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Event Tue Jul 01 2014
During my culinary tour through Japan, I tried desperately to love ramen. I tried with all my might. I slurped every type of noodle and broth, but after my 20th bowl, I admitted defeat and decided to devote the rest of my tragic life to Maruchan. "What!?" some foodies cry indignantly, pointing their foie-fattened fingers at noodle pictures from some quaint Japanese ramen hut. "How can you not love that?" Because like every good American, I believe the best ramen is FREEDOM ramen.
Ramen is derived from the Chinese term, la mian, which literally translates into pulled noodles. Traditional ramen noodles have spring, chew, and a slight eggy taste. There are four types of ramen broths: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), tonkotsu (pork) and miso. Each region in Japan has their unique variation of ramen, but they're all fairly similar when all is said and slurped. The Japanese don't stray from the fundamentalist tree, so never expect to see duck confit or green curry in your ramen. However, I'd argue that ramen's greatest feature is how customizable it is.
I recently attended a monthly Ramen Battle competition at Yusho, a yakitori-inspired restaurant in the Avondale neighborhood. June's cook-off pit Giuseppe Tentori from GT Fish & Oyster against Ryan McCaskey from Acadia. The Giuseppe "GTKO" Tentori bowl contained fried chicken, octopus and collard greens. Ryan "McAsskicK" McCaskey of acadia included a tocino pork jowl, with wood ear mushroom and red quail egg. Appetizers included chicken skin with Japanese mustard and fried garlic, robata saba with ginger ponzu and mizuna greens, frilled hamachi with foie hollandaise, and Filipino sausage bun.
Both broths were incredibly salty, which is pretty much the standard for ramen broths. Chef Tentori's thicker noodles were bathed in a gravy-like broth that tasted like chicken and waffles, which made no intellectual sense but tasted outstanding. (When I later asked Chef GT how he made his broth, he replied that he literally forced ground fried chicken into chicken stock).
Chef McCaskey's broth was lighter and smokier, and his thinner, slippery noodles proved more conducive to high-velocity slurpage. Although Chef Tentori ultimately won, I was torn because while Tentori's broth was spectacular, McCaskey's noodles and toppings did a finer job highlighting Asian flavors and ingredients.
Like pizza or bibimbap, there are too many variations of ramen for there to be the "best" ramen. It's an understandable food trend because ramen inspires both creativity and diversity, and when we can all experience so many variations of noodles in broth, everyone leaves the table a little happier.