Last Friday, I attended a cooking demo featuring Japanese-style ramen at Buford Highway Farmers Market (BHFM). Representatives from Sun Noodle, a Japanese noodle and food product manufacturer, were on hand with renowned ramen chef Shigetoshi Nakamura to demonstrate three styles popular in different regions throughout Japan.
While Nakamura-san was preparing the first ramen, Sun Noodle passed around noodle samples that can also be purchased at BHFM (aisle 12 in the cooler if I recall correctly). The noodles are made with wheat flour, water, salt and potassium bicarbonate, and had a lively smell to them.
Chicken, vegetable, seafood and pork bone (tonkotsu) stock act as the foundation for Japanese-style ramen broth (can also be a combination thereof). For chicken stock, a slew of chicken bones, vegetables and the chicken carcass are boiled in water for at least eight hours. To achieve the creamy and richer tonkotsu broth, pork shank and/or rib bones are used, and the broth should “boil for at least 12 hours to extract the pork bone marrow.”
The first ramen we sampled (and my apologies for not having a picture) was miso ramen. It’s a rich, heavier style that originated from Sapporo in Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido where temperatures are known to be severely cold during the winter. We were told that sweet corn is typically added to this style of ramen along with butter since “there is great dairy in Hokkaido.” And according to the moderator, since miso ramen is a heavy broth, “a thicker, chewy noodle goes well with it.”
The second ramen that came out was shoyu ramen, which is a lighter soy sauce based style typically found in Tokyo. Chicken broth was mixed with a concentrated serving of tare (soy sauce, wine mixture), and then it was topped with marinated bamboo shoots (menma), seaweed, grated green onions and ajitama (soft boiled egg — sometimes marinated). This ramen was stellar. The grated onion topping gave the salty broth a grounded earthy tone, and the thick straight noodles used here had a resilient chew that I generally prefer.
The panel also gave us pointers on how to make good ajitama. According to them, use a Grade AA egg and boil it for seven minutes. Remove the egg from the boiling water and shock it in an icy water bath. Then peel the egg under water and cut it in half with a thin string (fishing wire, waxed floss) for a cleaner cut.
Tonkotsu ramen, hailing from the Hakata ward in the southern island of Kyushu, was served to us last. “Kyushu has a lot of livestock. A lot of piggies. REAL delicious piggies,” we were told. “Pigs there [Kyushu] are very clean and healthy,” the moderator states. “They actually eat dirt, believe it or not, which contains a lot of minerals that are good for them. And they are raised naturally without antibiotics.”
The tonkotsu ramen blew me away. Thin, straight noodles were covered with a milky, rich elixir topped with pickled red ginger, a puddle of mayu (roasted garlic oil, black in appearance) and a few slices of roasted pork, which Nakamura-san caramelized with a blow torch moments before. The ramen broth also contained freshly minced chives floating around that gave off an earthy flavor profile to it that I now wish all ramen had.
Overall I think the class was pretty good. Talking to some participants, I got the feeling they hoped it would be more instructional rather than demonstrative. But I took away some pointers that I didn’t know otherwise and now have a firmer understanding on the varying regional styles of ramen in Japan.
For information on future classes at BHFM, click here.
by Gene Lee, Food and More Blog