sell traditional bread style pastries as well as flake pastries.  I was happy to see I could get my favourite pastries in Singapore and I didn’t have to go to Hong Kong or Vancouver to get it.  Japan is one of the worst places to get real Chinese pastries, and even in Hong Kong I have found it a challenge at times to get the ones I want as  Hong Kong has been transitioning from the pastries that I know and love to a more Japanese style.  Japanese pastries tend to be very good but the way they do things is not the same.  Think of the difference between a McDonald’s burger and a gourmet burger.  They are the same thing but done completely differently.  Sometimes one is better than the other, but it depends on your mood.  That’s how I feel about these pastries.  Chicken rice and pastries aren’t the only dishes available in Singapore.  You can also get dim sum, although I couldn’t get any due to bad luck or timing, noodles in soup, and various rice dishes.  Because I ate in food courts, the food was somewhat skewed.  I am used to eating in restaurants where I can share many dishes along with plain white rice.  In the food courts, food is designed for single people and it was hard to try many different things at once.

As you can see, eating in Singapore is varied.  The food was all delicious and other than being a little scared of the cleanliness of the hawker’s markets, everything was fine.  If I could, I would go to the hawker’s markets more often but I also felt a little strange as it was filled with locals.  I stuck out like a sore thumb every time I walked through the hawker’s market that was between my hotel and the station.  For some, it is a great place but with my own personality, I found it difficult to enjoy a meal there.  The hawker’s markets are open from late morning until dinner time, but around dinner time they all start to shut down.  You can easily find food during the day but by night things get a little difficult.  It is a great adventure to try the hawker’s markets and next time, if I’m with the right people, I’ll have no problems going back and eating there more often.

Food in Singapore is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

Food in Taipei September 27, 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 “Food in Taipei” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Hx

When visiting Taipei, one must always think about food.  In fact when visiting any region, food is very important.  Coming from Canada, it isn’t as important to find a good restaurant or local food when travelling in North America as food tends to be very similar in each region.  When visiting Europe, we tend to think about food more so when visiting the continent versus England itself.  France is well known for its cheeses and Italy is well known for pasta.  Even each region of a country has its own specialties.  After moving to Japan, I slowly got into the food culture.  Japan is well known among Japanese people for being a place with various regional dishes.  Each city has its own local foods that have been around for either centuries or just a few decades.  Taiwan is well known for Xiao Long Bao, and beef noodle soup, among other foods.  It has always been important for me to try everything so I can get the full experience of any place I visit and food is definitely one of those things.

The most famous food to come from Taiwan is Xiao Long Bao.  Xiao Long Bao is a type of Chinese dumpling that is akin to the Cantonese dim sum dumplings.  It is meat, traditionally pork, wrapped in a dough wrapper.  It is steamed and served piping hot.  While Xiao Long Bao may have originated in Shanghai, it is still very famous in Taiwan and an integral part of their food culture.  When eating Xiao Long Bao, you have to be extremely careful as when you take a bite into it, the juices just squirt out burning the inside of your mouth if you aren’t careful.  The way I was taught to eat it “properly” is to pick it up by the top and dip it in vinegar.  Then place it in your spoon where you take a bite off the top.  The dumpling is wrapped in such a way that it is closed on the top and the top is the strongest part of the dumpling.  The top, where they seal the dumpling is where you take your first bite.  From the hole you just created, you can slurp out the soup created by the pork juices and fat.  Afterwards you can eat the rest of the Xiao Long Bao.  It doesn’t take much time but it ensures you don’t have a burnt mouth when you eat it.  Making the perfect Xiao Long Bao is very difficult and something I could never do.  The most famous shop in the world has to be Din Tai Fung.  It is one of the oldest in Taipei and touted as the best.  There are many branches but the top quality is said to be in their main branch on Xinyi Road.  It was a simple walk from my hotel to the main branch and even though we arrived around 3pm, there was still a line.  When you eat Xiao Long Bao often enough, you can tell the good from the bad.  The previous night we had Xiao Long Bao at another famous shop.  It was good but Din Tai Fung was much better.  The dough was pressed properly.  Thin enough so it wouldn’t interfere with the taste of the pork and thick enough so it wouldn’t break easily.  Of course they had other things on the menu but the Xiao Long Bao is the most famous.

The other famous food to eat, or rather drink, is Bubble Tea.  Bubble Tea is also known as Pearl Tea.  It is a drink that contains tapioca balls inside.  I had a few chances to try different varieties of Bubble Tea in Taiwan.  The first time was at one of the first, if not the first place to create Bubble Tea.  It was definitely a good experience.  Bubble Tea in Taiwan tends to be less sweet than Bubble Tea in Hong Kong as Taiwan uses milk and Hong Kong uses condensed milk.  Speaking to someone from Taiwan, they are very proud of Bubble Tea and find Hong Kong Bubble Tea to be too sweet and not good at all.  I disagree with the evaluation that it isn’t good, but rather I think it’s different.  Sometimes I’ll want a sweet Bubble Tea and sometimes I won’t.  I think it is all in a person’s preference.  I like both of them.  The simplicity of a milk tea with pearls and having it at the right sweetness is difficult.  Taiwan does a very good job with this and I could drink it almost daily.  Unfortunately having good ones can be a little difficult at times.  Finding a good shop can be difficult as I didn’t know if the main outdoor branches would sell good ones.  It doesn’t really matter as nothing really compared to the first one I had at one of the birth places of Bubble Tea.

