Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Ramen That Changed My Life

Today's weather was a tad nasty.

Typhoon-strength winds whipping through The Quivering Gall Bladder Region of Hokkaido? Yeah, just a tad.

So, school was cancelled after third period and all the students were sent home. Except for the basketball team kids, but I think the Second Coming itself wouldn't stop Mr. Nakajima from holding basketball practice. It's the week before midterms, and all club activities are cancelled, except for basketball. I guess when basketball is one of the main activities your school is founded on, Coach's word is gospel.

We had to stay and work, of course. However, the Head Honcho (see also: principal) gave us permission to leave after 2 P.M. So I did. And so did Jack. But nobody else did. Nope. I'm not sure you could force the other teachers to leave. That can't be healthy.

I went and checked out the waves at the beach. There were huge waves coming crashing in, but at the same time, this incredibly strong wind was blowing out to sea, so you had this weird effect of spray blowing backwards off the waves back out to sea. Pretty awesome. Dang near impossible to catch well on camera.

Today was November 29th, which, with a little Japanese word play, becomes "good meat day".
1 = ichi (shortened to i)
2 = ni
9 = kyuu or ku

1129 = ii niku = good meat

Of course, common decency requires that one eat some good meat on Good Meat Day. This was a job for...The Debuwagon Duo!

That's right. Today, Eisaku and I made a culinary journey to Sapporo. I asked him if he wanted to go and grab some Japanese-style BBQ somewhere in town, and then he told me that his sister was up in Sapporo, and he was planning on heading up to visit her, so why don't I come along?

Excellent idea, Professor Eisaku. The opportunity to research culinary delights presents itself once again.

So, (probably to everyone's shock and dismay) Eisaku left work around five, and came and picked me up. Then we were off!

On the way, we realized that neither of us knew of any really good place to grab some grub, so I called up the bartender at Ippuku-Tei and asked him if he knew of any good BBQ joints in Sapporo. He asked, "What's your price range?"
Following some consultation with Eisaku: "About three thousand yen per person."

He laughed. Hard. For a long time.

When he caught his breath, he said, "If you want to eat some good BBQ in Sapporo, the meat alone will cost you five. Add some beers and other food, and you're looking at ten thousand yen easily."

I relayed this dismaying news to Eisaku. "We'll think of something else, then. Thanks!"

The bartender said, "Wait. Let me check around. I'll call you back."

As we were passing through Tomakomai, he called back and told me about a place where we could probably eat well for 2500 yen per person. NOW WE'RE TALKING!

After reaching Sapporo and doing a bit of shopping, we headed over to Susukino (gasp!) and met Eisaku's sister. He called her fatso, and she called him fatso, and I realized that siblings are pretty much the same no matter what country they're from.

So we went to the BBQ place that the bartender told me about and...it was full. "How long's the wait?" "Well...everybody's really taking their time...and there are four groups ahead of you...I can't really say."

The heck with this, guys. Let's go get some ramen!

I've mentioned before that Sapporo is well known for its ramen, especially the ramen with a miso-based soup. This time, I suggested we go to a place called "Ittetsu".

Jack, my English-teaching comrade at Starfish High, used to live really close to Sapporo, and made the trip there about once a week. Every time he went, he would grab some ramen at Ittetsu. Each ramen shop in Japan has its own distinct flavor of soup, and according to Jack, Ittetsu's soup had a hint of barbecue flavor to it. BBQ-flavored ramen? It would be rude not to try it.

So as we walk down the arcade toward Ittetsu, the stores start thinning out along with the people. All three of us start to be a little concerned about the quality of a ramen shop located in such a sketchy area. Is Jack sense of taste working correctly? Is there some gene Canadians have that makes ramen taste better? But Jack told me, with serious conviction, that "this ramen will change your life. Trust me."

A tall order, indeed. Ramen in Sapporo has changed my life once already (Sumire). Can it happen again? The rewards are too great to pass up. So, we open the door and head inside.

For as sad as the shop looked outside, inside, it was packed. There was just enough room for us to sit down and place an order. The really cool thing was that it was more than just a ramen shop. There were lots of other good eatins on the menu. So we ordered a few things, I ordered a beer, and we sat back and waited for the food to come.

Fried pork and onion on a skewer. Fried tofu with grated Japanese radish. Hashed potatoes. Pot stickers. BEEF (Good Meat Day, after all). This was good. There was one thing I refused to touch, though.

The Squid Bomb. Yep. The Squid Bomb.

A whole squid fried up on a hot plate and glazed with a sauce made of its own guts.

Squid Bomb, indeed. (shudders)

Then came the call for last orders. Here it was...the moment of truth. We all ordered ramen. I ordered the miso-based soup. Eisaku ordered the soy-based soup. His sister ordered the salt-based soup. When the bowls came out, the soups looked pretty much the same.

I dipped my spoon in, and got some soup.

I took a sip.

Hot-diggity-dagnabbit! That! My friends! Was a DAMN! FINE! Bowl of RAMEN!

Thank you Jack. Ittetsu's ramen has indeed been a life-altering experience.

Man, it was good.

We finished up, paid the bill, and headed back to the car (after saying goodbye to Eisaku's sister). On the way back, Eisaku stopped. Panic swept across his face. "Hold on...we could have a problem." He started patting down his coat.

"What's the matter?"

"I seem to have misplaced my keys."

Oops. This could be a problem. How do we get back to Muroran now? Eisaku calls the ramen shop and asks about his keys. "We don't have your keys, but you forgot a bag with a DVD and a CD."

Eisaku: "Where is my head today? I must have been too excited about eating."

We head back to the parking garage, because there is a chance that Eisaku left the keys in the car door. If that's the case, then there's a good chance that Eisaku's car won't be there.

Except it was. With the keys still in the car door.

We're in Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido and one of the bigger cities throughout Japan. He LEFT HIS KEYS IN HIS CAR DOOR while we shopped and ate dinner. And the keys and the car were there when we got back. Wow.

We swung by Ittetsu, grabbed the DVD/CD bag, and headed for home. The drive back was not very pleasant, as it was snowing/hailing/sleeting on us, but we made it back safely.

And here I sit, at 2 in the morning, typing out this post as the wind wails outside and shakes my apartment.

Still, that was some good ramen.

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