Day 17: Taipi-en in Kumamoto

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I’ve just spent a day wandering dazedly around the highlands of Aso, blanketed in a thick, smothering fog and then two frustrating hours trying to print out and fax in my write-in absentee ballot for the US election and I’m not even hungry but Moegi suggests we meet up for dinner.

So we meet outside McDonalds and she says let’s go eat taipi-en and suddenly my appetite returns. Yesterday on our way to get ramen Moegi had pointed out to me a plastic display bowl of noodle soup in the window of a Chinese restaurant. This is taipi-en, she said. Have you heard of it? I shook my head. It’s a Chinese-style dish, but maybe it developed in Kumamoto, and it’s one of the foods Kumamoto is known for. Instead of normal noodles, taipi-en uses bean thread noodles, so it’s a bit healthier than, say, ramen. It’s one of my favourites, she said.

We go upstairs into the dining room, all bright spotlights and dark wood, and without looking at the menu Moegi orders us two taipi-en set dinners.

The noodles are in a light, brothy tonkotsu-based soup that has the pungent aroma of white pepper. It’s not too rich, but still packed with flavour. The toppings are a mix of seafood and vegetables not unlike those in the champon I had in Nagasaki the other day, but they seem to have been steamed or simmered or just very lightly stir-fried, as opposed to the sautéed mix of toppings in champon. The noodles are thin, clear, slippery and a bit squeaky. It’s a nice, light change from the heavy wheat-based noodles I’ve been eating.

Moegi and I talk work and travel and international relations and dreams and Catcher in the Rye and soon the restaurant is closing and it’s time to go home; the fog in my head has all but disappeared. Good stuff, that taipi-en.
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