Category Archives: culture

JetLag RocknRoll: The Video Travel Guide Series

I’ve been so wrapped up in multiple projects that I forgot to update this blog with JetLag RocknRoll’s latest incarnation! Years ago I attempted to produce online travel guides with wanderlustful rocknroll aficionados in mind but writing each listing was incredibly time consuming and a bit too ambitious for just one person. Last year, C suggested we make it a video form instead and ask local bands about their favorite spots in the places they call home. Well, the first episode is now live! It spotlights the San Francisco East Bay and features Shannon & the Clams, Tina Lucchesi of the Trashwomen, and Jesse Townley of Blatz. You can watch the video above and get more details about the businesses, places, and bands covered here.

Other destinations in the works include San Francisco, Tokyo, and Chicago. Check back here or jetlagrnr.com for new episodes!

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Wish You Were Hear: Uncool Fest 2016, Day 2

swmrs10

SWMRS at Uncool Fest, Day 2 | 924 Gilman Street

In the early ’90s, when I was between the ages of 17 and 21, you could find me most weekends at 924 Gilman Street, an all-ages, non-profit, volunteer-run club in Berkeley that’s perhaps best known as the stomping ground of bands such as Green Day, Rancid, and AFI. It didn’t really matter who was playing—there was always at least one band on the five-band bill that turned out to be worth seeing. Sometimes a show even garnered national attention (e.g., the Insaints’ X-rated antics, the time Jello Biafra was assaulted by crusty punks).

My trips to Gilman grew increasingly infrequent with each passing year, even after Pyramid Brewery opened across the street and offered an alternative to Gilman’s functional but dank restrooms, sugar-laden snacks, questionable couches, and floor seating. (Pyramid closed last year.)  I can’t remember the last time I watched all the bands…until last weekend’s two-day Uncool Fest.

So C and I are making a rock ‘n’ roll travel video series, the first of which focuses on the East Bay, and needed Gilman footage for it. Since I pretty much don’t know any of the local bands playing there these days, I was pleased to recognize a couple playing the second day: headliners SWMRS and opener Jakob Danger. Mind-bogglingly, both bands have the distinction of featuring the sons of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. How crazy is that?

Even crazier was the number of parents pressed up against the walls at the back of the room, no doubt wishing there was somewhere to sit or get a snack. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

But I digress. I arrived shortly before (who I thought would be) Jakob Danger kicked off the show and joined the gaggle of girls parked at the front of the stage. They were dedicated SWMRS fans, judging by their branded shirts and phone cases. Was this similar to what it feels like to attend a Justin Bieber concert? I’m sure I’ll never know.

In any case, the first band turned out to be Berkeley’s Mom Jeans. Jakob Danger had been moved to a middle slot, which is how I ended up staying for all six bands. Although, honestly, what would I have done between the first and last bandsshop for groceries at Whole Foods down the block?

All the bands, including San Francisco’s Dinosaurs and SoCal’s Melted and No Parents, were awesome and compelled sweaty, fervent pit action. The No Stagediving sign went unheeded. A giant dinosaur balloon bounced around the room during Dinosaurs’ set.

Throughout the night, the heaving crush of adolescent energy around the stage transported me back to my first few years at Gilman. In addition, I was headbutted in the face at one point and kicked in the head by a wayward foot at another, adding a corporeal element to my nostalgia. No wonder I didn’t take many photos back then! I was too busy thrashing around and surviving flying bodies and limbs to fiddle with a film camera. Oh well. I’ve since learned how to multitask a little better. Here’s a glimpse of the action, as well as my KALX playlist from 20 years ago.

momjeans1

Mom Jeans

dinosaurs1

Dinosaurs

dinosaurs2

Dinosaurs

dinosaurs3

Dinosaurs

dinosaurs6

Dinosaurs

dinosaurs4

Dinosaurs

dinosaurs5

Dinosaurs

melted1

Melted

melted2

Melted

melted3

Melted

jakobdanger1

Jakob Danger

jakobdanger2

Jakob Danger

jakobdanger3

Jakob Danger

noparents1

No Parents

noparents2

No Parents

noparents3

No Parents

noparents5

No Parents

noparents6

No Parents

noparents7

No Parents

swmrs1

SWMRS

swmrs2

SWMRS

swmrs3

SWMRS

swmrs4

SWMRS

swmrs5

SWMRS

swmrs6

SWMRS

swmrs7

SWMRS

swmrs8

SWMRS

swmrs9

SWMRS

* = feature play
$ = request

2/16/96: FRIDAY 12:30-3pm

* PUBLIC DISTURBANCE – S&M
* THE HUMPERS – Apocalypse Girl
ZERO BOYS – Johnny Better Get
THE CONTROLLERS – Do the Uganda
* BIORITMO – Asia Minor

