It's the Japanese noodle soup for the soul which is already the must-eat food trend of 2015
Up until a few months ago, noodle soup was just noodle soup. Ranging from a Pot Noodle, or, if you're really flash, a bowl of delight from Wagamama. Not any more. There's a new noodle trend: ramen. It's everywhere - ramen noodles, ramen shops, even ramen burgers.
Who's to blame? New Yorkers mainly and Big Apple-based celeb chef David Chang, who has been championing ramen in his eaterie Momofuku (please say carefully) for years.
So, is it worth the hype? Firstly, yes it is totally worth the hype. Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup created by boiling meat or fish bones for hours (and hours) to make the broth. Then there are the noodles which form the more substantial part of the dish. Like pasta in Italy, many noodles are homemade in each restaurant and vary from thin to thick.
Sliced pork or chicken is next and then there's an extra flavour boost with seaweed, spring onions or a nitamago, a soft-boiled egg marinated in soy and mirin.
The result is a Japanese noodle soup for the soul as warming as it is wholesome. It can burst through the worst of hangovers and brighten the dullest of days.
The ramen floodgates opened last year with 20 (yes, 20) Japanese restaurants opening in London – including Shoryu Ramen, United Ramen, Kanada-Ya, Sasuke, Tonkotsu East and super-popular Japanese chain Ippudo.
Food critic Jay Rayner commented a few weeks ago: “It has led to the worst outbreak of food geekery since the dirty hamburger wars of 2011.” Which means ladies and gentlemen, we've got ourselves a new food obsession.
We grilled Ross Shonhan, self-confessed ramen addict and boss of Bone Daddies about why it's worth the hype.
Is ramen really worth the hype?
Ross: Yes. It's having a resurgence in Japan too. Ten years ago you wouldn't find tonkotsu [a rich, pork bone broth] in Tokyo as it's a style of ramen from the south, every region in Japan has their own form of ramen, there are 26 accepted varieties normally specific to a region or a city. People talk about Sapporo ramen or Tokyo ramen or Osaka ramen: all of them are different. It's evolving constantly in Japan, now chefs are using cheese in their ramen and other foreign ingredients.
What makes the perfect ramen to you – what should it be like?
It's got to be like a hug in a bowl. Ultimately, it's about balance. It depends what you want – if we're talking tonkotsu, well, it's got to have the right amount of porkiness and thickness to coat the noodles and the right amount of seasoning. But it depends on the style – while a lot of the other noodle bars focus on tonkotsu, we're all about offering the wider range. We do a miso ramen from the north of Japan, Tokyo-style ramen and some original ones as well. People talk mostly about tonkotsu but there's a lot more out there.
The broth is central to a good ramen – how did you refine your own recipe?
It's ultimately about extracting flavour from bones which I did a lot in French cooking, so the process of that isn't that different, although the end results are. There are no western cookery books on this, so it was a lot of trial and error and what I had experienced in Japan and what we wanted to offer.
What's the perfect drink to go with a bowl of ramen?
Sake. I think it's one of the great drinks of the world. It's original and unique. In Japan a lot of sake brewers are going out of business as young people don't want to drink it, they want to drink vodka and whisky and things that people do in the west. So sake isn't being consumed as much in Japan, so the sake producers are looking abroad to move more of their produce. I think it's great, but it's got a bit of a bad reputation for giving people hangovers when they decide to drink it when they're already drunk.
For anyone attempting to make ramen at home, what's your best tip?
Don't be afraid of some fat, as fat carries flavours. Not just animal fat, but infusing vegetable oil and cooking garlic or leeks in it before it goes in the broth. Then putting a spoon of that on a chicken breast ramen at the end makes an incredible amount of difference from an aromatic point of view and overall taste, mouthfeel – the whole lot.