May 31, 2009
Here are some signs I saw recently near the Olympic venues. I thought these were lovely; much nicer than "Stay off the grass."
As you probably know, there are no fortune cookies after meals in restaurants in China; those are definitely an American innovation. However, there are lots of enigmatic expressions posted everywhere. Here are a few on big billboards near our house, advertising our villa district (neighborhood).
Note, they're no better in Chinese.
Based on these, I'm feeling pretty successful...
We saw ducklings and bunnies for sale recently. (For pets, not food, I think.)
Michael (8): "OOH, I really want one! I will call him 'Silent Ninja'!"
Only Michael would name a cute yellow duckling "Silent Ninja". Needless to say, we did not buy one.
May 25, 2009
I saw these slabs of marble at a local market and got very hungry.
Chinese bathrooms are generally kind of gross, even in nice places. That said, there's definitely been a huge improvement even in the few years since I've been visiting Beijing. Here's a funny sign on top of a urinal that shows the effort to make things better.
The message is basically something to the effect of:
One small step forward
A big step forward for civilization
(mai chu yi xiao bu, wen min yi da bu)
OK, it was funny to me. More places could use this sign, even in the US.
May 12, 2009
I just returned from my first trip back to Seattle after moving to Beijing last November.
I was super excited after my short stop in Tokyo (with the great ramen and sake experiences) to get home. Our approach to Seattle came in over downtown Seattle, so I could see all of the boats lined up for Opening Day, Lake Washington, and the Cascades. It was really lovely; I started feeling really home sick.
Then things took a little turn for the worse. After we landed at SeaTac, the crack border guards promptly confiscated the $40 worth of boxed ramen that I bought in Narita. (The soup base apparently had once been a chicken before it was boiled and reduced into a 3ml packet). I'm sure we all feel much safer now.
Then, once I got to our house, opened the blinds, and discovered that some bad people had stolen all of our patio furniture and my beloved Weber grill. As I was feeling confused, angry, violated, and a bit stupid, I tried to call Michelle back in Beijing and some friends in Seattle to see if I had missed something only to find my Seattle cellphone number no longer worked thanks to T-Mobile's not-so-great customer service.
Fortunately, I think I managed to get most of the bad parts behind me quickly, and the rest of my trip was great. Rather than bore everyone with a play-by-play account, let me just make a few observations:
Also, since I'm sure you're wondering, here are the foods and drinks I missed and sought out:
So, thanks to all my friends for making this trip great. I really enjoyed it, but I'm glad to be back in Beijing with my family. I'm looking forward to coming back out to Seattle this summer (and buying a new grill.)
May 2, 2009
I knew it.
Researchers claim food also speeds up the metabolism helping the body get rid of the booze more quickly.
Elin Roberts, of Newcastle University's Centre for Life said: "Food doesn't soak up the alcohol but it does increase your metabolism helping you deal with the after-effects of over indulgence. So food will often help you feel better.
"Bread is high in carbohydrates and bacon is full of protein, which breaks down into amino acids. Your body needs these amino acids, so eating them will make you feel good."
Ms Roberts told The Mirror: "Bingeing on alcohol depletes neurotransmitters too, but bacon contains a high level of aminos which tops these up, giving you a clearer head."
Researchers also found a complex chemical interaction in the cooking of bacon produces the winning combination of taste and smell which is almost irresistible.
The reaction between amino acids in the bacon and reducing sugars in the fat is what provides the sandwich with its appeal.
Ms Roberts said: "The smell of sizzling bacon in a pan is enough to tempt even the staunchest of vegetarians. There's something deeper going on inside. It's not just the idea of a tasty snack. There is some complex chemistry going on.
"Meat is made of mostly protein and water. Inside the protein, it's made up of building blocks we call amino acids. But also, you need some fat. Anyone who's been on a diet knows if you take all the fat from the meat, it just doesn't taste the same. We need some of the fat to give it the flavour."
She explained that the reaction released hundreds of smells and flavours but it is the smell which reels in the eater. "Smell and taste are really closely linked," she said. "If we couldn't smell then taste wouldn't be the same."
