Time to Get Cooking

Our furniture finally got delivered (yay!) last week and the first room I began to unpack was the kitchen. James and I had “remodeled” our kitchen cabinets a couple months ago, meaning we covered them in contact paper, and once I put a few things on the counter and got things set up it went from looking like this:

Do these cupboards look familiar? It’s because you have probably seen them in every hospital or school you have ever been in… 

To this:

What a difference contact paper and a rug makes!
Reunited and it feels so good…

Not only was it nice to be with my beloved kitchen goods again, it was nice to not have to rely on eating out or grabbing food at the base food court for all of my meals. After living out of a suitcase all summer I was really looking forward to being able to cook! I made a few simple meals the first few days (paninis, scrambled eggs) but when I saw that Sunday night we were in for some bad weather, I decided that was a good opportunity to stay in and try some Japanese cooking.

Umm, this was not part of the deal…

There is a Commissary on base where you can get American dry goods and pantry staples, but it is not the best for meat or produce. Fortunately, there are lots of markets in town, many of them within walking distance of the base gate. I saw a recipe in my Facebook feed for shrimp fried rice, so I decided that would be the meal I would try to make. Now I just needed to go find the needed ingredients at the market.

The market I went to happens to be next to my favorite sushi-go-round, so I stopped in to have a little snack. 

The grocery stores I have seen here (so far) are very well organized and products are displayed beautifully. You know how you walk into Whole Foods and the produce is usually very appealing looking? Well Japan is like that but even more so. Produce also tends to be very expensive.

Want a gift wrapped cantaloupe for $38? 
How about some grapes for $10?
Or apples for $3 each? I hope I don’t develop scurvy while I live here…

This market also has lots of prepared food, which is nice because take-out isn’t very common from restaurants here.

Multiple types of fried chicken with samples? Yes please!
Nom nom nom

As you would imagine for a port city in Japan, there is obviously a big fish counter. I needed shrimp but there were so many to choose from!

Which one to choose? I was feeling lazy so opted for deveined shrimp ready to cook. 

I did have trouble finding some of the ingredients, but lucky for me I had Google translate on my phone and everyone that works there is super friendly, so I was able to find what I wanted.

How do you find things you need when they are written in another language? Google it and try to match up the characters. When all else fails just say “sumimasen (excuse me)” and show a store worker what you are looking for on your phone. 

Finally I had gathered all the things I needed and I checked out.

Time for dinner!

The recipe I followed went together very quickly and my meal was ready within about 20 minutes. It made enough for leftovers and would have been even better next to some sort of grilled meat.

Now the meal is complete!

If you are curious about the recipe I used, I based it on this recipe from Just One CookbookI added a few other things that I like, and a bit more seasoning as I went, but it was tasty and I suggest checking out this food blogger if you enjoy Asian cooking.

Slurp All the Ramen!

I had a friend growing up whose grandmother would make ramen for us whenever we went over to her house, which, during the summer, was almost everyday. This was, of course, just your average ramen that you can buy for ten cents in US supermarkets. However, I still loved it. The noodles, the salty broth, the MSG.. it was all so delicious and I have fond memories of her grandmother serving us ramen which we happily slurped down on her back deck before hopping back in the pool for an afternoon of swimming.

My love for ramen did not fade as I grew up but it was never really a staple of my diet, not even in college. I enjoy cooking and I always considered ramen to be a quickly made food that you could not have much variety with. However, my views of it began to change as our move to Japan got closer. First, when we lived in Newport, Rhode Island, there was a small ramen shop called Boru. I actually tried it when we went up to Newport to go house hunting and I was blown away! There was egg in the ramen, and bamboo shoots, and big slices of pork! I was intrigued by this ramen but also suspicious because the people who ran the place looked very hipster and I was not sure whether these ingredients were things found in actual Japanese ramen.

