With a M.A. in Spanish, my cultural studies have been mostly focused on the Hispanic world. I know next to nothing about most Asian countries, especially Japan, but after living in Brazil for six months I’ve come to know one thing. My heart may belong to Madrid, but Sao Paulo wins, no questions asked, in one specific area: Japanese food. The best place to find this cuisine happens to be Liberade, my favorite neighborhood in the city. Liberdade is the largest Japanese district in Sao Paulo, making it the largest Japanese neighborhood outside of Japan!
I’ll admit, I’m no culinary expert, especially on Japanese fare. I’ve never been a sushi fanatic, perhaps because ashamedly the first place I tried it was in Madrid, and the taste and texture left much to be desired. I’ve tried sushi again in Brazil, but still have the idea that I will not like it, and have found it hard to sway my opinion. It is a vergüenza (a shame). I know I am missing out on some of the best sushi in the world, but my stubborn mind and taste buds refuse to shift. Therefore, in spite of the top class sushi restaurants scattered throughout the city, I usually opt for something more my style. Ramen noodles.
Yes, you read that correctly. Ramen, or as they say here, Lamen, noodles. This salty dish and I go way back. I still fondly remember the day as a young child at our beach house in North Carolina when my Aunt Carmen taught me how to prepare those instant noodles. The ability to boil 2 cups of water, pour in the packaged contents, and create a meal seemed rather earth shattering as a second grader, but unfortunately my culinary habits have not evolved much since then, and embarrassingly enough, lamen noodles occassionaly creep into my menu when I’m in the United States.
Again, as a novice in the field of Japanese culture, I was flabbergasted when my namorado suggested that we go to a lamen noodle bar. “Seriously?” I thought, “I could make that as an elementary student, and you are suggesting that we dine out at a place which serves it as its staple meal?” I mean, I love Ramen noodles on Saturdays spent vegging on the couch while watching “How I Met your Mother,” but it wasn’t exactly my idea of a weekend out on the town.
Boy was I wrong. We decided to go to Lamen Kazu, and I was pleasantly surprised to try some REAL lamen. As it turns out, lamen dishes are not served with just the plain noodles, rather the soup contains pork, green onion, seaweed, and other vegetables. It is typically seasoned with soy sauce or miso, and it is uma delicia!
The food tasted great, but it was rather embarrassing when the waiter handed me a fork without asking, after witnessing my futile efforts at maneuvering the noodles into my mouth with chopsticks. Everyone else in the restaurant made it seem like the easiest thing in the world, and I was the only person struggling. I’ve become accostumed to laughing at myself while living abroad, as it is the only way to stay sane and not become disheartened. It’s better to accept being the silly gringa and just enjoy the situation, no matter what happens. However, after this wonderful lamen experience, I have vowed to learn how to correctly use chopsticks in order to fit into the Japanese/Brazilian culture!
… just one more item to add on my “to-do” list in order to become a true paulistana.