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Showing posts with label ramen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ramen. Show all posts

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Grand Central Market Changing Quickly as the New Pushes out the Old

Last year I wrote about the Grand Central Market to describe the mix of old vendors and the new, upscale stalls that had opened over the previous year. Yesterday I stopped at the Market to pick up pork ramen ($5.50 for a large bowl) from Bento Ya, one of my favorite stalls selling inexpensive Japanese food to be eaten there or taken home.  Having read about new businesses that were coming in 2016, I expected to see some change. What I saw was much more radical change than I expected.

Located on Broadway and Hill between 2nd and 3rd, The Grand Central Market reflects the changes sweeping over Downtown Los Angeles. Long before farmers markets appeared all over LA, the Grand Central Market provided the Downtown community with fresh food at affordable prices.





















The shoppers who filled the aisles, bought fresh produce, fruit, fish, meat and poultry. Freshly made tortillas traveled down a conveyer belt where they were stacked in plastic bags and sold still warm in the open-air tortilla factory that once stretched along the southern wall close to Broadway .


The Market specialized in health products, fresh fruit juices, herbal teas and homeopathic remedies from around the world.
And where there are shoppers, they will be places to eat. Dozens of stalls sold Mexican tacos, enchiladas, ceviche, whole lobsters, plates of fried fish and shrimp in the shell. Anyone who needed an old-school Chinese-American food fix could eat at China Cafe and Broadway Express.
Today, some of the vendors have been at the Market for generations. On the Broadway side, you can't walk by Las Morelianas without being offered a taste of their delicious roast pork inside a freshly made mini-tortilla. A personal favorite, to the moist meat I add  mounds of pickled onions and carrots, chopped raw onions and cilantro and a liberal dousing of green chili sauce all freshly made.
I first visited the market when I was in college. I bought spices at Valeria's and the ready to use mole paste at the very misnamed A&B Coffee where I could also buy any one of a dozen different dried beans. I wanted to learn how to make tortillas at home. I came to the Market to buy masa and a tortilla press. The tortillas were good, but, I had to confess,  the ones I bought at the Market were better so I kept coming.
In the late 1970's I photographed the Market to use for a TV pilot I was producing for KCOP. I took a hundred photographs of the vendors and customers. I loved the community feeling of the Market. Families with babies in tow shopped for the basics and stopped to have snacks or lunch.
Today the market still has families doing their daily shopping but they have been joined by a new population, eager to explore the newly arrived vendors who have set up shop and added new flavors and culinary experiences.
To keep that new population updated, LA food blogs track the latest the developments at the Market. Upscale purveyors like DTLA Cheese and Belcampo Meat Co. have opened stalls with counter seating, selling high quality products previously only available in specialty stores in Beverly Hills or Hancock Park. Customers wait patiently in line for their turn to order at McConnell's Ice Cream, Sticky Rice - Thai Street Food, Egg Slut and Wexler's Deli. Compared to the original vendors, the new comers are definitely more upscale and more expensive.

Judging from a recent trip to the market, the old vendors are disappearing rapidly. Only one vegetable and fruit vendor remains. All the fresh fish purveyors are gone.

At the market, I have my favorites and they are a mix of the old and the new:  the mole at A&B Coffee (ask for a taste and find the one you like), pork ramen at Bento Ya, the vegetable curry with shrimp and Crying Tiger beef at Sticky Rice, the roast pork tacos at Las Morelianas with lots of salsas and pickled vegetables and the beef at Belcampo Meat Co. (terrific although pricey, Jared Standing, Head Butcher suggested I try one of the less expensive cuts, the chuck eye steak and it was delicious!).

A balancing act

At this moment in time, the Market still balances the new and the old so that I can indulge my passion for affordable ethnic food and quality products from specialty purveyors. But the market feels like it has reached a tipping point when as the new pushes out the old.

The mash up of new and old reflects what's happening Downtown. The mostly Latino population has been joined by a diverse mix of young professionals who have rediscovered the glories of Downtown Los Angeles, rich with history and benefiting from a great collection of buildings that are now being renovated and modernized.
Before that rediscovery, the Market had fallen on hard times. Local shoppers had turned to farmers markets for better produce. One by one stalls closed for lack of customers. The grit and grime of the city settled heavily onto the walls and floors. The Market had grown sad and forlorn.
But today, the Market is one of the most frequented Downtown destinations. Come during the day and the aisles are packed with families and professionals enjoying a taco plate from Sarita's Pupuseria and pulled pork at Las Morelianas on Broadway.

