Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession and Recipes from Tokyo’s Most Unlikely Noodle Joint
by Ivan Ramen
Ten Speed Press, 2013
Review by Kim Jordan
For five glorious years while living in Kamakura, Japan, we ate noodles to our hearts' content— thick white udon noodles, dark and light buckwheat soba noodles, chewy curling yellow ramen noodles, and still other kinds of noodles like somen. On weekends we lined up at a clean well-lit udon shop, Miyoshi, known for its smoky tori-jiro chicken stock and made as you watched udon noodles with a side of tempura. Our favorite soba, darker, country style, buckwheat noodles, were served at Nakamura-an. Surprisingly, we found our favorite ramen source in Yokosuka, Japan, right outside the back gate of the U.S. Navy base.
Kim Jordan and husband with Ivan Ramen in NYC
While diners waited, the silent ramen master prepared each bowl with the choreographed moves of a dancer— shaking baskets of perfectly cooked noodles, scooping bowls of sauce, and arranging thinly sliced roast pork over clear broth with yellow noodles aesthetically arranged with a twirl of the chopsticks. This was amidst a soundtrack of jazz tunes, slurping diners, and pinging timers. Each bowl was garnished with green mizuna leaves, sheets of crisp black nori, and two red goji berries. These five colors of washoku Japanese home cooking-- black, white, yellow, green, and red-- made a visually appealing bowl that was also amazing to eat.
When our days in Japan ended, so too did our accessibility to these awesome noodle bowls. Desire and cravings simmered on the back burner of our minds. That is until I encountered Ivan Orkin , a.k.a. Ivan Ramen a Jewish chef from New York on Youtube speaking Japanese and making ramen. After reposting it, a Japanese friend asked, "Is it a true story of this guy?" Turns out, he is real, a Japanophile, and he has ramen shops in both Tokyo and New York City.
In his new book, Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo's Most Un-likely Noodle Joint, the Culinary Institute of America trained chef reveals the exacting standards he utilized in kitchens like Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and Lutece in Manhattan, for making and preparing ramen. Recipes are included for each component of Ivan’s ramen: chicken fat, pork fat, shio tare salt seasoning, sofrito aromatic vegetable base, katsuobushi seasoned salt, double soup stock, toasted rye noodles, menma cured bamboo shoots, chashu braised pork belly, and the beloved, in Japan, half-cooked egg.
The book is the closest I've come to comprehending the scoops, techniques, and composition that go into making a bowl of ramen like those found in Japan. It also offers fascinating detail on the evolution of this street food, the who's who, and how to not only prepare, but eat ramen-- you must slurp hot noodles by sucking in cool air, this means making noise, to get the ramen from the bowl into your mouth, and yes, it may dribble on your chin. He explains how to make ramen at home, but you will need great ingredients, lots of time, a weight scale, and a thermometer. Why would anyone spend so much time making ramen? You fall in love with the noodles.
Ivan ramen’s story about how he got to this point in life, in the kitchen, and in the dual locations of New York and Japan are shared in a warm open-hearted way that contrasts with his sharp city demeanor on display in the video which feels more New York than Tokyo. But the ramen…ah!!...that is authentic Japanese.
Gaijin Tips for Eating Ramen:
- Eat! Don’t talk
- Slurp! Suck in cool air along with a mouthful of hot noodles and fat
- It’s about the food, don’t mind the noise
- Ramen is not gluten free
- Dribbles on your chin are to be expected
- Drink all of the broth
- If you’re desperate for ramen, you can make your own