Japan Eats

Japan Eats Podcast, Episode 23: “Ramen Dreams”

Miso, Shio, Shoyu, Tonkotsu. We talk ramen with special guest, Keizo Shimamoto.

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

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Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

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Japan Eats Podcast: Episode 11, “Lucky Peach – Part 2″

In the second part of our conversation about Lucky Peach, we discuss authenticity, the magazine’s recipes and talk about what we’d like to see in the next edition.

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can also subscribe to the fortnightly Japan Eats feed via iTunes or directly with our RSS feed.

Find the Japan Eats Facebook page here. Have something to say? Drop us a line.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

Follow us on the Japan Eats Twitter feed. And please “Like” Japan Eats on Facebook.

Japan Eats Podcast: Episode 10, “Lucky Peach – Part 1″

The panel discuss the new food quarterly from Momofuku’s David Chang

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can also subscribe to the fortnightly Japan Eats feed via iTunes or directly with our RSS feed.

Find the Japan Eats Facebook page here. Have something to say? Drop us a line.

In this week’s Japan Eats Podcast, Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini give their impressions of David Chang’s Lucky Peach.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

Follow us on the Japan Eats Twitter feed. And please “Like” Japan Eats on Facebook.

Restaurant Review: Ivan Ramen (Rokakoen Station)

Christopher Pellegrini samples the noodles at Ivan Ramen

You should definitely try Orkin's roasted tomatoes (Roast Tomato Meshi).

Ramen is one of those dishes that people will travel considerable distances to consume. It’s kind of like the trouble die-hard fanboys go to when trying to get their hands on a freshly released edition of a franchise–they’ll wait in line for it. They’ll make plans days in advance to be in another part of the country just to have dibs on the best seats for the big event.

And if you understand that, then you can comprehend with reasonable accuracy the lengths to which true ramen fans will pursue their addiction. They’re as obsessive as any other foodie out there, and in many cases more so.

And while I’m not the fanboy type, I must admit that I planned nearly a week in advance to visit Ivan Ramen, a corner ramen shop less than 10 minutes on foot from Rokakoen station in Setagaya Ward (Keio Line) that is owned by American chef, Ivan Orkin.

The shop is a very simple square with an L-shaped counter and space for about 10 customers. There is nothing significant going on with the decor, and the concrete-floored kitchen space is both well-organized and spotless. The focus is clearly on the food at Ivan Ramen, and that’s how it should be.

Ivan Orkin is something of a celebrity both for successfully wedging his way into the secretive ramen world here in Japan and for doing things his own way. His ramen soup is not rammed with lard as is customary, and he makes his own noodles with a dough that utilizes three types of flour. There’s also a very strong dependence on fresh ingredients. In that sense, even though this is technically ‘B-class’ Japanese cuisine, and is often referred to as fast food, dining at Ivan Ramen does not exact as much of an attack on one’s health as ramen customarily can.

After ordering your food from a ticket machine out in the alley, diners are encouraged to find a seat and enjoy the soft music playing in the background for just a couple of minutes. Jazz was on the airwaves when we visited, and we were grateful for the attention to detail on the proprietor’s part.

The wait doesn’t last long at Ivan Ramen. Most orders will be in front of you in less than a couple of minutes. Ivan himself explained recently in the first edition of Lucky Peach that his ramen noodles take 40 seconds to boil, but we were still surprised how quickly our meals arrived.

One special currently on the menu at Ivan Ramen is the “Fresh Salad Hiyashi Chuka” which is a blend of garden

Fresh Salad Hiyashi Chuka Ramen

salad and cold soup and all with a bit of Chinese cooking thrown in for good measure. And we were pleased that we grabbed one of these (only 15 are served daily) because the freshness of the ingredients (the tomatoes are absolutely out of this world!) and the marriage of the soup and noodles led to an exceptional and filling meal.

It’s important to note that the specials change regularly, so it’s worth it to either check the restaurant’s website or make a return visit every once in a while.

