Furukawa ふる川 Mito, Ibaraki, Japan 茨城県 水戸市

Been a while as I was busy at work and all that good stuff.  Also I’ve been eating a lot of food and getting fat and all jazz.  One of the chief culprits?  Furukawa, a new-ish ramen shop that opened up down the street from my apartment this summer and has subsequently garnered a lot of buzz online, considering the area in which it’s based.

With my days off currently being Thursday and Friday, there’s pretty much nothing stopping me from hitting up the place once a week and polishing a 1000 yen worth of noodles and the works in a thirty minute whirlwind of gluttony and stress eating.

Not an empty seat in the house.

Not an empty seat in the house.

Whilst in America, we generally refer to ramen as either the kind that comes in a styrofoam cup and will give you a heart attack or the kind you get at a Japanese place, ramen in Japan is itself a discipline with many different schools and styles of preparation and flavor.  (It’s a long story, one that you can at least start to grasp by looking at this link.)

The ramen in Furukawa comes mainly in assari-style salt or soy sauce based bowls with occassional specialities coming in with the changing of the seasons.

My usual go-to is the assari soy sauce ramen (pictured below), silky smooth but still with enough flavor to let you know that you’ve just shortened your life by half a decade. The noodles are thin and firm, actually not entire unlike the noodles in Instant Ramen… except they don’t taste like cardboard and cigarette butts.  A typical bowl comes with a piece of chicken and an almost rare piece of thin chashuu, a slightly more finesse take on what is at times considered a man’s meal. (No sexism intended.)  The price for a normal bowl of filling noodles and broth?  700 yen (or only 60 yen more expensive than a Big Mac set).

Furukawa

Shoyu Ramen. 700 yen

But since I’m a fat person, I don’t just stop there.  Nope, I also have to get my daily serving of rice in a bowl, here topped with a nice portion of sliced chashuu, soy glaze, and mayonnaise.

Furukawa

Chashu-don. 300 yen

Were I a health conscious individual, this would probably be enough for an entire meal.  But I’m not.  Eating the chashu this way is a good way to sample the efforts of a ramen shop when it comes to one of the most crucial aspects of the ramen experience.  And Furukawa, of course, passes with flying colors.  The price of this bowl of goodness?  300 yen.  In other words, an economic success.

Recently, with the advent of Autumn, Furukawa has been offering a hearty special: Butasoba.  Thick noodles in a thick, fatty broth served under a heaping pile of bean sprouts, cabbage, pork and shame.  The price once again?  700 yen.  It’s almost like they want me to eat at their shop at every possible opportunity.

Butasoba. 700 yen.  200 arteries clogged.

Butasoba. 700 yen. 200 arteries clogged.

The only downside of eating an infant-sized portion of this stuff?  The sensation that your stomach may burst open Alien-style immediate upon devouring it in a primal frenzy.

Overall, Furukawa is one of my favorite places to eat in Mito (probably top three, if not number one).  While ramen will never be a healthy food, the bowls crafted here are generally done with enough care and attention to detail that you could probably trick yourself into thinking you’re eating somewhere good for you.  If you find yourself in my neck of the woods, definitely do try to sneak in for a bowl (also, call me).  You won’t be disappointed.  (Unless you hate good things, in which case, screw you.)

Tabelog page (in Japanese)

Being a Grown-Up: I guess every birthday is special…

Happy birthday to me.

Happy birthday to me.

So it’s my birthday again.  That happened fast.  It felt like it was only yesterday that I was complaining about it being my birthday (and a particularly cruddy one at that) and waxing poetic on the utter banality of celebrating being born.  But really, it turned out to be a year to the day.

I’ve always felt like the first couple of years of someone’s life shouldn’t be counted in someone’s age.  I mean, the first couple of years, you can’t even take a dump on your own, let alone tie your shoes.  Really, I don’t think we should count that years before someone has to start paying taxes against their age.  In other words, I’m actually five years old.  Someone buy me Power Rangers bedsheets.

