The Oberoi New Delhi

The Oberoi New Delhi

The Oberoi New Delhi

Well, it took us two days, but just before 3am on Monday, February 2nd, we finally arrived at our destination, the Oberoi New Delhi.  Our trip to India was built around a tour designed by the Oberoi Group, and we had customized it to include 4 cities: New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur.  In each of the four cities, we would stay in luxurious Oberoi hotels, and use a driver and guides to help us explore all the cultural riches to be seen in those cities.

After an overnight trip involving two flights to get from New York City to New Delhi, it was so great to find a driver with a sign waiting for us in New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport.  You can imagine that we were very tired, and having a driver along with an airport official to walk us to the car (of course they immediately took charge of our luggage, so all we had to do was walk) was sensational.

The driver was quite gregarious, offering us water and asking what sort of music we wanted to listen to on the radio.  He pointed out a couple of details along the way.  My first impression was one of surprise that the city was so spread out, with so many wide avenues. We would later learn that this is the southern, “New” part of the city, which was built by the British when they took control of India in the nineteenth century.

When we entered the hotel, we received the wonderful welcome that everyone writes about: rose petals underfoot, a dot of saffron applied to the middle of the forehead (which is meant to restore balance to the mind) and a warm towel to refresh us.  We entered the spacious and beautiful lobby with its many artistic details and comfortable couches.

Our luggage was spirited away – we never had to touch our luggage pretty much the whole time we were in India – and we were shown to our Executive Suite (a complementary upgrade that was one of the perks of doing the full Oberoi tour).  A minute later someone appeared with our luggage on a cart and deposited it in the bedroom.

As for every day, there was a plate of fruit and a second plate of sweet snacks, and on the dining table there was also a complementary bottle of wine.  We sliced up some fruit and had a little snack, and then got to bed.  We wanted to get the ball rolling quickly the next day, which meant we would only get about 6 hours sleep before our wake up call, shower, late breakfast in the dining room and meeting our guide and driver the “next” day.

Breakfast in the Oberoi New Delhi’s Threesixty restaurant was splendid.  Our initial impression that it was the best breakfast that we might have for the whole trip was borne out by our experience during the trip.  The other three hotels might outshine New Delhi in other ways, but this Oberoi has the best breakfast of all.

The large buffet was split into three sections: cereal and yogurt, fruit and omelets, and English and Indian breakfast.  Seeing that among the jugs of milk was one of soy milk was thrilling to me – so so nice to be able to have the choice to eat a bowl of cereal if that’s what I wanted!  And along with 4 or 5 varieties of cereal were dried fruits and nuts.  In spite of it being India’s winter, the middle section had several tasty varieties of fruit to offer.  I never would’ve guessed that they would have watermelon in India, for example, but there it was.

The Indian breakfast section was the most intriguing for Therese.  When a cook at the buffet saw her interest, she had the chef make Therese an entire Indian breakfast plate, and the chef himself came to our table to explain the various items to us and to hear our reactions.  Beyond discussing the food, we proceeded to have a very nice chat with him about our plans in India.  This was just the first example of what we would witness again and again at the Oberoi hotels – people were very happy to stop whatever they were doing and chat with us and take care of any request we might have.  I suppose you could say that we got special treatment because we were special guests, since we had signed on for the Oberoi tour.  But I don’t think this was so: I am fully confident that Oberoi treats every guest at their hotels with this same level of truly remarkable hospitality and service.

After having that amazing breakfast, we were sorry to be leaving New Delhi so soon – we would only have one day there before leaving for Agra on Tuesday morning.  But we were consoled by the thought that we would return at the end of our trip, for two more days.  In my next India post, I will tell you about our first guided sightseeing in India, as we visited the Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb and India Gate (and ate our first authentic Indian meal).

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Foraycation to Williamsburg

Foraycation to Williamsburg

Foraycation to Williamsburg

It’s been a long time since Therese and I have gone on a foraycation, that sort of trip which is somewhere between a vacation and a staycation.  Recently, my stepdaughter and her husband relocated to a new apartment in a stylish building not far from McCarren Park.  So two weekends ago, we got a chance to trek out to Williamsburg to visit them and my son-in-law’s mom, who had driven down from Vermont to see the new place and spend the weekend with them.

