Ginza: a ramen shop in Ottawa

Ginza Ramen (832 Somerset Street W – in Chinatown)

A dear friend messaged me one evening to let me know that she was eating a bowl of ramen at a new ramen shop. In Ottawa! At a place called Ginza.

I had seen the first Ginza shop in passing, on Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa, and in great excitement searched for a menu online. After seeing the menu online (mix of ramen, pho, vermicelli dishes, sushi, rice noodle soups, grilled foods), I figured it was your typical all-encompassing Asian restaurant…and my interest waned. But my dear friend assured me that the place that she was eating at in Chinatown served *just* ramen. And she liked it.

Ginza

The shop in Chinatown incorporates a lot of wood into its interior and has a warm feel inside. The kitchen isn’t very open to the eating area, which is key to a ramen shop so that you can watch all of the fast-paced action, and there was no hearty irashaimase from the staff to welcome patrons inside. However, the server provided courteous, friendly, and prompt service, with just the right level of attention (because nobody likes a server who hovers or forgets about you).

Ika-age with wasabi mayo

Ika-age with wasabi mayo

Chicken karaage with a wasabi mayo

Chicken karaage with a wasabi mayo

We ordered chicken and ika karaage as appetizers. Both were accompanied by a mild wasabi mayo dip. The chicken was dry and the batter was average, but not having had karaage for a while, it did hit a spot. The ika (squid) had a good crunch from being deep-fried.

Miso tonkotsu ramen with corn, char sou, bean sprouts, green onions, mushrooms, and nori

Miso tonkotsu ramen with corn, char siu, bean sprouts, green onions, mushrooms, and nori

Continuing from previous ramen adventures, which you can read about here, here, here and here, I ordered the miso ramen. Ginza has a tonkotsu base and a chicken broth base; the miso is a tonkotsu ramen. The broth was decent but the balance of flavours and textures in it doesn’t quite meet some of the better ramen bowls I’ve had elsewhere. The noodles were cooked well and the range of toppings offered in the bowl was good, but the char siu slices were thin, not the awesome wrapped kind, and not as fatty/melt-in-my-mouth as I like them.

Considering Ottawa has no other reputable ramen shop yet, the ramen at Ginza would definitely entice me to return when I have a craving. However, if I were in Toronto or Vancouver, where there are a myriad of ramen shops, I would likely go to another place.

Ginza Ramen(Chinatown) on Urbanspoon

No tip restos

Earlier this month, a restaurant that will be opening in British Columbia gained a lot of media attention by having no tips, offset by increased menu prices and wages for the staff. Servers and cooks will receive more comparable wages instead of the former getting much more due to tips, and for those restaurants who practice tip-pooling, the amount of money each staff member will make becomes much more transparent.

I remember my time living in Japan and how easy it was to become accustomed to not leaving a tip at a restaurant. The general expectation is courteous service and that is how you keep bringing customers into your restaurant, instead of what, to me, feels like an obligation here to leave at least a 10% tip, even for less than courteous service.

A tip is like a little extra thank you to acknowledge above-and-beyond service (or with today’s lowered expectations, just GOOD service). It shouldn’t be expected by anyone. And it certainly shouldn’t become a post-dinner hassle; have you ever had a server tell you that you should be tipping more!? Ridiculous.

I hope that this no-tip restaurant concept catches on in Canada as it has started to do in the United States. I wouldn’t want restaurant fare to become out of the reach, price-wise, for people as we essentially subsidize the restaurant in lieu of tips but at least you are fully aware, walking into a place (or browsing the menu online), of what you will be paying. And if the service is less than par, you can write a restaurant review on sites like yelp or urbanspoon and vow never to return, but you won’t feel obligated to leave a tip. And a clearer, perhaps more egalitarian wage structure for restaurant staff couldn’t hurt.

Homemade birthday cake! (aka Japanese strawberry shortcake)

When I was last in Toronto, I visited a Chinese bakery. We actually do so every time we’re in Toronto, usually to pick up some buns for the road trip back home. This past visit, I saw the typical Chinese birthday cake in the display case: the chiffon cake with whipped cream filling and topping and a variety of fruit. It was around $20 for an 8″ cake and I swear, I was *this* close to buying it and driving it back to Ottawa because I love these cakes and there is no proper Chinese bakery in this city that sells a good cake. So ever since I saw that cake in the display case and didn’t get to eat it, I’ve been craving it. And that is how I came to search the internet for a recipe to make it myself.

