By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Japanese dish’s alchemy of humble ingredients is only beginning its culinary ascent
In December, the first issue of Lucky Peach, a quarterly food journal produced by Momofuku mogul and chef-of-the-moment David Chang, sold on eBay for $162.50 to $152.50 more than its newsstand price in June 2011. Crazy? Not to anyone up on food trends: the issue is devoted to ramen, the Japanese broth-noodle combo once best known as a mainstay for starving students. But that was before forces—cultural, economic, primal—transformed it into the new cosmic chicken soup for the soul, metaphorically and culinarily speaking.
We’re currently in the grip of ramen mania, as illustrated by thousands of Instagrams of wheat noodles in glistening hot broth topped with sliced pork, mushrooms, egg, corn, seaweed, green onion, pickled bamboo shoots—you name it. The dish’s Vancouver toehold has increased and migrated east, with shops opening up in Toronto and beyond, seemingly with the frequency of Starbucks. Chatter on Chowhound message boards has turned to critiques of tare, the seasoned sauce that defines ramen type: miso, fermented bean paste; shoyu, soy-sauce based; shio, salty seafood and seaweed essence; and tonkotsu, creamy pork-bone broth. Studying ramen-making in Japan has become a chef’s bragging right, the way training at former molecular cuisine mecca El Bulli used to be.
Ivan Orkin, a New York chef turned ramen celebrity in Japan, sees the trend only beginning in North America. The self-described “Japanophile” moved to Tokyo in 2003 amid a ramen renaissance. His two Ivan Ramen shops, which offer a “Mexican” and a “BLT” ramen, were big hits; he also gained fame selling high-end instant ramen. Orkin is about to open his first U.S. outpost in Manhattan’s Lower East Side this spring. He’s publishing a book in the fall.