It's got to be one of my all-time favorite things to eat. The problem is that I live in Baltimore and there are not ramen joints at all in the city or surrounding area. Sure, you can sometimes find ramen at a local sushi place but it's typically outrageously priced ($13 up) and since it's not what they do, it's always an afterthought.
I dream of the day when I can finally go (on a regular basis) to a ramen joint for my fix of chicken katsu ramen (a Hawaii off-shoot of a Japanese tradition), but I made a promise to myself years ago that I would stop building businesses just because I was hungry!
We're back in New York City and trying to figure out a place to eat seems to be such a monumental decision. So many choices in the city and so little time. Fatty Crab? Ipanema? per se? Aki Kamozawa recommended Rai Rai Ken and so we were off.
Located on tree-lined 10th Street, Rai Rai Ken is nestled in the middle of the block and is pretty much how a Japanese ramen joint should be like: small, tight and confined. There's a long bar with counter seats only and just barely enough room to pass behind those seated. We make our way to the seats and the menu is wonderfully short. Just a few ramen selections and several side dishes.
We start off with an order of gyoza, little stuffed wontons that are quickly boiled and then pan fried. Tasty. They're pretty traditional so just a bit of soy sauce and you're good to go.
What we're really here for is the ramen. Shoyu Ramen. It comes in a bowl brimming with fish cake, nori and sliced pork, with half a hard-boiled egg for good measure. There are some sprouts in the bowl but not too much - some places like to heap it on. The broth is smooth and rich. Just right for this hungry traveler.
Fans of the movie Tampopo will know to start off by watching your ramen at eye-level and giving thanks while tapping the sliced pork twice before eating. Of course, you also know to move the fish cake to the side. The noodles themselves are chewy and tasty. They're not the best noodles I've ever had but they're good enough and I'm slurping away.
If you haven't seen Tampopo I strongly suggest that you go and find it. It's one of the best food movies ever made and the bit with the live prawns is certainly more sensual than the kitchen scene in 9 1/2 Weeks. Once you've seen it, you'll have a healthy respect and appetite for ramen.
To go along with the ramen, I ordered a can of UCC Kona Coffee. It's famous in Hawaii and Japan and very unusual to find on the East Coast. Not that the coffee was really good. It was more a drink of nostalgia than anything else.
While it's not the best ramen in the world, it's pretty decent and worth checking out in New York City if you need a fix.
Rai Rai Ken
214 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003