ramen and pickles

science, technology, and medicine served up with some tasty noodles

Plan to save the African elephants

This is whole post is probably very naive and ill-informed, as it is about some things that I know nothing about, namely things like conservation, public relations, international policy, and making movies; however, maybe if there is some merit to it, maybe it will be of use to someone.

We keep hearing all about the devastating effects of the illegal ivory trade on the elephant populations of Africa.  Elephants are incredibly smart.  Not only do they have amazing memories, but also they communicate with one another.  They can even recognize different human languages.    They are wonderful, beautiful animals who live long lives if left to their own devices, but instead are being threatened with extinction in the wild.

Why is all the ivory poaching happening?  Everything I see or hear about it says that the poaching is all driven by demand from the expanding middle class in mainland China.   Ivory is a beautiful thing, and skilled artisans can make beautiful things from it, and there are a lot of Chinese people, many of whom are gaining increasing wealth and increasingly influential in the global economy.  The important thing though, is from what I can tell, the demand for ivory is largely aesthetic, in the sense that people think it looks nice.  It is something of a status symbol of wealth.  So that means demand is largely driven by social forces.  So instead of all this effort focused on Africa, trying to stop poaching with increasingly aggressive measures (making for dangerous situations with large, heavily armed poaching syndicates), work on the demand.   It’s not like drugs, where you have people addicted to a substance,; it’s just something people like having on their end-table because it is attractive and fashionable.  If there is one thing that the US is good at is influencing fashion and taste, especially through movies and shows.

I looked into it, and some conservation groups are putting adds in the Chinese market about ivory being bad.  However, what would be really influential is a big movie, with Chinese stars (and maybe a few animal loving Hollywood stars making cameos, like DiCaprio, being a “Rhodesian” again like in the movie about blood diamonds) showing elephants being super smart and lovable and saving the main character’s life (and maybe the life of his love interest too).   It could be about a Chinese ivory smuggler going to Botswana, and then after many harrowing experiences with evil ivory poachers and kindly elephants, becoming a reformed wild-life conservationist at the end.  Anyway, if it’s an Asian action movie, the plot doesn’t need to be too complex (I’m not being a hater, I love these movies, but Jin Yong level literary complexity typically does translate to the screen in anything less than a 30 episode series).  There was already a Thai movie, an action blockbuster, about a fighting hero going to rescue a baby white elephant in Australia.    So it’s not so outlandish.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Ramen Shop in Oakland, Redux

Today it was back to the Ramen Shop in Oakland for another visit.  For those visiting, it has a very nondescript exterior, so may be a bit hard to find if it is your first time.  The ambience inside is friendly, a bit on the darker side giving it a more lounge/bar feel, and the Saturday night crowd definitely made it feel like it was a bit of a “scene”.  There is a bar in the front, which serves some great cocktails, and has an interesting beer and sake list.  I didn’t get any drinks this time, but some people in my group got some interesting concoctions which they enjoyed tremendously.

Ramen Shop, 5812 College Ave, Oakland, CA

Ramen Shop, 5812 College Ave, Oakland, CA

The pickle plate was again spot on, with five different things to sample.  The black, Spanish radish was delicious.  I also really liked the cabbage, which was a bit spicy.

Ramen Shop, Pickle Plate

Ramen Shop, Pickle Plate

Ramen Shop Menu

Ramen Shop Menu

Shio Ramen

Shio Ramen

I got the shio ramen.  One of my complaints last time was that the broth tasted artificially thickened, perhaps with carrageenan.  I didn’t taste that way to me this time round.  The broth was quite good, nice flavor and consistency.  I liked the mizuna; I don’t remember having that as a green last time.   The noodles were good, I was probably being a bit too picky last time around.   This time there was a chicken meatball in the ramen.  I’m not sure I’m really into it.  I haven’t been able to get into meatballs in my pho either.  The only meatball soup I like is Italian wedding style.  I also like a good matzo ball soup, which is  almost vegetarian meatball.  Anyway, maybe I just need to get used to ramen with meatballs.  Although, they were tasty.  Again, the egg was fantastic, although you only get 1/2 of an egg.

