a semi-recent new york times article about exploring tokyo via its ramen shops left me desolate, homesick, and hungry. i whined to friends about the lack of REAL quality ramen here in the bay area- hell, even in los angeles, which has some pretty decent ramen. a friend kept suggesting ramen joint after ramen joint up here that i kept shooting down again and again. sorry, i told him, but when you’ve lived out in the japanese countryside and eaten ramen made by some 60 year old man who has been making ramen for the last 50 years, who got up at 5 am to start making that magical pork broth, really, nothing else can compare. he told me my standards were too high if the barometer was that the chef had to have been making the dish for 5/6 of his life haha. but it can’t be helped, my friends, because i am a ramen snob.
it wasn’t always this way. i used to associate the word with that instant cardboard drivel so many friends and boyfriends seemed to subsist off of in college. but then i moved to the boondocks of japan, where only a few days off the plane, a few days of settling into my tiny apartment, i slurped down my first real bowl of ramen. porky, soothing, a perfect mix of textures, it soon became our go-to after karate meal, the perfect lunch during weekend trips to tokyo, and i knew that i’d finally earned the trust of my coworkers once they shared with me the secret of their favourite ramen shop just out of town- a magical place with truly magical broth and 500 yen bowls of ramen. it was there that for the very first time i drank every single drop of the broth following my meal- japanese coworkers had confided that the mark of a truly delicious ramen is one where you feel compelled to drink all the broth. so for me, ramen has that extraordinarily powerful wallop of sentimentality. reading that new york times article, i missed, with almost a physical ache, the perfect bowl of ramen. well, the universe must have heard my cry, because lo and behold, last night i was lucky enough to secure the very last spot in a secret guerilla ramen night at a private home in san francisco.
guerilla ramen night was organized by my friend yoko’s collective food blog, the very cool umamimart. back when i was a student, yoko and i worked together one summer at a crazy computer camp on the berkeley campus, and after i graduated, she and i moved to japan around the same time. she’s back in the bay area now, and her friend/founder of umamimart, kayoko (who also, funnily enough, knew my sister in new york- what a small world!) knows a guy- a guy who is not only crazy about ramen, but also crazy talented at MAKING ramen. he’s gone to japan to research making ramen many times. he makes his own homemade noodles, stews a from-scratch broth for hours, and marinates the pork loin to perfect succulence. this past sunday night, he and his very gracious wife opened their home to a small horde of hungry ramen fans, and treated us to an unforgettable evening.
homemade ramen noodles waiting to be cooked.
a single bowl of broth waits patiently on the stove for its dollop of noodles
puttin’ in all the fixins’
yoko digs into her bowl of spicy ramen with relish. she and her husband had dressed for the ballet earlier that day and added another level of ambiance to the evening.
look at that hot ball o’ spice!!!
a juicy bite of pork in yoko’s ramen
my bowl of ramen- the special. included pork, spicy roe, and wood ear.
oh my god you guys, so good… SO GOOD!!! best i’ve had since leaving japan. i don’t know if any of you have ever watched japanese television, but my favourite show is one called “my little chef“, where a young japanese chef makes food so good it makes the eaters go into ecstasies of sentimentality and nostalgia. eating this, i felt like i was back in the countryside again, looking out a window at rice paddies, enjoying a quiet afternoon, thinking about where i was going to explore next. look at how creamy that broth is. the consistency of the fresh-made noodles were soft, but not too soft, and contrasted nicely against the crunch of the bamboo, the green onion, and the pickled ginger. the spicy roe gave an extra kick to the already wonderfully flavourful broth.
the pork was perfect- juicy and tender. the egg was a revelation- the yolk had absorbed all the porky-goodness of the broth, and was just the right silky consistency. i wish i had taken a photo of the bowl when i was done, i was very tempted to lick the bottom clean. i drank ALL the broth, sodium intake be damned.
but wait, the excitement isn’t over yet…! our gracious host even made ICE CREAM!! there were two flavours to choose from- a coconut porter made from a homebrew our host and his friends make, and a mint mint ice cream. i went with the coconut, which was a very nice way to end such a rich meal- fresh, light, and very delicious.
once again, thanks so much to umamimart and to our host and his wife for such a wonderful, delicious evening! i gave up my current cycle of vegetarianism for this night, and believe me, it was so, so worth it. if y’all do another guerilla ramen night… let me know… i’ll be the one slurping down the noodles and crying nostalgically into the broth.