For D.C. based author and illustrator Juana Medina, learning English in her native Columbia was a requirement she resisted as a child, yet appreciated later as an adult.
Although it may be best known in the U.S. as a cheap microwavable meal wrapped in plastic, ramen is cultivating a new reputation. For the last several years, chefs have been reaching back to the soup’s roots in China and Japan to bring artisan ramen to tables locally and nationwide. We explore the cultural significance of the noodle soup, the craft of making it and the best way to enjoy it.
- Erik Bruner-Yang chef and owner, Toki Underground
- Daisuke Utagawa part-owner, Daikaya; part-owner and creative director, Sushiko
Toki Underground Recipes
Toki Underground chef Erik Bruner-Yang shares recipes from D.C.’s first Taiwanese ramen and dumpling house.
Toki Style Kara-Age
800g chicken chunks (breast)
350g potato starch
1/4 cup soy and 1/4 cup sake
Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl or container. Fry in a sauce pot with about 2 inches of vegetable oil at 375°F or medium high heat for four minutes or until golden brown.
Toki Underground’s Red Miso Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 c butter (1 stick)
1/2 c red miso paste
3/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 c lightly packed light brown sugar
2 extra large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla
2 ¾ c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 c chocolate chips
yields 35 cookies
In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter and red miso paste until well combined. Add sugars. Cream mixture for five minutes until fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking soda with whisk. Gradually add to butter-sugar-egg mixture until just combined. Add in chocolate chips.
Scoop using 1oz scoop and freeze until firm. Bake at 375°F for 10-11 minutes on ungreased cookie sheet. Serve warm with cold milk.
Recipe note: This recipe was developed using the inaka style red miso paste. A coarse, “countryside” paste that combines soybeans with barley, it has a rich, saltiness that adds depth to the cookie. Sendai or aka are other types of red miso paste that work well.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAre the big heavy snowflakes, cancellations and messy roads getting you down? If you're looking for an edible antidote to today's late winter snowstorm, consider a piping hot bowl of ramen. The noodle soup that's a staple in Japanese diets is catching on in the U.S. in a big way. And if you're thinking about those bricks of noodles wrapped in cellophane that have long been dorm room staples think again. Here to tell us about the real deal is Erik Bruner-Yang. He is executive chef and owner of Toki Underground, where I had the pleasure of dining a few nights ago. It was good, Erik. Thanks a lot.
MR. ERIK BRUNER-YANGMy pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Daisuke Utagawa. He is part owner of Daikaya, which is a new ramen restaurant in Chinatown. And he is part owner of Sushiko. Daisuke, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DAISUKE UTAGAWAThanks for having me.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation at 800-433-8850 or you can send email to email@example.com. You can send us a Tweet at kojoshow. Have you been to any of the ramen shops in the region? Why do you think ramen has grown so popular? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Daisuke, many Americans may think of ramen as a low-budget, high-sodium food that you just add water and stir to prepare. How is the ramen served in local restaurants different?
UTAGAWALocal restaurants in Washington you mean or in Japan?
NNAMDILocal restaurants here in Washington.
UTAGAWAIn Washington. Well, there are different kinds of ramen served from different areas of Japan. For instance, what we do is orthodox Sapporo style ramen. Erik serves Hakata style ramen with different sort of ways of making stock, the noodles are different and so on. But the biggest difference I'd say is that, you know, the ramen served in shops are made with a lot of care. And it takes a very long time to even just make the stock. So it's not a three-minutes ordeal where you just boil things and put powder in it.
NNAMDIWe'll get into that later in the broadcast. Erik, when Toki Underground opened it had wait times that were unheard of in D.C. The hype prompted the City paper food editor to write, naturally the buzz worthiness can't last forever. It's just noodles and broth, for Christ's sake. But two years later here we are, diners can still expect two-hour wait times. What, in your view, is everyone so excited about ramen?
BRUNER-YANGI think it has a lot to do with the tender loving care that goes into the product. And people -- you know, every great city in the world has a noodle shop that they call their, like, little place that they go to. And we wanted to be that one for our 8th Street community. And it just happened to blossom into what it did. But then again it's only 25 seats so we can only feed so many people at once. And, you know, that definitely contributes to the enigma of the wait time.
NNAMDIWell, Daisuke, when you first started planning Daikaya a couple of years ago, you said you had serious concerns about how local diners would receive a ramen shop. What's changed since?
