February’s favourites: 5 Ramen bars in London I love

It’s been a while since I thought about writing a post about the best ramen bars in London and whoever read my post in the previous months, knows how I was dedicated at finding the best place in town that could satisfy my ramen craving here in this cold part of Europe.

Aware of the fact that London is full Japanese restaurants and the ramen fashion is rapidly picking up, I decided to visit the most popular ramen bars in town. After careful consideration (as those many rejection email I’m receiving start) I decided to briefly describe my personal favourite places, ranking them for a precise feature that makes their product stand out.

For first starters: Shoryu Ramen. This is the first place where I had the chance to eat ramen in London after my sublime foodie experience in Japan. The Origin Tonkotsu has a pretty well balanced harmony of flavour between the the broth and the toppings. A nice place to start your ramen appreciation. Unfortunately I don’t have a review for Shoryu, because I went there before I started this blog. However I still remember a pleasant experience.

For broth: Ippudo. A bowl of ramen without the perfect broth would just be pointless (see instant ramen cups) Here the broth is creamy and milky as it’s supposed to be after pork bones are violently boiled for 20 hours and release their collagen. Taste is meaty, satisfying, but at the same time it’s almost sweet,  “clean” I would define it, meaning it does not leave a strong greasy aftertaste in your mouth. Read my complete review here.

Ippudo

Shiromaru Hakata Classic @Ippudo

For noodles: Tonkotsu. These guys make their noodles on the premises thanks to their Japanese noodle machine and the use of local ingredients (let’s not forget the research for the perfect alkaline salted water) that perfectly abide by the original recipe. I love their tsukemen noodle so much for their “bite”. Unfortunately they are available only at their Tonkotsu East location. Read my complete review here.

Detail of the noodles.

Noodles for Tsukemen @ Tonkotsu East

For the marinated soft boiled egg: Kanada-ya. Ok, I know, you think I am kidding right? Simply, I’m not. Everybody who had the chance to try a real bowl of ramen (no, the instant one you had in college don’t count) know how extremely important the egg is to the whole flavour of the recipe. It has to be still runny, so the yolk mixes a bit with the soup, and white should have nicely absorbed the soy sauce overnight or more. In other words it should be a concentrate of Umami. Kanada-ya’s egg was absolute perfection, but unfortunately it comes with an additional price of £2. This is not a deterrent to hungry customers, because it seems to sell out very quickly. Read my complete review here.

image6

Kanada ya. That egg over there is to die for.

For strong flavours: Bone Daddies. Considering that when on a diet, ramen in general might not be the best choice for your calorie count, Bone Daddies’ speciality requires customers who want enjoy the full flavour experience and preferably without any sense of guilt after eating. Rich (or fatty maybe?) and intense broth, contrasting aromas and different textures in just one dish. Read my complete review here.

IMG_1795

@Bone Daddies

The winner or should I say winners

I think it depends on the occasion and the the atmosphere I’d like to give to my meal. In fact I would definitely choose Ippudo for a girls’ night out both because the place looks a bit fancier than the other ramen bars and because the broth base has an authentic flavour, but at the same time it tastes clean, not greasy at all.

However if I wanted a foodie date without frills or a highly satisfying solo lunch experience I would definitely choose Bone Daddies’ insanely rich Tonkotsu ramen.
What about you guys, have you visited any of these five places?

Advertisements

Bone Daddies ramen bar, London: my review

IMG_1797

This place was on my list of ramen to try (see my idea here) since I read a while ago that Jonathan Ross crowned it as the best ramen bar in town. Well, considering that Bone Daddies’ director, Ross Shonan, is the former executive chef from Nobu and Zuma the success is assured.

I know, I’m always late and I should have visited Bone Daddies at that time, but I somehow trusted Jonathan Ross’ opinion as a connoisseur of Japan and its culture, so I left it on my list as the last one to try. Needless to mention how high my expectations had grown in the meantime. Finally, one freezing Friday of January I had the chance to verify if Bone Daddies’ ramen actually were the best noodle in town.

The downside of popular places is they are always packed with people, especially on Friday nights, so it can’t be helped but joining the long queue outside. Waiting is never pleasant, but in this case it was also painful considering the sub-zero temperature of the night. Anyway the staff managed brilliantly by offering us hot sake shots. Nice move, Bone Daddies, nice move.

