I will say right away that I have never seen the movie, Tampopo. And I shamelessly identify myself an Asian food blogger! That is, Asian foodblogger, as in, I am an Asian blogger who blogs about food, not Asianfood (one word) blogger, as in a blogger who blogs about Asian food, but really now, how many times can I use the words "blog" and "blogger" in one sentence? Many. Don't test me.
I suppose I could pick up my little yellow ass and walk over to Blockbuster and rent it, but I have neither the motivation to walk nor the attention span to watch all 114 minutes of the movie. Besides, will it not be refreshing to write/read a post about ramen from a noodle shop called Tampopo with a totally fresh tone, completely devoid of quotes, scenes, and metaphors from the movie to guide me along in a would-be pop-culturally sensitive post? Of course.
Tampopo is one of a few "stalls" within the tiny food court that's housed in the same structure as the Mitsuwa Market on Centinela in West LA. With the lone exception of the authentic regional Italian cuisine offered by Sbarro, I am highly suspicious of food from shopping mall food courts. However, that is an attitude that is shaped by my very Western lifestyle wherein Western grocery stores have no such thing as food courts attached to them (wolfing down a sandwich slapped together at the Boar's Head deli counter while waiting in the Express checkout line does not count as a food court), and food courts in shopping malls are teeming with screaming, disobedient children, making for a highly unenjoyable, stressful decision-making process between deep-fried hot dogs impaled on sticks and peddled by pimple-faced Rain-bo Brites and the less arterially noxious chicken "patty" that has been breaded, deep-fried, and smeared with diet mayo.
In the Asian cultures, the "food court" inside a large grocery store is a common thing. Just walk into any HK Market (HK stands for Han Kook) or Kaju Market (which means "California" - see I'm not totally whitewashed!) in Koreatown, or Japanese market (except the teeny small ones on Sawtelle) and you'll see noodle shops, simple sushi bars, and other such Asian equivalents of non-Asian food court QSRs. I can't comment on the overall the quality of such food court like stalls because, as I have written, I am still under this Western influence and as such, have always shied away from them. However, I am willing to bet that in general, it is far more socially acceptable to have a meal in an Asian marketplace food court than at Chick-Fil-A.
So even with a deep-seated Western suspicion of food courts, we resigned ourselves to eating in the Mitsuwa Marketplace food court because it was long past lunch-time and we were un-breakfasted. Tampopo was my default choice amongst the three, not because ramen sounded infinitely more appetizing than tonkatsu or curry, but because it was the only one that had an "A" rating. Much to my sanitary chagrin, there was resistance to an all ramen lunch, so I agreed to pick at a bento box, too.
Tampopo offers a wide variety of ramen, permutations of different soup bases, choices of "toppings," and even noodle types. I went with a very basic chicken ramen. The hearty, opaque broth was a curious surprise, but even more so was the fragrant steam that was far more interesting than simple water seasoned with a "chicken flavor" packet or a splash of soy sauce. I had to add a naughty spanking of the togarashi shaker for some heat, but that's just me. The noodles were thick and chewy, plump with the broth and begging to be slurped, as is customary and not the least bit inappropriate in a place as public as a food court. I finished every last noodle, every shred of chicken, every pixie ring of green onion, then lifted the bowl without a blink and sucked down the broth like camel lost in the desert.
Not bad for a food court. *urp* Excuse me. The gyoza there aren't bad either.
I've gone back a few times to Mitsuwa Market, never specifically for the ramen at Tampopo, but always strategically planning my shopping for Japanese ingredients and undisputedly necessary novelties like a Choco Lotte Crunky bar around lunchtime, and of course, unbreakfasted so I have no other option.
in the Mitsuwa Marketplace Food Court
3760 South Centinela Avenue (@Venice Boulevard)
Los Angeles, CA 90066
** a year ago today, i went hunting for happiness at james beach and canal club **