American Airlines Serving Instant Ramen Between Dallas And Seoul

ramen american airlines
Aplomb, Flickr

American Airlines recently announced a new direct route between Dallas/Fort Worth and Seoul‘s Incheon International Airports in an agreement with Japan Airlines. In addition to mentioning the “special attention [they will give] to the culture of the airline’s Korean customers” in their press release, American also briefly mentions offering “Shin Ramen Noodle Cup as a snack option to customers in all cabins.” Shin Ramen is the most popular brand of instant ramen in Korea, where the cheap noodles are so loved and a part of the culture that they are often sold in restaurants and commercials featuring the infamous PSY constantly air on television.

American Airlines is clear that this will be served only as a snack and not as a replacement for a meal on the nearly 14-hour flight. However, with the far from pleasant reputation that airline food has, adding it to the menu is more likely to receive jeers from passengers than cheers, regardless of the renown it has in its home country.

[via The Korea Times]

International Budget Guide 2013: Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan, is a city of politeness, cleanliness, culinary enlightenment and notorious expense. This year Tokyo was listed as the most expensive city in the world, with Japan’s second city, Osaka, coming in at number two. But Japan being the land of extremes, there are plenty of great thrifty or outright free things to do in the megalopolis – especially now with the yen at the lowest it has been against the dollar in almost four years.

Part of the expense of Tokyo can be allayed by avoiding the excessive niceties of day-to-day Japanese life. Many of Japan’s costs come from its quest for excellence in customer service and the desire for perfection. Annual train tardiness is measured in seconds. After purchasing merchandise at a retail store, the clerk will come around from the counter and hand you your bag face to face. Taxi doors open automatically for patrons and drivers have uniforms reminiscent of pilots and butlers, complete with white gloves. You will also experience a cleanliness that will make you instantly feel filthy when you get off the plane in your home country.

The budget traveler, conversely, might consider taking the slower local trains instead of the bullet train to save a few thousand yen. Similarly, a standing room-only sushi restaurant can save some costs on dining. To that end, the food alone is enough to keep the budget traveler coming back to Tokyo. The scene extends far beyond the traditional sushi or Benihana style restaurant, with dirt-cheap ramen, okonomiyaki and udon noodle joints on many street corners and the huge amount of local specialty foods that each city of Japan has to offer.

Just getting lost in Tokyo is a voyage into oddity. Without spending a dime you can ferret out entire streets dedicated to selling kitchenware, high-rise arcades and mega-sized vending machines ready for exploration and a perfect photo opportunity. In fact, some of the best things in Tokyo are absolutely free and with a few inside tips, a trip to one of the most unique cities in the world can be quite affordable.

Activities

See modern and traditional Japan in Yoyogi Park. It’s absolutely required that you make sure you’re in Tokyo on a Sunday and make your way to Yoyogi Park. Adjacent to Harajuku, the center of Tokyo’s outrageous fashion, and Omotesando, Tokyo’s upscale fashion, Yoyogi is a place where Tokyo’s youth go on Sunday to practice and indulge in their obsessions. If there is one thing Japan thrives at, it’s its people fixating on their crafts and hobbies. An entire afternoon can be spent walking through the park, one of the largest in the city, snapping photos and interacting with the young Tokyoites.

The most emblematic of Tokyo’s bizarre subcultures, is Yoyogi’s rockabilly gang. The greasers gather near the park’s entrance behind Harajuku Station on Sunday afternoons to dance, drink and have fun. They have hairspray, leather, denim and an absolute devotion to Rock & Roll. They don’t accept tips, they typically aren’t looking to take photos with tourists, and they really just want to hangout with their friends and dance.

Continuing on from the rockabilly gang, deep inside a forest within Yoyogi Park is Meiji Shrine. Free to enter, Meiji Shrine is a quintessential Shinto shrine, and if you only visit one shrine in Tokyo, this is the one it should be. Lush trees shade the walk from the park entrance and once inside the shrine grounds, it’s not uncommon to see a traditional Japanese wedding procession.

To get to Yoyogi Park, take the JR Yamanote Line to JR Harajuku Station. Exit towards Omotesando and follow the road as it curves. You’ll find the rockabilly gang in the large, circular public space.

