Thanksgiving, for most, means turkey and stuffing, family and drinks and an awkward dinner table where everyone except drunk Uncle Bert tries to avoid talking politics or religion. It means that familiar dishwashing production line full of your aunts armed with tea towels asking where everything goes. It’s about your dad making a huge production of the moment he undoes his overworked belt after consuming two slices of warm pumpkin pie, melty vanilla ice cream and all. Thanksgiving is about the following week of turkey pot pies and turkey stews and turkey soups. It’s about gorging yourself on turkey until you can’t really handle the thought of turkey again until Christmas.
What I think of, though, when I think of Thanksgiving, is an unbridled celebration of all things umami. It is the umami festival, the gluttonous opening of umami season. We had our crisp, clean, fresh season full of baby greens, citruses and crunch and now we’re diving straight into the season of soul food with a bang.
Umami, at it’s simplest, is a Japanese word meaning full flavour or savoury. What it really conveys, though, is a warm culinary hug. It’s a bubble bath for your soul or a crackling fireplace in your mind. It is pure joy; a steaming, brothy bowl of contentedness. It is extreme richness triggering our pleasure centres and causing a food-induced high that has our body hair standing on end and Thanksgiving dinner, my friends, is how us North Americans overdose.
And so, as you find yourself trudging back to work after the long weekend, the scent of turkey oozing out of your pores, the faint waft of sage swirling about everyone’s heads; as you find yourself putting your turkey sandwich next to Jim’s turkey sandwich which is next to Christine’s turkey sandwich in the fridge, you just might feel a little turkey’d out. You have every right to feel as though you’ve hit your turkey wall but that is not going to change the fact that we’ve already busted violently through the umami season gates with our bibs on and we’re still going to need a fix. We gotta get us some of that sweet, sweet umami love and we gotta get it now.
Luckily, we have no shortage of turkey-free umami dealers here in the Okanagan Valley. Here are four alternative ways to get your umami fix, without having to consume turkey… again:
1. Little Tokyo Ramen Trailer – this guy is based in Kelowna but makes his way around the valley. He’s cooking rich, umami ramen out of a tiny, red and white 1974 Boler and no matter where he sets up shop, there is a line-up. This isn’t the ramen you’re used to, kids, so put your Mr. Noodles away. This is real Japanese ramen from scratch. Rich Tonkotsu ramen broth can take anywhere from a full day and all twenty-four hours in it to three whole days to make. Little Tokyo also makes their ramen noodles from scratch. This soup is going to warm you from the inside out and fill you with that umami pleasure for hours. You have to follow Little Tokyo Ramen on social media to find out where they’ll be each day and you have to get there quick as they often sell out, but it’s totally worth it to get your hands on a steaming bowl of this slurp-worthy Japanese staple.
Follow Little Tokyo Ramen on Facebook to see where they are today: click here.
2. Bamboo Chopsticks – This place has two locations, one express version in Kelowna and the full dining experience in Westbank. Bamboo Chopsticks makes Vietnamese food and that, my umami-jonesing friends, means pho. If you love pho, you’ve been to a lot of pho joints and they all seem to be pretty similar. You get the giant bowl of meats and noodles and a heaping plate of sprouts and lime wedges and Thai basil. Generally, they all taste the same and that’s not a bad thing, being as even the most mediocre pho can turn your world right, but there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between one pho place and the next. Except for this one. Bamboo Chopsticks has a pho broth that tastes like there is just a little bit of extra care in it; like they’re grating the spices fresh, extracting the flavour from only the best bones and cooking noodles to order. They serve their broth piping hot and it all comes together in one of the best bowls of pho you’ll ever have. Dump a bunch of sriracha in there and your day is made.
Bamboo Chopsticks is located at 3608 Carrington Road in Westbank and is open from 11 am:
In Kelowna, you can catch Bamboo Chopsticks Express at 2189 Springfield Road which also opens at 11 am:
3. Soban Korean Bistro – There really isn’t much on a Korean menu that isn’t going to give you that warm umami buzz, so a good Korean place is a great choice to find some rich, belly-warming flavour. This particular Korean establishment is in Kelowna, on Bernard, and serves up what some call the best Korean in the valley. If you’re looking for a true umami bomb, you’ll want to order a rice dish that comes in one of those amazing Korean stone bowls (and when I say amazing, I mean so amazing, I had to buy myself some on Amazon after my very first stone bowl experience). Bibimbap is a perfect choice here because that rice is going to be served to your table in a sizzling stone bowl and by the time you’ve got your yolk broke all that rich gochujang stirred in, bits and pieces are going to be crispy. This is not a meal, food nerds, this is interactive culinary theatre. It’s an experience that starts with the hiss of a hot bowl and ends with your head in the deep throes of an endorphin rush so intense you want to grow a second stomach so you can do it all again.
Soban Korean Bistro opens at 11:30am and you can check it out here:
4. Just Delicious Bistro – this place, located on Main street in Summerland, is a sushi joint but I am not sending you there for the sushi. Instead, Noggins, I want you to head there for another Korean dish. On their menu, Just Delicious has a Korean kimchi pork soup that is pure, unadulterated sippable bliss:
Just Delicious Bistro Kimchi Pork Soup
The tender slices of pork are perfectly paired in a rich, clear broth with bits and pieces of tangy kimchi. You may not intend to, but you will make an obnoxiously loud slurping noise as you make your way to the bottom of this bowl, a sound which is drowned out only by your own deeply-pleasured groans. On second thought, you might consider take-out so you don’t make the rest of the place uncomfortable.
You can check out Just Delicious from 11:45 am at 9917 Main St in Summerland:
I want to know if you’ve tried any of these places and where do you love to go for your umami fix? Let me know in the comments!