IMG_1779

Can you spot me?

Finally our turn to get in. The interior is characterised by bold red and white walls decorated by Japanese rockabilly subculture related prints, the main theme of this ramen bar.

Unfortunately the dim lights affected the quality of the pictures I took, therefore thanks to this photo belonging to The Guardian, you can see what the place looks like in a natural light and without people.

 

Credits: The Guardian

Materials used are wood and steel, in line with the latest tendencies for places that target young professionals and creatives as their bracket of customers.

Packed.

Packed.

IMG_1786

We were seated next to a group of Korean girls that I shamelessly spied, to grasp the secret of holding the chopsticks correctly. Yes after studying Japan, its culture, after being to Japan twice, after having Japanese friend I talk to all the time, after cooking Japanese food at home, when it comes to ramen I still have problems managing my noodles not to slip off my chopsticks. Unfortunately the secret is not really a secret, it’s just practice.

We chose to order a classic ramen and a popular one, in order to see how the place interprets a standard and well known (among the Japanese food aficionados) recipe and how the same staff uses their creativity to innovate their noodle dish, to make it trendy, to make it viral as they say. According to this personal point of view we chose a Tonkotsu ramen, the classic one with its 20 hour pork bone broth, chashu pork and marinated soft boiled egg. As for popular dish we got a T22 with chicken bone broth, soy ramen, chicken and cock scratchings which seem to be pretty popular on reviews around the internet.

While waiting for the order to be ready, I looked around and I noticed behind me some shelves with sake on the top one and homemade shochu on the bottom one. Surely cherry and lemongrass and lime shochu are not really traditional flavour choices, so I think Bone Daddies’ staff should be acknowledged for their creativity and their will to experiment.

IMG_1791

 

Cherry Shochu

Cherry Shochu and lemongrass and lime at the left.

A shiny plastic thing folded in a decorated steel glass immediately caught my eye. I was a giant plastic bib with Bone Daddies logo on it. Usually ramen bars in Japan provide their customers with these bib to protect their clothes from splashes of broth, so everyone can enjoy their noodles without bending their back weirdly and awkwardly. Yes that’s what I normally do here in London when I go out for ramen.

Da bib!

Da bib!

So the bib thing brought me immediately back to Japan,  because it means authenticity, and I give you kudos for this, Bone Daddies!

Enough is enough, let’s go straight with the main dish, shall we?

IMG_1795

IMG_1796

My Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu ramen – I admit the first taste of the broth left me a bit puzzled because it wasn’t piping hot to the point of burning the tip of the tongue, leaving it numb. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, but this means the soup would turn cold in no time. Aside from the temperature, the flavour was rich, full with almost creamy texture given by the collagen of the pork bones. I usually am a bit fussy with this kind of broth because as soon as my tastebuds touch it I know if I’m really going to digest it. It’s just a sensation, in fact if it leaves a greasy feeling in my mouth it’s a no-no. This time the broth passed the exam and exactly as I predicted I had no problem digesting it. The noodles were thin but with a nice bite and both the pork and eggs were perfect and full of flavour.

IMG_1794

T22

 

T22

T22

T22 – This dish was different, that’s why G and I chose it. The broth was lighter, more transparent than pork one, but in order to contrast the delicate flavour I could taste a strong sesame oil, soy sauce and some chili pepper in the back ground. As for the toppings, the famous cock scratchings (every time I say it I chuckle a bit), they added crunch and texture to the dish.

My vote: 8.5.A satisfying interpretation of a classic recipe and a nice attempt to convey creativity into something new, younger and fresher. I don’t feel like giving a higher vote because I would have preferred the broth a little bit hotter, but this is really a minor flaw. What really matters is flavour and I can assure you won’t be disappointed with that. Is Bone Daddies really the best ramen bar in town? Maybe, but I believe it’s still a draw with Ippudo in my opinion, in my opinion even though the two differ in various aspects of the preparation.

I will tell you more in my next post about the 5 places to eat ramen in London.

Stay tuned!

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar 31 Peter St, London W1F 0AR 

Kanada-ya ramen bar, London review: not bad.

image2

There’s always a tremendous queue outside Kanada-ya ramen bar. The place is undoubtedly small, but the fact that customers are willing to wait for their turn to eat, should often be taken as a good sign of superb food.

