Jenny Famewhore

Thursday in the Heights: Best Ramen in Boston

Posted in Boston by Jenny Famewhore on February 9, 2010

Who Prevails In The Japanese Ramen Battle?

By Jenny Liu

Men Tei: Tonkatsu Ramen

Ken's Ramen: "The Sapporo"

Published: Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The master sagely directs, “First, observe the whole bowl. Savor the aroma, jewels of fat glistening on the surface, shinachiku roots shining, seaweed slowly sinking, spring onions floating. Concentrate on the three pork slices. They play the key role but stay modestly hidden. Then poke the pork.”

“Eat the pork first?” the disciple asked, bewildered.

“No. Just touch it. Caress it with the chopstick tips. What’s important here is to apologize to the pork by saying, ‘See you soon.’”

That was the most famous bit of dialogue from the 1985 Japanese movie, Tampopo. Since its release, hundreds of new noodle shop owners have claimed to be deeply inspired by this classic film, and just as many have named their ramen joints after Tampopo. The ramen culture extends far beyond the packs of cardboard and powder that turn into a nutrition-less meal familiar to most college students. Like the discussion on where the best burger can be found, where the best ramen can be found is a passionately debated topic.

When I think about the criteria for a good ramen joint, I think about the many bowls of noodles I have consumed in ramen lover’s paradise, Tokyo. Ramen in Tokyo is available in many different styles, from Hokkaido in the north, to Kyushu in the south. However, despite the subtle and varied differences between the styles, there are essentially three components by which ramen can be judged: the texture of the noodle, the taste of the broth, and the quality of the toppings. Although, in the end, you do not need to be a professional food critic to instinctively know whether or not the ramen tastes good.

Unlike Tokyo, where ramen bars are as abundant as Starbucks is in America, Boston has less than a handful. I decided to eat at the two most talked about places in this ramen-deprived city — Ken’s Ramen House at Packard’s Corner on the B line, and Men Tei, near the Hynes Convention Center.

For more ramen imagery and the verdict, continue reading at: http://www.bcheights.com/arts/the-scene/bite-of-boston-1.1113196

P.S. Oh boy, this gets me geared up for some epic Tokyo ramen showcase entry.

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Boston Tea Party, a sequel

Posted in Boston by Jenny Famewhore on November 8, 2009

Last night, a few friends and I decided to cook some simple Japanese cuisine (tempura, udon, spam-musubi, gyouza,) so Tyler drove us down to Super 88, the closest Asian supermarket on Commonwealth Ave near Boston University. Although most of the food at Super 88 is as close to authentic as it gets without being in the middle of a large Asian immigrant community, the prices are not authentic. Without the intense competition that most Chinese supermarkets in Chinatowns nation-wide face ( having 10 supermarkets with the identical products on the same block,) Super 88’s prices closely mirrors those of Shaw’s/Star market. White people market prices.

Looking at the imported items, I cannot help but wonder: Did the economy undergo a 50% inflation overnight? Did our currency experience an apocalyptic depreciation?

Day 1 of the tower of babylon: Beijing 2005

Take for example, Kirin’s “Afternoon Tea” (午後の紅茶). I love milk-tea, and this was one of my staple drinks when I lived in Beijing for a month in 2005. Sarah Famewhore, my roommate then, and I would drink a can every day and stack it against the window of our Beixida hotel into an Egyptian salute. It grew into a tower so monstrous that the underpaid maids maliciously took it down and threw out the evidence of our hard drinking.

The love for Gogo-no-milktea continued in Tokyo, the motherland of Kirin, and, almost impossibly got better when Klaus figured out that spiking it with whiskey (doesn’t matter whether with the beloved Jack or the 500 yen Black Nikko) makes it taste ultra-fragrant (smokey, earthy like cedar,) and, along with the original intentions, packed a nice kick.

Even better, one 1.5 liter bottle of this refreshingly creamy black tea concoction was ¥150 ($1.65.) At Super 88? $5.99!!! This is like the oil situation when we were starting to bully the Middle East. This is like when the Brits had a fun-tax on the Americans and we know what transpired on the harbors of this very city…

Godzilla burgers

Posted in Tokyo by Jenny Famewhore on October 25, 2009
Windows 7 burger from Burger King Japan

Windows 7 Whopper from Burger King Japan

The Whopper has a special place in my heart. Despite being extremely handicapped in terms of quality and flavor (unless you count the flavor of Heinz, the perennial hallmark of all fast food burgers,) the Burger King Whopper represents my Saturdays between the age of 11 and 14, where my father would futilely educate me on Chinese reading and then take me to the Burger King by our house for lunch every week without fail. I don’t know why we went so often– I disliked their food almost as much as I disliked being mind-raped by the weekly 50 Chinese characters/Kanji I was forced to memorize.

