Soba, So Good—Is the Noodle’s Extinction True at Miyabi 45th?


It had the effect of a Trump speech, a shocking announcement on seattlemet.com that Chef Mutsuko Soma would be leaving Miyabi 45th on February 13 to enjoy motherhood, with no definite plans for her return. By the end of the piece, pursuant to the Donald’s pronouncements, I felt despair. Okay, so the simile is as thin as hand-pulled noodles but, hell, handmade soba would disappear maybe forever, it turns out not only from Seattle but the ENTIRE West Coast, according to Seattle Met. One would think that the Bay Area, Southern California, Portland or Vancouver would produce SOMEONE of equal caliber. Faced with Chef Soma’s imminent departure, my wife and I decided to head to Wallingford today for one last soba meal.

It was natural to bring up the soba question with our waitress. It turns out the Seattle Met piece was not as dire as its first reading sounded. Yes, it’s true that Soma would be leaving Miyabi 45th and that her soba would be leaving with her. It’s also a fact that she is not scheduled to return. But, soba will continue to be offered at the restaurant, although not in its many variations. A new chef from the Southcenter Miyabi, Masa Ishikura will be taking over. If it’s so difficult to identify another soba master on the West Coast, where will the soba come from? Seattle Eater says that sous chef Joey McGregor will apprentice at a restaurant in Japan.

In any case, I enjoyed the chyashyu seiro soba again (here’s my previous review), as deeply a satisfying noodle dish as anything I’ve had, without doubt the best soba I’ve eaten ever. This time though, the pork slices (chyashyu) were quite chewy, a chore to cut into smaller pieces with only mouth and chopsticks, a huge lapse in quality control. But the noodles and broth were as legendary as ever.

miyabi - 2

We also ordered chicken karaage. Right off, I’ll say that this is a superb version (☆☆☆☆). The chicken thigh pieces were succulent, made tastier by having spent time in a marinade. What catapulted the karaage to super-stardom was the thin, light-as-a-feather crispy and virtually greaseless batter, most likely made with potato starch (katakuriko). An unconventional but inspired aioli came on the side.

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Will Miyabi 45th continue to attract devoted fans? Only time will tell.

Miyabi 45th
2208 N 45th St
Seattle, WA 98103
206.632.4545

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No S**t, Kukai Changes Its Name


A friend posted on his Facebook page that Kukai changed its name.

The reason?

It turns out that kukai means shit in Hawaiian. This would’ve been a sticky move for the company if they wanted to set up business on the Islands. This probably means they were considering just such an expansion when the kukai hit the fan. What’s surprising is that no one has alerted them to this long ago. Maybe someone had, but it took this long to do something about it. In Japan, their name is Kookai, which would’ve been perfectly acceptable on these shores (maybe even in Hawaii) except that there is a French company doing business under that name here, according to their website.

So, now Kukai has changed its name to Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya. Anyway, welcome again to a good friend.

kizuki

(Image from kukai-ramen.com)

Making Kuromame—Remembering My Father-in-Law


My father-in-law passed away earlier this year.

Beloved patriarch of the family, he lived to be just shy of 99 years. Dad was a very intelligent man, alert to the end, avid sports fan, gardener, tinkerer who had a knack for doing things instinctively. He grew a bounty of vegetables in soil amended with compost he created from kitchen scraps and yard waste. Where most people his age are intimidated by electronic gear, he cobbled together a Rube Goldberg system of interconnecting multiple TV sets, VCR, satellite TV and DVR recorder that suited his needs. Using a plethora of remotes was trifling to him. Dad also was a tinkerer in the kitchen, not once referring to any recipe that I ever saw. He cooked by feel, instinct, always the experimenter. He’s the kind of cook who sticks a finger in a sauce to taste before making adjustments and rarely used measures. He was ever pickling vegetables (tsukemono). Come oshogatsu, he played just as active a part in preparing osechi-ryori as anyone.

