For many people, say the phrase “ramen noodles” and they immediately get the mental image of poor college students eating a 20 cent pack of dried noodles soaked in water and seasoned with a curious powder that tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike shrimp. Or perhaps the eponymous Cup O’ Noodles that can be found in grocery stores, gas stations and vending machines across the country.
For for others, who have had proper ramen, the experience is something more religious. A large bowl of freshly prepared noodles, either in a light or hearty broth, or perhaps served coated in an oil or similar sauce, garnished with bean sprouts, tofu, green onion, bok choy, peppers. Loaded with a soy-marinated egg (Mmmm umami!) seared pork belly, seafood, fish cakes or other treats.
Like my obsession with English style meat pies, I have an almost unhealthy obsession with noodles, primarily the Taiwanese style Beef Noodle Soup, and the Japanese Ramen. Ramen is something I seek out when I travel and I’ve had excellent examples on both coasts, locally to me in near-by Durham, NC and especially in Japan where I spent nearly a week bouncing from ramen shop to ramen shop trying as many combinations as I could afford and keep down.
In Manhattan, over in Hell’s Kitchen, there’s a place called the Gotham West Market where Ivan Orkin opened his first US ramen shop after years of success running one of the top rated ramen restaurants in Tokyo, a city where ramen is a cultural force. Ivan’s first US shop was the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop located in that market at 600 11th Avenue.
His menu is bold, boasting fresh ingredients and hearty portions of ramen using everything he learned during his time living in Japan. The Shio ramen, in a soy sauce free dashi-chicken broth is light but filling with a blend of flavors not hidden by the saltiness that often comes with darker miso based or shoyu based stock.
On my second trip back to Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, I went with the Butter Miso Mazemen, a style that is served in a white miso broth that is more a buttery miso sauce than a broth, thick and creamy with a delicate miso flavor and comes with shimeji mushrooms and scallions. I topped it with a garlic bomb, pork belly, and an egg.
I don’t often revisit the same restaurants when I travel, but every once in awhile I find one that really says something to the foodie in me, the me that enjoys the pleasures that come from bold flavors and smells and the contrast of salty and savory and sweet and spicy. Something that makes my belly happy and puts a smile on my face. Ivan Orkin’s slurp shop is one such place.