I lagged with this review which was from my visit on 6/17/2017… yea, a while ago.
Ramen originated out of China, the Japanese made it distinctively their own, and now us Americans are having a go at it. Except, RaMain39 is doing a non-douchey legit job.
In the U.S., it is common to find Japanese restaurants that are not owned and operated by a Japanese person, and I can not recall a Chinese or Korean restaurant owned by anybody but Chinese or Korean (I’m sure some of you might be able to name a few?).
I am not a massive budae jjigae fan, but when it comes to Korean joints and noodles, I am definitely down with their take of ramen.
By the way, PF Chang’s and possibly Pho 2000 in Los Angeles/Ktown are possibly Korean-run operations?
Beyond that, I think when it comes to non-Japanese Asian restaurants, the people operating them are of the same ethnicity as the cuisine, which is why we do not see a lot of con’fusion pho with foam, bok choy, and chili threads.
With the variety of business owners behind the businesses comes a lot of variation to the cuisine they are out to represent.
That variety can be a good thing because somebody I admire greatly, Roy Choi is one such individual who has successfully merged Mexican and Korean food with his Kogi food trucks. He is on my shortlist because there are a lot of hacks, but I respect the dude because he also has heart.
My first trip to Korea was back in 2010, and on that trip, I had a chance to try the ramen there, which turned out to be a memorable experience. That was also one reason why when RaMain39 opened up, I had some high expectations going in.
Not to mention, I learned a couple of inexplicable traits that Korean restaurants have going in that I spotted while researching them before eating there (it’s how they slice their green onions).
Julienned Versus Sliced Green Onions
So what are those traits? Well, next time you go to a ramen ya, and you see julienned green onions, I can bet you that the it is a Korean owned/operated establishment because the vast majority of Japanese establishments use sliced green onions. Yea, I know GTFO, but just trust me, it is a thing.
Lamian, Ramen, Ramyun/Ramyeon
First of all, regardless if it is Korean, Japanese, Thai, to Italian food, a lot of what you eat has roots in China. Even ketchup is perceived as American, but it also has its Chinese roots (catsup/kê-tsiap). The same goes for ramen, which was most likely derived and inspired by Chinese lamian that eventually took on the distinctive character of the country adopting it, Japan.
When in America, the menu’s get bigger, and there is less emphasis on specialization.
These pictures are not as current as of their existing menu because they wisely 86’d the Chinese bok choy from their ramen, and if you were to currently order their black ramen, it comes with pork chashu, wood ear mushroom (kikurage), bean sprouts (moyashi), dried seaweed (nori), black garlic oil (mayu) and green onion (negi). That is a proper Japanese ramen.
Another trait, plating, and presentation matters. You can try to trivialize the way they plated things as nothing special, but what I see here is “we give a shit” (from the choice of the spoon they use to the placement of the egg).
Yea, RaMain39 could have dumped the fried rice into a bowl, but they shaped it.
I should also point out on a side note that chahan (fried rice) and miso ramen are one of the best remedies for a hangover, well, it is for me. That is how the owner of Habuya remembered me when she was a waitress at Koryu in Costa Mesa when I would stumble in on a Sunday afternoon.
My Pics From My Korea 2010 Trip
Luckily for me, next to our hotel in Myeongdong, there was a ramen shop, so I had to post the pics for you to be able to compare the two shops.
Even before we walked through the door, the place looked legit.
From the interior vibe to the bowl, everything just felt right, and this was way back in 2010. That was ten-plus years ago when ramen in the United States was only popular amongst Japanese nationals, Japanese/Asian Americans, and cosplay otaku.
All the right side dishes, like gyoza.
Thinner straight style noodles like Hakata style tonkotsu ramen.
No poached egg, not a quail egg, or any other gimmick, just a legit ramen egg.
When it comes to Korean businesses, when I was walking around Seoul, Jeonju, to Gwangju, I enjoyed finding the standouts in design (from interior to graphics), which I appreciate because of my design background.
The U.S. is made up of people from varying nationalities, ethnicities, to cultures which is why we have Taco Bell that does not resemble Mexican food because it was never meant to carry on the culture and traditions of Mexico. Now with the popularity of ramen, I am hoping we get more businesses with some talent and capability to elevate the dishes they are representing because after all, that is how ramen came about in Japan in the first place… U.S.A, U.S.A, U.S.A!