When I think of comfort, I think of all things white. White flour bread, white flour pasta, and white rice. All are essentially sugar to my blood, but when I need a hug from my food, this is what I reach for. Rice, the blandest one, tends to soothe the most. I have a long history with salty white rice and it can be traced to both my picky eating and its accessibility. No matter what kind of Asian food establishment my parents might have taken me to while growing up, the bottom of the menu would always make room for an order of steamed rice. If I didn’t want anything else, I could always have rice. My preference was for a sprinkling of table salt and not soy (don’t ask me why).
Rice was also something easy to find when at the mall (and malls play a big role in the life of people who live in a place where it feels like winter half the year) because in addition to A&W, you could always count on a food court having an Edo Japan. The plate of steamed rice for $1 (when I left it creeped up to $2), never failed to serve as sustenance while shopping, while studying late at university, or as a budget office lunch. Eventually, I graduated up to ordering the stir-fried vegetables sometimes (the sweet sauce meats were never my thing), but the rice was always the draw.
As I learned to boil water and make dinner for myself, rice was something easy like pasta, but I didn’t have to fiddle with a sauce. The converted Uncle Ben’s version that my mother bought was never what I wanted (clumps, not grains, please), but it was fine for a preteen making do. Its banality and ease means it is also what I want when I am sick. Boring, warm, and filling makes me feel better. It comforts me in down times even more than my beloved bread and butter. When I need to have a pity party, I do my best with jasmine to make a little pot on the stove.
But with no desire or room for a rice cooker, the sticky texture of rice from restaurants still has huge appeal. The pork donburi bowl at the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in Gotham West Market is my substitute for Edo. Well, not really substitute. More like one hundred times better version. The generous serving of white rice is there as my blankie, but then the stewed pork, roast tomatoes, and plum-wasabi sauce make me feel like I’m in a La-z-boy. It is sweet, salty, and meaty, but you never forget the support of the rice. It does its job of mellowing the stronger flavours and providing you with the carbs your blood is craving.
Because I know I don’t eat enough green, I always bulk up my order with the sweet scallion salad. The yuzu dressing is mild, but it dampens the bite of the scallions and livens up the cucumbers. The pickles add the needed salt.
Why no promotion of the ramen? Because I have nothing really to add to the copious amount of praise Ivan Orkin has already received for his noodles and broths, and broth-less noodles. I’ve had ramen at both of his NYC locations and been extremely happy. Definitely destination ramen. But sometimes I don’t want the effort of the chew and slurp. Sometimes, I want a big easy bowl of rice, and despite the name of the shop, this is the place I go to get one.