Even with several Japanese markets around the corner, I still struggled to find affordable or the right type of ramen toppings in LA, but I’m going to give it a go and suggest a few sources.
Over the last 15+ years, I have struggled to find quality or affordable ingredients such as the menma (fermented bamboo shoots) and kikurage (wood ear mushrooms) which is maybe why so many American ramen oddly uses shiitake and all types of mushrooms which you would not find as ramen toppings in Japan (dashi yes, but not as a topping), and only on Americanized ramen that treats ramen as a vegan noodle salad.
Core Ingredients to Every Other Japanese Ramen Topping
The toppings will vary due to the type of flavoring from shoyu, shio, to miso, and if you are looking for the most common Japanese ramen toppings, you can find those suggestions here. This post will focus primarily on where to find the ingredients.
THE CORE TOPPINGS
There are a only few toppings found throughout most ramen, and they typically only include negi (green onions) to menma (fermented bamboo shoots).
*Tokyo Central closed their online store, but you can still visit Marukai and Tokyo Central stores.
- Menma (fermented bamboo shoots): yea, I can find this, but I’m never happy with the quality or the price of Momoya Menma which is 4.05oz (it’s tiny by American standards). The only time I was happy was buying menma was at wholesale which came in a case of 10, each pack was 2.2lbs and the flavor and the bamboo is a lot more crisp versus the more flaccid Momoya product (I’m going to see if I can make this wholesale product available via retail).
|Amazon.com||Momoya||Amazon sellers have some ridiculous pricing on Momoya, $9.99-$19.98 or $2.47 an ounce.|
|Mercato.com||Yamachan||Ajitsuke menma 80g/2.82oz, $3.79.|
|MTC (W/D)||MTC||Ramen-yo (62887) 15/2.2lbs, or shoyu (62886) 12/2.2lbs, $IloveMTC|
|Wismettac (W/D)||Shirakiku||Seasoned bamboo shoots (ajitsuke menma), 2.2lbs (1kg), $WorthIt|
|Tokyo Central||Momoya||Seasoned bamboo shoots, 3.52oz, $4.88|
- Negi (green onions): I’ll let you handle this one.
- Kikurage (wood ear mushrooms): most Asian and some mainstream markets carry wood ear mushrooms from Chinese to Korean markets although there is a cut (strip) version that is a lot harder to find. Restaurants such as Ikkousha use strips whereas restaurants like Santouka will use whole pieces of kikurage.
|Japanese markets||Here is the listings of all the Japanese markets in SoCal and the list for all markets on the West Coast.|
|Korean/Chinese markets||H-Mart (Korean) or 99 Ranch (Chinese).|
|ONLINE SELLER||BRAND||PRODUCT DESCRIPTION|
|MTCKitchen (NY)||N/A||Sliced Dried Kikurage Wood-Ear Mushroom 2.2 lbs (1kg), $23.50|
|Nuts.com||N/A||I don’t think I have come across this site before, but the dried wood ear mushrooms has a 4.9 out of 14 ratings, $7.99/4oz bag.|
|*TokyoCentral.com||Fujisawa||Kikurage Dried Jew’s Ear 0.3oz, $1.98.|
|Walmart||Marusho/JFC||black fungus kikurage, wood ear mushroom 1lb. By JFC, a product of China, $29.99.|
|Japanese food distributors||This one is expensive, several hundred dollars because at wholesale, it is 22lb a case, and if you find all the Japanese food distributors listed here.|
|Other||There is 5lb version they call “mushroom fungus strips” that is sold dehydrated, and I have a bunch of it unused (I do not recommend it even though it’s cheap).|
- Naruto (fish cake with the little swirl): this item has to be refrigerated so finding it online may be a challenge, and you’ll most likely have to go to a Japanese market.
|Instacart||Kibun||Narutomaki, 5.29oz, $3.89|
|Arirang USA||Yamasa||Narutomaki, 6oz, $4.59|
- Nori (roasted seaweed): this might sound obvious, but if you want to do a Japanese style ramen, not only will you want to use a Japanese soy sauce, but Japanese nori is ideal because the style and flavor will differ from the Korean counterparts. The Korean style is patchier and uneven in thickness (not solid and uniform like Japanese nori) and will often be seasoned with sesame oil and salt.
|Amazon||Takaokaya||Sushihane, contains 10 sheets per pack, 0.75oz (3 packs), $26.88.|
|Takaokaya||Takaokaya||It looks as though you can purchase directly off of their website, 30 sheets, $10.00.|
|*Tokyo Central||Takaokaya||They are extremely slow with online orders, so I highly suggest going in, 30 sheets, $8.58|
|MTC Kitchen||Takaokaya||Miyabi high grade sushi nori, roasted seaweed 10 sheets, $11.50, 100 sheets (cut in half), $49.50.|
- Beni shoga/kizami: is ginger pickled in umezu (the same stuff used to make umeboshi, so if you had the shio ramen at Santouka, you’ll know what it’s like). You also should not have a problem finding this product as long as you’re not in a very rural area.
|Amazon||Shirakiku||Kizami shoga (pickled ginger), 12oz, $10.16|
|Instacart||Wel-pac||Kizami pickled ginger (this is one out of two most common/widely available brands), 11.5oz, $4.29.|
|*Tokyo Central||Shirakiku||Kizami beni shoga, 12oz, $4.98.|
|Walmart||Shirakiku||Kizami shoga (pickled ginger), 12oz, $19.47. I have not clue why Wal-mart charges so much, wow.|
CHASHU (BRAISED/SOUS VIDE PORK)
- Pork belly (the most popular): if you’re going to prepare a Japanese style chashu, Japanese soy sauce brands are listed here, and you can find all the core ingredients such as mirin to sake listed here.
- Pork jowl (one of my favorites): Japanese call it tontoro, but you can find it as pork jowl to guanciale (Italian).
- Pork shoulder (if you don’t do it right, it’ll turn out dry): sous vide is the way to go, along with familiarizing yourself with shio koji (pictured above)- the most common brand is marukome.
|ONLINE SELLER||BRAND||PRODUCT DESCRIPTION|
|Mercato.com||Marukome||Nama Shio Koji – 7.05 Ounces, $5.75|
EGG (AJITAMA/NITAMAGO/HANJUKU TAMAGO)
- Rich amber yolks: the Happy Egg Co. is the company you will want to seek out because they have a free range, heritage breed egg with rich amber colored yolk like the ones found in Japan.
|Happy Egg Co.||You can use their store locator, but depending what state you’re in Pavilions, Ralphs, Safeway, Sprouts, to Vons all carry their product.|
If you’re going to do your own braised pork toppings, here are the The Varying Types of Japanese Ramen Chashu.
The first thing you’ll want to know are the sizes of the bowls, and which size bowl you will need, especially if you’re doing the standard 250-350 ml of soup. If that is the case, a 32-38 oz bowl is more than ideal although this is Murica, and we like to go big.