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Ramen (overview)

Ramen (overview)
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    Post #1 - April 30th, 2009, 10:45 am
    Post #1 - April 30th, 2009, 10:45 am Post #1 - April 30th, 2009, 10:45 am
    Mention ramen to any casual observer and, inevitably, their mental picture conjures up an image of some bullshit pack of 50-cent instant noodles. That’s to be expected since real ramen noodle shops, meaning establishments whose primary or sole purpose for their existence is essentially about making a serious bowl of ramen is almost unheard of in the United States outside New York, the Greater Los Angeles area, the San Francisco Bay area and a few other Japanese communities such as in Honolulu. Unfortunately, growing up and living in Chicago hasn’t afforded me a proper education when it comes to knowing what a first-rate bowl of ramen is supposed to entail. But I say that anyone in the same boat that has tried a good one knows what they’re starring at.
    I visited Japan a number of years ago and ended up basically doing virtually nothing else there but eat ramen almost every day. When I returned home, noodle soup was the first thing to leave my mind and my innate love for ramen, unfortunately, lay dormant for years after.
    It wasn’t until my recent visit to Los Angeles that my resurgence for ramen was happily restored with my primary motivation for going there to taste a wide array of regional as well as more commonly found Japanese ramen styles.

    Ramen is commonly thought to originate from China. Although it was being served in street stalls (Yatai) starting sometime in the Meiji period (1868-1912) by returning Japanese from Mainland China, it was World War II Japanese soldiers who’s longing for it upon their return provided the impetus for its popularity back home. The ability to buy cheap imported flour from the West after the war also helped ramen proliferate there. Over the subsequent decades, many regional styles have (since) spawned throughout Japan.
    Traditionally, there are three basic styles of ramen: shio (salt), shoyu (soy), and miso, also known as tare. In more recent years, a high-boiling, long-cooking, milky rich pork broth known as tonkotsu, has become extremely popular in many areas throughout Japan.
    Many expatriates from Japan complain vociferously that virtually any ramen noodle found here in the United States lacks the depth of flavor due to the absence of kansui, a highly alkaline mineral water found in Asia that contains elements that other water generally lacks. From this Kansui, noodles that are typically white take on a yellowish appearance. Although many fresh (nama) noodles are yellow, this is usually because what is being served is nothing more than an egg or chijire noodle (which there is nothing wrong with, at least to this novice Caucasian palette).


    My main objective on this L.A. trip was to try some of the more highly touted and/or interesting regional-style ramen noodle houses.
    The following noodle houses were places that I found the most intriguing after researching L.A’s ramen culture. I was heavily influenced by the amazing body of work found at rameniac.com, an incredible ramen food-blogger from Los Angeles who was a major informational resource on the subject as well as big-time inspiration. This is easily one of the best food blogs out there. Rameniac’s “2009 King of the Ramen Bowl” top-ten list comprises 9 of the 10 places I visited. Pardon my lack of discovery/imagination but since this was my maiden voyage for ramen in L.A., I thought I would yield to the master’s thoughtful favorites.


    Hakata Shin Sen Gumi Ramen (LA)
    Umemura Ramen & Shisen Ramen (Gardena/Torrance, CA)
    Shin Mama Ramen (Torrance, CA)
    Gardena Ramen & Foo Foo Tei Ramen (Torrance/Hacienda Heights, CA)
    Daikokuya Ramen (LA)
    Chin-ma-ya Ramen (LA)
    Santouka Ramen (Chicago & Torrance, CA)
    Asa Ramen (Gardena, CA)
    Ippudo (New York)
    Monta Ramen (Las Vegas)
    Ramen Jidaija (Gardena,CA)
    Tsujita LA (LA)
    Mottainai Ramen (Gardena, CA)/Ramen California (Torrance, CA - CLOSED)
    Fresh Ramen Kits at Home

