Tag Archives: japan

Japanese Beef Scoring

After having a discussion with some food pals about beef marbling scores for Japanese beef, I realized that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the subject. As such, I figured it was time for a more detailed article about this shit. Here goes…

There are three things to understand when it comes to marbling scores:

(1) Yield Rating
(2) Quality Rating
(3) Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)

In many ways quality and marbling overlap each other, since it usually follows that highly marbled beef is also high quality beef. But lets break it down here one at a time.

(1) The A-B-C’s of Yield

I like to think of this as the quantity component, as opposed to quality. A yield rating is a percentage figure that objectively describes the cutability of an animal, or the amount of the animal that can be harvested from a particular area of the carcass.

In particular, this score is determined by carefully measuring shit once a cut is made between the 6th and 7th rib, on the rib eye. The score is assigned after plugging four measurements taken at that cut into a “multiple regression equation.”

The four measurements are: rib eye area; rib thickness; cold left side weight; and subcutaneous fat thickness.

Raters score wagyu as either A, B or C in Japan. A has the highest yield, at 72% or more. B is 69-71%, and this is the most common yield. C is under 69%.

From a business and sales standpoint, it’s better to have higher yields on your animal. So A is better than C in many ways on that angle. For example, a carcass can get knocked down from A to B if the band of outer fat (not the marbling) is too thick, because it lowers the cutability yield (makes the actual rib eye meat smaller). Farmers and ranchers who raise the animals will want to select and breed for good yield traits.

From a consumer’s or diner’s standpoint, however, the yield isn’t, or shouldn’t really be, much of a concern. While a rating of A, B or C makes us instinctively think A is better than C, that would kinda be wrong in this case.

The C grade really just means that, before the meat got to our plate, more of the extrenal fat had to be trimmed away, the rib eye was small, or there was less of that particular cut of meat to harvest from the animal. Or something like that…

Wagyu.org

(2) Quality

Quality grades describe the meat’s marbling, color, brightness, firmness and texture. It also describes fat quality, color and luster. This score is assigned as a value of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest quality and 5 being the highest. A lot of detailed analysis goes into this score.

Wagyu.org
Wagyu.org

As you can see, marbling, meat color and brightness, meat firmness and texture, and fat quality, color and luster are all evaluated on separate scales before being plugged into the overall quality score of 1-5. Pretty intense.

Some of the measurements are now starting to be done with cameras and digital image analysis software (like in the US), to more objectively determine the quality scores.

(3) Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)

The beef marbling stardard assigns a score to the meat based on how much intramuscular fat (IMF, or marbling) it has. It is scored from 1-12, with 1 being the least marbling and 12 being the most. Here is what that looks like:

Wagyu.org
Wagyu.org

There is definitely some interplay and overlap here with the quality score, as marbling is a factor one must consider when assigning a quality score of 1-5 up above. But the BMS score is much a more specific look at the intramuscular fat. Here is the relationship between quality and BMS:

Quality 1 = BMS 1 (poor)
Quality 2 = BMS 2 (below avg)
Quality 3 = BMS 3-4 (avg)
Quality 4 = BMS 5-7 (good)
Quality 5 = BMS 8-12 (excellent)

As you can see, a score of 5 covers a wide range when it comes to the BMS scale. BMS 8 is very different from BMS 12, yet they are both a 5 for quality.

You may be thinking, why the redundancy? Well, as I mentioned in the previous section, the quality also takes meat color, fat color, texture and other variables into account. BMS, again, is purely about the marbling.

But when I see “A5” on a menu, I want to know the BMS as well. I sell BMS 9 domestic wagyu strip for $75 a pound, whereas I sell BMS 12 Kobe for $200 a pound. Both would be considered a quality of 5. See how the BMS score just within the quality rating of 5 can drastically alter the price? Crazy.

Putting It All Together

Basically the best quality available is A5 BMS 12. The A means that there was very little junk on the animal, and it had a good-sized rib eye. The 5 means it’s the best when assessing all the variables relevant to quality, like color, texture and fat. And the 12 means that it has the most marbling.

But I wouldn’t shy away from B5 or C5 BMS 12 either. Remember the letter grade is more about quantity, at least it seems so to me, anyway. Actually, my sweet spot seems to be around BMS 8 or 9. Anything more than that is like foie gras. It tastes like a completely different protein.

Kobe Beef from Japan

So it happened… I got my hands on some real-deal Japanese Kobe beef! These are strip loin / New York strip steak cuts, to be precise. Click HERE for the product page in the shop.

I had my guys portion these out so that they’re not too insane on the wallet. Jump on them now and you can get 8oz for $100 (down from $125). Not too bad for the rarity of this beef.

