Tag Archives: noodle soup

31 of 50 “Tastiest” Soups in NYC – Cafe Kashkar’s Lagman: The Uyghur Version of Chinese Beef Noodle Soup

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  Sprinkle a little less salt and then give me more, please!

Right after eating chicken soup with mini pelmini at Cafe Glechik, JM and I walked a few blocks over to get some Lagman ($6) at Cafe Kashkar.  I felt even closer to home here:  when we walked in, I thought we had walked into my grandmother’s dining room.  Then, we were given chopsticks.  Eh?  I thought we were in a Russian hood!

Well, after some research, it all makes sense now.  Kashgar is apparently a city within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, and almost half of the population of Xinjiang is made up of Turkish-speaking Uyghur Muslims.  A map showing what borders this province helped shed some light as well.

So the food is mostly halal food with lots of mutton and a Chinese influence.  Take, for example, the lagman I tried.  “Lagman” = “la mien” in Mandarin Chinese = “pulled noodles” (thank you, thank you, I still remember my Mandarin!).  The noodles here were clearly hand pulled.  Each noodle was too uneven, with some parts thin and other parts thick, to have been cut by a machine.  It was refreshing to see and even more delightful to eat.  The texture – a springy bite – was absolutely perfect, and I’m not sure I’ve eaten better noodles.

Cafe Kashkar's Lagman

The meaty broth, while a bit on the salty side, included an abundance of  tender lamb, red and green bell peppers, shredded lettuce/celery leaves (?), celery, long beans, and I think some bits of star anise.  It was a hugely happy reminder of the beef noodle soup my family and I often ate but with its own little twists.

Now I’m hungry and really craving a big bowl of Lagman, so I think I should end this entry here.  I hope I can find something just as good in LA when I move there at the end of the month.

Cafe Kashkar
1141 Brighton Beach Ave
(between Brighton 14th St & Brighton 15th St)
Brooklyn, NY 11235
(718) 743-3832

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Over $10 – These soups should have a gold leaf in them.

$6 to $10 – You’re not shellin’ out the gold, but also not gettin’ super lucky.

Under $6 – It’s your lucky day!

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28 of 50 “Tastiest” Soups in NYC – Grand Bo Ky’s Seafood Flat Noodle Soup is a B Flat

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  If you like to take risks, and you need something that’s just a couple notches above Top Ramen, then go for it.

Have I mentioned my OCD?  Have I mentioned my weak stomach?  So what do I do when I walk up to Grand Bo Ky and encounter a “B” rating on the front window?  Say, “oh boy” to JM and walk in, of course!

Let me shed some light on this new NYC rating system.  A “B” rating means anywhere from 14-27 violations.  I didn’t realize it was this bad until my good friend JH actually frighteningly talked about it just a few days before this outing.  Anything lower than an “A” for him was a huge no-no.  And, in the case of Grand Bo Ky, the New York health inspectors cited 22 whopping violations (so a B-), which have only improved by two since February 2010.  Here are their violations (those in red are “critical”):

1) Food Protection Certificate not held by supervisor of food operations.
2) Live roaches present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.
3) Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to attracting vermin to the premises and/or allowing vermin to exist.

If you didn’t think I was dedicated to this soup journey before, do you believe me now?  Sure, I’ve eaten at plenty of unsavory-looking Chinese restaurants before, even various food carts, but being told up front that you might get food poisoning makes it impossible for me to blame the restaurant later.  ;o)

One thing to know about me right off the bat is that I don’t really gravitate towards seafood, especially if it isn’t accompanied by or cooked in some sauce, isn’t fried or isn’t raw oysters.  Big, plain chunks of seafood in broth?  Not my thing.

Grand Bo Ky's Seafood Flat Noodle Soup

So, as much as I didn’t want to order the Seafood Flat Noodle Soup ($5.25), it turned out better than I expected.  In general, I looooove flat, wide chow fun noodles, and these were cooked just right.  The broth was nice and light.  The white and black pepper gave it a nice kick.  The three measly shrimp were just sad, and their long pooplines didn’t help their look.  The big, curly squid seemed fresh enough and were as chewy and tasteless as chewy and tasteless can be.  The fish balls were, well, most likely fish balls from a frozen package, which I don’t mind.  And the bean sprouts were M.I.A. until I was almost done the bowl.  Lots more cilantro would’ve been nice, and even some green veggies (scallions don’t count).

So did I finish the bowl?  I finished all except for a piece of squid.  I was hungry!!

