Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Great Curry Rice @ Camp Express (Ikebukuro Station)

Back in Tokyo, the Japanese Curry specialist Camp had been on my go-to list for some time. While their honten main shop is in Yoyogi, I saw one of the Camp Express outlets in the JR side of Ikebukuro Station and made a stop in. The shop's official name is Yasaiwotaberu Karee Camp (野菜を食べるカレーcamp), roughly translated "Curry to Have Your Vegetables - Camp."

A very fun set up, imagine REI serving Curry around the back counter past the tents and sleeping bag isles, then add a feel-good dose of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom... All was well with the world. :)

Menu wise, opposed to say, Coco Ichibanya where the concept based more on choose-your-topping-to-make-your-own, things are much more boutique flavored at Camp. The Cabbage and Scallop Curry was very enticing while the Hoikoro (Chinese Twice Cooked Pork) Curry sounded insanely good. I settled on the Miso Flavored Pork Curry with Eggplant (茄子と豚肉の旨味噌炒めカレー), which was closer to a curry flavored stir-fry.

Drooling delicious where I had shoveled through the cast iron plate dish in express worthy time. The ever adaptive Japanese Curry. Great versions and evolutions to be had here at Camp.

An Okinawa Soba - Miyako Soba Doraemon

This day was an outing to Naha City for some casual shopping with the fam. When time came for lunch, the uncle known to photo-document his meals had the honors of choosing where. Doraemon, I choose you! Byaay.

The shop is located on the second floor of a commercial building, but despite is very homey with lots of locals charm inside. The name Doraemon (ドラえもん) btw is actually from long time manga/anime robot cat from the future, it's popularity in Japan rivaling Hello Kitty, but probably more with boys.

We all ordered the house Doraemon Soba which is generously topped with Soki (stewed rib meat), Tebichi (pork trotters) and the Okinawa Soba ubiquitous "three-layered" Sanmainiku. Here also the bowl is a Miyako-jima islands variation where the noodles are straighter, thinner and flat, with the soup tending to also be on the lighter side.

Was a very nice bowl that came piping hot with well-seasoned rich and tender meaty toppings. The Tebichi was notably extra tender and delicious (although Hanaori Soba's is still in my tops for it). The lighter pork based soup had a good amount of additional dashi taken from katsuobushi which I also enjoyed very much.

Some extra dishes we shared were a bowl of Jyushee (a type of Okinawan rice medley) that was nice and light and a plate of Goya Chanpuru (sometimes spelled Champuroo) a very popular bittermelon stir-fry.

The Goya Chanpuru particularly shined and was the best I've had in a while. Made with expert high-heat wokkery, the firmer Shima Tofu handles the abuse with this version made (and "seasoned") with some corned beef hash, on the islands simply (and inaccurately) referred to as コーンビーフ, kōn beefu or "corned beef," then finished with a sealing of a medium-rare egg. This canned corned beef hash as well as Spam, (pork luncheon meat generically referred to as ポーク, pōku or "pork") is an indispensable protein substitute however can also be seen as a type of "umami seasoning" with home cooking on the island.

Really enjoyed my meal at Miyako Soba Doraemon and would love to return whenever back in the area. My 2011 outing with friend in the Naha area of a visit to Makishi Public Market and Hanagasa Shokudo can be read here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An Okinawa Soba - Misato Soba

Sharing another Okinawa Soba tonight, Byaaaaay(!)...

Misato Soba had been a recommendation from a close friend for a long while and it was really great that we were able to find the afternoon to hang out the mostly family-centric time I had spent in Okinawa. As Takaesu, Misato Soba also resides on the first floor of a medium sized residential apartment complex. Was a little hard to find with some construction around at the time, but google maps location here.

The relatively smaller interior also seemed recently renovated and squeaky new but still retained a very homely charm. Chilled water or hot tea abound, condiments were also your usual suspects.

The budget friendly house named Misato Soba which we both ordered includes a variety of toppings from the ubiquitous three-layer pork Sanmainiku, melty tender long-stewed cartilage nankotsu, Yushi Tofu, a slice of island Kamaboko fish cake and sprinkle of minced negi green onions. This rather full-featured medium sized bowl was for a mere ~$5.