Wander with otaku. The epitome of how the Western world sees Japan is Akihabara Electric Town. This neighborhood is a dense amalgamation of shops selling electronics, anime, rare video games and anything else Japanese otaku are into. Just walking down along the sidewalk you will bump into women dressed as French maids and anime characters passing out flyers advertising various shops or themed cafes. Some shops are incredibly specific and dedicated to their niche; one shop sells only light bulbs and another is simply warehouse space with more than 400 capsule toy vending machines. Walking through the neon-lit alleys is free of course and is always extremely memorable.

Take the Electric Town exit at Akihabara Station, situated on the Hibiya subway line, as well as the Yamanote Loop, Keihin-Tōhoku and Chūō-Sōbu JR lines.

Get a sight of the capital as a whole. Seeing a panoramic view of a city from atop a skyscraper is essential for any trip to a metropolis. Tokyo has a number of options for you to take in the wonderful view, but only one that is worth going to is free: the not-so-romantically-named Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building offers an observation deck at no charge. From it you can see spectacular views of Shinjuku, the rest of Tokyo and even Mt. Fuji on a clear day.

The easiest way to get there is via Tochomae Station on the Oedo subway line, which is located directly below the building.

Hotels

Many budget hotels in Tokyo tend to cluster near the Asakusa district, in the north eastern section of the city with great access to popular attractions such as Akihabara, Kappabashi, Ueno Park and Senso-ji. After dark, it can be fairly quiet, so if you’re looking to be close to the nightlife then look into Shibuya or Shinjuku or elsewhere. Since public transportation stops running around midnight and taxi fares are high, it pays to stay close to your focus activities.

Toyoko Inn (mind the spelling). A national chain of budget hotels targeted towards businessmen looking for basic accommodations on business trips. As with almost everything else in Japan, the rooms are small compared to those in the West, but will have the essentials. The interiors are bare bones and haven’t seen new furniture since the ’90s, but with many of their hotels extremely close to train stations, their locations are often unbeatable. Their best location is their Kabuki-cho inn, right in the middle of Shinjuku. It is a 12-minute walk from JR Shinjuku station, which is directly linked to Narita Aiport via the Narita Express, and is also an amazing starting point for getting around to the rest of Tokyo or Japan. From $63, $69 for the Kabuki-cho location. 2-20-15, Kabuki-cho Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0021. toyoko-inn.com

Hotel Yanagibashi. Located in Asakusa, Hotel Yanagibashi is in a quiet neighborhood known for its traditional ningyo doll shops. The furnishings are extremely basic and the rooms are very small. However, one amazing feature is its proximity to the Sumida River, a wonderful place to walk at night and see amazing views of the new Tokyo Sky Tree. Less than two blocks away from both JR train and subway stations, it’s extremely convenient for getting to Senso-ji, Akihabara, Ueno Park and the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena. Children under 5 stay for free and ages 5 to 12 stay for only $27 per night. From $38 for a shared room. 1-3-12, Yanagibashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0052. hotel-yanagibashi.jp

Quality Hostel K’s House Tokyo Oasis. Right behind a fantastic covered shopping arcade, K’s House Tokyo Oasis is a fantastic hostel that breaks from backpacking stereotypes. Most of the guests here are families. The premises are cleaner than most major chain hotels and all the furnishings are new and extremely comfortable and modern. The staff is very helpful and friendly and there are a generous amount of free pamphlets for various Tokyo attractions. K’s House also has locations around Japan, which are also highly rated and affordable. From $32 for a dorm bed. <14-10, Asakusa 2-Chome, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0032. kshouse.jp/tokyo-oasis-e

Restaurants

Don’t be intimidated if you can’t read or speak Japanese; most restaurants in Japan have picture menus or even wax replicas of their dishes in the front window. Japanese people tend to be very accommodating to people that don’t speak the language.

There is no shortage of sushi restaurants and whiskey bars at which to splurge on in Tokyo, a city with more three-star Michelin restaurants than Paris. This arena is where a lot of your travel budget can mysteriously disappear. Drinking can be especially expensive in Japan, but given that virtually all bars will have a single beer on tap, it’s easy to limit yourself. Be sure to stay away from bars with “snack” in their name, as they will most likely have a seating charge upwards of $5.

Sakuratei. The best Japanese food that is virtually unknown outside of Japan is okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is often called a “Japanese pancake,” but this does it a disservice. Essentially meaning, “what you want, grilled,” okonomiyaki can fit anyone’s tastes, from vegetarians to spicy food lovers. Whatever ingredients you choose are all brought together by the egg and flour base, then topped with a deliciously savory, BBQ-esque sauce.