Kanada-ya was founded by Kanada Kazuhiro in Yukuhashi, Japan, back in 2009 but only recently their management has considered expanding abroad, with the opening of two new restaurants in Hong Kong and London. This one is located just opposite to the major competitor in town: Ippudo. Let the ramen war begin!

As much as the cold weather and the light rain put me off, the die-hard foodie inside me never surrenders, so there I was, waiting for my piping hot bowl of ramen.

image3

The queue was even longer.

image5

While waiting…

After 45 minutes outside in the freezing cold, I was actually questioning my intellect. “This is crazy, this ramen had better be the most amazing I ever had.” Which, of course I doubted, having tried the real thing back in Japan. Anyway, Finally G and I were seated at the main shared table, together with other 6 people.

The decor is minimal, with a dominant theme of aged wood tables and brick walls painted in white, that reflects the light from the two big windows and creates the illusion of a wider space.

At the table I immediately noticed a tall glass filled with reusable chopsticks and I could not hide a bit of disappointment. Just to be clear, I’m not some hygiene freak, and I don’t doubt the health and safety standards of the place. Plus I’m always in for green choices and reusable materials. The unbearable truth is: I can’t eat by using reusable chopsticks without looking stupid, because their lacquered surface lets slip the noodles and I end up splashing soup all over the place.

image6

Original Ramen

While I was wondering how to limit the damages, our order arrived quicker than the time spent queuing. Both G and I got Kanada-ya’s Original Ramen, which consisted in a bowl of noodles underneath a thick white and foamy 18 hour pork bone broth and topped with chashu pork belly, nori seaweed, wood ear fungus and spring onions. We both added the seasoned soft boiled egg, because without it, ramen would have been just profane, right?

I first tasted the soup, which was intensely rich, meaty, just as I imagined it would be after boiling for 18 hours, but unfortunately it left an unpleasant greasy residual in my mouth. Stop! I know what you’re thinking: pork broth is fat, no wonder that ramen is so high in calories. Yes, true, but I tried a lot of ramen places where broth tasted “cleaner”, without leaving any oily feeling on my tongue.

Noodles were thin, but with firm texture. As for the toppings, the seasoned soft boiled egg was cooked to perfection, with some of the yolk melting heavenly into the soup. However, I wasn’t really convinced by the pork belly, because it was sliced so thinly to the point of looking like prosciutto. It should be thicker, as everybody who tried ramen in Japan knows, otherwise the texture and meat juices are noticeably reduced to the detriment of the overall flavour.

I have to say that I was not super impressed with Kanada-ya’s ramen. I think that after 45 minutes queuing outside, I was expecting an almost perfect bowl of noodles. Unfortunately, some characteristics of this dish did not meet my expectations.

For this reason, my vote for Kanada-ya is 7, because although I find the product not bad, I think that some aspects of both the management of the place and the ramen itself should be improved.


Kanada-ya, 64 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LE London.

Kirazu London review: a Japanese “tapas” restaurant in Soho

image4

I found Kirazu during a hot August afternoon while, in the middle of disastrous property viewings, I was comforting myself with the latest hipster trend, a bubble tea, in the shop right next to it. I suddenly stopped gulping my fresh white peach and tapioca pearls drink and intensely stared at the inside of the empty room from the window. I am sure the waitress, who was cleaning and tidying up for the evening shift, thought I looked a bit creepy, but she smiled politely back at me like only the Japanese can do.

To tell the truth, I was totally enchanted by Kirazu’s interior design whose aged wood, wrought iron elements and beautiful Japanese pottery create a modern but also homely style. An elegant and, at the same time, cozy balance between the Japanese modern design and the vintage approach that is taking over London trendy bars.

image3

image8

image6

I unquestionably missed Japanese food, I craved it so much during the previous 9 months I stayed in Italy (no, I wasn’t pregnant!) that I felt the urgency to go back there and give this place a chance. Usually I consult the web before trying a new place, like everybody in 2014, but this time my instinct was stronger than my usual reasoning. Or, simply, I was just in love with the interior and I expected the food to be as delightful as the location. Typical me!

