Kaze: the place to go when you crave ramen in Berkeley

Tonkotsu ramen with a side of gyoza. ($10.99)

Kaze, Berkeley: tonkotsu ramen with a side of gyoza. ($10.99) This little shop opens sometime last winter, it looked unassuming then, but now it is packed every time I come, so I think it’s safe to assume that it’s packed almost everyday if not always. People on the East Bay think of The Ramen Shop when they think of ramen, simply because until now there has been no other shop that really specializes in ramen. There’s ramen at sushi places, izakaya places, and some random places that should have nothing to do with ramen. Hence, the consistently ridiculous 2-plus-hour wait at The Ramen Shop. Now, let’s do a check-and-compare list between Kaze and The Ramen Shop (TRS): […]

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Sai the Izakaya


Izakayas in the Bay Area mostly target customers with a lot of money to spare (looking right at you, Ippuku!). Although there are merits to that (it costs to support local business and ethical ways of raising animals), a meal at these places is just not the same as sitting in a small neighborhood izakaya, talking to the chef who’s cooking 5 feet away from you, smelling the smoke from both the food and the tobacco of the nearby customer (who you may know by name), and inhaling your food, which comes in big bowls, to your heart’s content. I love neighborhood izakayas in Tokyo. Sai is one of them. This place jumps to mind when I think of izakayas nowadays. One big reason is that when I had a homestay in Japan, my host family took me there one night and it was a perfect family experience. If I had discovered the place myself (which I’m not sure is possible), I wouldn’t know what to order (the menu is 90% kanji @_@), I wouldn’t have had two parental figures to share the meal with (traveling alone makes you want […]

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PLANT in Itaewon


It has been a little over 2 weeks since I have arrived in Seoul, although it feels alternatively like I’ve only just arrived here and like I have been here for ages! I have to be honest in writing that I still feel homesick at times and that adjusting is a little more difficult when I realize that I’ll be staying in Seoul for a longer time period than just a vacation. I just began Korean language classes and may potentially audit a course with my faculty advisor at Ewha so I think the routine of being a student will help me to feel more settled. Of course, my partner and his family have been so supportive as well and I feel so lucky to have them because otherwise I would be even more of a nervous wreck than I already am! I supposed I should move on to the food though…this time, I am profiling a restaurant that I ate at over the summer with a friend. The restaurant’s name is PLANT and it is located in Itaewon, an area of Seoul that is particularly known for being foreigner-friendly. I knew of the restaurant through the […]

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Noodle soup: Banh canh Que Anh & Que Em


Quite possibly the cheesiest name of a store I’ve ever seen: Bánh Canh Quê Anh & Quê Em – “bánh canh [from] your hometown and my hometown” (it doesn’t sound cheesy translated into English, but trust me, it’s like Twilight’s Edward Cullen in noodle soup form). Which is actually fitting, since banh canh is commoner’s grub, not a bourgeois lunch. You won’t find a classy madame dressing up just to go out for banh canh. The poor thing will never be elevated to the level of pho. I love it. I grew up eating it before I was born (literally). Backstory can be told in person, but despite eating so many bowls, I never knew that there was so many types of banh canh. Que Anh & Que Em offered 30 types (see menu at the bottom), 14 of which are no more traditional than the Spider Roll, but the other 16 are attached to geographical regions in Vietnam, and thus, in this case, more meritable. Banh canh is a thick, chewy, slippery rice noodle (with tapioca starch). It’s similar enough to udon in appearance and texture (as the shop aptly translates it […]

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one shot: homemade hu tiu


From Mom: hủ tíu bột lọc. Hu tiu is a common type of rice noodle in Southern Vietnam, often served in noodle-soup form, the noodle soup dish is of course also called “hu tiu“. The usual hu tiu noodle is characterized by its thin shape and chewy texture. Vietnamese love chewy noodles just as much if not more than any other country, so people began using various methods to make hu tiu (*) chewier (the soaking time before grinding, the grinding, washing the rice flour, the mixing ratio with water and other types of starch, the thickness to spread the mixture into a film, the temperature and time to steam it). Bánh bột lọc(**), a type of savory snack, is made with tapioca starch (cassava flour), so I guess hủ tíu bột lọc also contains tapioca starch. I spent an hour googling but expectedly found little and contradicting information about hu tiu bot loc – nobody in the business would reveal their secret. What I found online is hu tiu bot loc originated from Cần Thơ, and what I found in my bowl are fat (and flat) strings, whose color […]

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Comfort food at the Taiwan Restaurant