I feel like a half pound is the perfect size for this (you can share with another person, too; 4oz each). Why such a small portion? Because it eats more like foie gras than beef. It’s so tender, so uniform in texture, so juicy, and so rich with delicious, melt-in-your-mouth fat, that you may want a reprieve after a few ounces.

You may want to mix up the textures with another cut. If that’s the case, my suggestion is this: grab one of these, one domestic wagyu strip, and one dry-aged prime porterhouse. Have yourself a taste-off and see which you like the best.

MY BUTCHER SHOP

Kizuna Nikkei

NOTE: This joint is now closed.

Kizuna Nikkei serves up some of the most stunningly beautiful and delicious dishes I’ve had in a while. Nikkei cuisine is a form of Japanese and Peruvian fusion that evolved in Peru due to Japanese cultural influence in the region. This was my first time indulging in this kind of food, and it certainly won’t be my last.

My wife and I were invited in for a complimentary tasting of some items on the menu, in hopes that we would help get the word out about this new joint. Owner/Manager Jacob recently changed the focus (and decor) of this restaurant from a steakhouse (Carnem) to Nikkei. I had eaten at Carnem before, and I can say with 100% confidence that this new venture is a much better endeavor when it comes to the food.

So let’s get down to business. We started with the Maguro Nikkei, which is a tartare-like dish consisting of big eye tuna, kyuri, avocado, aji amarillo, tamari and kaiware.

This was really beautiful and fresh. A great way to start the meal.

And I’m going to tell you right now: each dish that came out was more beautiful and more flavorful than the last. So hold onto your asses and get ready for some gorgeous plating.

Next up was the Hamachi Crudo.

Yellowtail, orange, ponzu, aji limo and garlic brunoise make up this bright and crisp dish.

Again, really fresh and flavorful. And gorgeous.

The next item we sampled was called Sake Passion.

This is king salmon, passion fruit, crispy gyoza skin and aguaymanto.

I was mesmerized by the plating, and wowed by the flavors. I love raw salmon treatments, and this one nailed it.

This next dish is almost too beautiful for words.

This was black sea bass with octopus, scallop, shrimp, calamari, fried cassava and ikura (roe) in aji Amarillo sauce.

This sauce had a really good heat, and every component of the dish was cooked to absolute perfection.

I highly recommend this dish when you come here.

Our final course was a braised beef short rib with sweet potato, lotus root, carrots, enoki mushrooms and white asparagus in a garlic, onion, cilantro sauce.

The sauce had an earthy heat to it that penetrated deep into the beef flesh and lingered in your mouth with each delicious bite.

I highly recommend this dish as well, especially if you’re a beef person like me.

The portions here are crafted for a light tasting style dining experience. Order a bunch of things, or share, and you will definitely enjoy every bite. There’s a LOT to try here, and I’m looking forward to going back again soon. I’ve already told my friends that live in the neighborhood about this place. Awesome.

KIZUNA NIKKEI
318 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Ikinari Steak

Formerly the location of Prime & Beyond, Ikinari switches up this dedicated steak spot from Korean to Japanese, only this joint lowers the price tag “big league” and creates a casual, standing-only environment.

What a great bargain for good quality meat! All of their beef is choice grade from Aurora Packing in Illinois, and wet-aged at least 40 days. Most importantly, the beef is cooked properly and treated with respect. But what’s surprising is that, for a “fast food” style joint, this place can actually compete with mom and pop restaurants (and even some big name steakhouses) on quality and flavor, for sure. And definitely on price.

Here’s how it works: You pay 8-11 cents per gram, telling the butchers exactly how thick you want your cut of steak. They offer filet, sirloin and rib eye.

Naturally, I had a proper sized steak cut from each:

I’m fat. Here’s what my bill would have looked like, had this not been a press/media event:

There are a variety of sauces and condiments to use for both your salads/sides and steaks. I was prone to keep hitting the wasabi.

The Ikinari sauce is thicker and sweeter, while the hot steak sauce has a little bit of spice and is a thinner liquid. Both are soy based.

The onion and pepper dressings went nicely with the radish salad. This was a small size:

So after choosing your cuts, the guys cook it up for you and you wait for them to bring it over to your standing/eating area.

Very casual! The steaks then come out sizzling on a cast iron plate with corn and onions.

Here are some more shots of that sirloin:

They serve the steaks rare, so that you can continue to cook it to your desired temperature directly on the hot skillet. I pretty much left mine as-is.

Here’s the filet:

Freaking HUGE for just $27.

And cooked perfectly inside.

My rib eye was cut a bit on a diagonal, and thinner than the other two, but no matter. It was excellent, and since I ate all of these steaks myself, like a real man, I didn’t mind so much.

