Japan is a country steeped in tradition with a very proud food culture, that has been as much a part of its identity as samurai and sakura blossoms. It’s a society notoriously aware of itself along with its most commonly held beliefs in decorum and expectation. But times are changing, and various elements of traditional Japanese culture including its cuisine are being challenged by the contenders of today’s health-conscious and creative trends.
And where better a place to see what happens when food, drink, and culture collide, than in the heart of “the nation’s kitchen”—Osaka!
Ramen Girls Festival
Entering it’s third year, the Ramen Girls Festival represents a national movement of sorts, as host cities to this two-week long celebration of the dish have steadily increased since 2016. But despite the name of the festival and the overarching message it represents, anyone is welcome to enjoy the good food and festivities! (Although, there is an optional section reserved specifically for the ladies to enjoy a guilt-free trip to flavortown just with the girls. Sorry, gentlemen!)
The aim of this festival offers a different take on the widely held notion about one of Japan’s most iconic dishes being a man’s meal, and reintroduces it through a woman’s perspective. Classic recipes, such as pork bone soup, miso, and soy sauce, take on new forms when paired with fresh or less traditional toppings and stock choices. It’s ramen with a lady’s touch and taste in mind; and these bowls of savory noodles do well to put an enticing spin on the palate and preparation of this beloved dish.
Just walk into any ramen shop in Japan at the busiest hours of the day (or night), and you will notice that the clientele remains predominantly middle-aged salary men, lined elbow to elbow, slurping away at the robust golden noodles, and rich, fatty broth. It’s a scene that has at least until relatively recently, remained an all too familiar trope in Japanese pop culture.
Conventionally, even the process of making ramen is perceived to require a considerable amount of physical strength and stamina. The silky-smooth, fat-laced broth is cooked in large batches in heavy cauldrons for hours. Chefs are continuously exposed to high heat for long periods of time, as most ramen stores barely have room beyond the cramped cooking space and narrow seating area for customers. Many shops have replaced the person at the register with ticket machines in order to save space and manpower.
But these Ramen Girls ain’t got time for that!
As this festival and other food and drink movements have increased in recent years, so have our appetites. In some cases, the wait for one bowl can take up to an hour long for the more popular servings! Variations of your choosing are redeemed via ticket(s) you purchase at the entrance. And just like at their fully operational shops, you can request their specialty toppings like cilantro, watercress, soft boiled egg, slow cooked pork slices, and even flame grilled mayo-shrimp!
Every bowl in this festival is crafted with the intent to not only challenge the incumbent stereotypes of how the dish can be enjoyed and who can enjoy it, but each ladle full of prawn or tomato bisque, creamy white sesame broth, and many more low-fat, yet flavor-packed takes on traditional styles, serves up a statement of boldness and beauty.
That’s right, these hot bowls of your favorite noodle soup aren’t just a leaner, healthier option with a great taste, but they’re also aesthetically unique, and Instagram ready for you to whip out your phones, join the movement, and spread the love!
Japanese Craft Beer Holiday!
Now ask any person in Japan what goes best with the flavor packed briny taste of a piping hot bowl of ramen noodles, and the answer will most undoubtedly be BEER. But before you jump the gun with your favorite Japanese brew, we’re riding the wave of change in this article, so don’t expect your run of the mill “Super-Dry” servings here. We’re entering the vibrantly eclectic new school of Japanese craft beer!
So how’s about a nice glass of blood orange saison? Or perhaps you’re in the mood for a lemon-flavored blue Weizen? Now if that doesn’t whet your whistle, then let me introduce to you a sweet and surprisingly light chestnut-infused brew to break in the fall season!
Although hardly considered a native beverage to Japan, like sake or plum wine, this Dutch and German import has remained a staple of after-hour imbibing for the working class for quite some time. Ever since it’s introduction to the market in the late 1800s, beer remains one of the most popular beverages in Japanese bars, ball games, and barbecues all across the country, so it’s safe to say that beer is here to stay.
For quite some time now, the market hasn’t really changed. The five biggest brewing companies account for over 90% of the market share domestically. However, since a revival from the “first craft beer boom” in the early to mid 2000s Japan is experiencing a fever pitch with newer, more informed, and locally empowered brew companies.
This October, Osaka hosted the Japanese Craft Beer Holiday over a three-day weekend where it showcased 21 different microbreweries from all around the country. Even though many of these breweries are barely 10 years old, they’ve already amassed quite an impressive following with their marketing schemes, and the momentum of a quickly growing community.
But more originally, breweries such as Baird Beer (Shizuoka) and Kyoto Brewing (Kyoto) have taken what they’ve learned from their overseas counterparts and infused those various techniques and varieties with seasonal Japanese ingredients. Couple this with the country’s already rich heritage in brewing and distilling native alcoholic beverages, and you’ve got yourself a satisfying balance of new world flavors and old world soul.
These micro brews are looking beyond the salaryman’s status quo and are opening the doors for a wider range of people to enjoy.
If you’re feeling a little hoppy, almost every booth can offer you their best take on an IPA, and if you’re up for something darker then they’ve got your porters and stouts covered as well. But maybe you’re just in the mood for something fruity and not quite ready to say goodbye to the summer, then try a Weizen with citrus grown on the pacific coast of Japan! There really is something for everyone around here. It’s refreshing to see such a constellation of people from all legal age groups, enjoying themselves with a pint of their choosing.
Although the frenzy of summer festivals have all but made way for the more relaxed fall season, it looks like these food trends aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Perhaps maybe someday you’ll walk into a ramen shop and order an aromatic bowl of noodles with summer vegetables, and wash it down with a mikan (tangerine) ale, but until then you can follow these events and many like it in the links below!