Just like my Facebook ramen tip, I got a great recommendation for a sake shop from my old friend (and sake expert) Bruce after I mentioned I was in Tokyo (on my last trip actually). So, after our Ippudo ramen dinner, my friend Shinji and I headed over to Fukumitsuya, which was nearby the restaurant in Ginza. (I had actually tried to go the night before with my colleague John, but we got there too late.)
Fukumitsuya is a sake brewery founded in 1625; this is one of three of their retail shops. They have a tasting bar and a retail section full of great sake and lovely sakeware made from ceramic, glass, pewter, and even silver.
We were helped by the very kind and patient Otsu-san, helped by Shinji's translation skills. As we discussed more and showed our appreciation, Otsu-san started pouring more and more expensive sakes for us, ending with this amazing 20 year old Momotose, which was a deep amber color and sherry-like in nose and flavor. I've never had anything like it. She also highly recommended the Hatsugokoro Midorigura 7 year old sake; this is a daiginjo, the highest grade of sake where the rice is milled down to at least 50% of the original size. It was really delicious as well, with a full, round taste that filled my mouth and nose. Kind of hard to describe.
Most sakes are meant to be consumed young, so it's somewhat unusual to see old sakes like this, especially the 20 year old (they had 30 year old sake too.) Shinji was impressed anyway. These were pretty expensive as far as sake goes (~USD$85 for a small bottle of the Momotose and ~USD$150 for a 720ml bottle of the Hatsugokoro), but I figured I couldn't find anything like this in Seattle or Beijing, so I bought a bottle of each to share with my sweetie. Affordable and memorable luxury. (I'd rather have one bottle I'll remember forever than 5-6 bottles I'll forget once the hangover wears off.)
I also picked up a tasty bottle of plum shochu. (Shochu is a distilled Japanese spirit, like vodka but weaker). It'll be great mixed with soda on the rocks. I topped off my shopping splurge with an elegant silver flask/pitcher thing and two egg-like ceramic cups. It took a lot of restraint to not buy more, frankly. I could easily have spend a zillion dollars here.
It was a very enjoyable shopping experience. They have a restaurant upstairs too, which I'd like to try sometime too. I'll definitely be back.
You can read more about the shop (in English!) on Tokyo Qool. (I tried the pink Nipponia Nippon they mention in the article too -- delicious.)
Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
May 1, 2009
Thanks to my Facebook update saying I was in Tokyo, I got a hot ramen tip from my friend, George, who I met at Foo Camp a few years ago. So, after work today, I headed out with my old buddy Shinji (we worked together on Works and Picture It! a long time ago) to Ippudo. As it turns out, Ippudo is Shinji's favorite ramen place too. After a bit of navigational confusion, we managed to find the branch in Ginza and headed downstairs into the cellar restaurant.
(The Ginza Ippudo from across the street. The entrance is actually behind the truck. The sign says "Your happiness of eating this ramen makes us happy." They must have been very happy after I ate my ramen.)
Ippudo serves Hakata-style tonkatsu (pork) based broth, like my beloved Jangara Ramen. Unlike Jangara's super rich and luscious soup, Ippudo serves a lighter but equally delicious bowl of ramen. I followed Shinji's recommendation to try the akamaru (red sea) style instead of the more traditional shiromaru (white sea) style. The akamaru is Ippudo's innovation, adding spicy miso and garlic oil to the shiromaru. It was simply great. You can even pick how well cooked you like your noodles (I picked one level harder than normal; not sure why. Normal would probably have been a little better, but it was cool to see how much control and attention to detail they have.)
(Here's my bowl of akamaru before I started eating. The cool copper tumbler is my beer. The pots behind the ramen are different kinds of pickles. The low dish at 12:00 is peeled garlic which you mince with the garlic press at 2:00.)
The gyoza (dumplings like Chinese potstickers) were also amazing, perhaps the best I've ever tasted -- savory filling in a light skin. Ippudo also provides pots of free pickles including these great spicy bean sprouts. Yum, yum, yum, with a side of yum.
(Here's my before I tuck into my bowl of ramen. The after-action photos are NSFW. The scenes of culinary carnage and self-satisfied food ecstasy are probably best left to the imagination.)
As usual, Rameniac has a much better write-up (from which I liberally drew for this post).