Monday, September 7, 2009

But then again, maybe it is about the food.

So after spending all day in a cafe yesterday, as you can imagine I'd worked up quite an appetite. And it being a hot day in late summer, I decided to take advantage of one of the best summer dishes in Japan before the change of seasons sweeps it off the menus.

I am of course talking about cold noodles (reimen 冷麺) a dish that actually takes two forms in Japan, the predominant one deriving from Chinese cuisine while the other comes from Korea. Up till yesterday I'd only ever had the Chinese kind, but a stroke of good fortune introduced me to the spicier Korean variety.

You see, back in June, when I went to Busan, Korea to visit friends and go on a four day binge of spicy food, I found some in-flight literature that included an explanation of how Korea and Japan both have a summer tradition of chowing down on chilled noodles. What caught my eye and kept me from throwing this pamphlet away, however, was a photo of a spicy cold noodle dish with a slice of watermelon on top. Underneath the photo, a description gave the name of a restaurant near Sakuranomiya station in Osaka.

Now this combination may be off-putting to some, but I absolutely love watermelon, and I love spicy food arguably even more. More importantly, I've long ago discarded simplistic notions about the walls dividing tastes that seem contrary to each other at first glance. Spicy and sweet. Sweet and sour. Spicy and stinky.

So to me this suddenly inspired idea of mixing watermelon and red pepper seemed like divine revelation. I kept the pamphlet and promised myself to check out the restaurant as soon as I got back to Osaka.

I then proceeded to forget all about it, until I came across the pamphlet the other day, prompting yesterday's visit to Genpukan.

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Nakano-cho 5-9-24
Dojima-ku, Osaka City
Phone: 06-6925-1136

Exterior view

As the website will show you, Genpukan is actually a Korean barbecue restaurant, with grills at each table and all manner of parts and pieces of beef available. But reimen is a standard offering at barbecue restaurants both in Japan and Korea, and the owner won't be upset if that's all you order.

Watermelon noodles

Reimen is made from long, thin translucent noodles typically made from kudzu or buckwheat. The noodles are cooked in hot water then chilled in ice water and served with a chilled fish broth. Genpukan's reimen have the signature slice of watermelon on top, and plenty of red chili paste mixed into the noodles by hand, but it also has kimchi made from thinly sliced cucumber and Chinese cabbage.

Sauteed beef hidden inside

I was also pleasantly surprised to find tender morsels of sauteed beef hidden in between the noodles and the kimchi. The combination of flavors was simply wonderful. And this may gross out some of you but I saved the watermelon for last, dipping it in the remaining spicy broth and finishing it off with relish!

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