A bowl of ramen is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s a dish that’s entirely about the sum of its parts. Not overly technical (though some may argue otherwise), or a dish that elicits glowing praise from the food press, essentially it’s about each individual ingredient being treated with respect and care before being placed together to create a cohesive whole.
But perhaps it should be given the praise and reverence that it truly deserves? Its ability to enliven the tastebuds with a multilayered and hearty broth, the perfectly al dente egg noodles and other accoutrements like the pork cutlet and seaweed makes it perhaps the most underrated comfort dish in the world.
The above may seem somewhat fetishistic, but ramen has a long and varied history in Japan. Initially, noodles were brought over from China in the late 1800s, along with the idea of pairing noodles with soup, which infiltrated Japan’s food culture in the early 20th century as a Chinese food craze swept through Japan after the great Kanto earthquake. The dish soon morphed, with miso becoming a popular broth alternative in the 1950s, and creating the perfect flavour profile became – a method that requires a careful blend of both meat and dashi broths – became the focus of the dish’s contemporary incarnations.
The history of its everyday sibling and something that everyone on a tight budget has reached for at the Chinese grocer – instant ramen – is even more inspiring. Rooted solely around the notion of providing very cheap and nutritional food to the masses, Momofuku Ando created instant ramen in the 1950s after he witnessed widespread food shortages in Osaka after World War II. After developing the technique to dry and preserve noodles into cakes, Ando-san travelled to the USA in the 70s where he came across the widespread use of styrofoam cups to drink coffee. Adapting this cup to form a pseudo-bowl, cup-a-noodles was born and Nissin noodles have subsequently sold five billion cup-a-noodles to the world – a truly altruistic and human endeavour at its core.
More recently, at least in Western food circles, ramen has seen a renaissance, particularly in New York. David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurants in New York and Sydney, is an unabashed disciple of the dish, having worked for a number of years in Tokyo – a couple of years of which he trained under ramen master Akio-san.
The first issue of Lucky Peach, published quarterly by McSweeney’s and co edited by Chang, is essentially a temple to the dish. Featuring articles that tediously describe the regional variations, a diarised four-day-long Tokyo ramen gorge fest, a conversation with Anthony Bourdain and a wonderfully detailed account of the rise of former New Yorker Ivan Orkin into a ramen celebrity in Tokyo, this issue of Lucky Peach extols the virtues of ramen for both its flavour punch and its ability to warm the soul.
Finally – and this may cause some contention and is in no way the final word on ramen restaurants – here are some worthy ramen exponents that we think deserve a mention.
392 Bridge Road, Richmond
Ramen Ya at GPO
Shop 25G Melbourne’s GPO 350 Bourke St, Melbourne