The filet was tops, with rib eye close behind (if not tied), and sirloin next. If I had to put numbers on them, they’d all be in the upper 70th percentile for flavor, especially if you add some of the earthy sauces into the mix.

When you think about how much steakhouses are charging for on-par and sometimes lower flavor scores than these, it makes you question the entire steak scene!

Another thing worth mentioning: the pepper garlic rice was wildly tasty! It even had bits of steak thrown into it, and it also comes out on a sizzling cast iron plate.

Mix it all up and then let it sit and sizzle, so that a good, tasty crisp develops on the bottom of that rice.

Essentially, this place is everything that you wish Tad’s could be. You go into a place like Tad’s (do you even go in?) with high hopes and a hunger for steaks while you’re on the go. But, without question, it fails you, every time. The meat sucks, and  it’s cooked like garbage.

Ikinari won’t let you down. I’ve eaten hundreds and hundreds of steaks in this great city, and I can tell you that this is a fantastic value, striking a bizarre but fascinating and attractive balance between steakhouse quality and budget dining. Give it a shot! Just don’t go there when your feet ache, because, as I said earlier, STANDING ONLY!

IKINARI STEAK
90 E 10th St
New York, NY 10003

Hida Beef

Hida is a region in Japan, located in the northern part of Gifu prefecture on Honshu island. That’s west of Tokyo, but not quite as far as Kyoto or Osaka. While I’ve never been there, I can tell it’s a place that I’d definitely want to visit.

Hida is known for it’s outstanding beef (Hida-gyu), which is derived from a black-haired Japanese breed of cattle. Laws are such that, to quality as the Hida brand, the cattle has to have been raised in Gifu prefecture for at least 14 months. The beef is characterized by intense, beautiful, web-like marbling with a buttery, smooth texture that melts in your mouth. The flavor is both rich and delicate at the same time. It can be likened to the top percentiles of wagyu beef, rivaling kobe and matsusaka in quality, with marbling grades of A/B 3, 4, and 5.

I was invited to a Hida beef tasting event at EN Japanese Brasserie, one of the seven restaurants in the area that will be serving Hida beef on their menus. The other six are Brushstroke, Hakubai, Hasaki, Sakagura, Shabu-Tatsu and the Members Dining Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is the first time that Hida beef is available here in the States, so if you’re a meat aficionado like me, you should definitely hit one of these places and give it a try. This stuff is expensive though, so make an occasion out of it.

I tried the beef in four different preparations: (1) sliced raw, nigiri sushi style, and then kissed with the scorching flame of a blowtorch; (2) seared edges, a tatami trio, with three different kinds of salt; (3) “Hoba-miso” style, stone grilled with miso sauce; and (4) chopped raw, tartare or ceviche style, with citrus and uni. Despite all the marbling, the meat doesn’t come off tasting very fatty, like some highly marbled cuts do. It didn’t leave a coating of waxy or fatty residue on my palate like certain cured salamis with high fat content. And it didn’t cause the flavors of whatever I ate next to change or taste different due to that fat, which is sometimes the case with aged beef and cured salami. In short, it was really a very pleasing experience.

I’ll start with my favorite preparations: (2) and (3). The tataki trio was essentially three slices of Hida beef (strip loin), each dressed with a different salt element: yuzu soy sauce, sea salt and a special red salt that had hints of spice to it. All three were great, but I think I liked the classic sea salt topper the best.

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The hot stone grilled preparation, Hoba-miso, was the only one in which the beef was cooked through. This dish is local to Hida. The sliced beef is placed on Hoba (a big Magnolia leaf) with miso and scallions, which then sits directly on the surface of the hot stone. As you can see, the before and after photos of this method indicate that this beef can be thoroughly enjoyed fully cooked if you’re one of those puss-bags who is afraid to eat raw or under-cooked meat.

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Fully cooking the beef did not take anything away from the meat. You still get that buttery smooth texture and melt-in-your-mouth flavor characteristics. In fact, the leaf and miso bring nice flavor accents to the beef that compliment it well. This, too, was a strip loin cut of beef, and it was presented to eat on grilled sticky rice patties.

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Here’s the chef, Abe Hiroki, who was grilling these delicious morsels to absolute beef-paradise perfection:

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The torched nigiri style reminded me slightly of spam musubi, for the sole reason that it was a warm meat item served atop sushi rice. Here, you can get a real, unadulterated taste of the beef in all its marbled glory. It truly is spectacular.

I’ve been eating aged beef for so long that something this pure and clean really blew me away. This was strip loin as well.

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This was the sushi master behind these perfect pieces of nigiri:

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Finally, this tartare or ceviche style came dressed with a citrus yuzu sauce and was topped with uni (raw sea urchin). Absolutely stunning and decadent. The reason I am interchanging tartare with ceviche is that, typically, ceviche involves fish and citrus, while tartare features meat and egg yolk. Since this dish had elements of both but not all, I figured I’d split the baby. Tarviche? Why not. Also strip loin.