If you are not from New York City, let me give you a few words on Williamsburg.  It is directly east of Manhattan’s East Village, but rather remote when it comes to public transportation (there is only one subway line that goes there from Manhattan, and one that connects it to other parts of Brooklyn).  In the 1980s and 1990s, when the East Village (which had been one of the cheapest neighborhoods to live in in Manhattan, and thus was full of artists and musicians living in rundown buildings) started to get gentrified, the artists and musicians left and many of them moved to Williamsburg.  At the time, Williamsburg was full of immigrant tenements and warehouses; but over time, the new residents of Williamsburg fixed it up, and in time, funky restaurants and bars full of character opened up.

And as with most neighborhoods that get a reputation for being cutting-edge and hip, little by little people who were not artists and who had a lot more money than them decided Williamsburg would be a cool place for them to live too.  But of course they wouldn’t tolerate the edgy living conditions that the artists would.  In time, developers tapped the Williamsburg market and started tearing down the tenements and putting in brand new shiny apartment buildings with funky details and state-of-the-art details.  This brings us to the present day, where most of the artists and musicians have now moved on to places like Bushwick because they can no longer afford to live in Williamsburg.  A lot of the hipness of the neighborhood is still there in the restaurants and bars, and since it is still rather remote from Manhattan, it has retained some of its edgy character.

Therese and I took a cab to Williamsburg from the Financial District (getting there by public transportation would’ve meant taking two subways and then walking a good distance), and got there faster than we expected to.  As we walked in early, we saw our daughter slipping out to pick up coffee for herself and her husband.  We went upstairs and got a look at their apartment – the building and their apartment are both very very nice.  And after chatting for a while and letting the two youngsters get fully caffeinated, it was time to head off to our brunch spot.  Our daughter had gone ahead after getting her coffee to put our name in at the restaurant, so that hopefully when we got there, they would have a table ready.

Five Leaves Cafe

Five Leaves Cafe

The day was warmish, but there was lots of snow on the ground, especially as we walked past McCarren Park.  Within about 10 minutes, we arrived at Five Leaves.  There were tables set out on the sidewalk, and those were pretty full, but we decided we would be more comfortable inside.  The inside was cozy, but the five of us squeezed around a table, and set about exploring the menu.

Five Leaves’ menu, as you would expect of a small restaurant, is rather limited.  However, all their offerings sound really good.  The add-ons for many of the dishes make them very appealing.  For example, their house “Five Leaves” burger comes with pickled beets and harissa mayo.  I chose the BLAT – bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich with cumin lime mayo – on a roll, with the optional fried egg on top, and a complementary side of the house special truffle fries.

Brunch at the Five Leaves

Brunch at the Five Leaves

For my drink, I ordered a ginger beer – the more forceful cousin to ginger ale – but it turned out that they were out of ginger beer, so I got a fountain ginger ale instead.  My daughter ordered a bloody mary and a house burger, and pronounced them all very good.  And her mother-in-law had the lamb pho dip sandwich, and said she enjoyed the sandwich, but didn’t much like the dip – it was too sweet for her taste.  As for my sandwich, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The egg and avocado were hard to keep on the roll, but the overall flavor was great (although I didn’t notice the cumin-lime mayo that much).  As for the truffle fries, the truffle oil made them taste so good that I was content to enjoy them without ketchup.

After lunch, we went back to the apartment and hung out for a while.  Our daughter had some large empty boxes to give to us, so we had ordered a car service to take us home so we would be sure to have storage space to transport the boxes.   After a while, we put the boxes on a cart, and left them with the front desk of the building while we went off and played a game of pool in the building’s recreation room.

Playing Pool in the Recreation Room

Playing Pool in the Recreation Room

We played a game of 8 ball – my son-in-law and daughter against me, and I’m glad to say that I was able to make it very competitive, but they sank the 8-ball for the win.  Our car service was going to be late, so we still had more time, so we went across the street to check out their favorite local market, the Brooklyn Kitchen.

