The Proper Way to Eat Ramen: A Meditation from the Classic Japanese Comedy Tampopo (1985)

There is a right way to eat every dish, as an ever-increasing abundance of internet videos daily informs us. But how did we navigate our first encounters with unfamiliar foods thirty, forty, fifty years ago? With no way to learn online, we had no choice but to learn in real life, assuming we could find a trusted figure well-versed in the ways of eating from whom to learn — a sensei, as they say in Japanese, the kind of wise elder depicted in the film clip above, a scene that takes place in a ramen shop. "Master," asks the young student, "soup first or noodles first?" The ramen master's reply: "First, observe the whole bowl. Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas."

Behold the "jewels of fat glittering on its surface," the "shinachiku roots shining," the "seaweed lowly sinking, the "spring onions floating." The eater's first action must be to "caress the surface with the chopstick tips" in order to "express affection." The second is to "poke the pork" — don't eat it, just touch it — then "pick it up and dip it into the soup on the right of the bowl." The most important part? To "apologize to the pork by saying, 'See you soon.'" Then the eating can commence, "noodles first," but "while slurping the noodles, look at the pork. Eye it affectionately." After then sipping the soup three times, the master picks up a slice of pork "as if making a major decision in life," and taps it on the side of the bowl. Why? "To drain it." To those who know Japanese food culture for the value it places on aesthetic sensitivity and adherence to form, this scene may look perfectly realistic.




But those who know Japanese cinema will have recognized immediately the opening of Tampopo, the beloved 1985 comedy that satirizes through food both Japanese culture and humanity itself. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert describes the ramen-master vignette as depicting "a kind of gastronomic religion, and director Juzo Itami creates a scene that makes noodles in this movie more interesting than sex and violence in many another." Not that Tampopo, for all its cheerfulness (Ebert calls it "a bemused meditation on human nature in which one humorous situation flows into another offhandedly, as if life were a series of smiles") doesn't also contain plenty of sex and violence. Walter Benjamin once said that every great work of art destroys or creates a genre. Tampopo creates the "ramen Western," rolling a couple of cowboyish truckers (seen briefly in the clip above) into booming 1980 Tokyo to get a widow's failing ramen shop into shape.

Through parody and slyer forms of allusion, Tampopo references cinema both Western and Eastern, and its cast includes actors who were or would become iconic: the student of ramen is played by Ken Watanabe, now known to audiences worldwide for his roles in Hollywood pictures like The Last Samurai and Inception. The master is played by Ryûtarô Ôtomo, a mainstay of samurai films from the late 1930s through the 1960s, who chose this as his very last role: the very day after shooting his scene, he committed suicide by jumping from the top of a building. (Itami would die under similar circumstances in 1997, some say with the involvement of the Yakuza.) Now that internet videos and other forms of 21st-century media are disseminating the relevant knowledge, we can all study to become masters of ramen, or for that matter of any dish we please — but can any of us hope to rise to the example of elegance, and hilariousness, laid down by Ôtomo's final act on film?

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The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders: A Tokyo Restaurant Where All the Servers Are People Living with Dementia

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders: A Tokyo Restaurant Where All the Servers Are People Living with Dementia

If you've ever been to Japan, you'll know that in Japanese restaurants, mistakes are not made. And on the off chance that a mistake is made, even a trivial one, the lengths that proprietors will go to make things right with their customers must, in the eyes of a Westerner, be seen to be believed. But as its name suggests, the Tokyo pop-up Restaurant of Mistaken Orders does things a bit differently. "You might think it's crazy. A restaurant that can't even get your order right," says its English introduction page. "All of our servers are people living with dementia. They may, or may not, get your order right."

Un-Japanese though that concept may seem at first, it actually reflects realities of Japanese society in the 21st century: Japan has an aging population with an already high proportion of elderly people, and that puts it on track to have the fastest growing number of prevalent cases of Alzheimer's Disease.




