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Use your noodle: An Atlanta ramen obsession

posted on April 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Four pounds of chicken. Five pounds of meaty pork bones. Two stiff sheets of kombu. Two cups of dried shiitake mushrooms. A pound of Benton’s bacon. Massive hunks of roasted pork shoulder and pork belly. Countless other ingredients and 12 hours on my feet.

Obsession can make you do crazy things — like spending an entire day preparing a single dish that you know will never live up to your expectations. However, that’s precisely what I did a few weeks ago. I was chasing the elusive magic that is ramen.

I’m not referring to the prepackaged blocks of preservatives and sodium we all ate during college. Instead, I was aiming for the slow-cooked, complex, silky broth, crinkly noodles, delicate slices of pork, tangled slices of bamboo shoots, a piece of nori and sharp pops of fresh green onion. It’s not simply a meal, it’s something to get lost in.

Ramen is a dish so revered in Japan that there is a museum dedicated to its existence. Movie-making ramen-otakus (a Japanese word to describe someone with a particular obsessive interest) have even made the soup a central character in cult classics Tampopo and The Ramen Girl. The obsession has crossed oceans and landed with a slurp on U.S. soil. Ramen is no longer just an old-world dish made by masters. It’s a bona fide phenomenon.

My at-home ramen endeavor was inspired by chef David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. Each time I passed the book as it collected dust on my shelf, I could swear Chang himself was daring me to try the recipe for his famed Momofuku ramen — a dish that, without fail, is the first thing I eat every time I visit New York. After announcing my plans to attempt the 18-page recipe, my friends, even those who would benefit from the spoils of my labor, told me I was crazy. Still, it was something I had to do. As expected — and despite my steadfast adherence to the recipe, procurement of great ingredients and diligent broth baby-sitting — I’m ashamed to report my at-home version did not resemble Chang’s or any other (good) ramen I’d ever eaten. I couldn’t help but feel like Brittany Murphy’s character in The Ramen Girl. After making the ramen exactly as she has learned, her master tells her it’s still not right. With tears forming in her eyes, she pleads with her master to tell her what she has done wrong and he gruffly gives her the reason: “No spirit.” Perhaps that was my missing ingredient.

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(Photo courtesy of James Camp)

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One comment

  • Re: Use your noodle: An Atlanta ramen obsession
    posted by: Laura · April 15, 2011  12:06 AM

    Yum! I just ate at Yakatori for the first time… and jumped into the obsession head-first.

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