The following day I went back there for lunch to give a first try, since the lunch box menu was only just £5. “I’ll play it safe this time and if they surprise me I will definitely go back.” I told myself while I was staring at the big black board listing all the tapas they prepare for the evening shift. Yes, tapas, although I don’t like this word when used outside its Spanish context, but I assume the chef Yuya Kikuchi borrowed the term to immediately convey the precise concept of tiny plates to share to its international customers.

image7

My partner, G., and I chose our lunch box from a list of 4 available on that day. He ordered chicken karaage with curry and I got the same chicken but with sesame dressing and mayo  and a pickle salad. Both lunch boxes included a hot miso soup and a portion of steamed rice.

While waiting, G.’s face lit up as his eyes caught the word Matcha on the menu. Now, Matcha green tea is not something supposed to be drunk at the beginning of lunch, but I don’t always follow rules because life would be boring, wouldn’t it? Plus, G. wanted to try the “real thing” for so long, so I challenged him to prepare it. Luckily for him, every passage was carefully explained by our kind waitress, so no mess or green splashes all over the place.

image11

“Your face shows everything you’re thinking, please do something about it.” I remember my mother and friends repeating these words to me since childhood. This time it happened again, I could not hide a bit of disappointment in looking at how small portions were, especially the main dish of the bento box: 2 tiny bite-sized pieces of chicken. At the same time, I was torn because I felt almost guilty being dissatisfied with my lunch as I was paying £5, seated and served.

image14

image17

I have nothing to complain about the food, as it was delicious and full of flavour. It was just what I wanted, what I had been craving for months: pure Japanese home style flavours. I just wanted more of it. I solemnly promised myself to go back for “tapas” and that’s what we did a week later.

Surprisingly, the evening atmosphere had completely different vibes: dim lights, people cheerfully toasting, waitresses who relentlessly juggled around the tables and tiny spaces with their trays full of beers and sake. In other words, the place was rapidly transformed into the modern adaptation of the traditional Japanese izakaya, a bar where customers can enjoy food to accompany their drinks. However, I noticed that the options for the evening are far more refined than the ones offered for lunch, so it has to be said that the food served here has not the mere role of a side dish to accompany a glass of beer, but more of an elegant protagonist.

This time we ordered from the “tapas” board a portion of takoyaki, octopus carpaccio with fresh wasabi, mentaiko (a type of marinated roe) and salmon sashimi to accompany the roasted aroma of our Asahi Kuronama black beer.

image21

Octopus carpaccio

image23

Mentaiko

Food portions were again tiny and maybe a bit expensive for that size, but I give up to the fact that fish is pricey anyway, so I don’t feel I should blame the owner/chef for overcharging us.

Again the flavour was just perfect for each plate in a different way, but my favourite were, the octopus carpaccio and mentaiko. The first had a delicate soft texture which is not easy to master. Then the intense flavour of fresh wasabi gave the dish a nice zingy kick. Mentaiko had a strong spicy and smoked flavour that I cannot associate with anything else I have ever tried, but it was undeniably pleasant to the palate.

I can’t say I was full after eating there, so I would probably not call that meal, a proper dinner, more like a fancy aperitivo.

I give this restaurant 7.5 in total, as the food truly reflects the authentic flavours of Japan. In addition, the place has a simple but modern atmosphere that makes the whole dining experience charming.

I’m still not convinced by their £5 lunch deal, so for your lunch break I would recommend more a place like Soya, whose larger portions are worth spending some more pennies.

However, Kirazu can be a lovely place for an elegant pre-dinner sake or to indulge in a Japanese dinner where traditional flavours are modernised with a hint of sophistication.

Kirazu, 47 Rupert Street, London, United Kingdom W1D 7PD.

Does colour influence the taste and flavour perception of food?

Last Saturday I found myself staring at my partner’s cheeseburger questioning his choice of cheese: Red Leicester.

Red Leicester cheese @Neal’s Yard Dairy. The one in the burger was unnaturally brighter.

