Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Suck 'em down, biznaaachez

When the subject of instant ramen comes up, my friends can testify that I always rave about Marutai brand instant ramen. I 'discovered' this brand of "bo" ("stick", unlike the regular squiggly brick of noodles of other brands, Marutai's are straight and packaged much like soba and somen) ramen at a supermarket near my old apartment in Yokohama. I happened to be staring at a package of the "Kyushu" (ie tonkotsu) flavored noodles wondering if they would be worth spending my hard-earned 110 yen (approx. US $1.00) on. My then-girlfriend told me that she had bought the brand several times and really liked them. This recommendation and her family roots in the Kyushu area convinced me that it was worth a shot. After all, I could blow 10000 yen (approx US$100.00) on an hour of pachinko at the drop of a hat so 100 yen for a potentially mind-expanding session of ramen would probably be worth it or at least humorously disgusting. Much to my fortune (the kind which never showed up during my aforementioned 10000 yen pachinko sessions), the former was the case; though it wasn't as good as an authentic straight-from-Hakata bowl of tonkotsu, it was a very good reproduction of it and, for an instant ramen in general, excellent.

Just a little bit on tonkotsu ramen since it is one of the rarer flavors of ramen outside of Japan: from Hakata located in the Fukuoka prefecture, tonkotsu ramen is characterized by its white full-bodied soup. The word 'tonkotsu' literally means 'pork bone' and these bones are boiled along with various ingredients, onion and garlic among them, for several hours and sometimes even several days. This results in two things: 1) the wonderfully delicious soup and 2) a terrible odor which boiling pig's bones causes. The noodles used in tonkotsu ramen are typically straighter than those used in others and the toppings tend to be less varied as well: benishoga, a couple of slices of char-siu, and sliced up elephant's ear (no, not the real thing but a fungus that is kinda-sorta shaped like one). Tasty stuff.

I was down at Nijiya market in San Jose's Japantown the other day and spotted not only my old favorite Kyushu flavored (far left) but four other flavors, from left to right, Goma-shoyu, yakisoba, regular (which looks to be a shoyu-based flavor), and shoyu-tonkotsu. They also had miso but I've already had that one before and found it to be pretty average -- I'm not a big fan of miso ramen even if it's from a reputable place like Sumire. In future posts, I'll review these new (to me) flavors. Until then, enjoy some more Marutai bo ramen via YouTube:

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