Did my stomach pay for it later?  Yes, it was playing a sad little tune afterwards.  And I wish it was just my sensitive tummy, but JM’s was playing its own little dramatic tune after his bowl of wonton noodle soup (which was even less tasty than mine).  Could it be some bad, bad roaches made their way into our bowls?

Here’s what I think – seafood lovers may enjoy this, but, if you’re looking for bold flavors, go elsewhere.  And, unless you’re really strapped for money and need something just a few notes above Top Ramen, easily wobbly stomachs like mine should find fulfillment in A-grade restaurants only.

Grand Bo Ky
216 Grand St.  (btwn Mott St & Elizabeth St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 219-9228

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Over $10 – These soups should have a gold leaf in them.

$6 to $10 – You’re not shellin’ out the gold, but also not gettin’ super lucky.

Under $6 – It’s your lucky day!


21 of 50 “Tastiest” Soups in NYC – Pho at Pho Bang: Complexity Disguised in Simplicity

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  Good, but not memorable.

The past few months I’ve been thinking about how tough it is to maintain friendships.  I see or talk to the majority of my friends only once a year, or even just once every two months, but, with only seven days in a week and even fewer days my weary body is willing to rock out, most of my time is spent in the company of my best friends.  It’s a bit sad.  So I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to make plans with those I don’t see nearly as often…ones that I may know mostly because I keep up with them on Twitter and Facebook.  From what I read, we have much in common, but will our acquaintance-like relationship turn into a really solid one?  I’m not sure.  Making friends is easy; nurturing them is hard, and sometimes even complicated.

Now what does this have to do with Pho Bang’s Pho?  Allow me to make a loose connection.  Pho has always seemed like an extremely simple bowl of noodle soup to prepare.  Beef broth, rice noodles, thin slices of beef with fresh basil, bean sprouts, wedge of lime, hot pepper slices to throw in as you pleased.  Stir in some hoisin sauce and/or hot sauce to taste, and voila!  You’ve got a semi-custom made bowl of soup.

When I went to Pho Bang with an old friend of mine, JB, he reminisced about the pho we used to eat in Philly.  I forget the name of the restaurant, but it was almost like a second home.  It was incredibly memorable; I mean, it’s been 11 years, and we’re still drooling about it.  The #1 Tai Nam Gau Gan Sach ($5.75 for a regular bowl) – combination rice noodle beef soup with fresh eye of round, brisket, tendon and omosa (tripe?) – at Pho Bang didn’t engender the same reaction.  I have to admit that I haven’t eaten a ton of pho since I’ve been living in NYC the past 10 years, but I’ve heard from some other friends that it’s one of the better places.

 

Pho Bang's Pho #1

 

The rice noodles were chewy and not soggy, the plate of garnish was fresh, and the beef came a touch red, as usual, so it could finish cooking in the hot broth.  But there was just way too much meat for me.  And while I definitely wasn’t asking, “Where’s the beef?”, I was asking where the tendon and tripe were.  I would’ve preferred a better balance of ingredients.

The broth, on the other hand, was just right – not a lot of oil and a touch sweet.  It’s a healer, if you ever needed one.  I left wondering what gives it its unique flavor, so I looked up various pho recipes online.  Apparently, aside from beef and/or beef bones, there’s also ginger, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and rock sugar.  The cloves and cinnamon definitely surprised me since those flavors never seemed to appear in any of my slurping.  But, what was even more surprising, was how complicated the recipes were.  I always imagined a recipe with just two to three steps, each containing only one sentence of instructions, but what I found was unimaginable.  Something that looked so simple was pretty complex.  Much like our friendships.  And I definitely appreciate something more when I know what’s behind it.

Making pho is harder than it looks; eating it is easy.  So I think I’ll stick with buying my Vietnamese noodle soups made to order in a restaurant, maybe Pho Bang (maybe not), and will use the time I’ve saved towards building stronger relationships.

Pho Bang
157 Mott Street (between Broome St and Grand St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-3797

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Over $10 – These soups should have a gold leaf in them.

$6 to $10 – You’re not shellin’ out the gold, but also not gettin’ super lucky.

Under $6 – It’s your lucky day!


Off the Beaten Path: East/West Ramen Fest – 5 More You May or May Not Want to Try

Ramen.  I clearly eat a lot of it.  Here are reviews of five more bowls – one in LA and four others from two new sister restaurants in NYC headed up by the well-known, Chef Hideto Kawahara.  If I die while eating ramen, I’ll be dying a happy woman.

