It's raining ramen
Last night I ate at Izikaya Sozai, a mere 20 minute walk from my house. While they only serve one kind of ramen, tonkotsu, and its very basic, whoa is that broth delicious. For those of you not in San Francisco, I'm a fan of Maru Ichi in Mountain View, and Ippudo and Momofuku in NYC, if you're in those parts. Short of going to Japan, these are my fave North American options.
All those places aren't really a secret, and their popularity often necessitates an hour long wait. I am no expert in underground ramen. But a steamy bowl with savory broth and springy noodles will make anyone happy when its cold outside and the droplets patter at your window pane. And frigidly delayed gratification sometimes makes it even better.
For those of you who can't get enough, Momofuku's David Chang and esteemed company like Anthony Bourdain and the folks at McSweeney's served up their first issue of food magazine Lucky Peach, and it was ALL about ramen.
To further drive the craze, Korean drama Flower Boy Ramyun Shop is hitting the airwaves weekly. If the ramen alone isn't hot and spicy enough, try adding a side dish of sparkling dapper dandy and you'll be slurping it up and begging for more.
Sure, the show looks like a bit of fluff, but it's surprisingly sexy and fun with heaps of heart, and a feisty heroine you root for from the get-go. And the soundtrack is pretty aces as far as KDramas go. Brownie points to the music supervisor. Jung Il-Woo is hilarious as a shrieky playboy, and Lee Ki-Woo is smoldering as the earthy narcoleptic ramen chef. Yes, I just typed earthy narcoleptic ramen chef. What girl wouldn't want to be Lee Chung-Ah?
Even with the elevation of ramen to an occasionally rarefied experience, its instant incarnation and the versatility it offers still makes it a food of the people. That is likely a huge part of its charm and why its undergoing a renaissance. While you may splurge for the extra special regional broth and handmade noodles, though still managing to spend under $20, sometimes all you want--and can afford--is that cheap-ass packet. But you can still eat like a queen. How? Here are my top tips for making your Top Ramen truly the tops!
1) Add an egg. You can hard boil it first, poach it in the boiling soup water, fry it and eat it on the side, whatever. Adds delish without much extra cost.
2) Ditch the seasoning packet and add your own broth. While some brands have seasoning that's perfectly fine, nothing makes your ramen sing like a different soup. For mere added pennies, you can add some grocery store veggie or chicken broth. While it may be a larger initial investment for a cheapskate, buying a package of miso paste pays off in the long run. Not only does it heat up--never boil miso--and dissolve in water quickly, but you can control your sodium content, make your broth to taste, and add loads of other things if you're not feeling the noodles. Try diced tofu, seaweed, scallions, and shitake mushrooms. Either way, for the lazy and the poor, these are nice alternatives to the standard issue seasoning. Especially for those of you harboring a MSG phobia.
3) Garnish says luxury at a fraction of the price. Chop up some scallions, crack a little pepper, add a handful of canned corn, or a slice or two of fishcake or tofu and your bowl will thank you for it. Pickled side dishes are nice touch too. Have some kimchi, picked radish, or cole slaw to accompany your noodles with a contrasting flavor. Sesame seeds or furikake are also lovely.
4) Throw in some veg. You're already eating something that's often been fried, with loads of chemicals, and tons of sodium. So why not have some healthful benefits? My favorite is to chop some broccoli rabe and blanch it in the water with the noodles and egg as they're cooking. Some other nice options are spinach, kale, and plain jane broccoli. Sliced carrots, julienned peppers, mushrooms of all sorts (shitake, enoki, and porcini are some of my faves)and frozen peas are also great.
And when you're done we can all singalong and devour happily, shielded from the rain.