The Ramen King And I : How The Inventor Of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life - novelonlinefull.com
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O Momof.u.ku. Thank you for helping me get into your funeral, even though I was dressed inappropriately and I did not have an invitation. Thank you for bringing me closer to my parents, my friends, and myself. Thank you for writing about how you thought and thought and thought until you thought so much you began to p.i.s.s blood. Thank you for giving me the strength to understand, if just a little bit, the truth of my life. Thank you for showing me how to escape from difficulty. O Momof.u.ku. Please continue to show me how to live so that I may better do your will.
When I opened my eyes, Ando's face seemed to be staring at me, though I'm sure that every thurifier thought the same thing.
Turning around to pick up my white shopping bag, I noticed that Masako Ando was sitting only a few yards away in her wheelchair. Our eyes met, and she nodded in my direction. I wasn't sure if she sensed a deep connection between me and her husband or if she was just surprised to see a foreigner. Perhaps she was simply aghast at my improper attire.
I nodded back, and made my way, across the field, toward the exit behind first base.
After the funeral, I rode the Kanjo Line back to New Osaka Station, where I retrieved my suitcase from the coin locker and boarded another Hikari bullet train, bound not for Tokyo but for Hakata Station, in f.u.kuoka Prefecture. The reason was that I wanted to taste a thick, milky bowl of the tonkotsu tonkotsu ramen that I remembered from when I worked in f.u.kuoka as a management consultant (and which appears in many episodes of ramen that I remembered from when I worked in f.u.kuoka as a management consultant (and which appears in many episodes of Ramen Discovery Legend Ramen Discovery Legend). Six hours later, I was slurping such a bowl in Nakasu, a thin strip of land between the Hakata and Naka rivers that's famous for its waterfront food stalls. One of the j.a.panese cooks had been an exchange student in Oakland, California. "Oaktown!" he called it, and for a while we talked about the Raiders. On my way back to the station, I spotted a stall where, ten years earlier, the owner had served me a delicacy known as gyu sagari gyu sagari, which I remembered looking like sausage on a stick. The owner had described it as "the down thing of a steer," and for several years I had believed I ingested the grilled p.e.n.i.s of a bull. I found out later that it was probably only the diaphragm.
I slept at a hotel near Hakata Station, and in the morning rode the bullet train back to Osaka, where I made a final visit to the Instant Ramen Invention Museum. Thus Spake Momof.u.ku Thus Spake Momof.u.ku was already on sale in the gift shop under a marketing poster that said MR. NOODLE: A MAN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD! The museum had undergone a major renovation since my previous visit. The biggest addition was My Cup Noodle Factory, a cafeteria shaped like a Cup Noodles container in which visitors can a.s.semble their own servings from a variety of dried toppings. On the main floor, a curved wall had been constructed around Ando's shack, marginalizing (in my opinion) the shack's prominence. I stepped inside hoping to hear Ando's voice one last time, but I waited and waited and it never came on. I inquired in the gift shop, where a woman told me that the tape of Ando's voice had been removed during the renovation. She wasn't sure why. was already on sale in the gift shop under a marketing poster that said MR. NOODLE: A MAN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD! The museum had undergone a major renovation since my previous visit. The biggest addition was My Cup Noodle Factory, a cafeteria shaped like a Cup Noodles container in which visitors can a.s.semble their own servings from a variety of dried toppings. On the main floor, a curved wall had been constructed around Ando's shack, marginalizing (in my opinion) the shack's prominence. I stepped inside hoping to hear Ando's voice one last time, but I waited and waited and it never came on. I inquired in the gift shop, where a woman told me that the tape of Ando's voice had been removed during the renovation. She wasn't sure why.
I rode the bullet train back to Tokyo, switched to the Yamanote Line at Shinagawa Station, and returned to the Hotel Excellent, where I reserved a room for the final night of my stay. Then I walked back to Ebisu Station, rode the Hibiya Line subway to Kayabacho, changed to the Tozai Line, and got off at Nishi-Kasai, where I met Harue in a pasta restaurant.
