When I was in Japan last month, I visited the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum. Yes, there is a museum that is devoted to ramen. As kitschy as it may sound, it was actually a lot of fun. The lower level was set up like seedy downtown Tokyo in the 1960's (下町 or Shitamachi), with a bunch of small ramen shops (where you can actually eat), and various snack shops. Since you want to try as many kinds of ramen while you are there, the portions are pretty small, so that you can try two or three bowls. Since this visit was for business, I didn't eat any ramen.
What was the most memorable during my visit was creating my own ramen. Literally. You take a picture of yourself with a prop (I went with the hideous samurai head piece, a white coat, and a large colander, but there were also kimonos, fro wigs, and other random accessories to try on).
Then they take a picture of you, and Photoshop you onto a ramen box, like this:
Since I went as a business meeting, they created two different versions. How fun are these?! I love business meetings that require taking funny pictures of myself.
After you take your photo, you pick your noodle, soup base and other condiments. As I said, this is "make your own ramen", so you can pick everything. Since this was a business meeting, I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the counter where all the choices were. I just peeked at their website, and here are the selections.
Very thick, flat noodle (wavy)
Very thick noodle (non-wavy)
Flat noodle (wavy)
Medium thickness flat noodle (non-wavy)
egg noodle (wavy)
egg noodle (non-wavy)
Medium thin noodle (wavy)
Very thin noodle (non-wavy)
Soup flavor options:
Soup base options (choose two):
Japanese (konbu etc.)
White Chicken (I have no idea what the difference is between chicken bone and white chicken)
Yeah, options are endless, and the clerk told me no matter how gross the combo may sound, they all taste pretty good.
As I was talking with PR Director of the museum, I learned that oil (infused oil in this case) is what makes this ramen distinctive. When you add this oil into udon noodle or soba, apparently the whole thing taste a lot similar to ramen. On the other hand, if you don't add oil to ramen, it doesn't taste like ramen. We try not to consume much oil in our era of health food, but in this case, we don't want to ignore the importance.
So I chose noodles with medium thickness (non-wavy). It was so hard to choose, and they told me this was the most popular kind.
For the soup's flavor, I chose soy; and for the soup base, I chose pork bone and white chicken. For oil, I chose scallion oil. The idea is brilliant, and a lot of fun. This must be a very popular thing to do when you are at the museum.
You can also buy a lot of "instant" ramen from many famous ramen shops. You may think of the ramen pack with dried noodles and dried flavor packet. Wrong! Nowadays, a lot of instant ramen in Japan consists of fresh noodles (just like the picture above), and soup base in liquid form to dilute with hot water. It's a lot more than instant ramen.
Apparently they receive 120,000 foreign visitors every year, so they have Engrish instructions for how to prepare the ramen. You mix soup flavor, soup base and oil to make the ramen soup. This is genius!
Close up of the instructions: You better not handle noodles too roughly if you don't want them to break into pieces.
They are also so nice to tell you not to over-boil the pot since the cleanup is a pain the ass.
If you read Japanese, go to their website, and you can find more information about ramen.
The ramen is too precious to cook... but I need to make them before it gets too old. After all, this isn't the kind of thing that you should find in the back of a pantry, two years after it expires.
UPCOMING EVENT PSA:
Ramen Rules New York
Tuesday, February 8, 6:30pm
Japan Society NYC
Lucky for us New Yorkers, we have a bunch of ramen shops in town where you can slurp fresh ramen noodles. Ramen is not just a poor food for college kids any more, and to find more about the depth of ramen, I am organizing this program on February 8, with guest panelists: Masahiro Nakano, PR Director of the Shinyokohama Ramen Museum; J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (yes, the famous recipe scientist from Serious Eats), and Jordana Rothman of Time Out New York's Food & Drink editor.
A few tickets are still available, so hurry and come learn about ramen! And yeah, there will be ramen tasting after the program too!
I leave you with this steaming ramen photo to entice you to the event. It's from Ide-Shoten in Wakayama (where I am from)--one of the most famous ramen shops in Japan.
Photo courtesy of Shinyokohama Ramen Museum.