For the Japanese chef Takashi Miyazaki, who runs two restaurants in Cork city, one dish above all else reminds him of home: ramen. Here, he explains why this dish is important to him.
“Listen carefully, ramen noodles are synergetic things. Every step must be perfectly built. Don’t forget that.” Tampopo by Juzo Itami.
This quote applies to all cooking processes and any cuisine, but it is really so important with ramen, the world-renowned noodle dish.
Basically, ramen is a bowl of hot soup with noodles. Originally from China and called Chuka soba (Chinese soup noodles), it began to be served in Yokahama in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan in the mid-19th century. This was the birth of Japanese ramen.
It is said that there are 66 different types of ramen. Each region uses its own local products to create their own unique flavour and taste.
You have possibly heard of tonkotsu ramen. It’s a cloudy, rich soup that’s made by slowly simmering pork bones and is served with super-fine straight noodles. I am proud to say tonkotsu ramen is from my home city, Fukuoka, and I ate plenty of it growing up.
My parents had an apartment near Hakata station in Fukuoka city surrounded by countless ramen shops and stalls. Each shop has different flavours and noodles, even though the basic structure is the same, and they each put their own secret twist into their recipe.
People choose their favourite ramen and ramen master. We were blessed with so many great places and masters that our most difficult decision was probably whether to have ramen for lunch or ramen for dinner!
My parents had two favourite ramen spots. One was a shop and the other was a yatai (a night-time food stall). The two masters were totally opposite characters – one was calm and quiet, and the other was always chatting and laughing loudly with customers – but I remember they were both amazing artisan ramen makers.
As a boy, I remember smelling the freshly served steaming bowl, brimming with soup and noodles in the Japanese manner. The strong pork broth was almost stinky and it stung my nose. The aroma combined with the flavours of the soup and super-fine chopped spring onion came flooding through from my nose to my brain – it happened every time!
I would use my chopsticks to lift up the noodles and smell them, ready to eat then slurp - you must slurp. At the time I had no clue what made this perfect balanced flavour, but it became an addiction.
When I get back to Fukuoka, the first thing I want to eat is tonkotsu ramen and my two boys do too. The last time we were there together in a ramen shop, it brought me back to my childhood and the time I spent in shops just like that with my parents.
I love to share that experience in Ireland. I serve lemon ramen in my takeaway shop; it’s not a tonkotsu, but I make it just as carefully as my ramen masters, balancing each flavour and using Irish pork, chicken and vegetables with Fukuoka-style ramen noodles. It’s a taste of my childhood home and my adopted home - Ireland - all rolled into one.
Takashi Miyazaki will be taking you through some of his favourite Japanese recipes, including ramen, here on foodandwine.ie in January.