Funny things, birthdays.  For the first ten or eleven years, they’re the greatest days ever (even though, for some reason, you always wound up bringing the cupcakes and stuff to share with class to celebrate your own special day, which I’m pretty darn sure is actually some sort of Stalinist brainwashing technique meant to acclimate us to socialized medicine and gulaugs, or maybe I’m just paranoid).  Then, at some unknown point in time, they suddenly turn into the worst days ever.   (“Oh god.  It’s my birthday.  I hope no one notices.  Well, I hope they don’t sing… Crap they’re singing.”)  Maybe birthdays stop losing their importance when they stop becoming massive goallines where you suddenly level up and are granted the ability to drive a car or drink a beer.  That isn’t to say that you can’t go for a joyride when you’re fifteen years and three-hundred-and-sixty-four days old. It just means that, for whatever arbitrary reason, you’re suddenly adult enough to do it without having the cops send you to juvie.  It’s not like you’re anymore mature on your sixteenth birthday than you were the day before.  It just means that some fatass bureaucrat in some cushy office somewhere looked at the calendar and decided that 16th birthdays were the perfect day to give someone the right to text behind the wheel.

You know what else I don’t understand?  The Happy Birthday song.  Who the hell is that for?  If I wanted to hear off-key singing and proclamations of how “dear” I am to someone (A little too North Korea-ey if you ask me), I’d just listen to the latest Taylor Swift album.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the fact you guys are singing for my benefit but at the very least put in a couple of practice rounds before you’re all making me go deaf.  If you really want me to have a happy birthday, you should all just shut the hell up and leave me alone with my cake.  Amnamnamnamnamnam <–  That’s my flat slob shoving food into his face voice, in case you found that too confusing.

And most of the time, “Make a wish!” comes off sounding more like a threat than a good-natured whatzit.  “Make a wish!” you all say as cheap-ass wax candles melt all over a previously perfectly fine cake.  Make a wish or what?  Are you going to just let the candles burn down to stubs, coating the entire top of the cake with melted wax in some S&M perverts wildest fantasy unless I make a stupid wish?  Are you going to think any less of me if I don’t make a wish but pretend I did?  What if I wished for something stupid?  I mean, solving world hunger is great and all but what kind of eleven year old would wish for something like that?  Find me a kid who says that’s what his wish was and I’ll find you a pair of parents that should probably have their kids taken away from them.  Being a kid means being a selfish asswad and promptly not getting whatever stupid piece of crap it was that you wished for.  I think we should just ban those sorts of wishes.  That way starving Ethiopian children don’t get their hopes up that little Johnny’s wish for world hunger to stop is going to magically make it so Africa isn’t a stinking hellhole anymore.

You’re five years old, kid.  What the hell are you wishing for a cure for AIDS for?  Two-faced lying bastard.

You know what birthdays are to me?  An excuse to be a fat bastard.  Let me preface this by saying that I have generally stopped drinking for my New Year’s Resolution, which means that I merely a fat bastard and not a fat drunk one, which would just be excessive.

Since I have to work Saturdays (Thanks, Obama!), most of my pigging out had to take place on Friday.  And, since I am a loser who doesn’t like to socialize, most of my pigging out took place alone  in dark, secluded spaces with me crying to myself and shaking uncontrollably like one of those “Vietnam vets” you see at Pier 39 who you’re pretty sure are half-tempted to buttrape you the second you turn the other way.  Okay, that may have been a bit of a fabrication at the end there but I digress.  I did eat alone though and with my earphones in because I live to eat in an isolated realm of flavor because I’m one of those douchey foodsnobs who thinks they’re better than everyone else.

Because I was coming off of a six day work week and because I am a night owl to the Nth degree (thank you American sports), my orgy of gluttony got off to a late start, with me leaving my apartment bright and early at 3 PM, after which I proceeded to Mito Station (pretty much the one happening spot in my entire city) and its Ramen Road, one of my main haunts mainly due to the fact that it is home to pretty much my favorite bite of food on the planet at this current moment: A bowl of tsukemen from Tsukemen TETSU, a branch of the mighty Tsukemen Tetsu based in Tokyo, one of the apparent originators of tsukemen (in which the noodles are served separately to be dipped into the ultra-flavorful condensed pork/fish broth).  Served with thick cut char-shu, bamboo, and the stunning ball of flavor and cholesterol that is an ajitama (seasoned soft-boiled egg), were it not for the fact that I would be dead after a week, I would eat here for every meal of every day if I could.

