The power of ramen

sapporo ramen

More than just a bowl of noodles… famous Sapporo ramen with butter and sweetcorn


I have been slacking a bit during the festive season… and for the last blog entry of 2012, I will write about my beloved comfort food, ramen!

In the past few years, Hong Kong has been experiencing some kind of ramen mania. Long queues outside of the latest Japanese ramen joints are almost guaranteed these days. Hong Kong is a very trend-driven city, when a subtrend becomes mainstream, it would spread very quickly but at the time, it would also diminish as quickly especially when a new trend takes over. However, the ramen trend seems to be still going strong, so it would be interesting to see when it will cease and what trend will take over next.


Ramen mania in Hong Kong


Interestingly, this ramen invasion is taking place in London as well, with new ramen places ( Ittenbari, Tonkotsu, Shoryu and Bone Daddies etc) opening within the last year. To the Japanese ( as well as many Asians), ramen is considered a comfort food, there is nothing better than a hot bowl of ramen ( after drinking) on a cold winter’s night. When I was still a student many years ago, I used to go regularly to Ryo in Piccadilly, not only because it isĀ convenient and opens until midnight but it also reminds me very much of Japan. The decor is minimal and slightly outdated (with a TV at the back), and you have to pay cash at the til before seated. Their clientele is mostly Asian students and Japanese businessmen, and the atmosphere is low-key and subdue. In terms of ramen, it is not particularly outstanding, yet I would return again and again for nostalgic and ‘comfort’ reasons. ( I just found out that the place is closed for refurbishment at the moment, I just hope that it will not be turned into trendy-looking joint!)

I was reading Monocle’s article on ‘soft power’ one day and it suddenly occurred to me that ramen is probably the ‘unexpeceted’ Japanese soft power after sushi and manga. For the decades, Japanese popular culture has been influential globally, but with the spread of Korean pop culture and the rise of China in recent years, the Japanese influence seems to have been overshadowed by its neighbouring countries. With boom years over, Japan has entered a different phase in terms of social and cultural development especially with the economical downturn, aftermath of the tsunami disaster, on-going land disputes and unstable political climate. Thus, soft power such as ramen cannot be under-estimated because it can be a powerful tool to enhance its image and profile globally.


Ramen at Bone Daddies


In London, I was slightly disappointed with the two new ramen places I tried recently: Shoryu and Bone Daddies. Although the first one is more authentic and portions are generous but the noodles are not the bouncy type I normally prefer. The service is also quite rushed, and I just didn’t feel much for the place. Bone Daddies in Soho is a more ‘hip’ noodle bar that I stumbled upon a week after its opening. There is definitely more buzz here and the service is friendly and casual, and it offers more unusual side dishes than most ramen places. Both the ingredients and broth is not bad but I can’t say it is particularly memorable either.


Shoryu in Piccadilly


Am I being fussy? Maybe so but I am not even comparing it to the ramen I tasted in Japan! Outside of Japan, New York and even Paris ( all concentrated around Rue Saint-Anne) have some authentic and atmospheric ramen places that I really miss. Sometimes it is not all about the texture of the noodles or the intense flavour of the broth, the atmosphere is equally important… To me, ‘glossy’ or ‘trendy’ ramen places just don’t seem right somehow because ramen joints are more like fast-food places than restaurants in Japan. In most Japanese ramen joints, you choose and pay for your ramen from a ticket vending machine, and it will be brought to you when it is ready. Instead of lingering after the meal, you leave almost immediately to give your seat to the person waiting in the queue outside ( most ‘popular’ ramen places have queues outside).


Ramen in Tokyo


One of the most memorable ramen experiences happened years ago when my friend and I had to rush to get a bowl of shoyu ramen atĀ Chuka Soba Inoue outside of Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market ( popular with fishermen working in the market) before the stall closed at 1.30pm. I can’t remember how the noodles tasted now but I cannot forget the joy when we found the stall and us sitting on the wooden bench with two hot bowls of ramen right in front of us on a cold winter’s afternoon. To us at the time, the two bowls of ramen were bliss… and this memory has stayed with me ever since.



Erratum: beyond utility

Witty ‘glamour and sophisticationat the gallery


How would you interpret the term ‘dysfunctional luxuries’? At Paradise Row, a gallery behind Oxford Street, an exhibition/ pop-up boutique, Erratum: beyond utility examines what luxury means in the consumption-driven society we live in today.