    Thanks for the inspiration, Erik.
    Last edited by PIGMON on October 14th, 2014, 12:43 pm, edited 4 times in total.
  • Post #2 - April 30th, 2009, 11:13 am
    Post #2 - April 30th, 2009, 11:13 am Post #2 - April 30th, 2009, 11:13 am
    Pigmon,

    Thanks for all these posts. This is really a masterwork on ramen...one I hope to put to good use on my next trip to LA.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #3 - April 30th, 2009, 8:12 pm
    Post #3 - April 30th, 2009, 8:12 pm Post #3 - April 30th, 2009, 8:12 pm
    Here's another website dedicated to ramen, worldramen.net. Kind of a quirky and entertaining website.
  • Post #4 - May 1st, 2009, 5:39 am
    Post #4 - May 1st, 2009, 5:39 am Post #4 - May 1st, 2009, 5:39 am
    And, as I mentioned in this post, there is also SoCal Ramen, another dedicated blog.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #5 - May 1st, 2009, 6:06 am
    Post #5 - May 1st, 2009, 6:06 am Post #5 - May 1st, 2009, 6:06 am
    Inspried to learn more about ramen (no idea how much there is to learn!!) by Pigmon's posts, pics, and narratives I came accross

    http://www.rameniac.com

    Haven't spent a ton of time here but it seems to have a lot of good info.

    enjoy!

    Guess I should have read a little more closely.
  • Post #6 - May 4th, 2009, 5:16 am
    Post #6 - May 4th, 2009, 5:16 am Post #6 - May 4th, 2009, 5:16 am
    Rob,

    A fantastic and facinating piece on ramen. You remind me of the intrinsic art that is present in a seemingly simply bowl of "soup", and make me long for those great ramens I used to have in Tokyo on a Sunday morning (post a heavy Saturday night) :D

    What's interesting is that you also remind me of my first experience with ramen back in 1986, in your apartment after work. While the 50 cent packs may be a distant memory:
    bullshit pack of 50-cent instant noodles.

    I remember you explaining to couple of us the extent to which you had gone in researching your new found ramen interest. You had this cardboard box with what seemed like 10-15 different types of ramen brands and said they were all pretty much crap. However, them you brought out another brand and said "this" is the best thing out there. I can't remember the brand, but you were truly excited! The most interesting part of the afternoon wasn't simply your discovery, it was in showing us how to doctor-it-up. I rememebr you adding mushrooms and scallions to enrichen the broth mix. Then rationing out the "soup mix" (I'm guessing to keep the salt down). However, the key was to bring it to a boil, put the noodles in, and when they started to boil again you turned off the heat. You said, "the noodles need to set" and abosrb the flavors.

    Who knew that these "50 cent" packets had set the seeds for a thought provoking passion years later. Thanks for insight and for reminding me how sometimes the great things take a while to manifest themselves.

    Awesome work!

    Jim
    Formerly of Morton Grove
  • Post #7 - May 4th, 2009, 11:28 am
    Post #7 - May 4th, 2009, 11:28 am Post #7 - May 4th, 2009, 11:28 am
    Wonderful information. I love knowing the stories behind food -- and having goals for future travels.

    One of the things I've been amused to note of late, in my perusal of Asian grocery stores, is that the packaged ramen noodles have been adopted into a fair number of Asian cultures, and I've seen everything from pancit ramen in Filipino stores to kimchee ramen in Korean stores.

    I too have enjoyed "real" ramen noodles in Japan, but when I'm here in Chicago, when I miss slurping Japanese noodles, I head for Kitakata in Arlington Heights. While they may not offer the range of overseas ramen shops, they do have half a dozen pretty fine offerings, so I don't have to live without them just because I don't get to Japan or LA all that often.

    http://www.kitakataeverydayjapanesefood ... lcome.html

    Kitakata - Everyday Japanese Food
    20 East Golf Road
    Arlington Heights, IL 60005
    (847) 364-7544
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #8 - April 22nd, 2011, 11:29 am
    Post #8 - April 22nd, 2011, 11:29 am Post #8 - April 22nd, 2011, 11:29 am
    Wonderful things have happened on the LA ramen front over the last couple years. In a nutshell, the ramen bar has been substantially raised with the opening of two operations: Ramen California and Ramen Mottainai, both located in the Japanese-saturated areas just south of LAX around Torrance and Gardena.