We also tried the Cha-shu- Spicy Red Chili Men (noodles) and the Roast Tomoto Meshi (rice). The former features the house’s signature thin ramen noodles and a small puddle of chili soup with half of a hard-boiled egg bobbing in the shallows. The regular menu also sports several shio and shoyu-base ramen dishes, tsukemen, other sides, a ‘beer of the day’ for 400 yen, and homemade ice cream.

Ramen dishes are mostly priced between 800 and 1,000 yen with topping upgrades such as extra cha-shu- and menma costing 100 yen each. A range of rice bowls range from 200 to 800 yen and are available in two sizes.

It’s very difficult to go wrong at Ivan Ramen. We would highly recommend anything with Orkin’s roasted tomatoes in it. The preponderance of fresh and healthy ingredients in Orkin’s creations will make you rethink whether ramen is a Japanese version of fast food.

And for those who enjoy the innovation that is part and parcel with his take on ramen, then you are encouraged to visit Ivan Ramen Plus, a second shop that he opened last year.

3-24-7 Minami Karasuyama, Setagaya-ku Tokyo, 157-0062
(Rokakoen station on the Keio Line)
Ph: 03-6750-5540
Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri 5:30 PM – 10:30 PM (closed Wednesdays)
Sat, Sun and Nat’l Holidays 11:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Also closed the 4th Tuesday of every month.
http://www.ivanramen.com/top_en.html


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Magazine Review: Lucky Peach, Issue 1 – Ramen

Garrett DeOrio reviews the first issue of the new food quarterly, Lucky Peach.

The first thing to know about Lucky Peach is that it is inspired and co-edited by David Chang, best known for his New York noodle bar Momofuku. (Get it? Momofuku Ando, Momofuku, Lucky Peach).

The second thing to know is that it’s a McSweeney’s joint. (Knowing that will let you know why I was all but required to call it a “joint”.)

A familiarity with either one of those things, and the extent to which you’re familiar with them, will greatly influence the way you see this welcome new quarterly.

The first issue of Lucky Peach

The first issue of Lucky Peach

(Before I go any further, Lucky Peach is co-edited by Peter Meehan, perhaps best known for his food blogging for the New York Times Magazine, and Zero Point Zero Productions, which produces the Travel Channel show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and is doing the iPad app.)

McSweeney’s traffics in a kind of self-aware, ironic, post-modern cool; the kind that might have you drink PBR not because you’re a hipster, but because you’re making fun of PBR-drinking hipsters, while actually calling yourself a “beer snob”, but not so much that you can’t appreciate a PBR from a can now and again. Only with a lot more passing references to deep cuts.

See what I mean? If you stick with it, you will, and you’ll feel like an insider, like you know me. That’s the appeal of McSweeney’s. That’s why someone like me, who has numerous issues of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern; books by Dave Eggers, Rick Moody, Sarah Vowell, et al.; an 826 Valencia T-shirt (from like ten years ago, before everyone knew about it); and more, feels like he kind of knows what Lucky Peach is going to be when he first sees the cover.

Heck, McSweeney’s are the kind of folks who would put out a print quarterly magazine.

David Chang brought high-end ramen to America, took it further, then moved on to mixing Japanese, Korean, Southern, and more, always with an adventurous bent. He’s a master of high low-brow, while at the same time being as much artist as scientist as chef. The kind of chef who describes his chicken soup recipe as not the simple chicken soup you make for your sick “boyfriend, girlfriend, whoever”, but “still pretty goddamn easy” and is perfectly willing to write up even his complicated recipes in a clear, friendly manner, but whose recipes include Methocel™ F50 and an espuma gun and nitrous-oxide chargers (both in a recipe for puffed eggs). It’s a bit like watching Norichika Aoki take batting practice. (No? OK, Testuharu Kawakami.)

That’s who’s behind Lucky Peach, now for the magazine itself.

