Tribute to the illustrious noodle

Travel
Photo by Satoshi Oka
Photo by Satoshi Oka

Tribute to the illustrious noodle

by: Satoshi Oka | .
Stripes Kanto | .
published: October 19, 2012

Just as it’s hard to find apple pie like mom’s off base, after exploring Japan’s ramen shops, you’ll find what passes for this noodle dish back home no longer cuts it. But while you’re here, Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum is an ideal place to savor the real deal.

In the United States, Top Ramen is marketed in every small town and major city. The problem is that this customary staple food of college students is just dried noodles in a cheap-looking wrapper that’s worth less than a buck. I guess you get what you pay for.

After entering the museum, however, you’ll enter a whole new world of ramen. And you’ll likely leave with a newfound appreciation for a traditional dish with a 4,000-year-old history.

I had an opportunity to visit this one-of-kind museum about 10 years ago, shortly after it opened. I was impressed with its historical presentation as the interior was made to resemble a small Japanese town in 1958. (Ironically, that’s the same year instant noodles were invented.) I tried some ramen and side dishes, and they were delicious, of course.

However, it wasn’t until I revisited the museum earlier this year that I realized this establishment appealed to a broader customer base: The billions of people that enjoy ramen-type noodles around the world.

My guest that accompanied me shall remain nameless to save her from humiliation. She never imagined that a simple bowl of soup filled with pork or miso broth and flour noodles could be prepared in so many ways and taste so different.

She was raised in Wisconsin and went to college in Syracuse, N.Y. Her idea of ramen noodles was to buy a package of them at the grocery for a few dollars and eat them as is – plain flavored, no added condiments and no hassle. For a person who lived on a tight budget, it was understandable. A beginner cook could easily stir noodles in a pot and voila, a meal is created.

But now she was in Asia, where every detail is calculated and the formula for success has been discovered through a prolonged period of trial and error.

In a country where almost everything is adopted and then refined to meet local tastes, ramen noodles definitely follow that pattern. The Chinese have been eating noodles for thousands of years. They were introduced to Japan about 200 years ago and word quickly spread how delicious they were.

Since then, Japanese cooks have experimented with just about every ingredient imaginable. They still come up with new ideas every year and even have a contest to determine which shop can claim the championship for best ramen noodles.

Looking at the choices of ramen inside the museum, my guest said in amazement, “I’ve found my heaven here.” Then she added, “They all look so yummy.” We decided on trying mini-bowls at two shops and let our taste buds do the judging.

One shop specialized in pork broth while the other shop used salt and fish broth as the main soup. I prefer miso-based soup (a northern Japan tradition). I also like “tonkotsu,” or pork-soy sauce (southern Japan style). All the food tasted great.

Rubbing our tummies with very satisfied looks on our faces, it was time to leave, but not before one last look around the main-floor souvenir section. I purchased a variety pack for my friend to take back to Hawaii. I am afraid I might have spoiled her taste buds for a while, but perhaps it is a good thing.

If you would like to experience what real ramen should taste like, make plans to get there soon. The ramen museum is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends and Japanese holidays. Tickets cost 300 yen for adults, and 100 yen for children and seniors. Once inside you can choose your noodles and side dishes by purchasing additional tickets at individual shop vending machines. You’ll pay about 800 yen to 900 yen (about $10 to $11.25) for a bowl of ramen. It’s a bit pricey, but remember – you get what you pay for.

Also remember that the vendors change every season. If you visit regularly you can try different shop flavors each time you go.

Access by car is easiest by heading for JR Shin-Yokohama Station, close to the huge Yokohama soccer stadium. Ask your ITT agent or MWR office for driving details. Once you get there, you can park in the museum parking lot. For more information about Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, visit <www.raumen.co.jp/ramen/>.

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