UTAGAWAWell, it was actually about four years ago when we first started this project. And we started simply because we wanted to eat ramen, sort of orthodox ramen from Japan. And it wasn't available back then. And...
NNAMDIWho was we?
UTAGAWAWe as in my partners. My wife had a lot to do with it. My wife was the one who pushed me to say, you know, okay you're going to open a ramen restaurant now. But...
NNAMDISo there were selfish reasons for starting this.
UTAGAWAWell, absolutely. I mean, I wanted to eat it so that's how we started. My concern was that I didn't really -- you know, eating ramen is not an easy thing to do, if you want to do it properly. You know, i.e. slurping is a must if you want to join...
NNAMDISlurping. You mentioned slurping?
NNAMDII think we have a clip of what the slurping sounds like, for those of you who may think he is using a word with which you are unfamiliar. It's the same slurping that you're familiar with and it's -- well, let's hear it and then I'll tell you.
UTAGAWAThat's a proper slurp.
NNAMDIThat's a proper slurp.
UTAGAWAYeah, it sounds like when I'm parking my car in my garage.
NNAMDIBut it is the sound effect of a slurp taken from a film. How accepting or how demanding are Washington diners of authentic nish food?
UTAGAWAIn general or for ramen?
NNAMDIFor ramen in particular.
UTAGAWAFor ramen, well, I don't think majority of people know what -- I don't really want to use the word authentic -- but say orthodox ramen. We had -- for instance we had Asian customer who came in and asked my partner and our chef Katsuya saying, when are you going to do traditional Japanese ramen? And we quite didn't understand what that meant and she pulled out a picture saying, well this is traditional ramen. And we, you know, explained to her that there are many different kinds of traditional or orthodox ramen in Japan, and we do one of them which is called Sapporo style. And, you know, our soup is clear soup, which is chintan and noodles and such and so on and so forth.
UTAGAWASo, you know, people may think whatever they had first is the authentic and maybe that is sort of the general ideas among Washingtonians when it comes to ramen.
NNAMDIWe're discussing, yes, ramen on Food Wednesday. We're talking with Erik Bruner-Yang. He is executive chef and owner of Toki Underground. Daisuke Utagawa is part owner of Daikaya. He's -- that's a new ramen restaurant in Chinatown -- he's part owner of Sushiko. We're already getting some calls. The number's 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you see any similarities between the comfort food of Asian cultures like ramen and (word?) and American comfort food? Give us a call, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIErik, what is it that you think drives people to come to your place because their knowledge base might not be that strong? If they happen to be like me they'll just enjoy it. But I guess what do you feel the attraction is?
BRUNER-YANGI think we were very blessed to be pretty much the first one that opened in the District of Columbia. And it's -- I actually really welcomed Daikaya into the whole ramen thing because it gives people more context, you know and they can understand that there are so many different styles. When we first opened we still got the similar, you know, this isn't traditional or this isn't this. And when we created the recipe for our ramen we obviously wanted to use the historical context of where that food was coming from.
BRUNER-YANGBut what we've learned is, like, you know, the Japanese tourists, and especially since we do more of a homage to some Taiwanese style, they understand that each ramen chef has their own personal interpretation of, you know, what they're making. And, you know, we get a really wonderful reaction from those that know that each ramen shop is supposed to be uniquely different versus, you know, someone that's had it once somewhere else and that's what they -- that's their point of reference.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought up historical context because, Daisuke, there is some dispute over the history of ramen. Where did the soup come from?
UTAGAWAWhere did the soup come from? Well, it all originated in China, I believe, but there's a record that the first sort of Chinese noodle were had in Japan in 1659 by Tokugawa Mitsukuni was one of the family members of the ruling family back then. It wasn't widely available. I've read that there was a political -- somebody who ran away from China as a political asylum and with him he brought some noodle-making apparatus and it was recorded.
UTAGAWASo from that people extrapolated that he probably had the first Chinese style ramen or Chinese style noodles in Japan. And he was quite a -- he loved something foreign and new so that was a first. But it didn't really come to public, if you will, I think until maybe 1900s. And probably the first one is Chinatown in Yokohama in 1901, 1910, somewhere around there.
NNAMDIA ramen museum in Japan lists as many as 26 different types of ramen. What makes them all distinctive?