The Brooklyn Kitchen

The Brooklyn Kitchen

As a market, Brooklyn Kitchen is small.  I would call it more of gourmet deli.  It is certainly stocked with lots of premium, high-end goods, and the prices are a bit high.  Nevertheless, if I lived near there, there are some things I would go there to buy.  For example, they have a freezer full of ice creams that includes some brands with dairy free varieties.  Specifically, I found Van Leeuwen vegan chocolate ice cream there, which I have never see packaged (previously, the only time I have eaten it is at Van Leeuwen’s East Village storefront).  So I was thrilled to find that, and gladly bought a pint.  I didn’t look at the bill, so I can’t say how much it cost, but I’m sure it was higher than what I usually pay for a pint of frozen dessert.

With our deli goods bagged up, we finally were able to get a large car service to take us home (thanks to our son-in-law).  We rode home full of good feelings from our wonderful day visiting family and seeing Williamsburg.

Posted in Brooklyn, Brunch, Dairy Free, Food, New York, New York City, Supermarkets, United States | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

British Airways London to Delhi

Previously, I told you about our flight from New York to London Heathrow aboard Virgin Atlantic, and how our late departure caused us to miss our connection in London (and therefore caused us no small amount of aggravation).  I also remarked that the best part of the service we got from Virgin Atlantic was putting us up in Heathrow’s Sofitel hotel overnight when we missed the connection.  The Sofitel stay included complimentary dinner and breakfast, and a very comfortable room.

Also, since the Sofitel is directly adjacent to Heathrow’s Terminal 5, and our British Airways flight the next day to Delhi would also depart from that terminal, it made the beginning of the day very easy.  No need to worry about walking through those long corridors in Heathrow for miles, as we had done the previous night when we arrived in the airport.  Instead, all we needed to do was pack, go to breakfast, and then walk a short distance to check in and board the plane.  Perfect!

When we boarded the plane, we soon discovered that luck had turned decidedly in our favor.  We were suppose to have a center and a window seat, next to each other, with someone else occupying the aisle seat to my left.  However, whoever that person was, they never showed up.  As a result, on an otherwise full flight, I moved over to claim the aisle seat, and we had the luxury of an empty seat between us, where we could stow things and enjoy the extra space.  Even without the extra space, I think this flight would’ve been more comfortable than the previous day’s – British Airways’ economy seats have a much better shape to them for people of my height (over 6 feet) than Virgin’s, which gave me a lower back ache after sitting for a couple of hours.

When the flight attendants were bringing our lunch service, I peaked around and discovered that British Airways lists food allergy information on the foil coverings for their hot entrees.  So I was able to choose one with no dairy, which turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had on an airplane.

Lunch on British Airways to Delhi

Lunch on British Airways to Delhi

It was pretty simple: chicken with gravy, roasted potatoes and peas.  The chicken was moist, the potatoes could’ve been a little more roasted but they were good, and the peas were a bit mushy but they had some good flavor in them.  Well done, British Airways.  Imagine that: food on an airplane that doesn’t make you want to hurl!

The one disadvantage on this flight was that, like the Virgin flight we’d been on the day before, there were no usb ports in which to charge my phone.  As a result, once again, I could only read my books on my phone for so long, and then I had to switch over to the one hard copy book I had with me, David McCullough’s 1776.  Luckily, the movie interface on this plane was much better than the one on our flight the previous day.  So I found a movie, plugged in my headphones, and watched, eventually dozing off and waking up after the movie was over.  I also watched some episodes of The Big Bang Theory, may favorite tv comedy – in fact, these were episodes that I’ve never seen, so that was cool.

Since we left London midday, that meant that, with the time difference (5-1/2 hours), we landed in India after midnight.  By the time we got through customs and made our way to our Oberoi driver, it was after 1am.  We were both exhausted, but thrilled to finally have made it to India.  In my next India post, I will tell you about our reception at Oberoi, New Delhi.

Overall, I would give the British Airways flight a solid “B”.  I have yet to experience a transcontinental flight that really knocked my socks off.  But this one was pretty good, and worlds better than the one on Virgin we took the previous day.  And once again, the best thing Virgin did for us was to put us on that British Airways flight!

