ALL The Ramen!

Sendai ramen

As a result of my Japanese heritage, my palate has always been primed for ramen.  I’m not talking about the economical dried version which has become a rescue meal for most monetarily challenged college students (admittedly, I availed myself of this habit when I was a struggling college student and also holding down two jobs).  I’m talking about authentic, Japanese ramen which can be found in ramen houses in Japantown areas around the United States, as well as ramen shops and yatai (stalls) throughout Japan.  A steaming bowl of authentic Japanese ramen is a masterpiece, full of slurpy golden noodles, briny broth, meat, and vegetables, irresistible and unforgettable.

There are over 32,000 ramen houses throughout Japan, and there are enough ramen varieties and regional variations to steep your fascination for this delectable soup.  It is quite common to see long lines of people spilling onto the street in anticipation of a bowl of heaven from the more popular noodle joints.

In the months leading up to my trip to Japan, which took place in March of 2020, ramen was the dish I was the most excited about eating while in my maternal grandparents’ native land.  Even though I am supposed to avoid wheat and eggs, I was NOT about to deprive myself of ramen while in Japan.  I ended up paying the price every single time I consumed a bowl of ramen, developing abdominal cramping within 20 minutes after ingesting each bowl of those incredible noodles.  Then the next day, I was ready to eat more ramen, even though I knew full well that my belly would writhe in digestive protest.

There wasn’t a single bowl of ramen I had while in Japan that was less than spectacular, and I truly got a kick out of the bizarre yet efficient way in which most ramen houses had their patrons order (basically, you order from a station and pay through it as well, without any human interaction).  I was also intrigued by the distinct regional variations which popped up depending on what prefecture I was visiting.  Curious about the main types?  Click here to learn more.

Sapporo Ramen…miso base with ground chicken, crabmeat

I quickly noticed that in Sapporo, miso ramen was featured in many of the ramen-ya.  And before you think it’s just a basic miso, noodle masters add in fresh garlic and ginger and simmer with pork broth for an unbelievably tasty concoction.

Kyoto Ramen

Kyoto Ramen

I had both shoyu ramen (first image above) and miso ramen while in Kyoto, and loved both.  Then as I headed further south, I encountered creamy, extremely flavorful broth.  In Okayama, I encountered a specific type of  tonkotsu style broth, made from slow simmered pork, but with Okayama-specific seasonings.  Delicious.

Okayama ramen

Then I arrived in Kumamoto, my grandmother’s birthplace, and noticed that the ramen houses featured a very milky, rich, flavorful broth which was also made from pork bones for many hours.  Though I am not a big consumer of pork, I was happy to ingest it daily as part of my almost daily ramen indulgence.

Obviously with all the ramen around, I didn’t follow a low carb diet.  In fact, I had rice balls to snack on whenever I rode the shinkansen (bullet train), and I had a devil of a time finding high protein meals or snacks of any kind.  So I just allowed myself to enjoy the constant carb bump for 2 weeks straight. If you ever travel to Japan, don’t deprive yourself of ramen, rice, mochi, manju, and other carb-heavy foods.  You will be moving around so much during the day that you will burn off the carbs pretty steadily.

Shirataki Noodles: My Latest Food Obsession

Recently I have been completely obsessed with shirataki noodles because they satisfy pasta cravings with none of the guilt. Shirataki noodles are made from the konjac yam, which contains a water-soluble fiber called glucomannan. Though they have been available in Asian markets for a long time, they are gaining popularity among people who must adhere to low carbohydrate diets. The folks at Quest Nutrition also made a brilliant move and came up with their own brand of shirataki noodles, so now people in the fitness industry are aware of these great pasta alternatives.

There are two different types of shirataki noodles available, both of which I enjoy. Straight shirataki noodles have zero net carbohydrates and no gluten, whereas tofu shirataki noodles have a small amount of net carbs and a less slippery texture. Both forms are package in water and must be rinsed before cooking, as the water they are packaged in has an odd, ocean-like odor. The noodles are very slippery (less so for the tofu type) and really don’t have any flavor of their own, so you must add some type of sauce of liquid seasoning to make them palatable. However, these noodles act like sponges and do a great job of absorbing flavors which are added to them during cooking. The high fiber content in shirataki noodles imparts a sense of fullness and slows digestion, making these noodles lifesavers when it comes to curbing cravings.

Shirataki noodles are a bit expensive, so I try to ration out my supply. However, get actual cravings for them and enjoy putting a meal together. My favorite prep method is very simple: I heat up the noodles for a minute, then I add sesame oil, soy sauce, white pepper, ginger, vegetables and chicken or shrimp for a delicious Asian style meal which fills me up.

Here are the most popular brands available: These noodles run aboout $4 per package and are available at major grocery stores.
These noodles run aboout $4 per package and are available at major grocery stores. These noodles are a bit cheaper at about $2 to $2.50 per bag, but they are more perishable than the non-tofu type.  You can find these in the refrigerated Asian foods section in major grocery stores.
These noodles are a bit cheaper at about $2 to $2.50 per bag, but they are more perishable than the non-tofu type. You can find these in the refrigerated Asian foods section in major grocery stores.

I Finally Tried Quest Pasta

When I heard about the new pasta from Quest Nutrition, I became quite excited because I love everything this company comes out with. It took me a while to get my hands on a package of these guilt-free noodles, but I finally did a couple of months ago.
I was given the spinach fettucine variety, which contains 20 calories per serving (2 servings in a bag). The noodles are very low carb and gluten free, comprised of 100% soluble fiber from the Konjac root, which is also known as glucomannan. I kept waiting for a time when I would finally feel compelled to try it, and that time coincided with a day in which I was constantly ravenous. I walked into the kitchen and figured that consuming Quest noodles would be an excellent way to fill me up and would also give me an opportunity to finally try them.

I hadn’t heard about the odor imparted by the alkaline water that is used to pack the noodles in, so I was a bit alarmed when I opened the package and was assaulted by a strong, SALTY (weird how it actually smelled salty!), ocean smell, kind of like strong seaweed. I thought maybe the noodles had already gone bad! My cream Burmese Kazu, who by the way is a FREAK for seaweed, jogged into the kitchen to investigate and was convinced that I had opened a package of seaweed, so we did a little dance in which she kept jumping on the counter and I kept removing her from it. Once I rinsed the noodles, the smell went away and so did my little seaweed fanatic.

The noodles are very slippery, and have a chewy, slightly rubbery consistency when you eat them, but they hold sauces very well, and they cook up lightning fast. A minute in the microwave does the trick. I added shredded chicken breast, fresh garlic, black pepper, onions and 2 tablespoons of spaghetti sauce and was very happy with the outcome. I honestly tried to restrain myself and have one serving, but these noodles are so guilt free that I had 2 servings and was satisfied for over two hours. After trying these noodles, I think I might have to keep a supply on hand for those times when I am starving and need to throw some food bulk into a meal. Thank goodness for Quest Pastabilities!

You can order direct from Quest Nutrition: