There's a very short story I like to tell about ramen. So back in the winter of 2006, I had just wrapped up my 3 month stint teaching English at a university in South Korea. Jared flew out to meet up with me and begin our month long trip around Asia. We were to board a ferry that would take us from (P)Busan to Fukuoka, home to the famous street vendor stalls. As excited I was about our big trip, I was truly sad about leaving Korea. I had really come to love the students I met and the fellow teachers I taught alongside. (SL!!!! I miss you!!!) I was pretty depressed, seriously.
Jared took me to out to dinner and we stopped by the first street vendor stall we saw and took a seat. YAKITORI. My first real taste of yakitori. Wow. And then we went on to the first ramen stand we came upon. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the meal that made me forget Korea. No joke. Maybe it was because I was starving, maybe it was because I had too much free dorm food in Korea but I want to say this was the best ramen I have ever had. The ramen master first filled the bottom with a soy sauce base, added the noodles and filled the rest of the bowl with a thick white pork broth. Then he added slices of perfectly braised fatty pork and generously sprinkled green onions on top. On our table were containers of sesame seeds and garlic paste. We put it all together and I was in heaven. Korea who? Folks, this is why we dream of going back!
Fast forward 2 years to present day. Right before we left for our trip, Jared found reviews of a ramen shop in Los Angeles boasting Hakata style ramen. You couldn't believe our excitement. We were pretty much anticipating this very meal from the second we got on the plane. However, this is kind of where the story stops being exciting.
It was kind of just ok. We ordered gyoza and chicken onigiri with our ramen. You could kind of tell that this was the frozen store bought gyoza. It tasted old, too. So then I tried the chicken onigiri. And it basically tasted like mushy fried rice. And then I thought to myself, that doesn't really matter as long as the ramen is good. And then ramen came... it was just ok. It wasn't terrible. The broth was really good and the noodles weren't bad. But it really wasn't memorable. The pork they served were just very very thin slices, without much of the fat, and without much flavor. I don't think I actually expected it to be anywhere near as good as the one we had in Fukuoka. However, I was kind of disappointed since I could get a better bowl of ramen at the Santouka chain at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Chicago (which actually pretty darned good). Oh well.
I will say that the service was great, our waiter was super friendly and polite. Though, I very rarely care about service in Asian restaurants. It's really not that important. I think this is a terrible perception that Americans have about restaurants but you know what, that's another post for another day...
Hakata Ramen Shin Sen Gumi
Rosemead, CA 91770