We ended up grabbing a coffee at Starbucks on George St and chatted as we waited for his friend Cat to turn up (she was coming for lunch too). Did you know that Starbucks serve their coffee 'Short'?? This was the first I've seen the cup size which is smaller than the 'Tall' that is normally the smallest size you can get at most of the outlets. I suppose 'down-sizing' my caramel macchiato would suit me better - I've always felt the 'Tall' was a bit too much.
Cat arrived around 12.30pm and us three walked a few doors down to Skyview Plaza where Menya Mappen Noodle Bar was located (Jono and I have been to this plaza our first week in Sydney in search for an Optus store - the noodle bar had taken over the shop lot). A cosy little Japanese self-serve noodle shop with large wooden tables to accommodate communal seating, it reminded me of my highschool canteen and for a split second, I felt 16 again, memories from my past coming to mind. Similar to school, customers had to join in the queue where you would pick up your food and slowly shuffle along the line till you arrive at the payment counter, and only then would you find a seat. "Hey, we had better join the queue now," I said to the other two who were still yapping away deciding what to have and me eyeing the queue that keeps growing. I can see that this noodle shop has very good business, with near full capacity and a short turnaround time for seats (there's no time limit for each seating but perhaps communal seating somehow discourages patrons from sticking around for long after finishing their meal).
Frankly, I wasn't sure what I'm supposed to do since I've not been here before but decided it was easiest to follow what the person ahead of me was doing (there's actually a poster explaining how the system works at the entry into the queue but there wasn't enough time for me to read it before shuffling along). First stop, the glassed-in noodle station - this is where you would pick up a tray and order your noodle dish (choice of udon or soba dishes served hot or cold), watching your cake of noodles dropped into one of the several hanging baskets in a huge pot of bubbling hot water. Once cooked, the noodles is served to you in a bowl on your tray and you're ready to shuffle on to the 'extras' section: a variety of tempura-battered vegetables and meats, cold salads and condiments such as kimchi and sansai mountain vegetables, as well as miso soup, all for your self-serving pleasure. I went for the regular-sized hot version of the Ontama Bukkake Udon (they also have large servings) and a vegetable kakiage tempura. Oh and don't forget to garnish your bowl of noodle with chopped spring onion and tempura flakes (these are free) before the cashier tallies up your purchases - I gave my bowl a generously helping of it ;) Cost me $7.70 all up for udon and tempura which was amazingly cheap!
I found us a table for three underneath the corrugated iron roof (it's part of their interior design) and waited for Ken and Cat before digging in. Very excited to try my noodles! I ordered the Ontama Bukkake Udon because it looked peculiar, a simple-looking udon dish served in tsukedashi (a rich sauce-like soup made from fish stock and dried kelp), a wedge of lemon and an egg. Hmm, egg and lemon on udon - this has got to be a first for me. The egg looked as if it was poached but it was actually a soft-boiled egg cracked from its shell into your bowl. The yolk was still runny when I broke it! Strange a combination it may seem, it was delicious and I couldn't help myself slurping happily away on my bowl of slippery chewy udon like most other patrons (apparently slurping noodles enhances the noodle-eating experience and it's acceptable mannerism in Japan). Yum! The vegetable kakiage was a crazy tangled ball of thinly shredded vegetables deep-fried, crunchy with each bite - it was so huge that I had break up the ball into smaller pieces so I could dip it in my cup of tempura sauce! I'm glad I went for the regular size noodles. Can't imagine how I could fit a large bowl of noodles AND the tempura in my belly. Mmm, tummy happy :) How is it that Ken always manages to find cheap eats in town that taste good?
Us three chatted on and laughed as we enjoyed our respective meals. "This place is cool, with the 1950-60s movie posters," I said to Ken, looking at the vintage Japanese movie posters plastered on the walls. I highly recommend a trip to Menya Mappen if you've been here yet (note to self: must bring Jono here soon). Good food for cheap - can't beat that!
|Customers enjoying their noodles at Menya Mappen Noodle Bar|
|My Ontama Bukkake Udon and side of vegetable kakiage tempura|
with dipping sauce
|Ken's tray of Curry Udon, tempura, sansai mountain vegetable|
and can of Oolong tea