She was as beautiful as I remembered. She ordered spaghetti and I ordered a pizza, and she showed me pictures of her lovely daughter, who was now five years old. She told me that I was looking more and more like my father. We didn't call each other Pumpkin or Dark Cherry. Mostly we talked about people we knew in common, and what they were doing now. It took me a while to find a way to say it, but I apologized. I didn't discuss specifics, though I think she knew. I saw that she still carried some sadness. "Maybe everything happens for a reason," I said, and I was thinking about her daughter, who would not have been born if I had been able to love Harue the way I wished that I could have. Harue didn't respond, maybe because she thought I was trying to let myself off the hook. Well, maybe I was.
We said good-bye after lunch, and as soon as I turned around to leave, I felt a hole in my stomach. I felt it as I boarded the Tozai Line, and it was still there when I switched to the Hibiya Line. I felt it while pa.s.sing a pac.h.i.n.ko parlor broadcasting the prerecorded sounds of cascading coins as a marketing ploy, and I felt it while reading a billboard advertis.e.m.e.nt for a new cell phone model. I prayed to Ando to make it go away, but I still felt it. Perhaps I always will.
I should be happy for Matt because he married his girlfriend, the one who the voice in his head said was out of his league. Of course, I am happy for him, but I'm also sad because he moved to Oakland and I don't see him so much anymore. We talk on the phone every so often, but it's not like it used to be. should be happy for Matt because he married his girlfriend, the one who the voice in his head said was out of his league. Of course, I am happy for him, but I'm also sad because he moved to Oakland and I don't see him so much anymore. We talk on the phone every so often, but it's not like it used to be.
I should be sad because Gary died of lung cancer, and I am sad, but sometimes I'm at rehearsal on Monday nights and I feel like he's there. I went to the memorial service, which was held at his son's house, in the backyard. Per Gary's instructions, four of his oldest friends performed Beethoven's Drei Equale for Four Trombones under a tent, and everyone reminisced about Gary's kindness and his trombone playing and his restaurant tips. Archie flew in to attend, and at first he didn't remember the 78H, but then he did, and he ran his hand over his thick white hair and opened his eyes wide and said it was a magic horn, a horn that let you sing through it. He couldn't recall why he had parted with it. The reason, he figured, was probably money. I offered to return it to him, but he said that, no, he was happy for me to have it.
I should explain why I didn't call Zen while I was in j.a.pan for Ando's funeral. It's because he was out of the country on business. He had tipped me off, though, to his favorite sushi bar in the Tsukiji fish market, and on the morning of my flight home, I woke up at six o'clock and rode the Hibiya Line to Tsukiji. I walked up and down the market's narrow, bustling alleys for a good half hour until I found it. I ordered ten types of nigiri nigiri-plus a take-out portion of homemade shiokara shiokara (the fermented squid). Before the chef presented the bill, I got nervous because all I had in my pocket was a 10,000-yen note (around ninety dollars). The bill came to 9,800 yen, leaving me with barely enough change for the subway ride back to the Hotel Excellent. When I e-mailed Zen about it, he a.s.sured me that my experience was proof of the sushi chef 's talent. "He knew exactly how much he could extract from you just by looking at your face!" Zen e-mailed back. (the fermented squid). Before the chef presented the bill, I got nervous because all I had in my pocket was a 10,000-yen note (around ninety dollars). The bill came to 9,800 yen, leaving me with barely enough change for the subway ride back to the Hotel Excellent. When I e-mailed Zen about it, he a.s.sured me that my experience was proof of the sushi chef 's talent. "He knew exactly how much he could extract from you just by looking at your face!" Zen e-mailed back.
