Ramen shops have been popping up in frequency for a few years now. I know I'm not the only one to sit down to a bowl and think to myself, "How hard can it be?"
Technically, they're a far cry from the anglicised version of ramen from our childhood: Oodles of Noodles. Am I showing my age here? I went to Japan a couple of years ago, and now better understand how the silky broth and unique toppings (pictured below) not only make it tastier, but fill it with more nutrients, making it a more satisfying meal.
Step 1: The right ramen
Start by going to the Asian grocery store, and treat yourself to a solid aisle stacked with Ramen from all around Asia, not just Japan. Thailand has some wonderful selections, albeit spicy! If you live in Richmond, Tan A has the best selection. If you are limited in store choices, check out the Interntional aisle in your local grocery store, and stock up on unusual flavors!
Step 2: The flavor base
Oftentimes, international ramen comes with not only with a powder flavor pack, but multiple packets filled with oils and hot sauces. Use them all. If you have a little broth in your fridge, whether vegetable broth or chicken broth, you can use this to replace the water that you'll be boiling. If you don't have it, no worries. The flavor packets more than make up for it, and the fun of building your own bowl is using what you have, not going out of your way.
Step 3: The protein
Whether fried chicken or pan-seared tofu, you can make it crispy so it can hold up to the water and be a sharp contrast in texture. I'm a fan of Steak-Ums, thin slices of beef made for sandwiches. They are full of flavor, have zero additives (despite the branding!) and get crispy in the pan. I pair it with an egg, to make the bowl extra hearty on cold days.
Roasted pork and other meats work as well - get creative! In my opinion, you should always have a fried egg. The yolk pops and makes the broth thicker - not to mention it's delicious. Cook your proteins and set aside to place on top at the end.
Step 4: Veggies
Open the fridge and see what you've got! Some basics people usually have are onions, which should be shaved thin in order to be slurped up with the rest. If you have carrots, slice down thin strips with a vegetable peeler and boil them with the water if you'd prefer them soft. If not, they make a fine crunch. Mushrooms are perfect, and we use flavorful dried shiitake mushrooms from the Asian grocery store, cooking them with the noodles so they can rehydrate.
With frozen veggies, you can toss them in the pan while the protein cooks to infuse flavor while heating up, like spinach. Though it's great raw or frozen. So are chopped scallions, broccoli, garlic and ginger. You can do peas, water chestnuts, jalapenos and bamboo shoots - the list goes on.
Step 5: The Garnish
Don't overlook this step - you can get some real flavor out of garnish, such as seaweed, chopped cilantro, or my very favorite herb: Thai basil. You can add crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, Trader Joe's Furikake, wonton crisps, fried onions or drizzle on hot sauce or sesame oil. Depending on the base you choose, the opportunities are endless.
So many people have asked about my ramen game on Instagram, I posted the below visual!
A steaming bowl of ramen on a winter's day can warm you from the inside out, and by piling up a diverse set of toppings, you're feeding your body the protein, vitamins and minerals it needs. And you're likely setting it up so well, that it would be impossible not to photograph!
Enjoy, and stay warm!