Tuesday, July 6, 2010

japanese food: noodles

I think that since sushi is Japan's most popular export to the U.S., some Americans assume that people in Japan eat sushi constantly. On the contrary, much of what we ate on a day-to-day basis was noodle-based. Our first bowl of noodles on our first full day turned out to be one of my favorites.

kimchi ramen in Taito

The ramen is widely available in narrow little bars like the one we visited near our hotel. This bowl of ramen is fairly standard in our short experience, with a thin slice of pork, greens (spinach in this one), and large sheets of nori (seaweed). We enjoyed the addition of some kimchi for spice and crunch.

However, it's the broth that makes the bowl and totally blows any cup ramen out of the water. The broth was salty and complex, giving off smells and tastes of fish, pork, and soy. I would have loved to drink it down completely, but I wasn't sure I could handle the sodium. Anyway, this was an amazing bowl of soup.

ramen with wonton in Naka-meguro

Ramen itself is an import from China and both times we ate ramen it was topped with something foreign (kimchi from Korea and wonton from China). I was surprised by how much sort of "Asian fusion" we ate in Japan.

Another ubiquitous noodle dish is soba. Usually served cold with fried sides, soba are buckwheat noodles that you dip in a self-mixed concoction of soy sauce, ginger, green onions, and wasabi.

soba with tempura shrimp in Shintomi

When we visited friends in the country, we ate at a charming soba place where we watched the noodles being prepared. The noodles were paired with delicious tempura...everything.

cutting the dough

dusting off the freshly-cut noodles

basket of soba in Katsunuma

grating my own fresh wasabi

tempura soba, carrot, sweet potato, mushroom, eggplant, leaves

Last but certainly not least we have udon. These are thick, chewy noodles served either in a soup or warm topped with vegetables or a soft-boiled egg. Our friend took us to a Tokyo chain where you order your bowl of ramen, then pick your fried sides from trays cafeteria-style. One of the best parts of udon is being able to top your noodles with tiny tempura crumbles, ginger, spicy red pepper seasoning, sesame seeds, and soy sauce. Why can't fast food in the States be more like this?

in Kichijoji (left to right): kakiage (vegetable tempura fritter), korokke (breaded fried potato cake), udon with egg

udon with pork, tempura fish cake, tofu skin, and soft-boiled egg

I've saved the best for last. This bowl of udon was eaten in a little restaurant in the woods near Mt. Fuji and was the granddaddy of all noodle dishes we ate on our trip. The noodles were especially thick and chewy, apparently a specialty of that area. The tender sweet pork, rich egg, and flavorful broth topped everything off, but those noodles with their ample bite made them one of the more memorable dishes we had in Japan.

udon shop--the line out the door is a good sign!

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