Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ramen Meguri (pilgrimage)

The good book states that the wages of sin are death. I found out that the wages of eating sinfully rich food might be even worse than death. I hesitate before I answer the question, “Was it worth it?” with a resounding, “Yeah, I think so.” When it comes to good Japanese ramen no price is too high.

Ramen here is a thing of beauty. Forget what you know about the block of dried noodles that poor college students eat to survive. That’s not really ramen. Ramen is so much more. Fresh ramen that you order from a restaurant is one of the greatest foods to be made from the combination of noodles and soup. Jenny knows the answer before she can ask the question if she queries, “Do you want to go and get some ramen for dinner?” The answer is always a resounding, “Yes!” I can almost smell it now as I type, thin noodles immersed in a thick rich soup, slices of pork, crispy vegetables. All of the ingredients grasped with a pair of chopsticks and brought to my lips where they are pulled into my mouth with a resounding SLUUURP.

One Friday I found myself done with work very early and I was able to come home at noon. I walked through the door and asked if Logan and Jenny had eaten lunch. They replied that they had not. I suggested that we head off to Kyoto and cross one of the things on our to do list off. I have wanted to go and eat ramen for lunch and dinner. We rushed off to the station and were on our way. While we were on the train we studied the guidebook and the map to plan our pilgrimage route. We decided on two restaurants from the book that were within walking distance of each other.

We got to Kyoto and boarded the subway hungry for delicious soup and noodles. We walked through neighborhoods and along busy streets before we found the first shop on our list. We found much to our dismay that they were closed. This shop had hours that left them with a siesta time in the middle of the day, and we had just missed the lunch period. We decided that it would be best to save this restaurant for dinner. We began to retrace our steps so we could hike over to the other restaurant and begin from there.

We walked to Santoka Ramen. It was a very nice looking restaurant in a little strip mall near a subway station. This was the shop that I had been itching to visit. I desired to eat the Tokusen Toroniku Ramen. Our book recommended this bowl as being one of the more decadent choices available. The toroniku is pork cheek and if I understand correctly only 200 grams are available from one animal. Now two hundred grams is about half a pound, so I take it that pork cheek is a real delicacy. And at about eleven bucks a bowl my hopes were high for having the most delicious bowl of soup.

I ordered the Tokusen Toriniku and Jenny and Logan decided to share a bowl of miso ramen. Our food came shortly and we began to eat. The food really was delicious. The noodles were perfect. I slurped them with gusto. The pork cheeks were so tender that they quite literally melted in my mouth. In retrospect now I wonder if the melting in my mouth was more due to the high fat content and the heat of the soup turning the fat to oil. I will still attest to the fact that it was one of the most appetizing bowls of soup I have ever indulged in.

We figured a good way to kill some time between lunch and dinner would be to stroll on over to the shopping area a few blocks away and do some window shopping as we passed the time. It was as we were perusing the stacks of books in our favorite bookstore that we got the first clue that this experience was not going to end well. Logan had the look of someone who needed to use the toilet in a hurry, but before we could make it there it was too late. So we abandoned the search for good reading material and began to hunt for some new clothes for the little guy to wear. We managed to find a cheap little sweat suit in a department store.

Never ones to let a little bit, or a lot in this case, of crap stand in our way of a good time we decided to proceed with our plan. After all, Logan was saying that he actually felt fine and was not sick. So on we trudged convinced that Logan’s little accident was just that, an accident. I should have recognized foreshadowing when I saw it.

With all the time spent dealing with getting a change of clothes for Logan it was now time to begin the walk to the other restaurant for dinner. We wandered back through the city streets of Kyoto, Japan. We were able to walk parts of the city that were new to us. We walked through alleyways and streets lined with traditional houses and businesses. The sun was beginning to set and the streets were beginning to light up. Neon signs and lighted lanterns beckoned to us, welcoming us to enter and enjoy the hospitality found within. We truly were pilgrims wandering through a valley of temptation. We resisted and soon found ourselves at the second of our two destinations. Our quasi-spiritual journey was almost at an end.

Where the Santoka Ramen building was a marvelously modern chapel in the church of ramen, Karako Ramen was more of a storefront ministry. We arrived and found a bench at the counter. We had to sit at the counter, not because all the tables were occupied by other worshipers, because that was all there was. The restaurant was very narrow with seating for about fifteen along the counter. We perched ourselves on the stools near the end of the bar and ordered two bowls of kotteri ramen which is the house specialty. The soup was very thick and quite tasty. The most wonderful part of the experience was the friendliness of the proprietors who had laid out small bowls of various pickles, salads and even something that was like a curried tofu. The cook even went into the back storeroom and got a banana for Logan to enjoy with his dinner. We ate the delicious meal with relish.

After dinner it was time to head back to Omihachiman. We walked back to the subway station and started to trip home. We made it home in short order and soon enough found our selves in bed, or in futon as it were. It was in the middle of the night that I had the first premonition that something was amiss. Throughout the night and into the morning my stomach felt queasy, but I chalked it up to rich food and thought little more of it.

It was in the middle of Saturday afternoon that I really began to get sick. Suffice it to say that I had a difficult time and could not leave the house for much of the next three days. I even had to call in sick to work on Monday. It was probably the worst I have felt in a few years. It harkens me back to the days of yore when in college I drank too much peppermint schnapps and found it difficult to brush my teeth for a few weeks because the taste of the mint made me relive the whole experience. While we took our ramen meguri on the last day of November I am writing about it here at the end of January because the wounds are still fresh.

I have begun to eat ramen again, but I still have not eaten at a restaurant since the “episode”. When I do I will be sure to do so in moderation. Maybe that is the best way to deal with any vice. Lesson learned. All things are best in Moderation. And never let a bit of crap spoil a good time.

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