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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。

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Tokushima June 9, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokushima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bZ

Tokushima is situated in the north-eastern region of Shikoku.  It is the major gateway to the island from Kansai.  It is connected via Awaji Island to Kobe.   Unfortunately, this city is very small and easily visited within a day or two.  You can easily get out of Tokushima city and head to Naruto in the north; Iya Valley in the west; and towards Muroto in the south.

Tokushima is primarily known for one thing, and only one thing, the Awa Odori.  It is a summer festival held in August.  It is one of the most distinct and unique festivals in Japan.  The Awa Odori is literally a traditional dance of the region.  People dress up in the regions unique festival clothing and the dance can be heard for blocks.  It is very difficult to describe the dance and it is something that must be seen in video to truly understand how complex, active, and interesting it really is.  All over Tokushima city, you’ll be able to see statues, banners, art, and videos of the Awa Odori.  You can even take a dance class at the base of Mt. Bizan.  While the Awa Odori is the most famous thing about Tokushima, sudachi is the most famous gift from Tokushima.  It is a small green citrus fruit that is similar to limes and lemons.  It has a slightly stronger taste, but very refreshing.  Beware that buying any sudachi sweets can be dangerous.  They last a long time, but once opened, they “could” expire within a day or two.  I would recommend buying sudachi alcohol and drinks, which are very popular.

There are only a few things to do in Tokushima itself.  The most famous thing to do is to head up Mt. Bizan.  There is a gondola that will take you from the base to the peak, but it runs every 15 minutes.  You can also get a discount if you go in the evening.  The top of the mountain is very beautiful and gives you a great view of the city.  Heading up in the evening is worth the price, however heading up at full price may not be worth it for those on a budget.  You can also hike up the mountain, and the peak offers various hiking paths.  If you are an avid hiker, this is a great place to get started for a short day hike.  Routes tend to be well marked and wind their way around the mountain.  In May, you will also be greeted with beautiful flowers blooming around the peak station.  If you are lucky, Mt. Bizan has over 1000 cherry trees, so the cherry blossom season is supposed to be extremely beautiful.

After Mt. Bizan, Tokushima Central Park is the next best place to visit.  It is located on a hill behind the station.  It can be a little difficult to reach as the station has only one entrance, to the south.  The park is located north of the station.  Once you find the park, it is a very nice place to visit.  The entire park is the site of the ruins of Tokushima Castle.  There are two routes to the top of the hill.  While both routes are equally difficult, be aware that the main route may have some school kids running up as part of their training exercises.  In all honesty, this park is better served to the locals.  There isn’t too much to see.  The view from the top of the hill, while nice, isn’t that great.  It’s difficult to see much of the city as there are large trees surrounding the old courtyard.  However, it is a good way to enjoy an afternoon in Tokushima.

Finally, walking along the Shinmachi River, south of the station, is a lot of fun.  The parks along the river are very beautiful, and there is a lot of outdoor art to enjoy.  You can even take a boat cruise around the city for only 100 yen.  It takes about one hour to go around the city.  You can also take a 4 hour cruise up to Naruto.  The river is also conveniently located near the main shopping area.  Shopping in Tokushima is sparse, to say the least.  It is probably the smallest major city in Shikoku, so finding any major name brands would be very difficult.  If you are looking for something to eat, I would recommend ramen.  It is a local specialty and the local food maps, available in most hotels, show the locations of famous ramen shops.  While it isn’t very different from other ramen shops in Japan, they tend to add slices of meat, and the soup base tends to be a little thinner and saltier, in my opinion.

Overall, I couldn’t say there is a lot to do in Tokushima city itself.  However, there is enough to make it a good weekend trip.  If you are just backpacking around Japan, timing a visit to coincide with the Awa Odori is the best way to go; otherwise it’s best to skip this city.  I would definitely like to return someday.

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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