I had a lot of ramen bowls in my relatively short life, but never thought seriously about the possibility of preparing my own ramen, from step 0 onwards. After all, I suppose that exactly as creating your pasta requires more than cooking skills but also a deep knowledge of texture and combinations of ingredients, for a non-Asian like me, homemade ramen is only worth a try without a guarantee of originality.
Ramen at Home by Brian MacDuckston is written for someone like me, keeping up with the 'real thing' recipes, but keeping in mind the Westerners. If you are living outside Japan, at the end of the book there is a long list of online resources that helps to source the right ingredients.
Very often in Japan, the popular saying goes often that many unpleasant things - like strong winds or cold or rains - are coming from China. But there are still some things that are actually pleasant and delicious too, like ramen, which are in fact Chinese noodles whose widespred consumption started only around 1870, during the period when Japan decided to end up its centuries old isolation. It took another century almost until the ramen style actually entered the food fashion.
Generally, those noodles are made with wheat flour, water and kansui which is an alkaline salt which binds the ingredients together until the usual chevy texture is produced. 'A good bowl of ramen is something personal. Some people like a lot of big, in-your-face flavors, while others want subtle elegance. Some people want huge amounts of fat; the more oil the better. Some bowls can be spicy, some mild. Some people want their ramen to resemble a pizza tomato sauce with a side of anchovies. Nothing is off the table. Good ramen is good ramen'.
However, experts like Brian MacDuckston - whose culinary encounters can be read on his blog Ramen Adventures - consider that there are two main flavor components of ramen: the impact - usually created by the dried fish spices - and the after taste - the smooth, umami full taste. Last but not least, the tares - the sauce - is the main player in this story, as it can bring the taste or destroy completely the bowl harmony. Yeah, it seems things are getting more and more complicated...
But after reading the book - once, twice, as often and many times you need it to figure out what all the fuss about ramen is all about - you can easily risk a recipe or two. The directions are relatively simple, the recipes are very well organised and even if you fail at least you can slurp your pathetic ramen while looking at the beautiful photos of the real thing. It also helps to offer information about how to match different ingredients or what the recommended side dishes are - pickled cucumber, mayo, friend gyoza, among others.
Although I am not sure if I will be brave enough in the near future to make my own ramen, at least I am sure will taste my bowl using a completely different angle of (ramen) critical thinking. This is how good cookbooks operate to the foodie brain, probably.
Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review