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.

Shoyu Ramen

As I have said before, I am a huge fan of ramen. Not the instant stuff (although in a pinch, that stuff’s not half bad), but the fresh kind with real toppings. I fell in love with it in Japan, and I get out to Ginza Ramen whenever I can. But ever since my husband’s birthday dinner, now that I’ve learned how to make the good stuff at home, I probably eat it way more than I should. Not that my family minds, they’re just as big into it as I am.

I started off by using up the Shoyu base (page 8 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)). The recipe is also available for free on the author’s website at easypeasyjapanesey.com. I have since made a couple of batches of this broth and I still love how easy it is to make and how packed with flavour the broth turns out. If you’re like me and you like making things that you can just throw in the slow cooker for eleven hours, then you’ll love this recipe. I also like that this recipe makes up enough broth for eight or so servings, so I can freeze the excess for an easy meal later on.

As with many of my noodle soups, the toppings were less a pre-planned dish and more whatever we had in the fridge/freezer at the time. I included soft-boiled eggs, garlic shrimp, masago (capelin roe), and mussels cooked in white wine and garlic butter. The mussels were the kind that come in a vacuum-pack with the sauce and are meant to be cooked in the microwave or by dumping the whole pack in a pot of boiling water. I’m fully aware that this isn’t terribly classy, but it was delicious.

My second shoyu ramen was topped with soft-boiled eggs and garlic shrimp; these two ingredients are pretty common in the food I prepare because there are almost always eggs in the fridge and shrimp in the freezer. This time I also included baby bok choy and squares of nori (dried seaweed sheets).

I topped my third ramen with soft-boiled eggs, carrots, bok choy, and teriyaki chicken breast. I had never thought to combine teriyaki and ramen until I went to Umi Sushi Express in the food court of Rideau Center a while back, and I was pleasantly surprised when I ordered this dish. I mean, Umi Sushi is still fast food, and it’s nothing compared to the fantastic variety of ramen available in Japan, but it’s probably the best thing in the food court. Now if I can only find out what kind of hot sauce they used.