You know you want it.

You know you want it.

After that, I promptly got on a train and rode because what the hell else was I supposed to do with myself at 4 PM on a Friday?  After a good thirty minute ride on a train populated almost exclusively by noisy high school kids and old dudes who are probably rapists, I wound up in the town of Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture’s northern hub and, who would’ve guessed this, the home of the large Hitachi Corporation.  Sure I got there late but the sun was still up and a nice breeze was rolling in off the water (might be important to note that Hitachi is only 100 or so kilometers from Fukushima) and so I walked around and generally just looked like someone casing the city for a crime spree.  But hey, at least I took this picture.

Conspicuously positioned houses.

Precariously positioned houses by the same Pacific Ocean responsible for 3/11.

I didn’t eat in Hitachi because I was too scared to go into a store (and every single place seemed to be closed down).    And so it was back onto the train, this time packed to the gills with sweaty salarymen, weird people, and old dudes that were already blacked out drunk at six in the evening, getting their nasty unbrushed teeth breath all up in my grill all the way back to Mito.  Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I got back to Mito and ate a bunch more crap that ranged between good and okay (but really everything pales when compared to the tsukemen object of my desires) but this post is getting really wordy and my writing muscles are getting tired and I’m rapidly approaching a brain strain and I may have had a bit too much birthday whiskey.  Needless to say, I lack any self-control and pretty much have to gorge myself at any given opportunity.  So really, who’s a year old now?  I still eat everything in sight like Baby Pacman.

 

This restaurant was literally abandoned.  I might have actually been served by ghosts.

This restaurant was literally abandoned. I might have actually been served by ghosts.

No birthday is complete without something that will take ten years off your life.

No birthday is complete without something that will take ten years off your life.

Being a grown-up: Slow and steady wins the race… or something.

Hi there.  It’s been a while.  How’s everyone been doing?

Oh really?  That’s pretty cool.  I’ve been good.  Going to work and not getting enough sleep, the usual grind, y’know.

What’s that?  You don’t know because you’re still putzing around in (university/high school/ unemployed) or busy raising a family?  Well that’s just fine and dandy.

***

So I’m coming up on the six month mark of the whole living and working in Japan thing and I think I’ve settled into what I guess people could call a generally adult life.  I wake up everyday at a certain set point in time (except for that one day that I slept through all twenty alarms and showed up to work half an hour late) and generally go to sleep before the sun rises (though since the sun seems to rise at three in the morning here, that’s not always the case).  I go to work, do my job, take long poops, spend far too much time on the internet and not enough time doing anything productive, I eat (a lot), then I sleep.  In other words, for better or worse, I am finally an adult (if waking up at 10 in the morning and going to sleep at 2 AM counts).

I certainly don’t feel any different than I did when I was in college.   Or really, high school for that matter.  Sure my hair’s a little thinner and I may be wearing different sized pants than before but I still feel like I did when I was in high school, overdramatic romanticism and unrealistic expectations included.  And yet, here I am, typing this up as I sit on the fifth floor of a non-descript office building but a few minutes away from the scenic (perhaps an overstatement) expanses of Mito Station, closing out a workday that I was supposed to have off (my colleague called in sick but that’s another story altogether).

Meanwhile, many of my friends are still grinding through college, though, let’s be fair, the hardest part of the college grind is largely the result of procrastination and binge drinking.  I mean, university was a freaking piece of cake.  I don’t know if I’m a genius or something (most likely not) but I got reasonably good grades throughout all four years of my university experience despite (a) not doing most (okay, all) of the assigned reading, (b) only studying the night before an exam, and (c) finishing the vast majority of my tepid, bloated, self-aggrandizing academic papers a whopping thirty minutes before the due date.  I mean, not to toot my own horn or anything (I hear Marilyn Manson had some of his ribs removed so he could), but just imagine how good my grades would have been if I gave two craps about them.

I mean, the typical college student’s day probably goes like this:

Noon: Wake up.