UTAGAWAThe type of noodles are used, the type of stock. And tare, which is a sauce, if you will, that sort of determines the most prominent flavor. There is Shio which is salt, Shoyu soy sauce, miso. These are, you know, three big tare. And toppings are not so important. We -- in the ramen business we say there are four major components of ramen, that is the stock, most important. That's like -- it creates the environment, if you will. It's the canvas. It's the basis of it.
UTAGAWAThen you have the tare which is something that you can discern a lot easier than the stock. But if you don't have the right stock -- and Erik can, you know, attest to that -- if you don't have the right stock, you don't have ramen. And then you have the noodles and there are different styles of noodles, how they're made. Some are aged, some are not. Some take a longer time to cook, the texture, the springiness. All that differs from places to places.
UTAGAWAAnd the last is the spices and maybe toppings. People really don't consider toppings as the important part because it is the noodles that is the...
NNAMDII can see why toppings would not be considered the most important part. Erik, what is it about the culture of ramen that inspired you to center a restaurant around it?
BRUNER-YANGYou know, when we first wanted to do Toki Underground it was just going to be a dumpling shop. And then back in '09, '10 my grandfather in Taiwan was really sick. So I went back and stayed for an extended period of time. And I was -- I'd always been working. So I go to my uncle and I say, I really need some work. So he got me a job...
NNAMDIWhat's wrong with this kid? He just comes here and he wants to work?
BRUNER-YANGSo they got me a job at a ramen shop and I would just cut scallions in the back all day and then I would go home and take notes. And then when I came back I was -- it was such a good experience being with my family and working in the city that when I came back I wanted to be able to relive those few weeks that I was there every day for the rest of my life. And so that was really the major inspiration of us getting into the noodle business.
NNAMDITwo men who started ramen restaurants for entirely selfish reasons, and the public has bought into those ramen restaurants. Let's go to Greg in Front Royal, Virginia. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GREGGood afternoon. The topic and your guests have brought back memories from back in the '80s. I was in Japan with the military and they used to have a soba truck that used to come on the base. And while I don't eat much ramen now but the topic of your show today just brought back the whole Japanese experience to me, you know, in a different way. And it all centered around that soba truck.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Greg, for your call. And I'm happy we were able to reignite those memories for you. Erik, most people think your ramen is delicious but you will admit that it's not traditional Japanese ramen. How exactly is it different?
BRUNER-YANGWhen we first opened we were really trying to make it as traditional as possible, just doing our studying and researching how it was supposed to be done. But what I think makes -- why there are 26 different styles of ramen is it just really depends on what's available in your area and what you need to do to make it happen every day. And just what we could do to feed 200 people and make it work for what we wanted to do stylistically it just became what it has become, which is not something that's orthodox. And just what we think is delicious and that works with what we can have access to in terms of materials and produce. And be able to serve, you know, 130 to 200 people a day.
NNAMDIIn a way, Daisuke, is that kind of how it works?
UTAGAWASure. What I like about Erik's ramen is -- well, although he publicly says it's not 100 percent Japanese, it -- I can see the evolution under care. It is not evolution at all. Let's see if I can put this in and if it works. It was a natural evolution and progression of cuisine. When any two cultures meet, naturally the cuisine develops in its own way. And I see that -- and that's why I liked it. It was, you know, first of all it was very comforting and ramen, I think, is sort of a sole food of Japanese and many Asians. And it kept that sort of honesty.
UTAGAWABut also there was, you know, half a step, if you will, into becoming something, you know, that's developing in the United States and Washington. And I thought that was wonderful. I am completely opposed to somebody trying to put things together just for the sake of it and see what happens, but you can't stop evolution. And that's -- and when I went there the first time and it was early days and we talked and he came out and said, what do you think? And I said, you've started something really wonderful for ramen in America. And I was really happy.
NNAMDIErik, you were raised in a Taiwanese household. What kind of influence did your family have on the menu at Toki?
BRUNER-YANGYou know, there's a lot of great memories of just making dumplings with my mother and my grandfather and my grandmother. You know, I was born and raised in Taiwan and then actually spent a few years living in Tokyo when -- because I was a Navy brat. So just those cultural experiences have really just kind of guided, you know, my progression here as, you know, being a professional chef.
BRUNER-YANGAnd I always like to say, I want to pay homage to my ancestors and to my family while I'm still trying to pave my own path on what I think modern flavors are for, you know, Asian Americans and Americans and, you know.
NNAMDIRemember that slurp sound you heard earlier? Here is Sujean in Washington D.C. who may want to explain some of that. Sujean, you're on the air. Hi Sujean, come to the phone. Sujean?