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The event also showcased some nice sake selections with flavors ranging from dry to sweet, traditional to aromatic and fruity.

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In fact, the event began with a “breaking the mirror” ceremony on the casks of sake, as well as a sake toast.

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The governor of Gifu was even in attendance, introducing the beef, the region and the customs to the audience.

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The restaurant itself is beautiful, and I look forward to coming back to try some more of this amazing beef. Every preparation was 10/10 for flavor, and I highly recommend it.

EN JAPANESE BRASSERIE
435 Hudson St
New York, NY 10014

Ramen Guide

With ramen season kicking into high gear, I suppose it’s high time that I put out a guide to ramen for all of you cold, hungry fucks out there looking to get your soup on. This should serve as your singular, all-encompassing resource for all things slurp. This is more of an informational page, clearly, so if you’ve landed here looking for my ramen reviews, you should go to the Ramen-Ate-R page, where you can read about the tremendous shitload of ramen that I’ve eaten.

There are a bunch of things you need to keep in mind when thinking about ramen. Namely, you need to think about the thickness of the broth, how the broth is made, how it is seasoned, what kind of noodles are used, the toppings, and, finally (if you’re into food knowledge), where the ramen style was developed and the history behind the dish. So let’s get into it:

BROTH THICKNESS

This is classified as either assari (light) or kotteri (rich). Assari broths are generally thin or clear, as they are typically flavored with vegetables, fish or seaweed. If animal bones are used at all, they are usually just simmered lightly for a short amount of time.

Kotteri, on the other hand, are thick and usually opaque, due to all the emulsified fats, proteins and minerals that are rendered from boiling animal bones for long periods of time. That makes them stocks, technically, not broths. Kotteri are also known as Paitan (from the Chinese). Paitan translates to white broth, which makes sense, given that they are usually cloudy in color and thick in texture.

SOUP BASE

Ramen soup bases are classified by the main ingredients that are boiled or simmered to make the soup stock (if bones are used) or broth  (if no bones are used). As expected, a stock can be made from animal bones (chicken, beef, pork, fish). But lighter broths can be made with dried seafood or kelp/seaweed (like dashi – a broth made from dried, smoked bonito flakes and kelp), and sometimes even just straight up roasted veggies and mushrooms + water.

An example I will use to illustrate here is tonkotsu. “Ton” means pork, and “kotsu” means bones. Thus, the tonkotsu ramen base is a kotteri style thick stock made from pork bones, which would then need to be seasoned with a salty or savory component, which is covered in the next section.

SEASONING

Tare or kaeshi is the seasoning – the main savory element or source of salt – that is used to flavor the ramen. Ramen seasoning comes in three major varieties: Shoyu, Shio and Miso.

Shoyu: This, simply, is soy sauce. If you didn’t know, soy sauce is made from a paste of fermented and boiled soybeans, roasted grains and seasoned water.

Shio: Sea salt. Pretty straightforward. As you can imagine, sea salt as a seasoning is nicely suited for thinner, assari style broths.

Miso: This is an earthy flavored, thick, fermented soybean paste. Seasoning with miso will almost always result in a thick, kotteri style broth, as you can see below:

NOODLES

Ramen noodles are made with wheat flour, water, salt and kansui, an alkaline water which gives the noodles their yellow color and characteristic bounce. In China, it’s more common to see ramen made with eggs instead of kansui.

Depending on the soup they’re added to, ramen noodles can range from wavy to straight, thick to thin, flat, round or square. The type of noodle selected for a bowl of ramen is based on its broth-clinging characteristics, its bounciness and its texture. For that reason, one noodle style may be better suited for a particular soup base or broth thickness than another.

Depending on the noodles used, cook times will vary as well. In addition, their ability to last for a while, soaking in the soup broth, will vary. After a few minutes certain noodles will lose their spring and bounce, and the texture will change.

Just an FYI here: if you need more noodles while you are eating, yell out kaedama!

TOPPINGS

We have a bunch of categories to discuss here. Let’s start with the most important one: meat.

Obviously if a ramen base is made with animal bones, it only makes sense to use the same animal meat as a topping for the soup. Tonkotsu should have copious amounts of kakuni (pork belly), or chashu (rolled pork loin or belly that is cooked slowly in a sweet soy and mirin sauce, stew-style, then sliced and sometimes charred or grilled afterward for texture). Clearly, chicken is a good topper for your chicken-based ramen. But some chefs get creative. For example I’ve had beef ramen that was topped with crispy beef intestines. I’ve even had chicken broth that was topped not only with chicken but with ground pork as well. Mixing is not a bad thing and it is quite common, as you’ll learn below.

