Let me just start this by stating that ramen is the business.
For some reason, we don’t seem to get ramen in South Africa. Most of the Japanese restaurants here offer udon noodles, but no ramen, which is pretty sad when you consider how important a piece of Japanese cuisine it is.
If you’re wondering what exactly ramen is, here’s the simplest answer: ramen is Japanese fast food. Originally a Chinese noodle dish, the Japanese have made it their own, probably mostly through what has been called the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century: instant noodles. Yup, if you go and buy a packet of 2-minute noodles, that is ramen. Sadly you also get some shitty powdered flavoring and end up with a pretty crappy bowl of noodles.
While the real deal generally uses the same egg noodles, the overall dish is far more satisfying. Instead of that powder addition, a Japanese ramen restaurant (or street stand, as is common) will have a variety of flavourful broths, from fish to miso to meat, that goes with the noodles. The pork bone broth is probably the most favored. Each region in Japan has its own variations, some with boiled egg, vegetables, and meat added, some simpler.
My experience with ramen is mostly in the vampire hours of the morning in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, where several authentic ramen outlets serve tasty noodle broths to inebriated youths. However, there is amazing gourmet ramen, like the kind made at Momofuko Noodle Bar, which needs to be eaten to be believed.
If you’re going to New York, give it a try (if you’re prepared to wait in a queue for a table). Below is a recipe for a relatively simple version of my own, something that you can easily recreate at home. Give it a shot, you’ll be happy you did.
- 2 pork steaks, about 200g each
- 600ml chicken stock
- 1 egg, hard-boiled and sliced
- 1 packet ramen noodles (or 2-minute noodles, sachets discarded)
- 3 tbsp chopped spring onion
- handful coriander, picked
- 2 Tbsp mung bean sprouts
For pork marinade:
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp Hoisan sauce
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp peanut oil
- 50ml white wine
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 green chili, finely chopped
- Mix the marinade ingredients together in a bowl, add the pork steaks to the marinade and let sit for at least 30-minutes.
- Fry the steaks in a pan with a little peanut oil until cooked through. (Alternatively, grill on fire for a smokier flavor)
- Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
- Bring the stock to a boil and add the noodles.
- Once cooked, divide broth and noodles into two bowls.
- Cut steak into slices. Keep the juice that comes from resting & cutting the steaks and add this to the bowls. This is an important flavoring and makes a difference.
- Divide the steak, coriander, spring onion, sprouts, and egg slices between the two bowls.
- Serve with fresh chili on the side.
Drink it with a lager, or a fresh, fruity white wine. An unwooded Chenin Blanc would work nicely.