Kanada-Ya @ St. Giles High St

Suddenly, a tyre pressure warning light lit up as I was cruising along Blackfriars Road on my way to the ice rink. Oh no, has it not be checked out and was given all clear by RAC last Friday?? I had exactly the same problem the previous Monday at exactly the same stretch of the road. This is a deja vu, I sighed.

So this morning, I took the car to a garage in order to investigate if any of the tyres had a slow puncture. After leaving the car at the dealership, I headed back to West End, thinking about only one thing. ‘Why don’t I have lunch at Kanada-Ya?’ 

Kanada-Ya is one of London’s newbie-ish ramen noodle bars which specializes in tonkotsu style soup. The owner served his apprenticeship at the Kanada-Ya in Fukuoka,  Japan and was granted to open a ramen bar under the same name in London.

The bar is also famous for a long queue of eager diners who wait in line for more than 40 minutes on their busiest days. Intrigued by all those anecdotes, I wanted to sample their ramen to find out if they were Just another hype or for real.

When I arrived at the bar on St Giles High Street near Tottenham Court Road at 11:40, there was a couple standing by the entrance already and a spontaneous queue started to form around ten to twelve…

  
At noon, a maître d’ ushered us into their dining room and started to take orders. I opted for a bowl of Chashu noodle with a  boiled egg marinated in soy sauce as an extra. I also asked the maître d’ if I could have my noodle to be cooked “hard” – semi undercooked. 

Voila, my Chashu-Men!

 

It took me by surprise because the bowl arrived at my window side table very promptly. In the ecru tinted broth, there were seven large Chashu slices, chopped spring onion, thinly sliced cooked brown mushroom, a seasoned soft boiled egg halved and underneath them all, hand made noodle. 

I sipped the broth first. It was creamy and delicately flavoured. It was in fact a little too light in seasoning so I added a few teaspoons of Hatougarashi – spicy Japanese pickle and Benishoga – shredded red ginger in the soup to make it more zingy. How was my verdict regarding the noodle? Mmmm…, it was 6 out of 10. Don’t get me wrong. The noodle was fine. But for me, it was too fatty and rich. 

The majority of Londoners seem to perceive tonkotsu as a typical ramen broth. Tonkotsu was introduced to the city by ramen pioneers, such as Shoryu, Bone Daddies and Ippudo, and their choice of flavour was pork-based tonkotsu soup. One thing most of the British ramen enthusiasts aren’t aware is that Japanese ramen flavours differ depending on the regions. Tonkotsu is a quintessentially southern Japanese flavour and for someone like me who is from the northeastern region, pork-based broth is not at all familiar as I associate light soy sauce flavoured chicken stock or fish stock (or a blend of both) with a typical ramen broth. My first experience with tonkotsu ramen was in my late teens. A new ramen bar opened near my aunt’s local area in Tokyo and they were specialized in tonkotsu. In there, I learnt about “kaedama” – adding an extra helping of noodle to the remaining broth if so desired. And adding Benishoga to ramen soup as an addition flavour was another surprise I experienced on that day. 

The environment I grew up was not very pro-ramen. My mum was not very fond of the dish. And my dad preferred soba noodle to ramen. Therefore, I didn’t eat ramen as often as some had done. One episode I still remember vividly occurred when mum took me and my sister to a new noodle bar in downtown. The noodle bar offered Dosanko style ramen from the furtherest northern region of Japan, Hokkaido. Their broth was typically a miso (soybean paste) based one. Tan coloured soup was opaque and it tasted robust and flavoursome. However, mum was mortified because she detected garlic in the broth. ‘Oh no, you must keep your mouth closed during our bus journey home!’ Mum was so concerned if our garlicky breath might offend fellow bus passengers and forbade us from chatting on the bus. So my sister and I ended up eyeballing each other while suppressing a sudden urge to giggle about this whole situation. Every time our cheeks puffed up as we resisited a fit of giggle, mum threw a reprimanding stare to our direction, reminding us we shan’t disappoint her…

By the way, the garage found two punctures on the tyre. They were sorry that they had to replace a tyre but I was relieved to find the cause.

On my way home, however, a sudden loud noise startled me. An intermittent noise sounded like two men making conversation. Then, I realised that a mechanic left his walkie talkie on my passenger seat! 