In addition to meat, ramen broths also contain aromatics, such as garlic (fresh, charred, fried or fermented), onions (charred, pickled or raw), ginger (either pickled – beni shoga – or fresh), leeks (fresh or charred), scallions (usually fresh, typically sliced or shredded) and mushrooms (both dried and fresh, and a ton of different types). These can also be incorporated into the creation of the soup base at the start, not just as toppings that are added at the time of serving.

Other common toppings include seasoned soft boiled or hard boiled eggs, sliced fish cakes (naruto), bamboo shoots, corn, cabbage, seaweed, bean sprouts, spice pastes, butter and various oils, such as chili oil, onion oil, pepper oil, garlic oil or sesame oil (and certainly sesame seeds, too, for that matter).

On many occasions, the toppings you see will depend on the region in Japan from which the ramen hails.

REGIONAL STYLES

Japanese ramen varies greatly by region. Some areas focus on thinner fish- and seaweed-based broths, while others tend to be hearty and thick animal bone soups. I’ve highlighted some of the regional styles below, alphabetically:

Akayu: A sweet and mild ramen soup is topped with a spicy dollup of miso mixed with chili and garlic. Chewy, thick, wavy noodles grace this style, and it is usually served with powdered seaweed as well.

Asahikawa: Asahikawa is Hokkaido’s second-largest city, and is located at the base of the mountains in the middle of the island. Its ramen is a mix of chicken, pork and seafood broth, with a shoyu base. The soup is topped with a layer of melted pork fat to seal in the soup’s heat in the colder months, as well as pork meat, bamboo shoots and scallions.

Hakata: Also known as Nagahama ramen, this style comes from Fukuoka, a prefecture in Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, which is famous for its pork dishes. This is my favorite of ramen styles, because it is a thick, fatty, pork bone broth with thin, al-dente noodles. Toppings usually include sesame seeds, pink pickled ginger and fried garlic.

Hakodate: Ramen arrived in Hakodate from China. The soup is thin and light, and the shio-seasoned broth had a mild pork and chicken base. Noodles are usually soft, with toppings like roast pork, bamboo shoots, scallions, nori, fish cakes and spinach.

Kagoshima: Kagoshima is known for its Berkshire pork-like black pigs, yet the ramen is a mild mix of both veggies and chicken, combined with the black pork bone stock. The broth then gets finished off with burnt onions and seasoned with soy sauce. The noodles are soft, and toppings consist of pork meat (obviously), scallions, wood ear mushrooms (kikurage) and bean sprouts.

Kitakata: Kitakata is famous for a clean, light soy-based breakfast soup. In the bowl there’s usually a serving of chewy, wide, flat and curly hand-cut noodles with pork, scallions and bamboo shoots.

Kumamoto: When tonkotsu ramen arrived in Kumamoto prefecture from Kurume, the locals started cutting it with chicken broth. It’s also served with straight noodles, though they’re softer and thicker than the Kurume style. Most bowls have pickled mustard greens, sliced wood-ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, and cabbage on top, but the unique thing about Kumamoto ramen is the use of garlic. You’ll see fried garlic chips and mayu, the black liquid made from garlic that’s been burned in sesame oil. That shit is delicious.

Kurume: This town on the southern island of Kyushu is the birthplace of tonkotsu. Melted bone marrow, fried lard, sesame seeds, pickled ginger and garlic give Kurume ramen a unique and pungent style. Toppings include pork meat, scallions, nori, and spicy mustard greens, in addition to those just mentioned above.

Kyoto: Kyoto’s home to two distinct types of ramen: a thinner assari shoyu ramen, and a thick kotteri chicken soup. The thin version is a blend of pork and chicken broth, with a dark soy base. The thick version is a rich porridge-like chicken soup, topped with garlic, spicy bean paste, chives and odoriferous local onions called kujnoegi. Both are seasoned with shoyu, but the toppings vary for each.

Nagoya “Taiwan” Ramen: “Taiwan Ramen” is Nagoya’s reimagined version of Taiwanese danzimian, which has lots of ground pork, Chinese chives, hot peppers, green onions and garlic. This shit is for people who like spicy soup.

Onomichi: Take a bit of pork, a heap of chicken, some local seafood and a big mess of lard and you’ve got Onomichi ramen. The soup has a shoyu base and is served with chewy, homemade, wavy, flat noodles. It’s usually topped with roast pork, bamboo shoots, scallions and pork fat.

Sapporo: Sapporo-style ramen hails from Japan’s northernmost province, Hokkaido, which is the birthplace of miso ramen. Sapporo miso ramen generally has thick, strong noodles and is commonly topped with bean sprouts, sweet corn, cabbage and ground pork. Soft boiled eggs and thick slices of chashu pork are also common, as well as pats of butter.

