While sorting through our loft room recently, we came across a number of holiday souvenirs from our childhoods. It seems as though travel blogging was in our stars. In the olden days (as our goddaughter likes to say), you know, when we had three TV channels, used rotary dial telephones and the concept of the world wide web lay in the realms of science fiction, we had scrapbooks, postcards, felt-tipped pens and glue. A very lucky little girl went to America for the first time in 1979. Little did she know then that the trip of a lifetime would become a lifetime of trips.
So, without further ado (with a very brief aside to offer apologies to the goat), please find Mitch’s very first travel pre-blog blog:
Over forty years later, we still keep ticket stubs and brochures as souvenirs. They are slowly filling up our house…
Director: Robert Allan Ackerman
Food Type: Ramen (if you couldn’t guess)
Film Rating: 6/10
Foodie rating: 8/10
The subgenre of ramen based foodie films came to its apotheosis with the noodle nirvana of Tampopo (1985). Here the Japanese pasta sub-subgenre gets an American twist with The Ramen Girl, a learn-to-cook Japanese foodie film set in Japan and, surprisingly for a Hollywood film, it has a significant amount of (helpfully subtitled) dialogue in Japanese. It is also a romantic comedy, albeit one centred on food and culture; so more a ramen-tic comedy.
Abby (Brittany Murphy) has travelled to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend Ethan (Gabriel Mann). But it seems that he couldn’t care less, taking a job in China at the first opportunity, he leaves her alone in his half empty apartment. Weeping with sadness at her situation she enters the eatery across the road, which is right in the middle of closing for the night, bawling her eyes out. Bemused by the distraught foreign girl in their midst, the owner and his wife give her some of the remaining ramen to see if it will assuage her misery and persuade her to leave so that they can go to bed. Abby devours the ramen and quaffs the broth and, in doing so, becomes intoxicated by the ramen experience. She comes up with an obsessive idea – to learn to cook ramen. So she seeks lessons from chef and owner Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida). But this is not a simple student and mentor situation as Maezumi is a tough employer who gets her to engage in tasks such as cleaning the bathroom rather than cooking. It is not aided by the fact that even though the establishment’s sign marks it as a soba restaurant (そば蕎麦 – buckwheat noodles) its unhappy proprietor is regularly anything but sober. But Abby pursues her new career by persevering. She does manage to develop a social life and find new friends when she visits a club in Roppongi where she re-meets a bunch of western acquaintances, including Gretchan (Tammy Blanchard) and they get talking to Japanese salaryman Toshi Iwamoto (Soji Arai), who seems to be a bit more coherent than his associates. Abby and Toshi start dating and so her relationship blossoms alongside her ramen tuition. But then her progress comes to a frightening prospect when she learns that, “The master’s coming in two months.” This renowned ramen critic’s evaluation could result in laudation or humiliation. Maezumi is surprisingly optimistic about Abby’s chances and establishes a wager with a rival ramen proprietor which could lead to major consequences for both Abby and his well-established business. He even takes Abby to visit his mother who reveals her own profound ramen philosophies. What holds for Abby, and indeed Maezumi, in the future?
The Ramen Girl is a mixed bowl of ramen and broth that is distinct in its exploration of cross-cultural misunderstandings and the humour or challenges that result. The main characters have rounded back stories but ultimately the food is the driver to the events in this film. Learning ramen from a sensei seems to be a similar process to learning kung-fu from a sifu. There are difficult, strenuous, apparently mundane tasks that go on for an age before actual understanding the required skills to implement the technique that the master is teaching. These are important to Abby’s understanding even as they are apparently futile.
The competitive nature of developing cookery skills for a discerning master is a theme in many cooking films such as Jadoo-Kings of Curry, King of Cooking, Nina’s Heavenly Delights, and Eat Drink Man Woman. Here, the emphasis lies with the broth, its creation and its flavour, not to mention the side effects on the palette and spiritual/emotional response of consuming the concoction, is central to this film’s (very discrete) philosophical assertions. Early on we see how Maezumi’s creations can, in the right circumstances, create impulsive mirth and happiness in his clients as Abby declares, “I wanna make people happy the way you do.”
The food in the film is 95% ramen based but there is a notable exception where cross-cultural cuisine is the focus of one delightful scene. It’s Christmas and Abby, wearing an elf hat and having had her attempts to decorate the restaurant savagely mocked by Maezumi, has returned to her flat where Gretchan has moved in. The pair celebrate with a drink and a KFC Bargain Bucket, a familiar food take away for an American but KFC is also the Christmas meal that one eats in Japan. The romance of the film is definitely ramen-based, however, when Toshi takes Abby on a date to visit the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum, foodie heaven, which also offers a historic depiction of ramen throughout the years as well as the flavours of broth throughout the regions of Japan – with the inevitable consequences of a bloated but happy stomach.
