The day before yesterday my wife and I were in a situation when we had to do lunch in a food court. This particular mall in the outskirt of Tokyo is pretty much like those in Hong Kong with stalls surrounding an open sitting area. We did our perimeter study and decided to go for one that looked the least fast food like and seemingly more authentic ramen. When the chef put the hot bowl on my tray, it looked great.
It was absolutely the worst noodle I ever had in my entire life.
Since 1981 when I first travelled Japan, food has always been a great attraction in the island country. In fact that is one of the many reasons my wife always wants to come with me for all the trips.
This morning in an attempt to undo that bad experience, I Googled for the most starred ramen restaurant near the hotel. Following the directional arrow, we arrived at a hole in the wall where a big belly old man with a dirty half apron was smoking outside of the faded noren.
Inside the hole there were five seats at the old metal-wrapped bar. The man put on his head-towel and did the ramen routine. A similar looking bowl like two days ago was put in front of each of us. I was nervous when breaking up the cheap wooden chopsticks. What would come from this dirty old man?
Distinctly one of the best ramen we ever had, especially that two slices of melt-in-your-mouth chashu. Of course there is also the umami of clear shoyu soup, well-tamed aroma of pickled bamboo shoot, working with the tasty, al dente thinner style ramen. Even the leek was properly treated and masterfully julienned.
We are now happy, and Japanese food has reclaimed its reputation.
What is the moral behind this story?
Don’t trust the look alone. Look is deceiving. What looks alike may be distinctly different. Like these two bowls of ramen.
Particularly when one thinks he knows what he is seeing ( or she ). That is the real problem in the case of oolong and pu’er, where basically there is little visual difference between a top quality selection and a lowly one. Especially to the untrained eye. Unlike the ramen case, where the better one was only a couple of hundred yens more expensive, a top quality tea can be many times higher in actual cost. Imagine the profit a scammer can make selling you a bottom grade for a top one.
For those sellers who are trying to that. You are about to destroy the reputation of tea on the whole, just like that food court ramen shop almost did to the soup noodle of Japan.