I didn’t try the vegetarian ramen this time, but it looked quite good.  Overall, a tasty place, and I like their constantly evolving menu and interesting use of ingredients.  i had absurdly high expectations the first time I went, so it is nice to go this time and just be able to enjoy myself and have some good ramen.  It’s quite good.  Unfortunately, it’s quite far from where I live.

Ramen Shop, Noodle Machine

Ramen Shop, Noodle Machine

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Kansui Ramen, San Jose

Kansui Ramen is a pop-up lunchtime ramen shop which is embedded in the restaurant Hay Market in the Willow Glen part of San Jose.   Tuesday through Saturday, you can get lunchtime ramen there.  They seem to have a stable list of a few common types of ramen (shio, shoyu, tonkotsu, and spicy red miso), and then a rotating selection of specialty ramens.  From what I can tell by looking at previous iterations of the menu, one of these is always fully vegetarian ramen, and then often a tsukemen and then something unique for ramen.   They also make use of the regular bar at Hay Market, which being a hipster-esque American/Californian foodie place, has a good beer selection and looks to have a good wine list.

Kansui Menu

Kansui Menu

 

The ambiance is nice.  It has Chinese restaurant, shared table seating – sit where you want aspect, so you may end up shoulder to shoulder with a stranger.  There are lots of neat antiques around, and the standard beer in a faux mason jar sort of thing that you might expect.    There are some TV’s as well, which made it a nice play to watch some afternoon world cup.  The staff was very friendly and accommodating.

We got the shio ramen and the black boar ramen (with extra chashu in the latter).

Kansui Black Shoyu Boar Ramen

Kansui Black Shoyu Boar Ramen

Kansui Shio Ramen

Kansui Shio Ramen

The black shoyu boar ramen broth was inky black.  I assume its color comes from roasted garlic, like most black ramen, however, the color and consistency was quite good.  The broth was thick and rich, but it didn’t taste like it had been additionally thickened.   Overall, quite good.  The add ins were really exceptional.  The thin sliced mushrooms (more prominently visible in the shio ramen) were marinated in something, like yuzu based, and had a really exceptional flavor and texture.  The egg was soft-boiled to perfection and marinated in something (likely tea).    The toasted seaweed (nori) was good.  The ground boar meat was wonderfully savory and rich.  I asked for extra chashu, and was expecting the thin sliced semi-circles I had seen in the pictures on yelp, but instead got large rich chunks which were at the bottom of the noodle dish.  The chashu was decent.   The chashu cubes were big enough that it made for inelegant eating, and it was a bit like being at a Southern style BBQ restaurant.   The thinner cuts which are then browned a little bit tend to have a little bit better, firmer mouthfeel, while retaining their slow cooked tenderness, and that is what I was expecting.

The noodles were a little bit on the thicker size, and very wheaty in flavor and texture.   Everyone has noodle preferences, and these had so little kansui (potassium carbonate stuff that makes ramen noodles yellow and chewy), that they were basically like slightly thinner than usual udon.   As noted in many previous posts, I am very much a fan of thinner, yellower noodles with lots of kansui.   It was particularly strange to me, given the name of the restaurant, that the noodles didn’t seem to have much kansui actually in them.   Note, that this is very much a subjective thing, and other people have very different noodle preferences than I do.

The noodles in the shio ramen seemed to be the same.  The broth had a strong chicken flavor, with also a strong sesame taste.  It was good, if a bit richer than many shio broths I have had, bordering on what would be considered almost like a tonkotsu somewhere else.   Again, the marinated mushrooms were really top notch, and the egg was excellent.

Overall, Kansui is a recommend.  It may be hard for some people to get there for lunch during the week.  It’s nice that they seem to consistently have a fully vegetarian option on the menu.  I definitely hope to return at some point to see what new special ramens they have.  Looking at older menus, there are some really interesting and tasty looking combinations, including some with duck.

Faux Mason Jar and Okonomiyaki

Faux Mason Jar and Okonomiyaki 

 

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Ramen Taka Redux

There have been some changes at Taka Ramen since I visited before.  It’s now open for dinner, which is a huge advantage to those of us who live remotely.  The service is still excellent, and the ramen is still great, but even better some of the food offerings have expanded.

