Shortly before high school graduation, I got a ton of gifts from family and friends. There were Starbucks gift cards galore, outdoor gear, straight-up cash, and even a set of ultra-portable camping dishes. Probably the most interesting gift I received, however, was a microwave ramen cooker—make ramen in your dorm room, the packaging claimed. I grinned at the note included with the gift, implying that I would be eating a lot of ramen in the coming months.
The ramen stereotype is a funny phenomenon. It seems to me that a majority of campuses offer some sort of dining plan; despite the economic benefit of instant ramen packs, your average college student isn’t actuallyrelying on nightly ramen meals.
But, despite its bad reputation, ramen can be delicious. I’m not talking about Instant Lunch or Cup-o-Noodles, which are pretty bland and probably not the most nutritious options, but fancier, more hipster-esque ramen. If you’ve ever been to Wagamama, you’ll know what I mean. The other day, I was craving something Wagamama-like: the comfort of ramen, but in a healthier, more flavorful form.
Off to the grocery store I went, gathering some ingredients for my own version of the ramen stereotype. What I ended up making was delicious—a hearty, umami bowl of warm ramen with a little crunch and a little spice. It involves kale chips, which, if you haven’t tried them, are addictive. They’re basically a really convenient and “healthy” vehicle to ingest a bunch of butter/olive oil and salt. This recipe also includes soft-boiled eggs, which is another favorite of mine. If you’re a fan of eggs over easy, you’ll love soft-boiled eggs. The yolk doesn’t get all chalky and crumbly like it does in a hard-boiled egg—instead, it’s all melty and gooey. Of course, it can be substituted by a hard-boiled egg, but skeptics should definitely give the soft-boiled version a try first.
Ramen Redone — with Kale Chips, Carrots, and Soft-Boiled Egg
Time: 30 minutes
1 package ramen and spice mix (I used a millet and brown rice version from Lotus Foods, which I liked because it was whole grain and had only recognizable ingredients)
3-5 leaves of kale (vary depending on how much you like kale chips)
butter or olive oil
Preheat oven to 375.
Bring two small pots of water to a boil.
While waiting for water to boil, tear kale into chip-sized pieces. Julienne (slice very thinly) carrot.
Toss kale in a little bit of melted butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, and whatever other spices. Spread coated kale onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and place in the oven for ten to fifteen minutes, or until crisp but not burned.
While kale is cooking, prepare the soft-boiled egg: place the raw egg in the pot of boiling water and set a timer for six minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the egg and shock it in ice water to stop the cooking.
Prepare the ramen according to package instructions.
Assemble the ramen bowl: pour the cooked ramen and broth into a bowl. Arrange the kale chips and julienned carrot around the edge of the bowl. Peel the soft-boiled egg and gently slice it down the middle (length-wise). Place the egg halves in the center of the bowl, yolk-side up (the yolk will be liquid-y and delicious, so be careful not to spill!).
Season with more salt and/or pepper (and anything else—soy sauce or sriracha would probably be great) and enjoy!
It is obvious by now that I have a profound love of Asian food. While I am unfortunately underwhelmed by the Chinese food in Boston, I adore the prevalence of other Asian cuisines. Even more intriguing to me are Asian fusion restaurants. Given my glowing review of Asian fusion powerhouse, Mei Mei, it is only natural that I visit Shojo, another Asian fusion icon in Chinatown. As they prepare to expand with a ramen shop, Ruckus Noodles, Shojo is a dining destination worth a visit.
In the center of Chinatown, there are a plethora of delicious Asian dining options from Chinese and Japanese hot pot to dim sum to traditional Chinese dumplings. Why would anyone go to the hipster joint with rock music blaring and Ip Man 2 on the TV? I asked myself this questions as I walked into Shojo with a few companions. It had a small dining room but was packed with a young crowd. After being seated, I glossed over the menu and was overwhelmed the number of delicious options. A waitress offered her insights and informed us of the specials for the day.
Starting with an order of their famous suckling pig bao, I could scarcely hold myself back when they arrived. Whenever I see pork bao on the menu, I will tend to order them as one of my favorite dishes. Biting into these pork buns, I was simultaneously enthused and slightly underwhelmed. The tender pork meshed with the crisp cucumber and sweet steamed bun. However, the overtly smoky barbeque sauce was overpowering and prevented me from fully enjoying the bao.
