Kissaten!

Coffee has a unique place in Japanese culture. It was, as it was many places around the world, introduced hundreds of years ago. However, until the 1970’s, coffee was not the drink of choice in Japan. The ubiquitous green tea has long dominated the beverage culture in Japan, beating out competitors left and right until a faster postwar economy really took hold and rocketed Japan towards the high-octane, bitter, black drink we all know and love, coffee.

Delicious coffeeeeeee

Delicious coffeeeeeee

Kissaten, with their roots firmly planted in the business world, are very different from the American cafes you find here, there, and everywhere in the States. Whereas our national coffee chain, Starbucks, strives to create a “third place,” where consumers can come and relax with a cup and a friend and have a chat with their baristas for a second about how so-and-so’s brother-in-law did what at that weird thing at that wedding last week, Japan’s national chain, Dotou, is focused on the quick, in-and-out experience of many business people, rendering their baristas pretty much incapable of having the time to discuss what did or did not happen because of the imbibing of copious amounts of grain alcohol. Or whatever, it was probably their fault for having an open bar.

Right. Coffee.

So, Japanese kissaten are often about getting in, out, and on with your life. They’re about helping you with a quick recoup from your morning commute which, for business people and students, is a huge part of your day, or for helping you grab a delicious coffee before battle. Like you do.

Samurai drank coffee. Advertising tells me so.

Completely and totally historically accurate.

Kissaten also spawned the canned coffee craze, which has come to America through Starbucks as those bottled frappuccinos that Starbucks sells, or those big, huge cans of “coffee” that Monster and other energy drinks infuse with as much sugar and caffeine as possible. This iteration of coffee has made it even newer-seeming to younger generations, making it a more attractive option for its audience and increasing its popularity, not just in Japan, but worldwide. There have been a few notable brands that came out of this trend, like UEC and BOSS, with clever advertising campaigns of their own. Some of them even have some pretty familiar American names behind them.

Tommy Lee Jones. So hot right now.

Tommy Lee Jones. So hot right now.

Kissaten itself means something else, though. These kissaten are not synonymous with modern-style cafes, like Dotour and Starbucks, no, these kissaten are usually aimed towards a clientele seeking to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee. Until recently, many of them didn’t serve lattes and mochas and such, but that culture is shifting towards a more global-style approach. Kissaten used to be a place you came and sat down and had a little cup of coffee with almost nothing else on the menu, but more and more kissaten are popping up all around Kyoto and Tokyo as, instead of business-meeting-type places, social gathering areas, much like cafes are here in the United States and around the world. These kissaten are all about staying for a while and enjoying your surroundings.

At manga-kissa, you can check out manga and read while you have your coffee.

At manga-kissa, you can check out manga and read while you have your coffee.

Though these may be a little more pricey, the atmosphere is nice, and it can be relaxing to get out of the busy streetlife of modern Japan for a few moments. Some of the more popular kissaten and cafes in the Tokyo region are Gakuya in Shibuya, a place to sit and relax, enjoying coffee “with all the grace of a tea ceremony.” This is a more traditional kissaten, complete with a gray-haired owner and postwar decor. Hipper, newer cafes in Tokyo are the ever-preset Dotour coffee joints, as well as Ben’s Cafe, a more western-style cafe, in the style of Stumptown Coffee Roasters or Blue Bottle Coffee. We may not have any kissaten in Salt Lake, but if you’re looking for some great coffee and a good atmosphere, check out the Rose Establishment on 400 west and about a block south of the Gateway Mall, or, if you’re looking for some really amazing cakes and pastries with your coffee, try Salt Lake Roasting Company at about 300 east on 400 south as well.

Keep eating the good stuff!

-Dustin

Ramen!

Ramen, that quintessential college food of choice, has roots beyond the thin plastic packaging, and outside the microwaves present in so many dorm rooms. Top Ramen, though the most familiar with most American diners, is not the only ramen there is. In fact, Top Ramen, though the effect it’s had on the college lives of so many around the world is undeniable, is probably some of the worst ramen ever. Like, really. The stuff apparently costs your body more energy to digest than you gain from eating it.

This is not the ramen you're looking for.

This is not the ramen you’re looking for.

