Today wrapped up the three-day J-Pop Summit 2016, the annual festival of all things Japanese pop — from anime to music to the arts. Of course, I focused on all things food.
J-Pop this year was primarily based at the Festival Pavilion in San Francisco’s Fort Mason (activities also took place at the Hyatt and New People Cinema in Japantown), and the food portion was highlighted by the ramen summit, sake summit and a variety of food trucks.
The crowds are more manageable now, compared to J-Pop’s first ramen summit in Japantown a few years ago that attracted epic lines. Now there’s an admission fee (mine was waived as part of the media) in addition to the $8 costs per bowl of ramen.
The ramen summit this year was curated by Yoshiyuki Maruyama of Orenchi Beyond in San Francisco, and he said he wanted to bring a variety of ramen vendors that offered unique tastes for festival attendees. The five ramen vendors included locals such as Orenchi, Iza Ramen and San Jose’s Ramen Taka, and two outsiders, Naruto Ramen from New York and Hinodeya Ramen from Japan.
I tried the ramen bowl from Hinodeya Ramen, which offered a bonito-based broth that its chef says is the more popular broth in Japan, as opposed to the ubiquitous tonkotsu broth popular in the Bay Area. The bonito-based broth has a rich flavor despite it being a clear broth, and the added chashu and marinated hard-boiled egg were top notch. I’m excited that Hinodeya plans to open in San Francisco’s Japantown this fall.
Since they’re from out of town, I also tried the bowl from Naruto Ramen of New York, which served up a shoyu ramen with a hint of tonkotsu and chicken bones. There was so much flavor in the broth and the noodles were perfectly done, another satisfying bowl of noodles.
I also got to try the “sushi-wich” from Shige Sushi of Cotati, which was like a musubi cut in half. I tried its natto sushiwich, which is filled with the gooey funky beans that are a delicacy in Japan. Its natto is actually produced in California and made to be more approachable for American tastebuds so it wasn’t as funky in flavor, although it sure had that gooey texture (which when you get on your fingers seem to last all day).
In the alcohol arena, I enjoyed trying a host of shochu and sake, discovering the flavored shochu from Iichiko, and the locally non-pasteurized sake (called Nama) from 2-year-old San Francisco sake brewery Sequoia Sake.
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