The Ramen Bowl

Originating in China and popularized in Japan, a steaming bowl of ramen is a comfort food that anyone can appreciate.  Recipes vary greatly by region and chef, which is the wonderful thing about ramen – there is no absolute way to prepare a ramen bowl. 

A typical ramen-ya (ramen shop).  Image by InfoMofo.

A typical ramen-ya (ramen shop).  Image by InfoMofo.

While there are countless varieties and versions of ramen in the world, ramen is often represented in distinct styles:

  • shio (salt),
  • shoyu (soy sauce),
  • miso (fermented bean paste),
  • and tonkotsu (pork)

Shio, shoyu and miso are tare (tar-eh) (or flavorings) that are added to a lighter chicken or vegetable broth base.  Tonkotsu is a pork broth base, and is one of the most widely recognized broths. 

There are all sorts of noodles that can be paired with the broths – it all depends on what ramen-ya (ramen shop) you frequent.  Noodles are selected based on texture, bounciness, and ability to carry the broth.  Ramen noodles are made of wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui (kon-soo- ē), an alkaline water that gives noodles their characteristic bounciness.  We use fresh noodles at Dashi, which need to be refrigerated until use – we are not unwrapping the typical square dried noodle packets!  Our noodles are made fresh – they are not dry or frozen.

 

EATING RAMEN

Serious ramen chefs are notoriously militant about noodle-eating etiquette. They say that perfect noodles will only last for five minutes after they are added to the hot broth—any longer than that and they become overcooked and mushy—so as a patron, it's your duty to start eating as soon as the bowl is delivered and not stop until you're finished; Hence the wild slurping you'll find in a typical Japanese ramen shop. Order ramen to go and you'll get your noodles on the side, intended to be added to the reheated broth when you get it home—that is, if the ramen shop even allows to-go orders. Many refuse.

J. Keni Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats

 


Sign in Tsukiji fish market depicting a chef shaving katsuobushi.

Sign in Tsukiji fish market depicting a chef shaving katsuobushi.

What is Dashi?

Dashi forms the base for miso soup, clear broth, noodle broth, and many kinds of simmering liquid.

The most common form of dashi is a simple broth or fish stock made by heating water containing kombu (edible kelp) and kezurikatsuo (shavings of katsuobushi - preserved, fermented bonito) to near-boiling, then straining the resultant liquid. The element of umami, considered one of the five basic tastes in Japan, is introduced into dashi from the use of katsuobushi. Katsuobushi is especially high in sodium inosinate, which is identified as one source of umami. 

Other kinds of dashi stock are made by soaking kelp, niboshi, or shiitake in water for many hours or by heating them in near-boiling water and straining the resulting broth.

Excerpts from Wikipedia


UMAMI – THE “FIFTH FLAVOR”

Umami has a mild but lasting aftertaste that is difficult to describe. It induces salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth. By itself, umami is not palatable, but it makes a great variety of foods pleasant especially in the presence of a matching aroma. But like other basic tastes, with the exception of sucrose, umami is pleasant only within a relatively narrow concentration range. The optimum umami taste depends also on the amount of salt, and at the same time, low-salt foods can maintain a satisfactory taste with the appropriate amount of umami. In fact, Roininen et al. showed that ratings on pleasantness, taste intensity and ideal saltiness of low-salt soups were greater when the soup contained umami, whereas low-salt soups without umami were less pleasant.

Umami taste is common to foods that contain high levels of L-glutamateIMP and GMP, most notably in fishshellfishcured meatsmushroomsvegetables (e.g., ripe tomatoesChinese cabbagespinachcelery, etc.) or green tea, and fermented and aged products (e.g., cheeses, shrimp pastes, soy sauce, etc.).

Many humans' first encounter with umami is breast milk. It contains roughly the same amount of umami as broths.