1 PM: Go to class (or in many cases, ignore your alarm clock and sleep off that hangover)

4 PM: Hang out in the quad

5 PM: Go to happy hour.  Get drunk.

6 PM: Ditch that discussion group meeting you reaaallly don’t like.

7 PM: Hangout with your friends.  Get drunk/high/arrested.

2 AM: Get home.

3 AM: Realize you have a paper due in the morning.  Freak the hell out.

And yet, half of the posts I see on my Facebook feed from my college friends are of the “FML” and “I’m so screwed” variety.  I don’t know man, maybe if you spent a couple more hours checking upcoming deadlines and a few less hours practicing for your Frat’s Beer Pong tournament, you wouldn’t be forced to pull three consecutive all-nighters and sacrifice a goat to an ancient Mayan god in order to pass your bullshit “Transexual Black Jewish Lesbians in Chinese History” class.  (No offense to those of you specializing in Black Jewish Lesbians and their huge role in defeating the Mongol hordes.)  If you guys think life is going to somehow get easier once you get your diploma, you’re in for a shock.

Paying all your bills on time and remembering to wear pants to work everyday.  Now that’s a real struggle.

College days.  So much overeating.  Not enough sleep.

College days. So much overeating. Not enough sleep.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, some of my friends have already gotten to the whole “settle down and raise a family and get that house with the whit picket fence” stage of life.  Sure, this was pretty much how things went in all of society pre-1950 but settling down, getting married, and having kids all in your early-twenties just seems crazy to me.  You can’t even legally rent a car at the airport for God’s sake!  Six years ago, you were the dude drawing in the back of books in the school library.  Now, you’re working really damn hard to pay off your mortgage and leverage your 401K.  Damn dude.  Adulthood must have hit you like a goddamn freight train.

I can’t even imagine having a kid right now.  I mean, I already have a hard enough time wiping my own ass, let alone that of a small cretin unable to clean-up after itself.  And where the hell would it even sleep?  I barely have enough room in my apartment for myself.  Shoving a wife and kid (or two) in there would probably result in a complete and total meltdown.

And the whole keeping track of your finances thing. What the hell?  I am by no means a big spender but I can’t even imagine keeping track of my own budget.  Asking me to watch my wallet for the sake of myself and two others would be like asking Hitler to imagine planning a Bar Mitzvah.  Jiminy Christmas.

And the giving birth thing?  Jeebus, ladies.  How do you do it?  The closest I’ve ever come to giving birth was that time I ate three burritos in one day and, after that, I couldn’t walk for a week.  Much respect.

Young married people, I respect the hell out of you, but what the friggin’ hell?

***

Being an adult means having too much chest hair.

Being an adult means having too much chest hair.

Now that I’ve successfully offended everyone, it’s time to talk about myself for a bit.

My twenty-third birthday is coming up in two days, which is really what kinda spurred this whole rant/thing on.  Where am I on the whole “College lazy person to upstanding adult” scale?  Somewhere in the middle or maybe not on the damn thing at all.

I’m twenty-two, completely un-relationshipped (That’s totally a word, right?), living a couple thousand miles away from most of my friends, really bad at doing my laundry, and spend most of my free time watching film of Sacramento Kings games or weird Japanese TV (I’m pretty sure most of the people running the entertainment industry over here are on some pretty hardcore crap), and shouting at people who have different opinions than me on the internet.

Sounds pretty immature right?

Sure, I have a job and, sure, I do everything I can to fulfill my responsibilities and duties to the best of my underwhelming ability.  BUT I also don’t have much of a plan for the future (scratch that, I just thought of a cool design for a Moonbase) and put far too much effort into doing trivial fun stuff that I really shouldn’t be devoting so much of my precious time to.  So, hey, maybe I’m a bit of a deadender at this current juncture of my life, but you know what?   That’s just fine.

I used to spend most of the time I now spend reading people’s dumb NBA trade ideas (“Let’s trade Demarcus Cousins for Bismack Biyombo!”) and tasting terrible popsicles (Beef stew? Suprisingly tasty.  Spaghetti? Potentially rancid.) on worrying about the future.  I mean, I spent a lot of time worrying.  Too much time.  Sure that worrying and constant fear led to a hell of a lot of creativity and some of the best writing of my life but it also led to depression, anxiety, and a whopper of a mental breakdown that forced my mom to fly all the way across the ocean to retrieve me.