Our Shadowless Duck Fat Fries came out next. This dish has stood out amongst the crowd of starches when it won Boston Magazine’s best potato course. Crunchy fries with a mildly spiced mapo tofu, thick cheese sauce, and light scallions. The decadence of this dish is truly laudable as we devoured it in a hurry. My single qualm was that I wished the mapo tofu spicier to balance with the creaminess of the cheese. However, I truly respect the creativity and depth to this Asian and American amalgamation.
The peanut sauce ramen and the daily special arrived concurrently. With an eclectic mix of peanut sauce, grapes, and cucumbers, the ramen was slightly convoluted. However, the flavors surprisingly meshed excellently and evoked a sense of childhood nostalgia. The daily special of seafood squid ink ramen was visually impactful with the jet-black noodles. With a light creamy sauce, the collection of scallops, mussels, clams, and calamari was elegantly and subtly flavored. I was quite upset that this dish is not a menu staple, as they elevated ramen to another level. To finish, I had the kimchi fried rice, a traditional rendition with aromatic jasmine rice. Topped with an expertly fried egg, it was a savory and spicy masterpiece.
During the course of the meal, I was enthralled with the exceptional bar service. With bartenders mixing and shaking complex cocktails, I lamented being underage. However, I strongly encourage visiting the bar as there was a constant stream of activity. Loud and hip, you must find your way to Shojo for exceptional Asian fusion cuisine. There are incredible restaurants in Chinatown, and Shojo stands out as the wild little brother.
Location: 9 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111
Reservation: Reserve or Call (617)-423-7888
Stand out dishes: Shadowless Duck Fat Fries, Seafood Squid Ink Ramen
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Atmosphere: 4/5 (Loud)
Feel free to contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org with food musings, dining requests, or any restaurant advice!
I have an excessive amount of mugs. I can’t help it. I love mugs. But it kind of seems like a waste to keep six mugs in my dorm room and only use one at a time for beverages, so I decided to challenge myself to make the most of my mugs by having a mug day. Four meals. Six mugs. A great alternative to real cooking.
1. Put water in cup
2. Hydrate while cooking more complex mug meals
Hot coco mix
1. Add milk and water
2. Microwave for 2 minutes
3. Add coco mix
5. Add marshmallows
1 tablespoon of milk
1 slice of American cheese
1. Crack two eggs in a mug
2. Scramble eggs with fork
3. Add milk
4. Tear up slice of American cheese and add
5. Mix eggs, cheese, and milk
6. Microwave for 2 minutes
One mugs worth of water
Amount of microwavable ramen to taste
1. Fill mug with water
2. Microwave for 3 minutes
3. Add ramen seasoning
5. Add ramen noodles
One pack of Kraft easy mac
Optional: little bit of milk or butter
1. Add macaroni to mug
2. Add water
3. Microwave for 3.5 minutes
4. Add cheese powder
6. Add milk or butter
1/3 box of brownie mix
1/5 cup oil
1 tablespoon of water
Optional: chocolate chips, 1 egg
1. Add brownie mix, oil, water, an egg, and chocolate chips
3. Microwave for 3 minutes
The waitstaff, excited to finally have people enjoy Santouka’s new location.
Saporo, a Japanese beer, was featured at the opening.
View from inside the kitchen.
The special guests at Monday’s private opening help Mr. Hatanaka open the barrels of saké in the traditional Japanese method.
Since word got out about the opening in early November, the hype for Santouka Ramen’s opening on campus has been palpable. Today, Santouka will finally open its doors to the public, ready to serve its steaming blue bowls of broth and noodles.
Unlike the traditional fast food-style ramen shops of Japan, the Cambridge location is Santouka’s second full-service restaurant, the first having opened in Seattle last spring. Harvard Square, already a destination for those looking for a sit down meal, will surely be the perfect place for Santouka’s second restaurant endeavor. Accommodating both ramen diehards and insta-ramen makers alike, each member of Santouka’s staff has undergone an intensive, two-week training to master the nuances of Japanese culture and cater to the needs of each individual customer.
