Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ramen Memory on a Rainy Day

On a rainy day like today, my absolute favorite food would be a big, steaming bowl of Ramen....not the 'add flavor to hot water and cover for 2 minutes' kind but the authentic Japanese kind..served in a bowl big enough to wash your face in, with ramen noodles that offer a little resistance when chewed and are, of themselves, quite tasty. The noodles swim in a hot broth redolent of kombu seaweed, bonito flakes, miso or pork bones...boiling for days and extracting every molecule of flavor from the source. They sit beside slices of roast pork or shrimp and are accompanied by napa cabbage, carrots, beansprouts, green pepper and slices of kamaboko, the dainty pink and white japanese fish cakes.

The first time I tasted Ramen was in a small Rice and Noodle house in Pasay Road..Ramen Tei. My High school buddy, Butch, brought me there after a movie. That was many years ago and I've been hooked ever since.

I have several recollections of Ramen...almost all of them pleasant. A good meal is always a happy time. There was however, this not so good one instance when I went to Ramen Tei for a late night meal after a long day at the office. This was my restaurant of choice for overtime meals. Quiet, clean, surrounded by Japanese executives reading Mangga comicbooks, it felt like I walked through a portal and somehow popped into a little ramen house in Osaka.

So on that one night, when I happened to be extremely tired, I decided, "A simple bowl of Ramen then home to bed," and just pointed to the menu without looking, confident that the kitchen of my favorite ramen house would turn out something delicious. When my order came, not a few Japanese heads looked up from the Mangga magazines. It came on a bamboo tray...a cast iron pot, complete with cover. When I lifted the cover, the initial cloud of steam obscured the dish below. When I blew the steam away, I could make out whole shrimp, squid tentacles, vegetables in a reddish colored broth...which was still boiling owing to the superior heat retaining properties of the cast iron pot.

I looked around and made out a few Japanese heads, quickly looking back at their magazines. I thought..."this must be some sort of Kung Fu ramen." With a cast iron pot of boiling ramen in front of me, I had visions of Kwai Chang Cain, baring his thin forearms and lifting the pot to his lips...he then finds the Ramen Master's mark permanently burned into his forearms.."No service charge."

Back to Ramen Tei....As I did with previous hot ramen dishes I've tried, I picked up the chopsticks with my right hand and the soup spoon in my left. I swirled the noodles and other ingredients slowly, clockwise..which did little to reduce the heat and only encouraged a few more wisps of steam to evaporate in front of me. I contemplated on the shrimp then dipped the spoon to take a little broth and bravely took a slurp, believing that, as it had done in the past, the rapid air suction would cool the broth down.

Ahhhhh.....I was wrong. The liquid went past my lips, through my teeth, grazed my tongue and finally singed the roof of my mouth before leaving a trail of heat down my throat and into my stomach. My nostrils flared, tears welled up in my eyes, blurring my vision and all I could manage to say was a combination of loose vowels (and a few H's) which didn't really mean anything in any language but had a more obvious meaning in man's primordial and instinctive expression of pain and suffering. Something like "aaaaahhiiieeuuoohhhhoooeehh!"

As I blinked away the tears from my eyes and normal vision was slowly restored, I took stock of the damage. My tongue felt raw and bruised.The roof of my mouth was so badly singed I could feel a tiny flap of roof with my tongue. It stung when touched with my already sore tongue. Added to the pain a few of my Japanese seatmates seemed to be talking in even lower, hushed tones, pointing at me with there eyes but not facing me and then smiling among themselves.

I eventually asked for an extra bowl and transferred the contents a small bit at a time and consumed the rest of the dish, now cooler and more palatable. I went home with a bruised mouth and a bruised ego, wondering if I could ever walk into the Ramen portal again.

But I did keep going back and continued to enjoy the other ramen dishes but steered clear of the cast iron disaster. I still enjoy it and will keep going back.

Enjoy the scene from the quintessential ramen movie, "Tampopo," how to enjoy and appreciate ramen--Tampopo


  1. I was laughing sooo hard reading this post :) You're every bit as funny as the Roddy I knew back then :)

  2. This is incredible, Roddy! You certainly have a very lyrical, humorous, and unique way of turning of phrase. I especially love the one about Iya. I'm sure she would treasure this when she grows up. I'm now following your blog! Thanks for sharing!