enter the ramen [UPDATED]

ah, the humble ramen.  when people hear “ramen”,  they likely think of this:

while the cup noodles is a form of ramen, the actual thing is a thousand miles away from this humble variation.

ramen is a dish originated in china; the word means hand-pulled noodles.  but after years of mutation, the modern japanese ramen bears no resemblance to the original.  so what is ramen?  is it a beef noodle dish?  chicken?  pork?  does it contain pork slices?  bamboo shoots?  tomato?  corn?  the answer is that it depends on who you ask.  based on my meager understanding, here’s my take on what ramen is.

ramen, in its purest form, has no purest form.  the modern ramen contains as much (or as little) ingredients as the chef would care to use.  the basic link between different ramen styles, as far as i can tell, is that they contain soup and noodles.  while the type of noodles used in the ramen seems very similar from shop to shop (a wheat flour noodle), the soups are as different as the chefs who make them.  the toppings are even more varied than the soup.  like i said, there is no set of rules that govern what a bowl of ramen should look or taste like; the chef decides what the ramen will be.  having said that, there are some fairly common ingredients for the ramen.

noodles: the typical ramen noodles are made with wheat flour.  i think most shops will get this from the local factory, though some may ask the noodle shop to make it to their specifications.  there may also be shops that make their own noodles, but i haven’t been to a ramen shop that hardcore.

chashu: the pork slices you see on your ramen is the chashu.  this is found on a majority of ramen, but not always.

bean sprouts: some shops love to use this while other shops avoid them.  these are typically blanched then placed on top of the ramen.

menma: this is the dried bamboo shoots.  these are typically boiled then served as a topping.

black fungus: you may know them as wood ear fungus.  some shops like them while others don’t.

nori: seaweed.  usually served as a small sheet on top of the ramen.  depending on the style of ramen, you may see this in your bowl.

green onion (negi): normally a garnish, although some shops use this as a main ingredient and make what’s called negi ramen (green onion ramen).  you typically get a huge load of green onions (a big handful or two) in the ramen if you order that.

hanjuku egg (hanjuku tamago): some ramen shops will serve this boiled egg with soft yolk.  they are delicious.

hard-boiled egg: if the shop doesn’t want to bother, they’ll serve the hard-boiled egg instead.  lazy bastards.

since pictures are always better, here’s a simple diagram.  click on the pic for Konishiki version.

rest assured that your favorite shop will serve something completely different from this pic.  in fact, if you watched the hokkaido episode of anthony bourdain’s no reservations, you’ll see the hokkaido variant with crab legs, scallops, corn, and BUTTER.

(fast forward to 1:21 to skip to the ramen scene.  i apologize, but the skip code in the video link doesn’t work for some reason.)

as you can see, there are almost no rules for ramen.  if a chef can make something tasty, it is a successful bowl of ramen, corn and all.

here in L.A., the most prevalent form of ramen seems to be the pork bomb variety––by that i mean the shop will violently boil the pork bones to extract every ounce of marrow, fat, and whatever porky essence to make the stock.  as a result, the soup is typically very thick and rich, with a layer of oil floating on top of the soup.  some may think that sounds disgusting, but that’s how you get that porky flavor.  there are many other styles of soup, but in L.A. the pork bombs seem to rule the landscape for now.  you will find ramen shops that specialize in chicken or shoyu (soy sauce) broth, but that takes some digging in the city of angels.  to me, if a shop makes tasty ramen, i’ll try it.  now who makes a hokkaido-style ramen around here . . .

besides ramen, i’ve also had a chance to try the filipino crispy pork, also known as lechon kawali.

i know nothing about filipino food so i’ll have to compare this to other dishes i’ve heard of.  i think lechon kawali is similar to chitlings: pork belly pieces slowly deep-fried until crispy and delicious.  the ones i ate came with a sweet sauce for dipping and was quite tasty.  still, this is not a dish you wanna eat everyday; it’s extremely fatty and i presume not good for you at all.  but once in a while, you can satisfy your grease quotient with this dish.  it’s fattylicious.

on the pool accessory front, predator is entering the chalk fray and selling their new octagonal chalk.

the new predator chalk is supposed to be comparable to blue diamond, but we’ll see what happens.  i’ve been using blue diamond and i’m quite happy with the results.  if the predator chalk works like bd and cheaper, i’d definitely try it.  for those that use a chalk holder, the octagonal shape may be a problem; time will tell.