    Ramen California has significantly upped the ante with its “fusion” approach, using regional farmer’s market veggies procured from sources found throughout Southern California, remarkably vibrant broths made from locally-raised organic chickens, and absolutely stellar noodles; the best I’ve had anywhere in the U.S. Ramen California doesn’t derive any of their broths from pork but miraculously doesn’t suffer the consequences in doing so. This clean, neo-California approach to ramen may sound questionable to many traditionalist ramen lovers. However, Ramen California is a serious attempt by one of Japan’s great young ramen innovative masters, Shigetoshi Nakamura. Nakamura has taken a gastrolab approach (apparently he is friends with Ferran Adria) to noodling by creating a truly unique category of California-style ramen, tapping into the marvels of California’s great agricultural landscape while integrating more European-based concepts as well to his menu such as mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes, fish carpaccio, gnocchi & sausage, and lobster ravioli with mushroom sauce. With an open mind, you’ll quickly see that this place is operating on an extremely high level.
    Image
    marsala ramen

    Mottainai Ramen is another place that has impressed even the most discerning ramen fanatics out there with its Sapporo-style kogashi (wok-toasted or burnt) miso ramen and accompanying Majikku Bomu or "Magic Bombs", dallops of red (spicy miso) or white (garlic & pork fat) side pastes. Their base tonkotsu broth is some of the boldest around yet doesn’t lack necessary finesse. Mottainai has been chirping about their ambitions of making their own noodles sometime in the near future (once they get the appropriate local licensing). This is something that almost no one in the States (no one?) is presently doing. If you enjoy Daikokuya, this bowl will definitely take you to higher heights.
    Image
    miso ramen

    On all three major fronts (broth, noodles, and additives), these two ramen operations are kicking ass! If you are a ramen traditionalist, I would recommend hitting Mottainai Ramen over Ramen California. Not that it’s intrinsically any better but your typical, garden variety traditionalist might not see the beauty in Ramen California’s “Reggiano Cheese Tofu”, “Heirloom tomato”, or “Marsala” ramen offerings. Throw in the fact that they don’t use the mandatory dash of MSG, and you’d almost get a Japanese-led revolution on your hands with all these transgressions.

    In other words, Ramen California is classical music while Mottainai Ramen is rock n roll. Take your pick.


    Mottainai Ramen
    1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd, Suite 9
    Gardena CA 90247
    (310) 538-3250

    Ramen California
    24231 Crenshaw Blvd, Ste C
    Torrance, CA 90505
    (310) 530-2749
  • Post #9 - May 26th, 2011, 3:58 pm
    Post #9 - May 26th, 2011, 3:58 pm Post #9 - May 26th, 2011, 3:58 pm
    It's hard to describe just how good the "Sapporo Lover Miso Ramen" at Mottainai was. The wok firing lends a unique, smoky flavor to the broth, which has a thick and luscious mouthfeel. Thick noodles with pleasant chew and well-balanced accompaniments. This was a bowl of soup that I won't forget for a long time.

    Sapporo Lover Miso Ramen
    Image



    View From the Bar
    Image

    In the back you can see small flames in the kitchen. That's the toasting process for this soup, and if my camera and skills were better you'd have seen that those flames reach massive heights almost to the ceiling. An impressive show to go along with a tremendous meal.

    Word of warning - Ramen Mottainai is very well hidden in the back corner of a large shopping center. I nearly gave up on finding it. Word of encouragement - it's two doors over from a Japanese Bakery where for the first time in my life, I tasted freshly-made mochi and met a proprietress who explained why all the other mochi I've tried in my life has sucked. She was right.
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #10 - May 26th, 2011, 4:16 pm
    Post #10 - May 26th, 2011, 4:16 pm Post #10 - May 26th, 2011, 4:16 pm
    I don't have anything to add to Kenny's description of Mottainai. The sapporo ramen is unbelievably good. The place is really hard to find. The shoyu ramen is tasty, but you're losing out if you don't get the sapporo ramen, I think. Gyoza were very good and very popular.