The best introduction to okonomiyaki within Tokyo is the restaurant Sakuratei, located in Harajuku. Somewhat mimicking the surrounding neighborhood, it has a wild interior, with crazed portraits scrawled across the walls. You cook the meal yourself on the grill, but don’t be intimidated, there are easy to follow instructions in English available and the process is great, extremely delicious fun. Meals start at $10. 3-20-1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. sakuratei.co.jp (Japanese only)

Tsukiji Fish Market. The Tsukiji Market is often high on many people’s list of things to do in Tokyo. Get up with the sunrise to see the auctions that go on within Tsukiji’s wholesale fish market, the largest in the world, during the tiny window that tourists are allowed inside. Then, afterwards get a sushi breakfast nearby. Even if you’re not a morning person enough to see the auctions, eating some of the freshest seafood in Japan can be done at any hour in the market.

The best way to do so is in Jogai Ichiba. Immediately adjacent to the fish market, Jogai Ichiba is a series of alleys teeming with sashimi stalls each with seating space limited to a handful of stools. Each morning the stalls get their seafood straight from the fish market, which sources its stock from all over Japan. It’s best to just wander around the alleys and pick whichever stall catches your eye first, or whichever hostess is friendliest. The dish to get is maguro-don, raw tuna over rice, likely to be amongst the best, freshest seafood you will ever eat. Meals start at $6. To get there head to Tsukijishijo Station, on the Oedo line and take exit A1. To your left will be the Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market and two blocks to your right will be Jogai Ichiba.

Ichiran Ramen. Eating at a proper ramen restaurant in Japan should not be confused with the instant ramen that is so prevalent across the globe. Eating a good bowl of ramen is a transcendent experience. And with a huge amount of regional varieties, as well as minor tweaks each individual restaurant gives to their own recipes, exploring the world of ramen is a journey unto itself. Best of all, ramen is an everyman meal at everyman prices. A common fixture at truck stops and train stations, it’s easy to grab a bowl almost anywhere.

A great starting point is Ichiran Ramen. Specializing in tonkotsu, pork bone broth ramen, this chain is for ramen purists. You eat in your own personal cubicle and your order is received from a clerk behind a curtain, which falls completely when the bowl of noodles arrives. Every aspect of your meal is customizable, from the amount of garlic in the broth to how thick your noodles are. One of the most convenient locations is within the Atre mall complex of Ueno Station, on the Ginza and Hibiya subway lines, and is also open 24 hours a day.
Bowls of ramen start at $8. 7-1 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0005. ichiran.co.jp

Getting Around

Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world for public transportation, with the largest and most used subway system in the world. But on top of the subway system are also the overland rail systems. The whole network can be quite dizzying, especially when considering all of the private railways and busses all over the city. The best way to get around is to stick to the subways and a single overland train, the Yamanote Loop Line. The most useful train line in the entire city, it connects most of Tokyo’s major attractions such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ginza, Harajuku and Akihabara. When choosing lodging, a good rule of thumb is to be within walking distance of a station on the Yamanote line.

The most convenient way to pay for public transportation is with an IC Card. The IC cards are pre-paid smart cards that enable you to bypass the need to buy individual tickets where you’d have to look up the price for your destination for each journey, occasionally without the ease of English signage. With an IC card, you can simply swipe the card at the turnstile when you enter and exit the station and you are automatically charged the correct fare. There are two IC cards that you can purchase and charge at virtually all stations in Tokyo, the Passmo and Suica cards. There is no difference between the two and each have a $20 purchase price with a $5 deposit that can be refunded by returning your card to a station ticket office. Foreign tourists can even purchase discounted IC cards at both of Tokyo’s international airports.

The card can be used interchangeably on the subway, JR line trains and most busses. You can even use Tokyo’s IC cards in other cities that have their own IC card systems around Japan, such as Osaka, Fukuoka and Sapporo. Many shops in and around stations will also accept IC cards for payment.

Hailing a taxi in Japan is done the same as in many places across the world; you simply wave an empty cab down from the sidewalk. While there is no uniform color or style for taxis in Japan, most will be the same boxy Toyota from the ’90s with a small illuminated sign on the roof and “Taxi” written on the doors in English. Vacant taxis can easily be spotted from the bright red LED sign with Chinese characters displayed on the windshield, with a green sign meaning it’s occupied. You enter the taxi from the rear left door, which opens automatically. If your destination is not a well-known landmark, an address for the driver to put into his GPS would work best.