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DAIKOKUYA LITTLE TOKYO (Los Angeles)

Daikokuya's Daikoku Ramen (photo courtesy of website since mine's stuck on home laptop)

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  I didn’t dislike it, but I can do without it.

My last four visits to LA, I asked JM to take me to Daikokuya since I had heard so much about it.  The first three times we tried going, we either didn’t want to wait (consider an hour wait at least) or couldn’t get in since they weren’t taking anymore names before closing.  The ever-present lines at this restaurant remind me of Ippudo in Manhattan.  The fourth time, we decided to be patient and stick it out.  Luckily for us, a lot of people played our previous roles and skipped out, seeking another time that wouldn’t test their patience (good luck with that, folks!).  So, instead of waiting maybe two hours, we stood restlessly outside for an hour and ate dinner around 10:00 pm.

I went a little nuts and ordered the Combo Meal ($11.50) with Daikoku Ramen and a bowl of fried rice.  If you order a la carte, it’ll cost you $8.50 and $7.50 respectively.  Here’s when I wish I had a much bigger body because the portion sizes were more than I could handle.  I wonder if I could’ve requested the half portion of ramen with the combo meal…

Chopped fresh scallions, raw bean sprouts, menma, sesame seeds, curly noodles, three kurobuta (“Black Hog” which is as prized as Kobe beef) pork belly chashu slices, and a perfectly cooked melt-in-your-mouth whole marinated boiled egg floated (seriously THE BEST EGG ever) within and on top of a milky cloud of tonkotsu and soy sauce broth.  I had also requested the richer, kotteri flavor broth which used additional soup extracted from the back fat (according to their menu).  I can’t say if it made a difference since I’ve never had the original version.

All in all, I really didn’t have anything bad to say about it.  I just didn’t experience anything that made me want to go back and wait in line again.  I’d rather quickly grab a seat at another Japanese restaurant across the street and gobble down their super soothing udon noodles in a hot pot.

Daikokuya Little Tokyo
327 E. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-1680
http://www.daikoku-ten.com/LTmnu09a.html

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HIDECHAN (New York City)

Hidechan Spicy Miso Ramen

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  How can a chef be so inconsistent?  The ramen here is one of the worst I’ve had in the city and in no way compares to the deliciousness at its sister ramen joint, Totto Ramen (below).

My brother and sister-in-law took me to the new Hidechan in midtown east since they had been wanting to try it (and they know about my souper journey).  The whole experience turned into one big nightmare because 1) the ramen was a big disappointment and 2) immediately after we sat down, my brother (he’s older) decided he would ask me if JM was going to propose to me anytime soon.  Imagine the look of horror on my face.  I was nearly speechless.  I expected those words to come out of my dad’s mouth, but surely not his.  I’m not getting THAT old, am I?  Ok, maybe I’d been wondering the same thing from time to time, but, sheesh, no need for the added pressure from my own bro.  He’s supposed to be the chill one to tell me it’s all good, and there’s no rush…right?

After this awkward moment, I was hoping that Hidechan noodles would soothe my pounding heart.  They didn’t.  The Hakata Spicy Miso Ramen ($10.50) came with straight, thin noodles that were way too soft for my taste.  It wasn’t until after we ordered that we noticed a tiny little piece of paper taped to the table’s chopsticks container that said we could specify how we wanted the noodles cooked and how rich we wanted the broth.  Sucks that we saw that too late, and the waiter never asked us.  If he did, I would’ve ordered my noodles al dente, not soft and mushy, and my tonkotsu broth rich, not super light and underwhelming like they made it.  I was also unsure about the spicy miso paste.  The medium-sized scoop sitting on top of the bowl was mushed together with a bunch of ground beef (or pork?).  It almost seemed too beefy and was definitely not spicy.  I’ve never had spicy miso served this way.  Is this typical?  Anyway, last little note, if you order a boiled egg to accompany the bowl’s standard kikurage, scallions and bean sprouts (with the crazily, tooth-hurtin’ yellow heads), add $1.  But I would really think twice about spending even a dollar here.

Hidechan
248 E. 52nd Street (near 2nd Avenue)
New York, NY 10022
212-813-1800

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TOTTO RAMEN (New York City)

MY OVERALL TASTEFUL OPINION:  NO MSG automatically gives this restaurant a leg up on any in the city, but each ramen “flavor” has varying degrees of yumminess.