  

I didn’t know how to turn it off and it kept on hissing and crackling every time the car passed  some walkie talkie hotspots. I called the garage once I parked the car safely, explaining the situation. The radio had no obvious on/off switch and hissing didn’t stop. And Hubbie resorted to removing a battery. Oh dear…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

 

Mum & Warplanes…

‘My god, they are HUGE!’ Mum gasped, her eyes widened as large as saucers.
We were at RAF Museum in Colindale, North London. As we sauntered around the displays, we noticed how the atmosphere was still and quiet. It felt like as if we were skirting around sleeping giants so we wouldn’t awaken them from their slumber…

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It was my mum’s very first encounter with real warplanes and she was astonished by the humongous sizes of them, especially, the US & British bombers.

Mum with a Vulcan Bomber…

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Mum, a Spitfire & Hurricane…

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After returning to Central London, we sauntered around Covent Garden. It was a chilly afternoon so we decided to have soup noodle at Wagamama.
Mum ordered a bowl of vegetable miso ramen but she wasn’t very impressed with the taste (or the lack of it) of the broth…

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As she gingerly picked up a strand of the noodle, she confessed that she would prefer a piece of buttered Hovis with a mug of PG Tips. Oh dear, I am sorry mum…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Eating Habit & Longevity

Wow, I am amazed by how my body, especially my leg muscles, has adjusted to this new & more rigorous fitness regime! In spite of the last practice being a lot harder than the previous ones, I felt much easier during the session and a lot less achy afterward. A prolonged stick-handling drill was a real killer for me. I could feel lactic acid building up in my arms. Still, the practice will definitely guarantee me to tone the upper arms and lift my butt by this summer. Therefore, I shall swear that I will attend it every week. Besides, seeing all the friendly faces at the ice rink is definitely worth a 45 minutes car drive across London…

Recent London seems to have stepped back into the mini-winter again. The sky has been overcast and swept by chilly wind. And it makes me crave for a bowl of steamy ramen noodle!
While mum & I were in Tokyo in last January, the city was grasped by a very cold weather system. It was exceptionally chilly by Tokyo’s standard and in spite of a hotel staff cranking up our room’s A/C to the maximum, we still felt not enough warmth.
‘Shouldn’t we line our stomach with something hot?’ So we grabbed our coats and paid a visit to a noodle bar in Hacchobori…

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Ta-dah, behold my Kimchi Miso ramen. It was certainly fiery and spicy as the colour of the broth suggested and helped me to feel toasty from the inside. The only minor complaint was the seasoning for being too salty? Since I hardly used any additional flavouring, especially salt, on my food usually when I was in the UK, I found some of the foods in Japan a little too salty for my liking.

The prefecture of Nagano, where my mum lives, is well-known for its residents’ longevity. The average life expectancy for both male and female, are well into their 80s. As a daughter, I am very glad that my mum lives in an environment where it encourages its residents to lead a healthy & long life. However, the majority of her generation, born between the 30s and 40s, went through the post war hardship which has resulted in their frugal attitude as well as discipline towards food and lifestyle…

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My mum’s Kenchinjiru (建長汁) – hearty vegetables soup with salmon roe on top – is one of my favourites. Diced Satoimo (里芋) – taro root, carrot, Daikon radish, Konjac, thinly sliced burdock (牛蒡gobo) & tofu were stirfried with sesami oil first, then shimmered in the pot with water and seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, sake and salt. Mum was extra careful not to season the soup too strongly so it was packed with “umami” from the vegetables alone.

While my 3 weeks holiday in Japan, I had a glimpse of modern Japanese eating habit. Comparing it with that of my mum’s generation’s, the younger Japanese’s diet seemed to be far more westernised and consisted of more commercially processed foods rather than home-cooking.
It is purely my private observation and therefore not a general consensus but the recession in which the Japanese are trapped since the early 90’s has changed the way they behave towards food. The immediacy of pleasure tasty foods provide has shifted the general public’s attention from what they own to what they eat. It’s almost like the drabness of recession fades or forgotten while one’s sensory system locks on a tasty morsel in the mouth – the solace sought in comfort eating. Whatever the reason the Japanese diners queue up for plates of towering pancakes or bowls of noodle large enough for 3 portions or tables for “eat as much as you can” style buffet, the eating habit as the rest of the world perceive to be the Japanese way of healthy lifestyle is changing.
While the materialistic obsession in the 80’s only hurt the individual’s bank balance, the present OTT comfort eating tendency will sure to develop to future general health problem. Already, a part of the Japanese children is reported to have diabetic conditions due to a diet heavy on carb and sugar. Comparing my mum’s generation who grew up with not enough food around, an environment in which the present younger generation exists is saturated with an insanely plentiful amount of tasty food. This reality makes me wonder how long the Japanese can flaunt their top place in a worldwide longevity table. Not only that, I am concerned that they will develop serious health problems in future if the present overindulgence continues.

