At Vancouver’s popular Kintaro eatery, manager Yoshi Negishi says their most popular ramen is miso with BBQ pork. Though you won’t find it on the menu in Japan, cheese ramen—a topping of melted Swiss cheese and mozzarella– is their biggest seller with Caucasian female customers and unique to North America, according to Yoshi.
Shouting above all the staff yelling “Irasshaimase” (please come in), and “Konichiwa” (how are you) to each customer, Yoshi says despite the constant line-up, most people spend only half an hour seated, just enough time to slurp a bowl and down a brewski. “My Canadian friends first looked at me funny when I slurped,” he says. “It’s normal in Japan, and I think slurping is catching on here in Vancouver—it tastes better that way.”
Worldwide, Ramen etiquette only dictates that you use chopsticks to eat the noodles and toppings, then drink the soup from the spoon. To thoroughly enjoy ramen you have to eat it fast, otherwise the noodles get soggy. Slurping helps. “Some people feel embarrassed, so I guess it takes some getting used to,” says Yoshi, laughing.
When Kintaro opened in 2000, only a few ramen eateries existed in Vancouver. Now there are dozens throughout the Lower Mainland. Every day, Kintaro’s cooks start the dashi (stock) from about 100 pounds of pork (and sometimes chicken) bones at the crack of dawn. Vegetables are added later in the day, and it simmers until midnight—enough for about 500 bowls the next day at less than 10 bucks a bowl.
At a pricier joint like Momofuku in New York, your noodles will be made on the premises with white pearl flour (from winter wheat) boiled in filtered or carbonated water, with Berkshire pork for the broth.
A chef once told me that “fat is love”. My two slabs of pork belly float atop hearty broth glistening with beads of oil, cut with crispy bean sprouts and green onion, and then the chewy noodles—ahhh, rapture. This is the ultimate comfort food—Ramen Oishikatta (really good ramen)!