After my first time experiencing what a real bowl of ramen is supposed to taste like, I was left feeling utterly perplexed. How in the world did Nissan foods take something so rich and complex in flavor, and create a replica that is totally overloaded with sodium and tastes like absolutely nothing? Who did a side by side comparison and decided, “Hey! Our instant Cup of Noodles can totally pass as ramen! It’s close enough to the real thing, I bet hardly anyone will be able to tell the difference!” It would be like saying an M&M could pass as a fresh cream truffle from Jean-Charles Rochoux, one of the best chocolatiers in Paris. It simply makes no sense…
Unfortunately the mass production of this instant, flavorless ramen has helped spawn a whole generation of starving college kids who believe that this is what ramen tastes like. If you never grew up eating this kind of food, or have never really ventured into the world of Japanese dining, how would you know any better? Although I was lucky enough to travel to Japan and experience what authentic ramen should taste like, it wasn’t until two months ago, when I first discovered Hapa Ramen, that I understood how magical a simple bowl of noodles and broth can be.
Actually, that first glorious bowl of ramen wasn’t quite what you would call “simple” – the Big Daddy Ramen Bowl ($12), made with slow-cooked pork belly, fried chicken, vegetables, and a slow-cooked egg was just about as packed with flavor as one could ask for. Add in a bit of chili oil and pickles and you’ve got yourself an intricate web of flavor, far more robust and complex than hand-made ramen noodles with seaweed and dashi broth. This, my friend, is clearly the stuff that legends are made of.
As soon as I slurped up that first bite, the most immediate and glaringly obvious difference between this and other inferior ramens was how much less salt was used, and how much more fat content was added. Crappy ramen uses excess salt to mask the fact that the broth and noodles themselves have absolutely no flavor – a problem Hapa Ramen clearly doesn’t have. Between the fatty richness of the pork belly, the salty, greasy hints of fried chicken, the sweet hints of fresh vegetables, and the unctuousness of the slow-cooked egg, this ramen is overflowing with deep, intense flavors. So much so that the water-like dashi broth actually thickens over time, and as it cools, a layer of fat will rise to the top and solidify, revealing just how luxuriously rich this broth really is. It may not be the healthiest meal, but dear god is it dangerously delicious.
And filling! While my male friends have no problems wolfing down an entire bowl, someone of my size could easily feel satisfied with just half of the normal serving. And let me tell you, I don’t know if there’s anything quite like Hapa Ramen leftovers – with all of those ingredients sitting for hours in that liquid, their flavors continue to develop and further enrich the thick, velvety broth.
Although Hapa Ramen has yet to find a permanent location for their travelling production, they can be found every Tuesday and Thursday at the Ferry Plaza, from 10 am until 2 pm. Be sure to say hi to the man in charge, Richie Nakano (known by many by his Twitter alias: Linecook), who, unlike his hilarious and often times irreverent tweets, is incredibly laid back and friendly in person.
Hapa Ramen, you are a bursting nova lighting up the dark sky of lunchtime dining, bringing joy to all through the cunning use of fat and pickles.