ramen and pickles

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

Monthly Archives: August 2014

Yokohama Iekei Ramen, Union City, CA

Yokohama Iekei Ramen in Union City, CA was the very tasty destination today.  It’s located in a shopping plaza along Alvarado Blvd with an eclectic mix of other shops.  There is a Filipino pork restaurant, a Chinese Calamari restaurant, a South Asian grocery market, and a bunch of other interesting shops including physician’s office all in the same plaza.

The ramen restaurant itself was pleasant and low key.  Seating was a mix of benches along the sides, wooden chair and even padded metal folding chairs.  There were some Japanese decorations, including a picture of Yokohama train station.  It was a comfortable and friendly, yet very casual atmosphere; well ventilated.

Pictured is the shio ramen.   The ramen broth was delicious.  The “classic” shoyu broth version looked very similar overall, although slightly darker.  The shio broth had a nice light flavor, with clam and yuzu.  Overall quite good.  The shoyu broth was quite a bit smokier.  On the menu they also and a blackened garlic broth as well as several different spicy variants which seemed to be a specialty of the shop.  The add-ins were good; the chashu was delicious.  The veggies were all good.  The egg was nicely soft-boiled and then marinated.  The kikurage mushrooms had a nice flavor and texture.  We were given some options for noodle chewiness; I went with “regular”.  The noodles were definitely fresh tasting with a nice chewiness and flavor.  They were thicker than what I favor, but that is just personal preference, and overall they were quite good.

We ordered a side dish of pickled vegetables, which turned out to be a bowl of shibazuke.   Shibazuke is the bright purple mix of cucumber and eggplant flavored with shio leaves, ume vinegar and ginger.   It’s a very common pickle, but I was hoping for a bit more a mix perhaps of pickles.



The appetizer and side dish menu was extensive.  We tried the miso butter corn, definitely a Hokkaido type dish.  It was good, if a bit sweet for my taste.  Might be a good addition to a miso broth ramen as a topping.  Lots of other delicious things on the menu would warrant and return visit.

A nice touch is that the beer (Sapporo) came in a frosted mug.  There was a nice assortment of ramen condiments on the table.   These included a nice grinder for sesame seeds and kosho white pepper & garlic powder mix.   Overall a nice touch.



Overall, a nice place, worth a visit for some tasty ramen.



Adventures in Architecture, Book Reviews

On a recent trip to New England, I was struck with how beautiful some of the historic buildings there are, particularly compared to many of the “McMansions” I see around the West Coast.  So I started looking into architecture a bit.  I took a few flights recently, so had plenty of time to get some reading in, and I had access to some great bookstores and Amazon.

I started with, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School.  This is a cute little book that can help get you thinking about architecture and design.  It’s probably more meant a sort of mini-coffee table book than anything else, but there is some nice stuff in there.  It was my entry point.

The next book was Francis  D. K. Ching‘s Architecture: Form, Space, and Order.

It’s an absolutely beautiful book.  It is a good way to get you thinking about space and arrangements of objects.  It’s a way to create a vocabulary for architecture.  The illustrations are great to look at, but overall it’s highly theoretical.  It would be best for an architecture student or someone in design professionally.   It’s highly illustrated, and it is maybe worth getting just to look at the draftsmanship.

The next book is different in that it is almost completely the opposite.  It’s Christopher Alexander‘s A Pattern Language.

It’s opposite in that this book is much more text heavy.  Most of the drawn illustrations are much more sketch-like, but most of the illustrations are photographs.  Frankly, the black and white photographs are not reproduced so well, as it was done using technology from the early 70’s.  However, the content is astoundingly good.  It’s also almost the opposite in terms of content, as it is not really about design principles from aesthetic or artistic principles so much as all focused on human interactions and how humans interact with their environment and space.  Frank Ching’s book does include some of that, and the Alexander book does have some artistic principles, but in either case the main focus is somewhat different.

The basic layout of A Pattern Language is around a series of vignettes about different design patterns for how humans interact with one another and objects, but most of the focus is on how humans interact with their spaces, particularly homes.  For someone interested in architecture, it might be worth skipping around a bit, and the beginning sections on urban planning are not as immediately relevant.  An example pattern would be the “Farmhouse Kitchen”, this is a large combined kitchen & dining & seating area.  The book will discuss such a design pattern, its use and incorporation into a structure and how it would relate to other design patterns.  There are also some refinements here, such as why this room should likely be placed on the southern side of a home.  Another example design pattern or concept this is discussed is having an eclectic mix of chairs in a seating area.  This goes against some interior design aesthetics, but Alexander and his authors describe is being more homey and welcoming as well as giving a range of options for different individuals and different moods.  This book of full of interesting thoughts on these sorts of things.

I was originally introduced to Alexander by a data scientist who now works at Google, who thought of the design pattern work having a lot of relevance in software and user interface design, so I think the general principles are broadly relevant even beyond architecture.

