A few weeks ago, I joined a Meetup to go foraging for mulberries. I am a great lover of new experiences and when I saw the posting, I jumped at it. The thought of actually seeking out the humble mulberry had never occurred to me. Where I come from, we eat them, of course, but mostly they are a sign of summer that stains the sidewalks and soles of our feet.
So we headed for the Tsurumigawa river in the wilds of Yokohama, a group of about a dozen of us, hard on the heels of our fearless leader, renaissance man Rodger Sono. I had gone on his blueberry hike last fall and ate the luscious little devils until my lips and tongue were burning, so had worked myself into a berry anticipative mood. (See what I did there?)
Unfortunately, the late spring weather had taken a turn for the predictably unpredictable and most of the berries were dried out, but it was fun talking to new people and a friendly old guy on a bicycle gave me some bamboo shoots.
Our final destination was the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum, which really doesn’t have any business calling itself a museum. The pamphlet actually calls it “the world’s first food-themed amusement park” but it’s really just an excuse to sell ramen. There’s also, inexplicably, slot car racing. The only “museum” aspect is that the ramen shops are replications of those of 1958 Japan. The atmosphere is pretty cool except for the busloads of tourists eager to slurp their way to ramen nirvana.
Incidentally, they chose 1958 because that was the year instant ramen was invented. There’s also an instant ramen museum in Osaka. It seems that the father of instant ramen, Momofuku Ando, didn’t sleep for a year or take a day off while he dedicated his life to creating Chicken Ramen, at the time known as “magic ramen”.
Ramen is very much a part of Japanese culture. People of all ages consume it, breakfast, lunch or dinner. No proper evening of drinking and carousing would be complete without a visit to a ramen shop, which isn’t difficult. Most neighborhoods have several; mine has dozens. And instant ramen has achieved a status of nearly mythical proportions.Go to any supermarket or convenience store and there will be an entire aisle devoted to these dried nibbles, a mind boggling array of brightly colored, cheerful packages, which is odd because while the traditional Japanese diet is one of the healthiest on the planet, instant ramen is almost exclusively fat, salt and refined white flour.
I love ramen but can’t eat the instant stuff. A Japanese guy who spoke a little English once asked me, “What’s the difference between stupid and crazy?” I said that stupid is eating a McDonald’s hamburger and crazy is eating the paper it was wrapped in. I feel pretty much the same way about instant noodles and the styrofoam cups they come in. But I’m not judging. I love Kraft mac and cheese, and that stuff has about as much to do with real cheese as fish have to do with bicycles.
To each his own. We all have our comfort foods. For me, mulberries is one of them.