What a wonderful day Sunday was for Japan Block Fair and Round 2 of the NY Street Ramen Contest! Samurai Sword Soul co-founder Yoshi Amao and I served as emcees again, and we were happy to be surrounded by six talented and diverse teams preparing unique styles of ramen.
The purpose of the NY Street Ramen Contest is to search for the California roll of ramen, a style of ramen that New York can claim as its own. On Sunday each group created their own style of ramen that they hope will be identified as the signature brand of ramen in the city.
It was a close race between the six contestants: Batten Ramen of Fort Lee, NJ; Soymilk Ramen, a team of Japanese food-industry companies Kikkoman, Myojo Noodle, and Nobu-Chan Ramen chef Nobu Hirooka; Hakkoan, a team led by macrobiotic chef Natsuko Yamawaki; Ramen Yebisu, a restaurant that will open soon in Williamsburg; Asahikawa Ramen, serving traditional ramen from Hokkaido; and Tabata Noodle, a ramen hot spot in Midtown West.
Unlike the first round of the contest, which ended in a draw, there was a clear winner on Sunday: Tabata Noodle’s Sesame Tantan Men. Hakkoan finished a close second. As the top two vote getters, Tabata Noodle and Hakkoan advanced to the final round, which will be held in December.
The third installment of the NY Street Ramen Contest will take place on Sunday, October 14 in the Upper West Side on Broadway between 93rd and 94th Streets. If you’re interested in creating the quintessential NY ramen and would like to participate in the contest, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Batten Ramen’s entry was a complex and flavorful chicken base with seafood (tuna, scallop, & conch) mixed with a sesame and shrimp head miso, special salt, and special butter. A magnificent blend with savory and tender pork.
In what I like to refer to as a Ramen Consortium, Nobu-chan Ramen’s Nobu Hirooka provided the recipe, Kikkoman provided the soymilk, and Myojo Noodles provided the noodles to create a Soymilk Peanut Butter Tantan Men. The rich texture of the soymilk combined nicely with the sesame.
“Hakko” means “fermentation” in Japanese, and “An” is “residence.” Chef Natsuko Yamawaki’s House of Fermentation presented Astoria with Shio Koji Abura Soba. The cold noodle had no broth and received its texture from shio koji, a type of fermented agent that is used in making miso, sake, shochu, and soy sauce. Chef Yamawaki, who teaches cooking classes in Queens, added fresh vegetables to create a flavorful and healthy ramen that’s perfect for hot summer days. “The flavor is intense, but after you eat you don’t feel full because koji helps you digest food and your body doesn’t absorb oil,” says Chef Yamawaki of her second place ramen.
Like Hakkoan’s ramen, Ramen Yebisu’s entry also did not have a broth. Instead, the restaurant’s Lobster-flavored Abura Soba was a sublime blend of lobster oil mixed with the noodles. The boiled egg and fresh vegetables blended beautifully with the noodles’ thick texture.
Asahikawa Ramen is another example – like Soymilk Ramen and Hakkoan – of a group of chefs and ramen lovers creating their own style of dish. Asahikawa Ramen is a shoyu (soy sauce) ramen that represents the traditional style found in Hokkaido in northern Japan. It’s a very simple recipe with a light taste.
This restaurant’s specialty may be their Soybean Powder and Coconut-Flavored Soup, but they wowed the crowd in Queens with Sesame Tantan Men, a colorful broth with a burst of flavor.