Last Saturday I found myself staring at my partner’s cheeseburger questioning his choice of cheese: Red Leicester. I had never tried it before last week, because that bright orange colour sincerely put me off every time I considered buying that cheese. The fact that it’s coloured with annatto, a natural extract of the Archiote tree’s fruit, still doesn’t convince me entirely. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s just an irrational instinct, but that colour in a cheese still feels unnatural to me. Never judge a book by its cover, right? So even though I had preconceived ideas, this was the right time to finally have a bite of that intensely bright orange cheese and prove myself I was just having unreasonable biases. A little bite full of expectations, I would say, but then a sense of confusion mixed with disappointment hit me hard: Red Leicester tasted just as regular Cheddar. (Forgive me, cheese purists!) Why was I experiencing that negative feeling? I kept wondering, until I suddenly got the answer: my brain and eyes just fooled me. Even though being surprised and, at the same time, fascinated by this phenomenon, I rationally tried to give myself an acceptable explanation: my brain did an association with a familiar cheese based on that bright colour. Red Leicester should have tasted nutty and sharp, just like my beloved Molisan Provolone Cheese when is aged for a couple of year and gets a warm golden shade. It’s not news that food companies add colourings to their products in order to alter their appearance, making them look fresher and more appealing for customers. It’s an effective technique that bears its fruits because we always “eat with our eyes” first. We start making choices about favourite colours since childhood and try to apply them to various aspects of our daily life. Neuroscientists claim that this is due to an early association of a positive feedback to a certain colour, so during our life we tend to recreate that comforting feeling by choosing the same colour, which often becomes our favourite one. Kids love coloured food because they can associate an exact colour with their favourite toy, or cartoon character. For example, It’s not rare, during the Italian summer, to witness children happily devouring a “Smurf  gelato”, which is nothing other than a blued dyed vanilla ice cream. Less happily their mothers will struggle to remove those stubborn blue stains from clothes, but this is another story. Anyway, sorry mum!

Gelato Puffo or Smurf Ice cream. @foodspotting

We are the same children, who grow up and change their eating habits for healthier and “more natural” options. We learn the importance of colour in foods as an essential characteristic to judge the freshness of a product, for example we experience the consequences of eating a steak that turned green, and painfully regret we didn’t toss it. Literally. In the meantime, the society we live in has shaped a stable idea about the food we eat, its wide range of colours and the flavour we associate with each one of those shades. In other words we develop a precise idea of what a certain food should taste like based on its appearance in our own cultural context. This is why we are confused, and at times disappointed, when this matching does not happen. Now, try to picture a young woman being tricked by her friends into drinking what looked like a blood orange smoothie. Then imagine her wide-eyed expression when, in a fraction of a second, her tastebuds rapidly experienced the strong sour and salty flavour of Gazpacho.  Yes, that woman shouting at her friends was me.

Yellow watermelon on hungryforchange.tv

Sometimes it can also be fun to see our cultural certainties crumble, like the first time I tried the yellow watermelon. I was visiting a nice Japanese lady in Tokyo, when she brought a beautiful blue ceramic plate with some precisely cut slices of yellow watermelon. Yellow? Thank God, she “couldn’t read my poker face”, but I was seriously puzzled inside. “That melon would have been sour, like every unripe fruit.” My stream of consciousness kept flowing in the few seconds necessary to thank my host and take a slice. A first bite and within a moment I felt so stupid! Because it was even sweeter than the common watermelon I crave every summer. I am sure that without this experience I would have never bought that fruit because of a preconceived idea. The mental association between the colour of a food and the assumption we have about its taste is a field that neuroscientists are still exploring, but recent experiments have revealed some remarkably interesting results. For example, an experiment conducted by the Ohio State University showed how using a red colouring in white wine led the unaware participants to describe the aroma and the flavour of the drink with adjectives belonging to the semantic field of red wine. Colours influence our daily life and even the choice of the food we eat. I am fascinated by the way our brain works, leading us to pick a specific coloured food over another simply because it gives us pleasure. However sometimes the same brain tricks itself and that’s when a new memorable colour related experience is created, whether it is positive or negative. What do you guys think about the influence of colours in the choice of our food? Please let me know in a comment below.

Ippudo London, one of the best ramen in town

image14

During the event “Nanban: Japanese Soul Food” (read about it here), chef Tim Anderson mentioned the famous Japanese ramen chain Ippudo was about to open its first ramen restaurant in Europe and London was the chosen city to start their European adventure. Ippudo has currently 43 restaurants all over Japan and other stores in Asia, but with the opening of Sydney’s and New York’s branches, the chain started another chapter of their entrepreneurial adventure for the promotion of ramen outside Asia.

image1

I never had the chance to try Ippudo in Japan as I always idealistically preferred the little family owned Ramen-ya (ramen restaurants), fantasising about secret recipes passed down from the old generation to the younger ones. However, I’m not in Japan at the moment – I would add unfortunately – therefore the combination of my insatiable curiosity and, most importantly, my weakness for food was enough to lure me into the brand new Ippudo London restaurant at the base of Renzo Piano’s bright orange building in Central Saint Giles Piazza.

image5

Japanese television filming.