The soup made mainly with pork bones and katsuo (dried bonito) stock I felt was deep and richer than typical. The Okinawa Soba signature all-wheat noodles were straighter and less crinkly and was also very fresh tasting. Here, fuchiba (fuuchiba, mugwort, a.k.a. Yomogi on the mainland) comes with the order which adds a strong herbal and slightly medicinal note to the dish when added.

Currently I would consider the quiet Misato Soba in my top five of favorite Okinawa Soba shops on the island, and it's well deserved judging by quality and price. I have my friend to thank but the time that we were able to spend catching up while having the great bowl was also precious. Good times. :)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

An Okinawa Soba - Takaesu Soba (Yushi Tofu Soba)

Changing things up and sharing an Okinawa Soba today, Byaay(!)...

A quick primer on Okinawa Soba can be read on my Hamaya Soba post from 2011, a unique soup noodle dish that isn't soba in the true sense as buckwheat aren't used in the noodles, but also is neither a ramen or udon that is ubiquitous to the islands. The Yushi Tofu Soba variant where fluffy fresh unformed Shima-Tofu is sieved over as topping (Yushi Tofu in mainland called Oboro Tofu), Takaesu Soba (高江洲そば) in Urasoe City has taken credit as the originator.

Often simply referred as Tofu Soba, I couldn't pinpoint when and the story behind why it came about but as far as I can remember definitely wasn't around when I was a kid. Things like it can randomly happen I suppose. Any case you can now find Yushi Tofu Soba on the menu of many Okinawa Soba shops.

Takaesu resides on the first floor of a smaller apartment complex. The building recently renewed, the interior was squeaky clean but still retains a homely charm. The day was filled with your usual school kids and family crowd. Popular, there's usually a wait.

Although the word Tonkotsu immediately evokes the opaque-white ramen soup of Kyushu-style for most, any stock that primarily includes pork bones, clear or otherwise is tonkotsu by nature as the word simply means 'pork bones' (as was my recent Shio Ramen from KIZO).

With additional good ratio of kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) dashi, the familiar aroma and flavors are comforting, irresistible and without substitute. The addition of the very fresh tofu brings in a nice mellowness in flavor and texture to the mix and matched well with the medium rich broth. Typical condiments below which are your benishoga (red pickled ginger), shichimi and Koregusu - chili peppers seeped in Awamori sake.

[Brief factoid: Koregusu in the Okinawan dialect means Korean Chili Peppers which the Shima Togarashi (Island Chili Peppers) originated from -- the Korean peninsula in the 18th century. The same word condiment Koregusu was said created by an Okinawan transplant living in Hawaii that took inspiration from the island's Chili Pepper Water in the Meiji era. Said as the person would occasionally revisit Okinawa the condiment slowly spread and took root.]

Okinawa Soba is never greasy like some ramen but can rival in meaty toppings. One very popular is the Soki which is stewed rib meat. Takaesu's Soki Soba a friend ordered. Meat extremely tender and well seasoned, slightly sweet with shoyu flavor. We then joke at how these on the island were never this tender and flavorful when we were kids. Between the time and now, an evolution had happened with what we assume more modern cooking methods and evolving palate influencing. All for the better though as the popularity of the dish (and Okinawan cuisine in general) have spread to all over Japan.

The Nakami Soba with offal (chitlin) toppings comes with a side of fresh grated ginger.

Long stewed and well rendered of fat, its taste is earthy but clean and a meaty yet tender textural delight. What little offal flavor exists is helped by the addition of grated ginger. Other toppings included were a knot of stewed kombu and your standard shredded kinshi tamago and sprinkle of finely minced negi green onions. This also hit the spot though I know a portion of childhood nostalgia plays a large role here. :)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

6 Years, A Gyutan Negi Shio Ramen From KIZO, Gift Cookies And Other Random Ramblings

So I spell Bloggaversary the unpopular way, and I'm quite fine with that. Google will give you the, "Do you mean Blogiversary?" response if searched. I suppose it depends if one is suggesting an Anniversary of being a Blogger vs. the Blog's Anniversary...?