Today’s lunch at my beloved Shoreditch Grind. A bowl of Feta & Falafel salad…

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The salad contained rocket, crumbly feta cheese, balls of falafel, red & yellow cherry tomatoes and pomegranate. The dressing was sweet with a hint of chilli. It was delicious.

And my flat white…

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Who can leave Shoreditch Grind without tasting their celebrated roast?

I feel much less tired now so try my best to update the blog more often and regularly…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Day Out With SC…

After enjoying our brunch at Salvation Jane, SC and I headed towards Spitalfields Market while Hubbie walked back home – he was not a market-going kind of guy, you know.
Instead of walking through a busy concourse of Liverpool Street Station, we approach it via Exchange Square, Broadgate. On Primrose Street, we saw a huge lone reindeer towering over the pavement…

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The Christmas display was well made and pretty. However, it was ruined by some over-zealous fencing around its footings…

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Is this another example of modern-day disease, health & safety?
Without those heavy-handed precautions, the reindeer could have been much more beautiful and elegant. Who cares if some idiot, who is too busy tweeting or updating FB, walks into the ornament and knock his forehead? All of us should look where we are heading, not our eyes glued to phones. It’s common sense, isn’t it? By the way, SC and I also witness from the upper deck of a No.8 bus, a Christmas tree dedicated from Tiffany & Co at the Royal Exchange was pretty much spoiled by the fences around it. It’s just a Christmas tree, for Chrissake! What harm or threat will it present? It’s nothing like uneven pavement or loose potholes which can be discreet and potentially dangerous, is it? Utterly ludicrous…

At Old Spitalfields Market, we tried to locate my friend, Howie’s stall but couldn’t find it. The market was much busier than normal Saturdays, more stalls and more punters. So we gave up our search and headed towards Brick Lane.

On Dray Walk, we encountered a huge crowd queuing up to get inside of a sample sale at Ely’s Yard…

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Behind a Christmas tree sale hut, a long queue was formed and the people were standing in the cold patiently. It could have been an amazing sale since the interest it attracted among the crowd spoke volumes. However, waiting all day for possibilities of bargain didn’t appeal to us that much so we carried on walking towards Brick Lane.

At Vintage Emporium on Bacon Street, we managed to find a table and had a well-earned tea break…

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The place was busy with the customers who were like us, only too happy to find a warmer place to sit and chat over a cup of hot drink and some snack. And SC kindly bought me a huge mug of tea…

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Over the tea, we chatted about each other’s plan for the coming festive season. She was spending her Christmas and New Year Day in Hawaii with her family. How nice! Comparing with her plan, my New Year will be in wintery Nagano, Japan. Brrrrrr….!
Then, SC mentioned how much she coveted the sunglasses produced by my dear friend, Fei. We both thought it would be great if she could go away with a new pair of shades. So I phoned up Fei and invited her out for dinner and to show SC her amazing collection.
From Bethnal Green Road, we caught a No.8 bus and traveled to West End. At Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road, SC bought a sleek bedside lamp and we walked towards Oxford Circus through Fitzrovia. By the way, the way Oxford Street was clogged up with shoppers was a sight to behold!

We arrived at Tonkotsu, our favourite the ramen bar, on Dean Street around 7pm and had to wait for a table over 30 minutes. While I was in the queue, a gorgeous smell of the freshly cooked ramen tickled my nostrils all the time. It was undoubtedly one of the longest half an hour in my life…

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In the nick of time, Fei managed to join us and we were eventually ushered to our table.
Once seated, we promptly ordered our favourites, Chicken Karaage…

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Pork Gyoza…

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And a bowl of Soho Ramen each…

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It had been quite a while since I had eaten at Tonkotsu, therefore, I found the ramen extra tasty.
We chatted over so many subjects and had so much laughter.
After dinner, we moved on to our usual place for more chat & tea (& cake)…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Ramen Night @ Tonkotsu, SOHO

Unfortunately, Hubbie is not at all fond of noodles.
He has never developed a knack for dealing with slippery strands in the bowl with chopsticks for all those years we have been together. In fact, he doesn’t even like much oriental cuisine apart from occasional sushi rolls.
Therefore, I call on my dear Fei when I am itching for ramen.

