Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday Ramblings - The Spam Popularity Theory And Other Stuff..

Man this weather has seriously put a dent in my appetite. First the heat and now the humidity (and today the muggy rain). At least we're getting to see a few cool cloud formations for a change though..

I don't know about the town in your state or country but in San Diego we don't get to see puffy Cumulus clouds often. Mostly only wispy ones, and that's if there are any clouds in the sky to begin with. Usually so dry here..

Went to Marukai for a change of pace last night. Came across a few things I found interesting and wanted to share. Well I've posted on my liking for Japanese Seaweed Paste in the past..

So while it was nice to know Gohandesuyo! comes in a Jumbo Jar (though I'm personally more a Bunsen Ara! fan..) this individual serving sized package I never knew of..(!)

Probably for stuffing bento lunch boxes with. But also very cool to know I can keep a few packs in my shirt pocket for emergency purposes.

I also for the first time spotted Spam Singles being sold. Marukai tends to have much more Hawaiian favorited food and brand offerings than Nijiya or Mitsuwa. I still need to buy and try a few of the frozen boxed Zippy's Chili that they have.
Anyhow I think I first read about Spam Singles on someone's blog but I can't remember where. I hate not giving credit. Could've been Serious Eats.

I need to one day do a dedicated tribute post on Spam, but curious if any of you have heard about the known key similarities of certain cultures that embrace the product. I think I learned about this on some Japanese food show quite a long while back, but the program said the following which made a lot of sense..

1) It is usually at a place where the culture of consuming Pork is already very popular..
1b) These places tend to have a geography, whether it be the lack of space (have dense forests) or topography where raising pigs for consumption is much more convenient than cows.
2) These places are usually subtropical hot and humid climates where the task of preserving meats were already difficult and thus canning has become popular.
3) Last but probably most influential.. A history of U.S. Military occupation.

So when these few factors align, you tend to end up with a culture that embraces Spam. Okinawa my hometown is one of them.

Boy the clouds were really neat this evening.

Oh, taking the opportunity here to share my impression of Nijiya's Tokusei Raayu - (Nijiya's special hot oil raayu - "edible" version) that I mentioned on a post in August.

Well, below is a very unflattering photo of me having lunch in my car while waiting through the automated car wash cycle. One of those particularly hectic days, my Indian meal was even from the UTC food court nearby.

I've been carrying my bottle of raayu with me to places since I recently haven't been cooking much at home. ;) Anyhow the flavors of the hot oil itself was actually nice and fairly complex. A long list of ingredients that included dried chili peppers, garlic chips, several spices, some shellfish and anchovies even. But what I thought skewed the concoction too out in the Wa-Fu (or traditional Japanese cuisine) spectrum was the cooked tsukudani Konbu seaweed. While I personally find Konbu flavors pleasurable, the saturated simmered flavors of a tsukudani is quite characteristic and strong and can clash with food of non-Japanese flavor profiles. So I very unfortunately find the use of Nijiya's Raayu very limiting.

Meanwhile the original Ishigaki Raayu goes with pretty much anything. Nijiya actually carries another brand, I think it was Momoya. When I'm done with this bottle I might try it. But I think that's going to take a little while...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Few Leftover Noodle Dishes

Leftover meaning photos that have been floating in my queue and not half eaten meals..
I'm going to try to go through these quickly but I do tend to ramble. :P

A Hiyashi Chuka cold noodle dish I had at Ramen Yakyudori a couple months back.. (My most recent lunch post at RY here.) The price was a bit up there, I think around $9.50 if I remember right. The portion was larger with probably 1.5~2X the amount of noodles served in their regular size ramen.

Toppings were fairly standard - par-boiled sprouts, shredded cucumber and tamago, kikurage wood ear mushrooms and two slices of their fatty pork. Was pretty good but the sauce was a teeny bit too tart and vinegary for me. Otherwise nice and I did manage to finish the entire plate.