There are some distinctions among stocks from different countries. Japanese dashi gives a very pure umami taste sensation because it is not based on mammal or poultry meats. In dashi, L-glutamate comes from sea kombu (Laminaria japonica) and inosinate from dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) or small dried sardines (niboshi). In contrast, Western or Chinese broths have a more complex taste because of a wider mixture of amino acids from bones, meats and vegetables.

Excerpts from Wikipedia


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WHAT IS AN IZAKAYA?

Izakaya loosely translates to mean “a sake shop to stay”.

The name izakaya roots from zakaya (a sake shop).  In Japan, sake is the general term for alcoholic beverages (nihonshu refers to the rice wine, sake). The ‘i’ at the beginning of the word means “to sit or stay”.  The izakaya began as liquor shops where the owner would let you sit and drink alcoholic beverages. They then began serving small bites of food to accompany the drinks, and now the izakaya has become a integral part of neighborhood communities in Japanese cities.

In Japanese putting ‘ya’ on the end of a word is referring to a place that sells that item.  A ramen shop is called a “ramen-ya”.  A place that sells sake is an “izakaya”.

Our izakaya is essentially a Japanese pub – it centers on a bar with wine, sake, beer, and craft cocktails, and offers small plate dishes late into the night.

 

We think Mark Robinson, author of Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook sums up the description of an izakaya best:

Neither restaurant nor bar, the izakaya is more than a place where you can share delicious food and relaxing drink – though it is certainly that.  In many neighborhoods, it is a community hub with a cast of characters and ongoing narratives.  The customers will range from locals and regulars to office workers, acedemics, or day laborers.  They will order small dish delicacies throughout the evening, perhaps in the beginning sharing just a couple items.  The menu is like a road map and the diners are at the wheel, calling out orders at the mood takes them.  All dishes are inexpensive, and as the “scenery” and conversation changes, items that initially escaped notice acquire new appeal.  No inquisitive diner can fail to broaden his or her horizons, wandering side routes into exciting new food avenues.  And as the evening progresses and energy levels rise, you will hear straight talk and the uttering of hard truths that won’t ordinarily be spoken.  In short, at the izakaya, people are more themselves.


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Sake

Sake flavor wheel

Sake flavor wheel

Sake is a rice wine that we feel hasn’t received the credit that is due in the Triangle.  One of our favorite guides is John Gauntner’s Seven Basic Sake Tasting Parameters to outline the flavor profiles. 

Gauntner separates tasting into 7 parameters:

1.     Fragrance (non to fragrant)
2.     Impact (quiet to explosive)
3.     Sweet / Dry (sweet to dry)
4.     Acidity (soft to puckering)
5.     Presence (unassuming to full)
6.     Earthiness (delicate to dank)
7.     Tail (quickly vanishing to pervasive)

To read more, click here.

What is sake? Is it a beer? Is it a wine? Is it a spirit?

The brewing process for sake differs from the process for beer, in that for beer, the conversion from starch to sugar and from sugar to alcohol occurs in two discrete steps. But when sake is brewed, these conversions occur simultaneously. Furthermore, the alcohol content differs between sake, wine, and beer. Wine generally contains 9%–16% ABV, while most beer contains 3%–9%, and undiluted sake contains 18%–20% (although this is often lowered to about 15% by diluting with water prior to bottling).


Shochu on the rocks!

Shochu on the rocks!

Shochu

Shochu is a distilled alcoholic beverage imported directly from Japan. The difference between Japanese sake and shochu is that Japanese sake is made with brewed alcohol like wine and beer, while shochu is made with distilled alcohol and is in the same category as whiskey, scotch, and vodka.

Shochu is made with several raw ingredients and is usually produced in warmer regions like the southern area of Japan. Currently there are approximately 635 different shochu sakaguras (breweries) that have come a long way in developing many new remarkable shochus.

Japanese sake is made from rice, just as wine is made from grapes. But shochu (Otsu type shochu) can be made from a variety of raw materials, which can include sweet potatoes, barley, rice, sugarcane, black sugar, and more.  Each material imparts a different unique flavor and aroma profile to the final shochu.