Just like in all other service related industries in Japan, you do not tip the driver. If you do, the driver will think you’ve misunderstood the price and give you back your change. Unfortunately, Japanese taxis are notoriously expensive. Fares start between $6 and $8 and after the first 2 kilometers you are charged an additional $1 for each 500 meters. Also, after 10 p.m., rates usually increase about 20 percent.


Tokyo has two international airports, Narita and Haneda. Haneda is centrally located within Tokyo, it only takes a 20-minute, $5 ride on the Tokyo Monorail to get to Hamamatsucho Station on the Yamanote Loop Line. Narita airport is actually located in a suburb some distance from central Tokyo and unfortunately most international flights land there. The fastest way to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station is on the Narita Express. It’s a 55-minute ride and costs $32 each way. The cheapest way is on Keisei Railway’s Limited Express train to Nippori Station, which takes about 75 minutes and costs about $11.

When To Go

Tokyo’s weather rarely ventures into extremes. The only true season to avoid would be summer. Tokyo gets quite humid and walking and public transportation is a large part of life in Japan; you can often find yourself covered in a humidity-induced sweat. Making summer worse, between May and October is the rainy season, peaking in August and September. Additionally, Japanese public schools are off for much of August and that can add to the crowds in public spaces.

The best time to visit Japan as a whole would be for the cherry blossom season. The pink flowers are ubiquitous and absolutely beautiful. People take to having picnics in parks underneath the trees with the Kirin Ichiban flowing. Blossom season is very weather dependent, but it typically occurs in late March or early April. As a guide, Tokyo experienced cherry blossom blooms from March 16 to March 31 this year.

Safety

I have heard stories of people leaving their wallets at restaurants, only to come back hours later to find that their wallet had not only stayed put, but been covered in plastic to protect it from rain. I have seen people drive up to 7-11s in Japan, go in and lazily do some shopping while leaving the keys in their still running car with the windows rolled down. There should be very little fear in walking the streets alone, at any hour, for either sex. So long as you keep common sense about you, your trip to be Japan may be the safest you have felt in your entire life.

Budget Tip

Convenience stores in Japan are unlike anything you have ever experienced. The selection and quality of goods offered is better than most full-blown supermarkets around the world. From any typical 7-11 you can buy concert tickets, pay bills, order freshly cooked food, or send a fax, in addition to the typical buying of snacks. A somewhat unique aspect to Japanese convenience store culture is the limited edition snacks. On top of the typical chocolate offerings, for example, will be flavors such as blueberry cheesecake or café au lait chocolate-filled, Koala-shaped crackers. Each variant is truly only available for a limited time. Even the big beer brewers like Kirin and Asahi will get in on the limited edition flavor game.

Possibly the best tip for Japan is if you ever get lost or can’t find your destination, walk into any convenience store and ask the clerks for some help. Just say your desired location followed by “wa doko dess-ka?” (“Where is…?”) and they will gladly help you, pulling out a large map if they don’t know the location off-hand. It even isn’t unlikely that they will walk you to your destination if it’s nearby.

[Photo Credit: Masaaki Komori]

10 interesting food museums from around the world

While many people visit museums in order to learn about culture, art, or history, how many out there can say they’ve gone to a museum to see an exhibit on SPAM? Or to learn the processing history of salami? While somewhat out of the norm, these 10 interesting food museums from around the world will give you insight and fun facts into some of your favorite cuisine.

PEZ Museum in California

Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia
Location: Burlingame, California

From vintage Pez dispensers to new Pez-related items, come to Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia to learn the history of Pez as well as buy Pez products. The highlight of the museum is seeing the world’s largest Pez dispenser, which is in the form of a 7 ft’ 10” tall snowman and can hold 6,480 Pez candies. And if you get sick of looking at Pez dispensers all day, the museum also has a Classic Toy Museum and a Banned Toy Museum on site.

Located at 214 California Dr. Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10AM-6PM. SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota The SPAM Museum
Location: Austin, Minnesota

The SPAM Museum is a tribute to this pre-cooked, canned meat that includes vintage advertising, memorabilia, SPAM trivia, and interactive exhibits. Visitors can even test their SPAM-canning skills as well as learn about the large role SPAM played in the diet of WWII soldiers. See walls made entirely of SPAM cans and ceilings holding massive burger buns as you walk through this retro-style museum.

