Pork Belly Ramen

Earlier this week I accidentally bought two packages of pork riblets. I was distracted by the fact that each package was less than $2.00 and didn’t read the label very well; I thought that what was inside the package was solid meat instead of mostly bone. When I went to cook it I was highly disappointed! So I threw the bones into a crock pot and simmered them for two days in order to get a passable broth.

On that same shopping trip I bought some pork belly slices for about 75% off, with which I was much less disappointed. I haven’t had much luck cooking pork belly in the past (one time I over-salted, another I cooked them for much too long and they were tough). I went to the Internet and found that one way to cook them for soup is to simmer them. I used:

– 1 tsp ginger
– 3 Tbsp sugar
– 4 Tbsp soy sauce
– 4 Tbsp sake
– 2 green onions, roughly chopped
– 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
– 1 1/2 cups water

When the meat was done, I set it aside and added the remaining simmering liquid (with the large particulate strained out), plus 1 tsp instant dashi granules and a drizzle of mirin, to a pot of the pork bone broth I’d made. The broth turned out nice and flavourful, but the pork belly still needs a bit of work; perhaps if I marinaded the pork belly in the liquid first, simmered it, then grilled it briefly to get some browning? I definitely need some more practice before I get it 100% right.

In my ongoing quest for a better noodle, I served the pork and broth over a base of Kumai Japanese Style Handmade Ramen noodles by Chewy International Foods Ltd.. They’re still nothing close to fresh handmade noodles, but they have been the best pre-packaged noodles I’ve tried so far. You only have to cook them for 30 seconds in boiling water, which I think really helped them stay nice and chewy.

I served the ramen with shredded Napa cabbage, soft-boiled eggs, and green onions, in addition to the pork belly and broth I’d made. It wasn’t perfect, but it was quite tasty, and I enjoyed it. Too bad Thing 1 is down with a cold again and couldn’t really enjoy it, since it’s generally the kind of dish she prefers. At least the warm soup felt good on her sore throat.

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.

Fast Food Ramen

I fell in love with ramen (restaurant-style, not the cheap instant packages) when I first went to Japan in 1998, and I fell back in love when I returned in 2005. There is such a variety of ways that it can be prepared, and such a plethora of potential toppings, that I could eat it every day and not get bored. When Ginza Restaurant opened in Ottawa’s Chinatown and focused on selling the best ramen I’ve had outside of Japan, I could not have been more ecstatic. (Seriously, try their hakata tonkotsu ramen, it is to die for.) For the longest time it was the only place in town where I could get this wonderful noodle dish. Recently, though, I’ve noticed that the popularity of ramen is slowly growing, and it’s starting to be available all over town, much as Vietnamese pho came to be about ten years ago. If this means that we’ll end up with over fifty restaurants that serve ramen in Ottawa, I couldn’t be more pleased!

Here are a few of the ones that I have tried so far, all of which fall under fast food/takeout:

Umi Teriyaki & Sushi
Rideau Centre Food Court, 50 Rideau Street

This was the first non-Ginza ramen that I tried in town, and I was quite ready to be disappointed. The austere food court in the Rideau Centre mall isn’t exactly the place you go for haute cuisine — it’s where you go to grab a quick, mediocre bite. I mean, this is definitely fast food, but it’s cheap ($8.49 for the chicken teriyaki ramen that I had), flavourful, and satisfying. The noodles could use to be a bit chewier (a hallmark of good ramen is the chewy alkaline noodles, which don’t dissolve in the broth), but overall this was worth the money. Ask for it spicy (medium or hot) to clear your sinuses on a cold winter’s day.

Saigon Pho
232 Bank Street and 3722 Innes Road, Unit 2

At $13.49 for takeout and $12.49 for dine-in, this was the most expensive ramen so far. Heck, the most expensive ramen at Ginza is only $11.95! So for that price, I expected more. The broth is nice and the noodles are chewy, but they are really skimpy on the toppings. I did like that there were a variety of ways that you could customize your order. I had the tonkotsu black: tonkotsu broth with black garlic oil, pork belly, soft boiled egg, black fungus, and green onion. I just don’t think that you’re getting value for money on this one, though.