SUJEANHi, it's Sujean.
NNAMDIYou're on the air, Sujean. Go ahead, please.
SUJEANI have a question about the American obsession of how to eat ramen and this whole obsession with slurping. Where does that come from? Is it because Americans are so particular about how polite they are when they're eating or is it really a thing about slurping when you eat soup?
NNAMDIGo ahead, Daisuke.
UTAGAWAWell, ramen is sort of a contradiction -- harmonious contradiction in a bowl, if you will. You have perfectly cooked noodles. Why would you put that in hot soup? You know, the quality will deteriorate by the seconds. So in order to enjoy them as it was meant to be you'd have to eat the noodles first and rather quickly. And if you need to eat the noodles quickly you need to slurp. Also -- otherwise you'll burn your mouth. And also by slurping you will also aerate the soup that comes with the noodles.
UTAGAWASo it's sort of like, you know, when you're tasting wine, when you aerate them you get more out of them. The hidden qualities that you might not see in the stock otherwise may come out. So that's why slurping is recommended if you want to join the ramen -- enjoy ramen the way it was meant to be.
NNAMDIWell, the Japanese comedy called Tampopo, a ramen master teaches a young man how to eat the dish. And once he finally allows his apprentice to enjoy his meal you'll hear this again.
NNAMDIThat again the slurping sound that was made. Daisuke, is there a right and wrong way to eat ramen?
UTAGAWAStrictly speaking, no. You know, the way you want to enjoy it is the way you should eat them. But from the standpoint of where we are that, you know, when we make them we would like to be enjoyed the way it was meant to be. But there's absolutely no right or wrong way.
NNAMDISujean, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Elizabeth in Silver Spring, Md. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHHi. I live in Wheaton, Md. where I don't know if many people know, but we are very lucky to have a lot of great ethnic restaurants here.
NNAMDIThis is true.
ELIZABETHAnd we happen to have a place called Rens Ramen which serves ramen with noodles imported from Japan. And I'm just going to let listeners know that it's a really great place to get an affordable bowl of ramen around here.
NNAMDIDaikaya has the same noodles that you get out at Rens, correct?
UTAGAWAYes. We have the same manufacturer. Our noodles are sort of made to our spec and pre-aged in Japan. And Rens get their noodles -- imported noodles from the same factory. And I like Rens noodles as well.
BRUNER-YANGRens is great.
NNAMDIElizabeth, thank you very much for your call. Elizabeth from the Wheaton tourism department bringing people on out to eat. And you too can call us if you have recommendations for ramen places, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. It's a Food Wednesday conversation. Here's David in Washington, D.C. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHey, Kojo. I'm interested to know what's available for vegetarians in terms of ramen? Do the chefs offer anything for vegetarians?
NNAMDIFirst you, Erik.
BRUNER-YANGYes, we do offer a -- it's listed as a vegetarian ramen on our menu, but it's actually vegan, which is the same as Daikaya's. We do a roasted vegetable soup so we char all our (unintelligible) and we serve it with Shitake mushrooms, daikon, fried tofu, cured nori and then sometimes seasonal vegetables. Yesterday we had watermelon radish and Japanese turnips in it.
NNAMDIAnything to add to that, Daisuke?
UTAGAWAWell, yeah, our ramen is -- we do have one vegan ramen. Vegetarian ramen is not exactly traditional but, as I was saying earlier, a lot of people here are vegetarians. And we wanted to offer them a similar experience of that sort of satisfaction having a good bowl of noodles. So it took us a very long time to develop the vegan version of ramen. And I like it and I think people like it very much because I see people ordering vegan ramen and then asking for extra helping of pork bellies on top. So...
NNAMDII did that. Yes, it was a lot. But, David, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. What is your strategy for eating a noodle soup like ramen? You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is John in Annapolis, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHey, Kojo, how are you doing?
NNAMDII'm doing well.
JOHNHey, kudos to the two guys you're talking to. I'm sitting in my house in the stormy weather and all this talk of ramen is really making me hungry. I love the recipes you're talking about so far. I'm from -- back in the '60s I spent time in Okinawa and spent time in Taiwan. Love the noodle soup over there from both countries. Came back to the states, couldn't figure out why there was no ramen around here, and then at one point, I guess about in the '80s, I saw a movie called, "Tampopo" which just brought incredible memories, and I think that's where that slurping sound is coming from.
