The Rise Of Ramen
The Traditional Japanese Noodle Dish Gains Momentum This Season
Ty Fujimura’s fondest childhood memories happened in Waipahu, Hawaii, when his paternal grandmother took him and his brother, Troy, to a place called Shiro. Shiro, recalls Fujimura, was a magical place for kids and it specialized in more than 70 different saimin—the Hawaiian version of ramen.
Ty and Troy would slurp the contents from their massive bowls within minutes while their grandmother would take her time. She’d carefully place one noodle at a time on the spoon with just the right amount of broth, vegetables and meat, ensuring that all of the saimin’s ingredients were there. Then she’d slowly slurp. This would go on for about an hour, and when the impatient Ty and Troy protested, she’d turned to them and say: “One day you will learn to enjoy it.”
After that experience, the boys never rushed through their noodles again. As they were working on building Arami, their first Japanese-focused restaurant in Chicago, their mission was to build the perfect menu that paid homage to their heritage. One thing was certain: They knew they were going to feature ramen on it.
“We talked about food we really enjoyed and food that we ate growing up,” Fujimura said. “We wanted to express that part of our heritage in a way people could understand and approach it.”
When they opened Arami in 2010, sushi was the number one seller, but as the ramen trend caught on a few years later, that side of the menu started to get some serious play. The restaurant features four ramen dishes on the menu at all times; three contemporary, chef-driven versions and a traditional ramen of pork belly, braised beef, broth and poached egg.
While Fujimura’s thrilled to see his favorite childhood dish enjoy popularity, he wants restaurants to show customers how to also appreciate it. On many occasions when he’s visited other spots, he’s noticed that diners finish all of the noodles and leave bowls full of broth.
“They’re missing the best part!” he exclaims. “In that broth is the chef’s heart. That’s what takes the most time to put together. There’s an art to making the noodles as well, but the broth is really the expression of the chef.”
He recommends for chefs to stress the important components of ramen to the servers, who will in turn be able to confidently inform the diners.
“We’re not asking them to be overbearing, but whether it’s the beverage or the food, people will then take something with them when they leave the restaurant aside from a great experience with the food,” he says. “We want them to go to other places and remember what they’ve learned from our establishments.
“The servers are the liaison of the chef, so it’s important that they convey his or her message accurately. When servers do their job correctly and diners fully embrace the ramen experience everywhere they go, it makes the trend even stronger.”