If Red Bull was a person…
How would you describe their personality? This was just one of the interesting questions I was asked as part of a market research survey around soft drinks. I approached as I was docking my Belfast Bike near Avoca by a friendly looking woman, who walked with purpose towards me. She looked much too confident to be asking for directions, so instantly I knew something was up. Was she selling something? Pushing religion? Saving the rainforests? No, she was recruiting people for market research. I had never participated before, so I thought I should try it once to see the process and what sort of questions they ask. Before I go any further, I should declare a conflict of interest. I was paid £5 to take part in the survey, though I assure you that it did not influence my views of soft drinks, or of market research companies. Or market research in general.
I was ushered into the ground floor of one of the nearby buildings, and into the lift, up to the second floor. The place was pretty nice – clean and modern. I was guided to a laptop with the survey opened, and told the progress bar at the top would get stuck at 10% until I was finished. The questions were about a number of soft and energy drink brands, and how I perceived them. The weirdest one is in the title: if Red Bull was a person, how would you rate their personality? Is he cool? Energetic? Overly aggressive? I’m paraphrasing, but it wasn’t too far from the reality. I was asked to rate a number of different personality traits on a Likert scale, stating whether I agreed or disagreed. It was completely ridiculous, and given that I don’t drink soft drinks often, and haven’t drunk Red Bull in years, I probably wasn’t their ideal respondent. There were many questions asking “what would you drink in x?”, x being if you were at a bar, if you were at home eating dinner, and so on. I drink water most of the time, so water was my answer for everything. I finished the survey, signed for my envelope, and left. Was it worth doing? For the money, I suppose so. It took around ten minutes and I had an afternoon free, so it wasn’t a great inconvenience. Part of me disliked the paid aspect, as it automatically selects for respondents motivated by money, who aren’t necessarily going to fill out the survey accurately. In choosing me, they made the mistake of picking an individual who isn’t likely to reflect their target market, and may skew the results. But try getting people to take a market research survey without providing an incentive…I dare you!
Ramen Around the Christmas Tree
Since finals are creeping ever closer, I have been finding newer and better ways to procrastinate. Making films, going Christmas shopping, playing old games, and today, making ramen. Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup, with Chinese noodles served in a meat-based broth, with a selection of different toppings. I love ramen, and couldn’t get enough of the stuff when I was in Japan.
The soup comes in four main varieties: shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), tonkotsu (pork), and miso (fermented soy bean). The soup is the crucial component, and getting it right is the difference between bliss and bleugh. Tonkotsu broth takes a long time to make, and involves boiling pork bones until all of the good stuff melts into the stock. I haven’t tried making it, but who knows what the future holds. Today, I made a basic soup from chicken stock and soy sauce, as I couldn’t get hold of any miso paste or sesame seeds. I still wanted to go all out though, so I found Just One Cookbook, a Japanese recipe website with a lot of excellent looking food. I was scared off by some of the ramen recipes I looked at online, but not this one.
Nami, the cook behind the website, presents everything in a clear and easy to understand manner. She has recipes covering the soup, soy-braised pork (chashu), and soy-cured boiled eggs (ajitsuke tamago). And the recipes work! I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve tried over the years that have failed to live up to expectations, or just failed completely. The only pork belly I could get hold of was already sliced which was a bit of a pain, but it still worked fine. I ended up spending a good portion of the evening cooking, juggling the various pots and making sure everything was as it should be.
I overcooked the pork as the pan was too small and it was difficult to judge the level of liquid, but all the best cooks are raving about the Maillard reaction and caramelisation, so perhaps “burnt” is the new “not burnt”. The eggs were cooked for seven minutes as per the recipe, and then plunged into ice water to stop them cooking further, giving the almost runny yolk consistency. Following this, they were peeled and placed in a sandwich bag with a mix of water, soy sauce, and mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine). Normally they would be left overnight to cure, but I was hungry and took the first egg out after a little over an hour. As for the noodles, all I had in the house were udon noodles so I substituted them for the ramen. Not ideal, but they worked out fine.
To serve, I transferred the noodles into my ramen bowl (yes, I bought one specifically for ramen when I was obsessed earlier in the year) and topped them with the soup, then a few slices of pork, the soft boiled egg, some sliced spring onions (negi), and a handful of wilted spinach. Looking at the glorious bowl in front of me instantly transports me back to Japan, and the fantastic experiences I had there. If you’ve got a bit of time, and are trying to avoid work, then ramen is the perfect way to do it.