As my friends and I sat down for dinner on Thursday night, they had no idea what HUDS had in store in the servery. I, on the other hand, had been anticipating this meal all week: a Chinese New Year celebration. After doing my research, I learned that the traditional meal served on New Year’s Eve typically includes both meat and fish, as well as eight individual dishes which reflect the number’s significance as a good luck symbol.
HUDS certainly delivered its version of the traditional Chinese New Year feast. I walked away with a full plate, excited to try the dining hall’s take on (the vegetarian) Buddha’s Delight, the hoisin glazed salmon, spicy green beans, peking cabbage, and some egg fried rice.
While I might be alone on this one, I was most excited for the Buddha’s Delight (pictured below). The elaborate vegetarian dish is one often served by families on Chinese New Year, and the dining hall staff created a great replication. Their version included tofu, water chestnuts, carrots, pea pods, baby corn, broccoli, and scallions, with soy sauce and sesame oil tossed in, and topped with a nice blend of ginger, sugar, and garlic. While the ingredients created a perfect combination, the dish was a bit too saucy, but a tasty addition as it leaked onto the cabbage and green beans underneath.
Continuing to break outside the normal veggie offerings this evening, the Chinese New Year fare included spicy green beans (read: green beans with crushed garlic, diced tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and cumin) and peking cabbage. The green beans definitely had an extra kick, making them an exciting and delicious break from the usual, but not quite what I would call spicy.
The fried foods were all table favorites: vegetable egg rolls (top) and pork dumplings (middle). I can speak for the egg rolls, and they were spot on this evening. Perfectly crisp on the exterior, without too much breading, and enough to give all of the inside veggies just the right flavor. The egg fried rice (bottom) was also well executed – filled with celery and mushrooms for an added touch.
Last but not least on my plate was the hoisin glazed salmon, cooked just right. Hoisin sauce, similar to American barbecue sauce, is made from a combination of soybeans, garlic, sugar, sesame seeds, and chili pepper. The slightly sugary sauce adds a sweet and savory marinade to the dish without taking away from the main attraction.
HUDS’ Chinese New Year meal was a complete success if you ask me. With a few tweaks and improvements, next year’s edition could be even better, but watching my friends walk into the dining hall to find the surprise was worth my full week’s wait. While my Chinese friends were able to celebrate a taste of home, my American ones (myself included) were able to enjoy a cultural experience we won’t forget.
Since word got out about the opening in early November, the hype for Santouka Ramen’s opening on campus has been palpable. Today, Santouka will finally open its doors to the public, ready to serve its steaming blue bowls of broth and noodles.
Unlike the traditional fast food-style ramen shops of Japan, the Cambridge location is Santouka’s second full-service restaurant, the first having opened in Seattle last spring. Harvard Square, already a destination for those looking for a sit down meal, will surely be the perfect place for Santouka’s second restaurant endeavor. Accommodating both ramen diehards and insta-ramen makers alike, each member of Santouka’s staff has undergone an intensive, two-week training to master the nuances of Japanese culture and cater to the needs of each individual customer.
While it is not the first restaurant of its kind, founder Hitoshi Hatanaka was quick to point out that Boston and Shinagawa, his hometown, share a very similar climate (i.e. bitterly cold winters). In this way, a steaming bowl of noodles, broth, and pork, will warm you right up in the way that Hatanaka had intended when he opened his first shop in 1988. Even the bowl design is taken into account: the thinner, deeper bowls are designed to conserve heat in colder climates. In addition to being a salvation from the cold, the founder explained that the dining room was designed specifically with Harvard students in mind. With two large, cafeteria sized tables at the center, Santouka will be well-suited for blocking group outings, as well as a casual date night. The prices ranges from about $10 to $15 per meal and it’s worth every penny.
Once just a small, nine-seat ramen shop in the Hokkaido region of Japan, Santouka Ramen is now an international business with locations from Malaysia to California. Throughout all this sucess, Mr. Hitoshi Hatanaka seems to have maintained Santouka’s character, as well as his own. At Monday’s private opening, scenes from the hit Japanese comedy, Tampopo, which Hatanaka cites as the inspiration for the opening of his first shop, were shown to instruct the attendees in the proper way to both slurp, and cherish, their ramen.
Without a doubt, you will find the best ramen in Cambridge at Santouka. Santouka has only been able to expand from its humble beginnings to an international chain by staying true to its original goal: serving high quality ramen to its customers. Lots, and lots of hungry customers. Though the noodles are not produced in house, Santouka has decided to maintain an especially keen eye on its broth, which is considered by many to be the heart of any bowl of ramen. With a good broth, noodles are just as auxiliary (or important, depending on your point of view) as the pork or mushrooms. The Tonkatsu broth base is laboriously made by simmering pork bones for twenty hours, extracting every last bit of flavor and fat from the bones and concentrating it into a rich and milky elixir. The addition of other ingredients, especially vegetables, add a sweet tinge to the creamy broth.
The dedication to the broth can also be seen in the amount of space the restaurant has devoted to the simmering process. As one can see from the long, rectangular window along the south wall of the restaurant, most of the kitchen is taken up by eight huge vats of broth, each clouded with the capricious steam from the pork and vegetables simmering below. The vats, lit with green light to emphasize the true alchemical magic constantly at play, can even be seen from Bow Street, enticing any passerby.
