One of my main points about ramen is that, it’s often judged by people with a Yelp like mentality. I enjoy Yelp, but imagine… you’re a kid who eats a lot of ramen, including the packaged kind, but you’ve never tried Ramen in Japan. You write reviews like you know it, but the best ramen you’ve had might be at a shop somewhere in LA. Do you really know what you’re talking about? It’s a huge genre, and a frank Japanese person might say, everything in the US is bullshit. There’s a few stellar places mostly in New York, Setagaya Ramen… Ippudo… But it’s food. Everyone judges food, since everyone eats it daily, and the reviews still help most of the time since maybe the reviews will steer you to the best in that city. Yet what is great ramen?
What I look for in Ramen
1 Soup. It obviously has to be right. It’s not just soy sauce and water. Some places make a strong broth that smells of instant packets. Good ramen shouldn’t be Oriental flavor. Ideally, it’s Salt, Soysauce, or Tonkotsu and done right. The “just right” is near impossible to describe, it’s a somewhat of a schooled taste. You have to try the best and the worst in shops in both the USA and Japan.
2 Noodles. It has to fit the ramen. Is it straight, curly, overcooked, undercooked. Most ramen noodles in the US is typical, and they’re probably all using the same brand. It’s hard to judge based on the US parameters.
3 Size. A lot of people judge ramen based on a huge bowl that they can’t finish. I’d rather have a small bowl done right.
4 Toppings. A great way to judge a place is it’s simplicity. Try the first thing on the menu.
5 Who eats there. If it’s a ton of Japanese folks from Japan, you’re on the right track. Busy doesn’t mean great.
1 Fast ordering. Be ready and order quick. Most places will expect you to order the second you sit down.
2 Leave nothing, leave fast. If it’s awesome, eat it all. Most don’t do this in this day of health and quantity of ramen served. Don’t sit around and talk about Japanese movies. Leave, there’s people waiting. Ramen is a fast food.
3 Manga Reading. This is okay in Japan since it’s sort of part of the culture. People don’t pay attention to each other in ramen shops. Even if it’s a guy and a girl.
4 Condiments. If you add a lot of condiments you’re doomed. I see people adding soysauce to their ramen. That can’t be good.
5 Order Ramen. Some people go to a ramen place and order everything but the ramen. Does that tell you anything about the shop?
1 Tenshinmen. It’s a egg omelet with a gravy served over noodles. It’s massive. Ramenya in West LA has this. I don’t see this often, and I dare not eat it anymore.
2 Mabo Ramen. Heavy since it’s ground pork and tofu, it’s also served on ramen. This is more common and a great throwback in a way to China, where ramen is from. But at the same time, it’s junky.
3 Green Grocer Ramen. Green veggies like broccoli and carrots, often it’s vegan or “vegetarian” stock. This is bad and a ramen that you might need to add soysauce.
4 Wagamama ramen. It’s in London. At near $15-20, it’s original and a strange ramen.
5 Ramen in a can. It was tested in Akihabara from a vending machine. Dorks who can’t be social enough to order in a small shop can go to a machine.