Posts Tagged ‘ramen’

“Wagamama, Gibraltar was faring the best across Europe!”  Rumoured the naughty child.

And after shifting 1 month’s worth of duck and beer in 3 days I can see why!

Wagamama_logo (2)

When I first came across Wagamama in London in the late 90’s, I nostalgically remember it as the perfect antidote to a night of student revelling London-style (stylie).  We’d wake up and trundle down to the nearest Wagamamas and cluster around their long tables and immediately get a vitamin boost from their super green, super fresh, body cleansing, high antioxidant smoothies followed by a bowl of something spicy with plenty of carbs – if my mind goes that far back, I think my dish of choice was always a Pad Thai.  It would beat going to Maccy-Ds any day!

Flash-forward over 20 years and in June 2016, after a social media frenzy of freebie tickets, £5 sittings and press evenings, we are treated to our very own Wagamama here in Gibraltar.  With the stunning setting that Ocean Village provides, Wagamama, with its roots in Japanese-inspired cuisine, fits right in amongst the palm trees and ferns that line the promenade.

long tablesUpon arrival everything seems to be at one with nature –chairs are large wooden blocks with simple metal legs, rattan chairs out on the terrace; long wooden-topped tables (ideal for families) presented in a minimalist Japanese canteen style with spotlights aimed along the centre of these.   Fully opening glass doors bringing the sea into the room.  The 3 large mirrors at the back of the room creating  a sense of depth, reflecting images of staff whizzing from station to table.  And last but not least, its vast open kitchen and prep area with its denizen of chefs glancing from screens to chopping boards to woks to plates.

The menu is not organised as ‘starters and mains’ but as: Sides – to order with your main dish or to share; Gyoza – either steamed or fried dumplings filled with goodness; Ramen – a bowl of hot soup filled with noodles; toppings and garnishes; Curry – fresh curries served over rice; Teppanyaki – sizzling soft noodles with crunchy veg/meat/prawns; Omakase – 4 different Chef Specials; Donburi – a big bowl of steamed rice and stir fired meats/veg; Salads -2 stir fry salads and Extras – miso soup, Japanese pickles, ‘century’ egg, kimchee, chillies or rice/noodles.

I found the exemplary waiting staff to be very cheerful and friendly at all times.  Their knowledge of the menu evident as they would translate dish numbers into dish names; scribbling your order onto your placemat.  Before leaving our table, the waiter asked us if we’d been to Wagamama before so as to clarify how our food would arrive.

For the uninitiated: as your dish is created it is served – regardless of whether there are 2, 4 or 6 of you dining; there is no procession of courses.

Fried duck gyoza

fried duck gyoza


Steamed pulled pork gyoza

steamed pulled pork gyoza

We ordered some Gyoza to see how they fared against authentic Japanese gyoza, which are dry-fried on the base and then steamed to perfection.  As the menu advertised either fried or steamed gyoza we tried the fried duck gyoza (99) – delicious, deep decadent duck meat in a deep fried gyoza, however, not what we were expecting.  Preferring a steamed gyoza we ended up stopping the waiter to order some steamed pulled pork gyoza (105) which were much more authentic in flavour and texture and upon reading the menu a second time realising that the steamed gyoza are served grilled!

Omakase – entrust the chefteriyaki lamb

Trying to avoid my Pad Thai Wagamama staple, I decided to let the chef recommend me one of its four Omakase (Japanese for ‘to entrust the chef’).  The grilled Teriyaki lamb served on a bed of soba noodles in a pea and wasabi dressing with grilled asparagus, kale, mushrooms and mangetout – simply scrumptious; grilled teriyaki lamb, grilled veggies, soba noodles.

Since then I’ve been again and had the chilli squid (107) crispy fried squid dusted with shichimi, served with a chilli/coriander dipping sauce – tongue tantalisingly tingly and the pork ramen (30) which even though I slurped my way through, could have been hotter – both in temp and spice, and saltier; however, I suppose that’s why there is soy sauce and chilli oil on every table!

banana katsuAs part of the ‘harmony, balance and chilli’ mantra that Wagamama is legendary for, ending your spicy meal with Banana Katsu (142) – banana covered in panko bread crumbs and deep fried with salted caramel ice-cream equals perfection.  I’ve asked for the mochi balls (124) and the sweet onigiri (135) but unfortunately they still haven’t received them from the Uk.

I suppose that if we are dependent on Uk deliveries for the food to be franchise-exact we will, on occasion, have this wait-time on certain dishes when items expire.  Next time I go I know I’m going to try the prawn itame curry (39) and here’s hoping that they’ve got the pork ribs (97) in stock!

