Thursday, March 11, 2010

Naga Naga Ramen: Staying true to my healthy nature (and wardrobe tendencies)

While I lived on the North Shore of Chicago for four years during college, I’ve always known deep down that I could never stomach the extreme cold on a permanent basis. Not because even a slight breeze causes every inch of my skin to immediately become pimpled with goose bumps, and not because sunshine is my favorite source of vitamin D and without it I become an irritable and unpleasant person who may or may not have slammed one of her college roommates into a wall at one point during their matriculation. (I’m still so so sorry about that, Ali.)

As it is, the real reason that I had to leave the Windy City when I graduated was because a professional life in a cold climate requires that one wear pants on a near daily basis. No big deal for some, but for me, this would be calamitous – I hate wearing pants.

Even as I small child, I insisted on sporting dresses every single day, and it wasn’t until elementary school that I finally gave into hot pink leggings. As I grew older (and, incidentally, much much taller), my aversion to pants was further encouraged by my inability to fit into the regular sizes available at the then popular Wet Seal and Esprit. I often had to purchase pants that were several sizes too big for me just so they would be long enough.

It was not a cute look. (Especially with the clunky Steve Madden shoes I paired with them.)

I survived college by wearing all jeans all the time – grateful that at least denim companies were paying attention to their tall consumers. After four years however, I couldn’t wait to get back into the skirts and dresses that I love. I moved back to Southern California, went straight to Anthropologie and never looked back.

I do wear pants every now and again, and actually do own three pair that I drag out from the closet whenever the temperature dips below 60 degrees. Yet even on those “cold” winter days, I still feel uncomfortable and out of my element. The slick fabric feels restrictive on my legs, the cut seems too masculine for my slender frame, and it ultimately feels at odds with my personality and girly nature.

No matter how cute the pair or name on the label, pants just aren’t for me. After 26 years of half-heartedly fighting it, I’ve finally embraced my innate wardrobe leanings. I’m a dress and skirt girl.

I’m also a girl who is, at her core, a very healthy eater. Yes, I dabble deep into desserts when I’m not avoiding them for Lent, and I certainly am not loathe to dip my fork into a bubbly ramekin of mac ‘n cheese, but, for the most part, I actually enjoy – nay love – eating vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and fruit. Given the choice between a crisp Pink Lady apple and a red velvet cupcake for an afternoon snack, 9 times out of 10, I will pick the apple. (Though when I do go for the cupcake, I will savor and swoon over every morsel.)

When Cathy of Gastronomy Blog, and I decided to have dinner at Naga Naga Ramen in Old Pasadena on Tuesday evening, I found myself faced with a similar apple vs. cupcake situation. The casual, quick-service restaurant on Colorado Blvd. offers patrons an overwhelming array of different ramens that include several choices of broth – tonkotsu (a rich broth made with pork), shoyu (made with soy), miso, and then revolutionary ramens made with untraditional broths like tomyum. To further complicate matters, patrons must also select the adornments for their broth – the traditional pork or beef, seafood, veggies/tofu.

Upon receipt of the multi-page menu, I was immediately paralyzed by all these options.

“I feel like I should get the pork ramen since this is my first ramen.” I told Cathy, even though I secretly thought I might not enjoy it as much as the other offerings.

“So get the Naga Naga.” She said, referring to the restaurant’s most popular menu item that comes with sliced BBQ pork, seaweed, bamboo, cabbage, and boiled egg ($7.50).

“But is the pork fatty?” I asked, scrunching my nose up at the thought of chewing into an indiscreet fat globule.

“Umm…” She hedged.

I swished my lips back and forth, deep in neurotic thought.

“Do you want to slurp the broth?” Cathy asked, attempting to problem shoot.

I looked up in confusion. “I don’t know… do I?”

“The pork broth is very… rich…” She clarified, knowing that I would not be inclined to suck down any residual grease.

