Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ramen - A great bowl of soup

Ramen is one of our all time favourite meals. Basically our favourite lunch meal is a soup with noodles and some toppings. It could be a Chinese style soup noodle which we have when in London and the East or it could be Ramen. Ramen is basically the same thing as a Chinese Style Soup noodle, except it is Japanese. Ramen are almost always meat based, no fish is used.

You would have read about Ramen at Shoru Ramen, Tonkotsu and Wagamama in London in an earlier post. They were uniformly delicious, except, the dreadful Wagamama. A rich meaty Umami broth with deep flavours, bouncy chewy noodles and topped with some meat and assorted veg. Hot, comforting and delicious.

Now here we were in Japan, the home of Ramen, we simply had to eat this. There was, of course one problem. 9 out of 10 Ramen bars in Japan have a machine placed outside the restaurant where you place your order. This machine, as is the case in all of Japan, has buttons with instructions in Japanese and some small photos stuck on buttons which make little or no sense. Imagine a juke-box with types of Ramen to select instead of songs. Thus it was a challenge. We had heard that when in doubt press the button on the top left, it is invariably the best seller that the restaurant has. What happens is that once you select the Ramen and pay for it, the order is communicated to the kitchen. Then when you sit down you hand over your ticket to the server who brings you your bowl.Simple, no need to talk to assinine waiters, captains and stewards. 

I must say, that while we did face the daunting task of ordering from a machine, we always had someone from the restaurant come out and help us thru the process. Sometimes there was a English menu that they handed over with which you did some match the pictures and ordered from the machine. Often you had several choices, no I do not mean of the type of Ramen but a choice of size of bowl SML, and a choice of firmness of the noodle – soft, regular or hard, and, of course, you could order an extra portion of just the noodle. Some sides were also available, by and large Gyoza.

The Ramen ordering machine in Tokyo

I must say that the Ramen in Japan are half the price of what you pay in London. In London a simple Ramen would cost you about 12 to 15 GBP which is Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 1,500 while in Japan it was about Y 800 to Y 900 which is Rs. 470 to Rs 520. Of course you got a slightly smaller bowl in Japan and probably 1/3 of the meat. Mind you even that much was more than enough. 

Have a look at the photos here of the Japanese Ramen and the ones in the Shoru Rame and Tonkotsu in London. The Ramen are equally good looking and look interchangeable. Quality wise let me tell you that the UK Ramen are more than a fair match for the real stuff in Japan. UK flavours may be marginally thinner, but the Ramen in the UK are certainly good and up to scratch. I do not believe a Japanese man would have any problem with a UK Ramen. 

Ramen machine in Kyoto Station

The clean open kitchens and naughty cooks hamming!

Chicken Karaage - Basically Chicken Pakoras

My favourite Ramen is the Tonkotsu type which is Pork Bone based broth. HRH the Queen of Kutch prefers the Miso Ramen where Miso paste is blended with the stock to produce a thicker and richer soup base. Both are excellent and, according to me, extremely nourishing. Remember, every time you are sick you are to have soup? Well this is the real stuff, bones, collagen, protein rich healthy stuff. No way you are getting a `sardi’ [cold] after a bowlful of this stuff.  

The Japanese are really crazy about Ramen and it is the most popular lunch time meal. In the Kyoto Station building one entire section of the 10th floor is dedicated to Ramen restaurants of different styles. We had one meal there. We also ate at 2 Ramen places in Tokyo. Just ordinary restaurants equivalent to our Udipi restaurants. In all the Ramen was excellent.

So folks, if you need a quick nourishing filling and cheap meal while in Japan, go to a Ramen place, and, yes, the top left button more often than not works.

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