NNAMDIIt exactly -- you're exactly right. It was drawn from the movie.
JOHNGreat movie. Well, the question I have then, do either of you guys make your own noodles?
NNAMDIWe were going to get to that in a second, because Daisuke imports noodles from Sapporo where they apparently go through an aging process, but I don't know if either of you -- Erik, do you make your own noodles?
BRUNER-YANGWe work with a Chinese noodle maker in Springfield, Va. So they come every day from Virginia.
NNAMDIAnd Daisuke, what does it mean to age a noodle?
UTAGAWAWell, when you make ramen noodles, especially like the Sapporo ramen-type noodles, it goes through three stages of aging. Once you mix the ingredient with water and it becomes this sort of rough ball that's called (word?). And then you, you know, leave it overnight, and that's sort of a house secret of every noodle places. And then they pressure them through a roller into a sheet and, you know, you have sort of a roll of a paper towel looking sort of thing, and then you age that for a certain period of time, and then you cut them.
UTAGAWAAnd after that, usually it goes to the ramen shops directly, and each ramen shop has their own aging process anywhere between, you know, a day to ten days depending upon the weather, the seasons, and so on. But since we don't have the room to do that in our shop, we ask the factory to pre-age it for us before shipping it to us.
NNAMDIDo you do any of your own noodles at all?
UTAGAWANo. We don't make our own noodles. That is not something that we could do.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break, but if you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. You can also call us at 800-433-8850. Why do you think ramen has grown so popular? You can send email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome to our Food Wednesday conversation on Ramen. We're talking with Daisuke Utagawa, who is part owner of Daikaya. It's a new ramen restaurant in Chinatown, and he is part owner of Sushiko. Erik Bruner-Yang also joins us in studio. He is executive chef and owner of Toki Underground. We are inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Novasu (sp?) who says "Noodles and broth gains a depth unknown to many when the broth is slowly cooked from fresh ingredients and the noodles are freshly made." Daisuke, you have said that making good ramen, even though you mentioned the four basic ingredients, is a task that can drive even well-trained cooks crazy.
NNAMDIWhy do you say that?
UTAGAWAWell, it all has to do with the balance, and we were -- when we were taught from our ramen master two things. He said, first of all, the most important thing about making ramen is to have proper balance. And second, you will never make a perfect bowl of noodles, so just keep trying, but it will never be perfect. And we found out this balance is really, really, really difficult thing to achieve. You know, we may have good noodles, or we may have good tare, or we may have good stock, but when you put them together, they don't talk to each other, or they don't, you know, it's not harmonious.
UTAGAWAYou can talk about a tiny bit of grated ginger, and that can through off the whole balance. So it drives people crazy.
NNAMDIGotta get the balance right. Erik, once you've gathered all the ingredients, how long does it take to make a bowl of ramen?
BRUNER-YANGOur soup stock takes about 24 hours to prepare, so we are always trying to cook it about a day and a half ahead. But since the shop is so small, we pretty much just have soup going all day. And then throughout the day we're just adding more water or more bones or, you know, more garlic or more onions. So it's a non-stop process for us, and the only day that it gets to rest is when we're closed on Sunday. So we're making it 24 hours for five hours a service.
NNAMDIMonday through Saturday. Here is Ken in Washington D.C. Ken, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
KENHi Erik, big fan here.
KENI really love Toki's style of ramen noodles. I'm also Taiwanese-American. I've had lots and lots of ramen in D.C., and California. One of the things that I never had a chance to try was, I think like last year or two years ago you had a -- I think it as a duck ramen. It was a special that was -- I guess it was like a dinner special or something. Did you plan on bringing that back?
BRUNER-YANGWe had that duck ramen when we did the duck dinner last year for Thanksgiving, so we had to do something with all those carcasses instead of throwing them away. Hopefully we will do some stuff like that. I think our goal is to try to be as consistent as possible, because we -- a surprising amount of customers every day are new customers who have never experienced the old stuff. But, you know, we try to keep it fresh with the specials and we'll -- I'll take note of that. That duck ramen was really good, and thank you.
NNAMDIThank you for bringing it up, Ken. You placed the thought back in Erik's head again, and that's always a good thing. We move on now to Susan in Takoma Park, Md. Susan, your turn.
SUSANHi. I'm calling to find out if the noodles are gluten free.
BRUNER-YANGNo. Our noodle is just flour and water.
NNAMDIAnd anything you wanted to ask, Susan, in addition to that?
