Posts Tagged ramen
Japanese ramen. For me it’s perfection in a bowl. One unforgettable meal boiled down to its bare essentials. Hot soup packed with more flavour than you can dream of, acidity from pickles, damn good noodles, slices of pork that melt in your mouth and the small mound of spring onions. Then there is the soft boild egg.
Brisbane has, in my opinion 2 of the best ramen places I have tried in Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane). Recently in Melbourne there has been a craze over izakaya, yakitori and anything with a South American name attached to it (even if it taste bad). There just hasn’t been enough authentic, traditional and not over-priced Japanese food in Melbourne. What happend to the one shop-one dish mentality? Do we always need to put a wine glass on top of every meal? Here are 2 new additions to the Japanese noodle-ness in Melbourne.
Kokoro Ramen on Lonsdale st in the Melbourne CBD comes pretty close to Ramen Ya. The ramen from Kokoro is thin, the soup is good (once was not hot), egg is perfect but the pork lacked finesse – like a bad ringtone stabbing though a music concert. There are too many iterations of the same thing and that also frustrates me. Serve up a handful of dishes well and leave it alone! I would probably still put Ramen Ya just ahead, but Kokoro seems to have all the right intention – and plenty of potential.
Very recently, Nama Nama opened up serving their specialty: hand made udon in a dashi broth (Kento style). Opened up last month by the people from Izakaya Den. The fit out is a blend of modern and street (glass and concrete plus stools and drink cartons as table holders. I tried their udon with the pork. The soup was the most flavourful dashi broth (plus soy) – so much depth to it. If you wonder why people fuss about a good dashi then try this. Udon was nice, chewy and well cooked. An addition of a small quail egg was a nice touch. The pork was very well cooked (probably sous vide) and melted in my mouth. At $15 – a touch more expensive than the going rate in the city (to sit on a stool).
Sydney is filled with eateries especially Chinatown. Urbanspoon seemed to have good reviews so here I am on a freezing cold summer night. The dish to judge ramen joints is the Tonkotsu ramen. The two critical constituents of a good ramen dish being the broth and the noodles. So many places attempt but so few places get it right. Hakataya, Brisbane, Taro’s Ramen, Brisbane (blog post pending) gets it right. Bringing me back to Kyoto, Japan.
Gumshara is located in a food court within Chinatown. Not much sign or fancy decors except for a wall of photos of each dish. There were a few people waiting in line. As the noodle enters the bowel, somebody stirs it to ensure it is well separated.
The ramen has to contain the thickest soup I have ever tasted in a ramen. It might be a bit too thick. There was plenty of pork bone flavour for sure, but it was missing something. Possibly umami. The noodle was perfectly cooked along with good quality cha shu meat. (The half cooked egg was extra). Is it good? yes. But not for ramen beginners.
Update: More pictures, including from Taro’s Ramen (Brisbane) and Kokoro Ramen (Melbourne)
It’s a big statement from me. But I would like to think I have tried a few bowls of ramen in my life without being completely obsessed (ok, a little) about it. In the 8 years I have been in Melbourne, many soups bases have been devoured. On the Brisbane front, My brother lives there so he would be pretty in touch with which ramen shops are singing out. In Sydney is my friend and along with my pre-visit research, I have tried a couple of places with good words said about them. I am going to first admit my limitations and will be more than excited to hear about other places to see some porky goodness.
I have made a couple of posts on ramen in Japan, including the best ramen I have tried to date. In Melbourne, Ramen Ya, Momotaro Ramen (great soft-boiled eggs) are my favorites (as of 2012, Kokoro Ramen (see below) and Ramen Ya are the best in Melbourne). Sydney has Gumshara Ramen and Ichi ban Boshi posted by Grab Your Fork. One thing I have yet to try is Ichi ban Boshi’s limited-number tonkotsu ramen. I tried waiting for one last year by getting in early, ordering food and then asking the waitress that when the special ramen was ready I am also ready for round 2. Sadly it was too far away and I would be sitting there for another 45 minutes twiddling my fingers. This year I went to Gumshara ramen which is stuck in a crowded food court in Sydney’s Chinatown. Their limited 20 serve pork spare rib with thick soup was hand-down the most pork-rich soup I have ever come across. The first spoon full was so intense that I wasn’t sure it it was soup or something gravy-like. But the flavours were just too much to take in a bowl. Maybe I was already feeling hot and greasy from walking all day. Notably, Gumshara has choice of thin and thick soup base. My friend suggested a thin base might be more balanced.
