FLAVOUR: Fuku Beef
TYPE: Normal (bowl)
No. OF SACHETS: Three – soupbase, flavour oil/paste and dried veg
Under license from Hong Kong the handily packaged Beef flavour certainly aims to please. There’s a reasonable portion and there’s even a fork provided which proves robust but I eventually ditched in favour of ‘old faithful’. Naturally cooking is never a problem with the all in ones but what of the all important taste considerations? Well there’s a nice spicy tang to the dish and a solid beefy flavour, crunchy veg and good noodles. But what’s that? Do I spot the dreaded noodle bowl downfall, the TVP chunks? No! They may look like TVP but they are bits of steak with just the right chew and lashings of flavour. Add that little pinch of Bonito powder to the proceedings and you have a great lunch, marred only by the slightest of plastic aftertastes. Take a good sniff though and the aftertaste disappears. Take one camping to be the envy of your friends.
Fruits of the Dragons
As the mighty Mekong river reaches Vietnam and approaches the South China Sea the main waterway splits into a maze of rivers that form the Mekong Delta. The region is known locally as Cuu Long, or “Nine Dragons”, representing the nine main tributaries. Located just a few hours away from Ho Chi Minh City, enjoying a Mekong Delta river cruise is a lovely excursion when visiting south Vietnam.
The delta region covers an area of around 40,500 square kilometres in south-western Vietnam. It is the mouth of the Mekong, Asia’s third longest river, which has run nearly 5000km from its source in the Tibetan plateau, through China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and finally into Vietnam.
Three to four hours’ drive away from the relentlessly loud and energetic Ho Chi Minh City, the hectic urban hubbub slowly transitions to rural rice fields. It is possible to undertake a river cruise along the Mekong Delta from a number of locations in the area; there are plenty of choices with various levels of indulgence. It’s a lovely way to see the country from a very different perspective and at a pace that is much more laid back. We chose a two day journey from Cần Thơ to Cái Bè starting along the Sông Hậu branch of the river and sailing into the Mekong.
Depending on budget there are different boats available. Some are rather splendid – we travelled on a traditional style Bassac boat. These are wooden vessels with private cabins and a decks with seating so that you can enjoy the view.
The cabins are compact, but had all the facilities we needed, including a teeny en-suite shower room.
A Slow Journey Along the Mekong Delta
Cruising along the Mekong can best be described as ‘leisurely.’ We saw all sorts of vessels, large and small, as we travelled along.
All along the journey we saw water hyacinth floating gently by. This is a fast growing plant that floats freely in the river. It is a bit of a problem in the delta as it can get clogged up in a motor boat’s propellers and is also somewhat invasive, preventing other life thriving on the river. It is apparently edible (not sure we’d want to fish it out of the river and have a munch and, anyway, it needs to be cooked first) but it can also be collected and processed in order to make woven products such as mats, bags and baskets, which local people can sell.
Mekong Delta River Cruise – A Land Excursion
Many of the boat trips offer excursions to various attractions along the way. It is also possible to visit some of the onshore villages in the area and to explore them on foot, visiting local farmers and learning about the food that’s produced there.
The area is extremely fertile and rice is the major crop grown. Due to the climate in South Vietnam it is possible to achieve three crops per year.
There are no cemeteries in Vietnam so families set up graveyards in the fields.
There are also a number of fruit trees that grow in the region. Some are familiar.
Jackfruit has become hugely popular in recent years as a ‘meat substitute’. Its texture and ability to absorb flavours make it incredibly versatile for vegetarians and vegans – mock ‘pulled pork’ is a particular favourite. But actually it is very tasty as a fruit in its own right.
Tapioca is the starch derived from the roots of the cassava trees and often used in puddings (which are far more delicious than school dinners).
Some of the residents are happy to open up their houses and it is possible to do home stays with local families. If you’re just on a day trip, visitors are sometimes offered some of the amazing fruits grown on the island.
This platter was exceptional. There is an sequence to eating the fruit in order to gain maximum enjoyment: Always start with the fruit with sour flavours and finish with the sweet.
One plate that was a particular revelation was the pineapple. Of course, fresh pineapple is utterly scrumptious, especially when it hasn’t travelled half-way around the globe, but it was served by sprinkling a little chilli and salt on each piece and was a taste sensation. It makes sense: like a lot of Vietnamese food it includes sweet and sour flavours (which the pineapple provides) plus an additional salty dimension and a good dose of heat from the chilli.
Banana leaves are not only functional, they can also be decorative – just look at this lovely banana leaf ‘origami’ grasshopper.
It was late afternoon by the time we returned to our boat.
Time for a delicious, decadent seafood dinner…
…followed by after-dinner drinks watching the sun set over the Mekong.
Journey to Cái Bè
Our boat docked at Tra On for an overnight stay onboard. The following morning we headed towards Cái Bè. The Mekong becomes much more of a working river and we passed by many riverside emporia and floating shops.
Cái Bè has a Catholic church – an unusual structure to see in the region. Dating from 1929-1932 apparently it has the tallest bell tower in the province.