* THE VANDALS – Wannabe Manor
*$ VOODOO GLOWSKULLS – Thrift Shop Junkie
* THE CADAVERS – Bad Kid
S.H.A.K.E. – Invasion of the Gamma Men
* GAMMA MEN – Police Car

NANCY SINATRA – Sugar Town
* FIFI & THE MACH III – Heaven Only Knows
THE SAINTS – Lipstick on Your Collar
STAN GETZ – Girl from Ipanema
THE POMPOMS – Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini

COMMANDER CODY & HIS LOST PLANET AIRMEN – Hot Rod Lincoln
* CIGAR STORE INDIANS – Hot Rod Concerto
BILLY THE KID EMERSON – Move Baby Move
$ ELVIN BISHOP – Beer Drinking Woman
SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS – I Am the Cool

TROTSKY ICEPICK/VENA CAVA – I’m Stranded
* BOUNCING SOULS – All of This & Nothing
* AFI –  Advance in Modern Technology
* THE MOTARDS – Johnny Tremaine
* THE SWINGIN’ UTTERS – The Dirty Sea

THE BUSINESS – Get Out While You Can
THE LURKERS – Wolf at the Door
$ X-RAY SPEX – Oh Bondage Up Yours!
$ LINK WRAY & THE RAY MEN – Rumble
* JOHNNY LYON – Bark Like a Dog

THE TAMMYS – Egyptian Shumba
DAVID SEVILLE – Witchdoctor
THE NAILS – 88 Lines about 44 Women
THE ANGELS – My Boyfriend’s Back
$ SANDIE SHAW – How Can You Tell

THE ADVERTS – Safety in Numbers
THE CLASH – Jail Guitar Doors
SHAM 69 – Tell Us the Truth

$ NAKED RAYGUN – Gear
* VAST MAJORITY – I Wanna Be a Number
* JACK O’ FIRE – Run Run Run
$ THE MAKERS – Dos & Don’ts of Lying

* LOUIS ARMSTRONG – Black & Blue
BILLIE HOLIDAY – Travelin’ Light
* THE TIKITONES – Rusty Nail
* THE BOMBORAS – Slinky

DAVID BOWIE – Heroes

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Ramen Round-Up: East Bay & SF Edition

menoh-ramen
Back in 2011, I recounted my childhood love of instant noodles and the subsequent mind explosion that occurred when I discovered that ramen could be ordered in a restaurant. Since then, ramen has been enjoying a renaissance in the Bay Area, and I recently slurped my way through a few bowls in the East Bay and San Francisco for a piece on The Bold Italic. Here’s the full gallery of goodness I tackled with the help of a few intrepid friends. What are some of your favorite spots in your neck of the woods?

kenken-tonkotsu

Ken Ken Ramen (San Francisco): Hakata-style tonkotsu

kenken-vegan

Ken Ken Ramen (San Francisco): vegan shoyu

kiraku-shoyu

Kiraku (Berkeley): Tokyo-style shoyu

manpuku-seafood

Manpuku (Berkeley): seafood shoyu

menoh-miso

Men Oh (San Francisco): miso tonkotsu

menoh-spicy

Men Oh (San Francisco): spicy tonkotsu

menoh-tokushima

Men Oh (San Francisco): Tokushima

ramenbar-gingerchicken

Ramen Bar (San Francisco): ginger-braised chicken with gluten-free noodles

ramenbar-hokkaido

Ramen Bar (San Francisco): Hokkaido miso butter

ramenbar-tokyo

Ramen Bar (San Francisco): Tokyo-style Kurobuta pork

ramenbar-veg

Ramen Bar (San Francisco): vegetarian mushroom

ramenshop-hokkaido

Ramen Shop (Oakland): Hokkaido corn miso

ramenshop-shoyu

Ramen Shop (Oakland): shoyu

ramenshop-veg

Ramen Shop (Oakland): vegetarian shoyu Meyer lemon

sobo-shioGF

Sobo Ramen (Oakland): shio with gluten-free noodles

sobo-tonkotsu

Sobo Ramen (Oakland): tonkotsu with mayu (black garlic oil)

