Friday, January 19, 2007

I Was Wrong... It's the Worst Bird Flu!

The tests are in from the bird flu-infected poultry farm in Miyazaki Prefecture, and it's the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu. This is the fifth avian flu outbreak in Japan, and killed 3,500 chickens last week.

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No word on people, however. That's the good news. In other good news... and to get off a potentially morbid subject... I had ramen for my early dinner today. It's the first ramen I've had in over a year.

Ramen is the same thing as lo mein, imported from China but transformed into something indelibly Japanese. If you were one of those destitute Dostoyevskian university students who grew a beard and seldom bathed while subsisting on 99 cent instant ramen packets, you're woefully unprepared for the full Japanese ramen experience.

This is a country where there are ramen museums. Ramen museums! Entire museums devoted to a noodle dish.

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This is shoyu ramen. Mine had onions all over it, and half an egg.
Plus seaweed. The lone cook thoughtfully included a spoon.

Ramen shops are fixtures in any city large enough to have restaurants, and most people have their favorites. Some are large, and some are tiny hole-in-the-wall places, but most feature ticket machines where you make your choice, and bars where you sit and eat, elbow to elbow.

I'm pretty sure I had shoyu ramen, which is a brown, soy-based ramen. But mine had a pork slice in it, so it possibly could have been chashu ramen, or chashumen. Beyond the noodles and pork, ramen's a pretty hearty soup, full of shredded onions, seaweed, half an egg and nutritious lard.

Lots and lots of lard.

Being an illiterate here, I had to carefully compare kanji and katakana under the wall-mounted photographs before approaching the ticket machine. Some machines have pictures over the buttons, but many have hand-lettered cards instead. My advice is to be extremely cautious in pressing the button...

Not once but twice, I accidentally ordered some kind of spicy chili powder-infused ramen. The first half of the bowl was delicious, with a playful biting sensation on my tongue and lips. The second half was like drinking from a lava flow in the depths of Hell.

My lips and tongue began to melt, then my eyes exploded and ran from their sockets, down my cheeks while my nose spewed a thin, clear liquid that, after careful laboratory analysis, was determined to be my brain and other internal organs.

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