Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | food & dining
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The world lost a food pioneer on January 5. Momofuku Ando, 97, the self-professed "Noodle King," was the man who invented instant ramen -- the low budget dining delicacy of college students everywhere. Long before sushi, there was another and more profound Japanese food invasion in the United States. Since the mid-1970s, instant ramen has been bringing Asian culinary subtlety (OK, so it's not exactly subtle) to young American palates for mere pennies a bowl. Ramen may be an ubiquitous presence in US grocery stores today, but it was only introduced in America in 1972. It took several years and some marketing savvy -- the inexpensive packages of fried and dried, boil and serve noodles didn't catch on until they were sold in the soup aisle in the supermarket -- before ramen caught on as a dorm room staple. Although ramen is a relatively young food in America, it has a long and distinguished history in Asia.

The Washington Post recently reported that the government of Japan is going to start checking out Japanese restaurants all over the world and handing out seals of approvals for those deemed to be serving “authentic” Japanese cuisine. This rather extreme step (it sounds like something the snooty French would do) is the result of a recent visit by the country's Minister of Agriculture, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who went to a Japanese restaurant in Colorado and saw that the menu also featured Korean barbecued beef.

Photo_090906_012.jpgOne great thing about living in the New York area is the simple fact of its diverse population. I've been shopping regularly at various Asian markets in the area -- a Japanese grocery store in Manhattan; the huge Japanese supermarket, Mitsuwa, in northern Jersey; the Korean Han Ah Reum (better known as H-Mart) -- and buying everything from eggs and orange juice to Asian staples like rice, packaged ramen and a variety of unique Asian snacks and junk food. Here in Jersey City's Journal Square area, there's a concentration of Indians and Pakistanis and a two-block stretch of nothing but Indian groceries and restaurants along Newark Avenue. Today, I explored the neighborhood around Journal Square and discovered to my delight that on another stretch of Newark Avenue, there are a number of Filipino businesses.

badsushi.jpgI've been looking for Asian restaurants in my area of Jersey City, and only having limited luck. Part of Jersey City is becoming "Hobokenized," which is to say, the yuppies are overflowing from Manhattan and settling in parts of New Jersey that are closest to New York. But my part of Jersey City, which is close to where I work in Journal Square, has not been Hobokenized. And it probably won't happen anytime soon. Anyway, the one Asian cuisine I found right away was Indian food. There's a concentrated South Asian community here and a stretch of Newark Avenue just off Journal Square is dotted with Indian restaurants. I've eaten at a couple of them so far, and they're great.

Diversity on St. Marks The ebb and flow of New York neighborhoods is a great example of how cities evolve. When I attended Pratt Institute in the late 1970s, the East Village neighborhood in Manhattan along St. Marks Place (8th Street becomes St. Marks Place east of 3rd Ave.) was a haven for punk rockers and hipsters, with used record stores (this was pre-CD) and tattoo shops. Drugs were a currency on the street, and leather the couture of choice. I can recall walking the block of St. Mark's between and 3rd and 2nd Ave. shopping for rare British import albums and marveling at all the street vendors with their wares -- jewelry, records and cassettes, used books -- spread out on blankets on the sidewalk. That was then. This is now.

Here's one reason I enjoy working in Jersey City's Journal Square: One of the best meals is from the dumpy-looking pizza joint, "Three Guys from Italy," which is run by Latinos. Next door is a burrito joint touting authentic Mexican grub, which is run by... a couple of Chinese women.

Buttermilk fried chicken from Chef E's, with fried green tomatoes, spicy cabbage and mashed sweet potatoes.
Ain’t it great when a dining experience is positively orgasmic? I for one, live for those meals. The first meal with the AAJA Link student staff at the AAJA convention in Minneapolis was one of those great foodfests.

Sometimes, you just gotta have comfort food -- you know, meat loaf, mac and cheese, a nice chicken fried steak. Real mashed potatoes, not the just-add-water kind. And when it comes to comfort food, you can't beat a great diner. So I welcomed my lunch date today at the Rocky Mountain Diner, even though it's a bit on the high-end side of diner cuisine.