What’s The Big Deal About Ramen?

May 7, 2013 | By | COMMENTS

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Crowds gather early outside Totto Ramen in New York and by the time I took that picture I imagine the wait was an hour or longer. I like ramen as much as the next guy but I wouldn’t wait an hour for it. It’s a big bowl of soup with meat floating in it and noodles. I imagine a large majority of you shrinking back in horror at that sentence: “A big bowl of soup? With meat floating in it? And noodles? That’s like calling the Mona Lisa a bunch of oil paint slathered on a canvas!” Perhaps, but I understand why people line up to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, I don’t understand why people line up for ramen.

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[Roboto Jinya ramen in L.A.]

Have things always been this way? Or did this start when David Chang (who just won another James Beard award) opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004? I remember going there back when it opened and feeling like I discovered something totally new. As a nice Jewish boy who grew up eating chicken soup, I found pork broth to be more decadent and rich and flavorful (don’t tell grandma). It was a fun thing to eat when the craving struck especially when it was cold outside.

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[Ramen Jinya ramen also in L.A.]

When I moved to L.A. I enjoyed ramen less often, but certainly as a cure-all when I got sick. The potency of the broth does pack a punch though it still loses the Battle Cold Cure to Tom Kha Gai.

Last week, in New York, I joined my friends Kenny and Brendan for dinner at Minca Ramen Factory in New York.

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Even at a late hour on a Wednesday night, the place was packed. Looking at my ramen (a simple pork ramen with soy sauce) I can see why people get excited about it:

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Lots of variety, sweet salty flavors, the rich thick slices of pork belly. Each bite brings something new. Plus, at $10.50, it’s a real bargain for all that food.

So I guess I see what the big deal is after all. But wait an hour for it? Sorry, ramen, I’m getting a cheeseburger.

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Categories: Food Bits

  • michelle

    I live a few blocks from Totto Ramen, and I have never been because of the lines! When I decide I am hungry, waiting and hour for soup, no matter how good, is just not going to happen. People actually start lining up even before they open on weekends. Can you imagine doing that with a hangover? They also don’t do take out or delivery…in NYC!

  • Diana

    So, it’s OK to line up for an hour for a Shake Shack burger but not romain?

  • LH

    I just got back from a few weeks in Japan! I haven’t found ramen where I live (Orlando) but I’m definitely craving it and was looking forward to eating some in LA when I go in a few weeks but you are right…it’s funny for there to be such lines when in Japan it’s such an every day/on every corner kind of meal. That said, I did go to one place in Tokyo that had a small line out the door (but it’s kind of fast foodish, people were in and out really quick).

  • villainx

    Shack Shake? Di Fara? Big Gay Ice Cream?

    And … ramen dining wasn’t intended for lingering, so the wait is partly due to NY/American dining habits.

  • Drifty Driftwood

    you might meet nice people in line. or something. there are worse things. you could read something on your iPhone. or make up a game to play with your friends.

  • http://twitter.com/skyblueerik E

    Mmmm ramen.

  • dobolo

    try making it yourself and then tell us you wouldn’t wait an hour.

  • Erin

    I recently lived on Okinawa for a couple years and I LOVE ramen. But I must say that Okinawa soba is my all-time favorite and would beat out ramen any day of the week. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to taste it again. :(

  • mn

    I feel this way about really any restaurant that requires a line. I think it’s because I’m now in my mid-30s and just feel like I can’t be bothered to wait in ANY line for ANY food in NY or LA, not because I don’t think the food won’t be delicious but because I just have more things to do, responsibilities, etc…. and waiting in line for food just seems silly. Can you name any food you would wait in line for now?

  • http://twitter.com/groverwatts Grover Watts

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. now i’ll never get a seat!

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.adjmi David Adjmi

    the spicy ramen at totto IS worth waiting for. It is that good. There is no other ramen up to that standard in NY or LA as far as I know. It is craveworthy and divine.

  • Tracy

    I live in Tokyo and absolutely LOVE a good bowl of ramen; however, I wouldn’t wait in line an hour for it! Plenty of other great places to eat here.

  • Ttrockwood

    I have lived in nyc for more than a decade and learned that if there are new yorkers waiting in line for something there is a good reason. My ramen passion is not at that level but i suspect totto ramen attracts those who are.

  • Lam

    Its not just a big bowl of soup with noodles, every piece of ingridients count in a noodle soup. Japanese ramen is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Asian soups. Chinese make broth to drink every day for thousands of years. Korean makes their own kind of soup with their pickled produce/seafood/vegetables. Japanese uses oil based sauces to thicken their already rich broth. Every bits of the combination counts to create the perfect broth, and that’s what makes noodle soup so addictive(to cook, and to eat). And that, sir, is the big deal.

  • Lam

    Its not just a big bowl of soup with noodles, every piece of ingridients count in a noodle soup. Japanese ramen is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Asian soups. Chinese make broth to drink every day for thousands of years. Korean makes their own kind of soup with their pickled produce/seafood/vegetables. Japanese uses oil based sauces to thicken their already rich broth. Every bits of the combination counts to create the perfect broth, and that’s what makes noodle soup so addictive(to cook, and to eat). And that, sir, is the big deal.

  • meredith

    just was in NY and went to totto ramen friday night. we went kind of late but only waited 20 minutes or so.
    totally worth it. the ramen was FANTASTIC

  • Erin

    An hour wait is average in SF, as is lining up before the restaurant opens… and while ramen is clearly the du jour of the moment, I acutally prefer pho (or soba) for my bowl of salty broth and noodles. But yeah, ramen is hot here too, and the new spots have the waits to prove it. Hmm, and the old. Love Katana-Ya and they continue to consistently have a 20-60 min wait. And I should disclose, waiting in line for food is somewhat of a sport here. It’s strategic; you must know your mark and the neighborhood. Bonus points if you can put your name in at Turtle Tower (pho!!) and go home and smoke a bowl before your table’s called. Double bonus points if you manipulate friends to get to the restaurant 45 mins before you, and then blame MUNI as you walk into getting seated.

  • Rebecca Chan

    A majority of my friends (from in and out of NYC) are huge ramen fans, so while I want to share their enthusiasm for that hot, salty bowl of ramen (that we waited an hour for at Ippudo/Momofuku/Minca etc), I just can’t. It’s not that I don’t like ramen, I just haven’t found a place that really blew me away enough in order for me to return and wait another hour for. (Guess that’s one less person hogging up space on line ey?)