Whole towns have already begun to structure their services around a growing number of citizens with dementia. But dementia itself remains "widely misunderstood," says Restaurant of Mistaken Orders producer Shiro Oguni in the "concept movie" at the top of the post. "People believe you can't do anything for yourself, and the condition will often mean isolation from society. We want to change society to become more easy-going so, dementia or no dementia, we can live together in harmony."

You can see more of the Restaurant of Mistaken Orders in last year's "report movie" just above, which shows its team of servers with dementia in action. Some shown are in middle age, some are in their tenth decade of life, but all seem to have a knack for building rapport with their customers — a skill that anyone who has ever worked front-of-the-house in a restaurant will agree is essential, especially when mistakes happen. We see them deliver orders both correct and incorrect, but the diners seem to enjoy the experience either way: "37% of our orders were mistaken," the restaurant reports, "but 99% of our customers said they were happy." This contains another truth about Japanese food culture that anyone who has eaten in Japan will acknowledge: whatever you order, the chance of its being delicious is approximately 100%.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Leonard Cohen’s Cocktail Recipe: Learn How to Make “The Red Needle”

Image by Jarkko Arjatsalo, The Leonard Cohen Files

Back in 1975, poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen created a cocktail that he called The Red Needle. According to the website, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," here's how to make it:

If you'd like to entertain your friends with a few Red Needles, and you feel you must have a recipe, here's something too smooth to go by:

Into one very tall glass about half full of crushed ice pour and drop:

2 oz tequila (that's 2½ English measures or about 60ml)
1 slice lemon
enough cranberry juice to top up the glass

Repeat for each friend.

Serve with Montreal smoked meat sandwiches accompanied by Leonard Cohen's Various Positions.

If you don't want to make it at home, you can always visit NYC and head to the Jewish Museum, where, notes the NYTimes, "the drink is being served on Thursdays in August in the museum lobby."

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The Giger Bar: Discover the 1980s Tokyo Bar Designed by H. R. Giger, the Same Artist Who Created the Nightmarish Monster in Ridley Scott’s Alien

In 1980s Tokyo, everything was possible — or at least everything was tried out. Having developed feverishly since the end of the Second World War, Japan had by that point inflated an asset bubble so enormous that, so the story goes, the land on which the Imperial Palace stands was worth more than all of California. Many Japanese felt rich, and upwardly mobile young Tokyoites felt much more so; in the capital sprung up countless establishments aiming to cash in on their willingness and ability to spend their new money on experiences, especially experiences slick, expensive, and exotic.

And for the highest-rolling young Tokyoites of the 1980s, consumers for whom pieces of America and Europe wouldn't be exotic enough, there was the Giger Bar. Writer on Japanese culture W. David Marx recently tweeted out a few magazine clippings to do with one of what he calls the "hot yuppie date spots in Tokyo, 1989: GIGER BAR Bring your date to the Tokyo bar designed by Swiss artist H. R. Giger of Alien fame, where 'the atmosphere differs from the usual.' 'alien eggs' on the menu at ¥1200, and something called 'sexual communion' for ¥1500."

"The Giger Bar in Tokyo was actually created against my will," Giger himself wrote in 1997. "While I was in Tokyo, I was asked to make a wish, on stage, during a press conference. Spontaneously, I wished for a bar, which was then brought into being even more spontaneously!"

For that bar, Giger designed "tables-for-two in open elevator cars in the manner of gliding elevators that would travel up and down the four-story establishment, perpetually in motion." But he hadn't taken into consideration the rigidity of Japanese fire marshals, and already "driven to the brink of madness" by the country's complex earthquake-related building codes, Giger ultimately stepped back from his design role.

