What’s The Big Deal About Ramen?

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Crowds gather early outside Totto Ramen in New York and by the time I took that picture I imagine the wait was an hour or longer. I like ramen as much as the next guy but I wouldn’t wait an hour for it. It’s a big bowl of soup with meat floating in it and noodles. I imagine a large majority of you shrinking back in horror at that sentence: “A big bowl of soup? With meat floating in it? And noodles? That’s like calling the Mona Lisa a bunch of oil paint slathered on a canvas!” Perhaps, but I understand why people line up to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, I don’t understand why people line up for ramen.

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Night + Market

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A food writer friend is coming to L.A. this week and asked for my tips on where to eat (specifically, Mexican and Thai restaurants). For Mexican, I expressed my love for Loteria and my admiration for La Casita Mexicana; for Thai, I brought up Jitlada and Saap and Pa-Ord but finished my sentence by recommending Night + Market, where I ate this past Saturday, as “my favorite Thai meal I’ve had so far in L.A.”

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Momofuku’s Ginger Scallion Noodles

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Bow down before me, mortals, it’s time to face facts. David Chang is one of the most celebrated, important chefs in New York, right? Right. His cooking is hardcore and bad-ass isn’t it? It is. So what does it mean that a mere amateur like me, a tiny speck on the giant tapestry of New York gastronomy, not only created one of Chang’s signature dishes at home–his Ginger Scalllion Noodles–but that I did it so accurately? So triumphantly? So magnificently? It means, I surmise, that I am the King of Awesomeness! BOW DOWN BEFORE ME, YOU HEATHENS.

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The Books in the Bathroom at Momofuku Ko

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Back in May, when Robyn Lee wrote on Serious Eats about the books in the bathroom at Momofuku Ko, the picture she shared showed just a stack of vintage cookbooks (“African Cooking,” “The Cooking of Italy,” “The Cooking of Japan”) and a few fancier books–Michael Bras’s “Essential Cuisine,” Roger Verge’s “Vegetables in the French Style” and Alain Ducasse’s “Grand Livre De Cuisine”–all displayed, rather simply, above the toilet. Now, as you can see from my picture above, the library has grown exponentially: there are three shelves worth of food-related books in there. Enough that you almost wish you’d get food poisoning so you could spend a long time in there, flipping through all of them. Instead, though, I took a few close up pictures so we can examine EXACTLY what’s on those shelves. Here’s what I found.

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Momofuku Ko

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If you live in New York and you’re a food blogger who writes about restaurants, it’s inevitable that, at some point, you must visit and write about Momofuku Ko, David Chang’s most celebrated and impossible-to-get-into restaurant. So many food bloggers, in fact, have visited Ko–among them, The Wandering Eater, Food in Mouth, The Girl Who Ate Everything–that the restaurant now has an official “no pictures” policy. This, I must admit, was a bit of a relief when I surprised Craig on Sunday, taking him there for his birthday; now I wouldn’t have to spend half the meal adjusting the aperture and manually focusing over plates of rapidly cooling food. For great pictures of dinners at Ko, click any of the links above. For a brief account of our time there, click ahead.

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Lunch With Steven Shaw at Ippudo & Momofuku Milk Bar

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On October 3rd, 2003, I shared my very first piece of food writing ever on a forum called eGullet. The post was called Charlie Trotter Superdud and it set off a storm of comments from hundreds of subscribers, some of whom were well known entities in the food world (Anthony Bourdain among them.)

After that happened, my friends told me I should start a food blog and that’s why this blog exists. So it’s quite clear that I owe something to eGullet and, more specifically, to its creator Steven Shaw. And yet we’d never met or had any contact until, years later, I met him at an offal tasting dinner at the Astor Center. Then we became Facebook friends. And, most recently, we met for lunch to talk about his new book, Asian Dining Rules.

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From The Desk of The A.G. (A Day of Letters)

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Dear Craig Claiborne,

I am greatly enjoying your somewhat notorious autobiography, “A Feast Made For Laughter.” Sure, it’s a little creepy when you talk about touching your dad’s erect penis while sharing a bed, but I appreciate your zeal for people and food. Case in point: early in the book, you tell a story involving Parker House rolls. Your brother passes you a basket of them and instead of taking the basket from him, you start to reach your hand in and take one out and your brother, appalled, drops the basket to the floor saying: “When anyone passes you a basket of bread, you take the basket. Or at least you touch it as a gesture of thoughtfulness.”

This passage amused me because it’s a good story, but mostly it made me hungry–hungry for Parker House rolls. I cracked open “The Joy of Cooking” and found the most basic recipe in the world; a recipe that required only yeast, butter, flour, sugar, salt and milk. I’d write out the recipe here, but it’s so standard any internet search will suffice. And those rolls–which took a few hours to rise–were quaint and comforting, the kind of food you want an American food icon to eat. Thank you for inspiring me to make them; I look forward to the rest of your book.

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Anatomy of a Dish: Momofuku’s Sugar Snap Peas

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It’s difficult to improve upon a sugar snap pea. It’s nature’s candy: green, crunchy, juicy. It’s interactive: you peel away the thread and then throw it in your mouth. This spring, I became a sugar snap pea junkie–buying moundfuls at the farmer’s market and snacking on them all afternoon. The few times I cooked them, I sauteed them in olive oil or butter, sprinkled them with salt, a few grindings of pepper and called it a day. Sugar snap peas, like Lauren Ambrose, say, don’t need much enhancement. They’re beautiful as they are.

What’s a genius chef to do, then, to improve on something that needs little improvement? Enter David Chang. At Momofuku (the original) he’s serving a sugar snap pea appetizer that works beautifully. The peas are sauteed in miso butter (note the tan-colored pool at the bottom of the plate); topped with fresh grated horseradish and then thin slivers of radish. All of these components serve to enhance the sugar snap peas in ways, like good drama, that are both surprising and inevitable. In fact, I’d argue that this simple dish, a dish that doesn’t call too much attention to itself, showcases Chang’s talent in ways that his more elaborate dishes might not. It’s simple, it’s smart, and it’s seasonal. And it makes sugar snap peas taste better than they normally do which, at least according to this sugar snap pea enthusiast, is a feat worth celebrating.