Any case, didn't want to make a deal of the day especially since I wasn't very active a good part the year. I feel I did a decent reintroduction last year so quickly sharing some random photos and the usual accompanied ramblings. :)

Received some cookies from my B-kyu Gurume fan hairstylist as a return thank you from some snacks I brought back earlier from Japan. A couple were from her recent family trip to Hawaii and one from Seikotei in Tokyo.

Seikotei has an interesting history where it started as an organic Yoshoku restaurant in 1982. While the business was successful, their confectionaries, especially the walnut cookies had become immensely popular, to the point they had evolved to focus only on it.

The bite sized Chocolate Walnut Cookies were airy light, not too sweet and delightful. As you can see, the box with various signature squirrel illustrations was also adorable. Thanks again S-san! The Everyday Bentos series were super fun to do and I hope to have better luck finding more volunteers this year.

Was at Mitsuwa Torrance yesterday to try KIZO's Gyutan Negi Shio Ramen (Beef Tongue Scallion Salt Ramen). The showcase was at the usual former Katsuhana stall that was recently replaced by a second Edomae Tendon Hannosuke outlet.

Was refreshing to see as I've long grown out of the milky rich Kyushu Tonkotsu inspired ramens that seem to be the only rage out here. KIZO is produced by the owner of Chibakiya. Curious that they had a similar offering -- a Gyutan Shio Ramen from a visit by Chibakiya back in 2010.

This was pretty good. The simple salt flavored clear soup made mainly with carefully stewed pork bones and beef tendons had a nice amount of body and depth. Things become much more interesting though when the small dollop paste made with garlic, lard and some heavy cream is mixed in.

The extra eggs, which though a nice soft-boil, seemed unmarinated and it with large whole kikurage mushrooms drove the price up to $12. Nice, but if I have this bowl again I'd probably pass on these and instead have a couple extra slices of the great beef tongue for the money. Standard toppings are the green onions (said three types are used) the earlier mentioned garlic paste and two slices of delectable ultra tender beef tongue.

Noodles were custom made for KIZO by Sun Noodle and interesting. Whiter in color, medium firm, and a chijire crinkly. Reminded me a lot of what was used in the Kitakata Ramen of Tanaka Sobaten or maybe a thinner version of what's used in Okinawa Soba. The crinkles help bring up the soup during slurpage and its subtle flavor I thought went well with the bowl.

The Gyutan Dry Curry ($4) was decent which had a moist pilaf like consistency. I prefer ones that are more like fried rice where the pan heat brings out the flavor and aroma of the curry spice. This was still good though, especially with some leftover ramen soup poured over halfway through. ;)

As usual I'm not that great at covering the rest of the fair but most Mitsuwa Events usuals where there.

I picked up a bottle of Mentsuyu from Aji no Hyoshiro since I was low at home. Had a good dried bonito flavor and nice olfactory aromatics which tend to be drowned out in other cheaper brands. Unrelated to the fair, I thought the new Onigiri rice ball wrappers printed with an image of the contents were kinda cool.

So after all this it may be hard to believe that I've been on a low-carb diet for some time now. You're allowed a cheat day once in a while, so during I try to make the most of it. More typical, below is a Paleo Bread which I used this recipe. Was pretty decent for what it was, the texture more like a denser nut bread. I recommend more this Paleo Banana Nut Bread though which I've made several times (slightly modified, minus the Almond Butter replaced by instead Almond Meal with a tbsp of coconut oil).

With the plain bread though I was able to make some Paleo Crab Cakes. Basically followed a classic Maryland style Crab Crake recipe and used it grated vs. the regular bread crumbs. I didn't account for the sodium already included in Old Bay Seasoning so it turned out a little on the salty side but still pretty good. I'd like to do this again with jumbo lump.

Last, despite some initial hiccups, my Myoga plant that was given to me by a friend seems to finally be taking root. They grow like weeds in Japan but here can be up to $2.99 for a single bulb, which is the unbloomed flower of the plant. Planting this wouldn't produce a plant and you need to get ahold of the rhizome root.

If all goes well I think my next challenge will be Shiso. A Myoga and Shiso Paradise out back like tulip fields in Holland!