Some local scenery, including golden gingko leaves.
As some of you may know last month I took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. I’d like to thank the the Hirokamachi Board of Tourism for their gracious hospitality and the cooking lessons!
After two days of seeing and eating as much as I could in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo it was time to head to the country, specifically Hirokawamachi. The good folks at the local tourism board specifically requested that I visit the week before Thanksgiving to partake in one of the country town’s most beloved traditions, Taibaru Icho Meguri, or gingko leaf peeping, as it was still autumn in Japan.
Since Tokyo’s on the island of Honshu and Hirokawamachi is on Kyushu we took a short flight to Fukuoka and then hopped on the Shinkansen—or bullet train—to Kurume. I was only there briefly, but it’s fair to say Kurume is to Tokyo as Oakland is to San Francisco. It’s also the gateway to Hirokawamachi and no visit is complete without checking out what Kazuko-san likes to call “Kurume Disneyland.”
Rather than a full-blown amusement park, it’s a mechanical taiko drum clock erected in 1999 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Kurume’s great figures, Tanaka Hisashige, known as “the Thomas Edison of Japan. Every hour it plays a song by a different Kurume composer and gives a little show detailing Hisashige’s contributions. At noon that song is Hachidai Nakamura’s “Sukiyaki,” made famous in the States in the 1970s by disco diva duo A Taste of Honey. (more…)
Some scenes from two very intense days of eating and touring Tokyo, including deluxe salmon onigiri, Senso-ji temple, Asakusa noir, and breakfast omakase at Toyosu Fish Market.
As some of you may know I recently took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. Before getting into the wonders of Hirokawamachi—and there are many, from artisanal textiles to amazing matcha—this installment takes a look at what I ate in Tokyo. I would like to thank Kazuki Chito of @mcnaieatmecrazy who graciously guided me around Tokyo.
I’d arrived in Tokyo late the night before and hit the ground eating as best as I could. That is to say I ordered a sea bream ochazuke and some grapefruit juice from room service. The dashi broth poured over rice and fish proved most restorative after a long flight.
Luckily Kazuko-san picked a hotel attached to the Haneda Airport. Not only was this convenient for arrival, it was convenient for breakfast. Haneda’s domestic terminal and its shops lay just outside the hotel’s doors and is eerily calm and serene in the early morning. I quickly found Sato Suisan a gourmet rice ball stand. I was particularly impressed to see a gent making fresh onigiri with ikura, or salmon roe. I also took note of a really cute airplane-shaped bento named for the Blue Impulse (Burū Inparusu) the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s equivalent of America’s Blue Angels.
Next time I find myself at a Tokyo airport snack shop I’m getting a Blue Impulse bento box!
The ikura onigiri—still warm and packed with salmon roe and salmon—was a fine breakfast, but by the time we got to Asakusa at 1:30 p.m., I was pretty hungry. “This is my favorite place for tonkotsu ramen,” Kazuki-kun said as we entered Urimbo. “It’s Hakata style,” he pointed out as he ordered the noodle with egg. I quickly took my guide’s lead and copied his order. Even though the broth was rich, it was cleaner tasting and less unctuous than tonkotsu I’ve had in the States. It knocked out the remnants of a lingering cold I’d brought to Japan from New York City. (more…)
Pay no attention to the an behind the bamboo curtain!
After trekking out to Bushwick on a raw rainy day to help my friend Cathy Erway kick off the fall 2018 season of her radio show Eat Your Words, I was ready for something hot and brothy.
I always get lost on the way to the Heritage Radio Network studio inside Roberta’s Pizza, even though it’s basically around the corner from the L train. Sunday’s detour took me past Ichiran Ramen where a patient local took pity on my hapless Queens soul to direct me to Roberta’s with his phone. I’d been meaning to try this Japanese import and its ramen isolation booth, so I blurted out, “What time are you open until?” I should point out that the helpful young man was Asian and was sporting a Sriracha T-shirt. “I don’t work here,” he said turning his back to walk into the ramenya, as I spun on my heel to high-tail it to the studio. (more…)
Edible Americana meets Japanese culinary tradition.
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
Those unfamiliar with Keizo Shimamoto, the man behind the Smorgasburg sensation known as the Ramen Burger—which sandwiches a beef patty between two noodly buns—might think the Japanese chef is no ramen purist. Anyone who’s been to Ramen Shack, his modest restaurant hard by the Queensbridge, Houses can attest to Shimamoto’s ramen reverence though.