This past month my work lunches have been TOTTO-lly filled with ramen (yes, yes, very corny.  The man is rubbing off on me, to my dismay).  After my very first time, I went back for more two days later…and two more times after that…and I’ll be back again next week.  So, yes, I think it’s safe to safe that this has miraculously taken over Ippudo’s #1 spot on my list of NYC ramen houses.  Aside from the thankful NO MSG policy, you never have to wait too long, even when it seems like the sidewalk is packed with newbies and fans.  I’ve tried three out of the six noodle soup varieties already, and here are my thoughts starting from my least favorite.

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Vegetarian Ramen ($11)

MY TASTEFUL OPINION: I’ll stick with the good ol’ meaty versions.

Totto Vegetarian Ramen (observe the wooden pedestal in right photo)

Even though this is vegetarian, this is the second most expensive one on the list.  Most likely, it’s because they use organic noodles and other expensive items.  But I did in fact wonder if the extra costs also came from the fancy presentation – your cute round white bowl is, oddly, placed atop a wooden pedestal.  Sometimes vegetarian food does need some sprucing up to make up for a lack of meaty goodness, and meaty goodness is what I missed.

I’m no crazy carnivore.  I love my veggies.  I need my veggies.  But, for some reason, I was depressed while eating this.  I couldn’t get used to the seaweed and shiitake mushroom broth (which also had “peppery Yuzu paste,” sesame oil and a squeeze of fresh lime), even though those ingredients are some of my favorites.  Yuzu always piques my interest when I see it on the menu, but maybe I only like it in my cocktails or on cold raw fish.  The thin, soba-like noodles were a tad too soft, and I wish the raw chopped onions were softer and more cooked (only ’cause my stomach can’t handle raw onions).  The sprinkle of dry seaweed on top expanded nicely in the hot broth and intermingled with the random mix of cooked vegetables – cauliflower, zucchini, slice of red pepper, and corn.  While they were cooked to perfection, they were lacking some kind of sauce.  Think raw vegetables with no dip.  The only thing that made me happy were the slices of seasoned avocado.  I’ve never tasted avocado like this.  It tasted just like my favorite Chinese jar of fermented tofu.  I’m sure none of you know what that is (and it sounds disgusting), but it makes this lil chicky very happy.

Even though I didn’t care for this, vegetarians might.  I heard that a vegetarian friend of mine liked it.  I guess you can’t really find non-meat options on ramen menus, so Totto is smart for including this on theirs.  I do find intelligence sexy…

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Miso Ramen ($10.25)

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  Much better than its sister’s Spicy Miso version.

Totto Miso Ramen with Side of Spicy Menma

The highlight of this dish was the curly, thicker al dente noodles.  No other ramen spot that I know of serves this kind.  And, just like men appreciate women with meat on their bones, I sometimes like more meat on my noodles.  Mmm.  The two slices of pork came a tad thin and tough.  I’m not sure if they torched the meat too long that day (yes, you can watch them torching the pans of sliced pork), or if they just use a different style for this bowl.  Whatever it was, I didn’t prefer the toughness.  Like its counterpart, Hidechan, you had to mix in a scoop of miso paste and ground pork with the chicken paitan broth, but somehow this tasted a lot better.  It must have to do with the more flavorful broth.  So what about the accoutrements?  You get the typical half egg, scallions and bean sprouts, of course, with the apparently typical Totto addition of raw chopped onions.  I ordered a side of spicy menma (add $1), and will never order it again.  It was unusually salty and just not good.  I overheard two women’s reactions to the non-spicy menma, too, and they also complained about the saltiness.  Sans additional menma, I think I could order this again, especially if they let me get extra miso on the side.

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Chicken Paitan Ramen ($9.25) + Whole Broiled Egg ($1)

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  I might be eating this once a week…at least.

Totto's Chicken Paitan Ramen

The menu’s description: “These straight homemade noodles are cooked al dente style in a whole chicken and premium soy sauce based soup topped with scallion, onion, char siu pork, and a nori.”  You can see the ginormous pot of soup boiling with whole chickens (poor chickens), and you sorta want to dive in and bathe in it (or is that just me?).  But if I can’t bathe in it, then I’ll ingest it.  I’d be even happier if they canned all this richness so that I could slurp it at home, especially when I’m sick.  The torched pork slices were super tender, and they were joined by morsels of seasoned pork chunks that took me to another world.  Sure, this is a pretty plain bowl of ramen: a minimal variety of garnishes that are mostly a mute beige color leave the eye somewhat forlorn.  A friend who recently tried it said it was like a really great chicken noodle soup and was not impressed.  But, leaving out the vegetarians, who doesn’t like chicken noodle soup?  And who wouldn’t want one that’s pretty mind-blowing?  Personally, I think that if you can take the simple and minimalist approach, without the help of flavor enhancers, and still make foodies obsessed, then you’ve got a winner.