The limited edition Whopper, exclusive to Japan and only for seven days, consists of the usual whopper fixin’s pimped with 7 beef patties, each 113 grams. That is 1.74 lbs total of far below-mediocre meat processed into unnaturally gray, extremely dry hockey pucks of bovine product. It’s a monstrosity that the first 30 customers get to savor for ¥777 ($8.55), and the subsequent masochists can buy it for double the price.

"Beef Heaven"

I showed it to my roommates yesterday, excitedly watching for their reactions, and they cried, “How do those Japanese people finish it all? They’re all so thin!” Deja-vu. I had wondered the same, when the McDonald’s MegaMac (another exclusively Japanese product) was released in 2007. 2 Big Macs, 1 burger. So heinous that I could not stand to simply live vicariously through that ad– I had to experience it for myself.

It was bad, bad, bad. Never had I wished so much for a bucket of ketchup and mayo so that the extra-dry patties would actually make it down my throat. My digestive tract was probably plotting mutiny, and based on the utter disappointment that is the MegaMac, which is minor league by comparison, the Whopper 7 is the icon of artery abuse and dietary guilt. This is the point in history where all good judgement come to die.

Might want to avoid these series of Franken-burgers.

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MegaMac, September 2008, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Riddle me this: Is Japan surpassing America at its obesity game?

Tokyo reverie

Posted in Tokyo by Jenny Famewhore on September 25, 2009
tokyonight

On top of the world, Tokyo 2009

My emotions are so bound up with this city and especially magnified now that I have left it (unavoidable human feelings stemming from retrospectivism and nostalgia.) I feel electrocuted when I see a photo floating out of nowhere on facebook of Heiwadai, the quaint radish-valley where my hovel was; chancing upon a picture in a Taiwanese model’s blog, of her posing in front of Shinjuku station and wishing I could take her place; walking past Book-off, Chiyoda sushi, and Beard Papa in New York; Tyler describing to me an article in Maxim about yakuzas running the red light district in ikebukuro (10 min. from my ‘hood); or meeting a friend made in Japan in an American context. It triggers a slippery slope of memories: of riding the eerily punctual trains everywhere (only made un-punctual by the occasional “human accidents/人身事故”), of the language in its many forms (casual speech, formal speech, japanglish), but most overwhelmingly, of the times I spent with the people there (the Finns, the Americans, the U.K. corner, the Frenchies, the westernized Japanese youth) rendezvousing in the public parks outside Sophia University and in Kichijoji, karaoke bars in Shinjuku, and izakayas (Japanese-style bars) in Shibuya– being young, beautiful, crazy, and in the moment.

The irony is that when I first arrived in Tokyo, I was constantly comparing its gastronomic landscape to New York’s– how it didn’t have proper pizza, bagel, and how decent italian food could not be found (What is tobiko and nori doing in my spaghetti? Why does my spaghetti come from a box imported from America?) Why is Chinese food 1500 yen ($15) and so inferior to New York’s Flushing (a mecca of Chinese stuffs) when Tokyo is a short 3 hour flight away from the source? Why does demiglace used by restaurants to top off the “hambagu” with rice come from a metal can and packaged by Heinz? Why does an apple cost 500 yen ($5) and a watermelon 3000 yen ($30)?

Unfortunately, I spent my first month or so in this querulous, close minded haze until my friend, an American expat living in China, verbally slapped me out of my self-righteous stream of blahblahblah about the superiority of New York’s food culture. Then the clouds parted etcetera. Sample enlightenment:

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midnight walk to fruit stand in Phuket

“I want mangoes. There aren’t mangoes around here worth my yen.”

“Fool. Go to Thailand dude. Just take a one week trip and gorge yourself.”

Ok. — fast forward a few months, I fly to Thailand… Finding myself in fruit paradise, where all mangoes come to die, slurping on mango shakes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and fourth meal. Brilliance. Everyone needs to go to food counseling now and then.

But his other advice was more sensible and rocked my stubborn mindset straight to the core (direct quote minus all the cussing in between):

“If you’re trying to recreate an American lifestyle there you will find it takes a lot of effort. But why would you want to do that? Just enjoy the great Japanese food that is both ubiquitous and cheap.”