Snow cones are another interesting food from Taiwan.  There is a somewhat famous shaved ice dessert that comes topped with syrup and fresh fruit.  I went to the best place in Taipei called FnB.  There was a long snaking line outside the shop and people jockeying for position to steal a table when it opened up.  We got lucky when we found a table but I ended up standing anyways.  The most typical version is a plain shaved ice with mangoes on top.  It is a delicious dessert and well worth the cost.  The ice is shaved fresh and they poured a little brown syrup on top of the ice.  On top of that they added mangoes with lots of juice and topped all of that with a scoop of mango sherbet.  They do have other fruit varieties including a mixed fruit that typically comes with mango, strawberry, and kiwi.  For a city like Taipei, the need for fresh desserts is a necessity due to the humidity.  There is one variation where they use ice milk rather than regular ice.  This is just as good but the flavour is slightly different.  It’s difficult to explain and something you can easily find out by trying it yourself.  The main difference between the milk ice and plain ice would have to be the texture.  Milk ice tends to be a little silky while plain ice has a bit of a crunch to it.  That’s not to say that the plain ice is hard as it was surprisingly very soft.

The night markets are one of the best places to find food.  It can be a little scary as it’s hard to decide what to eat.  They have everything you can imagine that comes deep fried.  One of the most common things to eat is the Chinese sausage.  You can get these in many places but the night markets are the easiest.  A Chinese sausage is not your typical European style.  They tend to be a little sweet and chewy.  It’s hard to explain but it is similar around China but different enough due to the local ingredients used.  It’s similar to asking someone to explain barbecue sauce.  You know it when you taste it and it tastes different in each region.  The other main food I had to try was the chou dofu, or stinky tofu.  It is a fermented tofu that is deep fried.  In the night market, they deep fry bite sized pieces of stinky tofu and put a bunch of pickled cabbage on top.  It’s similar to sauerkraut but in a Chinese style.  The smell of the stinky tofu wasn’t bad at first.  I enjoy the smell as it reminds me of night markets.  I’m not sure if I ate it before as my parents often give me food and tell me that its good but never tell me what it is.  As I smelt the stinky tofu, my feelings about eating it went up and down.  I went from wanting to enjoy it to getting scared as the smell went from pungent to gross to pungent again.  When I did eat it, the first few bites were fine and it was like normal deep fried tofu.  After my saliva started to engulf the tofu, the smells were released and I had a tough time swallowing it.  It went from having no smell to having a terrible smell in under a second.  While I found the smell to be terrible as I chewed the stinky tofu, it is a food that I could get used to.  It would take a while to get used to it but I’m sure I can.  It’s similar to natto in Japan yet the smell is very different.  I find the smell of natto to be unbearable yet the smell of stinky tofu is no problem, for the most part.  I don’t recommend buying it but if someone wants to try it, by all means give it a try.  A group of 8-10 people can share one order and everyone can get a bite.

Of course there are tons of other foods you can try but these are the main things that I ate.  You should try the beef noodle soup, tea, fried chicken, and so on.  It’s hard to keep things down to just one post and I could probably write a few more posts on the food alone.  I only went to Taiwan for 5 days and in that time I ate a lot of different things.  If you do go, you can satiate yourself for a good 3 days before things start to get repetitive.  Be sure to try as much as possible and be adventurous.

Food in Taiwan is part of a multi part series of my trip to Taiwan.  Please continue reading about  Taipei and Danshui, Taiwan.

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。

Taipei September 13, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Taipei” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-taipei

In June 2011, I embarked on what has become an annual adventure.  Every year, I head out with a couple friends and go on an adventure.  In 2009, I went to Hong Kong.  In 2010, I went to Shimane.  This year we decided to go to Taiwan.  It is a small island where, to be honest, I wasn’t very interested in visiting.  My family is originally from Hong Kong which meant that I grew up eating Cantonese food and hearing Cantonese wherever I went.  I love to eat Chinese food, but specifically Cantonese food.  I had no real images of Taiwan except for the image that it was a cross between China and Japan, culturally.  Little did I know that Taiwan was more Japanese than I could have expected.

Living in Japan means flying to Taipei is very easy.  I was able to fly directly from Haneda Airport to Songshan Airport.  Both airports are located in the downtown cores.  When leaving Tokyo, I could enjoy the view of Tokyo as we departed and on approach I could see Taipei 101.  It is a very convenient flight and one that makes visiting Taipei much easier.  When I researched Taipei, I learned about Taoyuan Airport which is similar to Narita Airport in Tokyo.  There are no direct trains to the Taoyuan Airport and I’d have to take a bus if I flew there.  I was relieved when I found out I could fly to Songshan and just take the train in.  Songshan airport itself is pretty simple.  There are only a few gates as most flights are designed for domestic travel only.  In fact, Songshan Airport is a little ghetto but they are undergoing renovations to improve the facilities a little.  Upon my arrival at Songshan Airport, I was greeted by a wall of heat and humidity.  It was a little difficult to survive as Tokyo was still in the process of heating up to summer temperatures and summer humidity.  The heat an humidity at this time made it a little difficult to get around but thankfully my hotel was located in a central location.  It was close to the electronics area and a short walk to an area near Daan Park with great food.