But all is good with the world when you end your meal with jasmine flower tea…

 ​

​ 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

IMG_1415Slurp, slurp, slurp can be heard throughout Japan as people slurp on their ramen noodles.  Ramen was made for slurping.  It is believed that as you slurp the ramen noodles, you create a greater umami experience.  In one of my poorer attempts at this, I wore my ramen broth down the front of my tailored shirt!  Simply put and almost disregarding the recipe’s complex flavours, ramen is Japanese noodle soup.  But leaving the description there is unflattering at best and insulting at worst.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup consisting of Chinese-style wheat noodles (alkaline noodles) served in a meat or fish broth, flavoured with soy sauce or miso and served with sliced pork, dried seaweed and green onions.  Nearly every region of Japan will have its own ramen variation.

Ramen has become a staple food in Japanese culture and is more popular than sushi with many salary men queuing up for hours at the more popular ramen hotspots to get their bowl to slurp.

Believed to have been brought back from China at the end of the second Sino-Japanese war, many soldiers, familiar with this Chinese cuisine, set up Chinese restaurants throughout Japan serving ramen.  But like everything the Japanese do, they made it better.  Eventually the instant ramen created by Momofuku Ando allowed anyone to make a simple ramen dish at home just by adding boiling water – indulge me if you will – Japanese pot noodle but better.

Unapologetically absolutely delicious!

However, if you are aiming for authenticity in your kitchen you need to plan well in advance.  If you want a bowl of ramen on Friday, you need to start with the recipe on Wednesday!

ramen10Momofuku

If you follow Dave Chang’s Momofuku (Lucky Peach) recipe, we’re talking

BROTH: 1) steeping Kombu (kelp seaweed) in hot water for 1 hour, 2) adding chicken backs and necks to this water simmering gently for 5 hours, 3) skimming, straining and chilling the stock,
TARE: 4) make the tare by roasting chicken backs for 20 minutes until mahogany brown, 5) deglazing the pan with sake, 6) adding mirin and soy sauce, 7) add pork belly/shoulder pieces to the liquid, 8) simmer gently for 1½ hrs, 9) strain the meat and bones out of the tare, 10) chill the liquid and remove the fat that rises to the top (Keep this fat to add to the ramen dish when serving).
ASSEMBLING THE RAMEN DISH: 11) season the broth with tare and salt, 12) add bacon fat, 13) serve with whatever accompaniments you want.

There are so many stages – each adding levels of depth to what inevitably becomes a complex flavoured dish screaming UMAMI at you from every direction.

Even though the stages themselves are not complicated they are time consuming and no-one has the time or the inkling to carry this out in today’s busy routines.  So I’ve come up with a cheat’s version of this dish cutting out the need to boil kelp for hours on end and roast chicken carcasses into the mahogany spectrum.

Cheat’s Ramen – serves 2

Ingredients:
1 pouch of good quality chicken stock                      1 carrot
4 spring onions                                                                Ramen noodles
4 Dried Shitake Mushrooms                                        Bean sprouts
Pork belly                                                                           Soy sauce/Miso paste
2 boiled eggs                                                                      Nori
Seasoning

To make the tare:
Olive Oil
2 cloves of garlic

Method:
1st: Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan and heat gently.
2nd: Add 3 spring onions cut in pieces from root to tip and add to the stock.
3rd: Cut the carrot into chucks and add to the stock.
4th: Reconstitute the dried shitake mushrooms in boiling water and add this to the stock with some of the mushroom flavoured water (mushroom dashi), simmer gently until the dish is ready to assemble.
5th: Season to taste with soy sauce, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 20 mins.
I used chestnut mushrooms as dried shitake mushrooms are sometimes hard to find.

6th: Put the pork belly into a 200˚C oven for 20-25mins until the pork is cooked through.
7th: Prepare the tare by heating olive oil and pouring it over the grated garlic.
8th: After the pork belly is cooked bring it out of the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Pour the rendered fat into the chicken stock.
9th: Boil your ramen noodles following the instructions on the packet.

Ramen1

ramen

10th: Assemble and serve: Pile your ramen noodles into the centre of your ramen bowl and assemble the shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, pork slices, sliced spring onions, and boiled egg around this.  Pour ladles of your chicken broth into your noodles until you have a bowl filled with soup.  Spoon some of the tare over the noodles.  Serve with a nori rectangle.

I know it is inauthentic but it’s a long way from pot noodle, ingredients are accessible, easily recreated and unapologetically absolutely delicious.