Partly because of my busy schedule, partly because of the lack of good Vietnamese food in Berkeley, I haven’t had Vietnamese food for months. I miss it, of course. Luckily, the neighboring cuisines share so much similarities that my “comfort food” category has steadily expanded to enclose most of East Asia. If for some reason America and I don’t get along, I think I can happily merge into Taiwan and Japan (not sure about Korea – their food is too spicy…). So when I crave comfort food, if it’s Sunday or Monday and Musashi is closed, I go down University Avenue to the Taiwan Restaurant. It’s the purple building next to Anh Hong, and it’s another case of generic-names-hence-don’t-go-there type of restaurant. However, two Taiwanese told me that it was “good enough” – the owner of Asha Tea House across the street, and Kristen. As with any Asian eating establishment, you have to know what to get at the Taiwan Restaurant, otherwise you end up with oily overload. I haven’t strayed once out of the usuals. It’s comfort food, there’s no need to change it. In fact, […]

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Why I Love Fried Rice


Yangzhou fried rice, kimchi fried rice, chicken and salt cod fried rice, whatever-that’s-in-your-refrigerator fried rice…I love it all. Fried rice is the ultimate comfort food – it’s filling, healthy-ish (if you put in a lot of vegetables), and just hits the spot every time. Perhaps the best thing about fried rice is how easy it is to make at home! As someone who is still really learning how to cook, trying out a new recipe usually means that I’ll be spending anywhere from 30min – 2 hours in the kitchen (actually sometimes it takes me 30min just to prep everything because of my lack of knife skills). So for me, when I want a quick meal because I need to get back to reading or studying, or just because I don’t feel like devoting that much time to cooking, my go-to is always making fried rice. It usually takes me 15-20 minutes to cook fried rice at the most and while it probably is not the healthiest meal to eat every day, I usually end up making some kind of stir fry or fried rice at least 3-4 times a week because of how easy it is. Also, since […]

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one shot: Salmon ramen at The Ramen Shop

Hokkaido butter corn miso ramen with smoked king salmon, pork belly, soy-marinated egg, snap peas, chrysanthemum greens, and shiitake.

Hokkaido butter corn miso ramen with smoked king salmon, pork belly, soy-marinated egg, snap peas, chrysanthemum greens, and shiitake. ($16) Okay so, The Ramen Shop is not a place I would go alone. I think eating there alone would be particularly wonderful because ramen is the type of food to be eaten alone, and although the lighting might be too low for reading, it’s hard to read while slurping noodles anyway. BUT, the wait is just too horrible. This place has been hyped up since its opening in January, and it stays hyped. No sensical lone diner should wait an hour for a bowl of ramen. It’s good ramen, though. I didn’t expect too much, and I was satisfied. […]

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Breakfast at Jodie’s


Friday. Nancy messaged Kristen and me that we should meet up early the next morning for breakfast at Jodie’s. We love breakfast. “How early, though?”, I asked. – I could pick you all up… Mai at 7:45, Kristen at 7:50 ish… – I have to say, this is insanely early, maybe I would just skip sleeping… – Well, it is a TINY place next to a salon, I believe. It only seats eight at a time. The shop opens at 8 AM… There is the possibility of going later – 10 ish – but we would have to wait for “turnover” and wouldn’t be sitting with each other… – … – They have a table outside… it might be cold… They said they can’t predict if there will be only a few people or a lot… so we could always go a little later, but then we might have to wait for the table, but at least when that happens, we could still all sit together… Shall we try for 8:30 then? A bit of a compromise – 7:45 or 8:30 are the same to me, so let’s do 7:45. Now, I’m an astronomer and a […]

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Sushi California – great sushi, even greater korokke


For a while I knew nothing about Japanese food, then within less than one year, I’ve found three places in Berkeley to satisfy my Japanese cravings. To get yakitori, guaranteed quality and to impress friends, I go to Ippuku. For a homey meal at affordable price and convenient distance, I swing by Musashi. For sushi and croquette, Sushi California tops the list. Its name is generic and its location rather hidden, had Kristen not shared a Berkeleyside review on my Facebook wall some time ago, I would never have noticed Sushi California, much less tried (I tend to stay away from generic names because they often imply generic food). Then Kristen totally forgot about the place. One day I asked her “wanna try Sushi California?” – What’s that? – The place you posted on my wall… – … The biggest reason that I remembered Sushi California before going there was this line in Anna Mindess’ review: “Chef Arakaki admits that he used to offer other Okinawan classics like goya champura (sautéed bitter melon) but they did not sell well.” I love bitter melon, and even more than […]

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