sobo-vegan

Sobo Ramen (Oakland): vegan soy coconut

yojimbo-pork

Yojimbo Sushi (Alameda): spicy pork

yojimbo-seafood

Yojimbo Sushi (Alameda): spicy seafood

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How Jawbreaker Spent a Week with Nirvana & Lost All Their Punk Rock Credibility

mlttw8

My Letter to the World #8, with Blake Schwarzenbach’s floppy disk

In February 1993, Lookout Record darlings Green Day caused an uproar among punk circles when they confirmed that they’d be signing to a major label. For some, the 1994 release of Dookie on Reprise Records meant the beginning of the end of punk rock, and likely helped groups like the Offspring and Rancid find mainstream success despite their indie status at the time.

The same year that Green Day contended with accusations of selling out, San Francisco band Jawbreaker agreed to join Nirvana for six shows during their In Utero tour. Twenty years later, it seems like no big deal, but this embittered a huge clutch of their fans. As I mentioned in a post I wrote last year, I asked singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach to keep a tour diary and let me publish it in my zine My Letter to the World. He handed it over to me on a floppy disk (remember those?) a few weeks after Jawbreaker returned and that issue came out on December 16, 1993. Less than four months later, Kurt Cobain was found dead in his Seattle home.

My world was microscopic in the 1990s so I actually remember where I was when Kurt’s death (and Joey Ramone’s on April 15, 2001, for that matter) was officially announced in the media: at KALX. I had finished up the 9:30am-12pm slot (playlist below) and was putting away my records when a listener called in with the news. (This was before the ubiquity of the World Wide Web, and still a time when breaking news was attained only via TV or radio.) DJ Mickey took the call and informed the KALX listeners.

It’s always sad when someone passes away, especially when it’s believed to be by his own hand. However, I can’t say I was devastated by his death, even though both Bleach and Nevermind were integral parts of my mid-to-late teenhood. Hearing songs from either album still reminds me of the bleakest, most miserable points of my life to date (which I realize is absolutely fitting and the reason to this day I can’t bear to listen to Nirvana), so perhaps I appreciate the relief he achieved through death.

Getting back to Jawbreaker, Blake stated in his piece, “It has been my official platform since last year (when major labels began expressing an interest in usoh, those foolish magnates!) to never sign to a major label. I stand firmer in this belief today than ever….” As it turns out, they’d sign to DGC Records in 1995 and release Dear You before breaking up in 1996. Here’s the tour diary in its entirety (click images for a larger view) as well as my playlist from that fateful day in April.

jawbreaker1

How Jawbreaker Spent a Week with Nirvana & Lost All Their Punk Rock Credibility (part 1 of 3) | My Letter to the World #8

jawbreaker2

How Jawbreaker Spent a Week with Nirvana & Lost All Their Punk Rock Credibility (part 2 of 3) | My Letter to the World #8

jawbreaker3

How Jawbreaker Spent a Week with Nirvana & Lost All Their Punk Rock Credibility (part 3 of 3) | My Letter to the World #8

* = feature play
$ = request

4/8/94: FRIDAY 9:30am-noon

THE WHO – Pictures of Lily
* LUNA – Tiger Lily
JOHNNY COPELAND – Rock ‘n’ Roll Lily
*$ WANKIN’ TEENS – Salt Lake City Airport
ANGRY SAMOANS – Inside My Brain
EX – Jake’s Cake

*$ TOTAL CHAOS – Systems Downfall
COCKPIT – I Wanna a Man in a Skirt
3-D INVISIBLES – Wolfman on Your Tail
* GOLDENTONES – Miserlou

MEAT WHIPLASH – Losing Your Grip
JESUS & MARY CHAIN – Boyfriend’s Dead
* NILS – Scratches & Needles
ABRASIVE WHEELS – Danger Danger
TELEVISION PERSONALITIES – Brian’s Magic Car

* THE JAM – Heatwave
THE DICKS – Rich Daddy
ZANTEES – Please Give Me Something
TATTOOED CORPSES – Jack Zombie
* YOUTH BRIGADE – Punk Rock Mom