I should say whether Fujimoto achieves da.s.sara da.s.sara in in Ramen Discovery Legend Ramen Discovery Legend, but the story is still unfolding. Frankly, it's getting bogged down. Fujimoto won nearly a hundred thousand dollars in Ramen Mania Quiz Ramen Mania Quiz, a ramen-based reality TV show, and even though that's enough money to quit his job and open a ramen shop, the author is making him have more adventures to determine what kind of ramen he'll serve in the shop. There's a fundamental difference, I guess, between Ramen Discovery Legend Ramen Discovery Legend and and Shota's Sushi Shota's Sushi, which is that the main character in the latter is driven by love for his father, leading to a natural resolution when he returns home to fight the evil sushi chain. I can't remember an appearance by Fujimoto's father-or any of his family members, for that matter-in Ramen Discovery Legend Ramen Discovery Legend. Fujimoto is more of a loner. In Book 21, the most recently published collection of episodes, Fujimoto's employer has invested in a ramen theme park called Ramen Time Tunnel, and Fujimoto is busy settling fights between the cantankerous shop owners.
I should be married at the end of this story, but I'm still single. I have a girlfriend, though. Her name is Emily, and we've been together for six months. She has beautiful green eyes, and when she smiles, a dimple forms at the top of her right cheek. We met at a Yom Kippur breakfast, after a guy named Ben, who I know from Ultimate Frisbee, invited me to come along. I made gefilte fish from one of Grandma Sylvia's recipes, but it didn't come out too well, so as an experiment, I spread the ground fish into a ca.s.serole, added fresh crab, and baked it. At the party, I placed the ca.s.serole on a buffet table next to a noodle kugel. I saw Emily try it, and I overheard her telling a friend, "This tastes weird." She wore jeans and a blue top with what I later learned was an Empire waist. I told Emily that the ca.s.serole was an experimental dish, and she a.s.sured me that it needed more testing. She also said, "Anyway, it's hard to compete with a kugel." Ben saw us talking and asked me later, "Are you interested in her?" I was embarra.s.sed, so I said no. The next day I e-mailed Ben admitting that I really was interested, and that I had been feeling embarra.s.sed. Ben e-mailed back that he totally understood, and he attached Emily's phone number.
For our first date we shared a whole snapper at a Mediterranean restaurant. Over dinner, Emily told me that she used to be an artist, but that now she was a management consultant. She was about to enroll in an executive MBA program, and she was nervous about whether she could handle both the course load and her full-time job. Just after our desserts arrived, my cell phone vibrated in my pocket.
I pulled it out just to check the caller ID, and when I saw the number, I recognized it immediately. I could hardly believe it.
"This is going to sound rude," I told Emily, "but would you mind if I went outside and took this call?"
Emily said she didn't mind. But in her green eyes I saw that she did mind, and I wondered if there was a voice in her head that told her to say she didn't. Just in case, I let the call go to voice mail, and I related the story of how I had been banned from a sushi bar.
"You should really go outside out and call them back," she said, laughing.
So that's what I did.
"Hai, Hamako desu."
"Did you just call me?"
"Wasn't it a beautiful day today?"
So much time had pa.s.sed, yet she was asking me about the weather.
"Yes, it was," I agreed.
"So sunny lately. Anyway, I'm sorry to bother you. I know you must be busy."
"It's OK. What's up?"
"It's our credit card terminal."
"It keeps flashing the word error error. I think it's broken. Can you come fix it?"
I had never touched a credit card terminal in my life, let alone repaired one. In the background, I heard Tetsuo's voice.
"Tell him the calls were disrupting my sushi making."
"I told him before!" Junko whispered.
Now it all made sense. I imagined the conversation that led to the phone call:"Hakata Andy posted that thing about us on the Internet."
"The Internet runs on computers."
"Our credit card terminal is a computer."
