McDONALD'S and Popeye's had better watch out. I hear a rumbling hunger for Japanese noodle parlors, and as soon as one opens in Washington, American fast food may take a back seat.

What's making mouths water and stomachs growl is "Tampopo," the new movie now at the Key, which shows the education of a noodle soup maker. Ramen -- Japanese noodle soup sold at stands and counters in Japan and in some U.S. cities -- may be fast food as far as the eating goes, but its making is slow and fastidious, as the movie depicts in loving, hilarious detail. And after watching two hours of the pursuit of the perfect noodle soup (with a few other lascivious dining experiences as well), the audience is yearning for a steaming bowl of soup with noodles, pork slices, pickles and seaweed.

And so I have been getting calls asking for directions to the nearest noodle parlor.

The answer is that most Japanese restaurants, unless they are just sushi bars or steak houses, serve noodle soups. Sushi Taro, on 17th Street above P, has a good version in a very Japanese environment; Mikado is reliable for noodle soup as well as other traditional Japanese dishes. Sakura Palace, the oldest Japanese restaurant in the area, has been serving noodle soup longer than any other restaurant. In Virginia there is Kyoto on Richmond Highway. In other words, just look to your nearest Japanese restaurant; it is likely to have noodle soup. But no restaurant that I have found around here is strictly a noodle parlor. Yet. Just give the movie another month of making people hungry.


Jean-Louis Palladin's most difficult culinary challenge lately came not from some connoisseur looking for new thrills but from Maharishi University, which is holding the Second Annual North American Yogic Flying Competition Friday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. The challenge was one of denial. Members of this group, which is known for transcendental meditation, are not only vegetarian, but consume no eggs or alcohol. What's more, the luncheon they ordered for 40 people could include no artichokes, mushrooms or even garlic. What Jean-Louis came up with was his version of pasta primavera, followed by terrine provencale (provencale without garlic?!), a green salad with asparagus and hearts of palm, then dessert. Living the high life without foie gras and eggs benedict I can imagine. But dining without garlic?


Ordinarily the 94th Aero Squadron restaurant in College Park has a children's menu, on which dinners are $5.25. On Mother's Day and Father's Day, though, there was no children's menu except at brunch; at dinner kiddies had available only the adults' menu, on which dinners average $14. It must have been quite a celebration for those unsuspecting mommies and daddies who brought the whole family.


One of the sweetest signs of the times is on a street vendor's cart around 17th and Pennsylvania. "I

customers," it says on one side; and "Have a good day" on the other.