Sunday, August 24, 2008

Eating "Hell": Summer in Japan

For those of you who are afraid of the Devil, please read no further. The rumors that the Devil went down to Georgia (the boiled peanuts one, not the Black Sea one), have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, he has found a home on the island of Hokkaido.

Now, the irony is that Hokkaido is the coldest part of Japan. In the winter, it makes Winnipeg look like Palm Springs. When you see pictures of 20-foot-high snow drifts, you are likely looking at dear old Hokkaido. Why would Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan, Alec Baldwin (or whatever name you know him as) choose Hokkaido? The answer is simple: Ramen.

In my college years, Ramen held a very important place in my life. Other than feeding the tapeworm, it allowed me to ingest massive amounts of MSG for only 12 cents a packet, one of the side affects of which is hair loss and weight gain. I am just starting to really feel it now.

In Japan, Ramen is not bought at the A & P. It is is a delicacy borrowed from China and consumed in restaurants. There are many varieties of Ramen: miso, soy, tonkatsu, vegetable, and of course zigoku (Hell). Recently, I had the pleasure of sampling this sinful dish. Zigoku Ramen is unusual in more ways than just nomenclature. You can order it to your specific pain threshold. Dante could never have envisioned the complexity of the recipe. The scale goes from Zero to incinerator, based on the number of spoonfuls of chili powder you can stomach. Usually, Japanese food is served without the input of the patron-you get what the chef says you're going to get, how and when he says so, much akin to dinner at the Glynn household. Good thing I like casserole. Anyhow, I ordered Ni-chome, which is 2 heaping tablespoons of chili powder added to the soup broth. It was good and indeed hot, although it did look like the "eyeball soup" from The Temple of Doom and there was no sign of the devil. In fact, he never showed up. Rather, his old friend Montezuma paid a brief visit a few hours later. I have to say that I'm glad it wasn't Alec Baldwin.

Be well,