ramen weather!

When it starts getting chilly outside, nothing satisfies the soul better than a nice warm bowl of ramen. It’s quite solidly fall these days, and now that daylight savings is over (I hope you remembered to change your clocks!), it’s darker earlier. Which means that I want nothing more than to curl up in bed and hibernate through winter. But since that’s not an option (or at least not a viable option if I want to maintain my health/work/life), thank goodness there’s ramen. Nothing makes you feel like a human faster than being warmed from the inside out and left happy and full.

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Totto Ramen
464 West 51st Street
(between 9th and 10th Avenues)
Hell’s Kitchen, New York, NY

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izakaya mew – the pride of midtown

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Midtown Manhattan has horrible food options. Ask any local and they’ll tell you. Midtown Manhattan is full of quick sandwich lunch options and crappy bars with decent happy hour specials. In other words, food options are usually geared towards the working masses. But since I live in Midtown Manhattan, I know three things: The food options really do suck. But they’re great if you’re looking for Korean. And if you’re not, there’s always Izakaya MEW.

32nd Street is known as “Korea Way” according to the street sign, but no one calls it that. It’s Koreatown, pure and simple. There’s a host of great Korean food in the area: Jongro (fantastic Korean barbecue), Miss Korea (not that great, but decent enough), and Food Gallery 32 (food court with good options but limited seating) all on 32nd Street, and Turntable Chicken Jazz (fried chicken!), KyoChon (more fried chicken!), and Cho Dang Gol (standard Korean) not too far away. In other words, I’ve had a lot of Korean food since I moved to Midtown. But otherwise? There’s Izakaya MEW, which I have been to waaayyy too often.

In basic, Izakaya MEW is a decently-priced restaurant with good drinks, good Japanese food, and a great environment. Its entrance is a fairly nondescript staircase leading down to its basement level, located right next door to Cho Dang Gol. The ramen isn’t too great, but I highly recommend their drinks, sushi, fried baby octopus, and potato croquettes. Wait times can vary from no wait to an hour, but they stay open quite late and in all honesty, there ain’t much else!

So yay for Izakaya MEW, you make Midtown less horrible!

Izakaya MEW
53 West 35th Street, Basement
(between 5th and 6th Avenues)
Midtown, New York, NY

cafeteria food done right

It feels blasphemous labeling such deliciousness ‘cafeteria food’, but alas, that is what it is. 24 kuai! Udon noodles and chicken katsu (Japanese-style fried chicken cutlet) for the equivalent of 4 USD. The only aspect that makes this ‘cafeteria food’ is that I had to carry the food on a tray to a table and shared a long table with a bunch of other single people. What a sacrifice! I love cafeterias!

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The Jing’an subway stop is connected to the basements of two malls, Jiu Guang (久光) and Réel Mall, to the west of Changde Road and on the north and south sides of Nanjing Road, respectively. Jiu Guang’s basement has FreshMart, a Japanese supermarket that carries a lot of foreign/imported/ridiculously expensive foods, some small stores like the Yamazaki bakery, and some sit-down restaurants. Réel’s basement is a giant cafeteria. Starbucks and Wagas are down there too, but the highlight is all the cheap, clean, non-sketchy food places and the large open seating area. I don’t eat there too often, but it’s extremely convenient, not very expensive (more than other cafeterias, but for good reason), and much better food than I could ever hope to muster making myself. There’s a healthy mix of places, with a lot of noodle or rice options (great for single people) and a fair amount of Korean, Japanese, or Sichuan/Hunan food (my friend says those cuisines are ‘popular’ among young people).

The only thing I find weird is more of a cultural thing than a critique against Réel itself. When I was done with my meal (which I devoured), I stood up, put on my coat, picked up my tray, started walking, and looked like a complete idiot. The thing is, there is no place to put away your tray. I asked one of the workers where to put my tray, she looked confused, then laughed and took it from me. Apparently you’re supposed to just leave it and a busser (more like a bus-auntie than busboy) will come around and clean it up. To me, if you walk the food over yourself, it’s your responsibility to clean it up or put it away, but if you’re served by a waiter, you can leave it. That thought process makes me an outsider. It doesn’t even occur to people here that you would put away your own tray. When I was at McDonald’s with a local friend and picked up the tray to throw the trash in the trash, she actually asked me what I was doing. I mean really? Cleaning up after yourself is just common decency. But whaddaya know, I guess I’m just abnormally well-mannered.

hey little man, can you wait a tad bit longer?

So … I’m in China. Sounds exciting, right? Well, eh. When I went to Beijing at the end of June I stopped by Shanghai and left a daruma doll in the apartment – one eye filled in. The daruma doll is a good luck talisman of sorts. You’re supposed to fill in one eye when you make a goal, and when you’ve reached the goal you get to fill the other eye in. So by having a one-eyed creepy little doll staring at you, it encourages you to keep working at your goal. It’s supposedly a traditional Japanese thing (all my information is coming from Wikipedia), and even though I’m not Japanese (and have no knowledge of this thing outside what Wikipedia is telling me), I like the premise of having a visual, physical signifier of a wish. Post-it notes and to-do lists I have. But those are about tasks; this is about a goal.

I’ll fill in the other eye once I have stable employment that I’m happy with. At the moment, no bites. A short little gig teaching English? Yep. But that ain’t gonna pay the rent. Needless to say, it ain’t gonna make much of a dent in the student loans either. Wish me luck! (I’ll need it.)

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takoyaki = yummy octopus balls

I am by no means a glutton. I like food, but I actually don’t eat a whole lot of it. I do, however, like what I like. And takoyaki I like. And I want more of. It’s a Japanese dish that I bought on the street in Beijing, and it was pretty magical. They had just finished off a batch when I got to the little stall so I decided to wait and watch them cook it. It’s pretty cool. They have this special dimpled pan that they pour batter into, and then stick octopus pieces and some other small things. As they cooked the lady was constantly picking at them, turning them so they became little spheres of goodness.

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The presentation was quite nice too, especially in comparison to most Chinese stalls where everything gets squished into a plastic bag. Four little octopus balls to a boat, covered with some sauce, green onions, and dried fish shavings, with a pair of chopsticks tucked in and napkins underneath. It was amazing. It was 10 kuai (about $1.50) which might be considered a bit pricier than the stuff on sticks that most Chinese stalls sell … but wow, so much better (even though I do have a fondness for that stuff as well).

Thankfully I live in the wonderful city that is New York, where every cuisine under the sun can be found. So it shouldn’t be too long before I get some takoyaki again!