Ostensibly the entire reason for this trip is ramen. A year ago, we were watching the show The Mind of a Chef, the first season of which featured David Chang, who had many formative experiences with ramen, and who kept coming back to ramen. After yet another episode that mentioned ramen, Toby turned to me and said “I want ramen. Let’s go to Japan.” And thus was history made.
For those of you thinking of Top Ramen and wondering why we’d want to go to Japan for it, Top Ramen is to real ramen what McDonald’s burgers are to burgers shaped from ground sirloin, thrown on the grill and grilled to that perfect temperature (I like medium well; others like medium-rare, I don’t judge), then placed lovingly onto a freshly-baked (perhaps) brioche bun and served up on the Fourth of July. You get the idea.
We didn’t even set out to get ramen. We’d spent the early afternoon at the Osaka Aquarium (WHALE SHARK!) and my feet had given out and Toby’s jet lag blindsided him, so we skipped lunch, went back to the hotel, and napped until we got hungry. We,d gotten a map of local restaurants from a hotel manager and thought we’d try one of the okonomiyaki places, since that,s one of the things Osaka is known for. Found the first place, on the third floor of a nearby building. Closed. Wandered around that building without getting inspired by any of the places there–the only one that seemed appetizing was full of smokers–so decided to try the other okonomiyaki place in the Osaka Business Park across the street. Aaaand it was closed for the day. Our choices at that point were a Western-style joint that served omelets and spaghetti, Mister Donut (tempting), or ramen.
Yeah. :). This was one of the sort where you pick out what you want and buy a ticket from a machine up front. The server was a young woman who spoke no English, and as we spoke no Japanese that was useful in this situation, we communicated by pantomime. She handed us an English menu, we pointed at the ramen we wanted and she showed us where it was on the machine. We fed our money in, it made change and printed a ticket, then she grabbed the tickets and led us back along a narrow hall that overlooked the kitchen, to a small dining room with six tables.
Although we didn’t order drinks from the machine, there were pitchers of ice water at the tables. There were also bibs, which we fell eagerly upon as neither of us is coordinated enough to eat bowls of soup and noodles without getting some on our shirts. (We’ve got Woolite packets for emergency hand washing if we can’t get to laundry machines, but would rather not have to).
My ramen was a shio (sea salt) broth while Toby’s was tonkatsu (pork) and, he thinks, fish broth. Shio is lighter while tonkatsu is a heavier gut-bomb of a soup. click here for the Serious Eats guide to ramen styles to be amazed at the many and varied type of ramen there are. They both had roast pork, onsen eggs (soft boiled), menma (bamboo shoot) and spring onion in them.
The ramen was delicious, and the perfect thing at the perfect time. And I think I really like shio broth. It’s not overly salty, but you can tell there’s salt there. Toby says his was better than nearly everything he’s had in the States. He noticed that the noodles have a lot more chew to them than the ramen we get in our area of the US.
Here is a photo of Toby in his ramen bib waiting for me to put the camera down so he can eat. Alas, his photo of his bowl didn’t come out so you’ll have to squint at what you can see of it here.
And then we came back to the hotel. We’re going to spend the evening packing as we have to catch an early Shinkansen to Hiroshima tomorrow morning. Photos of fish and sea mammals from the aquarium later, after I’ve had a chance to edit a few to the proper size to post here.