So, hey, enough of the worrying.  Let’s just enjoy the present and worry about what’s around the corner when it sneaks up and sucker punches us in the balls.  Until then, these morons on the internet aren’t going to ridicule themselves.

Being an adult means baking your chocolate candy.

Being an adult means baking your chocolate candy.

Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Mountain Dew Cheetos

Got a doozy for you guys tonight.  If you’re like me and have lived the typical life of a 18-24 year old American, you have revelled in many a night of eating way unhealthily and generally being up to absolutely no good.  In other words, there were many Cheetos and Mountain Dew type nights.  Well, in that case, I’ve got great/terrible news for you:  In Japan, some genius marketing department has decided to combine the two into one gloriously disturbing package.

Image

Behold, the chalice of misery

Me being the nice guy that I am, I decided to take one for the team and sample this strange exotic delicacy.  The result will not surprise anyone with any rational thinking skills:

It was absolutely disgusting, plain and simple.  While texturally Cheetos-y, the flavor of the corn puffs simply screamed “chemical disaster!”  I’d imagine that the genesis of this latest Japanese masterpiece was that one day a janitor at the Frito-Lays plant accidentally dumped his mop water into a vat of otherwise normal Cheetos and thus forced an entire nation to endure a simply dreadful snacking experience.

On the Mount Rushmore of arbitrary Japanese ingenuity, Mountain Dew Cheetos go up next to kendamas, washlets, and robot dogs.  The Mount Rushmore of arbitrary Japanese ingenuity would then promptly implode, leaving nothing but odd vaguely Mountain Dew-ey Cheetos dust in its wake.

If you encounter a cup of these things in a dark alley, I’d suggest that you run.  Run as fast as your stubby legs can take you.  And don’t look back.

-STEPHEN

 

Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Special Valentine’s Day Edition!

It’s another stormy, cold day in Mito, which of course means I’m spending all my time indoors.  Additionally, it happens to be Valentine’s Day, something which I usually just ignore.  But fret not, the conditions were perfect for a special Valentine’s Day Edition of Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan.  Dashing into my nearest convenience store (pretty sure I deserve some sort of frequent buyer discount considering all the stuff I buy from them), I scoured the sweets aisle for something interesting to eat that is also somewhat related to the choclatiest holiday of the year and found these two beauts.

booze chocos

Two different kinds of chocolate with alcohol contained inside them without any sort of marker denoting that fact (in other words, “Hey kids, wanna get drunk?”).  I’m pretty sure Americans would lose their poo if that were the case in US convenience stores.    One caveat/ potential kid deterrent is the price point.  At 300 yen, the chocolates cost roughly 200 yen (2 dollars) more than your typical bar of convenience store chocolate, probably because of the booze, though you couldn’t tell from the taste.

So in order to make the video taste test more palatable (pun intended) for the casual Youtube viewer, I have split the Valentine’s Special into two exciting parts.

In the first part, I test out the Rummy chocolate, containing, you guessed it, rum soaked raisins in a relatively normal bar of chocolate.  Sounds alright right?  Watch to see what I thought of it:

 

Then, in the second part, I tried out the green Bacchus bar, containing what was supposedly cognac but really tasted more like rubbing alcohol mixed with hand sanitizer.  The chocolate itself was alright if not more heat resistant than normal chocolate in order to keep the liquid alcohol encased inside.

 

So overall, the Rummy beat out the Bacchus in the booze chocolate Olympics.  If you’re in Japan and in a relationship with an alcoholic, you finally have a chocolate to get him.  Then again, Valentine’s Day is over in half an hour so you should probably get right on that or just buy some to give next year.  If you want to tell your significant other you’re breaking up with him or her, then the Bacchus chocolate is for you.  Nothing says “This relationship is over” more than chocolate with rubbing alcohol inside it.  That said, I can’t seem to stop eating it even though it’s probably burning a hole in my stomach.

With that, I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day and I hope all you chicks are getting your loves chocolate like any self-respecting Japanese girl.  (I could get started on the intricacies of Japanese Valentine’s Day but that’s practically an entire book’s worth of stuff.)  Anyways, feel free to contact me through the comments section either here or on YouTube or hit me up on Twitter.  I’m pretty bored most of the time so I’ll probably get back to you about a second after you post, maybe even a second before if it’s a real slow day.