But this is where Melbourne and Sydney’s ramen fade in comparison to… Brisbane’s Hakataya Noodle Shop in Sunnybank (first shop in Surface Paradise called Nagahama Ramen Hakataya). The shop is small (good), menu short (good), had a japanese style curtain at the entrance (good) and the tonkotsu ramen is just bloody good. Soup is porky all over, yet clean and slick and PERFECTLY seasoned. I think the hardest thing about tonkotsu soup base is getting the deep, porky taste while maintaining a clean and almost light taste. A bit like how French cooking might add cream/butter to ‘lighten’ the sauce up. The noodle is wonderfully dense and bitey (and free second serve to add to the soup. Shavings of pork (chashu) floating on top. There is a line outside ever day and so there should be. My brother has tried the shop in Surfers Paradise and he thinks the one in Brisbane is better.Hakataya Noodle Shop, Shop 27b Sunnybank Plaza (Cnr Mains Rd and McCullough St)
Sunnybank, 4109, Brisbane, Australia. (07) 5526 7055
Update: Taro’s Ramen
3 trips back to Brisbane later and I finally tasted Taro’s Ramen. The first one they were closed for holidays. The second time closed for other reasons. I was getting rather worked up every time the umami and tonkotsu taste buds were rubbing their hands together – only to have to wait some more. When I did get to eat it, it was certainly delicious. Soup was complex and porky. Clean and refined at the same time. It was probably less porky and more complex than Hakataya. Noodles were thin (my favorite type) and had a good bite. Importantly, the half boiled egg sit on top with a rich, amber glow that is only seen the moment before sun sets on a hazy afternoon. Splendid. Taro’s Ramen and Hakataya are easily the best 2 ramen restaurants I have tried in Australia.Taro’s Ramen:
363 Adelaide Street Brisbane QLD 4000, Australia
(07) 3832 6358
Update: Kokoro Ramen
It took many years for Melbourne to catch up in the ramen open. I have always wondered why, in a city so food crazy and literate, not places served a decent bowl of the noodle goodness. Kokoro Ramen (along with Ramen Ya, which has constantly improved) now sets the standard of tonkotsu ramen in Melbourne. Noodles are made on-site – thin and perfectly cooked. Soup is deep, the right amount of fattiness and quite complex. Most importantly, the soy-flavoured egg is perfection. You wont find eggs that get much better than this – Soft and saturated centre with a tender white that is deeply soaked in soy. I remember when they first opened, there were some inconsistencies with soup being luke warm or the noodles over cooked. Now business is in full-swing, the mistakes are ironed out. I am surprised that there is no line outside this little gem. Even in Paris there would be a line outside something like this.Kokoro Ramen 157 Lonsdale st Melbourne 03 9650 1212
I am full – 7 different ramen shops in Hokkaido. From the humble eatery in the cable car station to get to the highest mountain (Asahidake) to the packed ramen shops in the Ramen Alley in Sapporo. Those who know me well would also know that I have a weakness for ramen – specifically the tonkotsu based broth. Warm, full of bony goodness and marrow, the soup makes my heart beat like I am on my first date. Heck, for less than $10 a serve, the date has serious competition!
The Japanese really pride themselves on what they do. Each bowl is served with great attention to detail. The movie The Ramen Girl sums it up (despite the crap and annoying acting). The master-apprentice relationship and the kind of soul that people speak of when referring to the broth. The chef Maezumi might be a tyrant but each bowl is ‘a gift to the customer’ and ‘if you look at the ramen you feel it’.
My favorite on this trip is Santouka (fire, head, mountain) in Asahikawa. I later find out that shop is the original shop, now having a chain of restaurants in the US, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong. The shop was busy, fluorescent lit with basic chairs and table on the side while a stool lined bar was adjacent to the kitchen. I ordered their signature dish – the shio (salt) ramen. The stock is essentially a pork bone based (tonkotsu) that is salted, like all ramen soup base is. What this shop did well was not over salt their soup. My friends often complain that ramen soup is mostly too salty. I have to agree. But this bowl hit the salt level perfectly for me. Enough to really bring the broth to life but also to be able to finish all the soup without feeling that your blood pressure is shooting above 180 systolic. David Chang describes in his Momofuku cookbook that salt need to be almost ‘too salty’ for the soup to be ready.
Just look at how creamy the soup is! For a similar reaction to what I had…try this clip on a ramen shop in Tokyo. The soup in the clip is a triple stock, using 60 hours to make!
Simply amazing. Has anyone visited Santouka or one of their offsprings?
Since the tentacles of the ramen touched my heart in Japan, I have been craving for that hit of tonkatsu. I’ve walked past this shop many times, and sometimes dining next door at Kenzan at GPO. It wasn’t until that after a cupping session on Saturday that I hear a local Japanese barista/foodie vouched for this ramen. He thinks this is the best bowel in Melbourne. I try. I nod.
The stock was creamy and definitely packed a good,and refined porky/bone flavour. Noodle was well cooked. Instantly satisfied. At $9.50 a serve, it is a bargin. Try making that stock and you will know what I am talking about. And compared to the benchmark I had in Japan? Pork by Ramen Ya was soy based. I prefer the original, rolled pale slices of pork. I also prefer the thinner versions of ramen. And the stock I had in Japan just tasted a bit more potent yet more elegantly clean. Am I just dreaming?
Oh, and I just booked my flight to Barcelona in June. I have 2 weeks of annual leave and I just can’t think of a better and further place from my first year of work
Japan. What was beyond these curtains was a shock to what I know about a bowel of noodles. This was one of the busier shops on the ramen street section of a large shopping mall. We joined the queue and waited to buy tickets/vouchers for our bowel of ramen from the vending machine just outside the shop (on the right side of the shop. The tickets werecollected by the waitress outside who then planned the seating arrangements and also gave the chefs a head start to prepare the meal – very fast. When we walked in, the place was crammed with people concentrating on eating in all the availible space. The kitchen was open to view like a sushi bar. An array of large pots were boiling at the back. The waitress said something to the 2 chefs and the chefs immediately looked up and greeted us. They did this for every group of customers entering and leaving the door, generating energy and intense passion in what they do.
2 minute later , a bowel ramen with incomprehensible quality arrived. The best complete, one-bowel mean I have ever exerienced. This is my last supper. The soup was just not possible. Flavour, bones and more flavour. Small bits of solid fat floated on the soup. The ramen was perfect and thin. Meat and scallions was there for good measure. I have to go back again. on my short trip to Japan, I tried around 6 different Ramen restaurants only but I have opened up my heart. I am a believer. This is it. Ramen.