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:

thai son

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.

totto ii mega ramen

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.

bassanova curry

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

bassanova regular

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!