Nom Nom Kitchen
2160 Montreal Road, Unit 4

Nom Nom Kitchen is a little Asian fusion takeout place with a few dine-in tables located in a strip mall directly across from a McDonald’s. It’s not very glamorous, but the food is good, and it’s also very reasonably priced. Their lunch specials are usually around $7.00 and are generously portioned. Ramen isn’t one of their specials, sadly, and it isn’t on their online menu. It’s about $10.49 for a bowl of Japanese-style tonkotsu with pork, veggies, and soft-boiled eggs. They also offer a dish that is, I believe, a fusion of Japanese and Korean styles, and is a bit more spicy. Since this restaurant is aimed at a take-out clientele, the presentation is only mediocre, but the flavour is lovely, the broth is tasty, and the noodles are nice and chewy. I only wish that the eggs were more soft-boiled than hard. Even so, I have been back many times now and everyone I’ve taken with me has liked their food. If you value flavour over appearances, I would rank this ramen #1 of the four I’m reviewing today.

Bento Sushi
St. Laurent Mall Food Court, 1200 St. Laurent Boulevard

There are a lot of Bento Sushi locations, most of which you’ll find tucked into grocery stores peddling mediocre takeout sushi. But they do have a few standalone locations, one of which is in the food court of the St. Laurent Mall. Since this is a big chain that isn’t exactly known for its high-quality food, I went in not expecting much. However, as with Umi Teriyaki & Sushi, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not the best ramen I have ever had, but the broth was nice and the toppings were flavourful. The noodles weren’t as chewy as I like, but they weren’t horrible either. I had their chasu ramen with tonkotsu (from their menu: “thin noodles in a tonkotsu pork broth with carrots, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, and fish cake”), which was $9.99. Overall, their ramen was miles better than their sushi, which may be damning them with faint praise. But I’ll take their ramen over just about anything else in the food court — except maybe Jimmy the Greek‘s pork souvlaki and salad.

If anyone else has suggestions for ramen in Ottawa that I should try, drop me a comment with the name and location. I’d be more than happy to check them out! I have absolutely no qualms about eventually having eaten at every ramen-serving restaurant in this city.

Steak Ramen

Last night I was searching for something to make for dinner, something that wouldn’t require a special trip to the grocery store. I did finally go get groceries on Monday, so now both the freezer and the fridge are full and I figure that I shouldn’t have to go out again every day for ingredients. At my husband’s request, since he’s fighting off a cold, I decided to make soup.

In the freezer I had some beef broth made with garlic and wild mushrooms, which I thawed as the base for the soup. I boiled up some ramen noodles and topped them with steamed spinach, carrot matchsticks, and soft-boiled eggs. The crowning glory of this particular dish was the steak. It didn’t brown up as nicely as I’d like, to my dismay, but it was very tender. To enhance the flavour, I used a marinade from page 65 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016). Now, technically the recipe was for Kobe Beef Tsukemen, but I’ll be 100% honest and tell you that there’s no way I can afford Kobe beef. Instead, I thought I’d just use the marinade on a (much) cheaper steak. The marinade contains lemon juice, soy sauce, sake, and mirin (sweet rice wine), which combined is somewhat salty-sweet with an acidic punch to start breaking down the meat. Also, as per the recipe, I fried up the steak in melted beef suet instead of oil, which I think helped to enhance the flavour. Once I removed the meat from the pan, I added the juices to the soup broth to add extra punch. I was very satisfied with how it all turned out, especially since it made a lower-quality cut of beef quite palatable. Even if I never get the chance to cook Kobe beef, I think that I will definitely revisit this recipe in the future when I have all of the other ingredients on hand to try the dish in full.

Sick Day

I was sick yesterday. It’s just a cold: body aches, chills, sinus pressure, and a headache. Nothing major, but pretty miserable. I’d planned on heading out to the Ottawa Antique and Vintage Market, but after taking Thing 1 out to shop for Christmas gifts at a school craft fair, I was beat. I curled up in bed, unable to quite feel warm, until dinner time.

Needless to say, I wasn’t up to cooking. My husband, an unenthusiastic cook at best, thought that I should have soup for dinner to help me feel better. He reheated some frozen shoyu broth I’d made a while back, to which he added ramen noodles, shrimp, soft-boiled eggs, enoki mushrooms, and a square of nori. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

After dinner, and after the kids were put to wrangled into bed, he also made me a hot apple cider (non-alcoholic; I know in some places calling it “apple cider” presumes an alcohol content, but around that we call it “hard apple cider” to differentiate). He also looted me a few mini chocolate bars from the kids’ extra Halloween candy. I feel very loved. It’s nice to be taken care of every once and a while. Now, if only the cold would disappear as quickly as my hunger did.