The topped cherry tomato I at first thought was an Ume pickled sour plum. I wish places would go a little more creative/adventurous next year (the dish is usually Summer only) with their Hiya-Chu to try and stand out of the crowd. Just along these Convoy parts, Sakura, Santouka, Tajima, Ichiro and Chopstix all offer one and they're all more or less the same. Ume and julienned Shiso would be wonderful to sprite up the dish for additional Summer heat cool down power. Just an idea.. :)

Tried their Hiyayakko cold tofu appetizer ($3). The tofu had some decent soybean flavor but overall wasn't too ambitious to try to stand out here either. But I love my hiyayakkos.. :)

I need to go visit for dinner soon since I hear they've finally started the grilling of skewers. My friend and I tried last week around 7:30PM, on a Thursday or Wednesday and there were a small overflow of people waiting out. Glad they're doing well but I wonder why they stopped serving their Shoyu Ramen in the special white ornate bowl?? I thought that was cool. (Sorry, nerd detail.)

Ramen Yakyudori, 4898 Convoy St., Suite 101, San Diego, CA 92111

That night I spoke of, we ended up at Izakaya Masa. My last weekend lunch post of their Tonkotsu Ramen Set I just want to clarify that I didn't think the bowl was bad. It was good, just not to the level I've been hearing (drunken?) praises from.. :P

Tried their Shoyu Ramen this night ($6.95). It's actually listed as a Kotteri Shoyu Ramen, "kotteri" meaning rich, but this was actually pretty light.

I'd expect to see a little fat back or stronger flavor for a kotteri, but either way the soup had a much more honest scratch made flavor which I enjoyed. Personally trumped my last bowl at Tajima that was an extreme artificial salt bomb. Anyhow had the same thinner white straight noodles used in their Hakata Tonkotsu which was fine by me, especially since it was cooked firmer than last. The wakame seaweed here I thought was a nice touch.

We usually get the Masa's Fried Chicken as opposed to the regular karaage which has more flavor. Gyozas are decent. We were having ramen so it was sort of a given.

Overall the food probably averages on par with Tajima. But for my friends and I, Masa resides at a great convenient nearby location, and coupled by their cozy atmosphere we tend to find ourselves here more often than not when grabbing a pint and some fried grub after work. It's our local neighborhood haunt. :)

Izakaya Masa, 928 Fort Stockton Dr, San Diego, CA 92103

I totally forgot I tried the Kimchee Ramen ($8.99, medium bowl) at Santouka Torrance way back until I came across the photos in my album a few weeks ago. Maybe says something.

The flavors weren't very thought out and was a bit of a disappointment. Inexpensive vinegary Kimchee placed on top of their spiced up tonkotsu.

The most memorable part of the meal for me was the Korean-style Nori (dried seaweed) with its light sesame oil and lightly sprinkled salt flavor. Yum.

Noodles were slightly overcooked and too soft for my liking. I've had regular bowls here and while all good the whole special aura the Torrance locale of Santouka gets is really unwarranted these days. While SD Santouka had its hiccups early on I can say now So. Cal. Santouka's are pretty much equal. (With only Costa Mesa's being mysteriously slightly more light-milky.. Are you guys in fact adding gyuunyuu as a hidden kakushi aji behind headquarter's back? haha.)

Santouka Ramen - Torrance, 21515 S Western Ave, Torrance, CA 90501

Last is a meal from a new place in the La Jolla UTC food court called Noodles & Company, supposedly a Portland based chain. There's been a lot of changes in this food court recently where Burger King on the far East end had closed months ago and even that Fusion Asian place next to Panda that seemed only open for a short while is boarded up. Noodles & Company that offers almost all that is noodles (no ramen though, haha) occupies the Northwest end of the court that used to be I think a French sandwich spot.

It was kinda funny seeing more than a few people chowing on a large bowl of Wisconsin Mac & Cheese in front of them. The menu is split in Asian, Mediterranean, and American. I had what was the Bangkok Curry (large) and made it a "trio" with chicken as protein (all standard dishes are priced as vegetarian) and a small Thai Curry Soup on the side ($8.50 total).

I'd be totally kidding myself if I weren't expecting something very Americanized but I still felt they're one step ahead of most fast food chains where I'd categorize what I had this day as Healthy Americanized (as an oxymoron as it sounds).

The rice noodles were nice and firm and the dish had ample vegetables. The flavors were very light though and in fact a bit watery in the case of my Bangkok Curry (noodles). They should crank up those jet burners cause last I heard a little char or wok hay is calorie free.. ;) The topped skinless chicken was very lean but fairly moist. The curry soup was tom yum inspired with a limey zest and fresh cilantro but again too light. Had more of the flat rice noodles that was in my main dish.

