Archive for December 2004

Passing-to-the-New-Year Noodles

December 31, 2004

I

t is a custom in Japan to eat something called, toshikoshi soba. Toshikoshi literally means to pass over to the next year; soba are the buck wheat noodles that are sold by vendors in and out of virtually every railroad station in Japan, although not as numerous as the ramen noodle shops. Ultimately, though, the noodles can be eaten anyway you want–in a broth, cold with dipping sauce, rolled up in seaweed like sushi. They become toshikoshi soba by virtue of the date that you eat them, December 31st, the last day of the year.

To me, good soba is as good as good ramen, and there are few things in this world that will surpass either of these meals. But as I just mentioned, there are many more ramen shops. You can leave the turnstiles of any station in Tokyo and you will find a soba shop right outside. You’ll also find about five ramen shops.

But if you ask most Japanese, they will share my opinion. While some will even say they prefer soba to ramen, I have met few who prefer good ramen to good soba. And maybe that’s the key: Good. Few of the ramen vendors make their own noodles. They get a shipment every morning from some nameless noodle factory, and if the shop owner has a great broth, then the noodles are bound to be good–althought I admit to being pretty picky about my broth: Soy sauce base with BBQ pork chashu. *sigh* Shit, I’m getting hungry…

But most soba places cut their own soba. You can get dry soba, packaged much like spaghetti is, at any supermarket. Heck, they sell it at Whole Foods here in Virginia. Speaks volumes for their shelf life, I suppose. And it is not too bad, if you’re the type who doesn’t mind eating spaghetti from the package either. And I don’t mind. I nice, fresh al dente noodle–spaghetti or soba–is nice, but not necessary. But hand made fresh noodles in the states will cost you a pretty penny. Go ask Mario Batali. He’ll be more than happy to sell you some at $18 a plate. But in Japan, you can still get a bowl of fresh soba for a song… well 400 yen, hold the karaoke… I haven’t been to Japan for a while, but at the train station, you can probably still get a bowl for under 300 yen in some places. (Think 1 dollar = 100 yen)

Of course, this is the plain version. Still good piping hot on a cold evening out, while your waiting for the last train to go home. You can add things to it at a price, and they range from tempura crumbs, fried tofu, to eggs to tempura shrimp. My favorite place was actually quite a haul from the station, about a 15 minute walk in the opposite direction from home. But it was worth it. It’s called would Sarashina Jingoro in Kunitachi, Tokyo, south exit. They use Shinshu soba and it is always al dente. The best dish is the Tanuki soba. This is different from most–usually Tanuki soba is just the deep-fried batter used for tempura. Here the topping is a Kakiage–a mix of vegetables and seafood deep fried in batter–and it comes out so hot, I have to wait a few minutes for it to cool down. So I usually have to dig down beneath it to start to eat the soba first–don’t want to let it get soggy.

It could be the hottest day in the summer, and I would crave this. I sometimes have dreams about eating this one dish. I salivate. I’m salvating right now…

Woah! gotta go. M has just made some toshikoshi soba with the mixed seafood-vegetable tempura! Yum!

Have a Happy New Year!

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Passing-to-the-New-Year Noodles

December 31, 2004

I

t is a custom in Japan to eat something called, toshikoshi soba. Toshikoshi literally means to pass over to the next year; soba are the buck wheat noodles that are sold by vendors in and out of virtually every railroad station in Japan, although not as numerous as the ramen noodle shops. Ultimately, though, the noodles can be eaten anyway you want–in a broth, cold with dipping sauce, rolled up in seaweed like sushi. They become toshikoshi soba by virtue of the date that you eat them, December 31st, the last day of the year.

To me, good soba is as good as good ramen, and there are few things in this world that will surpass either of these meals. But as I just mentioned, there are many more ramen shops. You can leave the turnstiles of any station in Tokyo and you will find a soba shop right outside. You’ll also find about five ramen shops.