The Ramen Girl is a mixed concoction of East meets West which, whilst not departing from genre expectations, at least blends them together in a different way that is sweet and fun. Not haute cuisine but satisfactory for when you feel peckish.
BRAND: Sapporo Ichiban
FLAVOUR: Chow Mein
No. OF SACHETS: Two – green laver and soup base
‘Japan’s No. 1 Selling Brand,’ the package announces in a handy packaging star graphic before continuing to ensure that you are aware that it comes ‘with Natural and Artificial Flavors.’ This is what we want: the best of both worlds. If you are going to put artificial flavourings in a product don’t hide it, flaunt it. Technology is your friend both in and out of the kitchen, so embrace it!
Despite the fact that this tastes absolutely nothing like any chow mein I’ve ever eaten this is a surprising winner. There is an almost jet black stock that is mightily tasty and slightly sour. There is no heat to disguise anything, just honest chemicals to tickle your taste buds. You really do have to go for this yourself, you won’t be disappointed, the noodles are just perfect and the portion is more than generous. And where else can you get a bag of gloriously green laver with your purchase, I ask you? Highly recommended.
*Retro noodle packet
As with all recipe books be sure to follow the directions otherwise you may find that your bowls are not what they seem.
“Food is interesting. For instance, why do we need to eat?” questions the aphorism guru The Log Lady before providing an in-depth consideration of edible ethics.
So here, for you to digest, are a plethora of dishes inspired by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (Population 51,201, although that varies).
Food is an integral part of many films but is particularly important in television series where diners, restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes and coffee shops are often central to character and plot development as much as food and its preparation. The quirky, surreal and occasionally bizarre TV 1990s drama Twin Peaks was no exception and a multitude of dishes, delicacies and general foodie oddness stretched across the series. Coffee was integral, especially for FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper who could often discuss the coffee served: “You know, this is – excuse me – a damn fine cup of coffee,” and his preference for a brew that is “black as midnight on a moonless night,” to the extent that canned Georgia Coffee in Japan even had its own great Twin Peaks adverts that tied in with the series in its own very distinct way. And then, of course, there are the cherry pies. Indeed the basis of the title of this cookery book, coupled with its delightful cover illustration, depicts Twin Peaks as slices of pie.
Before starting, there are a couple of points to mention. This publication has not been prepared, approved or licensed by any entity or individual that created or produced the TV programme. It also is focussed on the Twin Peaks world of the original series and Fire Walk With Me film rather than the series filmed and set 25 year later that reassembled the location, characters and crew to offer new directions and dimensions. This is, however, not a problem in any way and gives the original series, and its cuisine, a welcome exploration.
Damn Fine Cherry Pie – Recipes Inspired by Twin Peaks does not hold back on the number and diversity of recipes on offer so there is something for everyone. Indeed, as the title would suggest, “They’ve got a cherry pie there that’ll kill ya.” There are two such recipes to choose from – the Shelly Johnson version or a useful vegan pie from Norma Jennings. But there is more to enjoy aside from the cooking as there are a number of other excursions into the world of Twin Peaks you can engage with, from quizzes, origami and even a Ludo game. If planning a Peaks party there are fashion and costume options to ensure that you look the part at any gathering and also, should you have more seductive foodie Peaky plans, you can (practice required) learn to tie a knot a cherry stalk like Audrey Horne.
“This must be where pies go when they die,” is one of the show’s many memorable quotes and fortunately there’s an interesting tasty Blueberry Whoopie Pie on offer with helpful owl themed design for that dessert. There are many sweet foods on offer, so varieties of donut imbue the pages – including Coffee Donuts. Then there’s the mix of sweet and savoury that can’t be beaten when making Maple Ham Pancakes: “Nothing beats the taste sensation when maple syrup collides with ham.” For Scandinavian food fans (or guests at the Great Northern hotel) there are recipes for Icelandic Hangikjot and Norwegian Meatballs and Gravy. But do remember there are rules to abide amidst all this culinary joy; “never drink coffee that has been anywhere near a fish.” Wise words, perhaps, although you’ll be pleased to know there is an extremely tasty looking trout based Percolator Fish Supper here, which sounds ideal with its bourbon, garlic butter and lemon. We would contend that you should never eat fish that has been anywhere near coffee, but that could well be personal preference.
The recipes are all related to characters, events and environments in the series. Overall it’s a fun foodie folio that offers a lot to create and eat but also provides perspectives for Twin Peaks gatherings as well as the desire to re-watch (or watch if you’ve never experienced it before) a television classic of murder, mystery and distinct surrealism. Recommended both for daily meals and, particularly, for those Twin Peaks parties you know you always wanted to have or just a good old-fashioned series binge watch. With a damn fine cup of coffee of course. And perhaps a slice of cherry pie. Or two.