in other news, the iphone launch is THE biggest tech story right now.  not far behind is the new iOS 6 and the impact it’ll have on iphones.  since i’m poor i’m not buying the new iphone right now; kind donations of $570 toward the new iphone will be greatly appreciated if you’re so inclined.  😛  with the new iOS 6, the biggest problem seems to be the new maps application.  now that apple has broke away from google maps, there have been a number of complaints about inaccuracies of the new map.  some users even reported that the new map gives wrong directions.  due to this reason, some owners of previous generation iphones are reluctant to upgrade the OS.  apple stated that as more users use the new map, the more accurate it will get.  (read: early adopters will become guinea pigs.)  i kept wondering if apple would ever team up with thomas guide to boost the usefulness of the new map; after all, thomas guide sits on a mountain of geographical data that would no doubt help apple’s cause.  just a thought.  on the plus side, the new maps app uses vector based graphics to render the streets, so we get a bump in speed while zooming in or out.  (click here for an explanation of vector graphics, and here for a comparison between vector based graphics and pixel based graphics.)

i’m a latecomer to gordon ramsay’s kitchen nightmares.  started in UK in 2004, ramsay’s kitchen nightmares became very popular and now has spin-offs in five countries, including the US.  (the original UK series ended in 2007.)  i’ve watched both the US and UK version, and i think the UK version is much better in terms of storytelling.  it’s really neat to look at restaurants through the eyes of a chef, and through what perspective he finds strengths and weaknesses in a restaurant.  currently the UK reruns are shown on BBC America; if you haven’t seen the show it’s a fun ride.

sorry about my aimless rambling, gentle readers; i’ll try to write in a more coherent manner next time.  toodles.

[update sept. 24, 2012]  thanks to longtime reader q&b, i realized that i forgot to include a video.  below is a cooking video for yakibuta ramen (roasted pork ramen).  you’ll notice that the ramen is not the pork bomb variety i described previously.  rather, the broth is clear and (probably) a lot gentler than the pork bombs.  the video is quite informative and (i think) very adorable.

btw, the end of the video included an announcement that the chef was injured and hospitalized.  i think she was riding a bicycle and got into an accident; according to the internet, she has since recovered and is now back to cooking and shooting videos, so panic not.

i will also include another sample of ramen.  this is the shio ramen (salt ramen); i believe the pork broth is seasoned with salt instead of soy sauce, hence the name.  again, click on the pic to Konishikirize.

enjoy!  ’til next time.

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4 comments on “enter the ramen [UPDATED]

  1. OMG, I’m hungry. I only wish I had good restaurants that does not cost an arm and a leg near me. I have to drive 1/2 hour to get to something decent. By then, it’s not worth it. You can also buy just the ramen / noodles without all the seasoning stuff from Asian supermarket. Then you make your own seasoning / broth. The meal does not look hard to make, you just have to have the ingredients, and they are not hard to find in a Korean / Japanese market.

    As for the chalk, it’s interesting. Do you know why the shape is hexagon? Through the stand point of manufacturing, shipping, logistics etc. it’s very wasteful and expensive. I wonder if it is more user friendly or someone in the design department thought it was cool to make something different without really thinking about the end user requirements and manufacturing cost. Um… something to ponder about.

    • omg i totally forgot to include a video . . . how silly of me. stay tuned for an update later tonight!

      as for the octagonal chalk, my guess is that predator wants to make something instantly recognizable on & off tv. or maybe ufc inspired the r&d department . . . who knows. there were round chalks on the market before (well, a cylinder) so the idea is not new. i’m primarily interested in its performance & cost. i think you get five in a pack, so potentially the price can be economical.

    • you mentioned making your own ramen and i realized that i forgot to include a cooking video. i just updated the post; now you can watch a demo for yakibuta (roasted pork) ramen. it’s a pretty complicated recipe and will probably take half a day to make, plus time to shop for ingredients. hope you like it!

      are there decent ramen places in or near your area? you mentioned a half-hour drive to a place; lemme know what style of ramen they serve. in LA the ramen scene is decent due to a sizable japanese population in the area. kinda curious on what you can get in your neighborhood.

  2. Thanks for the video. It looks really easy – but just a bit labor intensive. I think I’ll drive 1/2 hour to eat ramen. There are decent ramen places in our area. I did not know there were different styles of ramen. Usually at the restaurant you just what the base of the soup you want, miso, spicy broth, etc. Everything else on top of the ramen is standard. Ramen is great on a very cold snowy day, it just warms the soul. Thanks again for sharing.

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