Inside the market Wexler's house smoked lox on a freshly baked bagel, freshly made seafood at Mark Peel's Bombo and Bento Ya's $5.50 pork ramen that, in my opinion, is as good as any of the celebrity-chef bowls on Sawtelle or in Manhattan sold at three times the price and half the portion.
There is so much more to say about the Market, but I'm getting hungry. Happily I brought home a bowl of Bento Ya's ramen and I'm going to have that for breakfast.

One quick user's-tip about parking. Parking Downtown is very expensive. Happily, there is 90 minutes parking inside the Market building for $2.00. The entrance is on the Hill Street side, almost to 2nd street.

On the weekend, the open air parking lots to the north of the Market above 2nd Street have reduced, all day rates, so if you are staying for several hours, park there.

The market is changing so quickly, I would encourage you to visit as soon as you can so when people talk about the way it used to be, you will know what they are talking about.

Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213/624-2378), Sunday-Wednesday 8:00am-6:00pm, Thursday-Saturday 8:00am-9:00pm (selected vendors only open past 6:00pm).

Friday, March 8, 2013

Asian Noodles Take a Trip to Italy

My wife is out town. I'm home alone and hungry. Since I work at the house, my routine is to write during the day and have dinner with my wife when she gets home from her office. Cooking our dinner gives shape to my day, since I plan the meal in the morning and do the prep when I'm taking breaks during the day.

Having dinner together is a fun part of the day. Over a meal with a salad, main course and a couple of side dishes, we have time to catch up.

Now I have to contemplate dinner for one and that's not as much fun.
Staring at the open refrigerator, considering what left-overs I could eat or what bits and pieces I could put together to make a meal (a farmers market Fuji apple with slices of comte cheese and bacon from breakfast), a different approach occurred to me.

Having grown up eating instant ramen, a cup of noodles is always the way to go when hunger strikes. But I'm a bit hesitant to go that route because of the high salt content and the predominance of chemical additives in the soup base. Happily, shopping at Asian markets, it's easy to see that ramen is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to easy-to-make noodles.
Even in mainstream supermarkets, if you look in the Asian foods section, you'll find packages of dried egg and rice noodles. Go to an Asian market and the selection will border on the comic with aisle after aisle of fresh and dried noodles. Costing two or three dollars, one package of Asian noodles will easily feed 4-6 people.
If you want, you can certainly prepare the noodles with Asian sauces and ingredients. Personally, I like to combine the noodles with braised meat or poultry and vegetables from our local farmers market. The result is a deliciously comforting Asian-Italian fusion.

I like the dish so much, when my wife comes home, I'll make a bowl for her.

Asian Noodles, Italian Style

Use raw meat and poultry or leftovers from another meal. For stock, home made is preferable to avoid the excessive amounts of sodium in canned versions. The dish can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the meat and poultry. Other vegetables can be added or substituted for the ones I used and, if you like heat, dust the braise with cayenne or a scattering of pepper flakes.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds uncooked deboned chicken, pork shoulder or top sirloin, washed, pat dried and thin sliced or use 1 1/2 pounds cooked chicken, pork or beef
1 medium yellow onion, washed, ends removed, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, root ends removed, finely chopped
6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed to remove dirt, thin sliced
2 carrots, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into rounds
2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, sliced into florets
4 cups kale leaves, washed, stems removed or spinach leaves, washed, roughly chopped
2 cups stock, chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian, preferably home made
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 1 pound of Asian noodles
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sweet butter (optional)

Directions

Heat a large pot with water. Bring to a boil. Unlike Italian pasta, Asian noodles do not require adding salt or oil to the water. Wait to add the noodles until the braise is finished because the drained noodles will congeal quickly.

In a large saucepan or chefs pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic and shiitake mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned.  If using uncooked chicken or meat, add now and cook until lightly browned.

Add the broccoli and kale and sauté until wilted. If using cooked chicken or meat, add along with the carrots and stock. Simmer 10 minutes until the carrots are tender.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt, pepper and (optional) the sweet butter. Reduce liquid to half by cooking another 5 minutes. Lower the flame.

Add the noodles to the boiling water and stir well using tongs or chop sticks to separate the noodles. Read directions for cooking time. Before draining, taste a noodle and confirm doneness. Drain.

