Ramen Pho? Phooey!

| No Comments


L to R: BaBar's hybrid ramen pho, oxtail pho, ramen at Little Tokyo's Ramen Champ in LA

One of America's greatest taste combinations, in my experience, is the ballpark hot dog with yellow mustard. Seriously. No cream cheese, no onions, no peppers. Time-tested satisfaction

Now, we can have a legitimate debate about gustatory preferences. French fried potatoes with mayonnaise (Hollard), with Dijon mustard (France), with curry ketchup (Germany, Italy), with sweet ketchup or even barbecue sauce (USA).

We can also make a list of classic food combinations that most Americans would agree on. Peanut butter and jelly, for example. Bacon and eggs. Cookies and milk. Mac & cheese. Ham & cheese. Some might add buffalo wings and blue cheese. New Yorkers go for lox, bagels & cream cheese. The Italians would opt for tomatoes and mozzarella, or prosciutto with melon, or biscotti dipped in Vin Santo.

So here's the latest fad, ramen pho, a noodle soup that (supposedly) combines the best elements of ramen and pho in one bowl. It sounded so intriguing: a pho beef broth that tastes like it's been injected with a steroid of salty pork fat, served with wheat noodles and topped with a soft-boiled egg, smoked pork belly, roasted brisket and the umami punch of enoki mushrooms and seaweed. Well, I had to try it.

We're not talking about "instant" (two-minute) ramen in cellophane wrappers, but real ramen served at lunch counters all over Japan and along the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Bellingham. I've had great ramen recently at both Kizuki locations, in West Seattle and on Cap Hill. Last month I slurped a fine bowl at Ramen Champ in the Little Tokyo enclave of Los Angeles. My friend Jay Friedman, one of Seattle's most experienced connoisseurs of Asian food, inveighs against pseudo-ramen (inauthentic ingredients, weak broth); he recalls watching a TV show in Japan where three judges visit ramen shops unannounced. Served a bad bowl, the expert would simply rise, say "Gomen na" ("I'm sorry") and walk out.

So let's shift over to pho. Readers of my column know that I have nothing but admiration for Eric and Sophie Banh, the siblings behind Monsoon and Ba Bar. My favorite noodle soup in Seattle is Ba Bar's oxtail pho, which seems to extract every drop of flavor from the meaty bones.

Somehow, Eric got it into his head earlier this year to try hybridizing ramen and pho. To create something like a cronut, in other words. (The cronut, a pastry "invented" by New York baker Dominique Ansel, combines elements of the croissant and the doughnut.) Now, ramen noodles are wheat-based and thickish, and served in a rich stock made with pork bones and flavor enhancers like dashi. Pho noodles, on the other hand. are made from rice; the fragrant beef broth is seasoned with star anise topped with aromatic basil leaves; the meat is thinly sliced beef occasionally augmented with tripe and tendon. They are the cheese and chalk, if you will, of Asian noodle soups.

Well, the $12 ramen pho combo served at Ba Bar comes topped with a clutch of enoki mushrooms and a savory hunk of nori (seaweed), some brisket, some smoked pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, and wheat noodles. How is that not ramen? The only thing that makes it pho is that it's served in a Vietnamese restaurant.

So despite all the hype, I've gotta say "no" to this effort.

Pasta Fazool: That's Amore!

| No Comments

Pasta Mazool at Mondello.jpg

Dean Martin, in an otherwise forgettable 1953 movie with Jerry Lewis called "The Caddy," sings this faux-Neapolitan street song composed by Harry Warren with lyrics by Jack Brooks:

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore.

Academy Award nomination for best original song, but it lost to Doris Day's "Secret Love." Regardless, "That's Amore" became Dino's signature tune. Moving right along:

When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool, that's amore.

Pasta fazool is what east-coast Italian-Americans used to call pasta e fagioli, pasta with beans. It's a hearty soup, still served at Olive Garden, $6.79 at dinner, with unlimited breadsticks: a hearty, unfussy soup tjat lends itself to infinite variations; Cheese/no cheese, tomatoes/no tomatoes, chicken stock/beef stock, sausage/no meat at all, The noodles can be whatever short or tiny pasta you've got on hand, macaroni, shells, ditalini, even spaghetti you break into short bits. You could add spinach, you could even add kale (although--ugh--that would spoil it for me). An ideal crockpot recipe, frankly.

Enza Sorrentino made this version today at Mondello. She used five or six different kinds of beans (two kinds of lentils, pintos, cannellini, chickpeas), and mini-macaroni, topped with bits of crispy-fried pancetta. Heading to the restaurant's regular menu, it is, where it will go into rotation with three already popular soups: vegetarian minestrone, lentils with Italian sausage, and Nonna Vita (aka Italian wedding soup) with tiny veal meatballs.


It's the third annual Alaska Herring Week, and several dozen leading restaurants and retail seafood vendors in the Seattle area are showcasing unique dishes and products featuring one of Alaska's unsung "seafood heroes." (The full list is here.)

