Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ramen Radar: Marukai Gardena Ramen Fair

Got a note the other day from my friend Junichi about Marukai Gardena's two month long Ramen Fair organized by the Ramen Yokocho Association.

Unfortunately I didn't make it for Menya Hiromaru but there's another seven weeks left of different notable ramen showcased from Japan and California...

Sept 4 ~ 7 - Menya Hiromaru - Toyama, Japan

Sept 10~15 - Shoki Ramen House - Sacramento, CA

Sept 17~24 - Tsujita - Tokyo, Japan

Sept 26~29 - Tatsunoya - Kurume, Fukuoka, Japan

Oct 1~6 - Hakata Hide-Chan Ramen - Fukuoka, Japan

Oct 8~13 - Chanpontei, Omi, Shiga, Japan

Oct 15~20 - Kamitoku - Ginza, Tokyo, Japan

Oct 22~27 - Taishoken - Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan 

Just quickly, I'm personally looking forward in sampling the legendary Taishoken (even knowing the original master Kazuo Yamagishi has long retired). Taishoken is known to be the originator of the tsukemen but judging by the site image it seems they'll be serving a ramen. Tatsunoya from Kurume who's been a semi-regular at the Mitsuwa events would be a good bet for peeps looking for a great authentic Kyushu Fukuoka Tonkotsu experience of firm/thin wiry noodles with an extra creamy broth. Then the collagen central rather rare beef bone broth of Kamitoku would also be in my top to-try list.

Hope to see you there! I'll probably be the one slurping the loudest... ;)

Marukai Market, 1740 Artesia Blvd, Gardena, CA 90248

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Retort Report: House Toro-Uma Gyu-Kakuni Curry And Azabu Juban Beef Curry

House Shokuhin has over twenty different retort pouch curry products on sale at a given time (not including various heat levels of each), and when you include the few that have been discontinued over the years, it's a pretty impressive portfolio. Sharing two from the House today, flexing some of their 40% top share muscle of retort curry sales in Japan (the second S&B at a distant 20%).

The first is the Toro-uma Gyu-kakuni Karee (とろうま牛角煮カレー) that roughly translates to "Melty-Delicious Beef Kakuni Curry"...?
Kakuni, many may know typically as the blocky braised pork belly dish which this series is also available in. The suggested retail price of 284-Yen (~$2.80) makes it a small splurge but nothing over the top.

No room for veggies in this 210-gram packet of meaty goodness, the larger beef pieces that near wiggled in my spoon averaged under an inch in size. These were seriously cray cray tender where the term "melt in your mouth" definitely not a hyperbole. From what I gathered, House had filed a patent on its prep process a few years back.

As for the roux, it didn't seem that different from their standard issue curries. A solid profile as in 'tried and true,' but also expected. The Beef Kakuni that blended into the curry I also felt could've used some other seasoning for added interest. Say, some light sweetness and/or hints of anise maybe to help further highlight.

As long as one doesn't expect too much from the roux's classic Japanese curry flavor, this was definitely an upped joyful experience with all that extra large and tender beef pieces. :) A kakuni curry I've made in the past can be read here.

Next also by House is called the Azabu Juban Beef CurryAzabu Juban is one of many desirable residential neighborhoods of Tokyo and this was created in collaboration with restaurant Grill Manten-Boshi. Here they boast using some original long stewed Demi Glace sauce for extra depth and unctuousness. Perfect time to test out again and maybe conclude my final decision on how I felt about the Demi Glace trend in curries...

As with Shiseido Parlor, the box photo a silver sauce boat status. I can't remember what I paid, but the suggested retail price of 380-yen (~$3.70) is definitely on the higher side. Some ingredients listed were a good quantity of sautéed onions, white roux, chutney, apple juice, Fond de Veau, your demi glace of course and finished off with some red wine amongst all your other usual Japanese curry suspects. This series also has a straight Beef Stew version.

Immediately noticeable was the beef's texture and how equally tender to as the earlier kakuni curry it was (perhaps putting the patented process to good use?). Cut to smaller pieces but still at a larger size for typical retort curries where it's not uncommon to see only a single sliver in the entire pouch for most, ha. I felt I had at least one with each spoonful and along with mushroom pieces, everything exceptionally smooth.

