Friday, June 13, 2014

A-sha Hakka Flat Noodle-Vegetarian Spicy

One of the things people mentioned to me again and again when I said I was heading back to the U.S. after 23 years in Japan was that I was very likely looking forward to the food, and I was. After getting back, however, I found that the food was not as I expected. It's not particularly bad, but it's also not as good as I recall. Because of this, I've found my eating habits have seriously changed compared to my pre-Japan diet. For that matter, they've changed compared to what I tended to eat in Japan.

The biggest change for me has been that I seem to have lost my taste for meat almost entirely. It's not like I was carving up a cow or tucking into pork on a regular basis in Japan. I mainly ate chicken-based dishes because I don't care for beef at all and, while I'm okay with pork, I don't crave it and it's expensive. The truth is that most days I'm eating homemade vegetarian food because it's what I feel like eating. It helps that I've discovered the processed joys of soy chorizo and the less processed joys of smoked paprika. Vegetarian paella is now my favorite food with black bean stew being a close second. Yes, I know, it's so boring, but I do have to offset the snacks I eat somehow.

I've never been an enormous noodle eater, but since I've been expanding my repertoire, I was happy to sample these "snack noodles" when a representative at Taiwanese company called A-sha contacted me and said, "Hey, do you want some free food for review?" Yes, yes, I do.

I wasn't sure what I was in for when I got the box with two types of noodles because the packages have little in the way of English information. Mind you, they have nutrition information in English, but no description of the noodles or soup. It's no matter really as their web site came to the rescue. I was delighted when I found out that the type I'm reviewing today is spicy ("not for the faint of heart") and vegetarian. This greatly increased my enthusiasm. However, I don't want to mislead anyone. I'm not a vegetarian. I've just lost my desire for meat (maybe it's because I'm getting older). Don't think I've gone and gotten all ethical or anything!

Since I can't read Chinese at all (I assume it's Chinese writing though these are made in Taiwan), I had to guess at the instructions based on the pictures, but this is not a complex process. I've made noodles before and the illustration of a pot with heat lines coming off of it clued me in on the fact that you probably are supposed to boil them like every other noodle on the planet. I am one sharp cookie, after all.

Note that these are "dried", not fried. Most of the ramen that you could buy in similar packages in Tokyo was fried and not particularly healthy. The stats on these nutritionally are actually pretty decent. One packet is 290 calories and has 10.7 grams of protein (22% of RDA according to the package). The total fat is only 1.8 grams (3% of RDA). Of course, with any packaged noodles, the place where you get socked nutritionally is the sodium and these have 1338 grams or 56% of the RDA.

Okay, so I know I'm closer to being on Reddit's terrible food porn site than on Tastespotting, but I'm sure you'll live with it. I'm a writer, not a food pornographer.

I'm not prone to eating large amounts of anything at once, so I planned to only eat half of the package at a time and I paired it with a boiled egg and green onions. That has no impact on how I feel about the taste of them, but it does balance them a bit better as a meal. People who are younger than me and don't have a body that is approaching it's million mile check-up can just gobble down the whole thing without my old person's (I turn 50 this year) concerns.

I believe the instructions are telling you that you can boil the noodles for varying lengths of time depending on how soft you like them (1-5 minutes). I'm a person of pedestrian tastes so I boiled them for 5 minutes. Foodies who believe everything should be al dente would turn their noses up at my food preparation. That being said, the noodles were not flabby or overdone even after the longest boiling time. They held their structure and were pleasantly chewy. The sauce smelled really good with the aroma of chili and sesame oil.

The sauce is where most of the flavor is going to come from, obviously, and this was hot and spicy with some nice depth. My concern was that it would be overly salty, but it was not. It was very balanced and had a complexity which merged into a unified flavor that had heft when it sat on the front or middle of the tongue. It also had heat and burned my lips and the front of my mouth, but it wasn't more than I could bear. Keep in mind that I can bear a fair bit of spice, but I'm not looking to challenge the Scoville scale or anything - I'm not downing raw habaneros or anything. However, these are Asian chili flavors, so like Mexican chili, there will be a build up over time. I was happy for the bland boiled egg addition and to have a soda on the side to give my mouth a rest. I also chased it down with some gelatin dessert to cool my mouth further so this is definitely not for chili wusses.

I really liked this. In fact, I liked it far more than I would have expected. The texture and quality of the noodles was far nicer than I experience with regular pasta and I'd buy the sauce in a bottle and put it on other things if I could get it outside of the little packets. As it is, I'm truly delighted to have had this and would definitely buy it again. It also seems to be healthier than most packaged meal options and not particularly expensive. A-sha is offering a box of 5 packages for $6.99, which makes it more expensive than college-student ramen, but cheaper than a lot of prepared foods. I'd take this with a boiled egg as a meal over any frozen dinner option both economically and taste-wise.

If you'd like to follow A-sha online, you can do so via the following outlets:
Twitter: @ashadrynoodle
Instagram: #ashadrynoodle

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