Ramen as food for real people

When I was in college I bought stacks of Top Ramen noodles. Ten cents each if you waited for a sale–usually every two weeks. I’d buy 20 of them if I had the cash, stack them on the kitchen table and prepare my menu. Monday Ramen with cheese, Tuesday Ramen with Tobasco sauce and cheese, Wednesday Dry Ramen and beer…

I confess I was driving without a license. My usual prep was to break the ramen brick into pieces like a saltine cracker, throw in boiling water, put a Kraft Single on top and mix in the flavor packet. Delicious, sure. Worthy of Martha Stuart… But not ramen.

Ramen is not college food. It is real food. In Japan people travel miles, through rain and snow, for a bowl of ramen. Ramen fads sweep the nation faster than flu epidemics. Right now Tonkotsu ramen, with its oily soup and MSG is rocking the nation. Before that it was buttery Hokkaido ramen stacked with green onion, corn and MSG.

On the roadside you can find ramen mega-restaurants–pleasure domes of oily soup and noodles. Every region has their well-known chain with giant parking lots and smoking sections as big as Little League baseball parks (without the ventilation, though).

I don’t like Tonkotsu ramen much. It’s just too oily. But I love the old school flavors, Miso, Shio and Shoyu. You can still find them around, you just have to know where to look. But if you’re looking for Kraft Singles, Tobasco sauce and beer I only know one place you can get it. But please call first. I’ll want to make sure I have enough Top Ramen on hand.

Nagoya’s mean streets

Back in LA, I ran across more than a few idiots on the freeway. I flipped them off and yelled “Where’d you get your license asshole, Walmart!?” through my closed window. After all, in LA you never know who has a gun…. or who will be your next boss. A lot of people in LA think they have to get wherever they are going before you. Maybe they do. Bu if it’s a soccer mom in a Yukon or Tahoe, just pull over and let them pass. You’ll never win that fight.

LA Drivers don’t suck as much as New York or Boston, or even Chicago, but they do suck. So I thought in Japan I’d be a little safer behind the wheel. But, I moved to Nagoya. Nagoya has the highest traffic fatality rate in the entire nation; a honor that they earn every year! They even beat Tokyo, and Osaka. This is no small feat. Nagoya’s urban area population is a mere 10 million (2.5 million in the city itself) compared to Tokyo’s 40 million and Osaka’s nearly 20 mil. Yet Nagoya drivers consistently bring the city to the top of the auto fatalities category. Imagine how many people would be living in this city if we actually had some decent drivers.

So what’s so bad about running a few lights? Sure running red lights is common–even when the car in front of you stops. Just pass that “Safety Sam” in the opposing lane. It’s an art form. Also a minimum of 5 cars can turn left after the light turns red, but the opposing traffic doesn’t wait so it’s a little like weaving a giant basket.  And drivers happily use the opposing traffic lane to pass each other, regardless whether the lane is already occupied or not. Usually the car behind you is so close on your tail that if you stop suddenly for that idiot Taxi, the guy behind you will be sitting in your passenger seat. Did I mention idiot Taxis? I’m no rocket scientist, but I’ll throw this hypothesis out there: If taxi drivers stop watching TV they drive better.

But it’s not all we drivers’ faults. Nagoya has the longest signals on the planet Earth. If you get stuck behind one, you have time for lunch and probably a coffee and dessert. No wonder we’re all pushing through those lights. We know that we only have so many years to live. The Nagoya traffic planners are all laughing at us as we wait at the red, our cars idling and casting a grey pall over the city while on the cross street no car has passed for the better part of an hour.

When at last your light turns green, you should proceed with caution and make sure you’re not on a one-way street. They’re randomly hidden throughout the city like inside jokes. Sometimes there’s a sign, usually too rusty to read and hidden behind a tree. Other times your only hint of a one-way is the car barreling toward you, in the same lane. When you find yourself in this position don’t panic. Do what the locals do. Play chicken. Remember there’s no shoulder. The houses come right to the edge of the road. The chicken is likely to end up in somebody’s living room. So don’t be the chicken… Just step on it and cross your fingers. And remember your mother’s advice. Don’t leave home with dirty underwear… you never know when you’ll be in an accident!

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