Every time the monsoon lightly kissed Bombay for the first time, my entire family would have one default reaction - to stop what we were doing, make a family pack of Maggi, and just sit and watch the rain. Every first rain, every time.
This year, as I experience my first monsoon untethered from the comfort of my family, I will do things a bit differently. This time, it’ll be a bowl of ramen that is my go-to. The fancy cousin of Maggi who went abroad to study, ramen has quickly become my go-to comfort dish in every sphere of life, and making it, with all its different flavors and components, is one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday.
Making ramen is easy (even easier using our ramen kit). There are three key elements to any ramen bowl, that if you master, will be on your way to ramen supremacy.
The first are, of course, noodles. Most ramen noodles are long rather than flat, not dissimilar to spaghetti noodles, however, they can vary in thickness. There are no hard and fast rules on which kind of noodles to use with which kind of broth, however, there is one golden rule - eat your ramen bowl as soon as you’ve put the noodles in! This is because noodles begin to become mushy, clumpy and overcooked, ruining the balance of flavors that have been delicately created.
Up next, we have the broth, the most sacred and (in my opinion) the most important element of a bowl of ramen. Broths are classified based on their thickness, their base, and of course, their key ingredients. Almost all ramen broths are made from some kind of stock, which can be animal based (pork, chicken or beef), or even seafood based ones, lending it a rich, delicious umami flavor. It isn’t uncommon to throw in aromatics such as onions, leeks or mushrooms as the stock is being cooked.
Common broth flavors include shoyu (a dark soy and oyster sauce based bowl), as well as miso, the distinct, classic umami flavor.
Finally, we have the most fun part of the ramen bowl - the toppings.
While both the noodles and the broth require a certain level of adherence to the manner in which they are prepared and consumed, I always let myself enjoy the process of adding toppings. It’s an expression of my creativity and it allows me to push the boundaries of how I interpret Japanese food.
Here are a few of the classics -
- Chashu pork - pork simmered in sweet soy and mirin until it becomes silky smooth and melt-in-your-mouth levels, this is by far the most popular kind of ramen topping.
- Nori - furikake’s larger and better known form, nori is a strip of seaweed that is typically found around the edges of your bowl of ramen. Half submerged and half popping out, these strips of seaweed add a distinctly chewy texture to every bite as well as splash of color in an otherwise monochrome-y bowl.
- Tofu - my personal favorite, strips of tofu, ideally braised lightly in some soy, make the perfect addition to the top of every bowl of ramen. They add color, texture and boatloads of flavor.
- Eggs - Perhaps the most versatile of all toppings, there are so many schools of thought on what egg goes on what kind of bowl of ramen. When eating instant ramen, I rarely have the patience or inclination to poach or soft boil an egg, so on goes a decadent fried egg. Sunny side up, of course. However, when making my ramen from scratch, it HAS to be a poached or a soft boiled egg. There are no questions about it. The satisfaction of two halves of a beautifully boiled egg staring up at you, and then the light cut of the yolk to let it ooze and run around the bowl is second to none. Visually, the yellow of the yolk provides a wonderful contrast to the hues of the broth and the spark of the vegetables. An integral part of your bowl, not to be missed.
On the vegetable front, there are a few staples, mostly greens. Spinach, pak choy, and bean sprouts would be my three go-to picks. From a visual, textural and flavor point of view, all three of them provide a sense of depth and contrast which make them appealing picks. Other classic toppings include cabbage, corn and spring onions.
Another topic of vehement discussion are the mushrooms that go on to a ramen bowl. I occasionally throw in a few shiitake while cooking the broth, however as pure toppings, the delicious enoki and the evergreen button will do the job.
And to finally top off your toppings, are a few seasonings that will close the loop on your already lip-smacking bowl of ramen.
- Furikake - dried seaweed seasoning to top off your bowl of ramen is a must-do, in my opinion. Whether it's to balance out some of the meaty broth or deepen the umami commitment, furikake lends another level of subtlety and occasionally texture to every bowl of ramen.
- Togarashi - to add a fiery, very “Indian” kick to your bowl. Togarashi packs a solid punch in its ubiquitous powdery form.
- Sesame seeds - to deepen and protract some of the flavors you have already crafted into your bowl, the nuttiness of the sesame seeds goes a long way in elevating your bowl to the next level.
Now that you know what goes into your bowl of ramen, you should also know how to eat it. And once again, there is one golden rule. Slurp away! Slurping is considered a mark of respect and recognition of the chef’s creation. It is welcome and appreciated, so don’t hold back while you eat your bowl!
To make a delicious bowl of ramen in a quick and easy way, get KOOK’s ramen kit here.