Monday, 5 September 2016

Thoughts on Ramen from a Vegetarian's Perspective: An Icon | Shin-Yokohama


If someone asked me if I liked ramen, my answer wouldn't be a short and simple yes or no. Generally, I stay away from it because I don't eat meat. But I remember when we went to Hokkaido two years ago during the winter (when I was a meat-eater), I relished my appetite in slurping long strands of perfectly cooked noodles, chowing down on melt in your mouth chashu and then consuming all of that delicious fatty broth and then regretting it later,  I distinctly remember feeling sorry for my clogged arteries. There's no doubt that ramen has attainted a cultural status not just in Japan, but everywhere in the world, not to mention the invention of instant ramen by Momofuku Ando in 1958 that made ramen known to every modern household, and the fact that there's a ramen emoji. I love ramen, I don't love eating it per se but I love what it represents and the feelings associated with it. To me, ramen represents those late nights in the big city, dark streets lit up with neon signs and lanterns, if in winter, a meal to warm you up, or in the summer, to make you sweat it out. There's a certain etiquette of eating ramen, an art form if you'd like, a certain place around the corner that's always tiny and usually devoid of chairs. It's fast and quick, and oh so satisfying in the moment. 

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During my trip to Toyko in June, my friend and I were tossing up between visiting the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum or the Cup Noodle Museum, as we were pressed for time we had to choose one or the other. Since we wanted to eat ramen, we decided to venture out further to Shin-Yokohama and boy, we were not disappointed, the museum took the cult status of the humble bowl of noodles to another level. Walking downstairs, we were transported back in time to the period where ramen gained popularity, 1950's Tokyo. It was dim with vintage neon signs and posters, and within the two floors were nine different ramen shops offering ramen from different regions in Japan, as well as ramen that took influence from Italy and Germany. 

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If you're wondering if I caved in and broke my non-meat eating habits, I didn't. Thankfully, some shops within the museum offered a vegetarian option. Also, I heard this from my mum who read it in the paper, apparently, the museum also offers a gluten-free option. Although, not seeing any mention of it in the pamphlet makes me think that they are yet to introduce the option. My friend and I settled on Kuromasaki that offered a tonkotsu based ramen from Kumamoto, Kyushu. Kumamoto's signature is roasted garlic chips that's crumbled on top, which made the ramen super fragrant. I love it when places come up with vegetarian versions of dishes that traditionally include meat, and the ramen I had at Kuromasaki was nothing short of amazing. The noodles were perfectly cooked, the broth was creamy and piping hot, and together with the toppings of menma (bamboo shoots), beansprouts, mock meat and seaweed made the ramen exactly what ramen is supposed to be, except without the animal fat. We spent a good two or so hours there wandering around the museum and eating our noodles. After our visit, I left with a new and heightened appreciation for the iconic bowl of noodles.

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