Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eating through the Big Apple Part 2 - The Best Ramen Ever

Ramen has to be my favorite food in the world. I think it comes down to the fact that good ramen, not just decent ramen, but GOOD ramen is really, really hard to find. There are different levels of ramen, Top Ramen being the lowest (don't even try to pretend this is anything like real ramen), then your artsy, fartsy, Asian/Oriental themed ramen shop with the Asian/Modern design and high prices with ramen that tastes like canned bamboo shoots, to your average train stop ramen in Tokyo (which blows most places away in the US), to the Mecca of ramen; Ippudo.

While studying abroad in Tokyo, I came to appreciate, no, love ramen and not just any ramen, but Ippudo's tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen. If you look at some of my photos from that summer, you'll easily be able to tell that I enjoyed a little bit too much of the ramen.

Read the official Wikipedia entry here for a more in depth description of the different variations of ramen including tonkotsu ramen. This quote says all you need to know about tonkotsu ramen "thick broth made from boiling pork bones, fat, collagen over high heat for many hours, which suffuses the broth with a hearty pork flavor and a creamy consistency that rivals milk or melted butter or gravy". Melted butter or freaking gravy! Tell me that doesn't sound amazing! Also to top it all off some fatty pork belly is always added to the ramen. Now you'll know why it looked like I was fattening myself up for winter hibernation that summer.

While in Tokyo, we would eat at Ippudo multiple times a week. It was convenient being located right down the street from our dorms in Takadanobaba, but beyond convenience it was just good. Everytime we go back to Japan, the first thing on my "To Do" list is to take the JR to Takadanobaba to make a pilgrimage to Ippudo for a steaming hot bowl of delicious ramen. Being that I have to fly thousands of miles just to eat my favorite meal, I was more than excited when I heard they had finally opened a restaurant here in the US. Unfortuantely I rarely am out in New York until this past week...

The comforting and familiar Ippudo sign. In Japan, its a small hole in the wall, college hangout, late night meal (after drinking) type of place. However in NY they fancied it up a bit. What's cool is that you feel like you're back in Tokyo because everyone speaks in Japanese the whole time from the cooks to the waiters. Don't worry though they'll take your order in English. Also I swear I saw a white guy cooking my ramen noodles, but it's OK because it was only my noodles.

The Akamaru Moden ramen is to die for. How cliche, but honestly it's amazing. I love ramen because it's so Japanese. They give you a ladle and expect you to slurp up and truly enjoy your soup. This isn't some uptight cold tomato soup served with a silver teaspoon, but comfort food Japanese style. Hey there are a lot of great things Japanese people have invented for me to be proud of like the hybrid car, sumo, Japanese game shows, but nothing makes me as proud as the creation of tonkotsu ramen. The flavors are amazing, rich, salty, creamy, garlicky, sesame oil, fat. They all blend together perfectly and Ippudo's ramen is impossible to replicate because of all of the amazing flavors and the time it takes to make it.

The chefs hard at work. They had a case filled with pounds and pounds of precooked pork belly. For those of you new to the blog (since we talk about pork belly nonstop), it's basically that fat hunk of meat bacon is before it's sliced.

I had their spicy pork buns, which was recommended by my friend Greyson and accompanied them with a mug of Kirin. The buns had a great flavor, texture combo. Imagine biting into a soft steamed bun and then immediately continuing into a soft piece of pork belly. Everything just melts into your mouth, but the sauce is where the flavor is, it was both spicy and sweet. A great way to start off of my multi-course pork belly meal.

Here it is, this photo actually brings a tear to my eye because I love it so much. When I took my first slurp I understood what Ken Griffey Jr meant on the Simpsons when he said "it's like there's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited". Even though my ramen already came with some chashu (pork) I ordered some kakuni (pork belly) in addition to the ramen, if you haven't learned anything from me yet you know I can never have enough pork belly. I was in heaven and this meal completely made my trip.

I highly recommend Ippudo if you're ever in the NYC, but I have to admit the Ippudo restaurants in Tokyo are better. Not because the ramen is better, it was just as good in New York, but because of the side dishes. In Tokyo you can add crushed garlic and these amazing sesame oil bean sprouts. I seriously would eat a whole freaking bowl of these things. Also the ramen goes really well with a side order of gyoza and a bowl of rice, what a complete meal and also a proven hangover cure.

I know this post is long, but I wanted to pay tribute to one of the best things I've ever eaten. If you find yourself in New York make sure to add Ippudo to your list of places to eat.

- Kyle


  1. Amen! Couldn't have said it better myself.

  2. yummy! there is a place here that I swear has the same menu! Love the ramen!

  3. I'm on a ramen hunt in Tokyo right now. I will have to add this place to my list of stores to try!