But if you ask most Japanese, they will share my opinion. While some will even say they prefer soba to ramen, I have met few who prefer good ramen to good soba. And maybe that’s the key: Good. Few of the ramen vendors make their own noodles. They get a shipment every morning from some nameless noodle factory, and if the shop owner has a great broth, then the noodles are bound to be good–althought I admit to being pretty picky about my broth: Soy sauce base with BBQ pork chashu. *sigh* Shit, I’m getting hungry…

But most soba places cut their own soba. You can get dry soba, packaged much like spaghetti is, at any supermarket. Heck, they sell it at Whole Foods here in Virginia. Speaks volumes for their shelf life, I suppose. And it is not too bad, if you’re the type who doesn’t mind eating spaghetti from the package either. And I don’t mind. I nice, fresh al dente noodle–spaghetti or soba–is nice, but not necessary. But hand made fresh noodles in the states will cost you a pretty penny. Go ask Mario Batali. He’ll be more than happy to sell you some at $18 a plate. But in Japan, you can still get a bowl of fresh soba for a song… well 400 yen, hold the karaoke… I haven’t been to Japan for a while, but at the train station, you can probably still get a bowl for under 300 yen in some places. (Think 1 dollar = 100 yen)

Of course, this is the plain version. Still good piping hot on a cold evening out, while your waiting for the last train to go home. You can add things to it at a price, and they range from tempura crumbs, fried tofu, to eggs to tempura shrimp. My favorite place was actually quite a haul from the station, about a 15 minute walk in the opposite direction from home. But it was worth it. It’s called would Sarashina Jingoro in Kunitachi, Tokyo, south exit. They use Shinshu soba and it is always al dente. The best dish is the Tanuki soba. This is different from most–usually Tanuki soba is just the deep-fried batter used for tempura. Here the topping is a Kakiage–a mix of vegetables and seafood deep fried in batter–and it comes out so hot, I have to wait a few minutes for it to cool down. So I usually have to dig down beneath it to start to eat the soba first–don’t want to let it get soggy.

It could be the hottest day in the summer, and I would crave this. I sometimes have dreams about eating this one dish. I salivate. I’m salvating right now…

Woah! gotta go. M has just made some toshikoshi soba with the mixed seafood-vegetable tempura! Yum!

Have a Happy New Year!

Kama Sutra

December 30, 2004

As part of their final, students were required to translate a story called Kama Sutra. This is my own translation. It is not as literal as any I would require my students to submit, but then I’m not being graded…

by Murakami Haruki, from Yume de aimasho, 1986.

H

appy Birthday” she said, as she held out a pretty small box tied up with green ribbon.

We were eating roast beef, while drinking scotch and water in a splendid restaurant on the thirty-second floor of a high rise building. It was, after all, my birthday.

“So what do you think it is? Take a guess.”

“Hair clippers,” I said. But I was joking, of course.

When I took off the wrapping paper, there appeared a small box, ruby-red and shining with a glitter. Inside this small box was a piece of paper the size of a movie ticket. And on this piece of paper was written, “Pleasure Ticket.”

“You can redeem it any time you like,” she said.

When I got home, I opened the top drawer of my desk. Tucked away inside were seventy-eight “Pleasure Tickets” of various colors that I had received from seventy-eight different girls.

When I took them out, I added the new ticket, making it seventy-nine.

A manageable number.

I dug a hole in the garden with a shovel, and buried the seventy-nine “Pleasure Tickets” I had stuffed into an empty grape-candy can. And then I pulled out the hose and watered it.

That’s the… how can I put this? That’s the kind of personality I have.

Kama Sutra

December 30, 2004

As part of their final, students were required to translate a story called Kama Sutra. This is my own translation. It is not as literal as any I would require my students to submit, but then I’m not being graded…

by Murakami Haruki, from Yume de aimasho, 1986.

H

appy Birthday” she said, as she held out a pretty small box tied up with green ribbon.

We were eating roast beef, while drinking scotch and water in a splendid restaurant on the thirty-second floor of a high rise building. It was, after all, my birthday.

“So what do you think it is? Take a guess.”

“Hair clippers,” I said. But I was joking, of course.

When I took off the wrapping paper, there appeared a small box, ruby-red and shining with a glitter. Inside this small box was a piece of paper the size of a movie ticket. And on this piece of paper was written, “Pleasure Ticket.”

“You can redeem it any time you like,” she said.

When I got home, I opened the top drawer of my desk. Tucked away inside were seventy-eight “Pleasure Tickets” of various colors that I had received from seventy-eight different girls.

When I took them out, I added the new ticket, making it seventy-nine.

A manageable number.

I dug a hole in the garden with a shovel, and buried the seventy-nine “Pleasure Tickets” I had stuffed into an empty grape-candy can. And then I pulled out the hose and watered it.

