I like the classics: red lipstick, leather jackets, black-and-white films, meat and potatoes. I tend to be skeptical of the newfangled and the over-hyped. This applies to many things, like movies and music, but it especially applies to food trends. I live in New York City, yet I’ve never been to Dominique Ansel Bakery, never mind how much people rave about his cronuts. I blame this on the hipster principle: mainstream means uncool. So it probably comes as no surprise that I’ve never tried ramen. I don’t do bandwagons, even if they’re wagons full of hot, spicy soup. I wouldn’t be writing this card, except that this weekend, I was proven wrong in a major way. Saturday night, I found myself without a scrap of food in my apartment. Armed with only my rumbling stomach, I scurried a block or two through torrential rain to the closest restaurant I could find: Ise Menkui-tei, a ramen joint whose name probably roughly translates to “Come inside, you stupid, stubborn Westerner, so we can teach you the ways of deliciousness.” The small but warmly lit hole-in-the-wall had a dozen or so tables, mostly filled with seemingly satisfied patrons. I was seated immediately, and at my table, scrolled through Yelp reviews on my phone until I could be confident that the Hakata Ramen was the best thing on the menu. It’s a rich pork bone broth with sliced roast pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, pickled ginger, scallions, and sesame seeds. (I don’t believe in hype, but I’ll heed Yelp reviews. So sue me.) After maybe only 10 minutes of waiting, my ramen arrived. From the huge bowl of steaming golden broth rose a smell I can only describe as heavenly. This was nothing like the chicken-flavored dorm room saltfest; this was food. Complex, meaty, spicy aromas made my mouth water. I took a tiny sip from my spoon; it was even better than it smelled. The rich, salty broth had a hint of spice to it, and a deliciously savory pork flavor. Scallions and pickled ginger added zesty notes.
Per the recommendation of several Yelp users, I seasoned my ramen liberally with the accompanying chili flake seasoning and was very happy I had done so. It gave the soup a subtle kick, and intensified its complexity. Meanwhile, the noodles were perfectly cooked; I ate them with chopsticks, and was proud that I managed to do so without splashing broth all over myself like a total white person. Maybe the best part was the roasted pork on top, which was tender, salty and juicy. I remember a feeling of perfect satisfaction as I nommed on my ramen and sipped on a pint of draft Sapporo. Beer was definitely the right beverage, complimenting the salty soup beautifully. I had half my soup or more left by the time I was sated, and brought the rest home. It made a delightful lunch the next day.
If you haven’t tried ramen yet, you really, really need to. Forget the hipster principle; when a ton of people say they like something, it’s a pretty sure sign that there’s something there to like. I’m not about to wait on a two-hour line for a cronut or anything, but I think it might be time to start listening to the hype. A little bit, at least. And you should too, if you want to experience the taste of perfect Japanese bliss. If you’re ever in Midtown, this ramen joint is in Midtown West, pretty close to Times Square. It’s a nice $10 meal. I recommend the Hakata Ramen, since that’s all I’ve had, but their menu has a lot of variety. Check it out: Ise Menkui-tei 58 W 56th St, between 5th Ave & Avenue Of The Americas