Ramen has a cult following enjoyed by those in the know. Many people around me think of ramen merely as the dry, plastic packaged noodles that are rehydrated by hot water and flavored with salty dry seasonings in silver foil. When I ask people to go to ramen, they politely say ‘ok’, while inwardly wondering if I’m crazy. Why would you go to out eat ramen at a restaurant? Then there’s a minimum 30 min wait to get into the restaurant and they think, is this really worth it? Can’t we just go get a hamburger instead?
The answer is always, “it will be worth the wait”. Especially on a cold night and the long wait simply builds up your appetite for the large bowl of goodness we’re about to consume.
Good ramen is soothing, soul warming, and multi-layered. I’m constantly on the lookout for new ramen places and read food blogs like Rameniac to read about these hidden gems. My list of ramen restaurants to try is always longer than the ones I’ve been to simply because the good ones seem to be more than an hour away. So, unfortunately, or trips to the highest rated ramen in town are far between. Which is probably for the best, since eating too much ramen would mean gaining a lot of weight.
Things I look for in good ramen are the soup base; is it flavorful? I prefer a thick pork broth with intense flavor, that’s not too greasy. There’s a difference between something with oil (like the Tankotsu Black Ramen from Ramen Jinya, which adds great flavor) and something that’s greasy. I don’t want my mouth to have an oily film after I’ve tasted the broth.
Noodles are another factor, my palate is not as refined in this arena, but I want the noodles to be tender with a little bite, and not be gummy, like overcooked spaghetti. I think it’s difficult to imagine the differences in noodles until you’ve had a lot of ramen; it really can make a difference in the taste of the soup. The noodles make up a large part of the ramen; unlike other noodle based dishes you may think of where there is some sauce smothering the noodle and covering the noodle flavor. Ramen noodles are eaten almost alone, with a slight hint of the soup base it lies in. When you eat spaghetti or other italian pasta dishes the noodles are generally covered in the sauce, so you only get the texture of the noodle, but taste the marinara. In chicken noodle soup, the noodles are typically small so when you take a bite you get broth, carrots, celery, onion, chicken and noodle with every bite. In ramen, you have a spoon to take a taste of the soup base, then you use your chop sticks to get a taste of the pork, then you take your chopsticks to get a taste of your noodles. Everything you eat is in separate bites, allowing you to taste and enjoy each component separately. This brings up the pork. I’ve had a wide range of pork, many times it’s not very good. In ramen there is typically 1-2 thinly sliced round cuts of pork. What you get here also makes a world of difference. Some pork is a flavorless blob, with no texture and bits of fat, when I get pork like this I set it aside. However, good pork is tender, smoky, and flavorful.
Be on the look out for good ramen; and when someone asks you to go out to ramen, say Yes! You may be in the for a great and filling treat! If you want to find some ramen suggestions check out my “restaurants to try” page or go to Rameniac, he does a fantastic job of categorizing and rating the various components of ramen.