Lately, all the rave has been about ramen noodles, which appeared on the list of 2013 Food Trends that are spreading across the US. In fact, it’s a major hit in Boston now, as mentioned in Boston Magazine. Like most people, my experience with ramen has been limited to pre-packaged and styrofoam cup versions – a staple back when I lived in the college dorms. Last year, I was introduced to a real bowl of ramen noodles served in a restaurant. Since then, I have tried almost all of the noodle bars in the Boston area and still hungry for more.
My first encounter with real ramen noodles was at Sapporo Ramen at the Porter Square Exchange Mall in Cambridge. I’ll admit that I wasn’t in love with it the first time; the taste seemed unusual to me. Maybe I was too used to packaged ramen? I returned a second time and have been a regular ever since. For a while, Sapporo Ramen was the only available non-chain Japanese noodle bar option in the Greater Boston area, which explains the long lines, no matter what time of day. From their menu: “Our broth is made from chicken and fresh vegetables boiled over high heat for more than 10 hours served with premium wave noodles” – the broth has a very buttery and rich taste. My favorite bowl is the Tan Tan Men – wavy noodles in a sesame-flavored soup topped with spicy ground pork. The signature bowl is the Spicy Miso Ramen, which is a close runner-up.
Next stop was late night ramen at Uni in Boston. The Japanese restaurant, owned by celebrity chef Ken Oringer, only serves ramen during late night, starting at 11pm. I ordered the Traditional Ramen, which comes with one piece of pork, nori (seaweed), mushrooms, and an egg that’s been poached for two hours. The noodles have a firm, chewy texture. The broth is pasty but flavorful. The egg is the best part – runny, silky, and blends well with the broth. The ramen was great, but I think Uni’s delicious pork buns are even better.
In the Allston/Brighton neighborhood, I visited Pikaichi located in the Super 88 Market Food Court. I tried the Tokyo Shoyu (“soy sauce”) Ramen. Although Pikaichi’s ramen is not my favorite, I wouldn’t mind eating here again if I were in the area. The noodles have a nice, firm, al-dente texture. However, the flavor of the broth and pork meat is on the lighter side. The great thing about Pikaichi is that there’s a variety of “extra” ingredients you can choose from to add to your bowl, such as boiled eggs, wakame seaweed, corn, nori, etc.
The most anticipated local ramen shop is Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square, Cambridge. Yume was featured on Eater‘s list of “19 Hottest Ramen Shops Across America.” For months, the wait time for one of the 15-20 coveted seats was roughly 1-2 hours during peak dinner time. I don’t have much patience waiting in line; going at 9pm for a late dinner worked for me since it was a brief wait. There are only two items on the menu: ramen with two slices of pork, and ramen with five slices of pork (“buta”). So far, my favorite bowl of ramen is from Yume. The noodles are chewy and have a nice texture. The broth is fatty (which is apparently authentic Japanese) and bursting with flavor. The pork slices are tender, fatty, and savory. The portion is generous and loaded with any extra vegetables that you might want to add. Altogether, it was an excellent bowl of ramen. However, I would suggest to only eat this occasionally as it can be very greasy from the pork-based broth.
My most recent ramen experience was at backbar in Somerville. Backbar only serves ramen between 4-6pm (“genius hours”) everyday except Tuesday. The noodles are perfectly chewy and definitely tastes house-made… although I did have one clumpy section. The broth is rich and nicely seasoned with scallions and pork flavor. Both the pork meat and poached egg are good, but not as good as Yume’s and Uni’s. What I love about backbar is the unique, cozy, and speakeasy ambiance; it’s the perfect spot for catching up with friends over drinks. Did I mention that the mixologists make great craft cocktails?
I still have a few more places in Boston to visit and complete my local ramen tour: Myers & Chang, Guchi’s Midnight Ramen pop-up, and Moksa. I am pretty satisfied with what (Greater) Boston has to offer so far. By the way, March is National Noodle Month – go celebrate with a steaming bowl of ramen noodles in your area!