Add the noodles to the braise and toss well to coat with the sauce.

Serve hot in bowls with chop sticks or on plates with forks and large spoons.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ramen Noodles with Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetables & Kimchi

I've been trying to convince my sons that ramen is good for them. They're both living on their own. They are serious about eating healthily and keeping to a budget. They keep down their costs by avoiding processed foods and fast food joints. They shop at Costco and buy in bulk.

Which is why I've been trying to get them to think about ramen. A package costs under $1.00 and if you make your own soup and add farmers' fresh vegetables, you'll have an economical, nutritious meal.

The problem is when they were kids they ate lots of Cup O'Noodles and Instant Ramen with hot water flavored with artificially flavored soup packets. In no way am I talking about that.

Tracking down a better kind of ramen takes a small amount of work. The local supermarket may only have Top Ramen which is ok but not preferred. If you live in an area with Asian markets, you'll find a wider selection of brands. In Los Angeles, we have Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and (my favorite) Korean markets where there are so many choices there's a ramen aisle.

Look for ramen noodles that don't use MSG or artificial ingredients. And throw away the powdered soup packets.

For the soup you can use any homemade stock you like: chicken, beef, or pork. I like making a sauteed vegetable stock. Throw in cooked chicken, raw shrimp, or a sliced hard boiled egg and you have a deliciously satisfying meal that costs pennies.

Ramen Noodles with Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetables & Kimchi

You can use just about any vegetable, meat, or seafood you like. Kimchi adds a nice crunch and the heat is delicious.

Yield 4 servings

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 packages ramen noodles, discard the soup and flavor packets
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into pieces 1/2" square, 1" long
4 radicchio leaves
1/2 medium yellow onion, skins removed, roughly diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
8 shiitake mushrooms
1 ear of corn, kernels removed
1/4 pound string beans, strings and ends removed, cut into 1" lengths
10 cups water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled, cut into thin strips (optional)
1 cup kimchi, cut into thin strips
Sea salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Method

Drizzle the olive oil seasoned with sea salt and pepper on a large saute pan. Saute the vegetables except the kimchi until softened and lightly browned. Add 6 cups of water and simmer for 20 minutes until reduced by half. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add soy sauce.

In a large pot, boil 4 cups of water. Add the ramen noodles and cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until al dente. Stir frequently to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Reserve 1 cup of the noodle water. Strain the noodles and add to the vegetables and broth.

Taste and add the noodle water if more liquid is needed.

Serve in bowls with chop sticks and spoons.

Variations

Top each bowl with 1/2 a hard boiled egg, thinly sliced

Instead of radicchio use 1 bunch of spinach, washed, whole leaves or roughly chopped

Instead of water, use chicken, pork, or beef stock to make the soup

Add 1 cup raw shrimp, washed, peeled, deveined, and roughly chopped to the soup when you add the noodles and simmer 5 minutes until the shrimp are pink

Top with thin slices of soy sauce marinated, grilled chicken, pork, or beef

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Udon Finds the Perfect Partners: Clams, Mushrooms, and Garlic

These days udon is almost as ubiquitous as ramen. Served in a hot bowl of fragrant soup, udon satisfies as much with its texture as its flavor. Fat and chewy, the soft noodles are as comforting as dumplings.

Recently we visited Musha, a Tokyo style Izakaya restaurant (424 Wilshire Boulevard in downtown Santa Monica, 310/576-6330). Serving drinks and Japanese tapas--meats grilled at the table on charcoal braziers, sushi, noodles, and soups--the restaurant serves a delicious example of fusion cuisine: Udon Vongole. Using a European approach, the salty clam broth is sweetened with slices of garlic and handfuls of mushrooms.

Since Carlsbad Aquafarm had more of their delicious clams at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, tonight seemed like the perfect time to make the dish at home.

Udon with Clams, Mushrooms, and Garlic


Fresh udon is sold in Asian markets like Nijiya Markets and even some supermarkets. Following Musha's example I used several varieties of mushrooms. The different textures and flavors added to the pleasures of the dish.

Yield: 2 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 packages fresh udon
2 pounds live clams, washed
6 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced thin
2 large shallots, peeled, sliced thin
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 pound mushrooms (shiitake, brown, King trumpet, oyster mushrooms), washed, dried, cut in half
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, washed, stems removed
Olive oil
Pepper

Method

Steam the clams in 1/2 cup water in a covered pot for 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. Remove the clams from their shells. Pour the broth into a bowl, being careful to discard any grit. You should have 1 1/2 cups of broth.