That’s the… how can I put this? That’s the kind of personality I have.

December 29, 2004

Bad Christmas

BADDER

I

t’s hard for me to remember a truly “bad” Christmas. I have been blessed for most of my life. I can truly say that most of my Christmases have been nice to some degree: Being with family and friends, exchanging gifts. So when I did Japanese Studies at Waseda in 1984, it was my first Christmas alone. I was a poor soul, as I mentioned in a previous post, and could not even afford a phone back then–for those of you who don’t know, it cost something like 60,000 yen to “purchase” a phone number in Japan (this is re-sellable), which is probably why cell phones took off like a rocket with young people in Japan before it did here.

Anyway, I couldn’t even phone home. I have no presents to speak of, and the only thing I had that was Christmassy were three greeting cards I had received and scotch-taped to the wall. But I was healthy, and living in Japan on my own, studying what I wanted to study. The situation was “self-inflicted”, so to speak, so I could live the consequences, albeit by myself, with a bottle of shochu (soju), and a small TV.

Well last week, when I saw my beloved Bruins lose to the Wyoming Cowboys, I had no inkling that this Christmas would develop into a badder Christmas. After the game and doing some more grading, then cooking the ham for the Christmas Eve get together we were having the next day–I was cooking in the middle of the night–I decided to check my e-mail at 8 in the morning before going to bed. To my shock, I learned the mother of my former boss had passed away.

“The mother of a former boss?” you my ask. Yes, she was very special to me. She was kind and generous and firm when I was a rambunctious youth. As I have written here before, my boss and I got along very well and was in many ways my elder sister. Her mother was my mother. Of course, she was like everyone’s mother. (There is a lot missing in the details; I am still sorting out any limitations there might be.) But we would watch the store every night, she would cook dinner six days a week for those of us still at the store after 7PM, and I would drive her home after we closed shop at 9PM–10 PM Friday to Sunday.

She was deific. She could do nothing wrong. She was the sweetest person I have ever known or ever will. She was over 100 years old when she died last week.

I thought about going to LA immediately for the funeral this past weekend, but the next morning, Chrismas Eve, I woke up with a fever. By late afternoon, I was at 100ーF by late afternoon and 104ー by midnight. I was delirious. No way I could get to LA. I could barely send off a coherent email of condolence to the mortuary. For most of four days, I was horizontal–short of breath, hacking, burning up, only to sweat out tons of fluids as M lowered my fever with force-fed Tylenol, then getting chills as my fever worked its way back up. I finally got to the doctor the day after Christmas.

I had told M to have everyone open their presents on Christmas as they should, but the family would wait for me to feel better, she insisted, and on the evening of the 27th we opened our presents. I got underwear, socks, and sweats. Pretty typical for this husband/father, I suppose. Nothing elaobrate, always essential.

Besides the presents, perhaps the only good thing to come out of the last few days is that I lost 5 pounds. Go figure…

December 29, 2004

Bad Christmas

BADDER

I

t’s hard for me to remember a truly “bad” Christmas. I have been blessed for most of my life. I can truly say that most of my Christmases have been nice to some degree: Being with family and friends, exchanging gifts. So when I did Japanese Studies at Waseda in 1984, it was my first Christmas alone. I was a poor soul, as I mentioned in a previous post, and could not even afford a phone back then–for those of you who don’t know, it cost something like 60,000 yen to “purchase” a phone number in Japan (this is re-sellable), which is probably why cell phones took off like a rocket with young people in Japan before it did here.

Anyway, I couldn’t even phone home. I have no presents to speak of, and the only thing I had that was Christmassy were three greeting cards I had received and scotch-taped to the wall. But I was healthy, and living in Japan on my own, studying what I wanted to study. The situation was “self-inflicted”, so to speak, so I could live the consequences, albeit by myself, with a bottle of shochu (soju), and a small TV.

Well last week, when I saw my beloved Bruins lose to the Wyoming Cowboys, I had no inkling that this Christmas would develop into a badder Christmas. After the game and doing some more grading, then cooking the ham for the Christmas Eve get together we were having the next day–I was cooking in the middle of the night–I decided to check my e-mail at 8 in the morning before going to bed. To my shock, I learned the mother of my former boss had passed away.

