Takashi's Noodles

June 24, 2009
They say if you get just one great recipe from a cookbook, it is worth the price. In that case, let me tell you about Spicy Eggplant Ja-Ja-Men Udon. Chef Yakashi Takashi, owner of Takashi's in Chicago describes this dish as a Japanese version of spaghetti and bolognese sauce. It's basically a spicy eggplant and ground pork sauce over noodles with peppers, spicy notes and a creamy sauce that is enriched with sesame paste. The recipe has 18 ingredients but I skipped a few altogether and used substitutions for a couple more and can't imagine it made any discernible difference. I didn't bother with the 1/2 cup dashi, 1/3 cup canned bamboo shoots, teaspoon of cornstarch or 3 Tablespoons of sake. I used Chinese chili garlic paste instead of a Japanese variety and Chinese sesame paste instead of tahini. I had to buy exactly 2 ingredients to make the dish, green peppers and ground pork. I could eat this dish every week! It is so comforting and at the same time exciting. The recipes vary in the number of ingredients but are generally not that difficult. They are all Asian or Asian-influenced but not all Japanese. You'll find crispy noodles, chilled ramen and cold soba, curry shrimp rice noodles even potato gnocchi with lemon butter sauce, scallops and sea urchin. These are restaurant dishes adapted for cooking at home.

I was on a mission to try as many top-rated ramen joints as I could in Hawaii . While I'm still nowhere near satisfied with the ramen choices in San Francisco, I am pleased that on June 24th from 6:30 - 8:30 pm there will be a special program at the San Francisco Ferry Building called For the Love of Ramen sponsored by the Asian Culinary Forum. Andy Raskin, author of The Ramen King and I, Eric Nakamura, publisher and co-editor of the Asian-American pop culture magazine, Giant Robot and George Solt, assistant professor of history, New York University will be talking about ramen, a Japanese version of a Chinese noodle dish, with a history spanning the post World War II period all the way till today and including the instant version that has become so ubiquitous. There will be refreshments of course, and great conversation. As a side note, I've been to every Asian Culinary Forum event and they have all been very well-organized, good fun and offered plenty of food for thought.

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