I used this recipe as it was the only one that I could find that had normal measurements of ingredients. I figured that the key to this cake would be to make the meringue properly, beating the egg whites until truly stiff peaks formed, so I took 20 minutes to get stiff peaks and tried not to deflate the meringue by over mixing when it is added to the rest of the cake mixture.

The cake actually turned out pretty well. Because I only had a 10″ springform pan (instead of the 8″ the recipe calls for), I was worried that the cake would turn out too shallow…but it actually turned out just perfect. The wider diameter did make it more challenging to do the lateral slice to fill the cake with whipped cream and strawberries but once the whole thing is assembled and the outside is smothered in whipped cream, you can hardly tell that my lateral slice was lopsided. I’ll definitely have to work on getting a nice smooth spread of whipped cream on the outside of the cake; as my friend pointed out, the reasons why the bakeries have a smooth outside spread is because they use a lazy susan and an inch of whipped cream!

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Sliced cake

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So I’m still happy to pay $15-$20 to buy this cake pre-made at a good Chinese bakery, but I can actually make it myself now too! It probably took about 3 hours total (including baking time and assembly time), with 20 minutes going to whipping the meringue and another 15 minutes going to whipping the cream. A stand mixer would make things more efficient…as would buying whipped topping instead of 35%MF heavy whipping cream!

Another bowl of ramen in Toronto

Kenzo Ramen (Mississauga location: Burnhamthorpe Road West by Mavis Road)

Whenever I’m in Toronto, I like to try to get in at least one bowl of ramen into my itinerary.  I’d gone on a bit of a ramen adventure in Toronto during a 4.5 day trip there last February (read about it here) and though I never wrote about it, I also had some delicious ramen at Momofuku Noodle House as well. Unfortunately, when I’m staying in the suburbs, the concentration of ramen shops in the downtown area does me no good.

This time, I thought I’d lucked out. Kenzo Ramen, which I had yet to try, has 5 locations in the Toronto area, including in the suburban city of Mississauga. We arrived there just past 6pm on a weekday to find a good-sized but fairly empty restaurant (score!?). I should note that by the time we left, all of the tables were full. We walked in to Irashaimase (welcome)…a good start. We ordered takoyaki as an appetizer (at an expensive $8.99 for 6 pieces), and a tonkotsu ramen and a tonkotsu miso ramen (both bowls are $10.95 each).

Takoyaki

Takoyaki

The takoyaki were a decent size but again, pricey for (a) what you get and (b) what it entails.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu Miso Ramen

Tonkotsu Miso Ramen

I expect tonkotsu broth to be rich, flavourful, and hearty. It should taste like pork. The charsiu (BBQ pork) at a really good place is wrapped, not just a piece of pork, and should melt in your mouth. I did not enjoy the tonkotsu broth at Kenzo, neither in flavour nor in richness, and the charsiu at other ramen places in Toronto is much better (though the flavour at Kenzo was decent). Unfortunately, despite not having eaten a bowl of ramen in over 6 months (read: we were ramen-hungry), we did not feel satiated by this ramen.

Sigh.

It also took a while for our dishes to make their way to our table, despite there not being too many customers ahead of us.

Kenzo Ramen on Urbanspoon

Stimulating Saturdays: What is ethical eating?

To you, what does it mean to eat ethically? Off the top of my head, ethical eating would mean consuming food that has been ethically raised and obtained. Of course, that interpretation alone in and of itself is open to much interpretation. What it means to one person to be “ethically raised” might not be ethical enough for the next person. However, I saw this trailer for a book (yes…I wondered to myself what a ‘book trailer’ is) that made me rethink ethical eating.

The trailer is for the book, Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman. I haven’t read it yet but it raises a very crucial point: the food that you are eating at a restaurant may meet your definition of ethical eating, but are the people behind the scenes of your food being treated ethically? And if not, can eating at that restaurant still be ethical?

I am not too familiar with the minimum wage situation in the United States but was shocked to see that for tipped workers, the minimum wage is just over $2 per hour. There have also been numerous attempts to have the minimum wage raised, including a campaign by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

The minimum wage in Canada for all workers is higher than $2 per hour but is still under the poverty line and has been in the media spotlight again recently. In Canada, each of the provinces and territories set their own minimum wage. In the province of Ontario where I live, the provincial government just announced that it will be raising the minimum wage to $11, effective June 1, 2014, ending the freeze that has been in effect since 2010. Decisions on when and by how much to raise the minimum wage have been haphazard in the past. To address this, the provincial government also promised to introduce legislation enabling annual increases to the minimum wage, linked to the rate of inflation, that would be announced each year on April 1 and becoming effective on October 1 of the same year. Critics continue to argue that these announcements by the government are not enough to address the fact that the minimum wage is still below the poverty line (for a person working full time year-round). I can’t imagine only earning $2 per hour at any job. I can’t imagine having to support a family at $11 per hour.

