My Japanese knowledge is, to be honest, rather limited. I’ve seen Lost in Translation, I love to shop at Daiso (the Japanese $2 store; there are chains in Singapore), I do sushi with some regularity. On a date about 2 years ago we went to a “home-style” Japanese restaurant and both confessed to each other that we had no idea what that was going to mean. (It meant quite a bit of fried food, and rice dishes.)
Oh, and ramen. Right? Those packets? I grew up making “Oodles of Noodles” (which later became Top Ramen, I guess—the packaging is the same) regularly on summer breaks. I have a stash of chicken flavor in the pantry all the time, and since my parents moved to Singapore I’ve discovered the joys of kim chi ramen as well as laksa. Mom even recently sent me a mysterious package of purple noodle ramen. (When I try it that will be another blog post!) That’s ramen, right?
Okay, okay. I know it’s not. Which is why I’ve been itching to try one of the ramen spots in New York. Tonight I finally did!
My friend Sonia and I waited (for 20 minutes! at 6:30! on a Wednesday!) for a table at Ippudo, on 4th Ave near 10th Street. A long while back, some friends and I tried to go here and at 7:30 on a Tuesday the wait was predicted to be more than an hour, so we didn’t bother. I’m glad Sonia and I stuck it out. We were seated at the counter, overlooking the cooks, which let us see all the yummy-looking things we didn’t order go past us!
I’d read online that the Hirata buns were really good, and not knowing anything else about the offerings, all of which sounded great, we got them as an appetizer.
And were rewarded greatly. The bun is similar to the bun of xao long bao—a rice flour–based dough—but this was cloudlike in a way that I did not expect. It was a wee bit sticky, gave nicely to the touch, and was smooth and soft and wonderfully doughy. The blandness offset the richness of the pork, whose layers of fat literally melted in your mouth. All of this would have been nice, but it was rendered perfect with the spicy mayo-like sauce that was on top (along with lettuce). The heat (which we hadn’t known was coming) gently filled your mouth but didn’t overpower any of the ingredients. Swoon.
For the ramen, we each stuck with one of the “classics.” Unfortunately, my picture of Sonia’s is a bit blurry, so I’m not posting it here. I got the Shiromaru Hakata Classic (above), which is described as “‘the original tonkotsu’ soup noodles with slices of simmered berkshire pork, kikurage, red pickled ginger, menma, 1/2 hard boiled egg, sesame & scallions.” She got Akamaru Modern, “‘the original tonkotsu’ soup noodles with ippudo’s special sauce, miso paste and fragrant garlic oil, slices of simmered berkshire pork, cabbage, onions, kikurage & scallions.” They were totally different, and yet very similar. Both were salty and full of umami flavor, but mine was more earthy, while hers was more spiced. I couldn’t decide which I liked more, though after half of mine I was happy to switch bowls with her and finish up with something different.
The ramen was warming and comforting and really nice—especially as the weather has taken a turn toward the fall in the last few days. I look forward to comparing this with other ramen houses as winter comes on!