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 dinstinctively their own, and now us Americans are having a go at it.
In the U.S., it is common to find Japanese restaurants that are not owned and operated by a Japanese person, although I can not recall a Chinese or Korean restaurant operated by anybody but Chinese or Korean, and I’m sure some of you might be able to name a few? By the way, yea there is PF Chang’s, and I think Pho 2000 in Los Angeles Ktown is a Korean run operation?, but beyond that, I think when it comes to non-Japanese Asian restaurants, they are typically run by people of the same ethnicity as the cuisine which is why we don’t see a whole lot of fusion pho with foam, bok choy, and chili threads.
With that variety of business owners behind the businesses, comes a lot of variation to the cuisine that they are out to represent. That although can be a good thing because somebody I admire greatly, Roy Choi (he’s on my shortlist because there are a lot of hacks, but I respect dude because he has heart) is one such individual who has successfully merged Mexican and Korean food together with his Kogi food trucks.
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 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.
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 from 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 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’s 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 spoon they use to the placement of the egg).
Yea, they could have dumped the fried rice into a bowl, but they shaped it. I should also point out on a side note, something about chahan (fried rice), and miso ramen are one of the best remedies for a hangover – 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 in 2010 which was 10 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 on design, which I appreciate because of my design background. It is also the final trait, and one of the biggest is that a lot of Korean businesses have a sensitivity to the importance of design, from the plating, design of the menu, to the interior.
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!