Rainy Days & Ramen

Our little household is obsessed with ramen. We are so over Tutti Melon and almost over pho from Out the Door.  SF Weekly recently ran an article on ramen and it’s growing following and I was almost indignant that other people were into ramen as well.  How dare they?  This was our little secret obsession.  But, I suppose this is how food trends work.  We should just be happy that we were eating it before it seemingly caught on fire. The great thing about people wanting ramen is that yummy ramen joints are opening all over the Bay Area.  We have checked out many of them and will be making the rounds of the others suggested in the SF Weekly article shortly.

We love ramen “loodles”, as Ria calls them and will go to great lengths to slurp up a good bowl of “loodles”.  The rains have come early this year and ramen is the perfect antidote to pouring rain and howling winds.  Pouring rain and howling winds didn’t deter us from driving to San Mateo for ramen at Ramen Dojo, a pint sized shop that serves ramen in three different soup bases (soy, garlic pork & soy bean) and different levels of spiciness.  If there is a food that can satisfy your soul and truly comfort you, it’s ramen (especially on cold, wet days) and the ramen at Dojo’s is especially amazing.

On a recent visit, Ria, in addition to her ramen ordered 2 bowls of dumplings (she did not finish her ramen and her father very willingly finished it for her).  Melt in your mouth, full of porky, salty, uber-flavorful dumplings.  She ate one and looked at me and said – “These are better than the dumplings we make at home” (Easy-peasy dumplings).  Downside of raising a little foodie – she will eventually figure out that the food I make at home is not the best in the world.

Debbie from Frisco Kids after reading our Japantown playdate post suggested we try out the Taiyaki (Japanese fish shaped, pancake-like hand held treat filled with red bean, chocolate and a variety of other fillings) at Sweet Breams (get it?) in San Mateo.  The Taiyaki at Sweet Beams are mini sized and you can order 1/2 a school (six) or any multiple of that with a variety of fillings.  They also have a “catch of the week” flavor and in the past have had unique flavors like White Chocolate Macadamia,  Almond Pear and Black Sesame.

Rain notwithstanding this was a pretty awesome food adventure.

A Taste of Japan in our Backyard

The Japantown malls are one of our favorite places these days.   So much to do with the kids and they usually aren’t crowded during most days.  A life-saver for those foggy days when you can’t figure out where to take the kids and cannot bear to spend anymore time at a kids’ museum.  For me, Japantown is a throw-back to my childhood in Singapore when I was a “mall-rat”.  The food, the shops, the intriguing Asian/Japanese toys, stickers, pencil cases, bento boxes, cute erasers….the list of kitchsy items goes on.  You can tell I never got past this stuff. 🙂

Some of our favorite stores are the Sanrio/Hello Kitty store right by the indoor koi pond (which in itself is a great attraction).  We were there for a summer playdate recently and the girls LOVED the “Hello Kitty” store and the wall of stickers in one the stationery stores. Connect seamlessly from one mall to the next and you can spend hours there.  You can also a spend a good amount of time at the Japantown Peace Plaza courtyard chasing pigeons.  Ria and her little buddy Jay spent an inordinate amount of time chasing pigeons.  There seems to be theme emerging here with kids and bird chasing.

Our favorite store is Ichiban Kan (“Different Things”) – they sell anything you could possible ever need at ridiculous price.  We always leave this store in a happy mood as does everyone who has ever gone with us.  We have picked up some super cute lunch bags, bento boxes, reusable lunch containers and Japanese snacks here.  Japanese snacks are a wonderful little treat to pack in a school lunch box and we are running low on our supplies, so we have to head back soon.  The worst part of these store is that the little ones will whine and ask to be bought things and you will cave because everything is so inexpensive.  If you are trying to declutter your home, do not go to this store.

The other star attraction at these Japantown malls is the food.  Of course, you won’t find Ria and me where there isn’t the promise of a food ‘venture as well.  Japanese food is extremely kid friendly – chicken katsu, noodles, teriyaki chicken with rice, in addition to all the bakeries and crepes at Sophie’s Crepe house.  We have started making more Japanese food at home as a result of our frequent adventures to Japantown (stock up at Nijiya Market).  Plus, there is all that display plastic food which always gets the kids’ attention.  There are restaurants a-plenty and the toughest part is choosing one to eat it.  Pick one of the larger ones if you are there with your kids vs. the little hole in the wall ones.

The last time we were there, we ate at Benihana which serves Japanese teppanyaki.  The food is made right in front of you on a large hot plate by “showmen-chefs”.  The kids, all three of them were mesmerized and didn’t budge or whine while watching their lunch being made.  It isn’t the tastiest Japanese food I have had but for entertainment value and decent food at a very reasonable prices at lunch, it is worth a visit.   Putter around and, like us, have a tough time deciding where to eat.

We also had some very yummy fish-shaped Taiyaki for dessert.  This is another one of those things I grew up eating and was more excited than the kids to (re)discover.  Taiyaki is a Japanese fish shaped, pancake-like hand held treat filled with red bean, chocolate and a variety of other fillings.   Take some home and re-heat for a quick and fun treat with a glass of cold milk.

We have been here several times and still feel like we have tons to do and tons we want to do again.  Time flies while you are here.  Kids are in wonderland and the parents have fun too.  Going to Japantown is like a visit to Japan without the airfare.  A mini-vacation in our own city and a chance to expose the kiddos to a whole new world of fun and food!