Soul in the Bowl, Part I

Ajisen's spicy ramen

Sometimes when you’re hungry and you’ve been shopping for hours, all you want to do is have a snack. Or a meal, especially since you’ve skipped lunch and it’s now 4 p.m.

That happened to me a few weeks ago and I found myself meandering through the Century City Mall wondering about the 4 Asian eateries including Ajisen. I have never had their ramen before and knew food snobs sneer at the place. Well, first of all they would be horrified I even ate at the mall but boohoo, I did.

I found myself ordering the spicy ramen. After doctoring it up with a few more squirts of chili oil and all manner of powdered stuff, I started eating. It was hard maneuvering that huge spoon. I suppose it gave it an air of authenticity.

The ramen? Edible. It wasn’t very spicy though. And it was missing something.

Soul.

Noodle World's boat noodles

A few days later, I found myself having a late lunch with Josie of the Uncouth Gourmands. She wanted to get boba and since I suggested Old Town Pasadena, I figured we should make a stop at Noodle World. I may not be fond of the mini-chain but I knew they had boba. We also ordered Thai wings (aka the ginormous Angel wings) and Josie had a rice dish.

I asked our waitress what noodles did she like and she pointed out the boat noodles. I wasn’t going to get them, thinking back to my bad Mr. Noodle experience and knowing it could never come close to anything in Thai Town but what did I say when she asked me what I wanted? Boat noodles.

Damnit!

Okay, it was fine. Nothing spectacular about this bowl although I did like the beef balls. Something was missing though.

Soul.

Sakura's tonkotsu ramen

More days passed and after a long drive to the boonies for a meeting, I was back in Downtown Los Angeles and I was hungry for lunch. I really wanted Daikokuya but I didn’t have the patience to wait and just ordered a not-that-quick bowl at Sakura, the noodle shop that is part of the Little Tokyo Marketplace. I also got an order of gyoza.

Right away, I could tell these noodles were better than Ajisen. There was that soulfulness I had been looking for. But the ingredients were skimpy and I actually longed for all the tidbits from that other bowl– but transferred to this broth. Still, it was half the price so what am I complaining about? Oh yeah, it’s not Daikokuya.

Noodle Cafe's pork spare ribs egg noodles

After my recent Chiu Chow Noodles FACE OFFs, I hadn’t expected to be back at Noodle Cafe so soon. During my trek through the four Chiu Chow noodle joints, I often wanted to get the satay beef noodles. I arrived a bit later than the Noodles Partner and her friend had already ordered them. I took one look and decided on the pork spare ribs egg noodles instead. The beef satay wasn’t very appetizing looking (though the guy later said it was fine while stealing his wife’s noodles).

As it turned out, my noodles were great…if you like a lot of gravy. I have decided I’m just a soup noodles person and that’s what I’m going to have to get next time.

At least it was soulful though.

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