I nodded in understanding, but still felt conflicted. I wanted to order “the right thing” – the appropriate bowl of ramen for the occasion and restaurant, yet deep down, I knew that the “appropriate bowl” wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for my tastes.

So, when our waitress returned to attempt to take our order for the third time, I confidently requested the ramen that would be most true to my innate healthy tendencies – the veggie miso ramen with assorted vegetables, soft tofu and seaweed in miso broth ($6.95).

And then, when the bowl arrived, teeming with spritely noodles, delicate cubes of tofu, enoki mushrooms, cabbage, bamboo shoots, and corn, I took the whole charade one step further.

I made Cathy request forks (by this point I was convinced the waitress hated me), and then I cut the noodles into pieces that would not need to be slurped nor consumed with chopsticks.

The comforting bowl of ramen did not fail in its mission – it comforted me with its familial elements and warmed my healthy heart to its core. I pranced out of the restaurant (for the record, in a stylish sweater dress from Anthropologie) feeling happy that I’d stayed true to my inner nature. And happy that my dear friend Cathy, who cites pork as her favorite protein, didn’t for a second judge me for being exactly who she knows me to be – “D takes a B”... of vegetables.

Naga Naga Ramen
49 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105
Phone: (626) 585-8822

Monday – Friday: 11 AM - 10 PM
Saturday and Sunday until 11 PM


Esi said...

Oh D, you crack me up in ways you will never know. You hate wearing pants? Giggles aside, I can't believe you've never gone out for ramen before. It's so good. I would have gone with the pork, but the veggie miso sounds really good too.

Gastronomer said...

You don't have to front with me, D. I know what you like...

After we travel to China, you will be a changed woman ;-)

Mike T. said...

All the effort of learning to read would have been worth it if only to enjoy this paragraph...

"As it is, the real reason that I had to leave the Windy City when I graduated was because a professional life in a cold climate requires that one wear pants on a near daily basis. No big deal for some, but for me, this would be calamitous – I hate wearing pants."

weezermonkey said...

I am your opposite -- I don't wear pants because I am short and fat.

Ashley said...

It's irrational to regret not being born a year earlier. But I do. Solely for the purpose of being able to witness the push-into-the-wall heard round the world.

Jenn said...

I'm more of a pants girl myself. Jeans, slacks...I like 'em. Ramen is literally one of my comfort foods. Mmmm...I think I'll have some for dinner.

SinoSoul said...

Saddened you had to endure Naga Naga, a Thai owned/non-Japanese chefed overpriced ramen that was "successfully bastardized" (quoting yelp!?) as your first ramen.

This is quite a shame since both Hakata Ramen + Daikokuya (MPK, natch) are both on the way home for ya.

Diana said...

Esi - Yes, hate pants. Yes, never had ramen. Unless you count Top Ramen. But I'm guessing that would be a no?

Cathy - Changed, but still not ready for tripe. ;)

Mike - And all the effort of learning to read would have been worth it if only to enjoy your lovely comment!

Weez - Bullocks! You are beautiful and you know it!

Ashley - Haha it was a fine moment indeed.

Jenn - I think I'm actually going to make myself ramen for dinner too!

Tony - It was a feast driven out of famine. We were starving, it was after 9 pm on a Tuesday night and we needed warm food as soon as we could get our little paws on it. In the circumstances, Naga Naga Ramen tasted great. But I would love to try either of those ramen places in the future.

Anna A. said...

Mmmm Good choice. TALF lent approved.

The Blonde Duck said...

I never wore pants until the sixth grade. I feel you!

Kung Food Panda said...

D takes a B of Vegetables! :P

Next time you should slurp! It's a ton of fun to do so.

Cafe Pasadena said...

I would have thought the Grilled Cheese sandwiches you gals devoured with big smiles left you and Cathy in ecstasy.

Nicole said...

omg you are just too cute...what a fun post! :) i own no skirts or dresses, LOL! :) actually, i own one peasant skirt and wore it once. :) super cute!