SUSANNo. That was it. I was just wondering if it was a, you know, a new dish for us to try.
BRUNER-YANGYeah. It's a tough thing to do the ramen properly gluten-free. There's just large requirements of soy sauce, and then just the traditional noodle doesn't work. We've played around with teff flour and stuff like that, but the texture really just -- we couldn't get it right.
SUSANOkay. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Susan. We got a tweet from @easternlaw who says, "I'm going to go make me some shin ramyun right now." Exactly what is that?
UTAGAWAI don't know.
BRUNER-YANGIt's the Korean packaged noodle.
BRUNER-YANGThat's a good call. Let me know where you're at.
NNAMDI@easternlaw, thank you very much for that tweet. On now to Ray in Ocean View, Delaware. Ray, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RAYHello, Kojo. Love the show.
NNAMDIThank you, Ray.
RAYHaven't had ramen noodles since Chicago, but did see "Tampopo," and it was not a young man, it was a young lady.
RAYOr actually, a middle-aged lady, and she went out and got a big, burly truck driver, etc., etc., etc.
NNAMDISo you're suggesting that the slurp would sound different if it were a young man rather than a middle-aged lady?
RAYAbsolutely not. She started to shop. The importance of slurping is the louder the slurp, the better the dish.
NNAMDIYes. I think I would agree with that. Thank you very much for your call. Erik, how open are ramen chefs, such as yourself, to talking about how they make their food?
BRUNER-YANGI know with like (word?) we like to just catch up, and -- well, you know, I've never asked him and he's never asked me, and I think it's more of just like we just have an understanding that we're both doing our own thing and we have deep respect for each other. When I first opened, you know, I asked everyone like Daisuke and Jen from Sushi Taro. I was like, I need advice, I need help. Because I was just still kind of like wet behind the ears. But I'm fairly open to always, you know, I think all of us working together to make better products -- our own products is great for the whole community.
NNAMDIErik Bruner-Yang. He is executive chef and owner of Toki Underground. Daisuke Utagawa is part owner of Daikaya, a new ramen restaurant in Chinatown. He's also part owner of Sushiko. We're taking your calls. You can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have you been to any ramen shops in the region? Call, tell us about them. 800-433-8850. Here is Jason in Gaithersburg, Md. Jason, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JASONHi guys. Thank you for a really interesting discussion. About 20 years ago I was living in London, had the good fortune to go to an innovative restaurant called Wagamama. Curious if you guys had any influence -- if you were influenced by this restaurant? I know that it was in D.C. for awhile. I don't know if it's still around.
NNAMDIIt was supposed to come to D.C., but I'm not sure it ever actually made it here, but I can certainly ask both Erik and Daisuke if they were influenced by Wagamamas at all.
UTAGAWAWell, as far as our menu goes, our cooking style goes, no, we were not influenced at all. We were influenced in the sense that, you know, that was one of the first of its kind to serve noodle soup, and for the west to accept that as a meal. So in that sense, yes, it influenced us to go ahead and open a place.
NNAMDIAny influence on you, Erik?
BRUNER-YANGI've never been to Wagamama, and I actually have their cookbook, and they do some pretty interesting things. But, you know, they were definitely the first to introduce this as an acceptable meal to people.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned that, because I think -- and Jason, thank you very much for your call. I think that's was Rod in Chevy Chase, Md., wants to discuss. Rod, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RODHi, Kojo. I love the show. Thanks. I lived in Japan for about four years, and ramen's probably one of my favorite things to eat and to talk about. I've been to both of the places, and I love both the ramens, but the big thing I noticed a difference in Japan is that it's more of an in-out kind of a quick meal, whereas in the U.S. it seems more of a sit-down affair. And so that took a little bit of getting used to. But I think both of you guys are doing great -- great things, and keep up the great work.
NNAMDIDid Wagamamas have any influence on it becoming a sit-down affair?
UTAGAWAI don't know, but we are seeing the big difference between say, our Japanese customers to American customers, how -- the amount of time it takes for them to eat. You know, a Japanese customer will go directly to the noodles and finish them as quick as possible.
NNAMDIIn and out.
UTAGAWAIn and out. And they won't even wait for others ramen to arrive. That's actually part of the ramen etiquette, if you will.
UTAGAWAYeah. And our American customers see it as more of a dining experience. So, you know, they'll enjoy the noodles, talk a bit, enjoy the soup, talk a bit and sort of hang out. So that's quite interesting for us to see the difference.
