I need a serious fix of...
Oh the little bowls of perfection, from its elixir of life soup base, to its tender noodle and its sprinkled ingredients of heaven’s joy . The skies part when you eat it; men fight wars over it; babies sacrificed annually for it. Am I exaggerating? Yes! But its worth the praises! None of you can judge me unless you had the real deal.
‘Uhh...what about Ajisen Ramen? Isn’t that the real thing?’
I can only shake my head and cry. You have much to learn readers....
So how did the addiction started? Well, it goes way back to my earlier post, May 28 2009 (geez has it been that long?) when I first spent a mind blowing week in the hustle bustle Tokyo. It was my first experience of the authentic dish, not that crap they serve in Hong Kong. It wasn’t long until I made another successive trip to the mystical land of Japan in search of better ramen, from Osaka to Kyoto (which I have yet to blog about). The instant lure to the dish was a simple mix of chemistry; soup, noodle, maybe some slabs of pork...and most importantly, a hungry stomach of a poor college kid.
So here I am, writing a simple guide of the best ramen I have across the world, for the underprivileged and the ignorant. May you all rise from paganism!!!
Enter Kamukura! The ramen benchmark IMO
Located in the Shinsaibashi district of Osaka, it is by far the best ramen I have ever had in my life. It is a shop that keeps its recipe in an utmost secrecy.
You could taste a mix of sweet soy sauce and hints of lard in the soup, but you can never be quite sure of the ingredients. A distinctive taste that is hard to explain, even other bloggers have a tough time describing it. The noodles themselves were tender and you can even taste the soup somehow seep into the individual strands. A bowl of mystery, a bowl of awesome, a bowl of edible art.
Final sign of approval? The Egg.
Cooked on the outside, raw in the inside & still a cooking mystery to me. But the way the yolk oozes into your mouth when you bite it, unforgettable. In fact, the crew ended up eating at the place 3 times during our 1 week trip, and at a price at 800 Yen, it was the most affordable filling meal you can find in downtown Osaka. It's so good, it even got a celebrity sign of approval!
(yes, its that dude from prison break)
Unfortunately, that is when the addiction began. Throughout the rest of summer I was constantly hunting down locations around HK for anything remotely similar to ones in Osaka. Even the famous Domon Ramen I mentioned earlier didn’t quite live up to the Japanese standard.
Fortunately, I ran across Ramen Santouka 山頭火 in the new iSquare mall in TST, a ramen store that originated from Hokkaido Japan. It managed to ship itself to HK and expanded into Quarry Bay and TST. News spread quickly in the city of course as there was already a small crowd of loyal Japanese customers dining inside on its opening day.
I naturally ordered the Hell’s Gates (spicy tonkatsu) pork neck ramen with half boiled egg. Being a tonkatsu (pork bone) soup base, it was more predictable, and quite heavy, compare to the Osaka predecessor. The noodle was a little mechanical, you can tell they were frozen and packaged, rather than the hand-made texture in Kamukura. And at a hefty $90 HKD ($12 USD) per tiny bowl, it was mostly economic dissatisfaction, rather than the deficit in taste, that leaves a sting in the back in the wonderful ramen memories. But it is the closest to authenticity in HK...and a sufficient quick fix for any ramen addicts like me out there.
Now to reshuffle the focus to North America, finding decent ramen is like trying to turn desert sand into water. Impossible! Studying in NA is like a druggie going into ramen rehab. With a land where Japanese restaurants are mostly run by Koreans and Chinese (I kid you not), how would you ever find a decent bowl of ramen?
It wasn’t until I went to Los Angeles and god bless its vibrant community of Japanese people. It is really not that hard to spot long line when you drive past little Tokyo, in front of a little shop called Daikokuya!
It took us nearly an hour (@ freaking 10pm) to secure a seat by the ramen bar, on their rickety old bar stools. Looking around at the store gave me the nostalgia of being in Japan again, with its decoration filled with Godzilla figures, mangas and old commercial posters. It also had a strong neural stimulating smell of tonkatsu soup.
I naturally ordered the extra large, and was amazed on how well cooked the soup base was. According to their menu (a viable source I guess?), they start cooking their pork soup base in the wee hours of 6am, and would only close when their soup base is sold out (around 11am). Although it lacked the sophistication as Kamukura, the mere fact ramen at such quality could exist outside Japan is astonishing. And it is the ever only time that I wanted to say ‘God Bless America’
So hopefully, I will continue updating this blog. Hope I enlightened those who had yet taste the glory of ramen, please note these address in your map/atlas. And please send me any ramen recommendation in your local neighbour, cuz that ramen itch is starting to kill me.
P.S. Sorry NYC, Rai Rai Ken in East Village just didn’t quite live up to standards. Please buy yourself an air ticket to the West Coast for the real deal kthxbye.
Kamukura (Osaka)- http://www.kamukura.co.jp/
Ramen Santouka (Hong Kong)- http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=39763