Ramen Journal, Part IV: Ramen

Throwing it all together for the finale. After the ramen broth, the noodles, and the pork are done, you’ve got most of the hard stuff out of the way. The broth is a bit bare as it is, so I’ve experimented by adding various ingredients to enhance the flavor – such as garlic, sardines, apples, shiitake, etc. My broth is ever evolving, each time a new flavor introduced. Ramen shops in Japan have a ramen broth and also a “tare”, which is a concentrated second broth that is combined in small amounts with the first broth right before serving. These “tare” recipes are always secret, as this is what makes every ramen shop’s signature dish unique.  The beauty of ramen is that there are no rules.  There’s no standard way to make the broth, there’s no standard noodle, pork, or toppings. It is such a stark contrast to Japanese culture where conformity and abiding by the rules are the norm.  It’s truly one of the most creative dishes in Japanese cuisine, and it’s a widely available street food nonetheless.  Most places in Tokyo serve ramen bowls for less than $10, with the more premium places ranging from $10-$15.

To serve:

  1. Portion out the broth in a large saucepan to heat up – add ingredients or spices to reach desired flavor.
  2. Boil a large pot of water to cook the noodles
  3. Once boiling, place the noodles in a noodle sieve or metal strainer and then into the water.  Cook for 1 minute and 45 seconds or until slightly more al dente than what you would prefer, as it will cook slightly more once served.
  4. Cut the pork belly into slices.
  5. Add the final broth to the bowl, gently place the noodles in the broth, and then the pork and rest of the toppings that you wish to serve.  Some popular toppings are corn, menma (bamboo shoots), nori (dried seaweed), scallions, diced onions, eggs, and bean sprouts.
Ramen served with pork, scallions, corn, and a sous vide egg

Ramen served with pork, scallions, corn, and a sous vide egg

Sous vide egg cut in half

Sous vide egg cut in half

I spent some time in Tokyo recently and had a chance to eat a LOT of ramen (almost daily) and even got to visit the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama. If you ever visit Tokyo, I’d recommend taking a day trip to Shin-Yokohama and checking it out! They have permission to recreate and serve from the menu of 9 famous ramen shops around the country. They have half size bowls too, so you can try as much as your stomach can handle. Here are some photos:

The lunch crowd at the Ramen Museum

The lunch crowd at the Ramen Museum


Komurasaki’s Tonkotsu Ramen – Half Size (Ramen Museum)


Komurasaki’s Miso Ramen – Half Size (Ramen Museum)


Shina Sobaya’s Soy Ramen – Half Size (Ramen Museum)


Shina Sobaya’s Salt Ramen – Half Size (Ramen Museum)


Idaten’s Chashu Ramen (Omori)


Itoyokado’s Tonkotsu Ramen (Itoyokado is a popular department store and this is what’s served in the cafeteria. Not bad for $6 USD!)

Pride of Ippudo

Pride of Ippudo’s Ramen (Omori)


Daishin Grocery Store Cafeteria’s Soy Ramen (Omori, this was $5 USD… crazy)

Menya 305

Menya 305’s Ramen (Roppongi)

Noriya's Chashu Ramen (Oimachi)

Noriya’s Chashu Ramen (Oimachi)

And for non-ramen foods…

Takoyaki from THE Takoyaki stand at Ueno's Shitamachi

Takoyaki from THE Takoyaki stand at Ueno’s Shitamachi

Shijimi (Small Clam) Miso Soup - the BEST type of miso soup

Shijimi Miso Soup – the BEST type of miso soup

Grilled Fish at a Festival

Grilled Fish from a Street Stand at a Festival

Grilled Squid from a Street Stand at a Festival

Grilled Squid from a Street Stand at a Festival

Grillin' Octopus
Grillin’ Octopus

Assorted Barbeque - I had the Sazae (Turbo Cornutus)

Assorted Barbeque – I had the Sazae (Turbo Cornutus)

The Sazae

The Sazae

I'm not ballin' enough for this Heart Shaped Mini Watermelon... it was 50 bucks!