One of the first places I visited was Ximen.  It is a bustling commercial district with lots of trendy shops.  It is akin to walking around Shibuya in Tokyo.  Lots of young people walking around, but to my surprise there was a lot of Japanese shops.  Everywhere I walked there was a Japanese shop somewhere.  I couldn’t get past it.  I found a lot of famous Japanese shops but mostly Japanese restaurants.  It wasn’t all Japanese as I saw a lot of Taiwanese shops and restaurants too.  Being a commercial district, there was a large karaoke shop nearby where people gather to enjoy singing but from what I heard they enjoy the food a lot more.  Walking around Ximen will eventually bring you to the cinema district where you can enjoy movies at a relatively cheap rate.  Compared to Tokyo, the movies were dirt cheap.  On the other side of the commercial district was a red brick square.  I forget the name of the area but I found out that it was the gay area of Taipei.  It was supposed to be like going to Nichome in Shinjuku, but I found it to be just a simple bar area.  Since I visited the area on a weeknight, there were very few people there but the drinks were fairly priced and the atmosphere was relaxing.

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, or CKS Memorial for short, is one of the few tourist areas that I visited in Taipei.  I spent a lot of time enjoying the food and seeing the city.  The CKS Memorial is a huge complex with 2 large halls, a huge gate, and the memorial itself.  All of this is nestled within a large park.  I never got the chance to visit every corner of this park but I did see all of the main points.  The two halls were not so special but unfortunately I only visited one of them.  The exteriors of the two halls were more interesting than the interiors.  I’m not too sure on the completion date of the halls but the interior of the hall I visited was very modern.  If I’m not mistaken, it also served as a theatre which made it less interesting for tourists.  The main gate is a famous point for tourists and can be difficult to get good photos depending on the time of day.  The main gate usually has tourists passing in and out of it at all times making it difficult to get the perfect shot.  Pictures can never put the size into scope.  It is much larger than any picture could have conveyed to me.  The memorial hall itself is where all the action is.  During the day, they open the doors and have a ceremonial changing of the guard every hour on the hour.  It is a slow 15 minute ceremony where the guards change from their platforms and show their ceremonial guns.  I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing the ceremony but I just happened to be there as they started.  I would recommend taking in the ceremony if you happen to be there during the ceremony.  The night view at the CKS Memorial is also very interesting.  I highly recommend bringing a tripod if you want to take pictures at night.  It is popular for young couples to just hang out and make out around the complex.  It can look romantic but there really isn’t enough privacy for couples.

Taipei 101 is currently the second tallest building in the world.  It is a popular area with many high end shops.  The building complex itself is not that great but the trip up to the top is a must for any typical tourist.  It is a little expensive but the trip up is very quick.  It takes less than a minute to get to the top thanks to the world’s second fastest elevators, conveniently built by Toshiba.  The view from the top is a typical observation deck view.  In reality, I find that when going to observation decks around the world, the view is very similar.  The vantage point is different but the appeal quickly goes away.  You get up there and look out the windows and within a few minutes you feel as if it isn’t special anymore.  Taipei 101 is not immune to that feeling but I don’t regret going up.  My only regret is that the outdoor observation deck was closed when I visited and I couldn’t go outside to the roof.  The observation deck can get very crowded at times and extremely noisy.  When I visited, I saw waves of tour groups go past listening to their guided tour devices.  I also happened to see a group of Chinese models visiting and doing a promotional photo shoot and video.  It was interesting but more annoying than anything.  There are 3 areas of the observation area.  The main area is where you can take pictures of the surrounding areas.  You can go upstairs to the 91st floor which has the outdoor observation deck.  Going down a floor takes you to the exit.  Before you leave you go through the Tuned Mass Damper which is the largest in the world.  It is designed to reduce swaying of the building during earthquakes and strong winds.  After a visit to the damper you must walk your way through a sales area that specializes in coral sculptures and jewelry.  It is your typical rich person money grab and I’m sure they do enough business to get by.

Of course this is just the surface of places to visit within Taipei.  It’s difficult to see and do everything in a few days but I’d say it’s sufficient to get a feel of the city.  Personally, I can’t see myself spending more than a few days in Taipei itself.  If I spent more time there, I’d have to get out a lot more and do a lot more outside the city.  If you plan to only visit the city, you’ll only need a few days at most.  After that things tend to get boring or repetitive.  This is especially true if you have visited other East Asian cities such as Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Taipei is part of a multi part series of my trip to Taiwan.  Please continue reading about Danshui, Taiwan and Food in Taiwan.

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。

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。

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