Instant Ramen vs. Ramen Shops
I don’t know about you, but the first time I saw ramen, it came it came in a brightly colored plastic package. Instant ramen, a 1970’s Japanese innovation, was popular with college students. It was cheap and filling. Ramen shops with gourmet ingredients were still in my future.
Ramen Shops Today
The popularity of an artisanal version of the Japanese soup has now spread to cities across the country. In fact, in big cities it’s hard to keep up with the newest ramen purveyors.
In “The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze” NYU professor, George Solt chronicles the soup’s rise to cult status. A Chinese meal brought to Japan by nineteenth century traders, it became a working class staple. Renewed enthusiasm for the soup began with the development of instant ramen in the 70’s. In the 80’s and 90’s it morphed into a national foodie craze with celebrity chefs and ramen museums. It has now become an iconic national dish. In 2014, even The New Yorker ran an article on “The History of the Ramen Noodle.” In it, the author recounts Professor Solt’s explanation of the important place ramen occupied in the US effort to fight the spread of communism in occupied post-war Japan. The US imported wheat for ramen noodles to alleviate food shortages and improve community morale.
Ramen Shops: Momofuko
It is the ramen broth that sets a ramen shop apart. Momofuko Noodle Bar, in New York City’s East Village can probably be credited with starting the craze in the US. Their tonkotsu broth is famous for the depth of it’s pork flavor. The Momofuko broth is made from a long simmering stock of pork bones, ham hocks, bacon and chicken legs. Generous slices of Berkshire pork belly and shredded pork shoulder further reinforce the hearty pork flavor.
Ramen Shops: Furious Spoon
Chicago’s Furious Spoon gets high marks for its wide range of flavorful broths, and homemade noodles. Vegetarians and light eaters like the miso based vegetable soup. I prefer the heartier choices. I usually get the Shoyu with pork belly and a poached egg, or the spicy Furious Ramen which adds white pepper chicken to the above proteins, along with marinated mushrooms and garlic relish. While some may not like the bar and communal hightop seating, it is actually appropriate to the meal. Ramen should be eaten right away, while it is piping hot. The noodles, broth and toppings start to degrade almost immediately. Slurping is not only expected, cupping them in your mouth enhances the flavors.
Ramen Shops: Table To Stix Ramen
Table to Stix is my local ramen shop. An Evanston favorite, it is popular with both locals and Northwestern students. They offer three broths, miso, shoyu and tonkotsu. I like the shrimp focused shoyu or the veggie miso. While I can’t resist the crunchy corn, I try to limit my hot sauce and toppings so that the flavorful broth can shine through.
Other Chicago Restaurants