Ramen Noodles. In the United States these words often evoke that elusive cheap treat so many were dependent on for sustenance during their formative collegiate years. Little foil spice packets added to boiling water along with curly dehydrated noodles that hold a vague resemblance to Justin Timberlake’s hair circa 1998.
But alas my friends, ramen is so much more than this. REAL Ramen Japanese-style doesn’t come in a fluorescent orange plastic bag. Ramen in Japan has evolved into a type of delicacy if done right. Hand pulled noodles, a slowly steeped broth, fresh cut veggies… it’s … to be blunt … absolutely heavenly. The Japanese take it pretty seriously too, as illustrated in the “ramen-western” (Japanese spoof on a spaghetti-western … get it?!) underground film TAMPOPO:
Unfortunately true Ramen-ya’s (restaurants specializing in ramen) are few and far between in the United States and most other countries for that matter, but luckily for us at DIY-NYC, New York is the cultural melting pot of the world. Which means one thing… well many things… but one thing that really matters:
I CAN EAT REAL RAMEN WHENEVER I WANT.
Now, everyone in town that knows anything has been to or at least heard of the Ramen “Gold Standards”: Ippudo, Momofuku, and Totto Ramen. But unless you are going at 4pm on a rainy Tuesday afternoon … you will probably have a very lengthy wait time ahead of you, as most of these places don’t take reservations. So alas, real Ramenheads like myself have been forced to seek out the “hole-in-the-walls” for a quick fix … the places the real Japanese go. And today we will share one of our secret places with you. MENKUI TEI isn’t my top secret place, but it is a favorite of my fellow DIY-NYC’er CP. She raved and raved, I of course was skeptical as I am particularly fond of their competitor a few blocks up MENCHANKO TEI (These guys are really creative with names aren’t they?), but Ramen to me is roughly equivalent as I imagine sex is to a 17 year old male… even if it’s bad … it’s still pretty good. So I obliged her invitation and met her at 60 W. 56th Street for a quick lunch.
And when I say “hole-in-the-wall” … I mean it. You would walk right by this place assuming it’s another Midtown Chinese trap that serves Cat-Lo-Mein, as the awning is tattered, dirty, and does not even say MENUKI TEI, but rather LARMEN NEW YORK. You would think these people would want to do a little better marketing for their place, but one step inside during lunch hour and you will see the folks here sure aren’t hurting for business. In fact, they are so crowded I suspect they keep the awning as such to put off dumb Yelp-ing tourists who don’t deserve to know of the noodley goodness that goes on inside. Those sneaky Japanese … no wonder they are the country that created ninjas.
One great thing about your typical secret ethnic ‘hole in the wall’ restaurants in NYC is the prices. For once your wallet is cut a break and you can get a large heaping bowl of soup for less than a drink would cost you at The Standard Biergarten. The various ramen bowls are priced extremely modestly at between $7.50 and $10.00 depending on how fancy you want your ingredients. My friend and I decided on the ramen standard Tonkotsu Ramen, a rich pork bone broth noodle soup served with 2 pieces of roast pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, scallions, pickled ginger, and sesame seed; as well as an interesting sounding Tan-Tan Ramen, which has the same accoutrement as the Tonkotsu but with a Shoyu broth (soy sauce based broth) and topped with spicy ground pork.
We waited anxiously our mouths watering, and in a quick 12 minutes our bowls arrived pipping hot and fresh. I’m a ramen purist so I dove in first to the Tonkotsu. And by golly if it wasn’t everything ramen should be. The broth obviously fresh made, the noodles springy and light, and the pork not overcooked and chewy. My main qualm with it was that I ordered a egg to be put in my soup for an additional $1, and traditionally the egg should be soft boiled so a bit of the yolk can spill out and flavor the soup. This egg was hard boiled solid, so my favorite yolky flavor was missing.
Next we tried the curious Tan-Tan Ramen. Never have I had the pleasure of ground pork in my ramen before, but it wasn’t too bad. It was apparently by the little reddish globs floating on the surface that some sort of chili oil was used as the source of the spicy flavor, but I didn’t find it too hot. But be warned that growing up in Texas (where spicy Mexican food is more popular than McDonald’s) and spending several years in Louisiana (the state that created Tabasco) … my heat tolerance is pretty high. For a mild midwestern palate … this might not be for you.
Overall we enjoyed our soups, my only complaint was that both broths (especially the Tan-Tan with the Shoyu broth) were a bit on the salty side for my taste. Next time I’m dragging CP to my Menchanko Tei for a little Ramen Showdown. But either way I doubt it has any more sodium than the 1,541 mg in your typical package of Marchuan. Ooooh, noooow you realize why you always seemed so bloated in your college photos ….
As I mentioned before, outside of New York and Japan … around the world there are not so many tried and true Ramen restaurants for you to sample this Japanese Treat. Unfortunately even if you wanted to make a real Tonkotsu Broth with sliced Chashu Pork at home… it’s a bit of an endeavor For those brave enough to try, the folks at Serious Eats took on the challenge and have a very detailed step by step recipe you can easily follow if you have the patience.
For the rest of you who lack the tenaciousness to undertake such a task, heat up your stand by “Chicken-Flavor” Marchuan and watch these hilarious Asian Ramen Noodle commercials.
HOW TO EAT RAMEN LIKE A BOSS… LITERALLY
GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER
(Clearly they dont have an Asian FCC)
◊ Post written by: KZJ