While it is not the first restaurant of its kind, founder Hitoshi Hatanaka was quick to point out that Boston and Shinagawa, his hometown, share a very similar climate (i.e. bitterly cold winters). In this way, a steaming bowl of noodles, broth, and pork, will warm you right up in the way that Hatanaka had intended when he opened his first shop in 1988. Even the bowl design is taken into account: the thinner, deeper bowls are designed to conserve heat in colder climates. In addition to being a salvation from the cold, the founder explained that the dining room was designed specifically with Harvard students in mind. With two large, cafeteria sized tables at the center, Santouka will be well-suited for blocking group outings, as well as a casual date night. The prices ranges from about $10 to $15 per meal and it’s worth every penny.
Once just a small, nine-seat ramen shop in the Hokkaido region of Japan, Santouka Ramen is now an international business with locations from Malaysia to California. Throughout all this sucess, Mr. Hitoshi Hatanaka seems to have maintained Santouka’s character, as well as his own. At Monday’s private opening, scenes from the hit Japanese comedy, Tampopo, which Hatanaka cites as the inspiration for the opening of his first shop, were shown to instruct the attendees in the proper way to both slurp, and cherish, their ramen.
Without a doubt, you will find the best ramen in Cambridge at Santouka. Santouka has only been able to expand from its humble beginnings to an international chain by staying true to its original goal: serving high quality ramen to its customers. Lots, and lots of hungry customers. Though the noodles are not produced in house, Santouka has decided to maintain an especially keen eye on its broth, which is considered by many to be the heart of any bowl of ramen. With a good broth, noodles are just as auxiliary (or important, depending on your point of view) as the pork or mushrooms. The Tonkatsu broth base is laboriously made by simmering pork bones for twenty hours, extracting every last bit of flavor and fat from the bones and concentrating it into a rich and milky elixir. The addition of other ingredients, especially vegetables, add a sweet tinge to the creamy broth.
The dedication to the broth can also be seen in the amount of space the restaurant has devoted to the simmering process. As one can see from the long, rectangular window along the south wall of the restaurant, most of the kitchen is taken up by eight huge vats of broth, each clouded with the capricious steam from the pork and vegetables simmering below. The vats, lit with green light to emphasize the true alchemical magic constantly at play, can even be seen from Bow Street, enticing any passerby.
Here Head Chef Igo-san stands akimbo, taking a moment of rest before jumping back on the line. A veteran team member from Santouka’s Seattle location, Igo-san is especially familiar with, as well as proud of, the quality of ingredients he gets to work with everyday at Santouka. The noodles are made from a unique blend of wheat made specifically for Santouka that creates a full-bodied noodle which holds onto the broth flavor. While the more traditional ingredients, such as nori, umbroshi, and miso, are imported from Japan, the pork comes from the US to ensure freshness before it undergoes the secret process of cha shu.
At the private opening Monday, Santouka served up their signature dish: Shio Ramen. With a Tonkatsu soup base, Shio ramen is given depth with the subtle addition of sea salt. The noodles are then carefully folded into the cradle of hot soup, and finally a variety of toppings are placed on the top. The result? An impressive steaming bowl teeming with colors, aromas, flavors, and textures, each carefully crafted and balanced for your dining experience. (More information about the ingredients can be found here.)
“Caress it with the chopsticks:” How to Enjoy Your Ramen to the Fullest
Tackling one of these mighty bowls can be intimidating– where does one start? The founder, being so inspired by the Japanese comedy Tampopo, introduced ramen eating technique through one of the movie’s iconic scenes in which an obsessive old man demonstrates with extreme affection how to eat ramen. (It’s definitely worth a look; check it out here).
The bowl, roughly the size of an expanded stomach (foreshadowing much?), is first placed in front of you along with the proper weapons of choice: chopsticks and a deep soup spoon. The soup is scalding hot, and the arrangement of toppings appears too beautiful to be disrupted. But be disrupted, it must! For nothing may stand against you and ramen in your face! First, you pinch off a half dozen strands of noodles, and then, being careful not to sever any indivdiual strand, start slurping them into your mouth. When slurping, it is important to make noise and slurp in air with the scalding noodles in order to cool them down. The noodles soak up and deliver the broth, combining the flavor of the rich opaque pork bone broth and the texture of the full, lush noodle strands.
The central concept behind a good bowl of ramen is combining the variety of flavors and textures found in the soup. When the soup, noodles, and toppings are eaten in flavor-texture combination, innumerable sensations are possible.
