Ramen is one of my favorite comfort foods. I love the rich broth, savory toppings and oodles of noodles. Below is a little history about ramen and some of my preferred, California spots to enjoy a bowl.
Known today as a distinctly, Japanese noodle dish and staple that has become popular worldwide, ramen's roots are actually Chinese. The dish arrived in Japan with Chinese tradesmen in the nineteenth century. The first Japanese ramen restaurant, Rairaiken, was opened in Tokyo in 1910 and generations later, the family is still making ramen.
The noodles used to make ramen are unique, in that in addition to wheat flour, water and salt, kansui (a special mineral alkaline water) is added to give the noodles their unique, chewy texture. The four most common types of ramen broth are Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (salt), Miso (soybean paste) and Tonkatsu (pork bone). That said, there are endless other variations - some traditional and some innovative. Below are delicious examples of both.
Spicy Minced Pork, Poached Egg, Scallion, Chives, Seaweed Flakes, Minced Garlic, Fish Powder
Mogu Mogu is a ramen restaurant with locations in West Los Angeles, Costa Mesa and Fullerton, California. What makes Mogu Mogu unique is that they offer Mazemen ramen. Mazemen, which translates to "mixed noodles" is a broth-less ramen. The thick noodles are usually served with minced pork in a garlic, soy sauce and accompanied by other ingredients including leeks, fish powder, seaweed and more, depending on which style of Mazeman you choose.
Mazemen is meant to be enjoyed by following these steps:
1) Mix, mix, mix. The restaurant suggests stirring the noodles for at least 30 seconds to incorporate all the ingredients and coat them in the sauce.
2) About half way through the dish, add some of their homemade, umami vinegar for a flavor enhancement and change.
3) After you consume all the noodles, add a scoop of rice to the leftover sauce. This is referred to as “Oi-Meshi,” a fun way to savor and enjoy the last remnants of your meal. This was my first experience eating Mazemen and I highly recommend it.
Kazan is the creation of chef and entrepreneur Ryu Isobe. Ryu moved to the United States from Japan when he was 14, with dreams of opening a restaurant. After graduating from the University of Southern California with a major in business, Ryu realized his dream and opened his first restaurant, Tatsu Ramen in Los Angeles.
Kazan, located in Beverly Hills, is Ryu's second restaurant. At Kazan, Ryu focuses on perfecting thin, medium and thick, soba noodles, all made from scratch, for his ramen. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat which imparts a robust, nutty flavor.
Vintage Japanese Noodle Press
Soba is not traditionally used to make ramen, nor are the French cooking techniques that Ryu blends with Japanese techniques to create his dishes. His goal is "to blend innovation with tradition."
Organic Baby Mixed Greens, Mango, Green Onions, Shaved Crispy Garlic
Lamb in Lava
This is Kazan's signature dish and a must try, especially if you like spicy food. The dish uses a variety of Kazan's original, house-made, noodles, ranging from thin to thick. It is served with tender, New Zealand lamb chops, cilantro, and a ton of spices, shipped directly from Japan. The dish comes to your table bubbling in a clay pot.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is a ramen restaurant with a worldwide presence in Japan, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. In the U.S., locations are scattered throughout California including San Jose, Santa Monica, Irvine and San Diego. Santouka offers many ramen varieties but they are best known for their Tokusen Toroniku or pork jowl ramen.
If you are wondering why my ramen looks naked, it's because the toppings for this restaurant's signature dish are traditionally served separately.
The toppings included pickled plum, green onions, menma (bamboo shoot), kikurage (wood ear mushroom), narutomaki (fish paste) and toroniku cha-shu (simmered pork cheek). I enjoyed being able to add the ingredients to the ramen myself, in order to set proportions to my liking.
Toroniku Salt Ramen
Pork cheek meat is a precious commodity in that very little can be rendered when butchering the animal. It has a very rich flavor and is extremely tender. For all you sushi lovers, think of the pork equivalent of toro or otoro. Having eaten regular cha-su, this was indeed an elevated experience.
Ramen and Tsukemen TAO
Owner chef, Toshimasa Sano opened Ramen and Tsukemen Tao after training for 10 years at Tsujita, a famed ramen restaurant, in Tokyo, Japan. Ramen and Tsukemen Tao was recognized by Michelin for the "soul-stirring comfort food" it serves at its Orange County, California locations.
Red Miso Ramen
The red miso ramen comes with thinly sliced curls of scallion, sautéed bean sprouts, bamboo and the succulent chashu. The broth is more sauce than soup-like so it coats the noodles well and stands up to the rich pork.
A third of the way into my bowl, I added seaweed flakes, fresh garlic and tao (spicy cayenne and garlic paste) for additional flavor and heat.
From the rich and creamy broth that takes 40 hours to prepare, to the fresh, springy noodles from Hokkaido, Japan, the ramen was very tasty.
For one last ramen recommendation, see my "Lunchable" post from last October. The first restaurant featured in the post, Hiro Nori Craft Ramen, is another yummy, California, ramen venue.
In the midst of sweater weather, a comforting bowl of warm ramen is one of my favorite treats. Feel free to share your favorite ramen spots and let me know what you think, if you get a chance to try any of the ones I mentioned in this post.