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Culturelle Dairy Free Probiotic

Culturelle Dairy Free Probiotic

Culturelle Dairy Free Probiotic

I will spare you the gory details, but our recent trip to India messed my insides up a little bit.  I ate something or drank something (or possibly many somethings) that didn’t agree with me.  Don’t worry, I am feeling better now that I am home eating bland old American food again.  But not completely better, and that is why I will be chewing on some Culturelle Probiotic tablets for the next few days.

Actually, my doctor advised me to take Align, which is, I gather, the preferred probiotic on the market these days.  However, as I examined it, I found that Align contains milk!  It makes sense, I guess – just as with yogurt, when it comes to growing cultures, people are apt to use milk.  But that was not going to work for me – what would be the point of making myself well in one way, just to make myself ill in another?

Luckily, as I looked at other probiotics, I discovered that Culturelle is completely dairy free (yay!).  In fact, what the label says is this: “Contains none of the following: added colors, preservatives, dairy, lactose, milk, yeast, gluten or soy.”  So it would seem that they are very sensitive to the plight of those of us with food allergies.  Also, I was thrilled to discover that they sell a chewable tablet.  I always prefer to get my pills in chewable form whenever possible.  I just figure they get digested and start helping me faster that way.

Culturelle Probiotic Chewables

Culturelle Probiotic Chewables

So with any amount of luck, you will find me several days from now with a little more pep in my step and gleam in my eye.  And it will be thanks, at least in part, to Culturelle.

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Virgin Atlantic New York to Delhi

I have a lot to say about our experience flying Virgin Atlantic from New York City to Delhi (and back again) on our recent trip to India.  Long story short: we are still looking for a favorite trans-Atlantic carrier – they all have minor strong points and glaring weaknesses.  And now that we have flown to Asia, and look forward to doing more of that in the future, we are also looking for a palatable carrier for long flights.

But that is a story for another post.  In this post, I want to tell you about how our recent flights that started off our trip to India went.  We had decided that it might be good to split the long flight to India in half, and therefore decided to fly on Virgin Atlantic, with a stopover in London’s main Heathrow Airport.  That way, each leg of the trip was 7 to 8 hours, with a layover in London of about 90 minutes, totaling 16 or 17 hours.  In other words, we would get to India in less than a day, and have a chance to stretch our legs at the halfway point.  Great idea, right?

Only, with it being very cold that morning we left New York City, there was a problem with a frozen valve, and they couldn’t get water onto the plane.  Thus, we left more than an hour late, missed our connection in London, had to stay overnight at Heathrow, and lost the better part of half a day in India.  I spoke to some Indian families we met waiting in line to check into the Sofitel at Heathrow, and they said that in the winter, it is common for this missed connection scenario to play out.  We were quite aggravated to be starting out our trip this way, but it turned out to be a good thing (I will talk more about this later).

Other than leaving late, this flight had several other areas that left something to be desired.  This being an older fleet of airplanes, the Airbus A330-300, there was no usb port at my seat to charge my phone.  Thus, once my phone ran out of battery, I had to go to my backup for entertainment, a hard book I had brought with me (David McCullough’s 1776 – a fine read, make no mistake).  The movie hardware at my seat was also very much outdated and pretty much useless – the video was so dark that I couldn’t see much of anything of several movies I tried to watch, and the audio only played through one of my earpieces, and it was quite garbled.  So after trying to watch a movie for about 15 minutes, I realized it was a futile exercise.

As for the food on this flight, it was ok, but there wasn’t much of it.  The one dinner entree that was dairy free was a chicken curry, with about 2 little pieces of chicken in it.  Other than that, all I could eat was a roll and some dry salad – the rest of the food provided was a block of cheese, a pad of butter, and a salad dressing with parmesan cheese.  My bad to some extent since I didn’t request a special meal, but just to be safe, I did bring a sandwich on board, and a good thing I did, because otherwise I would’ve been hungry.  Not only the dinner was insufficient, but the rest of the offerings during the flight – an ice cream dessert and a snack of a cheese sandwich – were dairy-full and nothing I could eat.

We had purchased the extra leg room seats, which was good and bad.  Good, because my knees didn’t bang against the seat in front of me (which as a man over 6 feet tall is a constant concern), but bad because the seats are so narrow in width that I was constantly vigilant not to elbow poor Therese sitting next to me. And the shape of the seats is also not so great for a tall person – my lower back was killing me by the time the flight was over.