ORDER OF DECAY – Confused
SHANGRI-LAS – Leader of the Pack
TOY DOLLS – I’ll Get Even with Steven
* THE TRASHWOMEN – Space Needle

ANNISTEEN ALLEN – Fujiyama Mama
NAKED RAYGUN – Backlash Jack
THE HELLBILLYS – Bucket of Blood
BILLY NAYER SHOW – Bouncy Bouncy
D.I. – Richard Hung Himself

THE LUNACHICKS – Jan Brady
ADAM & THE ANTS – Jolly Roger
RUTH BROWN – This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’
THE REVILLOS – Do the Mutilation
LAVERNE BAKER – Hey Memphis

* CHARLES BROWN SUPERSTAR – Slut Rock
THE CRESTONES – She’s a Bad Motorcycle
THE FASTBACKS – You Can’t Be Happy
TOMMY MARTIN & THE XLs – Hoochie Coochie
* WEDDING PRESENT – Happy Birthday

THE RAMONES – Danny Says
BLITZ – Nation on Fire
INFA RIOT – Riot Riot
THE BUSINESS – Suburban Rebels

DEAD MILKMEN – Watching Scotty Die
THE 4-SKINS – Sorry
AFI – High School Football Hero
* JOHNNY PEEBUCKS & THE SWINGIN’ UTTERS – Here We Are Nowhere
MAD SOCIETY – Napalm

* AGRESSION – Rat Race
RIOT SQUAD – Friday Night Hero

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Worst Segues Ever, or Playlist 03/20/93

mixtapes

Some of my radio mixtapes | Canon 60D, 85mm, 1/250 sec, f4, ISO 800

When I was a little girl, I was more often than not hunched over a clunky radio with single-cassette recorder/player, index and middle fingers tensed over the black Play and red Record buttons just in case Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, or New Edition popped on. I could barely tie my shoes but that didn’t hamper my adeptness as a music pirate.

But, unlike NPR intern Emily White (who recently confessed that she owns more than 11,000 songs but has only bought 15 CDs in her 20-year life), I actually wanted to buy albums by my favorite artists. I ached to listen to them over and over without interruption. I longed to commit the artwork and liner notes to memory.

Unfortunately for me, my parents only listened to the radio in the car and thought there were far better things to spend money on than music. (That’s not to say they didn’t enjoy music, though. At the very least, my mom loved musicals and got me hooked on showtunes, as you’ll soon see.) So the next best thing I could do to satisfy my budding musical OCD was to tape my fixations onto an Al Stewart Year of the Cat cassette I had found on a walk home from school.

Radio was my best friend. Its many voices stood in for the friends I didn’t have. Its songs lifted my mood and temporarily transported me away from “here.” Radio continued to be my best friend even after my parents consented to buying me my first cassette on my 11th birthday. (The tape, incidentally, was not Rocket to Russia or Psychocandy or even Like a Virgin. It was—wait for it—the St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack. What? I had just begun piano lessons and yearned to play like David Foster.)

When I started earning a whopping $2 a week in junior high, I could finally save up to buy the pre-recorded tapes I’d been coveting (my first purchase: the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Darklands). But, since these gems cost around $8 each, radio sustained me between acquisitions. Sometimes I’d fill 60- and 90-minute blank tapes with songs by single artists such as the Smiths, the Ramones, and the Alarm, peppered with DJ interludes, commercial clips, and station IDs. Other times I’d mix it up with an assortment of musical styles and band interviews. I wasn’t satisfied by just having a loose collection of songs, though, and borrowing friends’ tapes only worsened my itch.

Since Pandora, Last.fm, and Spotify were at least a decade in the future, I relied on radio to inform my future purchases. My junior high existence revolved around 91X, San Diego’s “cutting edge of rock.” But my world combusted when I stumbled upon the unexpected magic that was college radio.

I don’t recall exactly how it transpired, but during a Mozart sonata piano competition held at San Diego State University, I set foot into KCR. The station was perhaps three small rooms haphazardly adorned with album posters and band stickers. Marco Collins (now at KEXP in Seattle) manned the soundboard in a tie-dye shirt; he’d soon go on to host Sunday-night specialty shows “Listen to This” (which featured new releases that wouldn’t necessarily make heavy rotation) and “Loudspeaker” (local bands) at 91X. But since KCR was cable-only at the time, I couldn’t actually listen to it. I did, however, discover that, on the darkest and rainiest of nights, I could get KXLU (in Los Angeles, 130 miles away) and KCSB (in Santa Barbara, 220 miles away), albeit staticky and tinny and with constant fiddling of the radio antenna and knobs. They played bands I wouldn’t hear on commercial radio stations, no matter how cutting edge they thought they were: Fearless Iranians from Hell, Christian Death, Diamanda Galas.