Sauté the garlic, shallots, and mushrooms with the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the clam broth and butter. Simmer 15 minutes. Season with pepper but don't add salt since the clam broth is salty.

Boil a quart of water. Add the packages of udon. The boiling water will soften the udon in 2-3 minutes. Drain the udon and add to the mushrooms and garlic and stir.

Taste the broth. If it's too salty, add a bit more butter. Add the clams at the last minute so they don't over cook. Serve in deep bowls and top with the cilantro leaves.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ramen at Home, Quick and Easy

At some point in their lives, everyone eats Cup o' Noodles. They're so easy to make. Just pour boiling water into the styrofoam cup with it's nest of noodles and bits of dried vegetables, cover, and a minute later you have overly salted "soup" and mushy noodles. On a cold, drizzly day, that can be ok, but it's not a meal-of-choice. Ramen is a step up from Cup o' Noodles, but the same principle applies. Boiling water + instant noodles + "flavor packet" = soup and noodles with vegetables bits. Real ramen bears no resemblance to the packaged ramen in the market. In Japan, ramen restaurants are favorite neighorhood hangouts, usually with a counter and several tables. I've noticed that patrons in ramen restaurants don't do as much talking as they do in other kinds of restaurants. I think that's because the ramen is simply too delicious to want to talk.

People who love ramen get very obsessive about their noodles. The Official Ramen Homepage has hundreds of recipes for packaged ramen contributed by fans. Rickmond Wong is the ramen fan-extraordinaire. Profiled in the LA Times by Russ Parsons, Wong's web site rameniac.com gives a comprehensive survey of ramen restaurants in LA. Everyone has their favorite. Anne Lai sent me to Little Tokyo to try the ramen at Daikokuya (327 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles 90012, 212/626-1680).

A narrow passageway of a restaurant, Daikokuya is on the north side of 1st Street, half-way between San Pedro and Alameda. Of the half-dozen ramen restaurants on the block, only Daikokuya is packed with people at the tables and bar. Besides ramen, Daikokuya also has other traditional Japanese dishes: rice bowls, bento boxes, chicken teriyaki, mixed tempura, pork cutlet, sushi, and sashimi. But it's the ramen I came for, and while there are a dozen varieties to try, I wanted the specialty of the house: Daikoku Ramen, a large bowl of pork soup with noodles, fatty Kurobuta pork, a whole boiled egg, seasoned bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and green onions.

I took my place at the counter and watched the cooks drop baskets of noodles into the large pot of boiling water. The customer to my right, Jason, could tell I was a first-timer. He helpfully suggested I add some of the minced garlic and pickled ginger condiments to the soup. A good call.

All the ingredients are delicious, but it's the soup itself that makes the ramen at Daikokuya so memorable. If you've seen the Japanese comedy, Tampopo, you know how hard the shop keeper struggles to perfect her pork bone broth. She has to work from early in the morning until late in the evening to get the flavors just right.

I like to adapt restaurant techniques to cooking at home, but while I love the broth, that's too much work for me. I'll use homemade chicken stock instead. What I do take away from Daikokuyo is the realization that fresh ingredients can turn a lifeless package of noodles into a sumptuously refreshing meal.

At home, ramen is quick and easy to make as long as you have a good supply of homemade chicken stock in your freezer. For the dried ramen noodles, there are hundreds of brands, flavors, and varieties. Try to find one that has the least amount of chemicals in their ingredients' list. Health Food stores sometimes carry packages of organic ramen. Almost any of your favorite fresh vegetables and cooked meats will work.


Ramen at Home
Yield: 1 serving
Time: 20 minutes
Ingredients

1 package ramen
½ carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
½ cup broccoli crowns, washed, sliced
1 shallot, peeled, thin sliced
2 Italian parsley sprigs, washed, use only the leaves, whole or chopped
½ cup shredded chicken, cooked
2 cups homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon scallions, washed, sliced into rounds, green and white parts (optional)
1 hardboiled egg, sliced (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Method

Follow the directions on the package to make the ramen noodles, then drain them and set aside. In a small pot, sauté the vegetables and chicken in the sesame oil until lightly browned, add the chicken stock and soy sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cooked noodles. Stir well and serve in a large bowl, topped with the scallions and the hardboiled egg if you want.