Sunny Bang, authentic Korean from Texas and survivor of the Craft Empire, shares with us some of his ideals of (real) ramen, and gives away advice for winning his votes below.
What are your personal experiences with ramen, both high and low quality?
From as far back as I can remember, my family has eaten instant ramen. Originally, it was Sapporo Ichiban from Japan. Those were the days when there were no flavors like chicken, beef or shrimp. It was simply good old “Oriental Flavor”. “What is oriental flavor,” you may ask? Japanese call it “umami”. Chemists call it monosodium glutamate. Whatever moniker it may go by, it taste so damn good that it actually makes you want to eat more of it. Forget all the bad press MSG has gotten, in moderation, it is not unhealthy and it makes your taste buds sing! (You still secretly eat and enjoy Chinese food from your bad neighborhood delivery place, don’t you?) In fact, we used to have all night ramen parties at my dad’s Korean church when I was a kid. No booze, no drugs, just ramen and kimchee.
I’ve never been into domestic brands of instant ramen such as Top Ramen, the noodles never tasted as good as the Asian brands. Nowadays, my ramen of choice is Shin Ramyun from Korea. Since being released in 1986, it has become the number one selling ramen noodle in the world. Go Korea! It’s spicier than most, but that’s the way I like it along with some miso paste, scallions and a poached egg on top. Serve with a side of kimchee.
Hand made ramen is a totally different animal from instant ramen, and something that I’ve sought out both in Japan and here in the city. Attaining almost cult status in Japan, ramen from ramen-ya restaurants are so delicious and cheap that there are numerous, different kinds. Here are the Clif Notes. There are four main types of ramen depending on the region: Shoyu (soy), Tonkatsu (pork), Miso (fermented soy bean paste) and Shio (salt). Shoyu is the predominent flavor of Tokyo and its surrounding area or middle Japan. The noodle for this type of ramen tend to be curly and thin. Tonkatsu exemplifies the south of Japan (try the Hakata ramen which is available just outside the Hakata shinkansen station in Fukuoka if you get the chance, you’ll moan in orgasmic ecstasy). The noodle for tonkatsu ramen tend to be thin and straight. Miso ramen is prevelant in Sapporo or northern Japan and was developed as a variation from the Shoyu flavor. The noodles for this type of ramen tend to be thick, curly and slightly chewy. Shio is the flavor most like the Chinese version from which the Japanese took the idea of ramen. Noodles for this variety of ramen vary greatly from curly to straight, thin to thick. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because this is the original ramen and people couldn’t decided which noodles suited them best.
I’ve been to Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka to stand in the lines and eat the ramen at ramen-yas. I’ve also tasted the miso ramen of Sapporo, just not in Sapporo. I can say that by far, I like the ramen of Fukuoka. Tonkatsu ramen has a broth with hearty pork flavor and a rich, creamy consistency. The noodles are thin and straight and are slightly toothsome after cooking. The best ramen-ya I visited in Fukuoka actually had a checklist of toppings they handed you while standing in line so you could customize the ramen to your exact liking. Fan-fuckin-tastic!
In NYC, I go to Ippudo NY for my ramen. It’s located on Fourth Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. It’s pricey but worth every penny. Almost like the ramen in Hakata ramen in Fukuoka.
Name three of the most unusual ingredients that are fucking amazing in ramen. (And don’t say tomato, I still think that’s crazy!)
One of my favorite ways to make ramen other than the tried and true miso, scallion, poached egg method is duck confit and taleggio. If anyone makes this at the competition, they’ll win it hands down. It’s so fucking good!
Another variation that’s so good (and suitable for this economic downturn, I might add) would be fried Spam and eggs with spinach. I know what you’re think, “WTF? Spam?” Yes, Spam! In Korea, we give gift boxes of Spam to each other on holidays. It may be gross right out of the can but once you fry that sucker hard with a egg and drop it into oriental broth with the spinach…. Whoooeeee! Delicious! Slide a slice of Kraft American cheese in right at the end of cooking, and you have a meal fit for a king of Korea.
Tell us about your ramen dreams.
Funny you should ask. Ever since my mid-twenties, I’ve been harboring a growing desire to open up a small ramen shop whenever I retire from or tire of the fine dining side of the industry. My family would live above the shop. Of course we would, this is a dream, isn’t it? In fact, it would be across the street from a beautiful park with a decent size brook where I would fish on the weekends for trout and pike. Every morning I would take the pork stock that’s been simmering all night off the candy stove and start rolling out the noodles by hand. Get the rest of the mise en place ready for lunch, and open by 11AM. Whenever I run out of food, I close for the day and start all over again the next day until I die. Weekends off, of course.