Unsurprisingly, one of the first things I did when I arrived at UC Berkeley for college was volunteer at KALX. Seven months later, they dared let me be on the air. Almost two decades on and I’m still at it, which means I have about 15 years’ worth of paper playlists. The thought is pretty overwhelming. I mean, for me they’re not just lists of songs, just like my radio mixtapes weren’t just a jumble of tunes anyone could’ve assembled. Each one’s like a diary entry, with cryptic notes and a flurry of inconsistent, sometimes pretentious handwriting. The song choices, especially in the first ten years, reflected who I was, who I thought I was, and who I thought I was going to be. But for everyone else, they’re just sets of songs that may humor, jar, inspire, appall.

In any case, here’s my very first KALX radio show and its cringe-inducing segues (hi, Muppets into Fuzzbox? Beastie Boys into Jesus & Mary Chain? Mary Poppins into Operation Ivy?). It’d probably be easy enough to gather all the songs together digitally and organize them thusly, but you’d be a braver soul than I to listen to this mess.

03/20/93: SATURDAY 9-11am (first show)

JAWBREAKER – With or Without U
CHIPMUNKS – Whip It
FUN BUG – Plimsoles
PETULA CLARK – Downtown
* AZALIA SNAIL – St. Nowhere
SPACEMEN 3 – Ecstasy Symphony/Transparent Radiation

PETER, PAUL & MARY – Puff the Magic Dragon
MUPPET MOVIE soundtrack – Rainbow Connection
FUZZBOX – Rules and Regulations
* ST. ETIENNE – You’re in a Bad Way
BEASTIE BOYS – New Style
JESUS & MARY CHAIN – Some Candy Talking

TEAR GARDEN – Great Lie
THIS MORTAL COIL – Mr. Somewhere
PHILIP GLASS – Land of the Dead
BUZZOVEN – Hate Box

GAY PUREE soundtrack – Paris Is a Lonely Town
MARY POPPINS soundtrack – Let’s Go Fly a Kite
OPERATION IVY – Plea for Peace
CRIMPSHRINE – Situation
VELVET UNDERGROUND – After Hours (live)

$ THE SLITS – Typical Girls (live in Cincinnati)
X-RAY SPEX – Warrior in Woolworth’s
* POSTER CHILDREN – Shotguns and Pickups
J-CHURCH – Kathi

SUB SOCIETY – Isolator
CANDLE – Silver
CRINGER – Corrupt
SOUND OF MUSIC soundtrack – 16 Going on 17
*$ THERAPY? – Teethgrinder
BOW WOW WOW – Do You Wanna Hold Me?
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S soundtrack – Moon River Cha Cha

* = feature play
$ = request

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Noodlebrain

Seaweed ramen | Canon 5D, 29mm, 1/80, f4, ISO 800

When I was in Sebastopol in September, I had the misfortune of picking up the debut issue of Lucky Peach, a quarterly food journal spearheaded by chef David Chang (owner of NYC’s Momofuku restaurants), writer Peter Meehan, and the Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations production team. I say “misfortune” not because it’s a waste of a perfectly good tree but because it renewed my appreciation for ramen. But I suppose it would’ve been a failure on its end had it not, seeing as the whole issue centers around the humble, chewy foodstuff that sustained me for a good three-quarters of my life.

Kraft macaroni and cheese may have been popular in Western households, but instant ramen was a staple in our Taiwanese-American home. The Tung-I brand (the Chinese onion flavor in particular) was our favorite, with its brick of crispy, wavy noodles, foil packet of dry seasoning (MSG, dehydrated chives), and clear packet of fragrant, partially solidified oil and fried shallots.

We never ate it for dinner (somehow my mom always managed to whip up a soup, a protein, and several plates of greens and vegetables each night), but we devoured it as a snack. Occasionally we had it ungarnished, but most of the time we’d crack in an egg or two and/or toss in some fresh spinach. My dad would drop in dollops of chili paste until the broth was an unseemly red. I was probably 10 when I started making it on my own. Unsurprisingly, I packed a big box of it and an electric kettle when I moved 500 miles away to college.

