Monday, July 13, 2009
Korean of Sorts
I took a bit of a departure from ramen yesterday, though I kind of expected that there might be ramen noodles in this soup, there sometimes are. We decided to go for Korean on the way to visit Rumi's sister, Chizuko.
This brings us to what is truly somewhat of a misconception about the Japanese. Just before the end of the recent school year, a student, an IB junior, approached me about advising her on her senior paper. I asked what her thesis was and she said, "How the Japanese are xenophobic." This is obviously not a thesis, and probably just an idea that she got from some social studies teacher who has no knowledge of Japan beyond the Shogun, Meiji Restoration, Pearl Harbor and Ichiro. No offense meant, that is all that is in their curriculum. What's worse than the fact that her statement is not a thesis, is the fact that it is probably not true.
The Japanese, both before and since the times of the shogun, are very much open to ideas from the outside. The examples are all around. Baseball, tea, their alphabet, even our very own ramen come from other countries to Japan. Japanese baseball is distinctly different in style than American baseball. Does making it their own work for the Japanese? Consider that they have won the first two World Baseball Classics handily. I say it does. Ramen comes from China where it bears some, though diminishing resemblance to what we see in Japan. Maybe a little something like this bowl I enjoyed in Yokohama in 2007, but even this was in a Japanese "Chinese" restaurant. The pork here is tougher, not butter-soft at all. It is sweet, the same pork you see hanging in windows of Chinese restaurants in the States. The broth is significantly lighter, akin to that of a wonton soup. The noodles however, where ramen gets its name from, are the same as the thinner style noodle we've seen so far.
The Japanese embrace ideas from the outside, evaluate them, and figure out the best way to make them fit the Japanese. You might say that they are individual as a nation, though there is still that group way despite a rise in individualism among the younger generation. One author referred to this generation as "practicing individualism as a group."
So this brings us to the Korean lunch. Remember this is a Japanese Korean restaurant. The kimchi soup that I ordered at Tokyo Sundub was distinctly different from kimchi jigae in NY Koreatown. There were several variations available and I went for the standard with miso. The broth, as hot as it looks came in four levels of heat. I went for the three-out-of-four. The food arrived to the sound of some painfully incessent J-Pop and the set included rice, a sweet custard, three kinds of pickles (cabage, carrots, and bean sprouts), and the star, the kimchee soup. As the pop gave way to Lionel Richie singing Easy Like Sunday Morning, I dug in, mixing the pickes into the rice as the plackard on the table told me was the "propper way" and diving into the soup with my metal chopsticks. I'm not sure if they use metal chopsticks in South Korea, my only other experience with them was at a North Korean resturant in Cambodia. Ah yes, the aforementioned 74 days off in a row. The soup was curiously devoid of actual kimchee. It was packed with tofu and there were traces of pork, but there were only about four pieces of actual cabbage. Shennanigans! It was however wonderful, so good that despite the burning I kept going back for more. The rice and pickles, which were of a sweeter variety, balanced the fire and, along with five or six glasses of water, I drank every drop. No noodles. Different than Korean food I've had before, but yummy. Truly Japanese-Korean. The custard, coconut I think was not for me. It's a texture thing. If you want to serve pudding serve it. Don't cube it and serve it with some liquid, it just feels wierd. And don't even bring up bubble tea, that's just nasty.
No rating for this lunch my loyal readers, I only rate ramen. I enjoyed the lunch though, today Saikai Ramen!