Life is bound to be a little different if you happen to live near Japan's most prestigious university. Take, for example, ramen noodles.
Most of us like them flavored with soy sauce and a thin slice of naruto fishcake or maybe with miso and a pat of butter. Definitely not the stuff for weight watchers. But alumni at the University of Tokyo have turned it into a something of health food.
On offer at the noodle shop Yamate Ramen An-An, located just a block from the Hongo, Bunkyo Ward, campus of the university, is Midori Ramen (green ramen), number 50 on the ticket dispenser. It gets its color not just from the basil that adds a slight scent of Mediterranean cuisine to the stock, but because the dish is a rather more primordial soup.
Among the ingredients are euglena, unappetizingly called midorimushi (green bugs) in Japanese. Euglena, as all you biology majors know, are unicellular organisms that feed as animals do and also undergo photosynthesis. The ramen comes laden with it, in powdered form in olive oil.
The organism "is easily misconstrued because of the name," says a representative for Euglena Co., which began mass cultivation in 2005 and has its research facility on the University of Tokyo campus. "It's not a 'bug' as many people imagine, but an algae, so it's related to wakame seaweed."
The firm also markets cookies made with the algae, which contains 59 nutrients. Scientists have looked to it as a food provider in outer space, as well as a method to lower carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants.
Yamate Ramen An-An began serving the green ramen in July, after three months experimenting with the flavor. To judge by a recent lunch rush, it's already the most popular item on the menu. Despite the initial impression-an algae-filled pond-the flavor is surprisingly light and refreshing, like a summer minestrone. The base, however, is actually tonkotsu pork bone.
Powdered green algae and pork bone broth: It's a combo you have to be pretty smart to think up.
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