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Publication Date : 14-10-2013
There's a difference in how they want their ramen between the Americans and the Japanese
The 85 seats of Ippudo New York are almost always filled with people who order its tonkotsu ramen. The well-known Japanese ramen chain is furnished like a stylish restaurant here in Manhattan’s fashionable East Village.
A bowl of noodles is priced between US$14 and $17, slightly more expensive than in Japan. The menu includes such listings as tonkotsu (pork bone soup) and kae-dama (extra serving of noodles).
Michele Casadei Massari, 38, a restaurant owner and executive chef, is a regular customer at Ippudo. He was eating tonkotsu ramen topped with spicy miso paste. “The colour of soup is beautiful. I eat while the miso is dissolving into the soup, so I can enjoy the change in taste. There’s a story to this ramen,” he said.
New Yorkers eat noodles differently from Japanese. A renge spoon, which often comes with soup or noodle dishes, is 2 and 1/2 times bigger than the ones used in Japan. New Yorkers often put the noodles in the spoon first before eating them. They tend to enjoy talking while eating ramen, and don’t seem to mind if the noodles become flat.
According to Ippudo New York, the soup and noodles taste the same as those served in Japan, though the noodles are slightly shorter because customers generally are not adept at slurping them up. Despite opening in 2008, the restaurant still has customers who prefer to eat the soup but not the noodles.
“We would like customers to eat the noodles and hot soup together,” said Tomoaki Shimazu, 33, the restaurant’s general manager.
The second Ippudo restaurant opened in the heart of Manhattan in July.
Japanese noodles, including tonkotsu ramen and Sanuki udon (a type of udon made in Shikoku), have become popular in the United States.
According to the Japan Foundation, New York, the number of ramen restaurants in the United States has proliferated in recent years, and long lines of people are often seen waiting outside these eateries. In New York alone there are 60 ramen eateries, with more expected to open this year. US newspapers and magazines often carry features on ramen. Ivan Ramen, a restaurant opened in Tokyo by an American, will soon open a shop in the United States.
Udon on the cheap
Toridoll Corp. based in Kobe manages the udon restaurant chain Marugame Seimen, whose Waikiki restaurant opened in 2011. The Hawaii eatery is self-serve, with customers saying how they would like the udon cooked and often choosing between tempura and onigiri in addition. A simple kake udon dish costs $3.75.
Hawaiians and tourists alike come to the udon restaurant. As a result, the Waikiki location boasts the highest sales among all Marugame Seimen chains in and outside Japan.
“Since we offer tempura, customers feel they can enjoy Japanese food casually at our restaurant,” said a Toridoll spokesperson.
George Solt, assistant professor of history at New York University, said that since the 1990s, Japanese pop culture such as anime has become popular among young Americans. In that vein, B-class gourmet (local dishes served as everyday fare) such as ramen has also been embraced.
“Compared to other typical Japanese cuisine, such as sushi or kaiseki ryori [a traditional multicourse dinner with a variety of dishes], ramen is reasonably priced, which has probably fueled its popularity overseas,” he said.