Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Ramen Mo Mukha Mo (Or Napakaraming Ramen)




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I have nothing against ramen. Ramen is an amazing food group, and I appreciate the artisan who makes good ramen—wherever he may be. But what I don’t get is this sudden interest in the dish. In the past year, expensive ramen places have begun popping up like mushrooms all over the city, and Facebook’s elite have been making a list of which ramen places are good, which are terrible, and which ones can do in a pinch.

Puhleeze.

ikkoryu fukuoka ramen

This is from Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen. This ramen is good. It is also expensive. Taken from Dude for Food.

Back in 2007, I was living on my own down in Mindanao. Part of my routine was to treat myself out every Sunday, and if I were on my own, my feet would lead me to the only source of ramen in CdO: Limketkai Mall’s Rai Rai Ken. Apart from restaurants in Makati’s Little Tokyo, and Kimpura in Greenhills, Rai Rai Ken has been one of the more accessible restaurants with (somewhat) authentic Japanese fare.

This wasn’t my first time at Rai Rai Ken—I’d taken people there on dates before—but this was my first time to treat myself out to something that expensive. So I went with something simple: their mabo tofu ramen. It was relatively cheap, so I had no idea that the bowl was sumo-sized.

Of course, my initial shock didn’t last very long. But since that was my first, true taste of ramen, I am hard-put to find something that could equal that mabo tofu ramen’s bang for the buck. I wasn’t able to get it from that ramen shack in Little Tokyo (which was still pretty good), nor from Ramen Bar, and not from Ikkoryu Fukuoka.

Which, of course, goes to show just how many of these ramen bistros I’ve tried, so I’m not really the perfect judge. And I liked what I had in each of those stores. But there it is.

You must be wondering what my beef (mami!) is with all these ramen people. Well, it’s like this: how many high-end ramen stores do we need to have before one of them breaks the camel’s back? I wouldn’t mind if these stores were like that sidewalk ramen vendor along Adriatico who sold the soup for less than a hundred bucks a pop. This would then be this generation’s version of Binondo’s Chinese tea houses, and a whole generation of culture was brought up on the soupy noodles sold by Ma Mon Luk and his ilk.

But Php300++ for a bowl that only one person can eat? Dude, that’s bordering on gourmandism. Sure, some of these ramen bars are legit places with decent grub, but they’re all trying to outdo each other in the same market bracket! When is the average Pinoy going to stand up and say hey, too much is too much! I’m not going to fork over more than Php250 for a bowl of soup! Or when is the entrepreneur going to take the ramen to the actual masses in such a way that they can afford them without spending a whole day’s salary on a bowl of soup?

Don’t get me wrong. I love ramen. I love soup. And I understand that these people eat the expensive ramen because it’s the in thing, just like the cronut (which is silly), and just like the chicken wing (which is not silly at all). And I know that some people actually do the rational thing and save up for trips to an expensive ramen house. That’s perfectly understandable.

I also know that ingredients are expensive, and the chef’s skills are expensive. Also, Makati booths are expensive.

But there’s going to come a point when the ramen market’s going to get oversaturated, and people who aren’t your friendly neighborhood fat man are going to say that all the ramen just tend to blend into each other—and then you’ve got ramegeddon.

If this is just another passing fad, then fine, let the fad die a natural death. But my problem with that is that I have way too much respect for ramen to just have it die an exclusive market food. It needs to be brought to the masses!

komatsu san

You tell ‘em, Komatsu. Taken from Hi Wa Mata Noboru scans.

So the challenge, I guess, is what the next logical step for ramen is. Everybody’s experimenting with flavor, so that’s not the issue here. How about expanding the market? Taking the ramen away from your Makati crowd, and bringing it to the everyman of Manila and Navotas? Instead of just mami, manong guard can be sipping a cheap bowl of good ramen from the ramenhan sa kanto. Instead of a pansitan, we can have the ramen equivalent. And drunks can sleep there too.

And just like that, the idea for something called “Chicharamen” entered my head, which is just what it sounds like: miso based ramen with chicharon bits, pechay Baguio, and a whole hard-boiled egg, and sell it as the ramen for the hard-working man.

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