Saturday, February 28, 2004

Were these the 12 for a dollar noodles?

I couldn't resist. This reminds me of my "penny-pinching student" days. Just add boiling water and stir. They were 12 packages for a dollar then:

In Japan, stylish take on noodles stirs the pot
By Natalie Obiko Pearson, Associated Press | April 28, 2004

TOKYO -- Customers with Prada handbags and Gucci sunglasses sometimes stand in line for hours and gaze hungrily at a TV outside the restaurant door, feasting their eyes on the delicacy that awaits: a bowl of noodles.

The humble noodle -- known in Japan as ramen -- has long been better known as a staple of construction workers and penny-pinching students than as a favorite of the chic.

But in a push to win over a new clientele, Japanese noodles are going upscale with special pork and organic vegetables served in eateries with dark-wood interiors and soft lighting.

One company even came up with a shocker for anyone who's slurped down a calorie-packed bowl of noodles: diet ramen made from seaweed extracts. It weighs in at a meager 8 calories.

"The stylish ramen stores have really boomed," said Masahiko Ichiyanagi, who writes a ramen column for a popular weekly magazine, Tokyo 1Week. "The result is that it's now recognized as a legitimate leisure activity."

The trend reaches extremes at Shiodome Ramen, a spanking new cluster of steel-and-glass towers next to -- but a world away from -- the decidedly lowbrow Shimbashi district.

The shop aims to create a splash. Nippon Television Network Corporation began a nationwide contest in 2002 to seek out the country's best ramen cook, and put the winner, Konosuke Takewaka, in charge of the restaurant on its premises.

Customers sometimes waited in line a foot-aching four hours when the restaurant opened Aug. 1. Now, waits of over an hour are still common. Takewaka strains the noodles by whipping an acorn-shaped sieve through the air in a dramatic figure-eight, splashing scalding water against a window between the kitchen and the restaurant and drawing gasps from startled diners.

"I went through thousands of trials to make the soup we serve today," Takewaka said.

© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company