Once we got orders for Japan I started watching every YouTube video I could find on Japanese culture and cuisine so I would have an idea of what to expect. As you can imagine there were tons of videos on ramen, a staple of the Japanese culinary scene. I was so excited to try real Japanese ramen in a real ramen shop that it was the first meal we ate when we got here. That first bowl was everything I imagined it would be… a big bowl of delicious salty broth with thick, chewy noodles and a large slice of roasted pork on top. It was just what I needed after a long international flight.


Delicious ramen in Yokosuka.

Now that we have been here a few weeks, we have had a chance to try quite a few restaurants and lots of different types of food. But we have specifically sought out some of the better ramen around and it is becoming one of our favorite things to eat here. So, when we found out there was a ramen museum close by we made haste to go check it out!

The Shinyokohama Ramen Museum actually calls itself more of a theme park than a museum, and I can see why as there weren’t any large displays going over the long history of ramen in Japan. Instead, the inside was decorated to look like 1950s Tokyo and filled with famous ramen shops from all over Japan.

The inside of the ramen museum, so cute!
They even built little alleyways to mimic Tokyo streets.

Each ramen shop had a traditional vending machine out in front where you ordered your ramen from. Once inside and seated, you gave your ticket to the cook and they prepared your ramen for you. The really great thing about this place is that they had smaller sample sizes so you could try more than one type of ramen while there.

Each restaurant had a vending machine out in front to place your order.
The machines had little keys next to them for people who speak English.
Enjoying my first bowl, this was a sample size!
A pork based ramen with thinner noodles.
A seafood based ramen with thicker noodles and extra spice added!

We both agreed that the Ramen Museum had the best ramen we had enjoyed up to that point in Japan. However, we knew that there must be better places out there that were not in a theme park. So after hearing about a Michelin rated ramen shop in Tokyo, we decided it was worth making the trip to go check it out.

Tokyo actually has more Michelin rated restaurants than anywhere in the world, well over 200 of them. Most are very expensive fine dining establishments. There are a few, however, that the average person can actually afford to eat at. Tsuta is a nine seat restaurant down a sleepy alley in Tokyo and has the distinction of being the first ramen shop in the world to get a Michelin star, and for under ten dollars you can eat there.

The outside of Tsuta, a sign out front gives directions on how to eat there.

Since James had the 4th of July off, we decided to spend the day in Tokyo and eat here for lunch. While we were on the train we researched the restaurant more and read many articles written by people who had gotten there first thing in the morning to get a ticket in order to come back later in the day… we were a little bummed since we had not even boarded the train until 8:00. Would we even be able to eat once we got there?

Well, we decided that the worst that could happen was we would not get a ticket and then we would just find another delicious spot to eat. Tokyo obviously has no shortage of delicious dining establishments. We spent a few hours at Tsukiji Fish Market before heading over to Tsuta about 11:45. Oddly, there was no one out in front so we knocked on the door and went in. Once inside we were politely informed that the line was around the corner… bummer.

We walked to the back of the line and asked the couple in front of us about getting a ticket. They said that they had also just showed up without a ticket from the morning and were hopeful of getting inside. About 15 minutes later someone from the restaurant came by and upon seeing that we were ticketless told us to wait, so we did.

After about an hour we were ushered inside, ordered our ramen from the vending machine, and waited for our meal.

Finally inside!

We got different types of ramen so we could compare the two different flavors. James got a salt based broth with white truffle oil and I got the soy sauce based broth with black truffle oil. A few minutes later, our ramen was delivered to us, it looked so good!

Shio soba ramen with wonton.
Shoyu soba ramen with a soft boiled egg.

The ramen really was so delicious. The broth of each type was full of flavor which the noodles absorbed wonderfully. The best part may have been the pork, which had clearly been slow roasted with delicious seasoning and was so tender you could simply pull it apart with your chop stick. The restaurant was incredibly quiet, but I think it was just everyone enjoying their long awaited for bowl of delicious ramen. Oishii!

After eating each bowl to the last drop we both agreed it was the best ramen we had ever had. I was happy and content after such a delicious meal, and just like I used to do when I was little, I got up and went off to enjoy the rest of my summer afternoon.