The local boats have eyes painted on them which reputedly scares away the crocodiles.
On arrival at Cái Bè we disembarked and visited a factory which made rice products – rice paper and rice cakes – as well as candies.
In making coconut candy, shredded coconut is used to make coconut milk and cream which is combined with sugar and malt syrup and then heated and mixed together.
Whilst still warm, the mixture is then laid into strips to cool and then they are cut into bite-sized candy pieces.
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BRAND: Nissin Instant Noodle
No. OF SACHETS: Two – Soupbase and Flavour Powder
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
Strange. The packaging leads one to believe that this is Nissin Holland, complete with Noodleboy® and his Steaming Box®, but it’s a subtle ploy, a sleight of hand, for this is Nissin Hong Kong and what a Herculean task they have set themselves. First take the soup of a nation, pack it with a serious portion of noodles and expect it to work. There’s more. Instead of providing a miso paste, surely the logical thing to do, instead they offer a double powder combination. Madness surely? Well, yes and no.
The noodles are as good as ever, and they do not swamp the flavour, a real surprise. The flavour itself is definitely miso with a reasonable touch of a mildly fermented feel, but something is not quite right. There is a meaty undercurrent that feels incongruous and a vague scent of roast sesame that seems to have come from a different packet. Closer examination of the package reveals pork, chicken and beef, so not one for vegans as you may have initially thought. Top class tasty product that far exceeded expectations but irritatingly fell at the last fence. Write to your MP and demand a veggie version.
*Retro noodle packet
BRAND: Nissin Instant Noodle
No. OF SACHETS: Two – Soupbase and Flavour Oil
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
On goes the water, up comes a perfect aroma of pork with a hint seasoning, the stock instantly turns milky white and even the very noodles whisper, “Mmmmmmm…” in delight. To hell with the packaging and the sachet notes, you know that the noodles are going to be cooked to perfection (they are Nissin approved and their quality department is second to none) so let’s get down to business – flavour of the soup. Awesome. There is no chilli or pepper heat to speak of, this product is just pure flavour all the way through. Rich pork flavours give way to a pleasant hint of garlic, just enough so that you’d notice its absence in a light stock that is exceptional. But it doesn’t end there, oh no, there are whole sesame seeds that crack like little flavour bombs in your mouth, complemented by the subtle sesame and garlic puree flavoured oil. Simply divine. Nissin Tonkotsu Instant Noodles are unreservedly recommended..
*Retro noodle packet
BRAND: Indo Mie
FLAVOUR: Onion Chicken
No. OF SACHETS: Three – soupbase, onion oil and chilli
“I’ve got a thing about chickens,” Mickey Rourke so famously said in Alan Parker’s film, Angel Heart. Well, he may indeed but those flavour makers at good ol’ Indo Mie have got a really big thing about chickens. They can’t get enough of that hen-some taste and it shows in the diversity of every delicious poultry based product that they deliver our way. Onion chicken is no exception. It’s another fast cookin’, great tastin’, chopstick lickin’ excursion into the wonder world of convenience food and another affirmation of Indo Mie as the crown king of the budget noodle. You’d never believe that a chicken could be so versatile. Don’t read this, go to your local noodle emporium armed with one of those two pound coins and get yourself eight different tastes of quality Indonesian noodles, you know it makes sense.
Here at Very Tasty World we have a passion for pasta and, as our regular ramen reviews emphasise, there is a joy in the variety of internationally available variants of noodle niceness that you can enjoy at home with just a kettle, a bowl and a pair of chopsticks. Of course, ramen restaurants are also available, if you are lucky enough to be able to reach one, so you don’t even have to trouble yourself to turn on the kettle.
But what if you want more?: To learn more and to taste more? What if you want to understand the history of ramen, instant or traditional, and to try various examples with different flavours from around the country for which ramen is best known? There is only one place to go, a foodie theme park where you can learn the history and, importantly, taste many different types of ramen in all their broth infused glory. The Shinyokohama Raumen Museum (The English site is here – please be clear of the spelling with the additional ‘u’, which is correct in Japanese, otherwise you might have search engine issues) is that place, a multi-storey building dedicated to everything that is ramen. We naturally felt obliged to travel there and research our culinary favourites. We were not alone in this desire to get to know ramen because Brittany Murphy’s character Abby does exactly the same thing when she visits in the film The Ramen Girl.
The museum is located in Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan, which is easily accessible from Tokyo. If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can use the shinkansen (bullet train) to arrive at Shin Yokohama, which is the closest station, but there are plenty of other train services available too.
History of Ramen
The ground floor is the museum’s main area of knowledge, displaying a range of information about the history of ramen from traditional to instant. The displays include chronological timelines and also show the progression of instant noodle technology. So you can observe the pots, the packets and even a noodle unravelling.
But the proof of the pasta is in the eating. So you need to head downstairs in order to fulfil your craving. Pro tip – if you are planning to visit, make sure you do so on an empty stomach – don’t have too much for breakfast in the morning..