Shimamoto serves what he calls “ramen inspired ramen,” and the other day I came really close to having a steaming bowl of his classic shoyu. With spring somewhat in the air though, I flipped the menu over to the B side where I spied Burger Ramen ($12), a soupless bowl I’ve been meaning to try for some time.(more…)
Winter’s cold and the attendant coughing and sniffling always call for a good bowl of spicy soup, and Thai noodle soup always fits the bill. Today a look at two of my new favorites: one a Japanese take on Thai green curry and the other an everything but the kitchen sink Thai pork soup.
First up the Queensmatic Green Curry ($17) from Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, which is an ajitama’s throw away from where Nas came up in the Queensbridge houses. Shimamoto learned to make a similar green curry ramen while working at Tokyo’s Bassanova Ramen. His curry paste hums with the flavors of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and bird’s eye chilies. At first I considered adding some chili oil, but as the heat pleasantly mounted I decided against it. (more…)
Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, a spinoff of a stand that debuted at Smorgasburg Queens, sits down the block from the Queensbridge Houses. The ramen obsessive who eats hundreds of bowls of the Japanese comfort food a year offers seven classical varieties, including shio and tonkatsu, and four specialty bowls. It’s on the specialty list that I found Metta World Paitan ($13). (more…)
Savor Ejen’s Korean noodles at the Mid-Autumn Asian Feastival.
Queens has long been home to New York City’s real Chinatown. In addition to tons of top-notch regional Chinese food the borough boasts some of the best Asian food in New York City. That’s why C+M is proud to partner with LIC Flea & Food for the first-ever Mid-Autumn Asian Feastival being held all this weekend from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Join us to experience the flavors of Korea, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand at this very special festival. There’s only one place this weekend to enjoy Indian dosa, Taiwanese fried chicken, Korean noodles, Indonesian satay, and Japanese ramen and that’s the Feastival! (more…)
Esther Choi’s grandmother taught her to love cooking and eating Korean food. She’s been in the restaurant business since she was 14. She also loves Korean food in Queens whether Geo Si Gi’s pork stew or Sik Gaek’s live octopus as you can see in the above video from our friends at Find. Eat. Drink.As chef and owner of Mokbar, a bustling noodle shop in Chelsea Market, Choi is one busy lady, so I’m grateful she took the time to answer 7 Questions.
What inspired you to open Mokbar? What does the name mean? I felt the need to speak for Korean food. It can be more than just Korean BBQ like most Americans think. There are so many different special flavors and dishes in Korean cuisine. I wanted to show Korean flavors in a different light, which is why I decided to go with Korean ramen. The name was inspired from a term ‘mokbang’ which is a famous phenomena in Korea where people watch other people eat food. I actually thought it was hilarious and love watching it myself as well. Mok means to eat, so it made sense to me: “Eat Bar.”
What’s in your fridge at home right now?
A lot of kimchi. A lot of gochujang and doenjang. And a lot of beer. These are staples in my fridge and I feel really bad when it’s not filled with these items. (more…)
Butter makes everything better, including miso ramen.
“Oh, wow you guys have food now!?” I said to Takashi Ikezawa owner of Resobox a Japanese cafe, gallery, and cultural center in Long Island City, as I glanced at the ramen roster. I was glad to see Resobox, which offers classes in everything from flower arranging and Samurai sword to manga drawing for kids, finally serving ramen, itself an integral part of Japanese culture. I grabbed my coffee and made a mental note to return for some ramen. (more…)
Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, one of my Smorgasburg Queens favorites.
PLEASE NOTE THIS VENUE IS CLOSED
Curating Smorgasburg Queens with its melting pot of international vendors ranging from The Arepa Lady and Celebes Bakar Indonesian Grill to luxe offerings like the lobster rolls from Brine by Danny Brown has been a real hoot. What’s even more fun for me though is eating there.
One Saturday I went full on Andrew Zimmern: balut from Papa’s Kitchen for starters, papaya salad with black crab from Qi, Snowy Durian from my friends at KULU Desserts. While I’m partial to the hallacas—sweet and savory Ecuadorean tamales—from Son Foods, my favorite eating experience at Smorgasburg Queens has to be Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack.
To step behind the curtain and take a seat at Keizo’s counter is to enter another world, somewhat more serene than the rest of the market, but no less delicious. Both of the hot soups I have tried have been most excellent, but my top pick might be the seafood broth based cold noodles. So, tell me, what’s your favorite thing to eat at Smorgasburg Queens?
Smorgasburg Queens, 43-29 Crescent St., Long Island City