Totto Ramen
366 W. 52nd St. (btwn 8th and 9th Aves)
New York, NY 10019
212.582.0052
http://tottoramen.com/

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Over $10 – These soups should have a gold leaf in them.

$6 to $10 – You’re not shellin’ out the gold, but also not gettin’ super lucky.

Under $6 – It’s your lucky day!


20 of 50 “Tastiest” Soups in NYC – Sick of the Ramen Hype but Not of the Soft Serve at Momofuku

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  Don’t waste your time or money, unless it’s for their soft serve.

For five years, I lived really close to Momofuku, and in those five years, I had only eaten there twice.  “Momofuku” apparently means “lucky peach,” but the three times I’ve been there, I have never left feeling lucky, peachy, or like a lucky peach.

The first time was clearly to try the special Momofuku Ramen which was and has been all the rave.  I didn’t like it.  Paying $16 for that made me even grouchier.

The second time was in the cold of winter.  I know you’re asking what kind of person goes there again – waiting at least an hour while standing shoulder to shoulder with other customers and being pushed around by waiters – when she wasn’t impressed the first time?  The generous kind.  Like me.  I ordered the Momofuku Ramen again.  And, again, I was extremely disappointed.  Ok, maybe stupid people like me give second chances with food.

The third and last time was just a couple weeks ago when I had to go there because it was on New York magazine’s soup list.  Yes, I had to.  Yes, sometimes this adventure is no fun.  The third time was surely not going to be a charm.  Since I wasn’t about to waste another $16 just so I could reaffirm to you that the Momofuku Ramen isn’t all that, I went against my very structured, do-everything-by-the-books nature and ordered the three-course prix fixe lunch for $20.  I’m such a rebel!  A rebel with a cause, that is.  Now I can tell you that it’s not just the magazine-featured ramen that’s all hype; the restaurant in general is overrated, especially for the price.

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche – Smoked Duck with Lemon Puree & Pickled Mustard Seeds
The mustard seeds gave the bite a nice crunch, but the lemon overpowered the duck which became an aftertaste.

1st Course - Steak Tartare

1st Course – Steak Tartare with Chili Flakes, Sesame and Quail Egg
A perfect-looking round of chopped raw meat was drenched in chili oil, sprinkled with sesame seeds, topped with a raw quail egg, and served with a side of greens that looked like butter lettuce.  When the dish arrived, I just stared.  I had no idea how to eat it, and no one bothered to explain it to me.  I’ve had steak tartare before, but the meat and sauce were prepared and mixed in front of me.  I had to flag a waitress down who then confirmed that I was supposed to mix the egg with the meat myself.  Pretty unappetizing, if you ask me, especially when I couldn’t mix the egg well enough.

I took a bite anyway, and was surprised that, even with all the red oil, it lacked any flavor.  Salt – where’s the salt?!  Other seasoning would’ve been nice, too.  The meat was also tough to chew, and made the experience even worse.  If you want a great steak tartare, head over to EO (Employees Only).

2nd Course - Corn Ramen

2nd Course – Corn Ramen with Hand-Cut Noodles, Smoked Ham & Delfino
Thick and wide noodles sat in a small bowl with clear brownish broth and were accented with a square of dry seaweed, a few kernels of fresh-roasted corn, roasted pork chunks, scallions, and delfino (think awesome Cilantro).  The noodles were cooked al dente, erring on the side of a touch too firm.  But I did like them.

The broth had a good smokiness, but it was too salty, just like the Momofuku ramen broth.  They could afford to use some of the salt in their broths in their tartare instead.

The pork was a tad on the dry side and was more like a tough Chinese roasted pork instead of the melt-in-your-mouth thin style one usually gets with ramen.

While the fresh roasted corn was extremely sweet and crunchy, I don’t understand why only a few kernels were included in the bowl.  Seems a bit absurd to call it a “Corn Ramen” and then only use the kernels as an accessory and not the main feature.  Even if they included an ample amount, they should’ve served the bowl with thin, delicate noodles instead.   The thick noodles didn’t lend themselves to being eaten with the little round yellow pearls, unless I fished them out with the spoon and then put a tiny piece of noodle on top.

Let’s go back to the delfino, though.  FABULOUS.  I’d like to grow me some of this stuff.  The rest of the Corn Ramen can remain a memory.