The location is trendy and modern, perfectly embracing the urban design and the style of the area with a hint of sophistication. In fact, the restaurant is surrounded by glass walls, whose brightness contributes to create a contemporary ambience, enhancing the contrast between the wood materials and the bold interiors. In all fairness, I would expect such a stylish atmosphere to be associated more with high end restaurants rather than ramen bars, which in Japan are often unsophisticated, definitely less bright, and more cramped places.

image2

Entrance

 

image8

Ramen bowls decorating the wall.

While I was lost in this reasoning and in the meantime I was questioning the suitability of my casual clothes for the place, I was surprised, and admittedly a bit scared, by the entire staff greeting us with a loud “Irasshaimase!!!!” (lit. welcome) in unison.

image10

Counter

After few minutes I realised there were precise guidelines for greetings: every time new customers were assigned to a table, one of the managers escorted them while shouting in a very polite Japanese something like: “There are 2 new customers!”, so the staff would reply with “Welcome!”. Then, after placing the order the waiter/waitress would shout: “Table 13 has decided!” and the chefs would reply “Correct!”. Then when the order was ready the waiter/waitress would shout that the food was leaving the kitchen and again the chef would respond something like “Correct!”. Needless to mention the choir of “Arigatou gozaimashita!!!” (lit. Thank you very much) with the entire staff smiling and staring at the customers when they leave.

The hearty welcoming atmosphere and the related loud greetings seem, at first, to be tailored exactly to bring the authenticity and informality of the original Japanese ramen restaurant, which are mainly visited by students and salary men, therefore not a really refined or exclusive target audience.

However, in Ippudo London’s case, this way of dealing with customers seemed to me too much forced as well as clearly contrasting with the trendy environment of the restaurant. I really hope the members of staff don’t lose their voice at the end of each shift, otherwise it would be a huge problem!

I cannot judge the entire menu, as I was at Ippudo’s only for their famous ramen, but I can openly express a bit of disappointment because I sincerely expected more to choose from, rather than only 2 types of pork ramen along with their two vegetarian version with seaweed and fried tofu. Don’t get me wrong, it’s undoubtedly positive that they don’t have 20 or even more different types of ramen on the menu, otherwise I would start questioning the quality and the freshness of their products. However, another two variations – say a seafood and a seasonal recipe – would have been a nice addition.

My fiancé and I went for the two original signature recipes, the Shiromaru Hakata Classic and the Akamaru Modern.

image12

Shiromaru Hakata Classic

Shiromaru Hakata Classic  according to Ippudo’s menu: “Our original tonkotsu pork broth; homemade thin noodles topped with pork loin chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, bean sprouts and spring onions.” The broth was so rich and thick that its opaque surface covered the noodles underneath. A bold statement of a full intense flavour, and it was indeed: meaty but at the same time smooth and mellow, I would say also reassuring.

Although this ramen was served piping hot as it should always be, noodles were al dente and kept their perfect texture for the whole time I was waiting for the broth cool down a bit. Pork was tender and succulent retaining all the juices of the soy sauce sake and sugar seasoning used for the marinade before being slowly braised. Kikurage mushrooms and spring onions added respectively earthy and acidic notes, contrasting the smooth flavour of the broth. I chose to add a seasoned boiled egg as extra topping for £1.50, because a ramen bowl wouldn’t be complete without it.

Akamaru Modern

Akamaru Modern

 

Akamaru Modern according to the menu: “A bolder translation of the original pork broth; homemade thin noodles topped with Ippudo’s secret Umami Dama paste, pork belly chashu, bean sprouts, sesame kikurage mushrooms, spring onions and fragrant garlic oil.” The bright red spicy miso paste slowly melting in the broth, together with the sharp garlic oil and the nutty sesame, gives the soup a daring kick to the overall well balanced meaty flavour.

So you liked your noodles very much and you almost finished them but still have plenty of soup, what do you do? if you are anything like my fiancé you would shout “Kaedama please!”, and soon a waiter would bring another serving of noodles for £1.50.

