I know that ramen noodle bars are quite popular right now thanks to a couple of trendy places in Central London. I've yet to try them, but I have walked past Bone Daddies in Soho and it was somewhat surreal. I peeked in and it was full of slick looking young people, with loud music and people sipping wine.
In Japan, there are tons of ramen bars. But they are usually dingy, with wooden counters and cooks shouting, and they're filled with people dining alone for a 10 minute lunch or a quick bite before heading home for the night. Often they are businessmen on their lunch break, or middle aged men washing their noodles down with an ice cold beer.
Because ramen noodles are essentially a fast food, and therefore inexpensive and not a meal to socialise over.
Now, ramen is one of my favourite foods. It was a staple lunch for us at home, but it wasn't the instant noodle kind, nor a particularly gourmet rendition - it's something to be prepared quickly, and eaten (= slurped) just as fast as it was made.
The day after an evening that I had indulged in a few drinks, I woke up not with a hangover, but with an unquenchable craving for ramen. Knowing that it was never going to let go until I had some, I specifically went to the Japan Centre in Piccadilly to pick up the ingredients I needed.
I have to start this with a disclaimer: as the title says, this isn't exactly the most authentic or the most admirable way of making ramen. But, it's far cheaper than going out for it and it's really quite good. Let's call this a glorified version of the instant noodle so I don't get into any trouble.
I chose this one to use that day, but there are lots of options in Asian food shops so you can use whatever takes your fancy. This one has non-fried noodles and tonkotsu soup (a rich, pork flavour), and serves two.
The whole thing is pretty basic. Before cooking the noodles as per the instructions (take 2-3 minutes), I prepared the additional toppings.
In ours, I used:
Ham (though it really should be pork belly)
Dried seaweed "Wakame" (that expands and becomes edible as soon as they're in hot water)
Chopped spring onions
I threw in the beansprouts for the last minute while the noodles were cooking. With this pack, I had to add the flavoured stock into the cooking water once they were done, but usually with better quality, "proper" ramen packs you would dissolve the stock with hot water separately.
Once the noodles were done, I just added everything else and served them in bowls (though they are rubbish really, I didn't have any real ramen bowls on hand).
I like to add a little spice in mine, so I use La-Yu, a chilli infused sesame oil that you can get in any Asian food shop.
And make sure that when you eat it, you slurp loudly. It's rude not to.
As I said, this is basically a slightly fancy fast food, perfect for those lazy days or for a lunch to recover from the night before.
I'm curious to see what these new ramen bars are like in London though, have you been? And if so, are they any good?