Fun Fact: An actor from New York named Kenneth Daigneau won a contest in 1936 put on by the creator of SPAM, Jay Hormel, that allowed him to choose the name for the canned meat. Mr. Daigneau chose SPAM, which is where the name comes from. He also won $100, which today could have bought him $1,500 in SPAM products.

Located at 1101 North Main St. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday, 10AM-5PM, and Sunday, 12PM-5PM.

Pick salami and paprika museum in hungary The Pick Salami and Szeged Paprika Museum
Location: Szeged, Hungary

The Pick Salami and Szeged Paprika Museum gives visitors a chance to learn everything there is to know about Pick salami and paprika through a showcase of photographs, history lessons on founder Mark Pick, production displays, and butchering guides. The best part of the museum is the life-size wooden dolls wearing authentic costumes that are setup in ways that depict scenes in the salami and paprika making process with production equipment out on display. Luckily, the Picks are still in business so after learning about these delicious treats you can purchase some for yourself.

Located at Felso Tisza-Part 10 . Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 3PM-6PM.

Musard museum in Minnesota The National Mustard Museum
Location: Middleton, Wisconsin

How much could there possibly be to learn about mustard? Apparently, a lot. The National Mustard Museum is home to more than 5,600 different types of mustard, including kinds from all 50 states as well as over 60 different countries. Visitors can sample the different varieties, some of which include tequila, chocolate, and cranberry mustard, for free at the Tasting Bar, where you will be guided on a sensual (and sometimes spicy) experience by a Confidential Condiments Counselor. A visit to the National Mustard Museum is not only a tour for the taste buds, however, but also for the eyes, as you admire antique mustard pots, reminisce over vintage mustard ads, view a film at the Mustardpiece Theatre (The Sound of Mustard, anyone?), take a mustard cooking class, and more.

Located at 7477 Hubbard Ave. Museum hours are 10AM-5PM, daily.

Chocolate museum in cologne, germanyThe Chocolate Museum Cologne
Location: Cologne, Germany

Of course, what food-related list would be complete without chocolate. What makes the Chocolate Museum Cologne unique is that it’s more than just displays of chocolate. At this museum you will travel through three levels of chocolate history, spanning over 3,000 years. Level one will introduce you to the cocoa tree, as you literally visit a tropical house to admire one up close. Next, see a glass chocolate factory to learn about the production of this sweet staple. On the next level visitors are introduced to chocolate as a luxury item, beginning in Mesoamerica. The final level allows you to peruse chocolate advertising and signs, watch films in the chocolate cinema, and see chocolate items that developed a cult following. There are lots of interesting tidbits of chocolate knowledge to learn here. For instance, did you know that 80 years ago the high calorie content in chocolate was seen as a good thing? I definitely would have liked to be around back then.

Located at Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a, 50678. Museum hours are Tuesday-Friday, 10AM-6PM, Saturday-Sunday, 11AM to 7PM.

international banana club museum in california The International Banana Club Museum
Location: Hesperia, California

I have never seen anyone as bananas for anything as Ken Bannister, the founder of the International Banana Club Museum, is for, well, bananas. This museum, decorated with banana art, clocks, photographs, and more, holds the largest collection dedicated to one fruit in the world and is the perfect place to come if you’re looking for something a little more on the wacky side. Begin in the “Hard” section and browse through pipes, trees, pins, knives, golf putters, belts, rings, cups, and more, all with a banana theme. There is even a rock-hard petrified banana that has been in the museum since 1975. Next, check out the “Food, Drink, and Notions” section, including banana-related foods, drinks, soaps, oils…even banana tobacco. The final sections are the “Clothing Section” (banana nose, anyone?) and the “Soft” section, which is the perfect place to end your day at the museum, as there is an eight-foot long banana couch and tons of comfortable banana pillows.

Located at 16367 Main St. Museum hours are Tues-Thurs, 9AM-1PM, and the first Saturday of each month, 9AM-1PM.

Raumen museum in tokyo, japan Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum
Location: Tokyo, Japan

Who would have guessed that your favorite meal in college (or the only one you knew how to cook) had an entire museum dedicated to it? The Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum includes a huge recreation of Tokyo as it looked in 1958, the year Raumen (or Ramen) was created. Visitors also get the chance to dine in some of the most well-known Raumen noodle restaurants in existence. Walk near walls covered in Raumen packages, browse Raumen and houseware displays, watch Raumen commercials on replay, and enjoy interactive Raumen video games.