The next book get’s a little outside of general design principles, and is very New England specific, but it is a book that I enjoyed a lot.  Thomas Hubka’s Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England  is half a scholarly treatise on this style of architecture and half just a panegyric in praise of this style of architecture.   One of the central points of the book is that the connected farm style used in New England farm houses was not really about providing a path to barn so the farmer could feed the cows without going outside in the winter, so much as providing a whole series of building for providing cottage industrial space creating diverse economic opportunities for the farm family in the era just prior to the industrial revolution.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable read if you are interested in the New England fame house style of architecture.  It gives a lot of history about the transformation of the style with things like the changing technology of the wood stove, and the use of the semi-enclose farm yard.

If you’re interested in American architecture in general there are two good options.  The first is the beautifully illustrated American House Styles: A Concise Guide.   It’s a very pretty book, and goes through the major house styles in a very quick and easy to understand way.

However, I wanted to go into much greater depth, and for that I found the more encyclopedic volume from Virginia McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses to cover a lot more ground.

The illustrations in A Field Guide are in some ways not as lovely.  The black and white photographs aren’t great aesthetically, but they are helpful to have as examples, and the line drawing and draftsmanship introduce a lot of architectural theory to the uninitiated.

If you’re interested in going outside of the US for inspiration, I found a copy of the beautiful book What is Japanese Architecture in a used bookshop in Brookline, MA.

It has lovely line drawings, and I will definitely refer to it before I visit Japan again.  It is also a good source for general material on the Japanese aesthetic.

The next book is an interesting one in that it is not just about a particular design principle and featuring that style, but directly tries to critique design choices as being unaesthetic.   Marianne Cusato is an award winning US architect, who is known for producing relatively inexpensive simple homes which follow very classical design principles and are designed to fit in well with historic areas.  Ben Pentreath is a British architect and interior designer who not only designs but also operates a shop selling furnishings.  He has a few blogs which shows his design sense which mixes antiques and modern patterns.

Basically, the book is about all the little (and big) details which differentiate a “McMansion” from “Classical Design”.  There are tons of particular details here, that when you look at bring attention to things that you didn’t think about before.   For example, Cusato goes into columns for some length.  That may seem a bit excessive for most homes (as you may associate columns with things like Southern plantation style architecture), but after reading this, I’ve been looking around and seeing the large number of homes which have some columns in them, particularly around the entry or just built into the walls as decorative structural looking elements.  The book describes is all the details of columns which if misused make a building look funny or a bit off.  One of the major critiques is that columns, even in early American homes, were important structural (load bearing) elements and are intended to look that way when used now.  However, if things aren’t arranged properly, the structural elements don’t fit, and the buildings don’t look a nice.  There are then scores of other details about how the columns should be arranged, diameters, fluting, etc.  Stuff that I would never have thought of, but when displayed in the book side by side highlights the differences.  Most of the examples are cast as a “Things to Avoid” and then “Things to Use” type format, much like those old Goofus and Gallant comics which contrasted the foolish child on the left and the kindly and wise child on the right.  Obviously, the rules in this book don’t need to be slavishly followed, but it does help to see some of this stuff laid out so that you can keep it mind.  Before reading this book, I would have had no opinions at all about things like roof venting, but now I am starting to notice things which look nice and things which don’t. I imagine some people might resist some of the suggestions, as they may find some of the design choices criticized might be something they like, but overall I think this is a very useful book for the details about what makes something more or less aesthetic.  At the very least, it has me noticing a lot more fine detail now.

If you’re interested in the real nitty & gritty aspects of building design, then another Francis Ching book takes things to the next level.  Building Construction Illustrated gets down to the details of things like soil composition, all different ways to make different kinds of building joints, etc.  All the sorts of things you actually need to know.  Frankly, this book was way beyond me at this point.  If you are interested in being involved in building a house from scratch or being part of a major modeling effort, that this is probably a good book to learn about building methods.

So if you’re interested in architecture in general, these are all very good books.  If you want to do some reading to help you think about your own (future) home, I think A Pattern Language and Get Your House Right are maybe the most useful pair.  The first is very much about function and emotion and how people relate to homes and in many ways is quite broad.  The latter is full of very precise design details, things like the spacing of railings or the exact way the eaves meet the siding that might be helpful, so each book would complement the other.  The two books also come very different cultural perspectives.  The first is very much inspired by the hippie zeitgeist of the Pacific Northwest in the 60’s and 70’s (Alexander was a professor at Berkeley in the 60’s).   The latter book draws much more culturally from the fine homes of England, indeed the foreword is written by the Prince of Wales (architecture is one of his major interests).  So maybe together they can both appeal to the average PBS supporter.  A little bit of Downton Abbey on one side and some collectivist idealism on the other.

