Day 1: Airplane Noodles

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Day 1: Nissin cup noodles, somewhere in the air off the northern coast of Queensland

Hey guys! Bet you thought this blog was going to be about the best noodles I could find (I am a food blogger and ramen enthusiast, after all). Ha! Fooled ya! The very first ramen of my month-long quest for noodles was not a giant bowl of swoon-inducingly rich broth filled with chewy, homemade noodles and melt-in-your-mouth charsiu, but rather this grossly overpriced serving of chicken flavour instant cup noodles on my Jetstar flight from the Gold Coast to Tokyo.

I didn’t plan on this; I’m not even in Japan yet as I write this, so I’m not even sure if it counts. But hey – it’s day 1 of my trip, and I just so happened to have some noodles – here we are.

After a rather shocking experience a couple years ago where I paid $18 for something purporting to be chicken curry, I tend to pack my own meals when flying Jetstar long haul. This time I’d packed a couple of onigiri and thought I’d supplement it with with some takeaway airport food before boarding my flight to Tokyo.

Except I’d kind of forgotten what a human hamster cage the Gold Coast international transit lounge is: all glass-walled, so you can see the other (admittedly not that exciting) food options in the rest of the terminal, but the only option available to passengers trapped in transit is a bleak airport caf serving up limp roast beef sandwiches, pallid ham and cheese croissants, sorry-looking chicken wraps with dried-out, inflexible tortilla outers.

I had a couple hours to kill in that transit lounge, and such was my hunger (the onigiri had disappeared on the flight to the Gold Coast) that I stood in that line a number of times before thinking better and sitting back down. A fruitless, frustrating exercise (and I observed with interest several other people doing the same).

So I got on the plane hungry and painfully aware I didn’t even have with me any snacks, unless you count the Whittaker’s chocolate I’d stashed in my carryon bag as gifts for people in Japan. And I did what any reasonable person in my situation (ravenous but conscious of spending money)
would do: pick the cheapest, most filling option. Which at $5AUD was a plastic cup full of instant noodles.

It was delivered by the flight attendant in an instant, already filled with water and the foil lid peeled back. Spongy bits of de-and-then-re-hydrated chicken floated on top. The scantly numbered corn kernels bobbing up amongst the tangle of cardboard-y noodles (oh, I’ll get to that) seemed to fare a bit better given this treatment. Towards the bottom of the plastic cup, paper-thin flakes of carrot, cabbage, spring onion and spinach suddenly appeared, providing some visual variation, if nothing else.

The noodles were flat and curly, about 2mm thick, reminiscent of moistened shredded cardboard but also not altogether unpleasant – probably something to do with subconscious nostalgia for the instant noodles I ate as a kid.

The broth was all salt and msg and got a little intense, almost metallic tasting at the end, my lips went all tingly and dehydrated. But it was the only thing I’d be eating for the next eight hours, so I finished every last drop.

The next half hour of the flight I felt slightly queasy and had to put down my book and stare out the window at the glimmering aquamarine jewels of the Great Barrier reef some 36,000 feet below. Tough life, I know.

Not your typical travel blog.

Hi! I’m Mika. I really like noodles.

I once wrote a song about laksa; the first time I had homemade udon noodles I nearly cried (I won’t go into detail about either of those incidents…). If I had to, I’d eat spaghetti every day and be totally okay with it. Hot or cold, fat or thin, in soup or fried or just plain, I really like noodles.*

This love of noodles started at an early age but I’m pretty sure was cemented in 2002 when I lived in Japan for a year. In Yamanashi Prefecture, where I lived, there’s this famous noodle dish called hōtō: thick, flat, wide flour noodles cooked in a hearty miso broth, ideally with bits of vegetable and tender, sweet pumpkin that almost melts into the soup. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best noodle dish ever. Needless to say, the local hōtō shop was my restaurant of choice whenever I went out to eat with my host families. I think I really did cry on my last visit to Kosaku that year.

I’m going back to Japan in a few days; not for a year this time, but for a decent enough chunk of time to eat my fair share of ramen, soba, udon and any other long, thin, slurpy stuff I can get my hands on. (And yes, I’ll be visiting my old haunts in Yamanashi, and yes, one of the first things my host mother said when she heard I was coming was “let me guess, you want to eat hōtō”.)

From four weeks starting I’ll mostly be travelling alone, visiting places both familiar and unfamiliar in Japan, and a brief visit to Seoul. In amongst all the hotel booking and plane-ticket reservations I’ve found myself researching noodles: the best tsukemen shops in Tokyo, uchinaa-soba in Okinawa, Nagasaki champon, sweet-potato chapchae in Korea.

But a girl can’t travel around a place for a month just eating noodles and talking to no-one. And I do plan to eat plenty of non-noodle dishes as well. So I’ve come up with a rule: each day, I’ll either eat a bowl of noodles or interview a stranger, and write about it here.

It’s not your typical travel blog, but I’ll document the noodles I eat and the strangers I meet, in Tokyo, Okinawa, Kyushu and Seoul (with some Yamanashi hōtō thrown in for good measure). The trip starts on October 20th. Get ready!

*though not as much as I love rice! But a blog about rice wouldn’t be that interesting. Plus I really do intend to eat a lot of noodles this trip.