Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Santouka, 12/31/2009

On New Year's Eve, my last bowl of soup in 2009 was shio (salt) ramen at Santouka in Mitsuwa Marketplace in Torrance.

Ramen is the ultimate Japanese comfort food. It has the ubiquitous reassurance of noodles, subtly flavored broth, and various toppings. Santouka is notable because as the Rameniac says, it is topped with absolutely buttery slabs of roasted pork, the kind of pork that a character in the foodie film "Tampopo" greets with a loving "See you later," as he places it at one side of the bowl to savor at the last.

So it is fitting that as a chronic procrastinator, I end the year with this salty, self-indulgent, porky treat.The food experiences of 2010 happened faster than I could write about them, especially toward the end of the year when I was distracted by the holiday vortex. Here are some of my fail-safe standbys and treats under the heading of "Not by Soup Alone":

Roasted Veggie Turkey Soup... After the Thanksgiving foodfest, I "wrasseled" what was left of the turkey - which was a lot - into a pot and boiled it into stock. Sadly, the end result was not as good as this photo. But at least I got to do something with the alphabet pasta that I found at Whole Foods after a surprisingly long and seemingly fruitless search - who knew that alphabet pasta - much like the traditional English language - was almost extinct?

Nordstrom Cafe's Tomato Basil Soup... I have a bowl of this this almost every week when I make my pilgrimage to Ziba in the Westside Pavilion. It is served with Parmesan-covered crostini to die for, and has a truly balanced tomato flavor and a creamy/foamy texture similar to the soup that Violet Beauregard in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" tastes in the chewing gum that is flavored like a three-course meal. Thankfully, I don't turn into a giant blueberry every time I eat it!

Hiro's Paper-Wrapped Trout with Bacon... My brother-in-law, Hiro, who outdoes himself at the holidays in the kitchen, surpassed all expectations with this restaurant-quality treat from an Italian cookbook that he and my sister bought at Costco. Each parcel revealed a whole rainbow trout seasoned with bacon, onion, olive oil and green olives. Even the lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarians in the family overlooked the pork product, the dish was too gorgeously delicious to pass up!

Din Tai Fung... On Dec. 27, after two very lovely parties in a row at the house (Christmas and Kenzo's birthday), Jolene and I met Joselyn, Todd, Shiho and Jason at our favorite dumpling house in Arcadia, Din Tai Fung

Since it was Jos and Todd's first visit, we ordered almost everything. The consensus among the meat eaters was that it's all about the juicy pork dumplings. The alternatives were noteworthy, although the chicken was surprisingly better than the fish version. Even though we could barely eat another bite after about a dozen trays of dumplings among us, we had to close with the sweet red bean dumplings for dessert.

It's already the 12th of January as I write this and some of the post-holiday glow is gone. The best thing about the holidays was that ability to just live and cook, eat, hang out with family and friends, and cook and eat again.

Meals have to nourish the psyche as well as the body. Whether I eat with others or alone, every meal has the potential to rejuvenate. I think that's why I started GMS, in order to salvage some emotion out of even the most hurried meal.

This holiday season was marred for many by an overwhelming despair over the economy. Sadly to some extent, the commercial aspect of gift-giving was underscored even more than usual as people bemoaned the fact that they could not give as many gifts as usual, and some, none at all.

If I could have any gift in the world, it would be to have more time to appreciate people and things much more than I have in the last few years. I'm hoping that as we all tackle the challenges of living with less, we can see it as a challenge to actually live with more: more imagination, more regard for each other, more peace of mind.

An empty bowl is not necessarily a sign of deprivation. It's a space that has the potential to be filled.


  1. You are right on target. As economic, national and world news get grimer and seemly relentless, its important to remember we are are not alone. The comfort of sharing food and time with each other reconnects with the abundance that has little to do with money