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.
A funny thing about L.A.: you can drive past a place over and over again, not think anything of it, and then–out of the blue–have a food friend tell you to meet them there on a Thursday afternoon, at which point you discover that this place you’ve been driving past and ignoring has really excellent food.
Such was the case with Rodded and my friend Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch. I met him and Noah (who gave me that great Katz’s Deli advice) and Zach’s “Food is the New Rock” co-host Chuck P for lunch there last week.
Last week I was suffering from a pretty nasty cold. I sent out my newsletter, as I do every Monday, and mentioned that I was going to Roboto Jinya for ramen to cure myself with intensely porky broth. (This is possibly sacrilegious as any good Jew worth his kosher salt is meant to cure him or herself with chicken noodle soup; pork broth is a slap in Judaism’s face!) A reader named John responded that Judaism and Japan should be ignored in favor of Thailand: “Adam, for a cold you need some Thai chicken coconut soup. Works every time.”
Maybe because of all the stress of moving (and don’t kid yourself: moving is stressful), last week–having survived the ordeal of flying with a cat (I gave her a test sedative the week before which worked almost instantly; the morning of the flight, I gave her the pill at 7, went to a diner, and when I came back at 7:30 she was totally unaffected leading me to believe she’d done like Rosemary in Rosemary’s baby and secreted the pill somewhere. So I gave her a 2nd sedative, which she promptly threw up. Freaking out and already late for my flight, I gave her half a pill, put her in her carrier, and sure enough her eyes glazed over in the cab and she was fine on the flight. Phew!) and the endless ordeal of leasing a car (a Toyota Camry) and getting car insurance (Geico) and the thankless task of dealing with movers (“we’re coming Tuesday” “now we’re coming Wednesday” “now it’s Friday”)–I got sick. This happens to me; when I’m stressed out, I get sick. So I had a nasty cold and I felt crappy and depressed and unsettled. And having been as enthusiastic about Yuko’s guest post as you all were, I decided that I wanted ramen.
[Recently, at the wedding of our friends Jenny and Cliff, we met a delightful woman named Yuko Uchikawa who began telling me about this fascinating ramen joint in Japan where you sit in little cubicles so you can be alone with your noodles. I asked if she would write a guest post and she kindly agreed. What follows is her ramen story.]
My acupuncturist in Nagoya is from Fukuoka, and Fukuoka folks are passionate about their ramen. When I asked where I should go to get Fukuoka ramen in Nagoya, he replied “Fukuoka.” When pressed, he said, “there is a place, downtown, that comes close. It’s a chain, but it’s good. It does express our passion. There are dividers.” Dividers? “So you are completely alone with your ramen.”
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.