The reddish color of roux may visually give away the advertised Japanese Demi Glace blend which had tones of tomato flavor and subtle tartness, making it also overall on the sweeter side. It's a classy neighborhood restaurant curry if there is such a genre. Definitely richer and complex than your usual where I can see people that are into this being delightfully satisfied. But for me it still makes it edge toward a Hayashi which as much as I occasionally enjoy a plate of, something I need to be in a specific mood for.

Quality stuff here though where a lot simply comes down to personal taste. Like how I recently gave my extra box of the SB Demi-Glace Cheese Curry to a Japanese friend and she absolutely loved it.(!)

At least I can finally conclude that when it comes to Japanese curry, I personally prefer it sans cheese and unless used as a kakushiaji hidden flavor agent, not too meddled with demi glace.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Retort Report: Meiji Otokono Goku-Uma Kuro Curry And S&B Demi-Glace Cheese Curry

From the land of Men's Pocky naturally brings a men's oriented Japanese Curry. The title is a mouthful but goes by Otokono Goku-Uma Kuro Karee (男の 極旨 黒カレー), roughly translated - Men's Extra Savory Black Curry...?

While I've posted on a Squid Ink Curry in the past, this product from Meiji would be inspired more from a small trend of 'black curries' in Japan where the non-food historian of me can vaguely make out memories in the bubble economy of the 80's when your occasional overly ambitious Yoshoku chefs in boutique cafe/restaurants would obsess in creating a uniquely rich and extra deep Japanese curry roux to outdo the next. While they all may have unique takes, basically a copious amount of onions are laboriously caramelized well above and beyond the call of standard curry prepping duty, some unique spices also carefully blackened for an extra roasted aroma and flavor, then finally all long stewed with yet another 'to one better' spirit amount of time for good measure.

I was particularly excited in trying this because it's produced by Meiji corporation, a retort pouch curry underdog with only a handful of curry products that creates none other than my favorite Ginza Kinkei line. Here the "men's" take seems to be on a stamina boosting angle where the box boasts using charred garlic oil and the Peruvian Maca plant as ingredients amongst other things.

Claims aside, I have to say the flavor was near fantastic. With a thinner viscosity closer to Indian Curry, the roasty (koubashii) and unctuous flavors (koku) are the least bitter and pleasurably impactful. The fine grit of spices and fruit pulp gives it a good body while the generous amount of large tender chicken pieces also infused with plenty of blackened spice flavor is hard to miss.

What prevented this from being a knockout home run for me was that it was still overall a little on the sweet side. Not sure if this is a trend with newer generation retort curries, but if I wanted something sweeter, I'd personally go for a Hayashi Rice? Still, I place this up there with my other favorites, and it already seems that the product has since gotten a small tweak in recipe, so I look forward in trying this again along with the other red curry to this Men's series.

Next is an S&B Demi-Glace Cheese Curry (S&B デミグラス チーズカレー).

Japanese curry blended with some Demi Glace and morsels of melty cheese. As with the Kinkei Mozzarella and Glico's Grand Chef, I casually brace as another test with my personal tolerance of perhaps having too much of a good thing in a single pouch...

It's hard to explain Japan's fascination with Demi Glace, but the Japanese version as with the country's curry pivots around the all important consumption of hakumai rice and is adapted to complement accordingly. The combination while hinting flavors of a Hayashi isn't all that bad if not interesting and nowhere near the fusion clash that was the Mabo Curry I've tried a while back.

The larger chunks of beef (for typical retort curry standards) were a pleasant surprise although they may have been on the leaner and slightly stringy side. The cheese that seductively marbled about the surface was maybe close to a milder version of cheddar. It's not hard for me to see why some would be all over this, but for me personally while it was a nice meal overall, by now I'm definitely content with the conclusion that I'm not a Cheese with Japanese Curry fan, as popular as the combination is. As for spiking with Demi Glace, the jury is still out. The second to the S&B's cheese curry series is the Roasted Onion Cheese Curry.