Friday, December 2, 2016

Is Ramen the Mercedes-Benz of Asian Noodle Soups?

The Ramen of Mecedes-Benz (RocketNews24 photo)

According to the online journal RocketNews24, Mercedes-Benz is selling ramen in Tokyo, at a cafe attached to their Roppongi showroom.  They feature both surf ("Umi") and turf ("Riku") versions.

$18 Tori Paitan Ramen
I stumbled across this bit of culinary knowledge shortly after a review of San Francisco ramen-ya Nojo Ramen Tavern in the Hungry Onion food discussion forum indicated that a Tori Paitan Shoyu Ramen there cost $18. Although Nojo Tavern's chicken ramen bowl contained a whole chicken leg, which is more protein than one can reasonably expect in a bowl of ramen, some forum participants (including me) found this a startling price. Steep as it is, though, this pricing is not to be totally unexpected; another forum participant found another $18 chicken ramen in town, and in another instance, a local hipster entrepreneur (who shall remain nameless) was so enamored by his own chicken ramen creation that he attempted to get $28 for it.  His business was short-lived.

$6.99 Michelin-starred Ramen
My views on ramen are well known to regular readers of this blog (in short, I consider it one of the less noble forms of Asian noodle soups), but even leaving out qualitative considerations, I consider ramen to be overpriced in general.  For a hearty bowl of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai or Korean noodle soup, a sticker price of less than $10 is still the rule rather than the exception, whereas it's nearly impossible to find a bowl of ramen in the single-digit range, and most menus start at least a couple of bucks north of an Alexander Hamilton. And when branding kicks in, people will wait in long queues fo the privilege of paying a Mercedez-Benz price for what the Japanese consider a Daihatsu food. (Tokyo ramen shop Nakiryu was recently awarded a Michelin star; the bite for a bowl of its signature Dandan noodles is US $6.99.)

So much for Mercedes-priced ramen; as far as Mercedes-Benz's own Tokyo ramen goes, that'll be US $10.60 for either the Umi (with scallops) or the Riku (with duck "ham") ramen.

Tori paitan ramen photo by Hungry Onion poster "Mr_Happy." Others by RocketNews24

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Year Of The Phở? I'm Ready Pho It!

Phở , the Vietnamese soup that is healthier, more complex, and more widespread than ramen, is about to get its due. First came a Lucky Peach special (and look what LP did for ramen). It may not be quite "all you need to know" about pho, but it'll give you a giant head start. Early 2017 will also bring a couple of notable events, the publication of what will undoubtedly be a landmark of Vietnamese cuisine, The Pho Cookbook, by Andrea Nguyen. Who better than Andrea, author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Asian Tofu, Asian Dumplings and The Banh Mi Handbook to expand our knowledge of this delightful noodle soup? It's due out February 7, 2017 and you can pre-order now.

Around the same time as Andrea's book is published, hopefully, we'll see a documentary about pho by Freeman LaFleur titled, yes, Phocumentary. It's a Kickstarter-financed project which I supported and have been following since its inception, and you can keep track of by the film's website.

As you can tell from this post (d'oh), Full Noodle Frontity's hiatus has ended. I don't know if I just became un-bored with my own words, am trying to turn my back on all things political, or am just getting jazzed about The Year of Pho. Look for less ponderous posts and more noodle small talk. I've even made it easier to call up: simply type (he said modestly). Since I'm fortunate to live in the city with the most pho joints in the US other than Houston, I expect to spend more time expanding my pho consciousness.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mongolian Food In Oakland That's Not Mongolian Beef: Lamb Stew Noodles at Togi's

[Note to my fellow noodlers: with this post I have suspended Full Noodle Frontity to focus on some research projects, not all of them food related.  I will also be returning attention to my legacy blog, Geezericious, which will include coverage of foods other than noodles, cuisines other than Asian, and even topics other than food.  See you there!]   

A few weeks ago I wrote about a stealth Mongolian cafe in San Francisco named Let's Jam (which has since come out of the closet as Mongol Cafe), and today I visited a similarly situated venue in Oakland, Asian Grill, which is soon to be renamed "Togi's Mongolian Cuisine. It's located in Downtown Oaklad at 14th and Webster, and as of this writing still identified as "Asian Grill" in its signage, though its menu (in English and Cyrillic characters) offers only Mongolian Food. (Yes, Goulash is a Mongolian staple, adopted from a dated Soviet Union culinary canon.)

True to this blog, I ordered one of the two noodle dishes on the menu, Lamb Stew Noodle Soup, made with house-made traditional Mongolian steamed noodles (蒙古焖面). (The other noodle offering, "Tzu-van," is a dish I tried on my San Francisco Mongolian food excursion, though I'm eager to try Togi's version as well.) The steamed noodles (also known as stewed noodles) are cooked by placing the raw wheat flour noodles on top of the other ingredients, which may be partially pre-cooked, in a covered pot over low heat. Along with my noodles, I ordered a traditional Mongolian milk tea as a beverage.

My stew arrived in a heavy stoneware vessel.  All the noodles were on top, so at first glance it looked like just a bowl of noodles. I'm guessing the noodles were all on top because they wee cooked in the came vessel they were served in, with the soup added at the last minute.  Lurking beneath the noodles was the stew of finely slivered lamb, carrots, various greens including (ugh) broccoli, and what appeared to be ginger.  It was served piping hot, too hot to sip at first, and the heavy stoneware vessel kept it very hot, forcing me to savor the soup and its treasures slowly. Remarkably, the robust noodles kept their chew to the very end. The broth was familiar, slightly fatty from the lamb, and comforting, a bit like a Scotch broth or pepper-pot soup though less peppery. It was the perfect lunch for a chilly July day, as it happened to be.

I have to say I was  not a fan of the Mongolian milk tea. It's an approximately 50/50 mixture of tea and extra-rich milk (possibly condensed milk)  heavily salted and with a slightly medicinal flavor. It's definitely an acquired taste, one which I am in no hurry to acquire. The good news is that Togi's has applied for a beer and wine license.

Where slurped: (Soon to be named) Togi's Mongolian Cuisine, 354 14th St., Oakland