The cha shu pork (1) is “the best pork I’ve ever had” (said Dana Ferrante, self-proclaimed pork specialist). Made with the fatty underbelly of pig, the pork is unbelievably tender and bursts with the hot fat flavor before melting away in your mouth. The bamboo shoots (2), harvested as young bamboo and then steamed, offer a subtle earthy taste with a pleasant fibrous texture that stands in contrast to many of the other ingredients. The fish cake (3), a new sensation to those unfamiliar with ramen, is a loaf of pureed whitefish with a very light flavor, standing out not only because of its decorative pink swirl, but also with its chewiness. The wood ear mushroom (4), with a flavor reminiscent of the woods, has a texture similar to the bamboo shoot, but it a bit softer and smoother. Finally, the hard plum (5): with its sweet, vinegar, pickled bite, cuts right through the fattiness of the broth and refreshes the mouth. With so many combinations of flavor and texture to try, there is a new experience in store every time you eat a bowl of ramen.
One last suggestion: eat it fast. The ramen is best when it is piping hot and first brought to the table. When the soup gets cold, the broth will dehomogenize and the noodles will lose their firmness.
“Happiness in a Bowl”
In the words of the owner, Ramen is “happiness in a bowl.” As I took my first loud slurp of ramen and chewed, I could not prevent a smile from spreading across my face. Delicious, hot, and comfortable. The ramen made me feel, well, happy. What can bother you when you are warm and have eaten your fill?
Here I am, Santouka. Signed, slurped, delivered, I’m yours.
The word is out: Santouka, a Japan based ramen chain, is opening within smelling distance of the Harvard Inn and Wigglesworth. Lucky for them too, because by the beginning of second semester, the new ramen joint will be cooking up the kingpin of modern Japanese cuisine–complete with rich and savory broth, tender simmered pork, and mouthfuls of long wheat noodles. This ain’t your supermarket’s “chicken flavor top ramen”. This is the ramen big leagues.
Traditional ramen, the granddaddy of instant ramen, is a broth and noodle soup with incredible regional variety from all over Japan. The broth can range from the light and refreshing clear broth of Yokohama, to the bolder and fragrant miso ramen of the north, to the deep and rich flavor of Tonkotsu broth from Kyushu made by stewing flavorful pork meat and bones for hours. The broth is paired with long strands of springy and toothsome noodles, set in a deep bowl with garnishing of spring onions, crunchy bamboo root and roasted seaweed. Placed on top, like a champion on a pedestal, is the pork. Ahh, sweet pork. Melt-in-your-mouth, coat-your-tongue, holy-crap-I-just-had-an-out-of-body-experience: pork. Put together these ingredients and you’ll get a team more potent than a Harvard Class of 20XX flame war.
I think I am not alone when I say that I am very excited for this addition to the Harvard food scene. It will add versatility to the late night grub grab. As delicious and timeless as Noch’s, Felipe’s, and Tasty Burger are, thepizza-burrito-burger trio loses a little spark after the fifth weekend in a row. Ramen provides something new. Yes, yes, eating ramen is a religious experience, but you can just get that in RELIGION 2541: Religious Experience Seminar. What’s the real value of ramen in our everyday, conveniently located lives?
Imagine this: Late night. Getting back from that party in Mather. You know it’s a long walk, and that’s why you hate how cold it is outside. All that raging has built up into a raging appetite. You want food. You want warm. You want to walk into a room heated and scented by the rolling boil rich broth. You want to chew on noodles and slurp down just a good soup and have it radiate its warmth through your body as it finds a home in your belly. You want ramen.
Ramen won its fame in the bustle of Japanese metropolises for its convenience, affordability, and flavor. It will do the same here at Harvard. While it is true that ramen exists in our general proximity, it is still neither has the convenience or affordability that it is meant to have. Wagamama, which has ramen as a side show in its pan Asian menu offers a bowl at the pricey 15 dollars a pop. The next closest ramen place is Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square authentic as it is, but nobody is going to causally jump on the T to go to Porter after partying in Mather. Santouka is our best, and only, hope.
Let me end with a quote from the CEO of Santouka on ramen. Surprised to see the only ramen options for Harvard students were as expensive as $15, he said, “It should be a cheap comfort food for you to have with a beer after a long day.”*
This guy gets us.
(*If you don’t believe me, you can see it here for yourself.)