My vote for Ippudo London is 8.5 and here’s why: I loved their ramen because it’s prepared with excellent ingredients and traditional methods. I frankly believe it is one of the best, if not the best, ramen in town, but I don’t feel like giving Ippudo London a higher vote because I would like to try more ramen variations. Ippudo cherishes tradition, but the team behind it’s always open for testing of new ingredients and combinations, so who knows, let’s give them time to familarise with the European tastes and its influences and let’s see how it goes.

I’m still not convinced about the contrast between the trendy modern interiors and the idea of the typical ramen bar, but if this strategy works for all their restaurants, then it’s a winning one.

http://www.ippudo.co.uk/

Nanban: Japanese Soul Food at SOAS

IMG_1204

Yesterday I went to a live cooking event held by the School of Oriental and African Studies called Nanban: Japanese soul food event. The protagonist was the  BBC1 MasterChef winner 2011  Tim Anderson, whose new book due next year gave the name to this event, focused on the foreign influences on what is now considered the Japanese traditional food. In his analysis, Anderson was guided by Dr. Barak Kushner, professor of Japanese History at the University of Cambridge and food historian.

Anderson showed a serie of slides about the meaning of Nanban referred to Europeans, mainly Portuguese, and translated as southern barbarians and their influences on Japanese cuisine: for example the use of spices, peppers, eggs and sugar. All these ingredients can be found in the recipe Chicken Nanban, that is a fried chicken dipped in an acidic sauce made with vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and red chili pepper.

Picture

Castella cake according to one of the most ancient recipes.

To demonstrate the evolution of recipes throughout the time, he took Castella cake (sponge cake) and prepared samples from two recipes, an ancient one and a more modern one. The first one ( in the picture) was the most ancient one which had a consistency as dense as bread and a flavour that in my opinion was too sugary. The second and “most recent” one was slightly less dense and less sugary, but anyway it was far from the current lighter Castella recipe which evolved to suit Japanese palates as every other recipe.

With this in mind, Anderson guided the audience through the analysis of those Japanese traditional food, which is not originally Japanese and, specifically, he concentrated on ramen and its Chinese provenance. In particular he focused on Champon, now a speciality of Nagasaki cuisine, as what he defined as proto-ramen.

So, what is Champon? A noodle dish in chicken, pork and prawns broth topped with seafood, vegetables and pork fried in lard. Not really that light and healthy image of that Japanese cuisine designated as cultural heritage by UNESCO.

At this point Anderson started to cook Champon, or to be fair, he only stir fried the toppings and cooked the noodles in the broth he prepared the day before. This is because the broth for this type of dish and for ramen in general, has to boil violently for a significant amount of hours in order for pork and chicken bones to break and release their collagen which will add a distinctive taste to the dish. Anderson informed the audience that the broth he was using boiled for 12 hours, which his wife wasn’t particularly happy about, as the whole house was permeated with pork bones smell.

The chef used stir fried scallops, prawns, onion, bean sprouts and cabbage and some beni shoga or pickled ginger to add an acidic note in order to contrast the umami flavour of the dish.

After 5 minutes, the broth started to congeal, so I guess that those 12 hours did allow to release collagen indeed.

Unfortunately the audience was not involved into the tasting of Champon, but the chef had everything covered and brought two dishes prepared with ancient “barbarian” recipes: one was a sort of scotch egg made with mackerel, and the other one was fried chicken with a really unusually robust seasoned batter. While I don’t remember the name of the first, the second recipe seemed to be ancestor of the modern Tempura (again, a Portuguese recipe).

This event made me reflect about that Japanese food that we take for granted as the traditional and representative of the nation, or those culinary aspects of Japanese history of food that I believed I knew. Of course this discussion represents for me a starting point for a critical thinking about the various foreign influences also on Italian cuisine and on my own way of cooking in particular. This is a topic that I would like to thoroughly research and write about.
For all these reasons I am thankful to SOAS and the Alumni Association for inviting me and I will be more than happy to participate to other events like this.

And now in Italian.

