Ramen Noodle
Once synonymous with struggling students, ramen noodles have received a high-class makeover. London, NYC and SF are just a few of the many places this trend is catching on in. Is it on its way to become the new sushi?
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NEW HAVEN, United States — Once synonymous with struggling students, ramen noodles have received a high-class makeover. These upscale noodles come in many types and varieties. London, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Australia are just a few of the many places this trend is catching on in. Pinterest is even taking part in the trend with a plethora of recipes popping up throughout its pages. Brian MacDuckston, Ramen Hunter or ‘raota’ (a combination of ramen and otaku) in Japanese puts it best when he says, “I think ramen’s popularity in America is due to the rise of trendy yet affordable food. That, coupled with a general love of Japanese stuff.” This love of ramen currently takes many forms.

The Messy Comfort Food of the Japanese World

“The flavour profile is the classic sort of burger, barbecue flavour profile. It is sweet, salty and meaty; it is fatty and it has all these things that make us want more,” says Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen. This sets the tone for the growing ramen popularity in New York City. Noodle shops can be found in the most unlikely places including a floating restaurant named Mu Ramen that was momentarily housed inside a bagel shop. Some shops embrace traditional Japanese ideals while others are barely recognisable modifications of the original dish. Ramen Sanshiro and Benkei Ramen of New York are both sushi bars by day and ramen eateries by night. Though some ramen shops do not have their own homes as of yet, the public’s mass craving for these salty yet simple noodles steeped in a variety of broths continues to show no waning.

Not a Cheap Noodle

Ramen is expensive, I mean if you do it the way I do. If you do it junk foody with the processed stuff it is not that bad.

Orkin explains that ramen takes time. The soup needs to be cooked for many hours and the meat goes through a slow cooking method as well. Not only do all these pots take up a lot of space on a stove, someone needs to attend to all of these pots as well. The time and man power as well as the fact that the recipes are very complicated and more expensive than a processed noodle, still make this trendy dish very affordable.

Ramen Noodle
Ramen Noodle – Pot of ramen cooking.

An Exciting Flavour Profile

Orkin says that the many components of a ramen dish make it very appealing to people. With its many shapes, forms, seasonings and contents, this dish is so popular that it is showing up in unlikely places. One such place is a the Hanjan, a Korea restaurant in New York. They serve a warming ramen consisting of bone broth and spicy chile paste reminiscent of street stalls in Seoul. Han-Chan in the Midtown neighbourhood of New York offers a black oil created from charred garlic and spiced with ground red chilli to top their pork tonkotsu.

Enjoy Ramen Noodles At Home

Stepping outside the restaurant realm, there are many ramen possibilities for home consumption. There are the Maruchuran noodles packed in cases as well as single serving bowls and Thai Kitchen Instant Rice Noodles that can be purchased in any grocery story, but high end stores are making a more health conscious ramen popular. These stores sell fresh and air-dried ramen consisting of various grains. Lotus Foods in Richmond, California sells a traditional noodle composed of millet and rice. The “Forbidden Rice Ramen” is black in colour and comes with a white miso and mushroom broth packet. Lotus Foods also sells a “Jade Pearl Rice Ramen” and a “Millet and Brown Rice Ramen.” All boast to have reduced sodium and no gluten as well as being vegan friendly. They can all be cooked in about four minutes.

Ramen Noodle
Ramen Noodle – Finished product, ramen with egg and pork chashu add-ons.
Ramen Noodle
Ramen Noodle – Cooked egg split to top a steaming bowl.

When all is said and done, the ramen trend is just beginning. New York currently has somewhere in the realm of 60 shops, Tokyo has something more like 10,000. Many people are still strangers to ramen. Orkin relates that he serves many who say they have never had these noodles before. Certainly this small start is just the beginning of a larger assimilation into Western culture. Ramen could be well on its way to being the new sushi!

Courtesy of IVAN ORKIN