So again, I ask, what does it mean to eat ethically?

Some interesting links related to early parenting

Without too many close people around me who have recently had babes, I find myself looking to the internet for discussions around various issues, such as breastfeeding and sleep. On second thought, I bet that even if I were surrounded with many babe-toting friends, I would still be looking to the internet for more information; thus is our lifestyle. Anyways, I’ve quickly learned that for each piece of advice I read, there is a contradictory piece of advice on the next website. Some interesting pieces that I’ve come across during the past few weeks:

The Truth about Maternity Leave

As I look down at the peaceful face of my babe, napping in my arms, I feel blessed to be able to spend so much time watching him grow and interact more and more with the big world around him. But there are definitely days when I wish I could just wake up, press snooze a few times, get dressed, head to work, and do desk work for the day and chat with coworkers…oh and do things like eat lunch while it’s hot but in no big hurry or go to the bathroom alone. It just sounds so easy! (Not diminishing the fact that the corporate workplace has its own challenges….) Some days, I have dinner on the table by the time my partner gets home from work, the sink is clear of dishes, the house is relatively together, and I feel great. I’ve found we do really well on days where we get outside to go and see a movie or to a baby play group. Other days, I wonder where my baby’s snooze button is hidden, where I can find energy to even get some lunch ready for myself, and dinner? Yeah right.

Actually, I should mention how thankful I am that I get maternity leave at work and that this leave is one year long. I was speaking to an American colleague days before my maternity leave was to commence and learned that her leave was a mere EIGHT weeks! Of course, we are both blessed to even have ANY leave at all.

The truth about maternity leave is that it challenges you in ways you may not have been challenged previously. The day can seem to last an eternity yet the time on a larger scale seems to pass much too quickly. You’ll be at your best and you’ll be at your worst. Contradictions. Thus is maternity leave.

The Wait-It-Out Method of Sleep Training

I’ve learned that sleep is a hugely popular topic associated with a baby. Moms ask each other about sleep, moms get asked about sleep from friends and strangers, moms question themselves about sleep…. Where should baby sleep at night or during naps, how long should baby sleep at night or during naps, should baby be on a routine, how do you get behavioural changes out of baby (for example, let them cry until they resign themselves to a new routine), etc.

I really enjoyed reading this post dubbed the wait-it-out method (a twist on the popular cry-it-out method), mostly because it resonated with me. I don’t know why society seems to expect babies to live on the same type of schedule and within the same constraints as adults, right from birth.

Toddler and Baby Sleep Timeline

As I read or hear about triumphs from moms about their babies sleeping through the night, I wonder what my expectations should be around baby sleep needs. I found this post to be the most helpful in understanding what is happening with babe as he grows.

The Good Baby

“Is he being a good baby?” I’ve been asked this numerous times by friends or in line at the store. This is a great post on the ridiculousness of this question as it stands literally. Yes, of course my baby is good. I don’t think he can be malicious or manipulative…yet. He’s so pure.

Did you mean to ask if he sleeps through the night or doesn’t cry at all? Because those are ridiculous measures for my baby as well. My baby sleeps like a baby and uses crying as a communication means. I don’t think it’s normal to not cry as an adult so I’m not sure why babies are any exception. Of course, truly colicky babies cry in excess but some crying by everyone, including babies, should be fine.

So when you ask me, “is he being a good baby”, what exactly do you mean?

Stimulating Saturdays: edX course on Food

I recently learned about a great learning tool called edX. They offer some really interesting online courses  from various universities, such as UC Berkley, MIT, and Harvard, for free.

There is currently a course called Food for Thought (CHEM181X), taught by three professors at McGill University (Montreal, Canada)., covering the basic science behind food and popular issues related to food and health. There are several short video lectures per week, complemented by quizzes and surveys. Your level of participation is completely up to you; there are assignments and an active discussion board for the course as well. Perhaps one of the neat things about this and presumably all edX courses is the diversity in “students”. Just scanning the classroom introductions on the discussion board, there are people from Montreal to California to Mexico to Lebanon.