Ask the Editor: Where to Try Real Ramen in Boston?
This diner is ready to venture beyond just-add-water Cup Noodles and try authentically inspired versions of the Japanese comfort food staple.
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Let’s say that I’ve never had real ramen before. Any recommendations for getting ramen in the Boston area?
“Let’s say,” you say? Is that like you’re “asking for a friend?” There is no need to be ashamed if ramen is your culinary blindspot. It truly wasn’t that long ago that Boston had very limited opportunities to try this Japanese comfort-food staple; basically just the late-night-only bowl at Uni, or chain-restaurant versions only a bit more bolstered than your typical Cup Noodles.
But those days are long behind us. Boston is now home to the gamut of regional ramen variations, from the silky-salty shio broth at the Japanese import Santouka, to the robust and garlicky jiro-style bowl made popular here by Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square. Both are bowls to cross off your noodle-nirvana bucket list.
The name “ramen” describes the wheat noodles specifically, so it’s no wonder that most Americans’ introduction to this foodstuff is indeed from just-add-water dorm food. But the dish wouldn’t be complete without a deeply flavored broth and toppings. All of the components are variable region by region, and shop by shop. But regardless of style, ramen is best consumed quickly (one might say slurped), fresh from the stovetop, so the noodles don’t have time to congeal. A general rule of thumb I follow? If a ramen joint lets me take my soup to go, it’s not going to be the best example of ramen.
My favorite local ramen experience is at the standing-room-mostly Oisa Ramen Slurp & Go. Moe Kuroki, originally from Fukuoka in southern Japan, honed in on recreating the milky, porky tonkotsu broth of her childhood over a series of pop-ups. Now at her downtown Boston storefront, she shares her tonkotsu amped with burnt garlic oil, pickled mustard greens, and tender pork belly. But the self-taught chef’s signature “smokey shoyu” broth is a vegan-friendly revelation, which applies the long-simmering process of building layered flavors to locally sourced vegetables instead of animal bones. (1 3/4 Broad St., Boston, 617-670-0126, oisaramen.com)
Another local soup worth the probable wait is Ganko Ittetsu Ramen’s Sapporo-style ramen. Hailing from Hokkaido, in northern Japan, this style is defined by the first step of caramelizing vegetables in a flavorful sauce, before the base broth is added. The classic is miso, but I’m quite partial to the tan tan, with a sesame starter-sauce infusing a craveable nuttiness into the spiced, ground pork. Perhaps Ganko Ittetsu’s recent expansion into Providence will help mitigate the lines outside the Coolidge Corner hole-in-the-wall. (318 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-730-8100; 215 Thayer St., Providence, 401-808-6383, gankoramen.com)
My final suggestion for the ramen newbie is fairly non-traditional, with flavors like Miso Lit!!! (a version of spicy miso), and tori paitan, or spicy fried chicken in a cloudy broth. But chef Mike Stark’s handmade noodles and long-simmering soups root Ruckus firmly in tradition, and the parent company Shojo Group’s street-art sensibility makes it a consistently fun dining-out experience. The tender pork-neck chasu topping the shoyu-style Shoryuken (yes, that’s a Street Fighter reference) exemplifies what I crave, personally, in a bowl of ramen, but my go-to order here is actually the kake udon, a thicker-noodle soup with a beefy broth. (5 Tyler St., Boston, 857-305-3129, ruckusboston.com)
These locally owned locations will introduce you (or your friend, as the case may be) to a range of traditionally inspired bowls, and a crash-course in the best way to experience ramen: Quickly slurped inside a small, fast-paced storefront.