Ramen. Until recently that word evoked images of tough, salty, nutritionally unsound, and cheap dried noodle packets that I haven’t eaten since college. What a shame, since fresh ramen in Japan is so amazing!
In our experience, Japanese restaurants focus on preparing one dish and focus on preparing it exceptionally well. Ramen shops are no exception. Each ramen shop will have a large pot of its specific broth that has been prepared either overnight or before the store opens. While there are different lengths and thicknesses of ramen noodles, it is truly the broth that makes the dish (in my opinion, anyway). After you place your order, the chef will cook your noodles on the spot, dish you up a bowl of broth, and then depending on the type of ramen, may combine the two. It’s also worth noting that ramen is different from other types of noodles in that an alkaline solution is used to firm up the noodles during preparation. This actually continues to keep the noodles firm during cooking and while sitting in your broth. So while the noodles in your minestrone may get soggy, the noodles in your ramen won’t.
During our stay, we went to two dedicated ramen shops:
Ramen Marutama Ryogoku Honten served marutama style ramen. That ramen has a white, chicken-based broth and standard thickness noodles that were added to the broth.
Rokurinsha (perhaps the most famous ramen restaurant in Tokyo’s “ramen street”) prepares a type of ramen called tsukemen where thicker noodles are served in a separate dish and are then dipped in the broth before eating.
This was truly the best tasting and richest broth/soup stock I’ve ever had. The broth also had the most tender and delicious ham I’ve ever experienced. I’m wondering if it was cooked sous vide before being added to the bowl immediately before serving.
I certainly have a new outlook on ramen – and a new appreciation for a dish I’ve known (and failed to appreciate) for a long time.