|Hot stuff: Orochon Ramen lets you choose your level of heat. I opted for #3 and it was pretty damned warm.|
When Erin and I were in LA last month, we ate dinner with her cousin Lisa Sasaki and her brother Eric and his wife Leah, at a very popular ramen shop, Daikokuya. The restaurant is one of several that specialize in Ramen on a block of First Street in Little Tokyo, just down the street from the Japanese American National Museum. The joint is hopping at all hours, with eager clusters of (mostly non-Japanese) people patiently waiting to enter, thanks to a couple of rave reviews including one from the restaurant critic from the LA Times, whose article is posted in the window. Luckily, we didn't have to wait too long to be seated. Lisa loves the combination specials: choose a ramen, and get a half-order of another entree, from tonkatsu pork cutlets and gyoza dumplings to fried rice. The fried rice was good, all right. Erin and I both thought the ramen itself (we ordered the chasyu ramen, topped with slices barbecued pork loin) was good but not awe-inspiring. The place was so popular and raucous, though, that it was simply a fun experience.
In the U.S., snack food manufacturers in recent years have become creative, and come up with a variety of flavor combinations beyond the old barbecue-flavor potato chips or the nacho cheese flavored Doritos. Now you can get black pepper and olive oil Triscuits, or chili-lime flavored corn chips. But American palates probably aren't ready for some of the flavors that are available in Japan.