Noodles Mess With My Head

A ramen shop destroyed a dream today.

Ramen Jiro is one of Tokyo’s more famous ramen chains. The original shop is just a few minutes away from my apartment, but I have never gone in the year and half we’ve lived here.

I never wanted to wait in the shop’s long line, so I did the only sensible thing and talked about the shop like a grandmother watching the squirrels outside of her window:

“Oh, pretty good line today. That’s at least an hour and half wait.”

“Oh, it looks like they ran out of noodles today. Did they get a new cook?”

Ang normally nods, and says something sweet like, “You know, you could just go there sometime, dum dum.”

What Ang failed to understand was that I had turned Ramen Jiro into Holy Mount Ramen. I was never hungry enough to appreciate the notoriously large portions or didn’t have enough time in the afternoon to relax in a ramen-infused daze. It had to be right, which sounds ridiculous when I say it out loud, but so does any word if you say it out loud long enough. Shark. Shark. Shark. Shark.

Yesterday, everything lined up perfectly. I woke up at noon, hungover and starving – living the dream! – and decided to call it a day right there. I cleared my non-existent calendar and to-do list. “If I can put on pants, leave my apartment, and stumble to Ramen Jiro, I can count this day as a success,” I thought.

I waited in line at Ramen Jiro for over an hour. I’m pretty sure the smirks of passersby were smirks of respect and not smirks that said, “Look at those grown men standing in line for a bowl of noodles.” Still, I was feeling good about my plan, because I was having a memorable experience, and then at the end I’d get to eat delicious ramen.

The line wrapped around the tiny, triangular building. Lots of teenagers in school uniforms coming from Saturday class, and lots of adults taking full advantage of the time they are given on this earth. I was starting to get hungry by the time I got to the front of the line and I didn’t like the way the guy in front glanced back at me. To be fair to him, I don’t think he was actually looking at me, but point-counterpoint, I was ready to hunt down his family and eat all of their faces off. Maybe that was just the low blood sugar talking. Jesus, I hope it was just the low blood sugar talking.

No matter, I was finally getting to try this ramen that dominates every English language article about ramen in Tokyo. Go on, try to find an article that doesn’t mention Ramen Jiro. I’ll wait.

Let’s draw this out some more. I’ve loved ramen since my Oriental-flavored Maruchen days…Oriental-flavored! I looked past dated, possibly racist phrases for packs of dried ramen. And now I live in Tokyo, the best ramen in the world (Sorry, China). And now I’m getting to eat at the famous Ramen Jiro. I was still hungover – living the dream! – but was a happy man when I sat down.

Ramen Jiro is a tiny shop, and you have to politely shove your neighbor’s face into his soup to get to your seat. They have a reputation for big portions, garlic, and a broth that’s practically gravy. People go nuts over it.

But when I sat down, all I saw was a giant vat of gurgling gray pork mess. The ramen chef had a tub of pork meat, and would occasionally pull out a hacked-off piece of cooked pig. The fat slid down his arms. All of his fingers were heavily bandaged. I took a sip of water to stop thinking about what his fingers looked like under those grease-trapping bandages.

I love Tokyo’s ramen shops, and I’m familiar with boiling vats and grease, but Ramen Jiro looks more like a dare than a beloved shop.

Is it possible for food to be ragged? The chef set a massive bowl on the counter in front of me. Torn cabbage, torn bean sprouts and slabs of meat still clinging to other parts of the pig spilled over the sides of the bowl.

It tasted like pig. Not pork, or chashu, but the essence of pig. It was gross, and I felt gross for being there. And goddamn it, why did that guy keep looking back at me?! Uh oh, might not be low blood sugar.

I shuffled home defeated and with a cholesterol level a few points higher. The sun was starting to go down, and the night’s chill was setting in. The fat from the broth that I had gotten on my fingers started to congeal. The ramen was taking me to a dark place. Am I wrong about all the things I thought I loved? How many times have I convinced myself I liked something that was actually awful? God, my haircut is stupid.

“Is ramen stupid?” I asked myself. Just then, in the window of the convenience store I saw the newest edition of a ramen magazine I like. It was a sign. Just because one ramen shop was disappointing, it doesn’t mean I have to stop seeking out new places. Also, I have really, really small goals.

Then I had to quicken my shuffle to a stride to get home, because of pork fat physics.

Ramen Jiro: Mita 2-16-4, Minato-ku

Black Friday / Cyber Monday Specials!

