Foodie's Counter

Foodporn Monday – Japanese hamburgers and the restaurant named AKA

Some meal prep action from last week and then a brief restaurant review, although not a pleasant one. Let’s get through the pleasant thing, the meal prep of last week. I got excited about Japanese meat patties filled with cheese, which is basically cheese filled meatballs flatten and then coated in breadcrumbs. To accompany those, I just fried up some tri-colored paprika with onion and then green beans with asparagus. It’s the season of asparagus, and I really love them.

I wanted to take the patties to the next level so I dipped them in chili mayo. With the mayo and cheese filling they became quite heavy but so freaking delicious. So I added a heap of kimchi to cut the heaviness and it worked out beautifully.

And then, onto the restaurant review. First of all, I live in Helsinki, Finland, and for a tiny little city, Helsinki has a vibrant and growing restaurant scene, especially in the center, new restaurants are fearlessly trying new things. On the other hand, there is also another not-so-pleasant phenomenon happening in the Helsinki center: full of innovation but lacking the basic skills of cooking. I’m not really sure why is this happening or how on earth restaurants like that can even survive in the extremely competitive environment as Helsinki center. One of those reasons might be because the generation that goes out to eat a lot, most of them don’t know how to cook so anything goes. Or because the innovation went way over to the snobbish side and lost its way and don’t know how to get back. When it comes to food, especially Asian, I’m very traditional. I’m not saying that trying new things and creation Asian inspired dishes and fusion dishes is a bad thing, but one must master the basic of Asian cuisine before creating new things on top. In many Asian dishes, freshness of the ingredients is basis of the flavor. But in the cold northern city like Helsinki, fresh ingredients aren’t always available. Cooks and chefs here must work for the flavor, either with sauces or other readily available ingredients.

Last week, I went to this newish Asian style gastropub called AKA. It has the coolest interior, with the Asian street kitchen style. The staff is friendly and the menu interesting. I had some dumplings for a starter, I’m basically a dumpling addict and I like them in any Asian country style: I love the Chinese dumplings, especially northern ones, I love the Japanese gyozas and the Korean mandus. Steamed dumplings came in the traditional bamboo dish and from the first sight of them, I was suspicious. Although the fillings and the shape of dumplings can vary from country to country, or even the thickness of the dumpling wrap, but the texture of the wrap should be along the same lines. They even sell frozen ones in Asian supermarkets. But these dumplings were wrapped in wonton-wraps. Although one might argue that wonton is a kind of dumpling, but I’m not one of them and when I order dumplings, I don’t want wontons. The filling is a mixture of meat and veggies, but it was so dried out that I can’t be sure anymore. I really didn’t expect them having a pouch of soup like masterfully made dumplings should have, but at least the filling should be juicy. The taste is not that good either, the only major taste was white pepper and I happened to hate white pepper. All in all, this did not satisfy my dumpling addiction at all, and four tiny whatever-they-are cost me 7 euros. My company had a pork belly steam bun and mozzarella salad with honey, wasabi and edamame. The pork belly bun was cute, but honestly, I could have made it better, especially now that I know steamed buns just like the one seen in the picture can be bought from the frozen aisle of Asian supermarkets. The mozzarella salad didn’t taste much like anything, and there were lots of strong tasting peashoots that I strongly dislike, and we all know that edamames are no fun to it without their husks.

But I heard that the orange lemonade looking drink is pretty delicious, but by this point I’ve lost faith in my friend. XD

Onto the main dish, I chose ramen bowl. Cos there were only three choices. I really have a love-hate relationship with menus that are too small. Japanese ramen had taken Helsinki by storm, and many places, even whole restaurants, had popped up selling this delicious bowl of savory goodness. I’ve visited a couple and of course, the standard here in Helsinki is still a far cry from even the fast food ramen shops in Asia, but I remain hopeful. The most important element in a good ramen bowl is its soup base. The traditional ones are cooked for hours on end, breaking down meat bones, kelp, flavorful dried little sardines and shiitake mushrooms, all of the ingredients have one single mission – to give an irresistible natural umami flavor to the soup. Sure, Japanese are good at making soup base into powder and they are pretty good, but if you have a restaurant and you sell ramen, you should have some decency and make the soup from scratch. Well, I really didn’t except a gastropub with one single ramen dish to make their soup from scratch, but at least use the powder version! The soup didn’t taste like anything but salt, and they also added some dark sauce on top (hoisin sauce maybe) that just added to the saltiness of it all. I chose pork belly, and it turned out to be the same pork belly used in the bun. And you know what is the best part in pork belly? The crispy skin. I really think it should be illegal for restaurants to sell pork belly without the skin… It is super tender, which in this case might not be a good thing. The pork tasted like the meat that had been boiled for hours. There were some fresh cucumber and retish slices, some pickled red cabbage and an egg that made me a little sad. Cos ramen eggs are one of those humanity-restored things in life, if you don’t marinade them in tasty soy sauce, at least have a runny yolk. And then the noodles. *sigh* Ramen basically means noodles in Japanese, and while they probably originated from Chinese egg noodles, Japanese had made it their own. Unlike egg noodles, they made it more tender without losing the bite, you know that bouncy feeling between your teeth and they are way more absorbent than egg noodles because the purpose of the noodle in a ramen bowl is soak up the delicious broth. Again, I didn’t expect them to serve me hand-made ramen, but again, the dried version of ramen sold everywhere (not the instant noodles) are pretty good. But these are plain old egg noodles, sold dried everywhere in any supermarkets, and they were also slightly under-cooked. On top of everything, or should I say at the bottom of everything, there was a big pile of pickled ginger you usually see at sushi places hiding in the bottom of my bowl of ramen, giving the whole thing a mysterious spicy flavor that was so out of place.

All in all, the whole experience made me mad and 26 euros poorer. Oh how I hate restaurants like these. Innovative but over-priced, pretty and Instagram worthy but it almost looks like that the cook has no idea whatsoever what he is doing.

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