Friday, December 7, 2007


I can't really make any grand claims when it comes to my ramen soup. In Japan, ramen has almost cult-like followings, with different regions making different versions, and recipes passed down through the generations. It's like grandma's chicken soup, squared.

I usually satisfy my ramen cravings by going to this tiny ramen shop in the East Village, called Rai Rai Ken, until it turned mediocre. Now I love this other place, Settagaya. Still, Rai Rai Ken was my first initiation to ramen that didn't involve an immersion heater. They have giant stocks pots bubbling away, with onions and mushrooms bobbing on the surface, and bone tips peeking up from the murky, steamy depths. There are three types of soups, and a few appetizers, and about the same number of seats along a wooden bar. I always get pickled daikon and then a big bowl of shoyu ramen -- a soy sauce-based soup with toppings like bamboo shoots, seaweed, fish cake, roast pork, and scallions.

But sometimes I want ramen at home. Obviously, I can't compete with Japanese grandmothers and chefs who've been making broth for ramen for generations. Still, I have to say, my soup is pretty damn good. I mean -- chicken stock, soy sauce, sesame oil? You can't really go wrong. And ramen is the perfect Mothership Meal. You can start with a really simple soup -- how about some clear broth, kids? -- and then serve all the exotic toppings on the side.

Chicken Stock (really, really, REALLY, preferably homemade, with onions and shiitake mushrooms)
To taste: a couple tablespoons of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sesame oil, salt, pepper)

Add: cooked noodles, preferably those tightly coiled ramen noodles, but egg noodles will do in a pinch, as they did in the photo here. And steamed spinach or bok choy, chopped.

Also: cooked pork tenderloin or pork chop.

Garnish with: hard boiled egg, bamboo shoots, scallions, nori squares, and anything else that strikes your fancy.

This is a perfect mothership meal, as it can start so simply -- with broth, for example -- and then become more and more complex. I always find it amazing to see how my children weigh their pickiness against their instinct to copy the adults. As my daughter says, "I just want a tiny bit of scallions, right on the side." She doesn't want to eat it; she just wants it because we want it. Eventually she will want it all.

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