Black Friday always makes me excited, though I rarely went shopping that day while living in the States. When I was a kid, my mom and I did the get-up-and-go-early thing once, and I remember getting some sort of grab bag for free, then heading home for my dad’s chili for lunch and an afternoon of Christmas tree-trimming and cookie baking. It was a 12 year old’s dream day.

Perhaps Japan doesn’t have a Black Friday Shopping Extravaganza Day of Crazy Sales, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get in on the fun. From Friday, November 25th through Monday, November 28th, all purchases in my Etsy web shop will receive a special gift. All sashiko kit purchases will receive a leather sashiko thimble:

All other gift purchases, such as sashiko coaster sets and Tokyo Craft Kits, will receive a roll of washi masking tape (you can read more about my love of masking tape here).

But wait, there’s more. MORE! On Friday, you’ll also see some new items in my shop. These single coasters are just right for holiday gift giving. Add a mug and some tea or hot cocoa and you’ve got a thoughtful little gift for a friend or family member. How cheery!

I hope you’ll pop over and take a peek. Happy holiday shopping everyone!

Gratesgiving

I tried to explain Thanksgiving to a Japanese acquaintance.

“So the Indians and Pilgrims were having a party?”  … “Hmm, sort of,” I replied.

“So you have a party to celebrate the party?” … “Eh, I guess. Sort of.”

“You shove the stuffing WHERE?!” … “I suppose it is a little gross when you think about it that way…”

Celebrating American holidays in Japan is a little strange. The holidays are often acknowledged, though the interpretation is a little off, like you’re looking at the holiday through kaleidoscope glasses. But Thanksgiving flies under the radar. Japan jumps right from Halloween to Christmas, so I was delighted when some friends offered to host Thanksgiving dinner.

I love to cook the whole meal — preparing everything from scratch, of timing it so it’s all hot at the right moment, of baking pies and then eating pies and then having pies and stuffing for breakfast. But this year we did something I thought I’d never do. We had it catered. Martha Stewart would be so ashamed. Well screw you, Martha Stewart.

Our friend Miri (who I met at this time last year) cooked our dinner, and it was amazing.

Photos of food at Thanksgiving dinner are always kind of gross, with their heaps and gravies. You’re welcome.

The gathering was also fantastic. Friends from the States, Japan, Australia, and the UK made fun of jellied cranberries and told inappropriate small pox jokes over turkey gravy and plates of pie. At about the 4th bottle of wine we decided our day-before-Thanksgiving gathering should be called Gratesgiving. Those Brits always have to do their own thing.

It also happened to be my birthday. A great day for a Gratesgiving.

Duplicate and Elaborate

This is a story about a girl with nerves of steel. Maybe just bones reinforced by steel, and nerves of … (Dan, what is something kind of wimpy?) … a wet tissue. (Ew Dan, that’s gross.)

It is a story about this:

My elbow, which I broke in a freestyle walking competition six years ago. Though the night led to surgery and 6 months of physical therapy, I still think of it fondly.

I blame many factors for the broken bones. It could have been the increased confidence I felt after spending the afternoon at a fancy gym with a free trial pass. It could have been the documentary on krumping that I watched later that evening. Or it could have been the beer.

While walking home from a party, my 7′ roommate wowed the crowd with a heel click. Granted, he is a 7′ tall basketball player who gets major air, but I was not to be outdone. I’d been practicing my freestyle walking, planting on curbs and the occasional lamp post, and I thought, “this is my time.”

I took a running start, park bench in my sights.

I missed the park bench.

I landed in a completely horizontal layout, elbow cracking pavement first, head cracking second.

I was deemed the winner since my roommate could not duplicate and elaborate, the first rule of a freestyle walk-off. Then I went to the ER, where I sat for hours across a waiting room from a guy with a gunshot wound. He was called back first, the jerk.

The friend who drove me to the ER sends me a little note at this time every year, and he never fails to mention his favorite part of the story — that while in the exam room after being given painkillers, I threw up my juice and a whole mushroom, a remnant from the quiche I’d eaten 12 hours earlier. Krumping makes me so excited I fail to chew my food.

I told most people that I tripped. Though I had been a dancer for over 20 years, most people accepted this explanation immediately.

At a follow-up appointment with my orthopedic surgeon, he took x-rays to examine the 3 mm thick metal plate he told me was attached to my humerus with 4 teeny tiny screws. He clicked on the x-ray screen:

Then turned to me and said “oops.”

