Ramen: Ready for a Close-Up
If you still think of ramen as those super-salty, just-add-water packaged noodles your roommate — OK, you — ate way too much of in college, you may want to get out more. Or at the very least, you should watch this video of Chef Bradley Miller's heartfelt tribute to the food he'd choose for his last bite on Earth: "a big steaming porky deliciousness bowl of miso ramen."
During the last few years in New York, ramen shops have popped up with the sudden ubiquity of Starbucks, but instead of sipping pricey venti lattes, their hipster clientele, barely visible behind steamy windows, devour headily fragrant, artfully prepared, and delightfully inexpensive Japanese broth and noodles.
Ramen, in case you were unaware, is unequivocally a thing, supplanting the city's previous love affair with a different Japanese noodle, as The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells writes this week:
"The shift from soba connoisseurship to ramen mania is so thorough it can't be called a trend anymore. It embodies bigger changes in the way New Yorkers eat. Consider: Soba noodles are prized for their delicacy, ramen broth for its hearty, salty, head-filling intensity. Soba is minimalist, with scallions and red grains of togarashi scattered over a broth made from seaweed and dried fish. Ramen's lavish garnishes almost always feature slices of pork swimming in a slick of melted animal fat above the liquid you get when you boil great heaps of meat and bones. The best soba is expensive and is found in restaurants with a temple-like serenity. Ramen is cheap and is the fuel of late-night drunken sprees."
Ramen's rise, apparently at soba's expense, Pete argues, has marked a transformation in New York "from hushed fine dining to noisy eat-and-run joints; from subtle flavors to assertive ones; from a dining scene in which pork played almost no role to one in which it was the emperor of meats."
Pete goes on to rank some of the city's best ramen noodles, chasing them down in strange — sometimes illicit spots — like outer-borough bagel shops and empty sushi bars.
Of course New York isn't the only North American city where ramen is all the rage: They're raving for it in Toronto, Dallas, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and beyond. It has sparked a Cronut™-like fad-food mash-up: the much ballyhooed ramen burger, where two discs of compressed ramen noodles flank a beef patty, standing in for the bun.
Someone is even reportedly noodling around with the idea of opening a Ramen Museum in Europe in the next 10 years. Slurp.