No, no, no, this post is about ramen as it was meant to be, as it was born to be, originating in the tried-and-true, completely authentic, Japanese province of… wait. What? This can’t be right… Ramen didn’t start in Japan? It’s actually from… China? Oh no, this is all wrong. Well, I guess, since I already started the article, I should probably finish it… Ok, fine.

Ramen is actually from China. The name ramen comes from the phonetics of Lau Mein, traditional Chinese noodles. Around 1910, according to The Book of Ramen, these Lau Mein noodles started to be brought over from China to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. These noodles, combined with a tasty broth, instantly became a favorite among the residents of Sapporo (Hokkaido’s capital) and has, over time, become a gastronomic symbol. It’s now even considered a regional dish of the area around Sapporo, and has sparked a cult following the likes of which has seldom been seen in the food world. There are  even museums dedicated to the eminently slurpable, chewy, broth-y, delicious dish.

This is the inside of the Ramen Museum. That's right. A whole museum dedicated to ramen.

The inside of the Ramen Museum is made out to look like a street scene, complete with hobos! (probably)

According to the Ramen Museum, there are 26 types of ramen. 26 different base types of ramen. From wontonmen (ramen with wontons) to wakame-men (grilled nori ramen) and kakumi (braised pork belly) to kamaboku (fish cake, like naruto). Based on where you look, what region you’re in and what shop you visit, you can find any and everything in ramen, and it’s all amazing. There are, however, many trends in ramen preferences, such as a general tendency among Asians towards spicier soup, whereas Americans prefer the milder, more savory soups. Additionally, more people prefer thin broth, keeping away from oily ramen. The most popular flavor is still the original: Cha shu (the Japanese phonetic of Char Siu, Chinese BBQ pork) and leeks. In addition to myriad types of ramen, there are almost as many ramenyas (ramen stands/shops) in Tokyo as street corners. Over 5,000 in all, ramenyas are definitely some of the most popular places to eat in the city.

These punks are stuck waiting in line for ramen in New York City. According to White Paper, Americans would have no problem waiting in line for up to an hour for good ramen.

These punks are stuck waiting in line for ramen in New York City. According to White Paper, Americans would have no problem waiting in line for up to an hour for good ramen.

Ramen, in all its forms, has become something of a cultural icon, like Hello Kitty and Domo. It’s been exported all over the world, and is one of the most easily recognizable Japanese dishes of all time. It’s not the only borrowed food that’s become a national icon (tempura was originally Portuguese), but it’s one of the most popular. The Japan Times recently published an article about the love of ramen and its exportation around the globe (found here: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20130116a7.html) in conjunction with the World Ramen White Paper Project, a Yahoo! Japan ramen ambassador promotion.  Ramen’s impact has been felt all over Japan and, recently, throughout the rest of the world as well. If you’re looking for some excellent ramen in Salt Lake City, though, check out Dojo (http://www.dojoslc.com) or Ko Ko Kitchen (no website available, look it up on yelp or urban spoon), they’re rated as some of the best around.

Delicious chicken ramen at Ko Ko Kitchen.

Delicious chicken ramen at Ko Ko Kitchen. I know, you want to eat the screen right now. Sorry.

So, for those of you interested in ramen, try going to the Ramen museum next time you’re in Japan. Next time you get your ramen though, think a little about how it came to be as popular as it is, and what it means to you when you see it. Few dishes have such an emotional pull, hopefully you’ve got some that you love!

Keep eating the good stuff!

-Dustin

Welcome Foodies!

So, I just realized something has been overlooked in our class (really, I’d like this to get bigger than our Pop Culture class eventually, but I’ll settle for just us for now). It’s huge, it’s all around us, and it’s part of our everyday lives. How did we miss it? I’m really not sure.

It’s food.

Food phenomena are culture-defining. They permeate our societies and shape the way we do business, the way we celebrate, and the activities we do with friends. This blog is here to observe and comment on food in and from Japan in popular culture in general (Japanese or otherwise). I’m unsure if you’ll get credit for posting or reading, but I thought it would be a fun extra little thing to do. Especially if you love food like I do (and I’m sure there are others here who do). Just email me at baristashay@gmail.com or comment on here that you’d like to be a part of this.

One clarification: This is not “omigod lookit wut i eated hur!” That babble is difficult to read and negates the purpose of food as a part of popular culture. So please, think before posting and spell-check your posts, the site even does it for you so it’s not too difficult.

Keep eating the good stuff.

-Dustin