Overall, you can see that it wasn’t a great flight.  And landing at Heathrow Airport wasn’t the greatest thing, either.  When you arrive at Heathrow on an international flight, they make you walk, seriously, more than a mile to get to either customs (if you are staying in London) or your connecting flight.  We landed around 8:30pm, and didn’t get to our hotel (which was in the airport!) until 10pm.  What a drag.  But arriving at the Sofitel, adjacent to Heathrow’s Terminal 5, our luck started to turn.

As we were checking in, we discovered that we got a voucher for dinner in the Sofitel’s restaurant, Vivre.  I was so tired I could hardly see, but I ordered a chicken curry entree, and it was everything the curry I had eaten on the airplane many hours later was not.  It was flavorful, with lots of chicken and vegetables, and there was plenty of it.  With every bite of that food, I felt my frustration at having missed our connection melting away.

When we arrived in our room at the Sofitel, my transformation back into a relaxed human being picked up its pace.  The room size was fairly large, but what really made it a great hotel room was the bathroom.  There was a king-sized bathtub in there (as well as a separate glass-walled shower), and once I had run myself a hot back and percolated in their for a while, I was a happy human being.  I came out of that bath saying, “you know, it was awfully nice of Virgin Atlantic to put us up here overnight!”

And truth be told, the best thing Virgin Atlantic did for us up to that point was to put us up at the Heathrow Sofitel overnight.  Night only did we have a dinner voucher – we also got free breakfast from the buffet the next day.  I regret that I didn’t get a photo of the buffet, because it was beautiful.  I did take photos of my breakfast, to give you an idea of how comfortable they made me.  And in case you’re wondering, the cereal is with soy milk (or soya milk, as they labeled it, if you prefer).

The next best thing Virgin Atlantic did for us was to put us on a British Airways flight to Delhi leaving midday on Sunday and arriving in Delhi in the early hours of Monday morning.  Therese emailed our Oberoi contact to let them know of our changed flight plans, and we casually wandered toward the British Airways check-in, ready for the second leg of our India flight.

In my next post, I will tell you about our experiences with British Airways to Delhi, and our reception at the New Delhi Oberoi Hotel.

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The Dairy Free Traveler Top 10 Posts of 2014

The Dairy Free Traveler Top 10 Posts of 2014

The Dairy Free Traveler Top 10 Posts of 2014

I know I am much overdo in posting a best of list for 2014.  But I thought that if I were going to do one, I should focus on what were your favorite posts of the year.  So in reverse order, the 10 most-read posts of 2014 are as follows:

10. Valentine’s Day leftovers re-purposed: succulent seafood curry. Leave me on a dessert island with lots of coconuts, and I would be happy! So any dish that has a coconut milk base is going to thrill me. Throw some seafood into the mix, and all the better still.

9. Culinaria Hungary by Anikó Gergeley – pork pörkölt recipe (a review). My initial consternation that what I had always called goulash is actually called something totally different by Hungarians was quickly replaced by a great curiosity about all things Hungarian. When a dear friend gifted me with this book, she fed my curiosity big time. Pörkölt, with the umlauts – it’s what’s for dinner!

8. Avoiding dairy while traveling, trick no. 1: Asian cuisines. I was astonished when we visited France in 2014 by how many Asian people we saw. I figured, does that mean good Asian food in France? If so, that would give me a chance to leave behind the minefield of French cuisine for the safe haven of Chinese or Japanese food. So one night in Rouen, I thought, “Let’s find out how good sushi in Normandy can be.” My friends, it was pretty good!

7. Dairy-free in Paris, France: a progress report. You don’t have to twist my arm to get me to talk about France. But the good news about the growing market for dairy free fare there makes me especially happy to tell everyone all about what’s going on there. And since I wrote this post, there has been a lot more progress. Hmmm, time for an update!