Well I felt filled, didn't feel like I needed to take a nap, my meal had lots of veggies, could've had more flavor but was low in sodium. Knowing the majority of clientele at this La Jolla mall food court I think Noodles & Company will do quite well. I'll personally probably be trying the Mediterranean and American side of the menu next time.

Noodles & Company, 4545 La Jolla Village Dr, San Diego, CA 92122

Friday, September 24, 2010

Meaty Snacks @ Sausage King

Drove to Sausage King to pick up a quick lunch today..

Close friends had told me they served little sandwiches on a roll which either I never knew or was a relatively new thing.

I did always think that if Sausage King had a small propane grill up front cooking up some of their meats I'd be so all over it.

Mmm, my favorite Weisswurst. According to the lady behind the counter it is occasionally listed here as Bockwurst.

I'll have to come back for them. I needed to order up a few of those little meat sandwiches to bring over to friends (who just had their first baby.. Congrats G.R.A.!!).

Today's special was a German Meat Loaf. The lady spoke out the actual German name of it but for the life of me I can't recall. Might have been because as I was trying to put the name to memory I was distracted by a tasty sample given.

Was still warm from being just made up fresh. It was like an airy low sodium quality Bologna, but with a coarser texture maybe closer to Spam or luncheon meat. The flavoring was simple but good.

These smaller sandwiches ($3) come on chewy sesame rolls with choice of mustard and mayo spread on it if you like. One with the Pepper Meat Loaf for friend as a request, and I chose the fresh Meat Loaf for his Missus. Head Cheese for me.

On hindsight probably best to mix and match meats cause I didn't know it would be packed with so much of it.

The pic above was a result from the classic sandwich fillings being pushed out as you eat but still.. Anyhow the Head Cheese here was not very gelatinous but more livery in texture with pieces of what looked like tongue (could've been heart), hard boiled egg yolks, and few pickled vegetables. Reminds me to mention that we also had them with some pickles picked up here previously in a pickle jar. Was a perfect match.

A few landjaeger links for the road back ($1 a link). Like good pepperoni as described on Dave's Cupboard, if you air dry them for a few days the flavors become more intense. Also doubles as a great air freshener for your car.. ;)

Just kidding of course and should be stored wrapped in paper in a cool location with good air circulation. Hey it's almost Oktoberfest! :)

Sausage King, 811 W Washington St, San Diego, CA 92103

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Miso Ramens At The Mitsuwa Hokkaido Fair 2010 (And Some Ramblings As Usual)

Worked feverishly to get this posted last night like a responsible food blogger but just couldn't do it. Today (Sunday the 19th) would be the final day of Mitsuwa's Hokkaido Fair. Hope some people get to check it out. Most spelling and grammatical errors will be corrected afterward.. :P

But first wanted to get a few things out... Below a photo of one of the fantastic miso ramens offered from Sumire Ramen at the San Diego Mitsuwa food court in very early 2008. Yes prices have gone up considerably, at the time a sample was $6.90, now over 10-bucks after sales tax. To give credit portions does seem to have improved over the years.

And I've been seeing less of the styrofoam bowls.. But my biggest pet peeve these days have been that THEY WON'T LET YOU KEEP THE PAYMENT STUBS!! I'm upset and am planning to write Mitsuwa about it if they don't read it here first. I like collecting the stubs and the least they can do after you've paid a premium for the sampling experience is to let you keep the (larger) stub as a souvenir. In fact they used to give out both.

If they had serving issues (like extremely lame people claiming they have not received their meal when they actually already have) here is an idea:

Give out the smaller stub to the customer after payment as a reminder of their order number as usual..

But, when the number is called and the meal picked up, SIMPLY TRADE THE STUBS FROM THE SMALLER TO THE LARGER. This way the customer gets to keep the large stub as a souvenir, and their possession of this proves the delivery/transaction. Both sides are happy.

So now that's out of the way.. Just a quick Sumire Miso Ramen description for comparison.

I remember at the time, SD Santouka wouldn't open shop in the food court until another two months. While SD Santouka since had participated in one or two subsequent fairs, any special ramen showcasing has sadly become nonexistent in SD Mitsuwa. I won't go into my thoughts of why today.

