We Tried Boston’s Only Ramen Burger
Compressed ramen + burger = err, divisive.
Since Chef Keizo Shimamoto introduced his ramen burger at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg food fair last August, the Japanese-American mashup has taken over as the foodie obsession of the moment. Like the Cronut before it, throngs of New Yorkers have been known to combat massive lines and wait times of up to two-hours to sample Shimamoto’s hamburger patty nestled between two discs of compressed ramen noodles.
In January, Allston newcomer Ki Bistro introduced their own version of the ramen burger, with toppings like kimchi, Korean gochujang chili paste, and pickled vegetables (regular buns are standard with the burgers, and the ramen bun is an extra $1.50). I spoke with Ki Bistro owner An Nguyen, who described the New York-version as being too “oily” for her taste. She uses another egg-based noodle, yakisoba, shipped in fresh from New York every week. Instead of bonding the noodles with egg wash, she simply coats them in sesame oil and sears them in a pan.
In the name of research, I trekked to Allston and brought back two versions to sample at the Boston magazine office. One was Ki Bistro’s most popular offering, the banh mi burger, with jalapeno and pickled carrots and cucumber. The other was Nguyen’s version of a juicy lucy (a hamburger patty stuffed with American cheese). I passed around portions to our colleagues, and then sat down with Food Editor Leah Mennies to take stock.
Chris: What was your impression of the ramen burgers?
Leah: Though I’ve never had a real Cronut—and I’m cool with that!—it’s always difficult to manage expectations when it comes to crazy food hybrids. There has to be a reason that you’d want to hybridize ramen and a burger, right? So that it becomes something greater?
Chris: I suppose. I’ve had cronuts and didn’t see the appeal that others obviously have. But, I think it’s just supposed to be a fun amalgamation of two trendy comfort foods.
Leah: So best not to overthink it then?
Chris: Exactly! With that being said, replacing the carb-y bun component with fried ramen noodles was super heavy.
Leah: Super heavy. Kind of like snuggling a burger in between two slabs of noodle kugel, or something. What’s great about an actual bun is that it’s lighter than the burger and its toppings, which adds balance.
Chris: I ate half a burger, and I might not eat for the rest of the day. That’s unusual for me because I really love burgers.
Leah: It’s definitely a high-impact item. So, let’s discuss the bun itself—what did you think of the texture?
Chris: The texture was bizarre to me. I agree with [Senior Editor] Jason Schwartz that there was a slightly unpleasant aftertaste of dried Chow Mein noodles. Do you remember the La Choy noodles people used to put on salads along with canned mandarin slices in the ’80s? That was the effect it had on me. I imagine that if you had soaked a can of Chow Mein noodles (like rehydrating dried mushrooms), compressed them, and fried the patty, it would have tasted exactly the same.
Leah: Oh, I’ve had many a La Choy-topped salad in my day. I did love that they sprinkled sesame seeds on top to evoke a classic sesame bun.
Chris: Yes, that was clever.
Leah: I think people that love the crispy edges of baked mac and cheese or spaghetti pie or something will appreciate the outside of the bun.
Chris: It was very much like the edges of a hamburger casserole. Overall, I just found it too unwieldy. As soon as the bun started to reach room temperature, the compressed noodles started to disintegrate a bit.
Leah: To their credit, we did bring them back to the office, so chances are it would have been a crispier bun on-site.
Chris: Did you have a preference for either of the burgers?
Leah: Weirdly, I thought the flavors of the more all-American “stuffed cheesy” burger worked better. The Banh Mi burger flavors veered a bit sweet combined with the noodles. Sweet + noodles = kugel for me. Not that I don’t like kugel.
Chris: I agree. The fat-on-fat worked better, which is the exact opposite of what I expected. I thought that little bit of lettuce and cucumber would have tempered all the richness. Somehow, it just didn’t work. I guess I should ask, would you ever go back for the specific purpose of eating a ramen burger? Or is this doomed to be another cupcake-like foodie trend?
Leah: Cupcakes have proven to have major staying power, despite saturation. I personally wouldn’t ever need to eat a ramen burger again, but I’m glad I satisfied my curiosity. I would never, under any circumstance, wait for hours to have one. But luckily for Ki Bistro…
1. They also have regular buns.
2. There’s no crazy wait!
So going for it is a fairly low-risk gambit. Ramen is awesome—but let’s just have ramen when we want ramen, and stop trying to make it something that it isn’t (like, say, a burger bun).
Chris: Yeah, when in Rome. If you’re in the unfortunate position of attending a Renaissance Fair you should indulge in a giant turkey leg. Or if you’re at a carnival, eat that fried dough. And if you’re around B.U., satisfy your curiosity and check out a ramen burger. At least it makes for interesting conversation.
Leah: So in sum: Chris Hughes is anti-Renaissance Fair.
Chris: And Leah is anti-Kugel.
Leah: Only in non-Kugel-appropriate scenarios!
Chris: Thanks for sampling with me.
Leah: Until next time.