Of course, my family also had a variety of Nissin Cup Noodles on hand for the times when we were either too busy or lazy to deal with a pot and a bowl. Even though I haven’t touched the stuff since the 1990s, I still remember the treats found within each cup, more so than I remember the various shaped marshmallows found in Lucky Charms cereal: spongy, yellow cubes of egg; small pink curls of shrimp with black intestinal tract intact; sweet orange tabs of carrot; green balls that never seemed to properly reconstitute into peas.

Eventually, once I was on my own and paying for stuff with my own money, Top Ramen and Maruchan (inferior brands, in my opinion, because they lacked oil packets) caught my attention with their 20-for-$1 sales. When I was feeling adventurous, I’d splurge on Shin Ramyun, a spicy Korean brand. I stopped eating instant ramen completely when I started reading nutrition labels and learned, to my horror, that each pack was 400 calories and 24 grams of fat.

I was long out of college when I discovered that cooked ramen existed in a commercial setting. A non-Asian friend introduced me to the handmade gook-soo noodles (similar to udon) at Bear’s Ramen House, a Korean hole in the wall in Berkeley’s Asian food ghetto. They also served ramyeon, but I didn’t see the point of paying $5 for something that I could literally get for a dime. Eventually, I ate my first bowl of restaurant ramen there. Even though they used dried instant noodles, the broth and accompaniments blew away my home attempts.

It wasn’t until years later in 2009, on my second trip to Tokyo, that I finally had fresh ramen. In Japan, ramen is considered fast food, and it’s as ubiquitous as burgers, sandwiches, and pizza by the slice in the States. Whole eateries (called ramenya) are dedicated to the stuff, and they’re not shy about showcasing their offerings, either through photos or plastic replicas so well done that you can almost see the steam wafting off the vinyl chloride noodles.

Ironically, I ordered my first bowl of fresh ramen from a vending machine. Many ramenya prefer an automated system in which you choose what you want from a machine outside, insert your money, and take the ticket it spits out to the person at the counter inside. I liked it because I didn’t have to struggle with the language and could take my time marveling over the menu.

Kamukura's vending machine (Shinjuku, Tokyo) | Olympus E-P2, 9mm, 1/320, f9, ISO 1000

My meal looked just like the replica, and the noodles were chewy, savory, and comforting, with a bite that instant noodles never had. How had my parents kept this from me for so long? Were they even aware of this magic in a bowl?

My first bowl of fresh ramen | Canon 5D, 70mm, 1/40, f6.3, ISO 250

Little did I know that ramen had many more dimensions, as illustrated in Lucky Peach. The noodles could be curly or straight; the broth clear or milky, fishy or porky or both; the eggs soft-boiled, hard-boiled, or raw. And then there were the various combinations of toppings: green onion, seaweed, fishcake, pork, corn, spinach, bean sprouts. When I went back to Tokyo this past Thanksgiving, I made sure to squeeze in a few more bowls.

Kamukura ramen | Olympus E-P2, 18mm, 1/25, f5.6, ISO 1000

"Piss Alley" ramen | Canon 60D, 45mm, 1/50, f4, ISO 1250

"Piss Alley" ramen | Canon 60D, 50mm, 1/100, f4, ISO 1250

My ramen journey didn’t end there, however. Somehow during the course of writing this post, I became mildly obsessed with instant noodles and learned that they were invented by Taiwanese-born Momofuku Ando for Japan’s Nissin Foods. (I assume David Chang borrowed Ando’s name for his restaurant.) I also developed an unexpected longing for the Tung-I ramen of my youth.

I bought two packs at the Asian supermarket and saw that the packaging had changed a bit (“Unif” had been added to the name; the flavor was now simply “onion flavor”; instructions were also provided in German and Norwegian). In addition, the product was now made in Vietnam. Yikes! Did they change the recipe, too?

Tung-I instant ramen | Canon 60D, 40mm, 1/60, f4, ISO 1000

Tung-I ramen package | Canon 60D, 40mm, 1/100, f4, ISO 1000

Curious as I was, it took me a good two weeks to work up the courage to prepare one pack. Yes, I know that makes me sound like the biggest food snob, but not only was the fat/calorie content daunting, so were the ingredients. MSG was one thing, but what were disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and tertiary butylhydroquinone?