"Maybe Hakata Andy can fix it."I showed up at eight thirty the next morning. The same green sake bottles were lined up along the windowsill, and Tetsuo had yet to invest in a sign. Junko was waiting for me inside the restaurant. It was strange, even after all that time, to see her in regular clothes, without an ap.r.o.n. She hadn't aged a day. She greeted me with another "Hakata Andy!" and led me to the credit card terminal, which was next to the refrigerator. I dialed a customer service telephone number printed on the machine, and an operator led me through a series of diagnostics. The problem, it turned out, was a single transaction that had failed to clear the night before, probably because of a disruption in the phone line. The terminal was fine, and the operator showed me how to resend the transaction. As a thank-you, Junko sent me home with a ripe yellow peach. She also made a request.
"Would you come for dinner on Sat.u.r.day night? Tetsuo will want to thank you himself."
Emily was excited, but also nervous because I had told her about the rules regarding the soy sauce and the wasabi and the counter. She was afraid of messing up.
"Don't worry," I said. "It's going to be OK."
When I said that, she really appeared to stop worrying. She trusted me.
"Hakata Andy!" Junko cried.
I introduced Emily.
"Nice to meet you," Junko said.
"Nice to meet you, too," Emily replied. "I've heard so much about you!"
Junko directed us to the counter, where Tetsuo stood waiting. He was holding his knife.
"It's been a long time," he said.
"Yes. It's been a long time."
I introduced Emily to Tetsuo, and ordered omakase omakase. Up close, I saw that, unlike Junko, he had aged a bit. There was more gray in his hair, and his eyes looked heavy. His hands were still thick and muscular, though. I thought about asking why he never closed the restaurant, but decided against it. Instead, in the middle of preparing our sushi, Tetsuo had a question for me.
"Hakata Andy, why do people call me the Sushi n.a.z.i?"
I had heard him called that more than once, but I didn't want to hurt his feelings.
"Who calls you that?"
"A customer came in the other day and told me that people in San Francisco call me the Sushi n.a.z.i. Is it because j.a.pan fought with the Germans?"
I translated for Emily, who began giggling. Then I told Tetsuo that the Soup n.a.z.i was a character from an American television show, and that he was based on a real soup chef in New York City who sometimes withholds soup from people who don't follow his rules.
"How is his soup?" Tetsuo asked.
"I went there once and had the mushroom barley. It was excellent."
"Well, this Soup n.a.z.i sounds like a fine gentleman," Tetsuo said, "and I'd very much like to meet him. Maybe you can take us to his restaurant one day."
I need not have worried about Tetsuo's feelings being hurt. He considered the Sushi n.a.z.i nickname a compliment.
I was imagining a visit to the Soup n.a.z.i with Tetsuo and Junko when Tetsuo placed a tray of sushi on the counter in front of Emily and me. Junko came over and explained the origin of every piece. "This is hamachi hamachi, from Spain. Unagi Unagi from j.a.pan." Emily and I had barely begun eating when Tetsuo screamed at us. from j.a.pan." Emily and I had barely begun eating when Tetsuo screamed at us.
"Hakata Andy, look at that!"
He was pointing at Emily's lips, and I could tell that she was afraid.
"This woman," Tetsuo continued, "is an excellent sushi chewer!"
Tetsuo explained while I did my best to simultaneously translate for Emily. Most Americans, Tetsuo said, chewed in the fronts of their mouths, and to ill.u.s.trate this, he began chomping like a squirrel. Emily, on the other hand, chewed in the middle of her mouth, which was closer to what Tetsuo called "European or j.a.panese chewing."
"Where are you from?" he asked her.
"Of course," Tetsuo said, as if Miami were somehow culturally closer to Europe and j.a.pan than the rest of the United States.
"You know, Hakata Andy, Americans sometimes come in and tell me, 'Your sushi is so delicious.' Then I watch them chew, and I know I can't trust them. They're not even tasting my sushi! But Emily's middle-of-the-mouth chewing-that is what lets you really taste food. She is world-cla.s.s, Hakata Andy. Better than you."
I translated this last part for Emily, and she laughed out loud. Junko was laughing, too.