This was an amazing slap in your face bowl of all that is Miso that will leave you loving for a long time. Intensely rich and every spoonful piping hot ending with a nice red miso tang goodness. If a person is a Miso fiend/lover (I mean not just ramen but in general) they would've really appreciated it I thought. It was also pretty oily as you can see by my spoon below and the few friends I did take with, it seemed too much for them but whatevs.. ;)

The bowl was partly created to survive the long cold winters of Sapporo, or so I'm told. Can easily say was probably the best Miso Ramen I've had to date. I went back for seconds the next day and the photos here are a combination of two separate visits. (GoRamen!'s post of a bowl from the original honten here.)

I did wonder if this bowl of so much of a good thing can be something I can handle all the time.. But I'd be happy to try and find out, haha. ;)

So fast forward to September 2010. At Mitsuwa Torrance, Ramen Shingen is offering their KokuMiso Ramen (Rich-Miso Ramen). The soup was described to have been simmered for over 100 hours.(!) Before I even start though I was impressed by the intense radiating heat that seemed to penetrate straight through the wall that separates kitchen to the cashier area. I hope those cooks are drinking a lot of water to prevent heat stroke!

The soup was surprisingly sweeter than I expected and the balance to it with the blended Miso's savory was really great. It looks a little reddish below but the flavor wasn't the least tangy and milder.

The soup was also lightly viscous, almost as if it were thickened with a pinch of rice flour, but I would guess the result from the four-days plus of continuous simmering. The menma marinated bamboo shoots were impressively crunchy, and with the classic par-cooked fresh beansprouts and fresh scallions, it's a delicious miso soup I would never tire of. But through personal preference I have to say I miss the impact of a more red aka-miso based lightly tangy Miso Ramen.

The yummy pork chashu wasn't in the shadows either. A single but larger slice (as for sample bowls go), a slightly leaner porky goodness that reminded me how fat can be flavor but not all flavor is fat. I liked how the flavors were more intense around the darker outer edges.

Noodles were a medium thick and curly, softer chewy, bright yellow but not too eggy.

At Mitsuwa Costa Mesa, Komaoka Ramen was serving up their Kara-Miso Ramen (Spicy Miso Ramen). Here the nice servers were kind enough to give me at least the smaller end of the pay stub.. :P

You know I'm never against a tasty bowl of Spicy Miso Ramen but truth be told I'm not a huge fan in general of them, not sure why. But I have to say I really enjoyed this one. Like anything it's the accumulation of all the smaller details that count in the end.

The first thing I noticed again was balance of sweetness to savoriness, was only mildly spicy but had a nice nutty ground sesame flavor. In fact the flavors especially with the fresh and par-crunchy chingensai (baby bok choi) and small mound of spicy flavored ground pork topping all but reminded me of the Japanified Tan Tan Men.

This would be a Miso version of course with only complementing touch of sesame. Was nice and oily but not over the top. The two smaller pork chashu pieces were fairly ordinary but good. The slightly more what I call 'tectonic' version where meaty continents are suspended by veins of rendered fatty goodness.

The piping hot soup is more evident when you disrupt it by lifting a nice serving of noodles. Something a few local SD ramen shops could improve on. The noodles were extra springy and great.

Came with three smaller mounds of rice (I forgot the name of these barrel-shaped on top of my head but it'll come to me later.. not that it's important but it's bugging me now, haha).

A few more highlights.. Ikameshi! (Squid stuffed with mochi rice.) I always loved the packaging of this famous brand.

Lots of people pointing fingers of what they want. Fried croquettes with various fillings..

The Ikura salmon roe looked wonderful each perfectly spherical in shape. Wish I tried it now. Being it the Hokkaido Fair there were lot's of seafood types of offering so some of the samples were on the expensive side more than usual. Mitsuwa San Diego is participating with many of these offerings right now. Hope some people get to check them out on this final day..

And if you did miss, another Umaimono Gourmet Fair is coming up end of October. So I better start saving up for that from now, haha.. ;)

Mitsuwa Market (Torrance), 21515 Western Avenue, Torrance, CA 90501
Mitsuwa Market (Costa Mesa), 665 Paularino Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Mitsuwa Market (San Diego) 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd, San Diego, CA 92111