Very briefly, for those estranged by the term ‘ramen’, I am talking Japanese egg noodle in soup, which had an origin from China but has been refined across centuries by the Japanese. (They even write manga about it!). The key elements are the noodle and the soup. The noodle should be chewy and springs in your mouth. The soup variations are Shoyu (soy sauce based), Shio (salt based), Tonkotsu (pork gelatin/fat based), and Miso (fermented soy bean based). The toppings for a ramen vary according to the soup. More likely, you will find soft boiled eggs, toasted seaweed sheets, pickled bamboo shoots (‘menma’), and pork slices.
In London ramen isn’t quite popular just yet. (You can find some alright offering at Ittenbari, Nagomi and Roka – only Mondays – and anticipate the launch of Tsuru‘s permanent ramen site). Ramen is relatively hip in NYC..
Ippudo in NYC East Village is a well-known Japanese import. Shigemi Kawahara started this off as a ramen counter in 1985 in Fukuoka, specialising in tonkotsu ramen. Now the Ippudo brand has spread across Japan’s major cities and to New York. The NYC joint runs a no-reservation policy. There was a queue at lunch but thanks to the size of the place the turnover was swift. Ideal for both solo diners and groups. The setting was modern, with aggressively shout-y and friendly FOH.
I settled for a bowl of Shiromaru Hakata Classic ($14), a kind of tonkotsu with pork loin chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, pickled bamboo shoots and pickled ginger, with an extra soft boiled egg ($2). Very wholesome and excellently constructed. The soup was silky thanks to the skillfully-infused pork fat and boast a great depth of flavours. It was, surprisingly, light and didn’t leave a dreadful greasy texture or aftertaste. The finer kind of noodle was used (as typical in any tonkotsu ramen) and was so nicely cooked it left a little bit of chewy-ness; the chashu slices had the best(est) ratio of melting fat and meaty tenderness; the bamboo shoots added musty taste to the soup; the sesame a hint of sweet nutty aroma; the soft-boiled egg was.. heaven.
Highly recommend this place :-9
Totto Ramen was a hole-in-the-wall ramen bar and accordingly much more difficult to get into than Ippudo. The queue started to form an hour or so before the opening hours. No reservation policy and I was asked to write my name down, which would be called out when the seat became free. Ideal for no more than 2-3 diners. (It took a while and I decided to wait by snacking bulgogi sliders at a next-door Korean bar). Inside there was a ramen bar and some tables. The scene was thumpingly swift and very Japanese.
My Totto Extra Spicy Ramen ($10.75) was flawed. The soup, here called ‘paitan’ meaning ‘milky’, was a concoction of tonkatsu-style broth but (I assume) made from chicken instead of pork. Too light and too loose, the soup was quite one dimensional, when compared to Ippudo. It was also so erroneously hot that it double-cooked the fine noodle and the beansprouts to unappealing softness. The only redeeming feature was the generous bowl of spooky and piquant rayu chilli oil with deep-fried, chopped garlic. The chashu slices had a dense charred crust. The boiled egg cost $1 extra.
RATING: 4.5, 3/5
65 Fourth Avenue
Tel. 001 212 388 0088
366 West 52nd Street
Tel. 001 212 582 0052