This premiere issue focuses on ramen and opens with a piece by Peter Meehan about his trip, with Dave Chang and a film crew, to Tokyo in January. While Chang had lived here years ago while learning to make ramen, Meehan was on his first trip and it showed. Plenty of ramen, some Chang vomiting, but not much to grab onto unless you’re a Dave Chang groupie. Travel writing by people who don’t know a place is interesting only if the writer has a particularly interesting take on things. The essay, with the quintessentially McSweeney’s title “Things Were Eaten”, does give a nice intro to some of Tokyo’s most famous noodleries, though.

The idea behind the issue – getting to know David Chang – is made perfectly clear by the next piece: Anthony Bourdain’s entertaining piece on his imaginings of the influence of three films: Tampopo, House, and The Ramen Girl.

This is followed by a collection of nifty woodcut and antique typeface posters of a few “Tokyo Ramen Gods”. Cool and all, but at this point, I was starting to get disappointed. Nothing bad so far, but nothing worth going out of the way for. Nothing worth ordering the magazine. A bit too much inside joking and back-patting and very little actual content.

Ivan Orkin saved the day with his piece about his own shop. Finally, something exciting.

Orkin’s article on his rise to fame and success in the world of ramen and his place in it provides the insider perspective so necessary to a food quarterly on the topic and is Lucky Peach‘s only item by someone actually in the business in Japan. It also benefits from the gorgeous photography of the highly sought-after Noriko Yamaguchi. (Disclosure: She’s a long-time acquaintance, but I’m not completely biased. If you live in Japan, you’ve probably seen her work and it’s probably influenced your decision to go to an exotic resort in the Maldives or to indulge in a top-notch meal at some point.)

For the hardcore ramenista, Orkin’s article sits nicely alongside a brief piece on Momofuku Ando and his achievements, “A Specificist’s Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan”, and Harold McGee’s scientific “Outré Space” pieces “On Alkalinity and Alkaline Noodles” and “On MSG and Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” – the former fascinating because, well, I had no idea why people, including me, were wont to describe some noodles as “eggy” knowing full well that no eggs were involved; the latter because I love a good debunking explained. I get the feeling “Outré Space” is going to be a regular feature of the quarterly.

If it’s ramen you’re after (and that’s presumably the case if you’ve picked up a ramen magazine), you’ll appreciate the wealth of detailed recipes that make up much of Lucky Peach: Noodles, seven ways to do eggs – including how to slow cook them, broth, dashi, tare, uses for instant ramen, and more. There’s no shortage for the keen cook.

Also ramen-related, but less interesting, was Ruth Reichl’s brief rundown of the instant noodles, and only the noodles, she found at a market near where she lived. This is a great guide if you happen to live with Ruth Reichl and have access to the wonderful soups she says she makes for these noodles.

Also not making my cut would be Matthew Volz’s “Bigger Than You” – the illustrated story of a Japanese boy-turned-giant, who eats the world’s largest bowl of ramen. It wasn’t awful or anything, it just seemed pointless.

The last negative thing I’ll say is that the transcript of a drunken conversation in Spain among Anthony Bourdain, Dave Chang, and Wylie Dufresne on the topic of mediocrity would have made great video or audio and would have been even better in person, but is just kind of flat on the page.

On the non-ramen front were Tood Kliman’s thought-experiment of an essay “The Problem of Authenticity” and some pretty cool photos of Kay & Ray’s Potato Chips being made that accompanied a “recipe” for “Potato Chips and Oriental Dip”, which was to put the seasoning from instant ramen into sour cream and eat it with Kay & Ray’s Potato Chips: “The Best Potato Chips in the World”.

Lucky Peach closes on a strong literary note, with the well-chosen short story “The Gourmet Club” by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, possibly Japan’s greatest writer of all time. Every magazine should end with a Tanizaki story.

In short, Lucky Peach has put out a fine first issue. It’s a bowl of excellent ramen accompanied by frozen gyoza: certainly worth recommending, but maybe without the mediocre side dish. Read it, you’ll like it. Better cooks than me will be able to give it a real workout, too.

Lucky Peach: Issue 1 – Ramen
Chris Ying (Editor-in-Chief), Peter Meehan & David Chang (Editors)
176 pages. McSweeney’s Insatiables. US$10