Monday, August 1, 2011

Tune In Tokyo: Ramen, Onegaishimasu...To Slurp or Not to Slurp?

A couple of weeks ago, we formally introduced you to our friend, Stephanie, who is living over in Tokyo with her family, while her husband fulfills a three year work assignment.  We hope that you enjoy another segment here on Her Late Night Cravings featuring the adventures of international cuisine from Stephanie's point of view...


As some of you may know, the Japanese culture is rooted in the principles of harmony (“wa”) and balance.  It is something that is inspiring and also a constant reminder to work towards balancing your life and achieving harmony with those you interact with on a daily basis.  It never struck me that one could find such things in a bowl of ramen…


Ramen noodles have been around for over 4,000 years and came to Japan from China in the 19th century.  For my family, it’s a new cuisine (well, aside from all the “Top Ramen” I ate in college) where we can practice using our chopstick skills (or lack thereof in my case).  According to a Japanese poll conducted by The Fuji Research Institute Corporation, instant ramen was named the greatest “made in Japan” invention of the 20th century before karaoke (which is definitely a top invention). 

Japan has as an estimated 40,000 ramen shops, with 5,000 of those residing in Tokyo.  Noodles are usually served in meat or fish-based broth with vegetables, seaweed, and pieces of meat or tofu.  Without fail, when you enter, you know that people are enjoying their meal from the slurping sound that is unmistakable.  Growing up I am sure your mother told you it’s not polite to slurp, but here in Japan it is considered good manners and culturally appropriate to slurp your ramen.  Ramen is supposed to be eaten quickly for a couple of reasons:  First of all, there is typically a line out the door with patrons waiting to enter and secondly, the noodles should be eaten before they absorb too much broth and become soggy. 
To add to my ramen research, I decided to rent the movie The Ramen Girl (2008), starring Brittney Murphy.  It’s about an American woman named Abby who comes to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend, and after he decides he isn’t ”feelin” the relationship any longer, she becomes lost in her life’s direction.  Eventually she finds her path by training to become a ramen chef.  The movie is so bad, yet, oh so good, in that it depicts life in Tokyo and the Japanese culture.  In one scene her “Ramen Sensei” explains a bowl of ramen needing to exist in perfect harmony, which is the most important of all Japanese social values.  “A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountains and the earth.  All exist in perfect harmony.  Harmony is essential.  What holds it all together is the broth, and the broth gives life to the ramen.” I thought this explanation was a relatable way to describe the perfect balance of ramen ingredients from the vegetables, meat and starch, as well as striving to achieve harmony and balance in one’s life.  However, while that is poetic and deep, you aren’t really thinking about that while eating it at 2am after a night of karaoke!   
Our favorite place to get ramen is called Man-Riki-Ya in the shopping district of Azabu Juban, which is a 10-minute walk from our apartment.  This particular restaurant has table service where a lot of the ramen shops just have counters with stools and a ticket-machine to place your order.  We also like Man-Riki-Ya because they play loud American 70’s and 80’s music with selections such as Lionel Richie, The Village People and Michael Jackson, which never disappoints.  How can you not achieve harmony and engage in great slurping when YMCA and Dancin’ on the Ceilin’ are playing in the background?   The patrons can be guaranteed a good booty shake from my quirky three-year old when we are walking out the door after our meal.  It’s hard to tell if the staff is laughing at us or with us, but my daughter seems to think it’s “good laughing.”


video

Man-Riki-Ya in Azabu Juban
Bar at  Man-Riki-Ya
Our kids really like the dumplings, and I love the kurogoma tan tan men (noodles with spicy sesame sauce) with barbeque pork and I wash it down with a cold biru or two.  When I first arrived in Tokyo, I learned how to speak a few basics such as, “thank you,” “please,” “good morning,” “good evening,” “hello,” “goodbye,” and how to order a beer.  Seemed necessary, really!  Nama biru o hitotsu onegaishimasu = One draft beer, please!
Noodles with spicy sesame sauce, barbeque pork and scallion...YUM!

Lily using her training chopsticks

Ben with an interesting approach...

Charlie playing with his toys.  I regret not taking a picture of my husband because it would have been pretty comical.  It was SO hot in the place (note my glistening skin) that he had his work shirt halfway unbuttoned, sweat dripping down his face, his hair was drenched and there was a slight chance that he was going to pass out at any given moment.  It cracked me up! 

