Friday, March 14, 2008

Gaijinzoku is minus two beer buddies

Gaijizoku is bidding a fond farewell to two of its tribe: recent graduate and ex-classmate Kristjan and Kemek at Yakihito and Slash and Burn. Both of these young lads will be moving off to our favorite land of the rising sun, Kristjan to work as an EFL lecturer and research fellow at Kanda Gaigo Gakuin in Chiba and Kemek to attend Oita University for a year as an exchange student. Good luck to you both!

One more thing though: we know you guys will have a great time but remember to heed this warning given to all foreigners abroad:


Monday, March 10, 2008

Thinking about fu

Reprinted from kuzu

So you're kicking back, eating last night's leftover caterpillar roll. To keep it real, you pop open a package of Kikkoman miso soup because, you know, Japanese have miso soup with, like, everything, right? So you drop that freeze-dried miso-like powder into your not quite washed coffee cup. Next comes the dashi pellets, looking like some kind of miniature rabbit pellets. That wakame seaweed stuff then falls out then those little white discs. Now, you think to yourself what the hell are those? Bread? Crackers? Alien mind implant technology? No, it's fu.

Fu is in no way related to tofu, kung fu or even fu man chu for that matter (though there is a confection called Fu-manjū (麸まんじゅう) which is made from it). Fu is one of several purely native Japanese foods and literally, by its kanji, dried wheat gluten. That's right, wheat gluten, the tainted version of which was infesting our pet foods not more than just a month ago. For those who were not familiar with wheat gluten before this incident occurred, let me explain a little bit about its history.

Nama fu (生麩)

Wheat gluten is essentially hard wheat flour dough which has been kneaded and the starch washed from it. From that point, the gluten can be dried (as fu is), steamed, baked, grilled, you name it. Asian countries, for centuries, have been using gluten as a sort of staple as a substitute for meat; Buddhist monks in particular use it for this purpose. For an example of gluten served this way, head down to your local Chinatown and look for canned food enigmatically labelled "vegetarian duck" or "mock lobster". That's gluten which has been cooked and prepared with sauces and/or oil in some way to simulate animal meat. Note the word simulate. In any case, gluten is relatively high in protein and has zero fat making it an ideal substitute.

In Japan, the dried and unflavored gluten fu is less of a staple in the modern era though it does have its history. Its presence as a protein source dates as far back as the Muromachi Era some 700 years ago but, no doubt, due to its history in Asia it was around for far longer than that.
So what exactly can we do with fu? Well, fu in its plain dry state has no flavor and can be added into almost any dish to absorb its flavors, a property it shares with tofu. When I was in Japan, an ex and I were watching a TV documentary about fu and they recommended putting fu in hamburger in place of bread crumbs as a way of both bonding the meat and retaining moisture. That was one of the juiciest hamburgers I had ever eaten. A common way of preparing fu is to, before drying it, combine it with glutinous rice (mochi rice) and boil it. Then skewer it on a stick and put a little sweet miso on it then you have nama fu. Fans of miso oden might recognize this.

Fu has fairly recently experienced a renaissance in Japan owing to its nutritional value and ease of use. A quick search, in fact, yielded a site which has lots of information about fu as well as a section dedicated to recipes. Sadly, though, I was not able to find a site in which you can buy it online. All the more reason to get down to your local Japanese supermarket and buy some for yourself (and get yourself some real miso while you're at it too!).

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Review: Chicken Ramen

Nissin's Chicken Ramen is history in a bowl. At first glance, this instant is the usual squiggly noodles in brown translucent soup and its flavor is, at best, average but Chicken Ramen, invented by Nissin founder Momofuku Ando, holds the distinction of being the first instant ramen in the world. In fact, Chicken Ramen is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, a feat that Mr. Ando, who passed away last year, will never get to witness. So what's the deal with this historic ramen then? Well, as mentioned, there is nothing particularly unique or interesting about it but it does have a sort of special air about it, an almost atmosphere about it that transcends time (yeah, I was reading the Sunday paper book reviews before I started writing this).

Within its standard plastic wrapper, there is a round cake of noodles. That's right, no multiple soup, oil, and freeze-dried vegetable packets; all of the flavor is already in the noodles themselves. There is a small divot on one side of the noodles and the basic idea is that it acts as an "egg pocket" as they call it. So, just put the dried noodles in bowl pocket up, crack a raw egg into it (ignore my picture during this step since my egg aiming skills are a bit lacking), add water, cover and wait three minutes and you'll be in Chicken Ramen heaven.

So, how is the flavor? Well, despite its name, I really don't detect any chicken flavoring in the soup at all. Of course, this could be in its favor because I normally HATE chicken-flavored instant ramen because it always ends up tasting like western-style chicken noodle soup and, if I wanted that, I'd have gone with Lipton's or Mrs. Grass', thank you. Nissin's version of chicken is a little salty with a slight burnt flavor to it. To tell you the truth, the first time I tasted it, I was a little off-put by this flavor but eventually grew to like, if not love, it. The noodles are pretty good, the squiggly kind but flat, not like the rounded type that are defacto in other instant ramen. One thing that's nice about them is that, unlike other brands, Nissin doesn't make this line of ramen oily, something that sometimes leads to an unpleasant aftertaste and/or odor while cooking.

Overall, Chicken Ramen is worth checking out, if only once, just for the historical aspects. As a whole, it's not a particularly filling experience but one which may get you through to the next meal. On the grading scale, this one gets a solid B.

Check out Yukie Nakama, in a recent commercial, enjoy hers "Indian style"with curry and cheese . Yes, I know she has better egg-aiming skills than me, you don't have to mention it. ;)