Oodles of Noodles

I am willing to make the claim that I could eat noodles every night for a week and have each of those meals originate from a different country/culture. It’s a widely know (and skinny jean-sabotaging) fact that grains are the base of most diets. Be it rice, noodles or bread, there is some kind of grainy carby love serving as the backbone of most traditional dishes.

Tonight for dinner I made myself some Italian-inspired fettuccine with a tomato-garlic sauce, shrimp and basil. Last night I ordered in Pad-Thai. The night before that, I walked a few blocks to my neighborhood Udon restaurant to get my noodle fix. As a kid, my favorite meals were served with noodles: Fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti and meatballs, lo mein and my granny’s macaroni salad. In college, my freshman year roommate introduced me to Cup Noodles, one of our favorite post-party snacks packaged conveniently in a Styrofoam cup and requiring only a short stumble to our hall water fountain’s hot water tap. Growing up in Kentucky followed by college in Central Ohio provided limited pasta options, so it wasn’t until I moved to California for culinary school that my eyes were really opened to the wide world of noodles.

My first noodle awakening happened randomly one night when my friends got hungry after a shopping trip in Santa Rosa and decided to stop for food. The boys had heard about a Pho place nearby that was supposed to be good. I had no idea what “Fuh” was but said as long as they had something “normal” to eat there I would go with. Like a fool, I ordered Chicken Teriyaki and immediately regretted my choice when the steaming bowls of noodle goodness were placed in front of the others. Pho, as it turns out, is Vietnamese comfort food and most importantly, the ultimate hangover cure, consisting of thinly sliced meat that cooks in the remarkably flavorful vegetable broth ,Thai basil, bean sprouts, hot peppers, a  cocktail of house sauces, and most importantly, noodles. One bite and I was hooked.

Pho eventually became a staple in my weekly diet.  Claiming that he had found the best Pho spot in the Bay Area, my friend Bobby drove me the 45 minutes to Fairfield for an $8 lunch. And despite how silly I knew it was to drive so far for what is essentially fast food, I went back with him almost every weekend. The full bellied satisfaction you have after eating a bowl of Pho is reminiscent of chicken noodle soup on a cold day as a kid, and just as addictive.

There is an art to eating Pho. How much basil do I add? Is it a pepper day? Do I want Sriracha and the house chili paste? Hoisin? Soy Sauce? Fish sauce? It took me a long time to master the proportions. Bobby has his down to a science, filling his little sauce dish before he even orders- the same amounts each time to ensure the perfect blend. Like the white girl I am, I unceremoniously squirt things straight into the bowl, stirring and hoping I don’t accidentally burn my face off. Alas, most meals end with a bright red face, runny nose and broth-splattered shirt. But I keep coming back for more.

Since moving to San Francisco, I have so many more options for international cuisine at my fingertips- especially noodles; With Japantown, Chinatown, and Little Italy all within walking (or busing) distance, how do you choose? Yelp. As controversial as it is, it remains one of the easiest ways to discover new food, among other things. The newest addition to my noodle repertoire is a mere three-block stroll from my front door, and was discovered thanks to a tandem Google/Yelp search. Kaka Udon is a tiny and cute restaurant that serves the expected Teriyakis and sushi, but the staple of the eatery is, as its name states, udon.

Unlike the thinner rice noodles in Pho, Udon are fresh thick egg noodles that, at least at Kaka Udon, are handmade in house. Garnished with only the basics –tofu, oyster mushrooms, and nori- most of the flavor is derived from the broth. Really? …that’s it? Noodles and broth? How good can that really be? This was my initial reaction. As a blue blooded American eater, I wanted more stuff in my bowl. Where are all the “goodies?” Shouldn’t it have at least two kinds of meat and a vegetable or something? As it turns out, you can order udon with meat or veggies if you want, and it’s really good that way, but its also really, really good if you leave it alone. Once I got over the initial shock of the simplicity of the dish, I understood why it is the way it is. Suddenly I was wishing I had worn baggier pants, cursing my stomach for being so small, and wondering if it would be completely ridiculous to call a cab because I didn’t want to slosh the three blocks home.

Our delicious spread at Kaka Udon

I found myself craving it again the next night for dinner, and the next… Udon has bypassed Pho and become my new zombie master. I try to distract myself with other noodles- pad thai, chow mein, linguini- but nothing is the same. Nothing is good enough. It’s all about the udon, baby. That is, until I find another noodle. I still have a lot of eating to do.

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I’m on a boat!

There is an irony to blogging – when all you do is sit at home and blog, you run out of interesting things to write about, but once you get out of the house and adventure, you run out of time to sit at home and blog. Such is my dilemma. I go through bouts of hermit-like behavior, followed by 5 day social binges. During the down time I think to myself, ‘Now would be a great time to write, but what could I possibly write about?’. Conversely, when I’m out and about, I think, ‘This will be great to blog about! When can I squeeze in time to write?’. Plus, now I’m faced with what exactly I should choose to write about out of all of the fun things that I’ve been doing…

I seem to be spending a lot of time at the Ferry Building lately. I can hear the groans already- another post about the damn Ferry Building? Get some new material!– but rest assured, that’s not where I’m going with this. Last week, I finally decided to get off my couch and take a mini vacation to Napa to get some Vitamin D and see friends. Having lost my ZipCard, I decided it was about time I took my first ferry ride. Of course, this meant yet another trip to the Ferry Building, but that part of the story ends there. If you’ve never taken the ferry from San Francisco to Vallejo or vise versa, you are missing out. Not only is it cheap ($13 one way), but also enjoyable. It’s not just another dirty vessel carting commuters and tourists back and forth, but a really fun boat trip through the bay.  First and foremost, it’s surprisingly clean and comfortable. There is plenty of leg room no matter where you are, the seats have enough room between them, and there’s even a tray table and free Wi-Fi if you want to set up shop and do work or facebook stalk.

Once you’re settled in and the boat has made it’s way out of the “No Wake” zone, you can hit up the snack bar, stocked with breakfast pastries and coffee for the early-risers and chips and soda for the afternoon crowd. Oh- and did I mention they sell booze? That’s right- you too can drink some crisp Santana champ while sporting your nautical themed Pashmina Afghan. And on nice days you can even sit up top on the back deck, hair whipping in the wind, arms spread wide like Jack and Rose. (You can sit there on not-nice days too, but why would you want to?)

The view is pretty great too. Sure, when you initially pull out of the port in Vallejo, it’s not exactly picturesque-a lot of industrial buildings and ugly apartment complexes- but once you get on the road (so to speak) the scenery is pretty gorgeous. It gets better the closer you are to the city- green hills, sailboats and the occasional “cliff”-side mansion. The view you really don’t want to miss is that of the city as you pass Alcatraz. The panorama before you of the Piers spread across the edge of the city, with a backdrop of hills covered in colorful buildings, dotted with skyscrapers and high rises is breathtaking. I don’t know that the honeymoon can ever be over with a sight like that every time you come back to the city.  I think I’ll be leaving town more often, just so I can come back again.