3rd Course - Spring Pea and Strawberry Soft Serve Twist

3rd Course – Cousin Leroy and Arlo’s Soft Serve – Spring Pea and Strawberry Twist
Imagine me happily running through a strawberry field in the spring.  Sounds totally wrong since strawberry season is in the summer, right?  Well this is how Momofuku’s soft serve made me feel.  Spring pea flavor?  What?  Twisted with strawberry flavor?  No way!  Yes way!  It was so crazily divine…

I happen to be a green pea fan, so this was a treat to get it in ice cream form.  It tasted just like fresh sweet peas.  MmmmMMmM.  The strawberry flavor was also made with fresh strawberries – you could see flecks of the real thing.  And, while the first few bites already made up for the previous two courses, I was later surprised with something even more heavenly.  As I got closer to the center and the bottom of the tiny teacup, I discovered a mix of crunchy dried peas (think wasabi peas without the wasabi), salt and crumbled graham cracker or pie crust.  These toppings may have been at the bottom, but they remained a top highlight of the dessert.  I ate this last course so fast that I felt sick.  If feeling sick feels this good, then I always want to be sick.

Momofuku
171 1st Avenue (between 10th and 11th Streets)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 777-7773
momofuku.com

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Over $10 – These soups should have a gold leaf in them.

$6 to $10 – You’re not shellin’ out the gold, but also not gettin’ super lucky.

Under $6 – It’s your lucky day!


Gettin’ Down to the Bottom of the Bowl: Ramen

Behold the new series called “Gettin’ Down to the Bottom of the Bowl!”  These are dedicated to classes I’m taking about certain style of soups (can’t say that I’ll actually be taking many of these) or any informational posts that go beyond the taste and ingredients of a soup (i.e. the history of where it came from).  I might just be taking stuff from Wikipedia.  Who knows.  This series stems from a ramen class I took a few weeks ago at the Japanese Culinary Center.  Basically, I and a few friends – T, L, JF, JF’s gf, JF’s friend – paid $40 and dedicated two hours to listening to a Japanese chef talk about the fine details of ramen and then stuffing our faces with three different bowls of noodles.

Upon entering and getting your name checked off the list, you’re handed a few pieces of paper stapled together.  I don’t think I’ve been handed class materials filled with pictures and charts since I graduated college ten years ago.  My brain wasn’t sure how to process it.  Luckily I wasn’t being graded, and I’m going to find out right now if I even understand the notes I scribbled all over the paper.  I’m definitely not as organized in my note-taking as I used to be.

In any case, first observation – the paper was stapled on the upper right hand side.  How authentic!  Certainly not in some fake Japanese joint.  No way, Jose.

You then chose which high-top table (no seats) you wanted to join.  About six people fit to a table.  And, while you were standing there listening to the chef explain the intricacies of ramen, you found your head turning right a few times to stare longingly at the mis en place for the noodles you were going to taste later.  Way to make your students lose focus.  Such a tease.

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So what did I* learn?  Here’s a little Q&A:

Where did ramen originate from?
China…of course.  ;op  In Chinese, we call it “la mien.”

What is the “definition” of ramen?
Soup + noodle = ramen

How many varieties of ramen are there in Japan?
3000-ish, but I’m not really sure anyone can put an exact number on it.  The high number is due to the fact that practically every little region has its own version.  And, according to Wikipedia, ramen with the same name can even have nuances from different vendors that propagate even more variations.

Some specifics on varieties of ramen that coincide with varieties of sake made in different regions.
Closer to shores of Japan –> More seafood-based ramen and crisper, cleaner sake
More inland –> More pork- and chicken-based ramen and bolder sake
More north –> More miso-based, fermented flavors and I have no idea about the sake

What is the soup made of? (Note: I’m taking this from Wikipedia since the sheet of paper is confusing.)
“Ramen soup is generally made from stock based on chicken or pork, combined with a variety of ingredients such as kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines), beef bones, shiitake, and onions, and then flavored with salt, miso, or soy sauce.  Other styles that have emerged later on include curry ramen and other flavors.

The resulting combination is generally divided into four categories (although new and original variations often make this categorisation less clear-cut):”  Shio (“salt”), Tonkotsu (“pork bone”), Shoyu (lots of soy sauce), and Miso.  More on the latter three later.

What types of noodles are there?
They vary in texture, absorbability and shape.  There’s thick/thin, straight/wavy, water-added/less water-added, aged and flat.  We got to squeeze and smell some curly, raw noodles, and they were hard to break.  When you squeeze, it apparently creates the release of glutens, increasing the elasticity of the noodles (did I get this right? not sure).

