I think I’ve mentioned Oishinbo on this blog before, but never got around to elaborate on it.
Some of you may know that I read manga (Japanese comics) for a living. Sort of. I’m doing a PhD on Japanese popular culture, so I get to do a lot of fun stuff during the day (read comics, play games, watch anime) and pass it off as work. Of course, there’s a more serious aspect to this, too (such as reading phenomenological theory – which sometimes doesn’t come close to being fun), but all in all, I feel pretty blessed.
Honestly, the only way I could be happier was if I was writing my thesis specifically on food manga. Because there is a lot of food manga out there! Now, it’s a little too late to change my thesis topic, but it doesn’t mean I can’t read every culinary manga I can get my hands on!
One of my very favourite series is Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki. It’s actually a very long-running series (in fact, it is exactly as old as I am), but recently, best-of anthologies have been translated into English.
Oishinbo is all about Japanese cuisine. It revolves around a journalist, who happens to be a very knowledgeable gourmet, and who is tasked with creating the Ultimate Japanese Menu – a process which ends up taking many, many years. So, throughout the story, he travels around Japan, trying out different dishes, and figuring out what makes them work.
Now, his father also happens to be a renowned gourmet – but they don’t get along very well at all. Inevitably, they run into each other, get into an argument about food, and… decide to settle it with a contest! They’ve done this with a wide array of Japanese dishes: sashimi, ramen, gyoza, onigiri, miso soup… you name it, they’ve battled about it. You can see why this appeals to the self-confessed food geek that I am. I mean, they’re getting all excited about food! And the suspense is always hilarious, going somewhere along these lines:
Taster: Ooooh, this rice is exquisite! It is so fluffy and light! It caresses the tongue! It is perfect! *he tastes the second batch of rice* Wait a minute! I was so wrong! I thought the first rice was good, but now I see that, compared to this one, it was nothing!
All joking aside, though, this series is hugely informative. It really teaches you the basics of Japanese cuisine, such as how to store rice, how to tell is a sake is legit, and how to make dashi (clear broth) from scratch. Also, each volume features one or two recipes, complete with quantities and instructions.
I want to share one of these recipes with you today. It’s a miso-flavoured pork ramen, that has the particularity of being made with katsuobushi dashi (katsuobushi is dried bonito, or skipjack tuna). Surprisingly, the smoky fishiness of the dashi works really well with the pork.
We love making this ramen at home. I’ve adapted the quantities a little, to make it a full meal.
Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen
Adapted from the Oishinbo manga series (Ramen and Gyoza volume)
4-6 large shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and minced
120 ml (1/2 cup) katsuobushi flakes (tightly packed)
1 litre (4 cups) water
4 tbsp soy sauce
200- 230 g (7-8 oz) fresh ramen (or substitute with dried ramen, or Chinese egg noodles)
3 tbsp hatcho miso (or substitute with red miso)
3 tbsp sake
1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
150g (5 oz) lean ground pork
3 scallions, minced
Chinese chives, for garnish (optional)
Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil in a pan. Put in the katsuobushi flakes, turn off the heat, and let stand for 2 minutes, or until the flakes fall to the bottom of the pan. Strain the dashi through a sieve lined with cheesecloth (or paper towels). Stir in the soy sauce, and return the pot to medium heat to keep warm (the soup should be steaming).
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Dilute the miso with the sake. Reserve.
Heat the sesame oil over high heat in a wok, and fry the garlic for 30 seconds, or until it begins to release its aroma. Add the shallot and the pork, and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the scallions and mushrooms to the pork mixture, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the miso and continue cooking until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, but the mixture is still somewhat moist. Keep warm over low heat, and reserve.
Cook the ramen in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. If using dried noodles, follow the packaging instructions. Drain and divide into bowls.
Pour the dashi into the bowls. Top with the pork mixture. Garnish with chopped Chinese chives if desired (or regular chives). Serve immediately.