I’m not ballin’ enough for this Heart Shaped Mini Watermelon… it was 50 bucks!


Ramen Journal, Part I: The Broth

Naturally, it makes sense that our first blog post should be about ramen! Having had a life-long obsession with Japanese cuisine, I figured that I really wanted to learn how to make a good bowl of ramen, completely from scratch. Through trial and error, it boiled down to the following recipe – it’s a bit time consuming (start 2-3 days before anticipated eating) but rather gratifying:

Base Ramen Broth

The inspiration came from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s post at Serious Eats, which includes a detailed account of the several techniques used to bring out the flavors in a tonkotsu style ramen broth. Following those guidelines and after several iterations of ramen broth making, we found that our personal preference was for a less porky broth using similar proportions of pork and chicken to balance the flavors.

List of ingredients (serves 8-12, varies based on how long you boil):
3 lbs of Chicken (leg quarters)
1.5 lbs of Pork trotters
1.5 lbs of Pork bones
1 Onion
1 Head of Garlic
Couple stalks of Scallions
4-8 Large pieces of Kombu
2 Teaspoons of Bonito Dashi powder
Vegetable oil

1. Add 30 cups of cold water and the kombu to the stock pot and set the burner to medium. Keep in mind that once the water creeps towards boiling point and begins to show some bubbling, the kombu needs to be taken out, so do check the water often.

Making the Kombu Dashi

Making the Kombu Dashi

2. While waiting for the water to heat up, prepare the rest of the ingredients that will go into the broth. Peel the onion and cut into quarters. Break apart the garlic and crush the cloves using the blade of the knife (this makes it very easy to take off the skin). Sautee the onion and garlic in a skillet with a little vegetable oil until dark and caramelized. Rinse the pork and chicken.

3. When the water in the stockpot starts bubbling, remove the kombu with a strainer to get all the small bits. I wouldn’t recommend discarding the kombu – you can actually reuse it to make a second dashi stock (called nibandashi in Japanese). You can fill up a second pot (regular/large size) with cold water and place the kombu in it and repeat step 1 to get a second kombu dashi which you can save for some other time to make miso soup, noodle soup base, sauce, etc. You don’t even have to discard the kombu at the end of the second dashi stock, you could thinly slice it up and add some dressing to it and serve as a side dish, or even pickle it in some vinegar and soy sauce. Now, back to the ramen.

4. Add the 2 teaspoons of bonito dashi powder to the stock pot and stir to dissolve. At this point, feel free to have a taste of the kombu/bonito dashi stock combination. It is extremely tasty and so full of umami. You can even set aside some if you want to experiment with it in other soups/sauces.

5. Carefully place the caramelized onions/garlic, whole scallions, pork, and chicken into the stock pot and cover with a lid. This will lower the temperature of the water but it will reach boiling point soon enough. Once it reaches the boiling temperature again, turn the heat down until you get a rolling boil. Let it boil for 12-13 hours (or overnight).

All ingredients in the pot!

All ingredients in the pot!



6. Once it has been boiling for a period of time, take the lid off to let the steam escape and reduce the broth, thereby thickening and concentrating the liquid. I usually let it boil without a lid for an additional 5-7 hours until I have reached my desired consistency and flavor.

Just about done!

Just about done!

7. Take out all the solid contents in the stock pot and strain the broth through a sieve. Discard the solid contents. At this point, you can skim your broth of the fat that is floating on top or if you like your broth to be very fatty, you can leave it. I personally prefer to put the broth in the fridge until cold, which makes taking off the fat layer very easy. Also, when the broth is cold and it becomes like gelatin, that’s a good indicator that you got all the collagen out of the bones. I carefully skim the fat off the top of the jello-like broth and put it in a jar to save for later – I add a tiny bit to the ramen broth before serving.

Skimming the fat

Skimming the fat

Getting ready to put some of the broth in the fridge/freezer for later

Getting ready to put some of the broth in the fridge/freezer for later

At this point, you have the base ramen stock for use in ramen soup (when coupled with flavorings such as dried anchovy, garlic oil, etc.). More on that later.

Next – Ramen Diaries, Part II: Noodles