In addition to the good hakata style ramen on the menu (their Taka ramen, house speciality, with skinnier, paler, softer noodles), they also have a miso ramen and a shio ramen.  The shio ramen (didn’t get the miso) uses the more traditional, yellower and chewier ramen noodles.  The broth flavors are wonderful.  The house (Taka) ramen broth is very rich and deliciously pork flavored.  The shio broth was light and chicken flavored.  They each included two half eggs, and the eggs were perfectly soft boiled, and I love a perfectly cooked egg in my ramen.   The pork and veggies was very good.

The menu has expanded a bit, it includes a bunch of new things, including a ramen burger, onigiri, spam musubi, and a bunch of other things which I can’t remember.   The absolutely delicious fried rice that they have is still on the menu.  This time, we got two orders of full fried rice serving, because it is so good, and the waiter cooked in an egg at the table on the hot iron plate, a little teppanyaki style.  The fried rice is so good.  It has little bits of pork, green onion, and fish cake in it, and is just absolutely delicious.

The yuzu soda is still on the menu, which is fun and different.

Because I think dinner service is relatively new, it wasn’t crowded at all on a Friday night, unlike many ramen shops of this caliber in the area, which is a great thing.  The staff continue to be exceptionally friendly.  The atmosphere is great; they were showing Spirited Away.    I very much recommend this place.

 

Taka ramen

Taka ramen

Taka's shio ramen

Taka’s shio ramen

Delicious fried rice

Delicious fried rice

 


 

Pernicious Pickle Review

I thought today I would review some cucumber pickles from the Pernicious Pickling company in Costa Mesa, CA.

 

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I am going to compare these pickles with Golchin’s Persian style pickles (the Golchin pickles are actually made in India).    A comparison of what the different pickles look like is below.

We are comparing the sweet bread & butter pickles and the spicy habanero hotties.    Consistency and mouthfeel-wise, the Pernicious pickles are very soft, almost too soft as they have only a little crunchiness.    The bread & butter are very sweet, and sugar is listed as an ingredient.  They have a nice rich flavor, and you can get some of the bits of onion with is included.  They mustard and cumin give it overall an enjoyable taste.  The spicy pickles are certainly spicy.  They also have a nice subtle sweetness, probably from the garlic and the fact that apple cider vinegar is used for pickling these.  The bread and butter had a little crunch, but the spicy pickles had essentially none.  They were spicy, but I was able to comfortably eat a few with plain crackers; however, everyone’s tolerance varies and my spicy tolerance is probably pretty high.  Overall a tasty couple of pickles, although I think in the future I’d like to try some of their other offerings to see if I can find something with some more crunchiness.

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If you are interested in Persian pickles, there is a nice discussion and comparison of a few kinds:  http://mypersiankitchen.com/persian-pickled-cucumbers/

The golchin Persian cucumber pickles are quite good, nice bit of crunchy snap to them compared to the Pernicious, even though I can tell they have been pickled for a while.   They have some subtle sweetness that comes from the garlic I presume.    I’ve you’ve gotten pickles at a falafel joint, you’ve probably had essentially the same thing.

Finally, I will leave you with some pickle duct tape, in case you need to tape your pickle jars together or something.  So keep on “dilling with it” as the tape says.

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Rapid Ramen Cooker Review

Are you tired of waiting around for your water to boil so you can make some ramen?  Valuable minutes of your life when you could be working on your PhD thesis or writing code for you new app wasted?

The techno-utopian futurists know that innovation is solution to frustration and have a solution:

Over at Serious Eats, the Ramen Rater has a great review of this little reusable ramen pan you can buy ($6.99 at Amazon) for cooking ramen.  It uses half the water, so half the flavor packet (reducing sodium).

http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/10/the-rapid-ramen-cooker-tested-by-the-ramen-rater.html

 

Sushi Sam’s Edomata, quick note

Sam’s in San Mateo is one of my favorite sushi restaurants around.   However, what I didn’t know is that they had really delicious desserts.  A lot of sushi places aren’t particularly known for their desserts, maybe you can get a couple scoops of green tea ice cream or some fruit slices at best.  However, Sam’s Edomata has a great pastry chef, a niece of Sam, who puts together the great desserts, many which rotate, so definitely ask what current desserts they have.