"Don't say such things around Hakata Andy," Junko scolded Tetsuo. "He might write them on Chowhound!"
Tetsuo glared at me, and I knew what I was supposed to say next.
"I promise I will never write anything else about you on Chowhound as long as I live."
He seemed satisfied with that. Then his expression turned somber.
"Hakata Andy, sometimes when we're not very busy, I walk over to that window and look out at the tapas restaurant across the street. I watch all those Americans chewing in the fronts of their mouths, completely oblivious to all the flavor they're missing. I just shake my head and think, 'How did the world come to this?' "
Emily and I shot each other a look, and it was hard not to burst out laughing again. Tetsuo returned to his sushi making, plying us with hamachi hamachi belly cuts, belly cuts, kohada, kohada, and freshly shucked oysters. Emily especially enjoyed a piece of amberjack with a and freshly shucked oysters. Emily especially enjoyed a piece of amberjack with a shiso shiso leaf underneath. leaf underneath.
I was about to ask for the check when Tetsuo said, "Do you have room for one more?"
I looked at Emily, and she nodded. Several minutes later, Tetsuo placed two pieces of nigiri nigiri onto the wood tray in front of us. The fish was a whitish shade of pink, marbled throughout with a fine grain of fat. onto the wood tray in front of us. The fish was a whitish shade of pink, marbled throughout with a fine grain of fat.
I lifted one of the pieces between my thumb and forefinger, dipped the fish side in soy sauce, and brought it to my lips. I placed it, fish side down, over my tongue, and the b.u.t.tery flesh began melting on impact. I rolled it around in my mouth, tasting the fish as it melded with the rice. I tasted the relationship between the fish and the rice, and then I tasted something else-the relationship between me and Tetsuo. I tasted the relationship between me and Junko, and then I tasted the relationship between me and Emily. I tasted the relationship between me and my parents, between me and my sister, between me and my brother-in-law, and between me and Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Walter and Grandma Millie and Grandpa Herman. I tasted the relationship between me and Matt and Gary and Josh and Momof.u.ku Ando and Yamazaki. . . .
"What is that?" Emily asked.
"This," I said, "is the first-best piece of fatty tuna I will eat in my life."
Emily seemed confused, so I offered her the other piece.
She made a face. "Nah."
"I don't like fatty tuna," Emily said.
I should not be upset, because being upset at a woman for not liking fatty tuna is ludicrous. I should not be mad, because who gets mad at someone for something like that? I should tell her it's no problem, that it's no big deal. I should tell her, "To each his own." I should- "What's wrong?" Emily asked. "Wait, are you mad at me because I don't want to eat the fatty tuna?"
It was such a small thing that I could have easily lied about it. But I knew where that would lead. I would have lied about bigger things, and then even bigger things. There would have been no limitations.
"This is going to sound strange," I said, "and I'm really ashamed to admit it. But, yes, part of me thinks things will never work out between us because you don't like fatty tuna."
Emily stared at me for a moment. Then she smiled. The dimple formed on the top of her right cheek, and soon we were both laughing at how ridiculous I sounded.
In the following weeks, Emily told me about some things that she was ashamed of, and I told her about more things that I was ashamed of. One night, not too long ago, we were in bed when I told her about an uncomfortable sensation I experienced as she touched my arm. Her initial reaction was anger. "I make you uncomfortable when I touch you?" she said. "Great." Without describing the voice in my head, I told her that I thought the feeling might be related to my fear of getting close. That didn't make Emily any happier.
"How is this ever going to work?" she asked.
I didn't know what to say, so we lay in bed, silently, holding hands. Then, after only a few minutes, something totally unexpected happened: The uncomfortable sensation disappeared. Just like that, after telling Emily about it and lying next to her, it vanished.
When she saw for herself that it was really gone, her dimple appeared, and I was overwhelmed with desire. Was this Ando's so-called true desire-a manifestation of "the innate human urge to connect with the world" that led him to invent instant ramen?
Yes, and it was hot.