Ieri sono andata ad un evento di cucina tenuto dalla School of Oriental and African Studies e chiamato Nanban: Japanese Soul Food. Il protagonista della serata è stato il vincitore di Masterchef 2011 Tim Anderson, il cui nuovo libro, che uscirà prossimo anno, ha dato il nome all’evento. Tema principale, le influenze straniere su quello che oggi è considerato il cibo tradizionale giapponese. Nella sua analisi, Anderson è stato guidato dal dottor Barak Kushner, docente di Storia giapponese presso l’Università di Cambridge e storico di cibo.

Anderson ha mostrato una serie di diapositive sul significato di Nanban, termine riferito agli europei, soprattutto portoghesi, e tradotto come barbari meridionali. Ha inoltre delineato le loro influenze sulla cucina giapponese: per esempio l’uso di spezie, peperoni, uova e zucchero. Tutti questi ingredienti possono essere trovati nella ricetta pollo Nanban, che è un pollo fritto immerso in una salsa acida fatta con aceto, salsa di soia, zucchero e peperoncino.

Per dimostrare l’evoluzione delle ricette nel tempo, ha preso come esempio la torta Castella (Pan di Spagna) e l’ha portata in due varianti diverse, secondo una ricetta più antica e una più moderna. La torta nella foto è quella realizzata con la ricetta più antica. Aveva una consistenza densa come il pane e un sapore che, a mio parere, era troppo dolce. La seconda e più moderna versione, era leggermente meno “pesante” nella consistenza e anche meno zuccherina, ma comunque era lontana dalla ricetta attuale, che si è decisamente evoluta in una variante più leggera per soddisfare i palati giapponesi come anche altri piatti.

Con questo in mente, Anderson ha guidato il pubblico attraverso l’analisi di quel cibo tradizionale giapponese, che non ha origini giapponesi e, in particolare, si è concentrato sul ramen e la sua provenienza cinese. In particolare ha scelto il Champon, ormai una specialità della cucina Nagasaki, definito da lui stesso come un proto-ramen.

Ma cos’è il Champon? Un piatto di noodles in brodo di pollo, maiale e gamberi condito con frutti di mare, pesce, verdure e carne di maiale fritte nel lardo. Non proprio l’immagine di quella cucina giapponese sana e leggera designata come patrimonio culturale dell’umanità dall’UNESCO.

A questo punto Anderson ha iniziato a cucinare il Champon, o ad essere onesti, a cuocere le verdure e il pesce in padella e i noodles nel brodo che aveva preparato il giorno prima. Questo perché il brodo per questo tipo di piatto, e per il ramen in generale, deve bollire violentemente per una notevole quantità di ore, così le ossa di maiale e pollo finiscono per rompersi e rilasciare collagene, che aggiungerà un sapore deciso al piatto. Anderson ha utilizzato un brodo che ha bollito per 12 ore, cosa di cui la moglie non era particolarmente entusiasta, poiché ha finito per far impregnare la casa di puzza di maiale.

Lo chef ha utilizzato come condimento delle capesante, gamberi, cipolla, germogli di soia e cavolo e un po’ di zenzero sottaceto per aggiungere una nota acida che andasse a contrastare l’umami del piatto.

Dopo 5 minuti dalla realizzazione del piatto, il brodo ha iniziato a rapprendersi, quindi credo che quelle 12 ore di bollore abbiano davvero fatto sì che le ossa rilasciassero tutto il collagene che avevano.

Purtroppo il pubblico non è stato coinvolto nella degustazione dello Champon, ma lo chef non si è fatto trovare impreparato e ha portato due piatti preparati con ricette antiche e risalenti al periodo dei “barbari”: uno era un uovo sodo avvolto da una pasta di sgombro e fritto, e l’altra era fun pollo fritto in una insolita panatura dal sapore robusto.. Anche se non ricordo il nome del primo, il secondo piatto sembrava essere l’antenato del moderno Tempura (di nuovo, una portoghese).

Questo evento mi ha fatto riflettere su quel cibo giapponese che diamo per scontato come tradizionale e rappresentativo della nazione, o quegli aspetti culinari del Giappone che credevo di conoscere. Naturalmente questo dibattito rappresenta per me un punto di partenza per una riflessione critica sulle varie influenze straniere anche sulla cucina italiana e sul mio modo di cucinare in particolare. Questo è un argomento su quale vorrei approfondire le mie conoscenze e trarre delle conclusioni
Per tutti questi motivi sono molti grata alla SOAS e la Alumni Association per avermi invitata, e sarò più che felice di partecipare ad altri eventi come questo.