Ramen Week 2012: It’s What’s for Dinner

In November of 2004 food reporter Julia Moskin’s article “Here Comes Ramen, the Slurp Heard Round the World” appeared in the Dining & Wine section of The New York Times. Moskin details a city on the verge of a craze as authentic ramen shops were opening in New York to give Japanese expatriates what they’ve been missing: A taste of home.

Almost eight years later, expatriates and everyone else are still clamoring for that taste of chewy noodles steeped in intensely flavorful broth and topped with goodies such as boiled egg, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots. Thanks to places such as Rai Rai Ken, Hide-Chan Ramen, and Ippudo, Westerners have come a long way since Top Ramen.

We’ve all consumed the instant noodles with simple packets of seasonings. No cha shu, no egg boiled in soy sauce, no perfect sheet of dried seaweed. We’re over that now; our palates are more sophisticated, and we’ve grown accustomed to a higher quality of ramen, thanks to the abundance of places that serve it.

Search “ramen” on Yelp and you’ll find hundreds – hundreds – of choices of restaurants all over the city, many around the East Village. They range in price from cheap fast food in cash-only joints to more upscale dining. Some restaurants concentrate on primarily ramen dishes; others have ramen on the menu in response to the demand.

It seems everyone is talking about ramen. Last February Japan Society held a lecture called “Ramen Rules,” and many print and online publications present Top 10 ramen lists. There’s even the NY Street Ramen Contest, an ongoing event in search of the quintessential ramen of New York.

Like many things Japanese, ramen originated in China. As far as the history of cultural exchange between the two countries goes, ramen is a relatively new contribution. It was introduced to Japan around the 1920s, and as the dish spread nationwide, it took on the flavors of regional cuisine. (Think pulled pork barbecue in North Carolina vs Texas brisket.) In 1958 Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods developed the first packaged instant ramen, which hit grocery store shelves the US in 1970.

ramen, NYC, Ramen Week 2012, Japanese cuisine, Japanese street food, #ramenweeknyc

It may have taken forty years, but ramen has exploded in New York, which may seem surprising because it’s considered a fast food, street food option in Japan.

“Ramen is definitely fast food in that it is served and eaten quickly,” writes Moskin, “but making the different elements of the bowl is a full-time commitment.”

We taste and appreciate that commitment on a daily basis.

New Yorkers love ramen, and JapanCulture•NYC wants to know why. How has ramen become almost as popular as pizza, almost as ubiquitous as a burger? Why is ramen the go-to comfort food in the summer as well as the winter?

JapanCulture•NYC has proclaimed this week to be Ramen Week 2012. You’ll read interviews with ramen icon Ippudo and a macrobiotic chef who has a healthy approach to the salty and oily dish.

I’d love to hear your stories as well. What’s your favorite ramen restaurant or style of ramen? Share your ramen experiences by adding your comments here and on Facebook or sending an e-mail to susan@japanculture-nyc.com. Tweet your ramen stories and photos to @JapanCultureNYC using the hashtag #ramenweeknyc, and I’ll retweet and compile the best for a future story.

Are you ready for some ramen? This week, it’s what’s for dinner.

ramen, NYC, Ramen Week 2012, Japanese cuisine, Japanese street food, #ramenweeknyc