Ramen noodles have a gauge number much like what you see with Italian pasta in the grocery stores.  The number is determined by how many 3cm widths you can cut.  The bigger the number, the thinner the noodle.

What is the unique ingredient that gives the noodles the “al dente” quality?
Sodium bicarbonate, which has a pronounced smell when uncooked (I did smell it when we passed the raw noodles around.).  It helps to keep the noodles firm even when in broth for a while.

So how long should you cook the noodles for?
Boil in water for two minutes in a separate pot, without salt, until 80-90% cooked.  Once you pour broth over them, the broth will finish the cooking process.

If you buy fresh raw noodles, do you have to cook it right away?
No.  If you actually “age” the noodles in the fridge for two weeks – covered (to not absorb other odors) but not air tight – it will create a better texture and enhance the flavor.  But, of course, if you see mold, toss out!  I’m sure you don’t want that kind of “enhanced” flavor…although you could possibly make that into your own special variation of ramen. ;o)

I bought a certain type of noodle.  Now what broth do I pair it with?  (Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand the diagram and can’t tell where straight vs. curly noodles fit in this.)
Soft, thin noodles –> Light soup
Soft, thick noodles –> Light, rich soup
Hard, thin noodles –> Tonkotsu soup
Hard, thick noodles –> Heavy, rich soup

How should I serve the noodles?
Piping hot.  It’s considered shameful if the bowl is not served hot.

It’s time to eat, and you hear people slurping really loudly when they eat ramen.  It seems like bad etiquette, right?  Why do they do that?
Slurping enhances the retro-nasal olfaction, which opens up the aromas.  So some people do this for a better ramen experience.  Of course, for some people, slurping is just slurping, and not something more sophisticated.  As for me, I can’t even slurp.  I tried.  I don’t like sucking in extra air for reasons I shall not say out loud.  So I guess I’m an average Yoshi (my name at a certain Starbucks), neither sophisticated nor bad-mannered.  Whether I can slurp or not, ramen still tastes super delicious to me!

*     *     *     *     *

Now let’s get to the types of ramen we actually ate during class.  They pre-made everything for us and set up stations.  First, we picked up the actual bowls of noodles in one section of the room.  Three types = three lines.

Then, we went to the broth station to get the correct broth.

After the broth, we went to the “gu” (ingredient) station and added the appropriate stuff for the type of ramen you were eating (Hakata/Tonkotsu, Sapporo/Miso or Tokyo/Shoyu).

And we finally got to eat what we so beautifully, or not so beautifully, put together…one big bowl at a time…

Hakata Ramen (Tonkotsu Ramen)

HAKATA RAMEN (TONKOTSU RAMEN)
It’s a specialty of Kyushu, the southern part of Japan.  The rich broth is made from pork bone (“tonkotsu”), which is boiled under high heat.  The umami (or “savoriness” in English, “good taste/flavor” in Japanese) stems from the inosinic acid (used as flavor enhancer and important in metabolism) and emulsified fat.  Made with thin, firm, low moisture, straight noodles.  Common ingredients are: charshu (pork), kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), naruto (??), and beni shoga (sweet and sour red ginger).  [Um, re: photo, is that kamaboko (fish cake) supposed to be in there?  It’s not in the list of gu I just typed up.  Imposter!]  My favorite ramen spot in Manhattan that serves this style is Ippudo.

Sapporo Ramen (Miso Ramen)

SAPPORO RAMEN (MISO RAMEN)
Sapporo ramen originated in none other than Sapporo, Hokkaido, the northern part of Japan.  It’s made with a pork and chicken stock mixed with Shinshu miso (golden yellow miso that is salty but mild and versatile).  Let’s talk about miso for a sec…

There are two types of miso:  red (aka) and white (shiro).  Red takes six to nine months to produce, but white only takes two to three months, so white is typically used because it’s faster to make.  If you blend red and white miso, you create Awase miso.  Supposedly, the red gives umami and the white is more palatable.  Huh?

…now back to Sapporo ramen…it has a hearty, rich, nutty flavor, and it’s not oily because of miso’s “absorbability” to oil.  The broth pairs with high moisture, medium thick, wavy noodles to catch the “essence” better.  Ingredients include: charshu, corn, butter (Hokkaido is famous for its dairy products, so they put butter in everything; the butter goes well with the corn), sauteed bean sprouts, menma (bamboo braised in sake, mirin, soy sauce; my fave!), raw scallions, kamaboko.