The sushi is really good, and since it is spring, kohada is on the specials menu board.  Last week, they also had a really good bonito which they paired some great yuzu flavoring.


 

Pickles and beer

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I haven’t been writing much about pickles lately, but if anyone has any particular suggestions of pickles to try, please let me know in the comments.

On a recent visit to The Refuge in Menlo Park, my dinner was basically dill pickles with a side order of half a pastrami sandwich.  In this case they were paired with a good IPA.

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At a visit to the Mikkeler Bar in San Francisco, I paired their very spicy giardiniera with their Tenderloin Pilsner, which I thought was a good combination.   As a side note, their giardiniera was quite good, the celery chunks gave it a nice flavor, and it was deliciously oily and peppery (both black pepper and chili flakes).  There were slices of bell peppers and hot peppers pickled too, but if I were making it I think I might leave them out.  The texture wasn’t as good as the crunchy veggies (cauliflower and carrots).  Overall delicious.

 

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So this raises a question though, what is a good beer pairing with pickles?  I’m sure it depends on the pickles, but suppose we can go with standard dill cucumber pickles or sauerkraut.  Usually I tend to go with a pilsner or lighter IPA.  I don’t want anything sweet, and I also don’t want one of the very sour beers which are now quite popular (sour on top of sour would not be good).

This page on the Wegmans website has a nice table of beer pairings, going over many types of beers.   It might make a nice printable info graphic.  However, they suggest a hefeweizen for pickles.  That sounds less than ideal to me.   There are some discussions of pairing craft beers with artisanal pickles, in this news article and on this craft beer site.   Since pickles and beer are both fermented foods, they can have a lot in common.   The craft beer site seems to go a bit overboard, but the news article seems more reasonable, and the Amer-Asian siblings making/selling pickles warms my heart.  There seems to be some reinforcement of an IPA, lager, or pilsner for pickles.

Does anyone have any thoughts?

 


 

Ahi Poké

Poke is the Hawaiian version of sashimi/ceviche.  The ancient Hawaiians ate flavored raw ahi tuna in the past, but the current version also draws heavily from the Japanese (sashimi) and Iberian roots of its immigrants as well as recently on Korean influences.  The accent aigu in the title is my own addition to clarify pronunciation, although I have sometimes seen it written that way on menus, particularly some places on the mainland that serve it.

Poke is basically chopped fish (usually ahi, yellowfin tuna), sesame oil, soy sauce, seaweed, raw onion, and a little chili pepper.  There are then infinite variations on that theme.  Current versions can include wasabi and kimchi, for some added flavor and variation.  There can be more or less shoyu (soy), different amounts/types of seaweed (limu is the standard), and even bits of roasted nuts (inamona), which you might not recognize as such because they have been pulped.  Octopus is probably the second most commonly used fish.   Maybe because a lot of the little shops that sell it in Hawai’i were run by Japanese families, the octopus is often written as “tako”, the Japanese name.  The Hawaiian name is “he’e”.

Where do you get poke?  Hawaiian/Polynesian themed restaurants on the mainland often serve it.  Some Japanese restaurants on the west coast serve it, as many Japanese families emigrated to California from Hawaii.  In Hawai’i, most resorts will have it on the appetizer menu, where they serve a fairly archetypal version of ahi poke.  However, if you want the ‘real’ stuff you need to go to a Hawaiian deli counter.  It’s served a bit like potato salad or something on the mainland (although they have plenty of potato salad in Hawaii too).  It’s everywhere, from Safeway to Costco.  However, I think some of the best places are the small, old school markets, usually which have a Japanese name to the store, as Japanese families often worked as shopkeepers during the plantation periods in Hawaiian history.

I’m going to run down a few of the good spots to get poke on Kaua’i.  I like to eat mine with some seaweed salad or cucumber salad (there are many Hawaiian variations on japanese sunomono).

Fish Express in Lihue is a great place.  It’s a fish shop, but it attracts a busy crowd for lunch, as they do grilled fish plate lunches (really quite delicious!).  Parking can be a bit difficult, and it’s busy, but the fish is excellent.  They serve a range of delicious poke types.