It was just a matter of too many patients to remember, but you can imagine my surprise at seeing two gigantic 3″ screws embedded in my arm. I’ve since grown quite fond of my bionic elbow, though, it never sets off airport metal detectors like I hope it might.

Dear 7′ roommate of yesteryear — you know who you are — I’m ready to defend my title. Better practice your heel clicks, chump.

And to all the friends there that night, thanks for having my back, er, elbow. xo!

Saké Puppets at BHG.com

Etsy and Better Homes and Gardens teamed up to create a list of handmade gifts for the holidays, and Saké Puppets’ Tea-for-Two DIY Sashiko Kit was featured in their roundup!

I’m delighted and honored to be included! I also love many of the other projects, and am planning to try a few for myself , like the tea set or sewing kit in a jar — so handy!

You can find other projects online or in their November issue. Thanks again, BHG!

Tokyo Craft Kits

New! in my Etsy shop, just in time for the holidays!  ☆*:.。. o(≧▽≦)o .。.:*☆

The Tokyo Craft Kit, $25

As I mentioned earlier, I have a slight crush on masking tape. It is inexpensive and colorful, and so it always finds its way into my shopping basket.

I’ve started carrying masking tape with me everywhere I go. And a notebook. And stickers, colored pens, a sewing kit, the occasional hair bow, and embroidery floss. It is important to be prepared when when inspiration strikes.

And so, the idea for a Tokyo Craft Kit was born. Each on-the-go DIY craft kit includes a handmade drawstring bag full of whimsical and fun craft goodies: stickers, notebook, 4-color pen, a self-inking stamp, a dainty bow pin, and 2 rolls of masking tape.

Check ‘em out!

Tape-tastic!

Last week I went to the mt tape expo in Shibuya. mt tape is a Japanese washi paper masking tape. It comes in a variety of colors and patterns and is delightful. At the expo, all of the walls and floors and windows were covered in masking tape. They hung pretty little globes from the pretty tape-covered ceiling.

I wandered through the expo then found myself at an impromptu craft party, sitting in the sunshine with strangers where we ooh-ed and nodded our approval of the evolving tape masterpieces around us. A few girls squealed the occasional “kawaii!” It was a charming afternoon.

I love mt tape, and am doing my part to keep this company in business. I walked away from the expo and pop-up shop with this haul:

What do you do with fancy masking tapes (and pudding stickers), you ask? Well, I tape stuff. I decorate packages (if you’ve ordered from my Etsy shop, you might have noticed). I tape up gifts, notebooks, pencils, my umbrella. I use it to say “hands off, this pen is mine!” I mark special dates on my calendar and embellish notes to friends. Sometimes I even use it to tape something to something else.

Kyoto is for Eaters, Again

As Dan reported, our recent trip to Kyoto was livelier than expected. While wriggling fish haunt his dreams, all I can think about is this:

Parfait perfection.

Maybe we need to look at that again…

This was lunch. I’m not ashamed. I also wasn’t alone — this is what my father-in-law ordered:

We’re like two peas in a pod sweet beans in a parfait.

But let’s back up. After we arrived at Kyoto station, Dan and I used our keen instincts — we found the only restaurant with a line and stood in it — to track down some seasonal soba.

Clockwise from the top left — pickles, tempura mushrooms and green peppers, warabi (a soybean-powder-covered mochi dessert), soba noodle soup with mushrooms, tempura dipping sauce, yuba (tofu skin, a Kyoto specialty), mushroom rice (kinoko takikomi gohan), and more pickles (another Kyoto specialty).

Nishin soba, another Kyoto specialty.

After lunch we went for a hike. At the peak there was a restaurant serving beer and ice cream, of course. What do you think this shop owner’s commute is like?

When you climb a mountain and meet a guy wanting to sell you ice cream, you can’t refuse. This one was kinako.

Our weekend wasn’t all about food, I swear. We did some sightsighing, and a little more sightseeing. And then after an especially rainy afternoon, we found a charming little omurice restaurant. Maybe not the haute Kyoto cuisine my in-laws were expecting, but it was perfectly placed comfort food for a chilly evening.

And, to round out the weekend (and our waistlines), we ended with a trip to Kyoto Ramen Street.

With a belly full of noodles and a cold beer in-hand, we hopped on the shinkansen for a sleepy trip back to Tokyo. Ah, how I love Japan in the fall.