Now that he’s gone, things were not the same. The family profoundly felt his absence. Osechi-ryori, the preparation of the New Year repast, and oshogatsu were important to him, more than any other holiday.

Every family member will tell you that his barbecued pork and chicken wings were the best. These additions to our osechi-ryori reflect our assimilation into the American culinary melting pot, and no one did them better than dad.

One of the traditional dishes he always made was kuromame. I decided to do them in his stead. I never asked about or watched him make this dish. I did observe that he never fussed with the beans (meaning they had to be pretty much left alone) and cooked them very gently, at almost a bare simmer. Other than that, I was on my own. I did what anyone else would do these days—searched the internet for recipes.

Kuromame (sweet simmered black soy beans)

Dad’s kuromame

First, I had to find the right beans. Kuromame are a soy bean cultivar, prized for depth of flavor and tenderness and are not what we here regard as dried black (turtle) beans. When I first started on this endeavor, I thought I’d change things up a little by making sweet black beans in the Korean style (kongjaban), which I enjoy as part of banchan. Kongjaban are small, firm but not crunchy. I found small black beans at 99 Ranch Market (the package even had some hangul labeling). While they tasted fine, they were an aesthetic disaster, the skins having sloughed off most of the beans. Dad would have winced at the presentation. I gathered these little beans weren’t suited to kuromame’s long soaking and cooking times. In the end, I decided to use the ‘right’ beans, stick to tradition and strive for authenticity—glossy black, wrinkle-free and tender beans.

The most prized beans come from the Tamba region near Kyoto. Spherical when dry, they have the purported advantage of being sweet and maintaining tenderness without getting mushy, even through long cooking times. But they command steep prices. A small 150g (5oz) package costs $10. These must have been the beans dad decided were too expensive during one pre-osechi shopping trip. Fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives, including one marketed by JFC, which I purchased. They were bean-shaped, not round.

One ideal is to make the beans as black as possible. Somewhere along the line, someone discovered that cooking them with rusty nails made the beans darker. Dad said he used them once or twice. The reaction between iron oxide and tannin (in the beans) is responsible for the chemical sleight-of-hand, not unlike the ancient process for making black dyes. Nowadays, cooks seem wary of adding ‘rust’ to their food, so they do without. Cooking the beans in a cast-iron pan supposedly does the same thing, but at the risk of picking up off-flavors from previous use unless the pan is scrupulously cleaned. Some cooks instead add baking soda to the soak, a metallic salt that does something similar. That’s what I settled on, too. The beans have to soak for a good 10-12 hours.

Adding kombu seemed in keeping with traditional Japanese cooking methods, though its inclusion in kuromame is optional. The dried kelp is used in a lot of Japanese cooking and is an essential part of the broth called dashi. My sister-in-law thinks her father used it occasionally in his black beans, so I decided to include it, too.

The long cooking over two hours required constant attention. Every 15 minutes or so as needed, there was skimming of foam, making sure that the broth was kept at a bare simmer, adding water, much as what dad did. To guarantee wrinkle-free beans, which requires that the beans always be submerged in liquid, I used a wooden drop-lid (otoshibuta).

My beans came out decently. They weren’t the ideal jet black. Some skins split but the beans were glossy and pleasantly tender. After long simmering, the kombu completely dissolved to impart a slimy viscosity that didn’t suit some family members and made the broth too lumpy.

The making of kuromame this year was an attempt to fill a gap left by my father-in-law’s passing. Replicating his recipe was not the important thing so much as the act of making them, the observance and continuation of a family tradition, which was important to him. I’ll tinker with the recipe next year to improve it. I might even add a rusty nail or two.