Sunset Shopping Street
The eating area, Sunset Shopping Street, is a recreation of a town in 1958, the year that instant ramen was invented. The whole environment has a sundowner setting with cloudy dark blue sky and street lighting which all adds to the ambience.
There are a number of restaurants where you can sample regional ramen, from miso ramen to salty soy sauce and rich, creamy tonkotsu where the broth is made by boiling pork bones for hours. The only problem is deciding which shop (or shops) to choose from, even though you know its ramen you want, the choices are far more complex than the expected ‘what flavour broth or meat/fish/vegetable combo,’ but the bigger ‘what region?’ question because each venue represents a different region of Japan’s quintessential local concoctions. Regional variations are prevalent in lots of Japanese foods such as udon (thick noodles) and okonomiyaki, so each ramen shop offering different options and all declaring their own as the very best, presents something of a conundrum to the casual noodle-slurper. We did see a number of visitors share a bowl of ramen before moving onto the next shop in order to taste as many different variations as possible. However, since our visit, the museum is clear that all adult visitors to each shop should purchase a bowl of ramen. This seems absolutely reasonable as it’s not fair to the restaurant owner to have table space taken up with multiple visitors sitting around a single bowl of noodles. Still, it’s a very pleasant choice to have to make. And these days you can order different sized portions, so if your appetite is big enough you may be able to sample many different types of smaller bowls. The street also has a traditional sweet shop, just in case you are still hungry!
Oh, and there’s even a classic kaiju (monster) poster on one of the fake hoardings – what more could you want?
This really is an essential tourist trip for ravenous lovers of ramen. Great fun for foodies in terms of understanding history of the world’s most popular instant food and also getting to eat yummy ramen.
BRAND: Indo Mie
FLAVOUR: Special Chicken
No. OF SACHETS: Three – soupbase, flavour oil and chilli
Weighing in at a hefty 75g and one sachet extra to the regular chicken flavour the Rasa Ayam Spesial can not be accused at balking in the value for money department, costing the same as the regular version. The cover shot, however, while devoid of the worrying diced carrots and peas of its regular cousin, features a rather unappetising chicken leg that looks more like a cheap co-op sausage. One thing Indo Mie do as a nice touch is to have little cartoon representations of the flavour in question running or swimming around the packet’s border in an endearing manner. Here little chicks cluck around – in fact it doesn’t look any more special than the regular chick but it is kinda cute.
The noodles are of Indo Mie’s usual exemplary quality and the flavour is noticeably different from the regular chicken, the minced onion in the soup base giving an extra dimension to proceedings that is welcome although those of more refined or specialised palette should stick with the regular. Recommended for the novice noodler as an ideal entry into the wonderful and diverse world of noodles.
*Retro noodle packet
BRAND: Nissin Stir Noodle
FLAVOUR: Jah Jiang
No. OF SACHETS:Two – Soupbase and Jah Jiang Sauce
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
Nissan’s range of Japanese noodles that haven’t been made in Japan continues with this Hong Kong licensed product. It does differ from its European counterparts. Gone is the notably sozzled Nissinboy on the packet but instead we have a striking diagonal style and a more appetising noodle shot as part of the design – they are not afraid to show off their product. The adoption of 100g as the default portion size leads to a mighty bite of high quality noodles, there is some ruthless noodle manufacturing quality control at work.
Jah Jiang is a good robust and interesting flavour that is a personal favourite of mine – varied, exciting and exotic. What a disappointment then, that this one is so insipid; no crunchy garlic soup, no fried bean husks, no clinging stickiness of tangy goodness. The sauce is so…western, like glutinous cheap ketchup. A waste of quality noodles and an insult to a great flavour. Please don’t take this too negatively, they are more than edible and the noodles are great but it was just such a disappointment in the flavour department because of what it should have been and not what it was.
*Retro noodle packet
BRAND: Indo Mie
FLAVOUR: Fried (Goreng)
No. OF SACHETS: Four – Soupbase, flavour oil, chilli and extra thick katsup manis
Indonesia, home of fine food. One of the more popular dishes to hit our shores is nasi goreng, a tasty fried rice dish with a mysterious egg on it and what do we have here but mi goreng, a fried noodle dish with (if the cover shot is anything to go by) with a mysterious egg on it. Indeed, close scrutiny of the packaging could well put off the prospective buyer, there are far too many peas for my liking (admittedly one pea is far too many peas for my liking) and the aforementioned egg looks a little suspect, the background is so white it hurts your eyes and the labelling’s colours just do not match. Add to that the intrinsic problem of creating a fried dish that you make by adding water and it’s really only curiosity and the tantalising lure of four seasoning sachets (as advertised) that leads you to part with your hard earned cash.
First impressions could not be more wrong. This is an awesome product, textbook noodles that cook exactly right in a delightful tangle, all golden and shiny, from your chopsticks. The smell is heavenly but just wait for the taste. It’s sweet and tingly and savoury and light. The balance from the sachets is perfect, there’s not too much chilli and the katsup manis is incredible, sticky and sweet and pumped with soy goodness. Go and buy a crate of these now!
*Retro noodle packet
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.
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