Giger also hadn't foreseen the fact that his namesake Japanese bar "was tailor-made for the underworld." Five years after the bar opened, a friend visited and told Giger that "it had fallen into the hands of the Yakuza. He went on to report that he was alone in the bar until 11 o'clock, when it began to fill with the type of unsavory characters who might have installed a roulette table in the atrium." By the time Giger wrote this reflection, the Tokyo Giger Bar had closed its doors entirely: "Insiders know that a bar in Tokyo rarely survives more than five years!"

But two other Giger Bars live on, not in Japan but in Giger's native Switzerland, one in his hometown of Chur (originally planned for New York City, a location that proved too expensive for the elaborate design) and the other in Gruyères (adjacent to the H.R. Giger Museum). Those Swiss branches, a couple pictures of which appear above, carry on the Giger Bar's aesthetic in a manner seemingly more faithful to the artist's grotesque biomechanical visions than did the Tokyo branch. Whether this could ever prove a sustainable nightlife concept elsewhere in the world remains to be seen, but as Giger's hardcore fans — the kind who wouldn't hesitate to make the Giger Bar pilgrimage to Switzerland — might well ask, who wouldn't want to have a drink in the womb of the alien queen?

via W. David Marx

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Art & Cooking of Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keeffe, Vincent Van Gogh & More

Mexican cuisine is as time-consuming as it is delicious.

Frida Kahlo fans attracted to the idea of duplicating some dishes from the banquet served at her wedding to fellow artist Diego Rivera should set aside ample time, so as to truly enjoy the experience of making chiles rellenos and nopales salad from scratch.

Sarah Urist Green’s Kahlo-themed cooking lesson, above, adapted from Marie-Pierre Colle and Frida’s stepdaughter Guadalupe Rivera’s 1994 cookbook Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo, is refreshingly frank about the challenges of tackling these types of dishes, especially for those of us whose grandmas ran more toward Jell-O salad.

Her self-deprecation should go a long way toward reassuring less-skilled cooks that perfection is not the goal.

As she told Nuvo’s Dan Grossman:

The art cooking videos are immensely fun to make… And what I’m trying to do is reach people who aren’t necessarily outwardly into art or don’t know whether they’re into art so they’re not going to click on a video that’s strictly about art. But if you can present art ideas through a cooking tutorial perhaps they’ll be more open to it. I love to cook. And I love to think about that side of art history.

To that end, she takes a couple of bite-sized art breaks, to introduce viewers to Frida’s life and work, while the tomatoes are roasting.

As tempting as it is for old Frida hands to skip this well-charted terrain, doing so will not make dinner ready any faster. Why not enjoy the non-cooking related sections with the easiest item on the menu—a tequila shot?

Don't trick yourself into thinking there's nothing more to learn.

For instance, I did not know the Spanish for “I can’t get over this hangover,” but Frida’s pet parrot did. (Didn’t know that either.)

Green also offers some quick how-tos that could come in handy for other, less time-consuming dishes, like a sandwich or a plate of homemade pasta—everything from how to make homemade tomato sauce  to denuding prickly pear cactus pads of their non-edible spines.

If you’re undaunted by the Frida recipes, perhaps you should proceed to Salvador Dali’s towering Bush of Crayfish in Viking herbs, or the Futurists’ highly suggestive Meat Sculpture. Other recipes come from Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O'Keeffe. See above.

Books referenced in the videos include: Dinner with Georgia O'Keeffe; A Painter's Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe; Dali's Les Diners de GalaVan Gogh's Table at the Auberge Ravoux: Recipes From the Artist's Last Home and Paintings of Cafe Life; and again Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo.

View the full playlist of The Art Assignment’s Art Cooking episodes here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

McDonald’s Opens a Tiny Restaurant — and It’s Only for Bees

How are the world's honey bees doing? Just a few years ago, word spread that they were on the verge of a mysterious extinction. Look for updates on their situation now and you get contradictory results, all of them fairly recent, from "Bees Are Still Dying" to "Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder" to "Yes, the Bees Are Still in Trouble" to "The Bee Apocalypse Was Never Real." But whether they're in existential danger or not, bees at least now have their very own McDonald's — bees in certain parts of Sweden, anyway.