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Prima Taste Singaporean La Mian Instant Noodles


Prima Taste's laksa la mian (image from thediningtable.sg)

Prima Taste’s laksa la mian (image from thediningtable.sg)

While browsing through T & T Supermarket in Richmond, B.C., some instant noodles caught my eye. What intrigued me was that they were manufactured in Singapore, by a company called Prima Taste. At C$2.99 each on sale, they were a better bargain when converted to US dollars (about $2.33 at the time). I would discover later when I got back home that they’re available from Amazon at $3.87 each for a package of 12 or as much as $6.50 each for a package of two! Pricey. At least, here in the States. Of course, I had no idea at purchase time whether I’d like the noodles or not, so I only bought a single package each of laksa la mian and curry la mian.

In hindsight, I wish I had gotten more. And I wish I’d purchased chili crab la mian as well. Next time I’m in Vancouver.

Here are my tasting notes. Let’s start with the dried noodles themselves. They’re air-dried in a similar manner like Myojo with its line of excellent Chukazanmai packaged dried ramen. No frying in saturated fats. The instructions recommend that the noodles be boiled for 7 minutes, which for most instant noodles would be far too long, turning them into soft, pasty messes. But, incredibly these noodles remained firm and held their chewy resilience from beginning to end, clearly their outstanding virtue.

The different ‘flavors’ come in two packets, one holding the coconut powder that forms the milky basis for the soup, the other the spices, herbs, and whatever else constitute the primary taste. You can adjust the proportions of each according to your own taste.

The broth is quite milky, almost like a New England clam chowder, and briny from a touch of shrimp paste. Combined with the mix from the other packet, they’re also a bit spicy. The laksa la mian can hold its own against good ones served at restaurants, rich and flavorful. The curry la mian has excellent curry flavor. Both have hints of shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and warm spices. These noodle soups will not appeal to as broad a consumer base as instant ramen might. But to me, they’re delicious especially with the addition of shredded rotisserie chicken, fish cakes or surimi, boiled egg, cilantro and plenty of minced green onions. I’ll need to be patient before I can buy any more up north. I haven’t found any locally in the Seattle area. If I get desperate, there’s always Amazon.

Update (7-18-18): Seattle’s Asian supermarket, Uwajimaya, now carries this line of noodles. I first saw them last year. I am now a happy camper that I don’t have to wait until my next visit to Canada.

Cornucopia of Fruit


I bought this basket of the most amazing collection of fruit from Granville Market in Vancouver—raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, red, green and black grapes, kumquats, strawberries and golden gooseberries. And for a mere $6.99. None of it is local, but what a deal!

Chicharrones, Filipino Style


While at my father-in-law’s house in Southern California, my brother-in-law brought over chicharron curls (Pepe’s Estilo Casero brand) that are conveniently bite-sized and come in several flavors. Though tasty, they were not what caught my attention. He said many Filipinos like to dip them in spicy vinegar (such as Mother’s Best sinamak that he also brought over), which typically contains garlic and siling labuyo chile peppers that resemble Thai bird’s-eye chiles.

chicharrones
When a bit of soy sauce, lime juice and vinegar are combined (not pictured above), the concoction adds a nice tart, zippy and savory counterpoint to the fried pork rinds. Interesting that fatty foods and vinegar go so well together.

pepe estllo

Rooster Sriracha Popcorn


It had to happen. Likely the fastest growing condiment in the U.S. had to find its way into a popular snack. POP! Gourmet Popcorn, manufactured in Kent, Washington, near where I live, now offers popcorn flavored with Huy Fong Foods’ ubiquitous sriracha sauce. I found the bag at an Asian supermarket in San Gabriel, CA. The bag has the familiar green and roasted chile red colors that identify the bottle. At least one other sriracha popcorn has been made before, but none using ‘rooster sauce,’ as Huy Fong’s product is familiarly called.

The popcorn doesn’t suggest the famous sauce. It has very little vinegary tartness or garlickiness, though it does have a four-alarm spicy kick. I would be hard-pressed to identify rooster sauce if I tasted the snack blind. For me, the popcorn fails to capture the essence of the sauce, though it’ll appeal to chileheads as a spicy munch.