After trying the new restaurant, Lucky Peach House of Ramen in Johannesburg, serving up authentic Japanese ramen in Johannesburg, we feel the slurping culture might grip South Africa as well.
Asian cuisine has a lot of cultural cross-overs, clearly shown in Japanese Ramen dishes based on Chinese-style wheat noodles.
Ramen didn’t actually originate in Japan – the country’s staple dishes are rice.
Ramen first appeared in the mid-nineteen century after the collapse of the Japanese empire, which led to a severe food shortages after World War Two.
Americans brought in emergency wheat, flour and eggs, and were assisted by a small Chinese migration, leading to the popularity of Ramen in Japan.
Out of necessity, it quickly became a workmans, dish and has evolved in the modern world in the country as a quick meal. There are now over 80 000 Ramen bars in Japan, I am told by Chef Josh Simon of Lucky Peach House of Ramen in Arbour Café in Birdhaven.
Chef Simon knows his history when it comes to Japanese cuisine, especially as he spent a lot of time studying the concepts, learning as much as he can.
“I am obsessed with Japan, mad about their cuisine and obsessed with sushi.”
He says he had the idea for Lucky Peach about six years ago, which quickly came to fruition this year with the help of business partner Larry Hodes, who assisted in the infrastructure and business support.
Just about a month old in business, they are not a sit-down restaurant as yet, operating in the cafe’s Dark Kitchen.
The reaction from foodies across Joburg has been fantastic, selling out on daily basis.
The moreish tasting ramen comes in three flavours:
Shoyu chicken, a pulled chicken with sweet corn, spring onion, egg and seaweed, a spicy beef miso with button mushroom, baby spinach, fresh chilli, seaweed and eggs, and a spicy miso with a beef broth.
Shoyu miso and tofu Rame – deep-fried tofu, spring onion, sweet corn, wild mushroom, pickled ginger, seaweed and hearty shoyu miso broth.
Much of Japanese food is based on umami taste, which is sweet, salty, sour and a bit bitter. It includes traditional ingredients such as soy sauce and a chicken-based stock.
All ramen proteins are slowed cooked.
Simon explains that the broth starts off with roasting the chicken. It is then stripped down, the carcass goes back into the ramen broth pot, boiling away. The stripped meat is put in a separate broth to infuse with the flavour.
“All Japanese broths have a common based which is called Dashi. A mixture of Kombo (umami flavour) and Katsuobushi, smoked tuna and are soaked together.”
They are then strained, as he adds them to the other broths. So you can imagine how flavoursome this is.
Happily slurping away the roast chicken ramen, the noodles hold their shape and are locally made. The secret with their noodles is that they have alkaline and baking soda in them, preventing them from going soggy.
Simon explains the sensation of having a big mouthful of ramen being similar to wanting to put a big handful of popcorn in your mouth, which is essentially how ramen should be eaten.
Ramen is designed to be slurped, and it really is the only way to get the noodles into your mouth, because the noodles are so long.
“In Japan, the slurping of the noodles is to cool them down. In a country like South Africa, slurping is considered to be a big no-no, but in Japanese culture they slurp, and they slurp hard,” he said.
Ramen is also known as a noodle soup, great for a winter’s day. In Asia, it is a popular first date choice too,
To complete your experience, pop in the Café’s Gourmet Grocer – their new bakery is offering artisanal freshly made bread, delicious baked goods, New York-style boiled bagels and melt-in-the mouth pastrami on rye.