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In Kapa’a, on the East Side, there is a nice little market, the Pono Market which has some great poke as well.  I forgot to take pictures, but it was good.

Down on the south of Kaua’i, in Waimea, there is the Ishihara Market, and old school grocery store with a big deli counter and wide range of poke, along with prepared salads and the like.  They had a few kinds of poke (only one ahi and the mussels made it in the picture, but we had a few kinds of tuna), and I liked the ahi kinds I tried quite a bit.  The mussel poke was not as appealing, but maybe because I was already full of delicious shave ice.

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So overall, some of the places to get poke in Kaua’i.  It’s yummy.  The tuna has a nice fatty umami richness, but it is also fresh and light at the same time.   The seasonings add a range of flavors.

As a side note, there is some belief that perhaps Hawaiian/Polynesian Poke influenced the development of ceviche in Peru through the very early days of trade in the Pacific, which led (through Spanish colonial influence) to ceviche in Mexico.  Despite the ubiquity of ceviche on Mexican menus, it is a relatively recent development in food history there, and seems to definitely have been brought from South America (Peru/Ecuador).

 


 

 

 

Hamura Saimin

 

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Saimin is a true Hawaiian original, a wonderful syncretism of flavors, which has roots in many different food cultures. I’m going to plagiarize the Wikipedia description of its origin:

Saimin is a compound of two Chinese words 細麵: 細 (xì/sai), meaning thin, and 麵 (miàn/min), meaning noodle. Saimin is recognized as a traditional state dish in Hawaii, taking into consideration the various historic and cultural significances of its creation. The dish is composed of elements taken from each of the original sugarcane and pineapple plantation laborer ethnicities of the early 20th century: Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, Portuguese.  As plantation laborers returned from the fields communal meals were informally prepared. It is believed that in some occasions a Filipino family may have had extra green onions growing in their yard, the Portuguese some sausage, the Hawaiian a couple of extra eggs, and the Korean some cabbage left over from making kimchi. At this point they would all throw their ingredients into the pot and share. It may be through these communal meals that saimin was born.

I’m going to roughly classify it as a kind of ramen, because it is sort of similar.  Saimin is so emblematic of Hawaii, that it is even served in many McDonald’s on the islands (it’s actually not bad).

Hamura’s Saimin in downtown Lihue on Kaua’i is one of the first places I ever had saimin, and I haven’t been back for about 10 years, so it was nice to visit recently.  It seems like nothing has changed in that time.  It’s a great lunch spot.  It’s sort of the Kaua’i equivalent to a diner which has been around forever.  It recently was honored in 2006 as a James Beard Foundation Classic.   That article is definitely worth a read, as it summarizes the charm of the place. Here’s an excerpt:

When asked if he knew that Hamura’s Saimin Stand would receive this national recognition, Nick Barcial, a fourth-generation owner stirring batter and beating egg whites for Hamura’s famous lilikoi chiffon pie, shrugged and smiled. He had heard something about it, he said, and knew foundation representatives had called repeatedly. But everyone had been too busy to talk with them.  “Any type of award, we’re surprised,” said the 27-year-old Barcial, who makes 50 chiffon pies a day and still can’t keep up with demand. “We’re just a small operation; we don’t do anything too fancy. Even when the foundation offered a free round-trip ticket to New York — something it never gives honorees — Barcial said he wasn’t sure if anyone from the family would be able to go to the event, where a publicity blitz would likely follow a standing ovation from 1,600 top chefs. “We’re kind of busy and kind of short-staffed,” he said.

So on to the food.  They sell several different versions.  There is the basic broth and noodles, with the green onions, chopped kamaboko (pink and white Japanese fish cake) and chopped ham.  You can get char siu pork and wontons on it too.  It’s delicious, warm and filling.   They have tons of different sauces on the table (shoyu, hot mustard, hot oil, etc.).  I like mine with a dab of hot mustard dissolved in a little shoyu (soy sauce).    The other items such as the skewers are really delicious too.  The passion fruit (lilikoi) chiffon pie mentioned in the news article above is also quite good.

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Definitely an institution and worth a visit.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


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