Famed chef David Chang of New York’s Momofuku may have claimed that ramen is “dead” but for Indians, who have grown up on the instant variety — Top Ramen — that comes in a bright red packet, the craze has just begun. This soupy meal, which was recently voted as the greatest Japanese export of the 20th century, even ahead of the Walkman, is more than mere instant noodles. Made using a variety of broths, such as shoyu (soy sauce), miso and tonkotsu (pork), and a myriad noodles (often homemade in Japan), ramen is considered a work of art.
Bandra-based home chef Benpramar Laitflang would agree. Laitflang, marketing executive by day and a ramen ninja by night, opens his home on weekends and Mondays to a bunch of strangers to give them a taste of ramen through Trekurious, a company that curates interesting experiences around the city. His obsession with this noodle dish began during his travels to Japan and the US. “Wherever I went, I made sure I tried a bowl of ramen. Recently, there’s been a global ramen craze. Whoever experiences it for the first time enjoys the depth of its flavour,” he says.
For his ramen, Laitflang prepares his broth with pork bones and beef stock cubes kept over six to eight hours.
He then adds cooked pork, seaweed and a runny egg to the bowl. While most of his ingredients are procured from the neighbourhood, Laitflang is yet to find kelp (dried seaweed) here. “I’ll bring some from my trip to Germany,” he says before dishing out a bowl of ramen topped with prawn crackers for his guests. Apart from meat, ingredients such as garlic, ginger, mushroom and charred onions are also added to the broth to accentuate its aroma and add to the texture.
Twenty-five-year-old Roshni Lachhwani’s love affair with ramen began with her early years spent in Hong Kong.
Known as The Ramen Girl on TinyOwl, an app-based food delivery service that connects home chefs with foodies, Lachhwani gives her ramen bowl an Indian twist by adding a “secret” blend of spices to her broth. “I use tofu and soyabean nuggets for vegetarians and chicken cooked ‘chashu’ style (a kind of barbecue) for non-vegetarians,” says Lachhwani, an intellectual property rights lawyer who regularly participates in pop-ups and food fests across the city.
In Mumbai, the ramen trend is witnessing a humble beginning. But when the West discovered the complex flavours of ramen, ramen bars sprang up everywhere. At that time, American chef Ivan Orkin moved to Tokyo to launch Ivan Ramen, earning the title ‘king of ramen’. He then returned to the US and launched his popular brand there.
Japanese cuisine restaurants in India are not far behind. Delhi’s Sakura offers a fine-dining variety of miso ramen. At Bandra’s Kofuku, this dish is one of the most popular dishes on the menu and comes in a light soy broth, topped with either vegetables or chicken and pork. And chef Kelvin Cheung of Ellipsis is experimenting with vegetarian versions of ramen for the Colaba-based restaurant’s third anniversary celebrations. Varieties such as parmesan dashi, kimchi vegetarian ramen, yakitori ramen with miso broth and miso ramen with tea eggs will be available all week long.
Early last year, a Japanese-American mash-up, the ramen burger made headlines and its inventor Keizo Shimamoto, a former computer programmer, became an international sensation overnight. Sandwiched between two fried ramen buns, the burger was introduced by AD Singh’s Guppy in Delhi and its pop-up outlet at Olive Mahalaxmi.
“It took me a month-and-a-half to get it right,” says executive chef Vikram Khatri. Guppy offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian variations including the five- mushroom ramen burger and the tenderloin variety. The noodle is blanched and given an egg wash before allowing it to set in a mould. Right before plating, Khatri tosses it on a hot griddle. “While the noodle is being made, an alkaline solution called kansui, made from seawater, is added to the dough to give it a different bind. This gives the ramen extra bounce, the factor that makes Ramen more popular than any other variety of noodle,” says Khatri.