Shirakawa: This town developed a refined ramen typified by light, simple soup and hand pulled noodles. It features a shoyu broth, but local mineral ­water makes for springy noodles with a good chew. Toppings include roast pork, bamboo shoots, fish cake, scallions, seaweed, spinach and even wontons.

Tokushima: Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, and udon is the preferred noodle. But Tokushima prefecture has an aged, extra strong shoyu soup that originated with tonkotsu stocks made from leftover pork bones from nearby ham factories. This is similar to Wakayama ramen. Ramen shops here will add a few strips of thinly sliced pork belly and break a raw egg on top. Tokushima ramen is sometimes divided into “yellow,” “black,” and “white” styles (how racist) of varying strengths. Other toppings for this ramen consist of scallions, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts.

Tokyo: This ramen is usually made with pork and chicken broth and typically features slightly curly, somewhat wide noodles. Very often in Toyko you’ll find broths that are flavored with dashi (broth made from aged bonito flakes and sea kelp). This style of ramen is generally seasoned with shoyu and has a medium-thickness. It’s similar to Yokohama ramen, though that tends to be heavier and meatier than the dashi broths of Tokyo ramen.

Tsubame-Sanjo: The cities of Tsubame and Sanjo are in a freezing cold area, and the ramen from this spot is bizarre and unhealthy. The hearty stock is made of chicken, sardines and pork bones, and the bowls are blasted with tons of pork fat (common in soups from the colder climates). There’s thick, flat noodles in this shoyu-based soup, and toppings include pork meat, bamboo shoots and lots of chopped white onions.

Wakayama: This is the median between thick, rich tonkotsu, and thin, clear broth. Wakayama ramen has a strong shoyu tare seasoning with a long-simmered tonkotsu base. The noodles resemble the thin, firm and long threads of Hakata style ramen, but you also get fish cakes like those in Tokyo style ramen. These soups are also topped with the seemingly ever-present and most common of toppings: roast pork, scallions and bamboo shoots.

Yokohama Ie-Kei: Yokohama is known for ie-kei ramen, a viscous, salty, and fatty tonkotsu shoyu style of ramen. When ordering, diners can designate how firm they want their noodles, the amount of fat they like on top, and the saltiness or strength of the soup. This is my kind of ramen – catering specifically to each unique diner. The toppings for this style of ramen usually include sheets of nori (seaweed paper), spinach, garlic, spicy bean paste and ginger.

RAMEN-LIKE DISHES

Although these dishes are not quite ramen, they’ll still be able to satisfy the most intense need for a ramen fix.

Abura Soba: The name of this soupless noodle dish translates to “oil noodles.” It consists of cooked ramen noodles dressed with flavored oil and tare (usually shoyu). It often comes topped with an egg, and diners are meant to stir everything together in the bowl to form a creamy, fatty, thickened sauce. One can also add vinegar, chili oil and other shit before slurping. Hot peppers, mayonnaise, fried noodles, chopped garlic and pork fat are also crowd favorites to add in.

Chanpon: This originated in Nagasaki and is made by boiling thick noodles directly in a thick pork and seafood soup. It’s viscous, and eats more like stew than ramen.

Hiyashi Chuka: This literally means “cold Chinese.” As such it’s a dish made with cold ramen noodles and various toppings like fried egg, ham, carrot, cucumber and chicken. It is usually dressed in a light soy-vinegar sauce. I’ve even seen fish sauce used in some versions around NYC.

Mazemen: This is a hearty “dry” ramen, characterized by thick noodles and weird toppings like cheese. Similar to Abura Soba, this is essentially cooked noodles with a small amount of strongly flavored sauce on the side for dipping. Toppings and sauces can vary a great deal, and are often experimental in nature.

Tantan-Men: This is an off-shoot of Chinese dandan noodles. Based on a pork broth, it comes with a scoop of heavily spiced ground pork and is generally served with bok choy and/or spinach.

Tsukemen: This, like Mazemen, is also a “dipping” ramen. Cold, undressed (nekkit) noodles are served alongside a hot, concentrated ramen broth. You dip the noodles into a bowl of broth as you eat, grabbing the toppings whenever you choose to.

Yakisoba: This is the Japanese version of Chinese fried noodles. It’s made with egg noodles that get stir-fried with veggies and occasionally meat or seafood. This shit then gets hit with a Worcestershire style anchovy and vegetable sauce. It’s often topped with shaved bonito flakes and pickled ginger (beni shoga).

FUSION RAMEN

All around NYC we are seeing various kinds of fusion ramen items being offered, which makes a lot of sense given that the history of ramen in Japan involves a lot of Japanese-Chinese fusion.