Happy headhunting!

-STEPHEN

Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Hangover Cure Tandoori Chicken Corn Snacks

So as I reported earlier, I bought a bag of a peculiar hangover cure-turned-snack-food-concoction from my local conbini (short for convenience store, don’t you know?).  Today, well technically yesterday since it’s currently two in the morning, I finally got around to tasting it.  Anyways, the video of me actively tasting it is as follows:

So after the relative high of the warm and rich Hokkaido Potato Buns, I was met with a resounding meh from the hangover crisps.  They weren’t bad per se but they weren’t all that awesome really, pretty much just weird Cheetos with an aftertaste and not much of the promised tandoori chicken flavor.

Now is this snack effective in warding off alcohol-induced pain? I don’t know… Can plain Cheetos cure a hangover?  If they can, then the answer is probably yes.  If not, well…

Anyways, I’ve got one other food item lined up for Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Food then I’ve either got to start looking for more stuff or simply wait for the next cycle of fresh funky flavors out of the Japanese food conglomerates.  (Japanese convenience stores usually rotate their special flavors of items every month or so but it usually seems like a day.)  If any of you, my faithful readers, have any suggestions for stuff I should eat or questions about Japan in general (“Will Fukushima radiation give you wings?”), hit me up in the comments section here or on youtube or you can reach me on Twitter @STEPHEN TETSU.  Things will only get better if you guys pitch in because I sure as hell don’t have the talent of skills to make this crap any good.

-Stephen

PS Ukon no Chikara is meant to be ingested before the night of drinking so that the turmeric (the main ingredient in the magic elixir) can kick in before the booze wreaks havoc on your insides.  I’m assuming that the situation is the same with the corn snacks as well.

Stephen Eats Weird(ish) Japan: Hokkaido Potato Butter Steamed Buns

Sometimes I see something and plan and plan to try it.  Sometimes things randomly appear in the hot container while you’re waiting in line at the convenience store and you decide on a whim to try it.  Tonight, while waiting in line to buy something that I also intend to test later, I came across a rather interesting choice for the contents of a Chinese-style steamed bun (bao): Hokkaido potato butter.  Hokkaido, for the uninitiated, is the northernmost main island of Japan and known as the bread basket of the nation.  Potatoes are tubers that grow in the ground and are in everything and apparently make you fat.  Butter is the stuff you put on bread.

Anyways, quickly shelling out the 126 yen cost for the little round bread thing, I quickly dashed (okay, I walked) back to my apartment and dug into the surprisingly tasty vegetarian (as far as I could tell) bun.

The potatoes were somewhere in between mashed and cooked, some in a more solid state that others and tasted strongly of pepper and butter.  There were also bits of minced carrots in there and, the theme of this bun being Hokkaido, a couple kernels of corn (Hokkaido cuisine in Japan is usually generalized as being butter and corn in everything).  But the prevailing flavor was the unmistakable starchiness of taters which actually was a good combo with the sweetish bun bread.

So my final verdict on this one is a buy.  Is it mind-glowingly awesome? No.  Is it good for odd convenience store steamed buns?  Yes.  In fact, I think it’s better than the standard Sunkus niku-man (pork bun) that they usually put out there.  So if you happen to find yourself in Japan and in a Sunkus convenience store, go ahead and try the Hokkaido Potato Butter Bun.  There are tons of worse things you could spend your 126 yen on.

-STEPHEN

P.S. Any suggestions, comments, inflammatory comments?  Please share them with me, either here in the comments section, on my youtube channel, or on twitter @STEPHEN_TETSU.  Thanks!

A tandoori chicken flavored hangover cure?

20140211-202956.jpg

Found this in my local convenience store. Ukon no Chikara is a Japanese supplement that supposedly prevents any hangovers if consumed before a night of hard drinking.

What you see here is apparently Ukon no Chikara turned into a Cheetos-type corn snack. Additionally, Japanese snack food rules dictate that it must also be tandoori chicken flavored.

This could be awful

Expect the video taste test up in a few days. Until then, pray this stuff doesn’t kill me.