“The mother of a former boss?” you my ask. Yes, she was very special to me. She was kind and generous and firm when I was a rambunctious youth. As I have written here before, my boss and I got along very well and was in many ways my elder sister. Her mother was my mother. Of course, she was like everyone’s mother. (There is a lot missing in the details; I am still sorting out any limitations there might be.) But we would watch the store every night, she would cook dinner six days a week for those of us still at the store after 7PM, and I would drive her home after we closed shop at 9PM–10 PM Friday to Sunday.

She was deific. She could do nothing wrong. She was the sweetest person I have ever known or ever will. She was over 100 years old when she died last week.

I thought about going to LA immediately for the funeral this past weekend, but the next morning, Chrismas Eve, I woke up with a fever. By late afternoon, I was at 100ーF by late afternoon and 104ー by midnight. I was delirious. No way I could get to LA. I could barely send off a coherent email of condolence to the mortuary. For most of four days, I was horizontal–short of breath, hacking, burning up, only to sweat out tons of fluids as M lowered my fever with force-fed Tylenol, then getting chills as my fever worked its way back up. I finally got to the doctor the day after Christmas.

I had told M to have everyone open their presents on Christmas as they should, but the family would wait for me to feel better, she insisted, and on the evening of the 27th we opened our presents. I got underwear, socks, and sweats. Pretty typical for this husband/father, I suppose. Nothing elaobrate, always essential.

Besides the presents, perhaps the only good thing to come out of the last few days is that I lost 5 pounds. Go figure…

December 29, 2004

Bad Christmas

BADDER

I

t’s hard for me to remember a truly “bad” Christmas. I have been blessed for most of my life. I can truly say that most of my Christmases have been nice to some degree: Being with family and friends, exchanging gifts. So when I did Japanese Studies at Waseda in 1984, it was my first Christmas alone. I was a poor soul, as I mentioned in a previous post, and could not even afford a phone back then–for those of you who don’t know, it cost something like 60,000 yen to “purchase” a phone number in Japan (this is re-sellable), which is probably why cell phones took off like a rocket with young people in Japan before it did here.

Anyway, I couldn’t even phone home. I have no presents to speak of, and the only thing I had that was Christmassy were three greeting cards I had received and scotch-taped to the wall. But I was healthy, and living in Japan on my own, studying what I wanted to study. The situation was “self-inflicted”, so to speak, so I could live the consequences, albeit by myself, with a bottle of shochu (soju), and a small TV.

Well last week, when I saw my beloved Bruins lose to the Wyoming Cowboys, I had no inkling that this Christmas would develop into a badder Christmas. After the game and doing some more grading, then cooking the ham for the Christmas Eve get together we were having the next day–I was cooking in the middle of the night–I decided to check my e-mail at 8 in the morning before going to bed. To my shock, I learned the mother of my former boss had passed away.

“The mother of a former boss?” you my ask. Yes, she was very special to me. She was kind and generous and firm when I was a rambunctious youth. As I have written here before, my boss and I got along very well and was in many ways my elder sister. Her mother was my mother. Of course, she was like everyone’s mother. (There is a lot missing in the details; I am still sorting out any limitations there might be.) But we would watch the store every night, she would cook dinner six days a week for those of us still at the store after 7PM, and I would drive her home after we closed shop at 9PM–10 PM Friday to Sunday.

She was deific. She could do nothing wrong. She was the sweetest person I have ever known or ever will. She was over 100 years old when she died last week.

I thought about going to LA immediately for the funeral this past weekend, but the next morning, Chrismas Eve, I woke up with a fever. By late afternoon, I was at 100ーF by late afternoon and 104ー by midnight. I was delirious. No way I could get to LA. I could barely send off a coherent email of condolence to the mortuary. For most of four days, I was horizontal–short of breath, hacking, burning up, only to sweat out tons of fluids as M lowered my fever with force-fed Tylenol, then getting chills as my fever worked its way back up. I finally got to the doctor the day after Christmas.

I had told M to have everyone open their presents on Christmas as they should, but the family would wait for me to feel better, she insisted, and on the evening of the 27th we opened our presents. I got underwear, socks, and sweats. Pretty typical for this husband/father, I suppose. Nothing elaobrate, always essential.

Besides the presents, perhaps the only good thing to come out of the last few days is that I lost 5 pounds. Go figure…