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Archive for the ‘food history’ tag

George Solt, Ramen Historian

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Arami Ramen
Arami Ramen

Devouring a delicious bowl of ramen is one of life’s great pleasures. Luckily, the number of quality establishments serving good versions has proliferated in the last few years.

Twelve years ago, [Professor George ] Solt, who spent the first decade of his life in Tokyo, before moving to New England, began researching his dissertation at the University of California, San Diego. Entitled “Taking Ramen Seriously: Food, Labor, and Everyday Life in Modern Japan,” it delved into the food production, labor practices, foreign trade, and national identity wrapped up in Japan’s now famous noodle soup. He has published other noodle-related academic writings, including an article in the International Journal of Asia-Pacific Studies, “Shifting Perceptions of Instant Ramen in Japan during the High-Growth Era, 1958-1973.” But his most accessible piece of work on the topic is a book borne of his doctoral dissertation, “The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze,” which was published in February.

His talk traced ramen from its origins, as a distinctly Chinese soup that arrived in Japan with Chinese tradesmen in the nineteenth century, through the American occupation after the war, to the proliferation of instant ramen in Japan in the seventies; the national frenzy in the eighties and nineties that gave birth to ramen celebrities, ramen museums, and ramen video games; and, finally, America’s embrace of ramen and Japanese culture today, as exhibited by the cultlike craze surrounding the sixteen-dollar bowls of ramen served by the celebrity chef David Chang.

“Ramen is one of the most minutely documented foods in Japan,” Solt writes. A number of geopolitical and economic factors—the reindustrialization of Japan’s workforce during the Cold War, the redefining of national identity during twenty years of economic stagnation—all combined to elevate ramen from working-class sustenance to a dish that is internationally recognized, beloved, and iconic. His research involved reading everything from ramen graphic novels to government documents produced during the U.S. occupation. In what Solt describes as an “Aha!” moment, he discovered that when the U.S. occupied Japan it imported wheat as a way to contain Communism. “The more Japan experienced food shortages, the more people would gravitate towards the Communist Party,” he said. By providing the wheat needed to make ramen noodles, America won the Cold War, sort of.

(click here to continue reading George Solt, Ramen Historian : The New Yorker.)

Tampopo Ramen!
Tampopo Ramen!

and of course, you should watch the film, Tampopo, if you haven’t already seen it…

Tampopo (タンポポ , literally “dandelion”) is a 1985 Japanese comedy film by director Juzo Itami, starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kōji Yakusho and Ken Watanabe. The publicity for the film calls it the first ramen western, a play on the term Spaghetti Western

and Roger Ebert’s review seems appropriate:

“Tampopo” is one of those utterly original movies that seems to exist in no known category. Like the French comedies of Jacques Tati, it’s a bemused meditation on human nature in which one humorous situation flows into another offhandedly, as if life were a series of smiles.

As it opens, the film looks like some sort of Japanese satire of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns. The hero is Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a lone rider with a quizzical smile, who rides a semi instead of a horse. Along with some friends, he stages a search for the perfect noodle restaurant but cannot find it. Then he meets Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), a sweet young woman who has her heart in the right place, but not her noodles.

The movie then turns into the fairly freestyle story of the efforts by Tampopo and her protector to research the perfect noodle and open the perfect noodle restaurant. Like most movies about single-minded obsessions, this one quickly becomes very funny. It might seem that American audiences would know little and care less about the search for the perfect Japanese noodle, but because the movie is so consumed and detailed, so completely submerged in noodleology, it takes on a kind of weird logic of its own.

Consider, for example, the tour de force of a scene near the beginning of the movie, where a noodle master explains the correct ritual for eating a bowl of noodle soup. He explains every ingredient. How to cut it, how to cook it, how to address it, how to think of it, how to regard it, how to approach it, how to smell it, how to eat it, how to thank it, how to remember it. It’s a kind of gastronomic religion, and director Juzo Itami creates a scene that makes noodles in this movie more interesting than sex and violence in many another.

(click here to continue reading Tampopo Movie Review & Film Summary (1987) | Roger Ebert.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 22nd, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Pączki – Polish pastry puts the fat in Tuesday

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Pączki
Pączki

I had my first Pączki today1 – one stuffed with a berry paste of some sort, and the other with a plum jam. Quite delicious. I was going to eat only one, but then couldn’t help myself from eating a second…

To make it a truly Fat Tuesday and properly usher in the long lenten season, one should follow the path of the Polish to the paczki.

…Pronounced “poonch-key,” the cakes are a longtime Polish tradition considered essential preludes to Ash Wednesday.

At Pticek & Son Bakery at 5523 S. Narragansett Ave., the preparationwas set to carry on through the night, with hundreds of paczkis ordered for pick-up before 5 a.m.

…To understand paczkis or even to enjoy them is to learn a little bit about Polish culture.

…”In the Polish tradition, it’s the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday [that people eat paczkis],” manager Urszula Niemczyk explained between attempts to have a visitor try “just one more.”

The tradition is becoming more and more intermingled with American celebrations of Fat Tuesday, she said.

But for Poles, the little donut is an important reminder of their heritage, said Samantha Kaminski, who works the counter at Oak-Mill.

“It’s a very big deal to us,” she said.

(click here to continue reading Polish pastry puts the fat in Tuesday – Chicago Tribune.)

Jelly filled Pączki
Jelly filled Pączki

Wikipedia adds:

A pączek is a deep-fried piece of dough shaped into a flattened sphere and filled with confiture or other sweet filling. Pączki are usually covered with powdered sugar, icing or bits of dried orange zest. A small amount of grain alcohol (traditionally, Spiritus) is added to the dough before cooking; as it evaporates, it prevents the absorption of oil deep into the dough.

Although they look like berliners (German name), bismarcks (south-central Canada/north-central US name), and jelly doughnuts (generic name; sometimes “jam donut”), pączki are made from especially rich dough containing eggs, fats, sugar and sometimes milk. They feature a variety of fruit and creme fillings and can be glazed, or covered with granulated or powdered sugar. Powidła (stewed plum jam) and wild rose hip jam are traditional fillings, but many others are used as well, including strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry and apple.

Pączki have been known in Poland at least since the Middle Ages. Jędrzej Kitowicz has described that during the reign of August III, under the influence of French cooks who came to Poland, pączki dough was improved, so that pączki became lighter, spongier, and more resilient.

In Poland, pączki are eaten especially on the first day of Ostatki, Tłusty Czwartek, also known as the Fat Thursday (the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday). The traditional reason for making pączki was to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the house, because their consumption was forbidden by Catholic fasting practices during Lent.

In the large Polish community of Chicago, and in other large cities across the Midwest, Pączki Day is celebrated annually by immigrants and locals alike. In Buffalo, Toledo, Cleveland, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, South Bend, and Windsor, Pączki Day is more commonly celebrated on Fat Tuesday instead of Tłusty Czwartek. Chicago celebrates the festival on both Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday, due to its sizable Polish population. Chicagoans also often eat pączki on Casimir Pulaski Day.

Footnotes:
  1. two, in fact []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 8th, 2013 at 10:40 am

Posted in Food and Drink

Tagged with , ,