Warm, Hearty Suppers for Chilly Days

With my backlog of canning to do and a whole lot of events, parties, and decorating happening before Hallowe’en, I haven’t been making too many complicated meals lately. Now that the temperature has finally dropped (last night it dipped below freezing), that means that I’ve been trying to make hearty suppers that don’t take too much advanced preparation.


Sloppy Joes with a side of acorn squash with butter and brown sugar.

Believe it or not, I’d never made Sloppy Joes before. It’s just not something we ever ate as a family. The closest we’d get would be open- or closed-faced sandwiches of chopped up bits of leftover beef, pork, or chicken, smothered in leftover gravy. But I’d taken the Amish Community Cookbook (2017) out of the library, and I wanted to try at least one recipe from it before I had to return it. I didn’t think that Sloppy Joes were a particularly Amish dish, but there was an uncomplicated recipe on page 63, so I gave it a shot. It was really good! I had my parents over for dinner and they liked it too. My mom pointed out that the sauce is actually a lot like the one she uses for slow-cooker pulled pork, and I have to agree (keeping in mind that I love pulled pork too).


Curry butternut soup with Dad’s biscuits.

The other night I needed something I could put together quickly, so I dug through my freezer and thawed out a couple of containers of curry butternut squash soup. I’m pretty sure that my mom made this dish and shared it with me, because I certainly don’t remember making it. The label was dated December 2016, though, so it might just be time making me forget. My husband pointed out that the labels were in his writing and the containers were our own, which indicates that I’d made the soup, but I think it’s just as plausible that I had to return my mom’s original container. Either way, I don’t know what the recipe was for this one (another one of those pre-blog things), but it was perfect for a cold fall evening. The biscuits I served alongside were Dad’s Biscuits, which I whipped up in about the same amount of time it took to thaw the soup on the stove.

Since we already had some steaming fresh biscuits, I cracked open the jar of mirabelle plum jam that my friend made from the fruit of her neighbour’s plum tree. I spread the jam generously on biscuits as dessert. My mouth is watering just thinking about that it. My friend was a little worried about the set, thinking that it would be a little bit too runny, but I thought it was perfect.


Leftover chicken ramen.

Despite the flowers (a hostess gift from my honorary aunt), this dish was anything but fancy. I made up some ramen using turkey broth (made from the bones of the Thanksgiving turkey) flavoured with a dash of Memmi Noodle Soup Base. I topped the noodles with leftover rotisserie chicken, soft-boiled eggs, and steamed carrots. My family added masago (capelin roe) and dried shrimp to their tastes. It was hearty, filling, and good for what ails you — especially if what ails you is the cold that seems to be going around right now. I’ve always found that steamy bowls of soup help clear out the sinuses.

Mom’s Birthday Dinner

We celebrated my mother’s birthday this past Saturday. At her request, I hosted dinner at my house and made her up some of my ramen — which somehow she had never tried before. The version that I chose to make was Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)); the recipe is also available online here. This recipe uses a shoyu base (page 8, or online at easypeasyjapanesey.com), which I made up in advance in my slow cooker. I remain rather enamored of this base recipe, but every time I make it I remind myself that sometime I really need to try the tonkotsu base, which is my favourite but appears much more difficult. I used soft-boiled eggs instead of marinated half-cooked eggs, mostly due to time constraints. I also used packaged noodles; one of these days I will make my own, but that really requires a pasta maker, which I don’t own. I didn’t use the kind from the instant soup packages, as I find they get soggy much too quickly, but instead a package of dried noodles on their own for which I unfortunately can’t read most of the label.

The real star of this dish is the salmon. I was lucky enough to find it on special at the grocery store, pre-portioned and ready to go. The furikake topping was delicious even though I used North American mayonnaise instead of Japanese-style. There were some leftovers and I really look forward to having them served over rice in the next few days. I think that this topping is going to become part of my regular dinner roster; it would probably be good on other pink, oily fish like sea trout.

In our family, there’s always dessert with a birthday dinner, even if you’re stuffed from the meal itself — that just means that you take a breather and have the treat later in the evening. This year I made apple pie using fruit that I’d grown on my own tree in the back yard. For the chocolate lovers, Dad made brownies with chocolate icing, which were delicious and, if you know my dad, a very special treat, since he rarely bakes. We served it all up with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream (and dairy-free alternatives thereto). Oh, and candles! I was thrilled to find that it’s possible to get the candles that burn with coloured flame at the dollar store these days. I used to have to go downtown to a specialty store to buy them.

So happy birthday to my mom! Love always to the woman who helped shape me into the person that I am (whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of opinion).