The Japanese word awa means “bubble” or “foam.” Sake fans are familiar with this term in reference to sparkling sake or sake that has champagne-like qualities, Hakkaisan’s AWA and Nanbu Bijin’s AWA Sparkling to name just two brands. Now ramen lovers can enjoy the same effect in their broth at Thumbs Up Ramen.
Thumbs Up Ramen is a new ramen shop that opened on June 1 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Their signature style is Bubble (AWA) Ramen in which the broth is whisked to bring out the umami, creating a bubbly, creamy texture. According to the owners, it’s the only restaurant in the New York City/New Jersey area that serves this style of ramen.
A Brief History of Thumbs Up Ramen
Chef Naotaka Miyazawa teamed up with restaurateur Teruaki Ishiyama to open Thumbs Up Ramen in Fort Lee. Chef Miyazawa has been working with the beloved Japanese comfort food for more than 30 years. Starting at a ramen shop in Tokyo during high school, Chef Miyazawa moved on to Tsujita, a ramen restaurant known for its artisanal tsukemen, a type of ramen where cold noodles are dipped into a broth that’s in a separate bowl. When Tsujita expanded to the US, Chef Miyazawa developed the menu for its first restaurant in Los Angeles and eventually six other locations on the West Coast.
Ishiyama opened and managed the US outposts of Tendon Kaneko Hannosuke Nihombashi Honten, a famous tempura restaurant in Tokyo. He later opened his own restaurants, including Tokyo Shokudo, Tendon Tempura Carlos Jr., and B-Bee Crepe & Boba, in California and Illinois. A New Jersey resident for the last five years, Ishiyama thought that Fort Lee, with its proximity to Manhattan, would be the perfect place to open a ramen restaurant.
Chef Miyazawa didn’t invent Bubble (AWA) Ramen, but he developed his own recipe after being inspired by several ramen shops that serve it in Japan. His chicken paitan broth takes 20 hours to make, slowly boiling chicken bones and eight different vegetables. At the time a customer places an order, he whisks the broth in a bowl before adding the toppings.
The result is a bowl of ramen that appeals to the senses: beautiful, fragrant bubbles that have a creamy but light texture and effervescent mouthfeel and work in harmony with fresh noodles made in Sun Noodle’s New Jersey factory.
My First AWA Ramen Experience
I was a guest at Thumbs Up Ramen in early July. (Full disclosure: I received a free meal from Thumbs Up Ramen in exchange for an honest review.) The space is bright and sunny, with seating for 50. Its open kitchen allows customers seated at the bench the chance to peek in and watch the whisking.
I had their signature dish, the chicken paitan. Yes, seeing the bubbles was delightful, but tasting it was even better. The velvety broth is brimming with umami, and the red onions and scallions add an extra oomph of flavor. The sous-vide char siu is thinly sliced and easy to chew, with a look and flavor that are reminiscent of prosciutto. There’s also a generous piece of chicken char siu, which soaked up the flavor of the broth. My favorite ramen topping is the boiled egg, and Thumbs Up’s had a deep orange yolk that was slightly gooey, which is the way I prefer it. All of this blended perfectly with the noodles.
Thumbs Up’s menu includes eight types of ramen: the aforementioned chicken paitan, chicken paitan tsukemen, chicken paitan miso, chicken paitan miso tsukemen, tomato mabo-noodle, vegetable, classic shoyu, and ramen you can customize with 15 different toppings. Rice bowls and appetizers such as chicken karaage, takoyaki, gyoza, and pork buns are also available.
Worth the Trek to NJ?
I know what you’re thinking. If you live in New York City, where there is no shortage of exceptional ramen shops, why would you go to New Jersey for a bowl of ramen? Trust me, I thought the same thing. But it’s worth the trip, and not just for the bubbly broth. The entire bowl of ramen is tasty, and I’d love to go back to try Chef Miyazawa’s other styles. Plus, it’s not far from the Mitsuwa shopping complex in Edgewater. My recommendation is to enjoy a bowl of bubble ramen at Thumbs Up Ramen before a Mitsuwa/Daiso run.
How to Get There from NYC
Thumbs Up Ramen is located at 2024 Center Avenue, Suite G in Fort Lee, New Jersey. It’s open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Take bus #158 from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Main Street at Center Avenue, which is about a 40-minute ride. Walk north for two or three minutes. Click here for the schedules.
Take bus #182 from the George Washington Bridge Terminal in Manhattan, going over the bridge into Fort Lee. Tell the driver you want to get off at Main Street at Center Avenue, which is the stop after Main Street at Bergen Boulevard. The bus ride takes only ten minutes! Click here for the schedules.