Saturday, July 3, 2010

Bubble Tea: 5 Years Later

Oh my God, you guys, I just tried the most amazing dish! You have to try it. It's, like, this kind of bread, like a flat kind of bread and they put this tomato sauce on it and then cover it with cheese and then they bake it and, like, oh my God you guys, you're gonna fucking die. It's sooooo good!

This was how I felt after trying bubble tea. For the first time. Two weeks ago. Like Christopher Fucking Columbus "discovering" America even though the place had been inhabited for about a bazillion years by people who covered their junk with buckskins and made really great elk jerky. Like I'd finally found the one, long lost, missing piece to my kittens and puppies puzzle right there under the couch. Like (let me just ruin the above joke by explaining it) I had just discovered pizza.

I don't know what has kept me from trying this delightful drink all these years. There is certainly no shortage of bubble tea establishments in Seattle. Even my former boss, who still wears shoulder pads and considers frozen T.G.I. Fridays mozzarella sticks to be an elegant cocktail party snack, could be found sucking tapioca pearls up those comically girthy straws on a daily basis. 

Funny Story. No, I don't have one, that is actually the name of the bubble tea & crepe place in the shopping center next to my work. Funny Story. I don't know what's so funny about bubble tea (the comically girthy straw, maybe?), but every time I see the big orange sign it makes me giggle (hmmm, so it is funny!) so I finally stopped in to see what all the fuss was about.

Oh man have I been wasting my life away drinking other things! Bubble tea! It's like a drink and a snack all in one, with it's sweet milky tea (or frozen slushy, your choice) and big chewy tapioca pearls. If there's one thing I like in this world (besides Scrabble and swallowing Jello without chewing) it's contrasting textures, and bubble tea has got just that. I lost my bubble tea virginity to the magical purple potato flavor and have had a hard time trying anything else despite a single, short lived, affair with coconut (it's pretty good too, but smacks slightly of Hawaiian Tropic).

I don't know why I'm telling you all this since you, and the rest of America, have been enjoying bubble tea since George Bush Jr was reelected and the Taiwanese have been sucking down the stuff since about the time I learned that yellow and blue make green. Maybe it's because I am newly in love, and like anyone in love, I want to tell absolutely everybody about it. Maybe because there are a few of you out there who have yet to be enlightened, and I want to be the one who saves you. I have been saved, my friends, and let me tell you: it feels good.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Ramen Round-up

Balmy. It's my new favorite word and, lately, I have had ample opportunity to use it. The weather here has turned hot, sweaty, sticky and strange. I'm either pairing tank tops with rain boots or hunkering down inside my air conditioned apartment as the warm, tropical rain loudly crashes down outside my window.

With the heat came a chilling realization: ramen season is over. Sure, technically, I can still pop into a noodle shop and get my slurp on, but I'd prefer not to spend my lunch break sweating into a hot bowl of soup. This is truly heartbreaking as I despise hot, humid weather as much as I love good ramen.

So, I'd like to do a little tribute to my dear friend ramen and share with you a collection of top notch bowls I've enjoyed in various cities around Japan. I'll miss you over these next couple of balmy months, my porky salty friend. Have a great summer! Stay Sweet! KIT!!
Butter + Ramen
Last weekend, as the temperature began to rise, I panicked and insisted on squeezing in one last round of ramen. I was visiting my BFIJ in Fukui so we stopped into her favorite local shop. It didn't look particularly exciting, but then I saw it. The ramen I have been wanting to try. The Shio Butter Ramen. Butter is a common ramen accoutrement in the Hokkaido region, the most northern island in Japan, where all the cows live and moo and donate their milk to make the particularly flavorful butter. The bowl arrived, as promised, with a fat nug of butter bobbing atop the salt broth. Chopped shiso leaves were another added bonus.  I swirled the butter around the bowl until it melted, immediately adding an oily sheen to the soup and even more calories to my (poor poor) happily overfed body. Salt is not my favorite ramen flavor, but the butter took the edge off, and the broth was smooth and unctuous. 

The Old Standby AKA My Very Very Favoritest Ramen in Kanazawa 

Ippudo is where I ate my very first meal in Kanazawa and it remains to be one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Not only is their Kyushu-style tonkotsu ramen consistently amazing, but they provide two of my favorite things: lots of condiments and free side dishes. Hurrah! After your bowl arrives, with it's rich, cloudy-white, pork broth and slippery noodles (you can choose to have them cooked hard or soft), grind some sesame seeds on top and use the garlic press to add a freshly crushed clove or two. Dig into the wooden bowls full of all-you-can-eat spicy chopped greens and bean sprouts coated in chili oil. Always pay the extra 100yen to add a perfectly cooked egg. After carefully biting through the hard cooked white, you'll be rewarded with a gooey, Hawaiian sunset orange, yolk. Sip your complimentary, bottomless iced tea and listen to the jazz playing in the simple but stylish dining room. When you finally stumble out the door, woozy and comatose from the decadent combination of pork, noodles and egg, the entire staff will shout after you. I don't know what they're saying, but I imagine it's something like "Dang! That shit was the joint, huh? Good luck staying awake at your desk, sucker!"  Some Bad News: I was shocked and disappointed to discover that Ippudo is a chain, with 34 shops in Japan. Some Good News: There's now an Ippudo in New York City, so I can get my fix stateside. 

Kyushu: The Ramen Mecca

Japanese people love waiting in line for food. A long line means it must be good, and these people will consistently queue up for hours for what they hope is the perfect plate of gyoza or freshest slices of sashimi. It is rumored that some will hop in any old line, not even knowing what they are waiting for, but assuming it must be life alteringly delicious. I am not so keen on the lines, but line up I did in Kagoshima. What else could I do? There I was in the motherland. The birthplace of my beloved Kyushu tonkotsu ramen. I was finally gonna eat one of my favorite foods on its home turf. I was like a Jew in Jerusalem, but with way more pork. Of course I would wait in line. And it was totally worth it. This was the absolute best bowl of my life. The pork nearly melted on my tongue, the noodles were chewy and ropey and (bonus round!) there was a handful of silky skinned, pork filled, wontons. A cold glass of lunchtime beer cut right through that rich, porcine broth.

So, there ya have it. Ramen season is officially over (maybe, probably, most likely). But not all is lost: cold soba season has just begun!