It snowed. In October. Which meant the weekend found me doing the following things in no particular order. Cussing. Looking for cheap tickets to California. Cussing. Staring out the window and hoping a tree wasn't going to crash on my roof. Cussing. Admiring the snow, which really was pretty. Buying hot chocolate and cheering my kids who were to first to reach the sledding slopes. Pretending I was not cussing and not thinking about California. Cussing. And dreaming of ramen.
I once spent a winter in Hokkaido, Japan where it was regularly 10-plus degrees below zero. And that was before the wind chill. By mid-winter, the sidewalks were lined with vertical walls of snow that reached several inches over my head. I walked the two plus miles to work. (And, yes, dear children, it was uphill both ways.)
It was there in Hokkaido, stomping the ice from my boots, unwrapping from three, maybe four layers of clothes, and wiping the frost from my eyelashes, that I learned about the sweet refuge of noodle shops. Small places. A stool at the counter if I was lucky. Conversation. And broth that could translate all the comfort to my bones.
There was a man only a few blocks from my office who rolled and cut udon on a large table just the other side of his noodle bar. Once a week or so, I watched his ropy arms, listened to his stories, and slurped down whatever he put in front of me. One day he plunked several pieces of molten mochi on top of the thick, chewy noodles, and for at least a few moments I convinced myself that all the cold in the world might indeed be justified if it led to the warmth in his shop.
For udon, I was loyal to this man. But for ramen, I made a full tour of my town. Shoyu ramen. Miso ramen. Ramen from the Chinese shop, which was twice the size of a normal Japanese serving and heaped with steamed vegetables.
Miso ramen – a Hokkaido specialty – was my favorite. But I loved them all. I’m hoping Sushi Tei adds miso ramen soon, but I am more than pleased to have found a local shop that makes any kind of real Japanese ramen.
So how is it? Pretty good.
Sushi Tei makes some of my favorite soup broth in the area. The broth in their mini udon – a wonderful small lunch or big starter – is deep and rich. The down side is that sometimes they over cook their udon and soba noodles. Not terribly so, but enough to take the soup down a notch.
I’ve had the ramen twice so far. Both times the noodles were cooked perfectly. Were they best ramen noodles I’ve ever tasted? No, but they were yummy good and much appreciated as I haven’t been able to find anything else like them in the area. The broth was even better, but the best part of the soup was the toppings.
The chashu – simmered pork – melts in the mouth. The first time I had it, the pork was sliced thin. The second time thick. I prefer the thin slice, but either way, it is incredible.
I wanted to speed dial pork-loving Albany Jane after my first bite…but I was too busy taking my second bite.
The egg piece reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with a man who had lived and eaten well all over the world. He loved Chinese food, but dismissed Japanese cooking.
“It’s just boiled food,” he said.
At the time, I tried to argue.
Now, all I would do is nod gleefully and steal his bit of egg. The egg is cooked long and low until the yolk is nearing cream and the dark, slightly sweet flavor of the simmer-stew permeates the white. My grandmother cooked the Jewish version of these eggs by boiling them in a pot of onion peels. These are a far more elegant version of the same dish.
One note about Sushi Tei. They do a lot of business on weekday lunches, and although this is when they are most crowded, it is also when their food tastes the best. I’ve been in on a Sunday and the quality of both the food and service falls off a bit.
The last few times I was in on a weekday lunch, the people at every table around me were speaking Japanese. Coming in from the cold to a swirl of Japanese conversations and hot bowl of ramen…not an experience I expected to have in Albany. And one that goes a long way to making winter bearable.
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