We met up in front of Costa at the junction of Dean Street & Old Compton Street…

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Like it was trying to tell us that the rain was on its way, the air in London was humid.
The humidity must have been great for the sale of beer. Pubs and bars around Soho were busy with brimful of punters who were jabbering away with drinks in hands.

Our usual ramen haunt, Tonkotsu

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The eatery was already lively with the fans of their noodles.

Ramen is a kind of food which divides the opinion.
Some people prefer ramen broth to be rich while others would rather have it lighter. Or, some want their noodle thick and chewy but others may insist it has to be delicate and less heavy on stomach. Or how the broth is seasoned? How long the noodle is cooked? All factors enter the equation when it comes to choosing one’s personal favourite.
Also, all notable ramen bars in London, such as Tonkotsu, Bone Daddies, Shoryu and Ittenbari, have their own signature styles. Hence, I encourage anyone who is new to ramen to sample each eatery before forming any opinion.
I emphasize this because I came across an appalling article done by a completely incompetent & inadequate food critic in the Independent weekend magazine recently.  In the article, this so called restaurant expert paid his snooty visit to one of the ramen bars I mentioned above and recounted his pathetic experience riddled with his own errors.
Mr.Walsh, no ramen expert wouldn’t dream of ordering a sickly sweet saki cocktail at any ramen bar even if it is on the menu. Their barmen concoct those dodgy cocktails because old conservatives like Mr.Walsh tend to expect “something exotic & exciting” whenever they are toting female companions. And ordering Tempura with ramen? What is wrong with him? He hasn’t got a clue about Japanese cuisine, has he? Then, finishing his ramen dinner with a Dorayaki pancake? I was horrified with their greedy appetite. He & his missus decided to go full on because dinner was on the Independent?
No one, I insist, NO ONE will have a cheese cake or Dorayaki pancake at any ramen bar! He may feebly protest that it was offered on the menu. Yes, but again, because of the westerners like him who expect all restaurants in UK to provide dessert as a part of three-course dinner, even ramen bars like Shoryu compel to provide some on their menu.
Ramen bars are there for ramen only. Of course, side dish, such as Chicken Karaage or Gyoza is of paramount importance. But everything else should be consumed at its diner’s risk.
Eating diverse cuisines of the world is not just about sampling an individual dish but about experiencing a new way of eating. Some eating cultures may demand a whole new order and attitude before even sitting at the table.
To the editor of the Independent, you should have found someone much more knowledgable than Mr.Walsh to review Shoryu. Apart from his opinion about their pork Gyoza, which I also found a room for improvement, I was appall by his lack of insight into Japanese food and its culture. You wouldn’t find any more bigoted and embarrassing opinion like Mr.Walsh’s even in any Internet forum such as Yelp which is made up by normal people. Just employ someone who has grown up with a diverse cultural background to review restaurants of modern London. Old guards like him are no longer fit for the purpose, therefore they should be mothballed. FULL STOP.

Sorry for letting off my steam here. But I just can’t stand an ill-informed snob like him, dispensing his antics in a national paper. He really should have stuck to his comfort zone like reviewing some gastro pubs or bistros in the City…

Anyway, our classic starters were brought to the table shortly…

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Mmmm… They look GREAT, don’t they?
By the way, my mom can’t stand any chicken dish, therefore, I can’t have any Karaage or Yakitori when I am with her in Japan.

Why does she hate this succulent golden beauty!

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Finger-lick in’ & lip-smack in’ good.

Their pork Gyoza was as solid as usual…

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For Gyoza, it’s the skin which make or break this dish.
And Tonkotsu’s had a just-about-right amount of thickness. If it was too thin, it wouldn’t hold its filling well. But if it was too thick, then the skin wouldn’t be crispy.

And my Soho Ramen followed…

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Argh, I committed a cardinal sin of not photographing  before plunging my chopsticks into it!
I was too eager. It was Fei who reminded me what I had forgotten.
My sincere apology for the ramen’s rather messy appearance (^_^;)
Still, it tasted superb as usual and I was happy to quell my recent ramen obsession.

After finishing our ramen, we made a beeline for Amorino on Old Compton Street.
Their rich and creamy gelato was the best remedie for our seriously salted tongues…

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Dorayaki after ramen? You must be barking mad, Mr.Critic…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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