Monday, April 19, 2010

not your typical ramen

In the course of my drooling over various food blogs, I stumbled onto a couple of very good ones related to ramen (here's one; here's another). Now usually when I think of ramen, I think of those 15 cent bags of dehydrated noodles alongside a flavor packet available in the grocery stores back home. They were perfectly edible (once I jazzed them up with fresh veggies and an egg), but considering the price, I always associate them more with the penance I had to do for splurging on something earlier in the week. Definitely not something I would want to write home about. But reading the descriptions that these guys were giving and seeing the steaming bowls of goodness on their blogs made me want to rethink this whole ramen thing. My boss told me that there are various styles of broth that are representative of a given region: soy- flavored chicken broth for Tokyo; miso broth for Hokkaido; and "tonkotsu" or pork bone broth for Kyushu, all of which are available in the school cafeteria. Of these three, I tend to lean toward the richer, tonkotsu style.

However, as the ramen blogs inform me, there are incredible variations on these basic styles. I was particularly interested in the chain of restaurants opened up by Takeda Keisuke, a classically trained french chef. Each of his restaurants specializes in his unique take on the classic. At Shodai Keisuke, which is located just across the street from the front red gates of the Todai campus, the specialty is "kuro miso ramen" made with a broth of burnt miso and garlic.

After putting money in the machine by the door and picking the button for what seemed like a reasonably priced item that included the kanji for "kuro", I sat at the counter and waited for my bowl. The burnt miso and garlic gave the broth an almost black color and a toasty, rich flavor. The toppings are thinly sliced meat (pork I think), scallions, a soft-boiled egg and thin strands of what I think might be saffron. It was really yummy and incredibly hearty. The noodles were much thicker and chewier than the curly stuff you get in the bag. When I finished fishing out all the noodles and chunks, they gave me a small bowl of rice to drop into the remaining broth, making a sort of risotto, which is eaten with a black ceramic spoon.

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