Restaurants Give Ramen The Gourmet Treatment (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Restaurants Give Ramen The Gourmet Treatment

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Among the new eateries cropping up around these parts are a bunch of places serving ramen. Traditionally, ramen has been the noodle soup of our college years, the cheap and easy stuff that nourished us through all-nighters and final exams. Emily Friedman brings us this story on how here in Washington, ramen is making the leap from the dorm to the trendiest of menus.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

00:00:29
Instant ramen is easy to make, filling and undeniably cheap. It also bears little to no comparison to what's being served at the new ramen restaurants popping up in our region. An order comes through in the kitchen of Sakuramen which opened in Adams Morgan in late May. Chef Eu is torching strips of pork belly. She takes the charred pieces and lays them in a bowl over a tangle of noodles. The restaurant's owner, Jonathan Cho, watches as Eu drowns the noodles in broth and heaps toppings over the entire surface area of the bowl.

MR. JONATHAN CHO

00:01:09
Sliced green onion, a seasoned egg, which is a very traditional topping.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:14
Eu is making miso ramen, which is one of the three main types of ramen found in Japan. The others are tonkotsu, which is a thicker pork bone broth and a clear broth called shinton. And with so many choices, everyone has a preference.

CHO

00:01:33
Ramen, it's personal. People like to eat their ramen the way they like to eat it.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:35
Even in the sauna that is Washington D.C. in the summertime, the tables at Sakuramen are packed. There are people slurping alone, slurping with friends even slurping with a potential significant other. (makes noise)

CHO

00:01:47
I think 10 years ago to say I'm going to take a date out for a bowl of ramen would have been ridiculous and probably wouldn't be a second date.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:57
But now there are ramen shops popping up in all corners of the city. In addition to Sakuramen, there's Toki Underground on H Street, Ren's Ramen in Wheaton and later this fall Daikaya a ramen restaurant being opened in Penn Quarter by the owner of SushiKo, Daisuke Utagawa. While most of the restaurants have a more relaxed feel where you can sit down, eat, enjoy, Utagawa says his noodle bar will be straight out of Japan.

MR. DAISUKE UTAGAWA

00:02:23
In Japan, ramen restaurants are very sort of utilitarian place. You go, you eat and you get out.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:28
His ramen restaurant will be coupled with an upstairs bar where you can hang out, but when it comes to ramen, he says, newbies should be warned there is a learning curve.

UTAGAWA

00:02:38
When people are first introduced to ramen, they eat the soup first. And then there's these noodles and they kind of eat the noodles later. Well, by that time, the noodles are soggy and it's not great.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:48
It's a classic rookie mistake.

UTAGAWA

00:02:50
And as they get used to it or as they start really liking the noodles, you always see them eating the noodles first.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:57
As a young boy in Tokyo, Utagawa perfected his slurp. The biggest mistake people make is they don't look down into the bowl. Put your face over the bowl and face downwards.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:10
Also when you bring the noodles up to your mouth...

UTAGAWA

00:03:13
Don't wrap your lips around the noodles too tight because you will burn yourself. Just like wine. You know when you taste wine, you go (makes noise) you know, you let the air bubbles in? And that will agitate the wine and you get more of hidden flavors, the delicate flavors, the complexity. You'll get all that at the same time with the noodle. (makes noise)

FRIEDMAN

00:03:34
As we open our minds to new techniques in noodle slurping, Washingtonians will also have to open their pocketbooks. Bowls of ramen at these new establishments cost $10 to $15. Utagawa says it's worth it.

UTAGAWA

00:03:49
A can of ravioli can be, I don't know, a dollar a can. But just because you eat that, you're not going to go to an Italian restaurant and say, why would I pay that much for this beautiful pumpkin ravioli?

FRIEDMAN

00:04:00
Back in the Sakuramen kitchen, Jonathan Cho pulls fresh noodles out of an airtight container.

CHO

00:04:07
We use fresh custom made noodles that we get freshly delivered to us every two or three days.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:11
They've customized everything about this noodle from the dough's air content to its curliness to how chewy they are in your mouth. And when you take a hearty comfort food, add a gourmet's attention to the freshest and highest quality ingredients and a touch of hipster charm, you'll end up with something you'd never find in a Cup O'Noodles. I'm Emily Friedman.
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