Ramen6

ramen

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan around 7:30am.  Jet-lagged, disorientated and in desperate need of coffee, we waltzed into the nearest STARBUCKS from our Hotel.  Immediately, I thought, I can’t believe I’ve come all the way to Japan for a STARBUCKS!  But that wasn’t necessarily the way the rest of the trip was going to (Ja)pan out!

Once we got our bearings around the area we decided to head into air conditioned paradise (any shopping mall; be it over or under ground) just to get out of the scorching heat and stumbled upon a lunchtime spot that seemed to be ending its lunch service but were quite happy to take us in.

Ramen, spicy chicken and misoWith my limited Japanese and pointing at pictures in a menu, I ordered a set meal with a bowl of ramen – a Japanese noodle soup dish which was flavoured with ox tongue – and spicy chicken pieces served over rice and the ubiquitous miso soup.

All dishes are accompanied by miso soup – a traditional Japanese clear broth made of stock called “dashi” into which softened miso paste (fermented soya bean paste) is mixed, tofu is often present in white blocks floating in the soup.   Miso soup is quite savoury, so I can only imagine it being fundamental in helping people replenish fluids and salts lost through sweat!

In the evening, we walked around the area of Ikebukuro and were somewhat intimidated by going into small, local establishments with only 5 seats available at a counter, full of locals and or people leaving work, as we almost couldn’t communicate with the proprietor without picture menus!  However, using Trip Advisor, we eventually found a conveyor belt sushi place that came very highly recommended.  The chefs and head chef in the centre of the track creating the sashimi/sushi, often to order, treated every dish as if it were the best dish they would be creating that evening.  Precision and skill evident in every piece.  The fish was delectable and easily washed down with green tea, poured directly at every seated station.  Great fun – delicious food; Oishi!

The following morning we headed to an area of Tokyo called Roppongi and once again dived into the nearest STARBUCKS for a dark chocolate-mocha frap which is the only way to battle the morning heat!  And after much tall building climbing, temple hunting and shrine locating we had worked up a bit of an appetite.  This time we settled for steamed dumplings, gyoza, and spring rolls (vegetable and prawn).

That evening we took a trip to Ginza – the 5th Avenue of Tokyo – and in a local basement bar sampled Yakitori.  Japanese IMG_1546chicken pinchitos! Yaki – grilled; tori – bird in the context of food, therefore, put it together = Yakitori is technically grilled chicken skewers but in Japan it’s not just thigh meat that gets a turn on the bbq.  Chicken liver, heart, gizzards and chicken skin are also given the bamboo stick skewer treatment.

So we ordered some fried calamari which were succulent and delicious and a plate of these varied 5 ‘meat’ yakitori.  I quite like offal depending on the way the product is cooked – the yakitori were  bold and gutsy in flavour; salty with a charcoal edge – very tasty, however, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the chicken skin which was pallid and uncooked!

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo is the world’s largest fish market and is a prime tourist sight – especially for jet-lagged tourists.  It opens at 5am but if you want to be allowed into the world renowned Tuna Auction you have to get there at 4am to try and get a place.  Being there early does not guarantee you a visitor’s pass!  But wondering around the market at 9am when the stall owners are beginning to clear up is worth a viewing.  The various fish, molluscs and crustaceans that are caught and sold wholesale are an impressive sight.

After this and a river cruise to Asakusa for more temple spotting in the heat, we stopped for a very necessary cup of shaved ice.  Imagine slush puppies that hold their shape as a mountain of ice flakes and squirted with whatever flavour syrup you want: from fruit flavours to matcha green tea flavour.  I enjoyed my watermelon flavour as a reminder of summer back home.

However, on the return to the hotel and needing a pick-me-up we stopped at cafe Italian Tomato, for an iced coffee and a huge slice of lemon meringue pie!  Buzzing with sugar and caffeine we were ready for the evening in Harajuku.

Warning:  the Japanese slurp their food as a way to create ‘umami’ the 5th flavour (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami) plus slurping cools the noodles down.  So if eating a bowl of ramen, slurping away to your heart’s content, your shirt will exhibit the effects!  As happened that evening over dinner!

We left Tokyo the following morning and headed to Matsumoto via Nagano; home of the Soba Noodle.

Not only did we get to try amazing cold soba noodles with tsuyu (a dipping sauce made with dashi, sweet soy and mirin) but we were fortunate enough to see a Soba Master rolling buckwheat dough out to make these thin soba noodles.  In summer, soba noodles are usually served cold on a bamboo tray called a zaru with seasonal toppings – we ate ours with vegetable tempura.  I particularly liked this meal; the noodles were light and did not sit heavily on the stomach as pasta can sometimes.  The tempura, crispy and incredibly light.

With full bellies we packed our bags and headed to the station for the next stage in our journey.  Join me.