Located within walking distance of Shin-Yokohama Train Station. Museums hours are 11AM-10PM, daily.

currywurst museum in berlin germany Deutsches Currywurst Museum
Location: Berlin, Germany

One may wonder why a city would decide to dedicate an entire museum to curried sausage. The truth is, there is no German dish that “inspires as many stories, preferences, and celebrity connoisseurs” as currywurst. While this may sound a bit dramatic, a visit to the Deutsches Currywurst Museum may make you a believer, as well. Get your picture taken at the old-fashioned snack bar, explore the spice chamber to solve the mystery search for the perfect ingredients, and take in the unique decor including a sausage sofa, over-sized ketchup drops hanging from the ceiling, and humongous fry displays. Visiting Deutsches Currywurst Museum is also a learning experience, as you hear about currywurst history and legends, take part in the experimental kitchen, and watch some famous currywurst scenes on film.

Located at SchÜ tzenstrausse 70. Museum hours are 10AM-10PM, daily.

idaho poato museum The Idaho Potato Museum
Location: Blackfoot, Idaho

Being that the potato is Idaho’s most famous product, it is no wonder that there would be an Idaho Potato Museum dedicated to the starchy vegetable. This museum holds a lot of information about the history of the potato, including a film about the development of the potato industry, old farming equipment, as well as educational exhibits of the harvesting process and nutrition. The real attraction at this museum, however, is the world’s largest potato chip, which, according to Roadside America, is a 25×14-inch Pringle created in 1991 by engineers at Proctor and Gamble. The gift shop here is also worth mentioning, as it sells all kinds of potato-related gifts including potato ice cream and potato fudge.

Location is 130 NW Main St. Museum hours are April-September, Monday-Saturday, 9:30AM-5PM and October-March, Monday-Friday, 9:30AM-3:30PM.

Frietmuseum in brugge, belgiumFrietmuseum
Location: Brugge, Belgium

After discussing a museum dedicated to the potato, it is only fair to talk about a museum dedicated to the world’s favorite potato product, the French fry. Frietmuseum is the first museum in the world dedicated to the fry. While fried potatos are an international treat, what many people may not know is that they actually originated in Belgium. While you will learn the history of French fries and condiments at Frietmuseum, what really attracts tourists is the Saaihalle, the 14th century building that it is housed in. When sampling some of the museum’s fried cuisine, you will be taken downstairs to the medieval cellars of this building, which is the oldest in Brugge.

Located at Vlamingstraat 33. Museum hours are 10AM-5PM, daily.

Cheap eats in Paris: dining in the Japanese quarter for under €10

Eating well in Paris isn’t hard to do, but it can easily cost more than you originally budgeted. After a week of dining on foie gras, duck, and cheese plates, I was ready for something simple — and cheap.

Less than a five-minute walk from the Louvre, the Japanese quarter is just that kind of place. With most of the ramen houses centered on rue Sainte-Anne in the area between Palais Royal and Opéra Garnier, the long lines outside the restaurants seem to be a reflection of the tiny eating spaces as well as the universal appeal of affordable meals.

I first heard about the Japanese quarter by following the culinary adventures of ex-pat food blogger Meg Zimbeck, who recently started the website www.parisbymouth.com. Though I was originally looking for restaurants that were actually open on Sunday, I ended up checking out the neighborhood on a Friday and Saturday night. By 9 p.m., most of the shops had already closed, but the lines outside the restaurants were just beginning to ramp up. Here are two places where I had dinner for well under €10.

Naniwa-ya (11 rue Sainte-Anne)
This tiny space has six tables and a bar, where I sat with a view of the chefs preparing the noodles. When I asked a man sitting to my right for tips on what to order, he was nice enough to tell me that the noodles tasted better than the donburi. Seeing that he had completely emptied his bowl of noodles, I followed his cue and ordered the ramen. Before the man left the restaurant, he told me to help myself to the tea, which was stationed near the door. For a mere €6.50 ($8.20), I was content with the noodles, hard-boiled egg, slices of pork, and miso broth. As you can tell from my bowl, I wasn’t disappointed. I wanted to try more of the menu, but was too stuffed to fit in anything else.

