Ramen noodles often tend to get a bad rap, namely due to the fact that the ramen found in the aisles of our local grocery stores are a far cry from the real thing....and probably also a far cry from anything that we should be ingesting for any nutritional purpose. Who doesn't remember the college days of living on frugal budgets and cooking up a cheap packet of ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner? But many American college students didn't know what they were missing, and still don't!
I have long since graduated from college and so has my taste in ramen noodles. Chef Takashi Yagihashi's noodle masterpieces make those college-day ramen noodles seem like a memory joining the multiple other blurry college memories stashed away in the recesses of my mind. I recently had the opportunity to support Chef Takashi for his recent appearance on the May 11th Lunch Break segment of WGN News to promote his in-store appearance at Macy's on State Street for their Asian Pacific American Heritage Month festivities. We had a decent amount of down time so I was excited to have the opportunity to pick the mind of an authentic Japanese chef such as he.
Chef Takashi may have a strong Japanese accent for some. However he always gets his message across with ease, is a man that is patiently willing to give of himself his time and insight, and has a quick-draw wit that will always get you smiling with him.
Vegetarian Options at Slurping Turtle and Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi
I have learned a lot the culture, customs and communication styles in the Japanese culture during college, but never learned much about the cuisine. It has always seemed to be an incredibly healthy diet being high in protein and low in fat, but seemed to cater best to the palate of pescatarians. The usage of fish or other seafood derivatives in many sauces has prevented me from enjoying many Japanese dishes as well as the culinary delights from other East Asian countries. I had already perused the menu of his newest restaurant, Slurping Turtle and found it to be incredibly vegetarian and vegan friendly, but my concern still remained about the sauces. Chef Takashi was prompt to point out that the sauces at Slurping Turtle are vegetarian and they also have many options on the menu for vegans and vegetarians. I am definitely going to have to visit soon to check out their fare!
Additionally, Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi on the 7th floor of Macy's on State Street has taken my lunch money away way too many times. The Mushroom Tofu Ramen is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! 4 types of mushrooms (YUM!), zucchini, eggplant, celery, bamboo shoots, tofu - this particular dish has been my go-to on the particularly blustery winter day or on the days where the nasty cold or allergy has chosen to attack. The broth is completely vegan being that it is a mushroom broth rather than one made from chicken or beef stock. For those of us who have particularly testy tummies, the chefs even use a separate wok and utensils for each batch of ramen made. Additionally, they will have vegan fried rice as an option and even have a couple appetizers that work for the vegan diet as well
Types of Sake
During our down time at the TV station, my colleague, Tim who was on site to support with catering asked a very fair question and one that I'm sure many of us have always wondered about but never truly asked: "Is there a difference to all of the types of sake? Should we have them hot or cold? What's the basic information to know?"
In summation, Chef Takashi's response to Tim was pretty simple. First, sake is made from a rice that is only used for making sake. This type of rice is not meant to be eaten. There are three main types of quality sake that come from this rice. The basic one simply takes the rice, polishes and ferments it, resulting in a sake called Junmai. This is the basic and lowest grade of sake. The next is called Junmai Ginjo requiring additional polishing and brewing that results in a more floral and fragrant sake. The last category called Junmai Daiginjo results in a sake that is the most crisp and light due to the highest degree of rice polishing and additional brewing methods. As the amount of polishing and brewing time increases, so does the quality and cost of the sake. Chef Takashi said the guests can order these types of at Slurping Turtle. His choice for drinking sake is the top category at room temperature. Champagne taste I see!
For even more information on sake, visit sake-world.com.
Chef Takashi's book Takashi's Noodles has many options for people of all dietary preferences. For those of us that are vegan or vegetarian, it only takes a small tweak of the recipe. I particularly love this book because I absolutely love noodles and pasta and provides great recipes for every kind of Japanese noodle and pasta that you can find. Additionally it provides some valuable insight into types of noodles and associated nuances of flavor as well as great learnings on Japanese ingredients. I especially love the fact that he took the time include an ingredient glossary in the back! Definitely a must-have for anyone wanting to dabble in Japanese cuisine.
Here's a little Japanese culture information: As a kid, I distinctly remember watching a scene from movie "Mr. Baseball" where several Japanese characters were slurping down their noodles as Tom Selleck's character sat there completely out of his cultural element. Now it all makes sense. In Japan, it is considered rude NOT to slurp your soup or noodles. The lack of slurping sends the host a message that the food is not tasty. That said, you may not want to loudly and publicly slurp your noodles here in the US so as not to draw unwanted looks and stares, but the next time you make some noodles at home, indulge yourself and feel free slurp loudly. Slurp! Slurp!
Tags: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Macy's, Macy's Culinary Council, Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, Slurping Turtle, Takashi Yagihashi, Takashi's Noodles, To Eat or Not To Eat, types of sake, vegan, vegetarian, WGN Lunch Break, WGN News