"McDonald’s has created a tiny replica of one of its restaurants, too small for any human to eat there," writes Emily Chudy in the Independent. "The replica, dubbed the 'McHive,' is a fully-functioning beehive designed to look like a McDonald’s restaurant and features seating, a drive-through and an entrance. The brainchild of set designer Nicklas Nilsson, the hive is part of an initiative which has seen beehives placed on certain Swedish branches of the franchise." This project seems to be the first insect-scale restaurant for Nilsson, whose past work includes costume design on the video for David Bowie's "Blackstar."




You can see footage of the McHive's design and assembly process, as well as an assembled McHive full of its "thousands of important guests," in the video at the top of the post. There are more photos at designboom, which quotes the project's advertising agency NORD DDB as saying that "the initiative started out locally but is now growing." In addition to installing beehives on their rooftops, more Swedish McDonald's franchisees "have also started replacing the grass around their restaurants with flowers and plants that are important for the wellbeing of wild bees."

Why so much concern about honey bees in the first place? Chudy quotes a Greenpeace estimate that they "perform about 80% of all pollination and a single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day." Bees do the hard work of keeping a surprisingly large part of the natural world working as we've always known it to, and to the extent that bees die out, much else may die out as well, with potential knock-on effects many would prefer not to think about. But then, the taste for predictions of ecological disaster on the internet seems only to have grown since we first noticed the problem with bees: if you really want to feel motivated to petition your local McDonald's to put up a McHive, try Googling the phrase "catastrophic collapse of nature."

via designboom

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Does Playing Music for Cheese During the Aging Process Change Its Flavor? Researchers Find That Hip Hop Makes It Smellier, and Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” Makes It Milder

Humans began making cheese seven millennia ago: plenty of time to develop an enormous variety of textures, flavors, and smells, and certainly more than enough to get creative about the methods of generating even greater variety. But it seems to have taken all that time for us to come around to the potential of music as a flavoring agent. "Exposing cheese to round-the-clock music could give it more flavor and hip hop might be better than Mozart," report Reuters' Denis Balibouse and Cecile Mantovani, citing the findings of Cheese in Sound, a recent study by Swiss cheesemaker Bert Wampfler and researchers at Bern University of the Arts.

"Nine wheels of Emmental cheese weighing 10 kilos (22 pounds) each were placed in wooden crates last September to test the impact of music on flavor and aroma," write Balibouse and Mantovani. The hip hop cheese heard A Tribe Called Quest's "Jazz (We've Got)," the classical cheese Mozart's "Magic Flute," the rock cheese Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and so on.




Three other wheels heard simple low, medium, and high sonic frequencies, and one control cheese heard nothing at all. But perhaps "heard" is the wrong word: each maturing cheese received its music not through speakers but "mini transmitters to conduct the energy of the music into the cheese."

That may make more plausible the results that came out when a culinary jury performed a blind taste test of all the cheeses and found that they really did come out with different flavors. According to the project's press release, a "sensory consensus analysis carried out by food technologists from the ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences" concluded that "the cheeses exposed to music had a generally mild flavor compared to the control test sample" and that "the cheese exposed to hip hop music displayed a discernibly stronger smell and stronger, fruitier taste than the other samples."

Or, as Smithsonian.com's Jason Daley summarizes the findings, A Tribe Called Quest "gave the cheese an especially funky flavor, while cheese that rocked out to Led Zeppelin or relaxed with Mozart had milder tests." Cheese-lovers intrigued by the possibilities implied here would be forgiven for thinking it all still sounds a bit too much like those CD sets that claimed a baby's intelligence could be increased by playing them Mozart in the womb. But if Cheese in Sound's results hold up to further scrutiny, maybe those parents — at least those parents hoping for a funkier child — should have been playing them hip hop all along.

via Smithsonian Mag

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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