What Makes a Good Ramen?

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup that is a staple of the Japanese diet. Although many non-Japanese will think of the 29¢ (or however much they cost these days) packet of instant bachelor food, true Ramen is an artform, to say the least.

I used to love Ramen because they taste good,without knowing why or caring enough to find out. Then one day, I caught a Japanese documentary on TV that followed one man’s fight to revive his struggling Ramen shop. I never saw a bowl of Ramen the same way again.

This poor man, let’s call him Mr. R, was on the brink of losing his Ramen shop. But  his failure was completely self-induced; he had no respect for his own profession. Walking into his shop one would be greeted by a dark, dingy space, laundry hanging in plain sight, and an almost creepy, unmotivated middle-aged man reading the paper . The TV show then hired one of the top Ramen chefs in Japan (not to be confused with Top-Ramen chefs) to whip Mr. R into shape and help him turn his failing business around.

Mr. R  had to start over from the basics. What particularly struck me was how he would wake up at 3 in the morning to start preparing the dizzying number of raw ingredients that make up the Ramen broth. Then he would return to the shop a couple of hours later to check on the progress of the broth. Finally, after hours of simmering and readjusting, the broth would be ready to be evaluated by the top chef … only to be told it is not worthy of any customer. He had to keep trying , day after day, until he got everything exactly right.

To his credit, Mr. R made a remarkable turn-around … but only after he changed his attitude towards the art of Ramen-making. He went from a lazy bum who was trying to make ramen to make a living, to someone who is passionate about what he does, and who sacrifices his blood, sweat and tears to achieve the perfect bowl of Ramen. His reward would be a thumbs-up from a satisfied customer … something he probably never experienced until that day.

So if you ask me, a good bowl of Ramen is more than the toppings or even the ingredients … it’s Ramen that embodies the spirit of its maker.

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