"Our hope is to begin expanding it to other cities beyond Seattle next year," says Zachary Lyons, a spokesman for the local agricultural collaborative known as FORKS: Farms, Oceans, Ranches, Kitchens.

There are a few other herring events in other markets; New York, for example, but it does only Atlantic herring. 

Alaska herring is one of the largest, most abundant and sustainable fisheries in the world, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, but has largely disappeared from US menus and fish markets.

The Alaska Herring Development Project aims to restore herring to its "proper place" as a commercial fishery for human consumption. "As one of our region's great, wild seafood resources, herring is abundant, affordable, sustainable, delicious and nutritious," says the founder of the project, a nano-distiller in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood who goes by the single name of Lexi.  "It is part of our culture, and it comes with a rich and colorful history," she says. Lexi's Old Ballard Liquor Co. produces aquavit and other traditional spirits to accompany herring dishes.

The Alaska Herring Development Project is partnering with Seattle chefs and grocers to restore the Seattle market for herring as a high-quality food. North Pacific Seafoods, which produces the popular Bristol Bay sockeye salmon in Naknek, Alaska, during the summer, is producing fillets from Alaska's largest herring fishery in Togiak, Alaska, for use by chefs and sale by grocers during Alaska Herring Week.

The Togiak herring fishery is sustainably managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The herring harvest is based on a sustainable level of the herring biomass.

Old Ballard Liquor Co.jpgCurrently, the primary market for Alaska herring is for their eggs in Japan, but changing tastes in Japan are reducing this market, both value and volume.

A very small portion of the Alaska Herring Fishery is used as bait for species like halibut and crab.

Hence the push for herring in the Lower 48.

Which explains why we have herring smoked, pickled, fried. We have herring tartare; herring boquerones (normally served in Spanish tapas bars, but with anchovies); herring panzanella; crispy fried whole herring; Sichuan-dressed herring with Walla Walla onions; herring with buccatini pasta; smoked herring salad; herring with a green salsa; lemon-dill herring (a deli dish); herring in saor; even herring as a teriyaki sandwich.

"It's an opportunity to taste this delicious and healthful fish, while supporting the fishermen who bring Alaska herring from sea to table and at the same time supporting a fishery dedicated to providing a sustainable food supply," Lyons said.

Cow 15 at Kurtwood Farms.JPG

What we call "agricultural literacy" is at a depressingly low point, according to a scholarly report in the Journal of Agricultural Education. One grade-school respondent, for example, told researchers that "My mommy told me bread comes from an animal. I don't know which animal."

In a front-page story, The Washington Post reports today that a high percentage of Americans do not have the most rudimentary understanding of food or agriculture. "Today, many Americans only experience food as an industrial product that doesn't look much like the original animal or plant," the Post says.

The story reports on an online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy.

A few examples:

  • 16 million people think chocolate milk comes from brown cows
  • 40% of California 4th-graders (5th and 6th graders, too) didn't know that hamburger comes from cows
  • Orange juice is the nation's most popular "fruit"
  • French fries and potato chips are the nation's most popular "vegetables"
Says the Post: "For decades, observers in agriculture, nutrition and education have griped that many Americans are basically agriculturally illiterate. They don't know where food is grown, how it gets to stores -- or even, in the case of chocolate milk, what's in it."

There's actually a non-profit, FoodCorps, with a mission to bring more agricultural and nutrition education into elementary schools. But it may be a losing battle, according to Cecily Upton, FoodCorps co-founder. "Right now, we're conditioned to think that if you need food, you go to the store. Nothing in our educational framework teaches kids where food comes from before that point."

It wasn't that the kids didn't know, apparently; it's that they couldn't explain it in academic terms. "All informants recalled the names of common foods in raw form and most knew foods were grown on farms or in gardens," the researchers concluded. "They did not, however, possess schema necessary to articulate an understanding of post-production activities nor the agricultural crop origin of common foods."


Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Recent Comments

  • KuKuRuZa Popcorn: Hi there, Thanks so much for spreading the wonderful news read more
  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnbwbejZ1MsEAD7tUryc0LW5VoGSME1aF0: Hi Ronald, Great post!:) Your timing was perfect, as I read more
  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkSgkNW34VZ7fYMFTYxNLnf5BXImrmrJtM: My nephew is on his second replacement and is doing read more
  • robertinseattle: Ron - I realize you have a strong opinion of read more
  • julierenneresq: Sounds delishhhh . . . Fun place for a Behind read more
  • jessnoonan: Great article! One of the best things I have ever read more
  • lisajenkins0: I look forward to watching what comes next! read more
  • joeconnector: Great post Ron - and thanks for forwarding the NY read more
  • jessnoonan: Totally agree!! read more
  • thestickywrapper: I can't wait to check out all these awesome people! read more