NNAMDIOnto a question that I certainly have that Jay in Washington D.C. also has. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAYHey, Erik. This is Jay. I just always wanted to ask you guys, are you guys ever -- ever though about opening up early...
JAY...or perhaps like lunch time early hours?
BRUNER-YANGYou know, I really wish that we could, but we have a really tiny space. It's about 650 square feet, and we just don't have the capabilities at this location to do it. Whether we move to another location, that's still up in the air, but just the size of this space, and the scope that we want to do, and the type of soup we have, is just not possible. Like we've gotten so busy that our wonderful neighbors, Granville Moores, lets us store all our noodles at their restaurant. So it's just a space issue and a timing issue, but we would love to if we could.
NNAMDIJay, thank you very much for your call. Daisuke, speaking of sit-down restaurants, Japan may consume billions of packets of instant ramen every year, but artisan ramen shops are also enjoying a renaissance there. Is it possible for ramen to be a high-end food?
UTAGAWAPersonally, I don't think it will ever be high-end food, although there were some restaurants in Tokyo that were serving hundred dollar bowl of ramen, and, you know, they claim the ingredients were very...
NNAMDIIt's tastes so good, can I please pay more for it?
UTAGAWANo. But, you know, there's a lot of innovation going on right now. It's probably the fourth time -- the fourth wave renaissance if you will, of ramen in Japan, and people are doing extreme things. Me, I'm sort of more old school, so some of them I can't follow. But, you know, the time will tell what's going to last or what's going to survive.
NNAMDIHere's Jane in Bethesda, Md. Jane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANEYes. I'm interested in this wonderful stock that your guests make. Do they use veal bones, veal knuckle, beef bones, beef knuckle? What do you use to make your stock?
NNAMDIYou're asking for chef secrets here. Let's see if we can reveal any for you. Care to reveal any Erik?
BRUNER-YANGMy base is just pork shoulders -- pork shoulder bones.
UTAGAWAAnd for us, we use pork bones. We call it (word?), which is a femur bone. We use chicken, and we also use beef. So all three are in there.
NNAMDIJane, we have shared our secrets with you. Is that -- does that work for you?
JANEThank you very much.
NNAMDIYou're more than welcome. We move onto Marie in Washington D.C. Marie, your turn.
MARIEYes, hi. I'm really enjoying the conversation. I love ramen. I'm an African-American woman, and I eat it weekly. I haven't been to either of the restaurants, but I make up my own. I add my own ingredients, and sometimes I'll buy them from Trader Joe's. They sell the fresh ramen noodles in the refrigerated section.
MARIEAnd I make up my own stock and add my own ingredients, and I love it. I eat it with chopsticks.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Marie. On the other hand, we got a tweet from Erik who says, "Love ramen. Had some favorites in New York City. Still looking for places in the District." Erik, could you tell him where he can find Toki Underground?
BRUNER-YANGWe're located at 1234 H Street Northeast. It's in the Alice District. Our address is 1234.
UTAGAWA705 Sixth Street Northwest. We're right behind Verizon Center, and we're open for lunch as well.
NNAMDIAnd there may be another option. Here is Paul in Washington D.C. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULYes. I wanted to mention a place called Sakuramen which opened almost a year ago on 18th Street (unintelligible). I had been spending some time in Hawaii before and when I came back it was really nice to have this place which is really authentic and really delicious in my neighborhood.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. Daisuke, a lot of ethnic foods become popular first in the region's suburbs like Wheaton and then make their way into the city. We saw that with pho for example. Why was ramen's trajectory different, starting in the city?
UTAGAWAWell, I mean, I think you should ask Erik that because he's the one...
NNAMDIBecause two selfish guys who wanted ramen both happened to own places in the city that became extremely attractive for the consumers in the Washington area. So for the time being you generally have to come into the city to get it. Erik Bruner-Yang is executive chef and owner of Toki Underground. Erik, thank you so much for joining us.
BRUNER-YANGMy pleasure. It was a real honor, and a shout out to my wife Zeta (sp?) .
NNAMDIDaisuke Utagawa is part owner of Daikaya, a new ramen restaurant in Chinatown, and part owner of Sushiko. Daisuke, thank you for joining us.
UTAGAWAThanks for having me. I'm going to go have a bowl right now.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein, with help from Stephannie Stokes. Our engineer today, Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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