Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Driving for Noodles

How far would you drive for a good bowl of noodles? (The question reminds me of that old cigarette jingle, "I'd walk a mile for a Camel.") Now that the simple bowl of ramen has nearly reached cult status in Los Angeles, I think many ramen lovers would answer "far." From the San Gabriel Valley to J-town. Down the 405 to the South Bay. Across town to the west side.

And why venture so far from home? To paraphrase notorious bank robber Willy Sutton, because that's where the ramen is. Or at least the ramen worth eating, according to a list compiled by rameniac food blogger Rickmond Wong, dubbed the "Rock Star of Ramen" by the LA Times.

In my quest to visit rameniac's top five picks (I have two more to go), I'm logging extra miles on the Prius and contributing a little more to global warming.

But it is possible to satisfy a yen for ramen while being kind to the planet, thanks to "the rule of three," a little life-changing strategy I picked up from Paula. It's not as kinky as it sounds. The trick is to cluster a far-flung outing with two other nearby activities.

Since Santouka, Wong's number-one favorite ramen shop, is located in the food court of the westside Mitsuwa Market, this took less effort than making a Cup O' Noodles.

I stopped at Mitsuwa to pick up special o-sembe, or rice crackers, to include in my Dad's birthday package. He became addicted to these during the occupation of Japan more than 55 years ago. And, wouldn't ya' know it, you still can't buy a rice cracker anywhere near Ravenswood, West Virginia.

I also purchased prizes for my niece Emily, one of the two winners of the "What Would Susan Eat" contest. (Since she lives in a Duke's state, she gets an "only in LA" prize.) I chose these snacks for my great nephew Will because I think it's my job to remind him that he's one-eighth Japanese.

I couldn't resist buying these ultra-thin, chocolate-covered MEN'S Pockys for Emily. What makes this product masculine? The bitter chocolate? The dangerous packaging with chocolate draped like a noose? The smoking cigar effect? Are men actually purchasing these or are women buying them for the men in their lives? My hunch is that rebellious women are rising up and scarfing down on this "forbidden" confection. "Men's" Pocky be damned!

My friend Barbara F, the other winner of the WWSE contest, lives nearby and joined me for a bowl of ramen. Here she is with her coveted jar of Duke's mayonnaise.

So far, so good. I've caught up with a friend. I've passed the mayo. I've purchased snacks from Mitsuwa for a birthday gift and a WWSE prize. Isn't that already more than a threesome? But what about the ramen? Would eating a superior bowl of ramen be like hitting a home run?

Ah, the ramen. Beautiful presentation. Slightly chewy noodles. Complex broth. Buttery pork. I think it was the best bowl of ramen I've ever had - a home run out of the park with the (rule of three) bases loaded.

How far would I drive for a bowl of noodles? Definitely to Santouka again and again.

Santouka Ramen
Mitsuwa Market Food Court
3760 Centinela Ave.,
Los Angeles, CA 90066
10:00am - 8:00pm

This post will also appear at www.openmoutinsertfork.blogspot.com


Anonymous said...
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Piper Robert said...

Protective Big Brother Hat on:

Well........do you want me to take care of it in the old fashioned West Virginia way or are you joining the research?

When unknown revenuers came up the holler, they were run out with a shotgun. : )

Let me know if I'm being too protective. I checked their questionairre and it is very "vanilla". (Proof reading is not their strong point.)

Big Brother hat still on and in a holding pattern.

Piper Robert said...

p.s. Hot noodles with all the trimmings.......now that sounds delicious. I have always loved noodles of any shape or flavor. Hot, steaming noodles with a sprinkle of red pepper. Wow.

BTW, deep fried snickers are absolutely delicious. But, the newest rage is deep fried Coke. Freeze the Coke, chop it in small pieces, coat with batter, then deep fry. Wonder what's next, deep fried haggis on a stick?

Lilli said...

I waited in line outside Daikokuya Friday night, with a list of 12 parties ahead of us, but the freezing weather and low blood sugar got the better of me. I sent my dining companion to check out another noodle place.

Being somewhat of an expert in Japanese cuisine and culture, he had been to another noodle shop in Little Tokyo with Japanese clients.

There was no line at Kouraku on 2nd Street and the clientele was 100 percent Japanese, always a good sign. Of course, we messed that up, but the noodles were great, boiling hot and perfect for a cold night. I highly recommend it, even if it didn't make the rameniac's list.

I'll definitely return to Daikokuya, but not at prime time. I'll also be back at Kouraku. Perhaps you'd like to join me!

Margaret Finnegan said...

I, too, was totally sucked into the LA TIMES Food section cover story on Ramen. I haven't tried any of the places yet, but I appreciate your leg work, Susan. Keep us posted. Go to Lili's place too and rank it for us.

Susan Carrier said...

The chowhound review calls Kouraku "completely mediocre," and the commenters agree. They're very picky reviewers, complaining that the egg was quartered, not cut in half.

Sometimes you have to eat a bowl of mediocre ramen in order to really appreciate the good stuff.

Barbara Roth said...

You crack me up. Have you ever thought of being a writer?Very happy to see the wonderful blood counts.

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