Soy or salt? Porky tonkotsu or Hokkaido-style with white miso and butter? Extra chashu or another soy-braised egg? (Or even better, both?). It says much about the rise of ramen that Australians not only have a working knowledge of Japan’s famous noodles, but have strong feelings on what constitutes their perfect bowl of ramen.
While pleasing examples of established ramen styles are getting easier to find around Australia, one of the genre’s great qualities is its diversity. From pineapple ramen to bowls that borrow from Thai and Indian cuisine and even vegan ramen, the one-two of noodles and condiments in a bowl of broth offers endless possibilities for adventurous cooks (and, by extension, adventurous eaters, too). Tsukemen (“TZOO-ke-men”), or dipping noodles, has been one of the big movers in Japanese noodle circles and has been appearing on more and more menus both in Australia as well as in Japan.
Unlike a conventional bowl of ramen, the noodles – and toppings – in a tsukemen ramen are served separately to the broth, generally a thicker, more concentrated version of the restaurant’s standard-issue broth. Counterintuitively, despite the broth being seasoned more aggressively, tsukemen ramen is lighter than most soup noodle-eating experiences.
“It gives you a different twist to eating ramen,” says Michael Thum, owner of Perth ramen restaurant, Ramen Samurai. “The noodles stay crisper, it’s more refreshing. Temperature wise, it’s not as hot as the usual broth, so we find it’s a more popular dish in summer.”
In addition to serving the broth at a cooler temperature, most ramen restaurants deploy slightly thicker noodles in their tsukemen. Generally, this is because thicker, chewier noodles and richer broths get along exceedingly well with one another, but for Thum, it’s also a chance to showcase his house-made noodles.
“We feel the noodle is as important as the sauce or broth,” he says. “Any article you read about ramen tells you how tasty the soup is, but without good noodles, I don’t see how that the soup is going to do any justice to that bowl of ramen. You want customer to be able to taste the nuttiness of the flour in the noodles.”
The late Kazuo Yamagishi, a legendary ramen chef who is as famous for establishing Tokyo ramen-ya Taishoken as he is for his trademark look of a white towel wrapped around the head, is credited as the inventor of tsukemen. According to Japanese food historians, Yamagishi-san enjoyed eating his ramen mori soba-style in which Japan’s famous buckwheat noodles are served separate to the broth. The dish eventually found its way onto the menu proper and, viola, tsukemen entered the Japanese – and now, Australian – food lexicon. Take a dip at these following noodle strongholds.