London-based artist, Jeremy Hutchison ( with background in advertising) invited factories across China, India, Turkey and Pakistan to insert errors in the items they normally produced. This enabled the factory workers to become the designers of a new range of ‘defected’ products.

At the luxury boutique-inspired gallery space, these unique designs are on display and are all available to buy online from the official website. The limited edition items are all numbered, sealed and authenticated with the provenance (factory name, worker, year of production), and many of them I was told are already sold out.

When I was at the gallery, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to the artist about consumerism, advertising and the economy, which was insightful and very interesting.



While the Chinese and Russians are fulfilling their hunger for luxury items, consumers in Japan and the West are slowly changing their shopping habits, hence the meaning of ‘luxury’ would differ a great deal to people in different countries.

So what is your own interpretation of ‘luxury’? If you were to receive one of the defected items ( though wrapped beautifully) as a Christmas present, would you be angry, disappointed or would you see the humour behind it?

It’s not too late to do some last-minute Christmas shopping…



The exhibition/ pop-up boutique at Paradise Row, 74a Newman Street, London, W1T 3DB ends on 21st December.


Last country walk of 2012

A lovely December day in the Chilterns


It has been a few months since I last did a country walk, I have been so busy with work that I have not had the chance to get out of London. Finally, on a sunny ( and slightly warmer) winter day, I was able to join a group of friendly walkers to the Chilterns for a 7-mile walk through the woodlands.



Winter walks can be fantastic if the weather is mild enough, so we were lucky to have enjoyed some winter sun, blue sky and moderate temperature. The amazing thing is that it takes less than one hour to get to idyllic settings like this from Central London ( we were back home by 6 pm), a sharp contrast from the Christmas shopping frenzy that is happening in town. Unlike the stressful shoppers, I felt refreshed and content at the end of day. What better way to end the week?




East London design show 2012

A more prepared stand this year…


I have been so busy preparing for the show that I haven’t had time to update the blog until now…

Last December, approximately 6 weeks after the launch, we did the first pop-up shopping event at East London design show. I was sick with flu, missed most of Friday’s trading and my friend had to come and help out in the weekend. There was hardly any decoration and almost zero preparation but we did surprisingly well for an unprepared first-timer!

This year, I was determined not to get sick again and started planning earlier, but as usual, things always go wrong at critical moments! My dilemma took place one day before the opening… my fridge broke down and I had to deal with all the melting food, which was a complete nuisance!

In order to minimise extra costs, I decided to do some DIY paper crafts to re-create the look of the new front page. I ended up spending hours into the night cutting and pasting, which reminded me of the days when I was an art/ design student! Surprisingly, a few people at the show asked if my display props: paper clock, wall hangings and washi paper-covered wooden pegs were available for sale. How amusing!



Overall, this year’s show was quieter and there were more browsers than shoppers. Many vendors who have shown for years told me that this year was by far quietest, are people not spending as much or are they all shopping online instead? It’s hard to tell.

As designers/ artists/ craft makers, many of us are probably not the best sales people, but it is always interesting to be meeting potential customers face to face. The questions that always pop into my head are: Should I approach and talk to them or should I leave them alone to browse? Do I sound too hard-sell, eager or pushy? It is always fascinating to see other vendors engaging with their customers and eventually getting the sales. I realised that selling face to face is a skilled technique that I need to work at, and I have a lot of respect for those who are good at it.


Right: Anna and Mauro from Oaksmith studio and their handmade picture frames


Another good thing about doing these pop-up events is the chance to get to know and make friends with other independent designers and makers. While shoppers were being careful with their purchases, we decided to support each other by spending our money within the show! There were so many unique and beautiful items on sale at the show, and it is a shame to think that majority of people would rather go to the soulless shopping malls or high street chains to do their shopping.

I sincerely hope that there will be more support for all the independent designers, makers and craftsmen around the world who have strong beliefs, specialised skills and little financial backing. At the end of the day, quality products will have a much longer life-span than mass-produced items, so why not invest in something that will last than something that you will throw out after a few usage?


Right: Lovely neightbour, Vivian from Goodwin and Goodwin