After leaving the Faroes, our next stop was Edinburgh. Compared to our usual UK trips that generally require dealing with either Heathrow or Gatwick, in comparison to those airports, the relatively smaller and much smoother-operating Edinburgh airport is almost a breeze of customs and immigration, so we soon found ourselves riding the tram into downtown to meet up with my brother at The New Club. After getting settled in and enjoying the views of Edinburgh Castle, it was time to head out and explore the New City for a dinner spot. My brother had spied a Japanese place near the Club, and that seemed like a particularly nice change up from Faroese cuisine. So we soon found ourselves in a quiet alley off of Rose Street (home of an implausibly large number of pubs, even by UK standards).
After finishing up dinner at Kokko, all of the gnoshing on yakitori left us still a little hungry, and we decided that some ramen was in order. Luckily, San Mateo and the adjacent communities have no shortage of ramen joints; over a dozen of them in San Mateo alone. In fact, three of them are their own little empire, owned by Kazunori Kobayashi, a Japanese Chef who first started Santa Ramen, serving classic ramen. Then he opened Ramen Dojo, focusing on spicy, stamina-building ramen. And then he open Ramen Parlor as an option to serve up some alternative ramen with different ingredients, particularly seafood. Overall, I was probably most interested in Ramen Dojo, but that wasn’t in the cards: Ramen Dojo wasn’t open that night. So we wandered over to Ramen Parlor to check it out.
One of the simpler foods that I really enjoy is a good ramen noodle shop (indeed, I’ve reviewed rather a lot of them). It’s been one of the upcoming trendy foods, with ramen shops opening up all over the place, some more Japanese-inspired, some more Korean-inspired. But they are almost always tasty. But it’s also one of those trends that hasn’t really made inroads into New Hampshire yet. But it’s almost here, indeed, a recent trip to Portsmouth had us crossing over to Kittery in search of dinner, and we ended up finding Anju Noodle Bar just over the river from Portsmouth, in scenic downtown Kittery (right across from one of the entrances to the shipyard).
On our last trip to New York City, we stayed in the most wonderful NoMad Hotel just north of Madison Square Park, and on the edge of Koreatown. We planned to have an outing to Koreatown to try out one of the better Korean Fried Chicken places, but had a major wrench thrown into our plans when most of the neighborhood found itself without power. However, one place I called, Mui, said that aside from deep-fried items they could still prepare food, so we headed off to check them out.
While I’ve talked about many of the dishes that demonstrate the ethnic fusion of Hawaii, few of them embody the multicultural fusion of Hawaiian cuisine as much as “saimin”. Saimin is basically a noodle dish that is a mild fusion of elements taken from each the major cultures of Hawaii’s plantation era: Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Hawaiian, and Portuguese. The resulting dish is a noodle soup that bears a lot of resemblance to Chinese “mein” and Japanese “ramen”, usually with some other ethnicities adding ingredients, such as Spam, gyoza, udon, or wontons. In any case, much of the Kahili neighborhood had Saimin joints popping up during the middle of the 20th century, usually run by recent Okinawan families. And pretty much everyone I know that grew up in Hawaii has told me stories about how much saimin they ate as a kid, either as soup, or as the related “fried min” (pan-fried noodles with the same sorts of toppings). Oahu has dozen of Saimin places, and one of the older, more classic, and, quite frankly, no-frills places is Palace Saimin.
One of the great things about the very multicultural nature of Hawaii’s population is that it has quite the assortment of Asian restaurants to choose from, with a good variety of Chinese (including Americanized and Hawaiianized versions), Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese restaurants. The state has a rather long history of loving noodle shops in particular; historically a lot of these were saimin shops, serving up a product that’s basically the fusion of Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino noodle traditions. But more recently, there’s been quite an upwelling of ramen noodle joints of both Japanese and Korean influence. Indeed, as we were wandering around Kailua on the windward side of the island (our original choice for dinner turned out to be closed on Sundays), we found a nice, modest ramen shop just off of Highway 61 in Kailua: Rai Rai Ramen.
A continuing mission of mine here at Offbeat Eats is trying to help fellow travelers find good places to eat. As I’ve commented many times before, airport food is generally a dismal experience, and with a few rare exceptions (notable airports I’ve found that have multiple good options for food include Heathrow and San Francisco, for example), airport dining is best avoided, and if you find yourself needing a meal, you often pay through the nose for it. One particularly pleasant exception to this, however, lies in Detroit’s International Airport. Detroit is often the butt of jokes, and it often has earned that status, but for a city of its status, Detroit actually has a rather nice airport, particularly in their main McNamara terminal (home of the particularly cool colorful tunnel between concourses, which you can see here). There are a lot of restaurants here, of varying quality, but one thing stands out: primarily due to the large number of Japanese passengers passing through the airport, it sports multiple Japanese restaurants. One of these, Sora Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar, is one of my rare examples of “Good airport food”.
The next day in London, we decided to go on a walking tour of the London Underground from London Walks, which was a rather insightful romp through Baker Street, King’s Cross, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Embankment, and Westminster Tube stations, and one I highly recommend. But at the end of our tour, we found ourselves by Piccadilly Circus and hungry for lunch. With the fond memories of our trip to Bone Daddies still fresh in our head, we were again hungry for Ramen. This time we checked out Shoryu, who has one location a short walk from the Circus.
What does the word “ramen” mean to you? Unfortunately, for 95% of American diners, “ramen” means those 5-for-a-dollar cheap noodle packages at the grocery store. That’s really, really unfortunate, since true, fresh ramen noodles are a classic example of good Japanese food, and they are serve as a wonderful foundation for ramen soup. Unfortunately, outside of California, there aren’t many good ramen shops out there. One notable exception to this I’ve found is Matsu Chan in Canton, MI. Having been in existence well over 15 years, Matsu Chan is nestled into a small storefront in one of those mostly-vacant strip malls you see all over the Detroit area, and has a very humble storefront. However, once you pass through the doors, Matsu Chan is pure ramen shop.