However some of the more wild examples I’ve seen in NYC include:

Korean-inspired kimchi ramen (Mokbar):

Thai green curry ramen (Bassanova):

Flavors common to Burmese cuisine that feature coconut milk in the broth base (Tabata):

Indian-inspired massaman curry ramen, even complete with potatoes and carrots and (Yasha):

Italian spaghetti ramen, with pepper oil, arugula and crispy porchetta (Maialino):

Thanksgiving turkey ramen, with gravy, mushrooms, stuffing and cranberries, of course (Talde):

And Jamaican jerk chicken ramen (Miss Lily’s 9A):

There are even ramen burgers (L&L Drive Inn, among others)…

…and now ramen cake (courtesy of my wife, The Cake Dealer).

So that about does it here. If ramen isn’t your thing, but soup most definitely IS your thing, as a general matter, then there’s always pho, bun bo hue and laksa out there to soothe your hot soup needs in the cold winter weather that’s about to strike.

Homemade Ramen – Just Like The Real Thing

My wife recently went to a food expo at the Javitz Center, where she sampled some ramen that contained black garlic oil. She was blown away by it, so naturally I started looking for black garlic oil online. I couldn’t find anything like a bottle of it. But I DID find this on Amazon, so I ordered it:

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I figured it can’t be any worse than Maruchan, right? Shit – maybe it would even be good.

So the shipment came. I had a serious hankering for good hearty ramen, REAL ramen, but I didn’t feel like getting back on the train to the city to go find a decent bowl (there’s nothing good out on Long Island in terms of ramen – same goes for pho and Vietnamese food in general). So I decided to doll-up some of this instant ramen with some ground pork and various other cuts of pork.

What you see below is center cut pork chops (top/back), boneless country style pork ribs (center) and pork belly (the ground pork was not pictured). That slab of bacon isn’t anything special either, by the way. My grocery store doesn’t normally sell big hunks of pork belly, so I picked up a $4 package of Hormel brand “salt pork.” I figured if I cooked it correctly, it would taste like the real thing.

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So what did I do to the meat? I prepared the pork by using a slow cooker for about 6 hours on low. I filled the pot with about a half cup of soy sauce, 2 Tbsp duck sauce, 2 Tbsp sugar in the raw simple syrup, 2 tsp Chinese 5-spice, a stick of cinnamon along with a few shakes of ground cinnamon, 3 red chili peppers, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp ginger powder, a few shakes of garlic powder, 1 tsp Sriracha sauce, a shake of nutmeg, 1 roughly cut scallion shoot, and about 8 or 10 cloves. I whisked it all together with 2.5 pints of water. At first I was thinking this was too much liquid, but as it turns out it was just the right amount. You’ll see why later.

Then all I had to do was wait… But I bore easily. So I went out and got a little drunk with some friends at a local St. Patrick’s Day parade. There’s nothing quite like day-drinking. My wife was at a baby shower, so I would have just been sitting around playing with myself or watching horror flicks anyway. She picked me up after the shower and the timing was perfect. I came home to this, which I scooped out of the slow cooker:

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I tasted it. Holy shit. Fucking perfect! Four beers and two shots didn’t take me off my cooking game, either. With all that excess slow-cooker liquid that I thought was too much, I decided to make a concentrated reduction to use later on as a dressing of sorts for plain noodles, or for SOMETHING. I’d figure out a way to use it because it was delicious. But then I had this brilliant idea to make the freeze-dried instant ramen noodles taste better: I boiled them in the slow-cooker liquid as it reduced. As a bonus, the starch helped to thicken the reduction as well.

In the meantime I cooked the ground pork with soy sauce and garlic, and made the ramen broth, which essentially was just the seasoning packets from the ramen package + water + heat. I also sliced some fresh scallions and some baby bella mushrooms for garnish, and sliced some boiled eggs that we already had in the fridge.

When we put it all together, we popped open the little package of elusive black garlic oil. Here’s the end result:

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It came out a slight bit salty, so next time I will adjust seasonings accordingly. But if I ordered this in a NYC ramen shop for $15 I would be none the wiser that it was made with instant packets, and I would love it.

The Great Noodle Chase

Lately I’ve been on a Japanese ramen binge, but I should also mention my decade-long hankering for Vietnamese pho as well. My wife is Vietnamese, so real-deal, authentic pho is more common in my belly than good ramen. But after having it a few times lately, I felt the need to whip up a post about the two dishes, with pics of course.