I hope you enjoy reading about architecture as much as I have.

This was was my first real foray into learning about architecture, so I’d be interested in any comments readers might have.  The comment button is at your disposal.

Bread from a Can

One of the major New England food traditions is baked beans.  Boston is known as Beantown, and a key part of small town life in Maine are “Bean Suppers”, often held in church basements or the like.  One of the common food items that goes with these baked beans is a steamed brown bread.  Traditionally it would have been made at home in an old coffee can or the like, but you can also buy it in a can pre made.  It may seem strange for some people to buy a can of bread, but the important thing to know is that it is quite delicious.   You slice it up and toast it, put some butter on it, and your mouth with thank you.   It has a rich molasses flavor and a nice softness.  Toasting it gives the exterior some crunchiness.



We sliced up some brown bread, and toasted it on the grill with some natural casing hotdogs, some summer corn from a farm stand (wrapped in foil in the back) and some summer squash/zucchini coated with olive oil and pepper.    We heated the beans in a pan on the stove.


Overall, a delicious meal inspired by a lot of traditional New England food components.





New England Pickles

One of the nice things about being in New England  in the summertime is the abundance of nice farm stands.  It was also nice to see that the supermarkets had some relatively local fresh pickles for sale.  So I’m showing one of each type here.  The Kosher dills are from Farm Ridge Foods in NY, and they were quite tasty and fresh with a good crunch.



These are some bread and butter pickles that we picked up at a farm stand in New Hampshire.  They were nicely sweet, with pickled onion included.  They were great as an accompaniment to pretty much every kind of summer food, such as stuff from the grill.

IMG_0114Some tasty farm pickles for sure!  Hope you can get something similar at your local farm stand this summer.



San Francisco Ramen Festival

Back in July, there was a big ramen street festival in San Francisco.  It was in association with a Japantown J-Pop festival.   Lots of people told me about it in advance.  I was a bit skeptical, but I decided to go check it out.


Basically, the best way to review the experience is to use this video.  The frustration expressed pretty much sums up the whole festival:

It was insanely crowded, the lines were ridiculously long, and the ramen produced in such large volumes and a rapid fashion, served in little disposable plastic bowls that it didn’t even look that appealing.    It was even hard for people to eat, it was so crowded it was hard to have your elbows out to use the chopsticks.  One of the things I love about ramen is visiting a nice shop and having the experience of an “artisanal” fast food.  The ramen festival had all the charm of eating in an airport food court.

Overall, an unpleasant experience and a waste of an afternoon.  I don’t think I will plan on going to any events like this in the future.



Research Study on Health Impact of Instant Noodles

It doesn’t look good for women who love instant ramen.   New research by Frank Hu in the Journal of Nutrition:

Instant Noodle Intake and Dietary Patterns Are Associated with Distinct Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Korea

Shin HJ, et al.


The consumption of instant noodles is relatively high in Asian populations. It is unclear whether a higher intake of instant noodles is associated with cardiometabolic risk independent of overall dietary patterns. We therefore investigated the association using the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey IV 2007-2009, a nationally representative cross-sectional survey of the Korean population with a clustered, multistage, stratified, and rolling sampling design. A total of 10,711 adults (54.5% women) 19-64 y of age were analyzed, with adjustment for sampling design complexity. Diet was assessed by using a 63-item food-frequency questionnaire. We identified 2 major dietary patterns with the use of principal components analysis: the “traditional dietary pattern” (TP), rich in rice, fish, vegetables, fruit, and potatoes, and the “meat and fast-food pattern” (MP), with less rice intake but rich in meat, soda, fried food, and fast food including instant noodles. The highest MP quintile was associated with increased prevalence of abdominal obesity (OR: 1.41; 95% CI: 1.05, 1.90), LDL cholesterol ≥130 mg/dL (1.3 g/L) (OR: 1.57, 95% CI 1.26, 1.95), decreased prevalence of low HDL cholesterol (OR: 0.65; 95% CI: 0.53, 0.80), and high triglycerides [≥150 mg/dL (1.5 g/L); OR: 0.73; 95% CI: 0.57, 0.93]. The highest quintile for the TP was associated with decreased prevalence of elevated blood pressure (OR: 0.73; 95% CI: 0.59, 0.90) and marginally lower trends for abdominal obesity (OR: 0.76; 95% CI: 0.58, 0.98; P-trend = 0.06), but neither of the dietary patterns was associated with prevalence of metabolic syndrome. The consumption of instant noodles ≥2 times/wk was associated with a higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome (OR: 1.68; 95% CI: 1.10, 2.55) in women but not in men (OR: 0.93; 95% CI: 0.58, 1.49; P-interaction = 0.04). The 2 major dietary patterns were associated with distinct cardiometabolic risk factors. The consumption of instant noodles was associated with increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome in women, independent of major dietary patterns.


Cup Ramen