Here Head Chef Igo-san stands akimbo, taking a moment of rest before jumping back on the line. A veteran team member from Santouka’s Seattle location, Igo-san is especially familiar with, as well as proud of, the quality of ingredients he gets to work with everyday at Santouka. The noodles are made from a unique blend of wheat made specifically for Santouka that creates a full-bodied noodle which holds onto the broth flavor. While the more traditional ingredients, such as nori, umbroshi, and miso, are imported from Japan, the pork comes from the US to ensure freshness before it undergoes the secret process of cha shu.
At the private opening Monday, Santouka served up their signature dish: Shio Ramen. With a Tonkatsu soup base, Shio ramen is given depth with the subtle addition of sea salt. The noodles are then carefully folded into the cradle of hot soup, and finally a variety of toppings are placed on the top. The result? An impressive steaming bowl teeming with colors, aromas, flavors, and textures, each carefully crafted and balanced for your dining experience. (More information about the ingredients can be found here.)
“Caress it with the chopsticks:” How to Enjoy Your Ramen to the Fullest
Tackling one of these mighty bowls can be intimidating– where does one start? The founder, being so inspired by the Japanese comedy Tampopo, introduced ramen eating technique through one of the movie’s iconic scenes in which an obsessive old man demonstrates with extreme affection how to eat ramen. (It’s definitely worth a look; check it out here).
The bowl, roughly the size of an expanded stomach (foreshadowing much?), is first placed in front of you along with the proper weapons of choice: chopsticks and a deep soup spoon. The soup is scalding hot, and the arrangement of toppings appears too beautiful to be disrupted. But be disrupted, it must! For nothing may stand against you and ramen in your face! First, you pinch off a half dozen strands of noodles, and then, being careful not to sever any indivdiual strand, start slurping them into your mouth. When slurping, it is important to make noise and slurp in air with the scalding noodles in order to cool them down. The noodles soak up and deliver the broth, combining the flavor of the rich opaque pork bone broth and the texture of the full, lush noodle strands.
The central concept behind a good bowl of ramen is combining the variety of flavors and textures found in the soup. When the soup, noodles, and toppings are eaten in flavor-texture combination, innumerable sensations are possible.
The cha shu pork (1) is “the best pork I’ve ever had” (said Dana Ferrante, self-proclaimed pork specialist). Made with the fatty underbelly of pig, the pork is unbelievably tender and bursts with the hot fat flavor before melting away in your mouth. The bamboo shoots (2), harvested as young bamboo and then steamed, offer a subtle earthy taste with a pleasant fibrous texture that stands in contrast to many of the other ingredients. The fish cake (3), a new sensation to those unfamiliar with ramen, is a loaf of pureed whitefish with a very light flavor, standing out not only because of its decorative pink swirl, but also with its chewiness. The wood ear mushroom (4), with a flavor reminiscent of the woods, has a texture similar to the bamboo shoot, but it a bit softer and smoother. Finally, the hard plum (5): with its sweet, vinegar, pickled bite, cuts right through the fattiness of the broth and refreshes the mouth. With so many combinations of flavor and texture to try, there is a new experience in store every time you eat a bowl of ramen.
One last suggestion: eat it fast. The ramen is best when it is piping hot and first brought to the table. When the soup gets cold, the broth will dehomogenize and the noodles will lose their firmness.
“Happiness in a Bowl”
In the words of the owner, Ramen is “happiness in a bowl.” As I took my first loud slurp of ramen and chewed, I could not prevent a smile from spreading across my face. Delicious, hot, and comfortable. The ramen made me feel, well, happy. What can bother you when you are warm and have eaten your fill?
Here I am, Santouka. Signed, slurped, delivered, I’m yours.
Shopping week is often a perilous time of year. The night before it begins, you have the perfect plan figured out: 4 (or 5) classes, no Friday sections, and a nice long lunch each afternoon. Then midway through the week, you’re on the phone with your parents telling them you just cannot get it together for this semester. “Mom, I’m just going to dropout.” Classic.
Choosing can be tough, which is why the Crimson Crave has put together a list of food-related courses for your shopping list. Tough just got tougher…and chocolatier and cheesier.
Check out the lists below for courses running this spring and fall!
AFRAMER 119x: Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food
ANTHRO 1727: Sensory Korea
ENG-SCI 24: Flavor Molecules of Food Fermentation: Exploration and Inquiry
ESPP11: Sustainable Development
ESPP 90t: Environmental Health: Your World and Your Life at Risk
FRSEMR 32m: Food for Thought: Culinary Culture in Spain and Latin America
ITAL 105: From the Book to the Kitchen Table
OEB 52: Biology of Plants
RELIGION 1046: Introduction to Religion and Ecology
SCI-LIVSYS 19: Nutrition and Global Health
SCI-LIVSYS 16: Human Evolution and Human Health
ANTHRO 2712: Ethnographies of Food
ANTHRO 1040: Origins of the Food We Eat
ANTHRO 2618: The Body in the Age of Obesity
E&M REASON-22: Nutrition and Health: Myths, Paradigms and Science
French 127: Talking about food
HEB 1411: Evolution and Adaption of the Human Diet
SCI-PHYUNV 27: Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science