This Umamiventure report, a love letter to ramen from the old world to new, is written by special guest writer Wen, originally posted on her blog, We Eat Everything. All photos by Wen.
A recent New York Times article about exploring Tokyo via its ramen shops left me desolate, homesick, and hungry. I whined to friends about the lack of REAL quality ramen here in the Bay Area-- hell, even in Los Angeles, which has some pretty decent ramen.
A friend kept suggesting ramen joint after ramen joint up here that I kept shooting down again and again. Sorry, I told him, but when you’ve lived out in the Japanese countryside and eaten ramen made by some 60 year old man who has been making ramen for the last 50 years, who got up at 5am to start making a mystical pork broth, really, nothing else can compare. I am a ramen snob.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to associate the word with that instant cardboard drivel so many friends and boyfriends seemed to subsist off of in college. But then I moved to the boondocks of Japan, where only a few days off the plane, after settling into my tiny apartment, I slurped down my first real bowl of ramen.
Porky, soothing, a complex mix of textures, it soon became our go-to-after-karate meal, and satisfying lunches during weekend trips to Tokyo. I knew that I’d finally earned the trust of my coworkers once they shared the secret of their favorite ramen shop just out of town- a magical place with truly magical broth for only 500 yen a bowl ($5!).
It was there that for the very first time I drank every single drop of the broth following my meal-- Japanese coworkers had confided that the mark of a truly delicious ramen is one where you feel compelled to drink all the broth. So for me, ramen has that extraordinarily powerful wallop of sentimentality. Reading that New York Times article, I missed, with almost a physical aching, the perfect bowl of ramen.
Well, the universe must have heard my cry, because lo and behold, I was lucky enough to secure the very last spot at a secret Guerilla Ramen Night at a private home in San Francisco.
Kayoko knows a guy-- a guy who is not only crazy about ramen, but also crazy talented at MAKING ramen. He’s gone to Japan to research the ramen craft many times. He makes his own noodles, stews a from-scratch broth for hours, and marinates the pork loin to perfect succulence.
This past Sunday night, he and his very gracious wife opened their home to a small horde of hungry ramen fans, and treated us to an unforgettable evening.
Homemade ramen noodles waiting to be cooked.
A single bowl of broth waits patiently on the stove for its dollop of noodles.
Puttin’ in all the fixins.
Yoko digs into her bowl of spicy ramen with relish. She and her husband had dressed for the ballet earlier that day and added another level of ambiance to the evening.
Look at that hot ball o’ spice!!!
A juicy bite of pork in Yoko’s ramen.
My bowl of ramen: The Special, with pork, mentaiko (spicy cod roe), and kikurage (wood ears).
Oh my god you guys, so good… SO GOOD!!! Best I've had since leaving Japan. I don’t know if any of you have ever watched Japanese television, but my favorite show is one called “My Little Chef“, where a young Japanese chef makes food so good it makes the eaters go into ecstasies of sentimentality and nostalgia. Eating this, i felt like i was back in the countryside again, looking out a window at rice paddies, enjoying a quiet afternoon, thinking about where i was going to explore next.
Look at how creamy the broth is. The consistency of the fresh-made noodles were soft, but not too soft, and contrasted nicely against the crunch of the bamboo, the green onion, and the pickled ginger. The spicy roe gave an extra kick to the already wonderfully flavorful broth.
The pork was perfect, so juicy and tender. The egg was a revelation-- the yolk had absorbed all the porky-goodness of the broth, and was just the right silky consistency. I wish I had taken a photo of the bowl when I was done, I was very tempted to lick the bottom clean. I drank ALL the broth, sodium intake be damned.
But wait, the excitement isn’t over yet…! Our gracious host even made ICE CREAM!! There were two flavors to choose from- a coconut porter made from a homebrew our host and his friends make, and a mint mint ice cream. I went with the coconut, which was a very nice way to end such a rich meal- fresh, light, and very delicious.
Once again, thanks so much to our host and his wife for such a wonderful, delicious evening! I gave up my current cycle of vegetarianism for this night, and believe me, it was so, so worth it.
*Wen lives in the South Bay, where she draws greeting cards and scrapbooks for a living. She has accepted her eventual slide into obesity.
**Umamiventures are organized monthly, traveling far and wide to find good, cheap grub off the beaten path.
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Past Umamiventures include:
1.) Ocean Jewel Restaurant – Flushing, NYC; June 2007
2.) Red Hook Ball Fields - NYC; June 2007
3.) Taste of Jackson Heights – NYC; October, 2007
4.) Sripraphai Restaurant – Woodside, NYC; November 2007
5.) WINTERMARKET – South St. Seaport; December 2007
6.) Jackson Diner- Jackson Heights, NYC; January 2008
7.) Pacificana – Sunset Park, NYC; February 2008
8.) Puerto Alegre – The Mission, SF; March 2008
9.) Dinosaur BBQ – Harlem, NYC; April 2008
10.) Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden – Astoria, NYC; May 2008
11.) Brooklyn Banh Mi Crawl – Sunset Park, NYC; August 2008
12.) Sheapshead Bay Lobster Crawl – NYC; September 2008
13.) Flushing Food Circuit – NYC; October 2008
14.) Strong Beer Month – SF; March 2009
15.) Loisaida Throwback Crawl – NYC; April 2009
16.) Harley Farms Goat Dairy – Pescadero, CA; June 2009
17.) Tomales Bay Oyster Farm – Marshall, CA; August 2009
18.) Din Tai Fung – LA; September 2009
19.) Din Tai Fung – Tokyo; September 2009
20.) Schroeder’s Oktoberfest – SF; October 2009
21.) Fish Taco Crawl – San Diego; November 2009
22.) St. George Spirits & Hangar One Vodka - Alameda; January 2010
22.5) Everett & Jones – OAK; January 2010
23.) Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse - NYC; February 2010