Monday, September 29, 2014

Ivan Ramen

It's been so long since I've blogged about anything! I can't believe how lazy I've been. Sometimes you just need a little break when life get to be too much of a routine. Luckily lots of exciting things are coming up. Next week John's brother will be here visiting, and right now I'm helping Raku book her long-delayed honeymoon!

Over the weekend we trekked out to the suburbs of Tokyo to visit Ivan Ramen, a ramen shop famous for being started by a foreigner. He achieved great success here, and has now moved to New York and opened a couple ramen shops there as well.  After doing our research we were prepared for a wildly popular place with a long line wrapping about the building, but when we arrived we were the only people there. To be fair, it was a little early - about 6:45 on a Saturday evening, but only two other people showed up while we ate, so there was no wait or rush to slurp up the hot noodles. I wonder if fewer people are interested now that Ivan isn't actually working in the shop?

I tried Shio ramen for the first time, which is a light salty broth composed of a mixture of chicken broth and dashi (a light fish broth). I think shio ramen is not my favorite style, but Raku assured me that it was a very good and very classical example of the dish. The noodles were wonderfully springing, but grew soggy faster than we were used to. Raku added bamboo shoots to her bowl and said they were "delicious and rugged." My soft boiled egg was absolutely perfect - the best part of the bowl. John got the spicy garlic ramen, which comes with a much smaller amount of broth, but he really enjoyed it. He thought the chashu (pork belly) was very good quality too.

It takes a really long time to get out there, about twenty minutes past Shinjuku, so I wouldn't go on a regular basis, but it was fun to go once. The shop is small, with about ten seats and it's in a little neighborhood that feels very removed from the bustle of Tokyo.

Hours: M-F 11:30-2:00, 6:00-9:30, Weekends 11:30-8:00, Closed Wed and 4th Tues of the month
Phone: 03-7650-5540
Address: 3-24-7 Minamikarasuyama, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

The Neighborhood
Ivan Ramen - vending machine in Japanese and English!
Our chef hard at work
Just look at that egg. Yum!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Japanese Season Dates

Did you know that Japanese seasons have different dates than the ones North America recognizes? Mind. Blown. I've been talking about how early seasonal decorations come out here for almost two years, and now I finally know why. Because they're exactly on schedule. I just didn't know the schedule.

The weather is starting to cool off, the humidity is dropping a little, and the cicadas are being replaced by crickets. John and I were talking about seasons last night, and for some reason we decided to google whether Japan actual follows the same seasonal calendar we do. Thanks to wikipedia, we are now a lot wiser.

In Japan fall is August 9 - November 7, winter is November 8 - February 4, spring is February 5 - May 6, and summer is May 7 - August 8. I have to say the weather does not really match these dates, but it seems that they are based on an ancient lunar calendar that had 24 months.

No matter what season it technically is, I'm looking forward to cooler weather and a long beautiful autumn.

New Fall Tenugui

Fancy Nighttime Drinks

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tan Tan Men from Japanese Soul Cooking

I tried another recipe from Japanese Soul Cooking, and again it was a delicious success. The noodles were not the best, but the blame for that goes either to me or the manufacturer - the recipe itself is great.

Tan tan men is a Japanese take on a spicy Chinese noodle soup quite similar to ramen. The more recipes I try the fewer new ingredients there are for me buy and learn about. This time the only new ones were fresh ramen noodles (not exactly an unfamiliar product, but not something I've ever purchased before) and Japanese sesame paste. Japanese sesame paste or Neri Goma comes in black and white versions. I bought the white because the photo in the book didn't look like there was anything black in it, but I suspect either would be fine. I already had some tahini in the fridge and wondered how the two products would differ, so I gave them a quick taste test before I started cooking.  The neri goma is a lot thinner and liquidy, has a smoother consistency, and tastes a little sweeter. It could be drizzled from a spoon while the tahini was thicker and "gloopy" for lack of a better word. The tahini was grittier in my mouth and tasted a little bitter. If you can't find neri goma I think tahini would definitely work, but I'd thin it out by about 50% with water and add a pinch of sugar or honey.

The broth was really flavorful and so fragrant, John could barely wait to eat it. Luckily the whole recipe comes together in just a few minutes. The pork and green onions were perfect toppings, minimal but not lacking anything. The noodles however were kind of a disappointment. They were already cooked, I just needed to warm them up, but they had an oiliness to them that kept them from soaking up the yummy broth flavor, or really even from letting the soup cling to them as we slurped them up. Raku says this can be a problem with store bought noodles, but John inspected the packaging and says I bought yakisoba noodles. (Yakisoba is a stir-fried noodle dish made from ramen noodles) I argued that since it's made from ramen noodles these must be ramen noodles, but he was not at all convinced. Maybe the oil is a special thing for frying, or maybe there are other differences I just don't know about. I guess I'll have to try again and look for better noodles. Our final review was that the recipe is fantastic, but good noodles are essential.

I only made half the recipe, but there was some left over which I had for lunch the next day. When the broth cooled a layer of fat congealed on the top. I scraped this off and threw it away in an attempt to be more healthy. It still tasted really good, but most of the spiciness disappeared with the fat, so be aware if you try something similar.

Ramen (yakisoba?) Noodles and Neri Goma

Delicious Tan Tan Men

How jealous are you right now?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Guess What?

Raku and I signed up to run a 5k! That might not sound super impressive to you, but this is coming from the girl whose favorite PE activity was sitting in the grass making clover necklaces when she was a kid. Raku is not as ridiculously un-athletic as me, but it will be her first race too! So look forward to pictures in November from the Tokyo Run for the Cure (xoxo Cindy).

In other fun news here is a picture of Raku sitting in the lap of a giant teddy bear.  Gotta love Costco.