First, pho (pronounced like you are saying the word FUN but without the N, and with a tone as if you are asking a question):

For those who may not know, I’ve give a quick rundown of what this awesome shit is. Pho is a very aromatic and highly flavorful beef soup (pho bo) made with LOTS of different parts of the animal: oxtail, marrow, tripe, brisket, eye-round, processed beef balls, etc. The meats are stewed to tender perfection and then served in an almost clear consomme broth that simmered for hours with all the meats and spices like star anise, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and other warm, comforting flavors. The rice noodles used are long and flat, almost like a linguini. It’s topped with cilantro, chilies (optional, of course), bean sprouts, scallions, thinly sliced onion, and a wedge of lime. It’s usually accompanied with plum sauce (hoisin) and chili paste (sri racha) on the side for you to add to taste. The result is something so delicious that you will crave it every day of your life. It’s light, yet hearty. You’ll never find a broth so clear and thin with so much flavor packed in it. Most Vietnamese joints will offer it with chicken too (pho ga), but come on… really? If you are getting it, get a big bowl of the mixed beef. Although, I must say, sometimes I like to order with just the thin-sliced eye-round meat, or that and beef meatballs.

By far the most delicious bowl we ever had was in Vietnam, up in the mountains of Sapa at a resort. It should be noted that pho in Vietnam is different than here in the states. First: there’s a more robust flavor. Second: the sri racha is non-existent as it is not needed. They just utilize their abundance of fresh chili peppers. They DO have a chili paste in Vietnam, but it’s creamier and sweeter than sri racha, and probably better for dipping with fried items than mixing into soup.

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Clearly not everyone can just up and leave to the mountains of Vietnam for a bowl of soup. So if you can’t, try this bowl, from Thai Son restaurant on Baxter Street in NYC. Yes: it’s a Vietnamese food restaurant, not Thai. Definitely not as good as the one above, but at around $6 a bowl you really can’t go wrong:

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Okay now for Japanese ramen:

First, check out this little film to get a sense of what real ramen is. I’m not talking about the little fucking soup packets for $0.33 each in the supermarket, which contain so much fucking sodium that they can be used to salt the highways of a major city in a snowstorm.

The few places I’ve been to in NYC have a variety of flavors and broth bases, ranging from the more traditional pork, to chicken, to miso, to veggie. They vary based on noodle type too – wavy or straight, etc., and also toppings. Some places will serve a basic bowl with a few things in it, and charge a nominal amount for extra toppings like extra pork belly or lean pork, a boiled egg, spicy paste, extra noodles, etc. I tend to lean more toward the pork broth (tonkotsu), although I’ve had some really good chicken based and even curry based broths.

Note: there are lots of people who make it their mission to hunt down the great ramen places all over town, especially in Japan. I can’t compete with those guys… yet… My experience is very limited, but I WILL share a few of my favorite bowls so far, along with location:

Mega Ramen at Totto II in Hell’s Kitchen (51st & 10th) – no need for ordering extras on this. It’s a chicken based broth (REALLY good, by the way – not your average bullshit chicken stock). So hearty and fatty, and topped with tons of different kinds of pork meat. I refer to this one as the pork pool party. $15.

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Tondaku Green Curry Ramen at Bassanova in Chinatown (Mott Street). Different, but really good. More greenery than you would normally expect but it really works. $15. Egg was extra.

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Tondaku Ramen, also at Bassanova. Traditional tonkotsu pork ramen made with Berkshire pork. $13.

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That’s all I’ve got for you assholes right now, other than the fact that the guy from the video is the guy who opened Bassanova.

Do yourselves a favor and go for a swim in a pork pool party – your gullet will thank you. In the meantime, if anyone knows of a beef or rib eye ramen, I’d love to try it. Does it exist? If not, maybe it’s time…

UPDATE 3/15/14 – Real deal beef ramen DOES exist. I heard about some late night ramen joint in the west village called Takashi that serves up an all-beef broth ramen on Friday and Saturday nights only, from 12:00am to 2:00am. It was tough, but I ended up getting a seat for my wife and I to slurp up some of this delicious shit. We started with some beer and took in the surroundings:

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As I mentioned, it’s a beef broth, but it contains crispy beef intestines, FUCKING BRAISED KOBE BEEF BELLY!!!, a soft boiled egg, and alkaline ramen noodles. The little blob of red you see in the middle is the spicy paste that my wife got with her bowl. I prefer no spicy paste, as it masks the beef flavor too much for my liking (though I DO love very spicy foods):

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If you’re in town overnight on a weekend and are up for something bold and adventurous, give this bowl a try. The only problem is that you will need to try for a reservation on the Monday prior at 5pm. That’s when they start taking reservations. I emailed on Tuesday afternoon for my rez and they were already booked solid. They asked if I wanted to be on a waiting list in case someone cancels: I said yes. I found out on Friday at about 4:00pm that they had an opening for me and my wife at midnight. SWEET!