Archive for September, 2013

Where I Get All Preachy About Ramen

Ramen has been a staple of my diet since childhood. As a little girl, I used to be thrilled whenever my mom or dad would boil up a packet of Sapporo Ichiban brand instant ramen for dinner. When I got a bit older, my dad introduced me to real ramen: a large bowl of steaming broth, carefully folded noodles, thinly sliced pork, and all the various toppings that get added at the last minute. I made a point to order a bowl of ramen whenever we went out to eat, even if I couldn’t finish it. (My dad would eat his bowl and the half that I’d left. もったいない [don’t waste], as my grandma would say.)

With over twenty-five years of ramen eating experience, you’d better believe I take my noodles seriously. That’s why I’ve stood in line for hours at noodle festivals. There are hundreds of ways to make a bowl of ramen and I want to try almost every one. Most of the bowls I’ve had recently I don’t really care for, but that’s because I base every bowl on the first good one I had as a kid. (It sounds bad, but I’m more of a shoyu [soy-sauce] base girl – it’s what I grew up on.)

Torrance held a ramen festival this weekend, boasting twelve different ramen vendors with the added bonus of sushi and top-notch tempura over rice. Based on previous experience at the Noodle Bowl Festival in Santa Monica this year, I prepared myself for long lines. And I knew it was going to be worse since the event didn’t charge admission fees.

Since it’s the first time they’ve held this festival, I can’t fault them too harshly for the lack of organization. I sincerely believe this was a major learning experience for the vendors and the event planners. What I will say is this:
1. Signs for parking and lines need to be added. Ropes for lines would definitely be a bonus. Cars were circling; drivers were asking people in line if they could park in the lot. The line to get into the event spilled out into the parking lot, making it impossible for cars to drive through.
2. Tickets for the event need to be sold or admission needs to be charged. I realize that keeping it open encourages large crowds and the exposure would be huge. But when you read tweets and blog posts about people giving up after waiting for three hours or the vendors running out of food, it gets pretty discouraging. Tickets will help keep crowds to fairly reasonable numbers.
3. Signs and/or maps posted around the event to show where each vendor was located. There were two courtyard areas with stands and it was almost impossible to see the vendor until you got to the front of the stand. Then you had to figure out where the end of the line was.

yokocho ramen festival


That was the bad part. What I feel that most don’t realize is that noodle festivals can be tricky. You can’t mass produce bowls of food in anticipation of customers. Ramen is a relatively fast dish but there is a lot of preparation involved – doubly so because of the presentation factor. Some advice for those who are newbies:
1. Good ramen takes time. I honestly cannot stress this enough. Even with large crowds, bowls have to be made in small quantities at a time. If you make too many at once, the quality does go down.
2. LA is a (and I hate this word) foodie city. Any kind of event that isn’t ridiculously exclusive will bring in herds of people. Get to an event early and don’t bitch about the wait time.
3. Bring cash. This event did take cards, but the line for cash was always shorter.

Why do I put up with this craziness? I LOVE NOODLES (SPECIFICALLY RAMEN) TOO MUCH TO MISS OUT ON SOMETHING LIKE THIS. It’s the potential of having so many different kinds of noodles in one place that makes it intriguing, even though reality points out that maybe two bowls is all you’re getting at the end of a six-hour day. Although I think I’m tapped out (energy-wise) for food fests for the rest of the year, I’m definitely game for the next round of noodle-based events.

いただきます!(Itadakimasu!)

If you follow laist, you probably saw this post about ramen burgers. If you haven’t, I’ll wait for you to read it.

Are you caught up? Good.

Ever since I had read about ramen burgers through LAist’s sister site, gothamist, I was craving something I’d never had before. The concept intrigued me. The image weirded me out. Was it possible that the twain had finally met?

What sold me on the concept was the description of the flavor. In short, shoyu ramen with a hamburger patty would be available to hold in your hands in the form of a sandwich.

Mind you, when I saw the name “Keizo Shimamoto,” my gut reaction was to think that another eccentric man from Japan wanted to make an extremely popular dish even more convenient. Japan is famous for taking food to crazy levels, and this guy was adding himself to the list with his creation. What I didn’t realize is that he’s a nissei (second generation), just like me. We’re American as it gets, but there’s still a strong tie to our country of culture.

Anywho! When I found out that his ramen burger was coming to LA, I wanted to try one. I emailed a friend to see if she was interested and she was. I warned her that we’d have to go early since they tended to sell out quickly and offered to get her coffee on the ride over. (It always pays to bribe your friends, especially since this meant all plans to sleep in were now cancelled.)

From what I’d heard about Brooklyn, the burgers were practically gone before they officially opened. I’d seen several people retweet/repost the laist article on several social media sites and worried that we’d face a massive crowd at 8:30am. All worry faded when I turned into the driveway of Mistuwa and saw only a handful of cars and maybe thirty or forty people lined up.

Eleven o’ clock rolled around and people were getting antsy. In the hours that passed, we’d been offered paper fans, tee-shirts, and bottled water. Someone announced that we would be allowed to go into the store shortly. Something delicious was being prepared – you could smell beef cooking. I sincerely prayed it was the burgers.

ramen burger


Groups of about ten to twelve people were allowed inside at a time. Everyone from local news crews to people passing through the store had their cameras and smartphones out to capture the organized chaos going on behind the glass.

ramen burger


The guys behind the grill were trying to time the patties and the “buns” so that both would be perfect.

ramen burger


Sauce was spooned on, followed by a handful of arugula and a sprinkling of green onion.

ramen burger


The whole thing was popped into what looked like a sheet of paper, but a quick pull turned it into a convenient container.

ramen burger


We had to hunt down a table. The whole food court was packed with regular customers and all of us who came for a ramen burger. We managed to find a spot and dug in. Three people sitting nearby asked how the burgers were.

ramen burger


It was exactly as I hoped the ramen burger would taste. The noodles were al dente with a little bit of crunch on the top, the sauce melted a bit with the meat and turned into soup, and the green onion gave it that perfect kick. It was literally a mini-bowl of shoyu ramen with hamburger – similar to what I’ve done with instant ramen and leftovers. And the wrapper kept almost all of the juice from dripping down my fingers, leaving a perfect last sip of broth at the end.

When I finished the last bite, I was sad it was over.

ごちそうさまでした, Shimamoto-san! Thanks for a great meal!

(The rest of the pics can be found here.)

Edit: You can see the back of my head in a CBS news story here. I managed to grab a screenshot:

ramen burger cbs