6. The Dairy Allergy, part one: my story. Let’s face it, this blog is all about me. That what I have to say is of interest to others is very gratifying. And to see that my story was one of the most popular posts last year humbles me, and reminds me of two of my goals for this year. First, I want to get to know other food allergy bloggers better, following up on the relationships I began building at last September’s Food Allergy Bloggers Conference. Second, I will share some of their stories here. I am sure you will be excited to hear their stories.

5. Cooking Classes, NYC: Sur la Table, Eataly, ICE and elsewhere. Cooling classes can be found just about anywhere these days. Major cities have schools and restaurants and homecooks who offer classes that can be anywhere between an hour and a day long. Some offer series that go on for weeks or even months. What separates New York City from other places is the sheer breadth of cuisines offered in cooking classes and the wide range of prices. Surprisingly, there are some great bargains to be found in cooking classes in my hometown!

4. Dairy Free in the Air: Special Meals on Airlines.  As I prepare for our upcoming trip to India, I know that one of the things I have to do is call the airline, tell them about my allergy, and see what they can do for me in presenting me with a meal that is dairy free without just being a bread stick or a pile of limp lettuce.  Some of the airlines we use a lot, like Delta, do not do a very good job usually, but every once in a while, they surprise you (a chicken salad I recently ate on a Delta flight was actually quite good).

3. Movie Theater Snacking, the Dairy Free Way.  I love movies and for me, there is still nothing like seeing a film in a big theater in a plush comfy seat.  Snacks are sometimes a challenge.  Sure, there’s always Junior Mints.  But if I want something more fancy, I may have to sneak it in with me.

2. Trader Joe’s: Dairy Free Favorites.  Along with Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite places to shop for food in New York City.  Both of them have several locations as well.  For Trader Joe’s, my favorite location is the Chelsea one – while the lines TJ’s is famous for are apparent in that store, they don’t interfere with shopping as much as the lines in other locations do.  And while TJ’s is not quite as dairy free-friendly as Whole Foods, they do feature some wonderful dairy free options, and when I find these, I am always excited to share them with you!

1. Starbucks Chocolate Chai Latte: a New Dairy Free Option.  Here we are, with your choice for the most popular post of 2014!  In fact, this post is my most popular of all time.  Maybe it is the Starbucks connection, or maybe it is the combination of Starbucks and being able to find something dairy free there.  Certainly, they do not have many options.  I for one would love to see them start to stock almond milk as a second dairy free milk choice, since I am not much of a fan of soy milk.  Pretty much every other coffee store in lower Manhattan carries almond milk.  But for now, it is at least nice to know that, wherever I get stuck looking for a coffee/chai tea beverage, as long as there is a Starbucks nearby, I will at least have a couple of dairy free options!

One of the surprises for me in looking over this list is that none of these posts were written in 2014.  As a blogger, it is always gratifying to see posts that have staying power, whose popularity continues from year to year.  But the other side of that is regretting that the posts I wrote in 2014 didn’t capture my readers’ attention like the earlier ones.  In 2015, I will use these 10 as an inspiration, in the hopes that I can write some posts that will prove compelling and useful for readers throughout the year, and in years to come!

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At-home Mazemen

At-home Mazemen

At-home Mazemen

After a vigorous work-out, or a busy day, I will occasionally indulge in what I will call, for lack of a better term, At-home Mazemen.  Let me explain.

Like many Americans, I have eaten my share of packaged ramen noodles.  In fact, you could say that I got through graduate school on them.  However, I have never prepared them according to the directions on the package.  Rather than have a soupy concoction with some noodles to be fished out of it, I much prefer a thick, saucy dish, with just enough broth to coat the noodles.

Again, like many Americans, I ate the cheap packaged ramen I could find in my supermarket.  But after graduate school, I started exploring, trying to see if I could find a packaged ramen that was really good, rather than the gluey noodles and fake tasting sauce I was used to.  I went to where I thought that more of a variety of ramens might be found, to Kam Man Market on Canal Street, in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

For those who don’t know about Kam Man, it is a multi-level supermarket that has pretty much everything you would think of when you think of Asian food.  Jars of Hoisin sauce.  Woks and Asian tea pots.  Packages of wood ear mushrooms.  Well, sure enough, Kam Man sold a mess of different brands of ramen, and at prices much lower than I had seen in my local supermarket.  I was thrilled, and bought a variety of brands to see which one, if any, I liked the best.

