“We will serve you in 3 minutes or less.”
Recipe for katsu chicken udon noodle soup (pictured above) is at the end of post.
A few weeks ago, the significant other and I took a trip to Cleveland. I was beginning my search for a new job and a new home. We also wanted to attend the 3rd annual Asian Festival that was going on that weekend. One of the dance crews from a recent season of America’s Best Dance Crew was there to perform, and being a huge fan of the show and of hip hop dance in general, I really wanted to go see them. Of course I wanted to sample all the tasty Asian food the vendors had to offer as well.
Our first night in Cleveland, we ended up checking out a hoppin new modern-concept noodle house, called Noodle Cat. My brother had mentioned this place a few weeks before and suggested I may try to get a job there. I think I liked this place so much though, that I would rather hang out and eat there than work at it. This place was pretty much designed for me. They serve real Japanese-style ramen, not to be confused with the dried instant kind (or the dance crew I am about to talk about). They also have other types of noodle soups and noodle stir-frys, and these awesome steamed buns that we tried. The menu is very whimsical as is the design of the place. The prices are also low, which means I can afford to go there often. There were two menu items that stood out to me for sheer odd-factor, and I asked the waitress which of the two she recommended and she pushed me in the direction of their “Roscoe’s Chicken and Ramen”. The dish sounded so crazy that I had to try it. For those of you who don’t know, there is a place called Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, serving that ubiquitous odd couple which I highlighted a few weeks in a post. We also walked around the city and checked out the new Horseshoe casino.
While this dish was delicious, I couldn’t help but think they were trying too hard to be creative. Because the ramen was served separately from the chicken, it just seemed a bit too disjointed. And since the chicken was served on the bone, adding it to the soup didn’t really remedy the situation at all.
The following day, we checked out Cleveland’s famous West Side Market, as well as the downtown aquarium. We ate at a little Cambodian place next to the West Side Market, which was pretty good. Cambodian food is somewhere between Thai and Vietnamese food. We got a noodle stir-fry similar to a pad thai, and a curry dish that my significant other really loved.
I must say I really appreciated the name of this place too. Although Phnom Penh is actually the capital of Cambodia, it’s super fun to say if you are a foodie. “Let’s go get some grub at the Nom Pen!” See what I mean?
We spent the rest of the day at my Dad’s in a nearby suburb. The day after, it was time for the Asian Festival. It started at 11, and we got there a little earlier which was great because we didn’t have any trouble with parking. The festival was held in Cleveland’s Asiatown district, and this was my first visit there. We started our adventure at the Asia Town Center, which was like a mall with an Asian market and restaurants inside. The market was huge! I was in heaven here. We stocked up on mochi, and some really curious-sounding drinks, and made way for the festival. We later found 2 more markets just as big as this one! I can’t wait to live near here and have access to all the Asian ingredients that are commonly used in my dishes.
It was really, really hot this day. Which was kind of unfortunate, because all of the hot food the vendors were selling was that much less enticing. We tried a few things, but nothing that really stood out. It was great to see that there wasn’t inflation like most festivals though. All of the prices were reasonable. We checked out some of the early entertainment such as this Chinese-American rapper who I thought was super awesome.
And then a random panda bear came out on stage with him >_>
We walked around some more and discovered Asia Plaza, which actually didn’t have a market. It was mostly non-food related stores. There was one dim sum restaurant there, Li Wah, but it was supremely crowded due to the festival. We went to another market and bought tons of curious candies and anything purple yam flavored that i could get my hands on. I even found real fresh purple yams! The significant other kept picking out things to put in a Chopped basket for me, and oh boy was there some scary stuff. After snacking on gratuitous amounts of mochi, we returned to the stage area to check out the performance of Instant Noodles from ABDC.
I had a blast watching these guys. They are Instant Noodles, an all Taiwanese b-boy crew from season 6 of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, who made it about half-way through the competition. Their motto is “we will serve you in 3 minutes or less”! Although they did mostly b-boy freestyle solos, and not a whole lot of choreography, it was definitely worth watching. I have to commend them for dancing in that crazy heat. I also have to commend the winner of the audience member dance-off. I gotta give mad props to the cute little Asian girl in the green dress! She totally deserved the Instant Noodles t-shirt.
Later that night, we went to a brand-new Vietnamese restaurant, which I also applied at. The food was good, but I think we had kind of overloaded on Asian food at that point. Yes that can even happen to me.
But that didn’t stop me from re-creating that chicken and ramen dish I had at Noodle Cat when I returned to my townhouse a few days later. I wanted to make the dish with a bit more refined sensibility, so I went with a more traditional approach. I used dried udon noodles that I bought at one of the Asian markets, and I fried chicken thighs which I cut up and layered on top. It is common to be served a tempura element in an udon soup in Japan. I don’t think I ever saw it in ramen though. Not that ramen and udon are all that different.
While I certainly enjoyed the ramen at Noodle Cat. This bowl of udon was all kinds of amazing. I REALLY enjoyed this, and will certainly be making it again. The mild, yet flavorful chicken dashi broth, slurpable hearty noodles, and crispy chicken katsu make for a memorable Japanese bowl of oishiness (deliciousness). This bowl of noodles reminded me of being in Japan. The best food evokes happy memories. Here’s the recipe:
Katsu Chicken Udon Noodle Soup
1 handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
1 bundle green onions, thinly sliced
chicken thighs, 1 per bowl of soup
1/2 package of dried udon noodles. (can substitute fresh if you can find them)
3 cups chicken stock
1 package katsuobushi
1 handful of konbu kelp or seaweed
1 tbsp each of fish sauce, mirin, and vinegar (all optional)
Prepare shiitake mushrooms: soak in water overnight or for at least an hour. Remove stems, slice thin, and sauté with teriyaki sauce.
Cook noodles according to package directions, and set aside.
Prepare chicken katsu: Bread chicken thighs with seasoned flour, tempura batter, and panko crumbs. Deep-fry until golden brown and cooked through. About 5 minutes at 350 degrees should do the trick. Alternatively you could use grilled or broiled chicken thighs or breast.
Prepare chicken dashi broth: Bring 2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of water to a boil. Add a handful of katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and konbu kelp. You could also use hondashi powder instead. If you can’t find any of these ingredients, consider using a fish stock instead of chicken stock. I also add about 1 tbsp each of fish sauce, mirin, and rice vinegar for added depth of flavor. Reduce heat after it boils, and simmer for about 5 minutes, before straining out the solids.
The easiest way to serve this is to put the noodles, green onions, and mushrooms in bowls, and then ladle the hot broth over top. Add the sliced chicken katsu and garnish with more green onions.
Let the slurping commence!
Did you know that in Japan slurping your noodles is considered polite? (I use that as an excuse to hold the bowl near my mouth and slurp away!)
Until next time,
May the fish be with you, young rainbow trout!
~Maki Zavelli, over and out <(^_^<)