Autumn 2015

A bowl of Ramen

Ramen, a Culinary Delight in NYC

When you think of Japanese food, the first thing that probably comes to your mind is sushi. The second may be ramen. You might even have fond memories of eating cup ramen during your college years or as emergency rations after storms. In fact, over 3.8 billion packages of instant ramen were eaten in the U.S. in 2010 alone. As impressive a feat as that is, this article is not about that kind of ramen.

Ramen’s humble beginnings stem from the kitchens of the Chinatowns of Kobe and Yokohama in the latter part of the 19th century. After gaining popularity with Japanese crowds, Japanese chefs adapted the dish to better suit the nation’s palate, adopting different ingredients and flavors to make the dish more appealing to native audiences. After World War II ramen’s popularity rose again due to its relatively low cost and fast speed of service. Ramen’s next major surge in popularity began in the 1990s after the economic bubble of the 1980s burst. In the process the dish has left an indelible mark on popular and consumer preferences.

Ramen is not just fast food. Locales across Japan proudly boast of their own unique ramen variations. Some of the most famous ramen broth flavors are shoyu (soy sauce), tonkotsu (pork bone), miso (fermented soy bean), and shio (salt). Local specialties such as seasonal vegetables or local meat products are also incorporated into many ramen dishes. Furthermore, the best ramen shops pour hour upon hour of effort into bringing out the unique properties of every ingredient in a manner that compliments the dish as a whole.

Japan is not the only place where ramen has made its mark. In fact, New York native Ivan Orkin rose to international fame through his ramen shops in Tokyo and brought his ramen back to the Big Apple in 2013. There are many popular ramen shops in the city that elicit long lines for customers to slurp their delicious noodles. With new top-class options opening all the time, there is also little want for variety.

Due to the renaissance that ramen is enjoying in the city as of late, there are plenty of options, but not all of them are great. Zagat even went as far as to rate ramen as one of the top ten overrated NYC food trends in 2015. Their reasoning is that there are other Asian noodles, supposedly with more complex flavor couplings, that do not require the long lines. As with any trend, there will be shops that simply try to ride the wave by putting out a subpar dish simply for the sake of saying they have it on the menu, however, there are many diamonds in the rough as well.

Not to detract from other dishes, but true ramen is full of rich subtle flavors and surprising accouplements that create harmony and a deep sensation of umami. This is part of what makes true ramen shops different from the rest. To find the best shops, you should probably do some research before settling on a place to go. Aside from that, have a sense of adventure and let your nose and stomach be the judge.

Banner Photo: Kumamoto Style Ramen

Photo in the Public Domain

Japan Info is a publication of the Consulate General of Japan in New York. However, the opinions and materials contained herein do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the Government of Japan.

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