The Continuing Quest for Great Ramen

I’m still working on getting the best ramen — especially the best tonkotsu ramen — possible in this neck of the woods. It frustrates me so that you can get decent, if not downright good, ramen on just about every street in Japan, and cheaply, too! It’s generally not considered fancy food. But here it’s practically gourmet fare, hard to find, and expensive.

So I’m still trying to make my own passable version. Overall, the best ramen broth I’ve made was shoyu ramen from page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) (or her website easypeasyjapanesey.com. But my favourite type of broth is still tonkotsu, and to be frank it’s more than a little intimidating because there are so many steps that must be gotten just right. I’ve been trying to skip the cooking step on this one and just find a pre-made alternative, but I haven’t had a lot of luck.

Last night I made another attempt at using a pre-packaged soup base. I couldn’t even read anything on the package except “tonkotsu ramen” (what can I say, it’s been twenty years since I took Japanese lessons), and I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture of the packaging. The base came in what was essentially a bag, and was fully liquid. As with many other such things, I bought it at T&T.

The broth was okay I guess, but nothing spectacular. It was better than any of the dried kinds I’ve tried, but still not as good as the fast food places that I know for a fact use instant broth (I’ve watched them cook it). So yeah, nothing to write home about.

The noodles, were a bit soggy and floury. I’ve used this brand before (Nissin Frozen Ramen Noodles), and at this point I’m just using up what’s in my freezer. I don’t plan on buying them again.

The toppings, though, were really tasty. I made pork belly with soy sauce, a dash of sake, and a little bit of sugar. I think I could have gone a little bit lighter on the soy sauce (it was a little salty), but otherwise I liked this pork belly much better than the kind I have made in the past. I think what helped was that I browned it first, then added the liquids and let it simmer for a while. It really enhanced the flavour.

The other toppings included soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms, thinly sliced carrot (made easy by using a veggie peeler instead of a knife), narutomaki (fish cake), green onion, and tobiko (flying fish roe). The toppings were tasty, complimentary, and easy to prepare.

It’s getting to the point now where I think I had best just start making tonkotsu broth and ramen noodles from scratch in order to meet my own standards. I’ve wasted so much time trying to find decent pre-made ingredients when I’m starting to think that they’re just not available this side of the pond. I think the next step is investing in a pasta machine. At the very least, I think I’ll be waiting for autumn to start making my own broth — since it takes so long and so much boiling, it doesn’t seem wise to start cooking broth during the dog days of summer if I can avoid it.

Sun Noodle Brand Instant Shoyu Ramen

My trip to T&T last week resulted in me bringing home a whole load of new things I wanted to try, of course. The first one that I broke out was Sun Noodle Brand Instant Shoyu Ramen. It’s about $6.50 per frozen package, but each one serves two, so even though it’s not as cheap as the dried, instant stuff, it’s still a pretty darned affordable meal.

I’ve had shoyu broth, which is predominantly chicken and soy sauce flavoured, in Japan, and at Ichiko Ramen (formerly Ginza Ramen), and I’ve made it at home as well. (The fantastic — and easy! — homemade soup base recipe can be found on page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016) or at easypeasyjapanesey.com.) Although I’m by no means an expert, I think that I can at least tell what shoyu ramen is supposed to taste like, for the most part.

The package only contains the noodles and the broth, though; the instructions on the back of the package recommend adding your favourite toppings. I needed to make a quick meal, so I went with what we had in the fridge/freezer/pantry: soft-boiled eggs, narutomaki, enoki mushrooms, dried shrimp, and nori.

The verdict on this quick dinner was pretty positive. Sure, it’s not as good as homemade, and definitely not as good as restaurant fare. But it’s miles better than the dried instant kind. The noodles have a better consistency, which in the case of ramen means that they’re chewier (dried ones have a tendency to be soggy when cooked). The broth had more depth of flavour, although the one complaint I did get is that it was a little bit too salty. That might have been because of the dried shrimp, which are quite salty in and of themselves. Usually I add them to my homemade broths, which are very low in salt, and that works well, but they may not be a great combination with packaged stuff. It also could have been because I didn’t water down the broth enough. The instructions gave a range of the amount of water you could use, and then said “to taste”, so I guess our “to taste” is a little more watery than the official directions.

That being said, they were definitely good enough to try again! Maybe I’ll switch up the toppings next time; we could definitely have used more vegetables that night.

Frozen Ramen

I love fresh noodles. I am endlessly fascinated by videos like the ones about making thread-thin suo noodles or precisely-cut Chinese spinach noodles or seemingly-effortless hand-pulled noodles (emphasis on “seemingly”). In Japan, I was lucky enough to be able to try fresh ramen and, I think, udon, but there may have been a bit lost in translation.

Sadly, it’s hard to get fresh noodles of any style around here. There are a couple of specialty restaurants that make them, but for home use the closest I can get is refrigerated ones from the grocery store — and that’s only European styles. So until someone teaches me how to hand-pull noodles, or until I can afford an automatic pasta maker (or at the very least a hand-cranked pasta machine), I’m stuck with frozen or dried noodles.


Frozen ramen that my husband prepared, topped with cooked shrimp, dried shrimp, baby bok choy, and soft-boiled eggs.

The consistency of dried noodles doesn’t seem to bother my husband. Sure, he likes freshly-made pasta on the few occasions that we do get it, but he doesn’t crave the chewiness and strength of well-made ramen or udon. When he cooks ramen for dinner (and he always uses either instant broth or my homemade broth from the freezer), the consistency of the noodles doesn’t even cross his mind.


Frozen ramen that my husband prepared, topped with cooked shrimp, sliced avocado, baby bok choy, and soft-boiled eggs.

That being said, he is willing to go along with my conviction that there are much better things out there. To that end, we’ve been trying out the other brands of ramen that are locally available, which admittedly aren’t very many. We started with dried noodles — not the ones in the instant noodle packets, but something very similar. The last two meals my husband made used Nissin Frozen Ramen Roodles in Artificial Pork Flavour. The noodles were a bit better than the dried kind, but not by much. The broth mix that went with the noodles actually had less flavour than the packets that come with instant noodles (and so far as I can tell they had just as much sodium). I think the lack of punch is funny considering that Nissin is the same company that makes our family’s preferred brand of instant noodle packet. If I have to eat a just-add-water soup, I prefer their Tonkotsu Artificial Pork Flavour with Black Garlic Oil.

So I guess this frozen ramen was overall a bit better than the dried kind, but only a bit. I have another variety in my freezer left to try, though, before I head back to T&T to see if they have any others.

As an aside, did anyone else use to eat dried ramen as a kid without cooking it first? It makes me cringe in retrospect, but we used to sprinkle the dried sauce packet over the top and eat it as is. I was reminded of this recently when I noticed that one of the local grocery stores had instant ramen on sale for 27ยข a packet, and I realized how happy this would have made me as a child, or as a broke college student for that matter. How my teeth survived unbroken I’ll never know.