I have compiled a list of a few ramen shops worth checking out if you ever get the chance to visit Tokyo:
  • Yo! Teko-ya – Odaiba
  • Ippudo – Ebisu
  • Kururi – Shinjuku
  • Gogyo – Nishi-Azabu
  • Ivan Ramen – Setagaya
  • Santouka – Shibuya, Harajyuku and Shinjyuku
  • Tanaka-shoten – Adachi


I’d love to hear from you to find out where the best places to go for ramen are near you, what your thoughts are on slurping etiquette, and add to my list of places for good ramen in the U.S.: 
  • Matsuchan – Canton, MI (Detroit)
  • Hanamizuki – Orlando, FL
  • Santouka Ramen – Arlington Heights, IL (Chicago)
  • Oshima Ramen – Denver, CO
  • Yuzu – Beaverton, OR (Portland)
  • Miso Izakaya – Atlanta, GA 
  • Ramen Dojo – San Mateo, CA (San Francisco)
My husband and children walking home after dinner in the rain

~Stephanie

28 comments:

  1. OMGEEEE, the food looks so yummy. I am so glad everyone had a great time. Thanks for shaing!

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  2. @ Mad For Fashion - Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! So glad you liked the post!

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  3. Love your post!!! love the pictures!!

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  4. We go to Wagamamas for Ramen! I also have their cookbook so have made myself - yummy!
    http://www.intotheblonde.com/

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  5. All those pictures are making me crave noodles right now!

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  6. @ Gaby de Modacapital - Thanks so much! We just love sharing Steph's life with you all!

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  7. @ adele - Thanks for stopping by! We are going to look up Wagamamas and check out their cookbook.:-)

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  8. I'm so hungry for noodles now! I'm going to have to look up the Orlando location asap .. thanks for listing it. Love your posts Steph!!

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  9. @ Jacqueline - We wish we had a ramen plan close by!

    @ Heahter - Thanks so much for stopping by! So glad you are loving Stephanie's posts!!

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  10. lOVE the food!!!!...you've got such lovely children!!!
    Chari T (deep fried stilettos)xx

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  11. Lurve ramen! I'd add Daikokuya in L.A. =D

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  12. Wow those food pics are great, I imagine it tastes so different without the msg/sodium laden flavour pack ;)

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  13. You two always make me want food and it's not fair that it's late in the night that I have such cravings. I wish we had a place like this boo for small towns.

    Jackie

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  14. love these photos :) especially loving the last photo of your children holding clear umbrellas so adorable!

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  15. @ Chari T - Thanks for the sweet comment!

    @ Stomp N Chomp - Thanks for the rec!!

    @ Tracy D - Thanks! We want to try "real" Ramen so bad now!

    @ Jackie - Sorry girl! :-)

    @ Michelle Lee - Thanks so much for the lovely comment! That's our favorite picture too!

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  16. To slurp all the way girls!!!! I absolutely love all your photos and the stories behind them...specially the last pic with the boys walking away with their umbrellas...priceless.


    <3 Marina
    Fashion.MakeUp.LifeStyle

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  17. @ Marina - We agree!! Thanks you so much!! We just adore Steph and her family!

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  18. Hey girls! Thanks for following me on BlogLovin'. I'm following you on there as well. =D

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  19. Hi Jayme & Mendi Thank you for stopping by my blog! :) Glad to meet you both! :D

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  20. @ Stomp N' Chomp - Thanks so much!

    @ DSK Steph - thanks for visiting!

    @ jardelle - It's still making us crave noodles!

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  21. OMG, I am so craving Ramen now, even though I've only had the "supermarket" kind in the past. Also, OMG #2, I live right near Beaverton, OR so I think a visit to "Yuzu" is in my future! Thank you so much for your list ;)

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  22. really love your blog :)
    would you check out mine?
    id really appreciate your feedback x
    http://bonchicbongenrej.blogspot.com/

    Juls xx

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  23. @ Maribeth - We had to go out and get boodles for lunch because of this. Cool that you live near Yuzu. If you go please let us know what you think.

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  24. In Japan. Eating ramen. I am officially so jealous. Thanks for sharing the great pictures. Can you please eat some tonkatsu curry and sukiyaki and take pictures of those too? They're my favorites.

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  25. @ Michelle - Thanks so much for stopping by!! We are insanely jealous too!

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  26. @ Juls - Thank you for stopping by and we are going to your blog now.

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  27. that looks great thanks for the advice also

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