recent trip tro Japan proves eye-opening to the
appreciation of the complexity -- and simplicity -- of
the last meal in Tokyo, after many delicious days in Japan.
Emphasis here on delicious, with one meal trumping the next,
day after day. A final taste of the island was all we
craved, in the form of a simple bowl of ramen, the classic
was not the familiar stuff of cellophane packages that sells
in supermarkets at $1 per dozen. Rather, it was the rich,
steaming broth, topped with fresh wheat noodles, sliced meat
and chopped vegetables that made diners slurp and sigh
before slurping and sighing again. It was a meal in a bowl,
satisfying and filling at any hour — and every hour —
but especially at 9 a.m. on a damp winter morning in Tokyo
when the chill had us in its grips.
small noodle shops dotted the streets near our hotel, we
headed to Tsukiji, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood
market in the world, where bustling food stalls thrive along
the perimeter of a massive, covered war zone of fish
spotted a vendor on an earlier visit when we had passed
quickly — longingly — to watch seafood prepped for sale.
"We’ll be back," we promised ourselves, and so
we were in the waning hours of our trip.
there my epiphany took place at the end of a pair of
narrow stall, tucked between a tuna purveyor on one side and
a salmon merchant on the other, ceramic bowls were lined up
older of two workers — dressed in chef’s whites and
likely the proprietor, though our language skills kept us
from finding out — ladled a small puddle of dark, fragrant
broth into each bowl while customers queued up at the side.
We scrambled into formation as he dropped tender greens into
the bowls, then reached for the seasoning to strew over
the second worker glanced our way, we raised our hands, each
with a finger to signal that we wanted one bowl. He nodded,
then plucked a slab of cooked pork from the table, carefully
slicing it in thin, yet substantial pieces.
moves precise as any ballet, the proprietor ducked behind
him and scooped noodles out of the pot on the stove before
dropping them into each bowl, then dribbling yet more broth
over it all.
the second worker took over, arranging pork slices over the
noodles. With a hint of dramatic flair, the proprietor
sprinkled a final flourish of sliced green onions.
is no delicate way to eat ramen, which is unruly at best
with a tangle of noodles that seems to defy a beginning or
end. Or at least they did for us, three Americans who were
hungry for yet another culinary adventure.
did what the locals do, chopsticks poised, noodles askew,
though perhaps not with the grace of those around us. We
slurped because, well, everyone around us was slurping.
wiped away the driblets of broth that had landed on my chin
and breathed in its hearty perfume before nabbing a slice of
knew. "This is the perfect meal,"
thought, "in the perfect place, with the perfect
universe had shifted course for me as I leaned against the
high-top metal counter, bowl of ramen front-and-center, the
clamor of street activity all about me.
meunière may have changed Julia Child’s life. A bowl of
ramen changed mine.
Most ramen shops in Japan use pork bones as the base to
their broth, though chicken bones or dried fish can play a
role. This simplified version uses only chicken. A dab of
any reserved pan juices in each bowl adds complexity to the
dish. From "Japanese Farm Food" by Nancy Singleton
small carrots, cut into 1-inch lengths
small spring onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
(3/4-inch) knob fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
chicken thighs, bone in, or 8 wings (free-range for best
teaspoon sea salt
tablespoons sesame oil
tablespoons sesame oil
plus 2 egg yolks, room temperature
half-boiled eggs (see below)
small bunch boiled, squeezed and chopped bok choy greens
miso, soy sauce, salt
sheet nori (dried seaweed), cut into eighths
tablespoons finely chopped green onions
prepare broth: Start the ramen soup early in the day or at
least several hours before dinner.
oven to 450 degrees. Put the carrots, onions, ginger and
chicken in a cast-iron pan and sprinkle with salt and oil.
Distribute the oil around to coat all the chicken and
vegetables and roast for 30 to 45 minutes in the middle of
the roasted chicken and vegetables and all of the pan
drippings into a large heavy pot with 4 quarts cold water
and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer,
covered, for 1 hour. Uncover, pull out 2 thighs, place in
medium-sized bowl, and ladle a bit of broth over to allow
meat to cool gently. Simmer stock, uncovered, for 1 hour
more. After the chicken meat has cooled for a half-hour,
shred, moisten with a ladle of broth, and reserve. When
stock is done, strain into a clean saucepan and keep warm
over low heat. (Discard remaining thighs and vegetables.)
prepare noodle dough: Mix 2 tablespoons sesame oil into
flour with your fingers until crumbly. Add eggs and egg
yolks and stir with your hands until just incorporated.
Knead on clean flat surface for 5 minutes until pliable but
stiff. Let dough rest while you prepare ramen toppings.
make half-boiled eggs: Carefully place eggs into boiling
water and boil for 7 to 8 minutes. Plunge eggs into cold
water and run more cold water over them until water
temperature remains cool. Remove eggs from water when
completely cool. Slice eggs in half vertically with
razor-sharp knife. Scoop eggs from shells.
finish noodles: Fill largest stockpot you own with hot water
and bring to boil over high heat.
floured surface, roll out ramen noodle dough into a rough
oblong shape to slightly less than 1/8 inch thick. With a
sharp knife or pizza cutter, slice 1/8-inch wide strips to
create the noodles. Then cut the noodles into 9-inch
lengths, flour well, and toss to distribute the flour. Leave
on the workspace, but do not clump into a mass.
out 1 large soup bowl per person and add seasoning to each
bowl: 1 tablespoon miso, 2 teaspoons soy sauce or 1/2
teaspoon salt. Mix a little broth in to melt the salt or
emulsify the miso. Distribute the reserved shredded chicken
pieces among the bowls along with a small amount of broth in
which it was cooled.
the noodles for 2 minutes and right before the noodles are
done, add 2 or 3 ladlefuls of broth to the bowls. Scoop the
noodles out of the boiling water with a small fine-mesh
strainer and drop into a large strainer. Divide the noodles
among the bowls filled with soup and quickly add 2 egg
halves, a dollop of greens and 2 pieces of nori before
sprinkling with the green onions. Serve immediately.