Most North Americans would shudder at the thought of themselves or others loudly slurping while eating, but in Japan, it’s not only expected, but encouraged. It’s believed that the practice originated as an olfactory experience — slurping soba noodles simply augmented the aromatic flavors when air was taken in through the mouth at the same time. From there, as other dishes such as ramen proliferated, the practice did too. The custom, which is relegated to noodles only, does spark some debate from time to time (some tourists find it distracting or downright offensive), but in Japan, where noodles reign supreme, locals remain unbothered and happily slurp away.
If you love rice and noodles as much as I do, please read the book, “Rice, Noodles, Fish” by Matt Goulding. You will gain a new and life changing insight into noodles, ramen in Japan in particular. In particular, I enjoyed the ramen reviewer, who averages about two bowls of noodles a day in his quest for ramen perfection, I assume.
In the area where I live, there is a place called Noodle Q that makes their own ramen. It is located at 2648 E. Ashlan, in Fresno. While it is hardly like Tokyo or anywhere in Japan, it is still pretty good, and well worth a try.
Hands down, Tampopo is the best noodle movie ever! A quarter century before Jiro dreamt of sushi, Juzo dreamt of ramen. That would be Juzo Itami, the writer and director of Tampopo, a ramen-centric comedy originally released in 1985 and now enjoying a theatrical re-release after a painstaking restoration. The images are now sharper, the ramen more delectable. But what this really means is that those who sit at the intersection of cinephilia and ramen obsession, a population whose numbers today surely dwarves the population 30 years ago, can finally see every shimmering globule of pork fat floating in a shoyu broth on the big screen just as they — and Itami’s film — deserves.
Best bowl of noodles I have ever had? I like fairly simple, so I vote for Sam Sato’s in Wailuku, Maui. It is served dry with a dipping sauce. Hawaii has several above average noodle joints, primarily in the Honolulu area.
Would you believe my grandparents made noodles from scratch when I was a youngster. It was an all-day affair as I recall, and involved some whiskey, even though I was oblivious to the entire scene.
You may recall that I had to survive on “cup of noodles” on my trip across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In fact, a good ramen or cup of noodles is the best currency that a passenger can have on the train. I could trade for just about anything, since I brought nice and upscale “bowl of noodles” products.
Do you like pho? I really enjoy it in cold weather, like right now. If you’re going to eat pho, the quintessential Vietnamese noodle soup, make sure you pronounce it right — it’s “fuh,” not “foh.” Pho is believed to have originated near Hanoi but didn’t become popular in Vietnam until the early 1900s. The soup can vary regionally in width of noodles, sweetness of broth, and choice of herbs, but the basics of the beef-based dish are the same throughout the country. I have tried almost all versions. My fav is the soup with thin, raw slices of beef swimming on top. The beef cooks slowly in the hot broth, flavoring the broth and rendering the tender beef perfectly medium rare!
One of my favorite comfort foods is udon. Udon (うどん) are thick Japanese noodles made of wheat flour. They are thicker than soba noodles, white and chewier. Udon is widely available at restaurants across Japan and prepared in various hot and cold dishes. Tempura Udon, my personal favorite, is usually served in a hot broth with the tempura pieces placed on top of the noodles. Sometimes, the tempura is placed on a separate dish beside the bowl or tray of noodles. Tempura ingredients vary between seasons and shops.
Another favorite, Nabeyaki Udon is a dish that is cooked and served in a hot pot (nabe). The udon noodles are cooked directly in the nabe together with the broth and vegetables. Tempura is a common addition before serving, but the more typical ingredients include mushrooms, egg, kamaboko (a pink and white steamed fish cake) and various vegetables. Many shops will serve this dish only during the colder months of the year.
They key here is how to eat udon. Depending on how your udon are served, the way of eating differs. When udon are served with a dipping sauce, take a few strands of noodles and dip them into the sauce before eating them. Udon served in a soup or sauce are enjoyed by using your chopsticks to lead the noodles into your mouth while making a slurping sound. The slurping enhances the flavors and helps cool down the hot noodles as they enter your mouth. If there is a broth, it is drunk directly from the bowl, eliminating the need for a spoon. It is not considered rude to leave some unfinished soup in the bowl at the end of the meal.
Feel free to experiment next time you are in any kind of Asian restaurant. Who knows? Noodles could change your entire lunch or dinner landscape, particularly on these cold winter days and nights.