As it turned out, the ramen smelled and tasted exactly like I remembered, from the heavenly scalliony oil to the dried chives to the spirals of noodle. I ended up eating both packs with minimal guilt, knowing that I’d never knowingly eat instant ramen again.

Fresh ramen, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. And what about cup noodles…? Oh, why did I dare to eat this particular peach?

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Slapdash Culinary Adventure

Andrew Zimmern, genial host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, makes traveling, eating, and filming around the world look easy. I’m sure it helps that a professional crew of directors, writers, cameramen, and soundmen tag along on his excursions.

C and I had no such advantage when we decided to slap together a three-minute video for a “Share Your Adventure” video contest Lonely Planet was having. C learned about it at the start of Labor Day weekend, Friday, September 2. The deadline? Tuesday, September 6, at 11:59pm PST.

Ordinarily, we would’ve just thrown our hands in the air and spent the weekend as other Americans might (lounging by a refreshing body of water, congregating with friends in someone’s backyard for gossip and food), but the grand prize of $10,000 was just too tempting. We had no grandiose notions that we’d whip up a cinematic masterpiece in 96 hours, but maybe we could do something stupid/funny/intriguing enough to win the prize. What was there to lose except a few winks of sleep and maybe our trim physiques?

Sharing a culinary adventure (as opposed to urban, family, visual, and outdoor adventures) seemed to be our best bet. We brainstormed and considered cobbling together video footage we had taken while in Spain last year, or hitting San Francisco or Wine Country for new footage, but none of those options motivated us. I must’ve been subconsciously craving Shan Dong’s handmade noodles because Oakland’s Chinatown, right in our backyard, suddenly felt right.

And why not? With Chinese street signs; sidewalk grocers yelling out specials in Cantonese/Mandarin; windows displaying a menagerie of roasted animals; and droves of Asian locals elbowing past each other for the freshest bok choy, longan, and walter caltrops, Chinatown really is like stepping into another world.

With the Canon 60D and Olympus PEN EP-2, we filmed on Saturday and Sunday, spending four hours the first day and ten hours the next hobbling up and down every one of Chinatown’s 16 blocks at least half a dozen times. I don’t know how real TV people do it, but I jotted down a few lines of monologue the night before the first filming to give us some direction. But even my inner boy scout wasn’t prepared for the strangest development—the lack of hustle and bustle.

Chinatown on the weekend is usually a zoo of double-parked cars, sidewalk vendors hawking miscellany such as (illegal?) baby turtles, extended families heading to dim sum, and locals buying groceries for the evening. Much to our surprise and dismay, most people seemed to have left town for the weekend. On the up side, we didn’t have to wait long for our food and could film scenes with relative ease.

Still, we faced other minor challenges. The biggest one was probably getting up early enough to get to Madison Square Park by 8:30 a.m. to capture different groups practicing taiji, wushu, and kung fu. The other: Staying awake after dim sum (ordinarily, I’d go home in a daze and just laze around until the food coma wore off). It was also difficult coming up with witty commentary on the fly.

In fact, we reshot my pandan waffle and cassava cake scene (on separate days) because, after viewing the “dailies,” I was mortified by my unrehearsed ramblings (did you know that tapioca is made of cassava root? You do now). I actually felt like a sham for pretending I was taking my first bite of each…until I read Eating China‘s fascinating behind-the-scenes account of appearing on Bizarre Foods. That’s some talent right there—not letting multiple takes suck the freshness out of a moment.

Here’s a rundown of the places featured:

  • Gourmet Delight Seafood Restaurant (dim sum)
  • Shan Dong Restaurant (vegetable bun)
  • First Cake (bakery; formerly Delicious Food Co.)
  • Golden Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant (pho noodle soup)
  • Cam Huong (refrigerated coconut milk sweets in cups)
  • BC Deli Sandwiches (pandan waffle, cassava cakes)

In the end, our submission was disqualified for having music in it. Major bummer, for sure, but I for one appreciate the kick in the pants the contest gave us to create a travel video. C, on the other hand, would’ve preferred spending that weekend lounging by a refreshing body of water, congregating with friends in someone’s backyard for gossip and food.

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