When I brought my basketful of ramens to the counter to pay, the ladies thought I was nuts.  I guess they were thinking, “What?  A Caucasian dude eating spicy ramen?  He probably has no idea what he is getting into!”  They pointed at the packages and said in a cautioning tone, “very spicy!”  I nodded and said, “yes, I know.”  Not to be deterred, they said it again – “Ve-e-ery spicy!”  I smiled and went ahead and purchased my ramens over their strenuous objections.

Sure enough, there was one that stood head and shoulders above the rest: Nong Shim.  This a Korea-based company that makes a number of different varieties.  The kind I usually buy is a spicy one called Shin Ramyun, but all of them are quite delicious if handled correctly.

That last part is my own prejudice you might say.  Because again, I don’t follow the directions.  Here is how I prepare my Mazemen (and I will tell you about that word a little later):

In a sauce pan, bring just enough water or (preferred) chicken stock to cover the noodles to a boil.  Add the noodles, and stir until the noodles are nearly cooked (2 to 3 minutes).  Then add the flavor packets (half the pepper sauce and all of everything else) and stir, and turn the heat down to low.  Let the noodles continue to simmer for another 90 seconds to 2 minutes.  At this point most of the stock should have evaporated or become stuck to the noodles.  Toss the noodles once to make sure they are all well-coated with sauce, and then pour them into a bowl.  Finish the dish with a drizzle of 1 to 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil, stir one more time, and enjoy!

I should say that there are a million ways to get creative with these noodles.  You can cook proteins (chicken, small meatballs, seafood) in the stock before cooking the noodles, and then add the protein back in at the end.  You can add vegetables – although my advice there is to cook them separately, because they interfere with the noodle cooking/sauce creation.  Over the years, I have probably eaten my noodles a hundred different ways, although I usually eat them the simple way I described above.

By the way, if you have never had toasted sesame oil, that stuff is gold.  If you’ve been eating Chinese food for years and there is this flavor you really like, this smoky nutty flavor, that you can’t identify, that is probably toasted sesame oil.  Since my early days of eating Nong Shim Ramen, I always make sure to have a bottle of toasted sesame oil in my cabinet.

One of the things that thrilled me about this dish from the beginning was that it was dairy free.  But that is not to say it is necessarily healthy.  The flavor packets often contain MSG, which I know many people prefer not to eat.  But this is a quick and easy yummy snack.  And if you don’t want to use the flavor packets, you can create your own sauce, which I have also done many times.  Just go to the Asian food section of your supermarket and select an Asian-style marinade/sauce and drizzle a bit of that over your noodles near the end, stir it up, and I bet that will be just as good as anything I have ever created with my packaged ramen.

As for the name, for many years, I thought that what I was doing was making my ramen the wrong way.  Little did I know that the saucy ramen has its own name: Mazemen.  I found this out just in the last couple years, when first at Yuji Ramen in the Bowery Whole Foods Supermarket, and then at a Wine & Food Festival dinner put on by Chef Ivan Orkin, I ate their mazemen with great relish.  Now granted, their dish is a little different than what I do.  They use buckwheat noodles that are thicker and chewier than the noodles in Nong Shim’s ramens.  But as for the sauce, what they are doing in Mazemen is EXACTLY the same thing I have been doing for more than 20 years when I make my ramen.

If you look up Mazemen on the Internet, you won’t find much.  There isn’t even a Wikipedia article about it yet, which shows you how new it is (or how rare).  Most references call it a “dry” or “brothless” ramen, both of which characterizations don’t adequately describe it.  Saucy rather than soupy is how I prefer to think of it.

Most of the references you will find to mazemen on the Internet will be related to Chef Ivan or Chef Yuji.  Did one of them invent it?  Or someone else?  I have no idea.  Maybe it was one of those Japanese secrets that you would only know about if you had traveled there and been to some out-of-the-way ramen bar where mad genius ramen chefs invent things like mazemen.  I have no idea.

I just know that when I get back home from roller-blading or a long walk on a hot day, nothing does it for me like a big jug of cold water, and a nice bowl of my At-home Mazemen.  Happy noodle cooking, my friends.

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