    Some more pictures:

    Image
    gyoza, mottainai, gardena, ca

    Image
    shoyu ramen, mottainai, gardena, ca

    Image
    sapporo ramen, mottainai, gardena, ca
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #11 - May 26th, 2011, 10:50 pm
    Post #11 - May 26th, 2011, 10:50 pm Post #11 - May 26th, 2011, 10:50 pm
    Just noting the David Chang is starting a new magazine. Lucky Peach, and the first issue - due out in June - is themed Ramen. Sounds like it will be quite fascinating given the author lineup:

    What’s inside Issue One:

    • Peter Meehan and David Chang report on their travels in Japan, Tennessee, and Spain
    • Anthony Bourdain’s take on the classic Brittany Murphy film, Ramen Girl
    • An instant-ramen taste test with Ruth Reichl
    • John T. Edge introduces the New Orleans specialty, ya ka mein
    • Debunking the Myth of Authenticity with Todd Kliman
    • Explanations of MSG headaches and alkaline noodles from Harold McGee
    • Art from Tony Millionaire, Matt Volz, Richard Saja, Scott Teplin and others
    • Recipes from Chang, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, and Wylie Dufresne

    http://www2.mcsweeneys.net/luckypeach

    I ordered a subscription for my chef daughter but may have to get one for myself as well.
  • Post #12 - May 27th, 2011, 6:24 am
    Post #12 - May 27th, 2011, 6:24 am Post #12 - May 27th, 2011, 6:24 am
    Hey Kenny,

    Do you still think that Urbanbelly's soups are worth twice the price?
  • Post #13 - May 27th, 2011, 7:59 am
    Post #13 - May 27th, 2011, 7:59 am Post #13 - May 27th, 2011, 7:59 am
    PIGMON wrote:Hey Kenny,

    Do you still think that Urbanbelly's soups are worth twice the price?


    Sure, I'm only afflicted with your I've-had-the-best-so-everything-else-tastes-like-ass disease when it comes to gnocchi.
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #14 - May 27th, 2011, 12:44 pm
    Post #14 - May 27th, 2011, 12:44 pm Post #14 - May 27th, 2011, 12:44 pm
    4819
    Last edited by PIGMON on April 3rd, 2013, 5:04 am, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #15 - July 13th, 2011, 8:53 pm
    Post #15 - July 13th, 2011, 8:53 pm Post #15 - July 13th, 2011, 8:53 pm
    Awesome work, Rob. I guess I should throw in my worthless opinion about Lucky Peach: it will definitely establish itself as an excellent food quarterly if the first issue is any indication. So thoroughly engaging about ramen...

    As soon as it's reprinted, pick up a copy.

    -Danny
  • Post #16 - April 2nd, 2013, 9:57 pm
    Post #16 - April 2nd, 2013, 9:57 pm Post #16 - April 2nd, 2013, 9:57 pm
    I think any overview of the post-Momofuku generation of ramen shops now needs to include Oakland's new Ramen Shop (yes, I know -- a one-two of hipsterism, compounded with all the by now de rigueur signifiers -- no identification other than a hand-scrawled sign on the window glass, check; no real webpage, check; no way to get hold of the daily-changing menu, you'd better believe it). But all the preciousness is backed by some serious skills. The broths are good, but the stars are definitely the house-made noodles (nicely firm and wonderfully satisfying) and locally sourced toppings (e.g., Dungeness crab, pork belly, clams, wild mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, etc.) The combinations are creative and the ingredients top quality, as befits former Chez Panisse chefs. If you're a ramen fan go,go go.

    5812 College Ave
    Oakland, CA
    (510) 788-6370

    (Dinner only; Closed Tuesdays)

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