Hokkaido (14 rue Chabanais
)
In this deceptively small restaurant, a narrow staircase took me downstairs to the overflow room, which was painted white with an arched ceiling. After asking my server which ramen dish was the most popular, I happily slurped up the Champon Ramen. At €8.30 (about $10.50), this version had a little more substance than the one I’d tasted the night before at Naniwa-ya: one-inch strips of pork, Napa cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and just the right amount of sesame seeds.

Unfortunately, by the time I’d inhaled the bowl of noodles and downed most of the soup, I once again wasn’t hungry enough to be able to sample anything else — that’s one of the drawbacks of dining solo; it’s much harder to eat your way through a menu. Looks like I’ll just have to go back on my next trip.

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Undiscovered New York: East Village by way of Japan

Japan lies more than 6,500 miles away from New York, separated by an entire continent and the world’s largest ocean. But don’t let the distance fool you – there’s no place in the U.S. outside the West Coast that packs more Japanese culture per square foot than New York City.

Throughout the city you’ll find numerous Japanese restaurants, cultural events and businesses. Although the variety is great, covering everything from sushi spots to Japanese department stores like Takashimaya to Cherry Blossom festivals, finding New York’s Japanese culture can be a workout. It’s scattered all over the city.

Thankfully there is one area you can go to get a taste of Japan all in one place – Manhattan’s East Village. No area offers a higher concentration of Japanese culture. Though it bears no official title, the area is practically its own “Japantown,” boasting authentic Japanese businesses and cuisine: laid-back izakayas, quirky toy stores, hidden sake bars and authentic Japanese groceries are all waiting to be discovered.

Is that plane ticket to Tokyo not in the budget this year? Cheer up – consider New York as your backup option. Want to eat some of the best ramen this side of the Pacific Ocean? Do you know the difference between hot and cold sake? Looking for a place to pick up that obscure Astro Boy figurine? Then grab your suitcase as Undiscovered New York takes you to Japan by way of the East Village…
Ramen!!!!
If there’s one Japanese food we particularly love here at Undiscovered New York, it’s ramen. The truth of the matter is nothing beats the perfect combination of salty noodles, spicy toppings, fatty pork and crunchy vegetables that comprise one of Japan’s most famous dishes. You really have to try it to understand why.

New York’s East Village is ground zero for some of the city’s best ramen spots. Foodies love to debate which ramen shop has the best and/or most authentically Japanese ramen. Is it David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, a relative newcomer that now includes three sister restaurants? Or what about Ramen Setagaya, the spot many purists claim is most faithful to the Japanese ramen recipe? Not if you listen to the owners of straight-from-Japan Ippudo, the newest addition to the East Village’s brewing “ramen wars.” The only way to decide is to head to the East Village and try for yourself. Forget the fact we didn’t even cover the East Village’s numerous yakitoris, izakayas and sushi spots. That’s enough for its own post!

Japanese Toys
It’s sometimes said that New Yorkers live in a state of perpetual adolescence, always delaying the onset of adulthood for the priorities of career, finances and fun. There’s certainly some truth to that statement when you consider the preponderance of Japanese toy stores in the East Village, offering the latest and greatest in Japanese playthings.

Among the favorites is Toy Tokyo, stocking everything from your favorite 1980′s movie figurines to Japan’s favorite monster, Godzilla. Just a short walk east is J 1 Pan Toy, which carries a similarly impressive collection of Japanese stationery, DVD’s and greeting cards. Just one block north is Giant Robot, a gallery space with a smallish collection that tends to skew more towards the savvy and obsessive figurine collectors. If you still can’t get enough of that Japanese merchandise, there’s Aica, a retailer that specializes in “hard-to-find” collectibles straight from the motherland.

Time for a drink
If all the salty ramen and scouring of Japanese toy stores has made you thirsty, it’s time for a cold beverage. You could do worse than stopping by Decibel, an “underground” sake bar that’s literally hidden in the basement down a flight of steps. Stocking a huge selection of more than 70 varieties of the beverage, it’s a great place to try both hot and cold sakes and hang out with a friend.

If your thirst is more of the non-alcoholic variety, never fear, the East Village boasts several authentic Japanese grocery stores. Grab yourself a cold bottle of green tea or some Pocari Sweat over at Sunrise Mart. Nearby is Korean grocer M2M, which stocks a surprisingly large array of Japanese products, as well as JAS Mart on St. Mark’s.