Tokyo Ramen (Shoyu Ramen)

TOKYO RAMEN (SHOYU RAMEN)
Other common names for this type of ramen are “Shinasoba” or “Chukasoba.”  The clean, light broth is made from chicken and pork bones that are simmered in medium heat with soy sauce added.  Since it’s light, it’s considered good for the spring and summer.  By the way, there are 200 microbreweries that make soy sauce.  Yup, that’s right, microbreweries don’t just apply to beer!  Common ingredients are:  charshu, nori (seaweed), menma, kamaboko, tomago (egg), raw scallions, and sometimes bonito (dried fish flakes).

*     *     *     *     *

*BURP*

*     *     *     *     *

As you may have guessed, we were stuffed after having three bowls of ramen.  I think I satisfied any ramen craving for a long time after that.  So, even though we received an email with recipes to make all three types a couple of days after class, I have had no desire to look at them.  I don’t know if I ever will either, since I think, for me, great ramen is something I’ll always purchase at a restaurant, not something I’ll make on my own.  Even so, I’m still not sharing the goods with you, because I paid a relatively hefty $40 for this class.  Gotta save a little somethin’ special for myself!

Alas, that’s all I have to say.  I do hope you’re full of knowledge and will soon be full of satisfying ramen.

*Others may have learned more or less.  So this is by no means an account of EVERYTHING we learned in the class.  Did I need to include this footnote?  Probably not.

Japanese Culinary Center
711 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
http://www.japaneseculinarycenter.com


15 of 50 “Tastiest” Soups in NYC – Laut’s Asam Laksa: Big on Ingredients, Not on Taste

MY TASTEFUL OPINION:  I ate it, but I didn’t like it.  But I also didn’t spit it out or puke it up.

I’ve walked by Laut many times before since it’s right next to one of my favorite bars in the city (Lillie’s).  It wasn’t until recently that I realized it was on my soup list.  I’ve been excited to try the traditional Malaysian Asam Laksa since, for some reason, I just thought I’d like every type of laksa out there, especially after LOVING the one at Taste Good.  I suppose that’s me falling into something like the All-Asians-Look-Alike stupidity.

There were a few differences from what New York Magazine wrote and what the actual menu indicated.  Here’s a lovely chart to compare:

Maybe the “fish flakes” were actually flakes of anchovies and sardines, and maybe the magazine just didn’t feel like listing all of the ingredients.  Or maybe Laut changed their recipe after the article was published and decided to charge $2 extra for their new claim to fame.  Who knows.  What I do know is that I wouldn’t pay another $13 to eat this particular Asam Laksa again.

Laut's Asam Laksa

The laifun noodles (short, thick Chinese rice noodles), which were firm and chewy, and the few chunks of sweet, fresh pineapple were the only two things I liked about this dish.  The pineapple helped cut the strange sour/fishy taste, and I wish they included lots more of it.  A whole pineapple would’ve been welcome.

The shrimp paste comes in a separate little dish so that you can add however much you want.  Even though I taste-tested the paste and winced at the not-so-pleasant plasticky, fishy flavor, I added half of it into the soup, thinking it might be good all mixed in with the other flavors.  Definitely not the best decision I made that night.  I also made the mistake of not tasting the soup in its pure state first, so I’ll never know if I’d be able to tolerate it more sans paste.

Aside from not liking the shrimp paste itself, the amalgam of ingredients just seemed like a big mess.  As you see in my oh-so-helpful chart above, there were a variety of different things added in, but just not enough of each to go around.  Not enough sweet pineapple, fresh mint, spicy raw onion and clean cucumber taste in every bite.

Last thing – the soup.  It had a very mild kick to it probably from the few big slices of chili pepper.  And while that was thankfully nowhere near intolerable, the thick, grainy and fibrous texture was most certainly intolerable to me.  I’m all for different textures, but this scared me a little, especially since I had no idea what it was.  I kept thinking that I could be eating a bunch of hair and not even know it.  Maybe we could all use some more fiber in our diets, but I’ll stick to getting it other ways.  I didn’t drink the soup separately like I usually do.  It remained in the bowl while I ate everything else.  So unlike me.  And it speaks volumes.

Laut
15 East 17th Street (near Broadway)
New York, NY
212-206-8989

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Over $10 – These soups should have a gold leaf in them.

$6 to $10 – You’re not shellin’ out the gold, but also not gettin’ super lucky.

Under $6 – It’s your lucky day!