All over the country, Ramen Masters are attempting to outdo one another for the headiest broth or tenderest noodle. And we thank them: there’s little in this world as effectively restorative as an oversized bowl of noodle-y goodness.
Made from freshly-pulled handmade noodles and a rich broth cooked for over 10 hours, this immoderately popular dish is essentially fast-food in Japan. Its optional toppings are by no means orthodox, but roast chashu pork, wakame seaweed, and a soft-boiled egg are the standard arrangement.
Like many other Japanese dishes, ramen made its way into the national cuisine by way of China. Originally called ‘shina soba’ (literally, China Noodles), the phrase took on overtly imperialist overtones after the Second World War, necessitating a name change to ramen, a rendering of the words for ‘pulled’ and ‘noodle’.
But, like the word itself, Japan made ramen very much its own – and the rest of the world has followed suit. Ramen joints are (thankfully) popping up all over Australia – some doggedly traditional and others more iconoclastic.
What follows are a few of our favourites…
329 Smith Street, Collingwood
(03) 9123 4567
One of the newest noodles on the block, Collingwood’s Shop Ramen is quite rightly turning heads. Pat Breen and Lydia Wegner began as enthusiastic amateurs, hand-rolling ramen noodles at home, but now the pair have gone resolutely pro. Their Tokyo-style tonkotsu, made with grass-fed pork, spring onion, and a delicate egg can definitely roll with the best, but Shop Ramen’s vegetarian version made with cashew milk, tofu and pickled shitake is an unusual revelation.
157-159 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
(03) 9650 1215
For the more traditionally-minded noodle-eater, Kokoro Ramen is about as close as Melbourne’s likely to get to Tokyo. Using a truly-serious noodle machine imported direct from Japan, Kokoro’s definitely aiming to recreate the real thing. Stocks are made from a 10-hour boil, while there’s a dedicated seafood and chicken special.
Level 5 (Shop 5021), 188 Pitt Street, Sydney
(02) 8078 7020
Loathe as the rest of the country might be to admit it, Sydney remains the ramen capital of Australia. That title is due in no small part to the efforts of Ippudo, a genuine Japanese ‘ramen brasserie’ first opened in Hakata in 1985, it has now opened outlets around the world. It’s a little different: Ippudo’s noodles are whisker-thin, and the porky broth is lighter than most. If you’re not happy with the classic broth, well, there’s 16 other varieties to choose from, including a miso tonkotsu with fragrant garlic oil. As if you need another reason to go to Ippudo, there’s also a short list of unusual Japanese small-brews (think Ginga Kogen and Robot Ninja) that you’re unlikely to see around Sydney very often…
Ichi Ban Boshi
Level 2, The Galeries, 500 George Street, Sydney
(02) 9264 7780
Sydney’s other big hitter in the ramen stakes is Ichi Ban Boshi, the venerable ramen joint atop the Galeries Victoria. Founded in 1995, Ichi Ban has introduced many a noodle addict to their vice. It’s specialty is its syrupy tonkotsu, topped with roast pork and ‘rich in collagen’, of which there are only 15 bowls made each day. Unsurprisingly, they’re hard to get a hand on, so if you want one you’ll be lining up early.
117 Murray Street, Perth
(08) 9325 2090
Those proud West Australians are always flirting with secession, a tendency that’s evident in Nao’s iconoclastic take on ramen. Unlike your workaday noodle made with wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui, this Perth establishment offers three different varieties – chilli, egg and spinach. And, to top off the broth, Nao uses five pieces of thinly-sliced rolled pork, each with a deliciously gelatinous layer of fat. Maybe the east should emulate these successes in the west?
100 Rundle Mall, Adelaide
It pains us to say it, but Adelaidians are not getting their rightful share of ramen. While by no means spoiled for choice, Genki Roll in Adelaide Central Plaza does a good-quality Shoyu and Miso Ramen, each with firm and springy noodles, cooked with care.
Ground Floor, 363 Adelaide Street, Brisbane
(07) 3832 6358
Brisbane Ramen-Master Taro is, of course, the man behind Taro’s, a simple little shopfront that serves the city’s best ramen. His hand-pulled noodles are pleasingly robust, while the succulent chashu pork comes from nearby Bangalow. The standout is the ‘Fire Tonkotsu,’ which combines powdered chilli, extra hot chilli oil, shredded chilli and Taro’s own homemade chilli sauce – though it’s resolutely not for the faint of heart.
167 Harrington Street, Hobart
0427 634 574
A recent entry to the short but sterling inventory of Hobart’s Japanese cuisine, Rin is making Tasmanian’s excited. After only six months of trading, Rin was invited to join David Walsh’s bacchanalian Winter Feast during the Dark Mofo festival, which counts as a stamp of approval if ever there was one. Rin’s Shoyu Ramen is making all the right noises, with buttered corn, wakame, a soy-flavoured soft-boiled egg and marinated roast pork.
Ganbaranba Noodle Coloseum
12-20 Spence St, Cairns
(07) 4031 2522
Bet you didn’t expect to see this little city on the list. Yep; Cairns, believe it or not, has one of the most hardcore ramen joints in the country – the Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum. These guys are so exacting, they even if you’d like your handmade noodles delivered firm, medium or soft – an option we haven’t seen anywhere else in Australia. Ganbaranba does everything else right too: their broth is rich without being too salty, a seasoned egg is perfectly cooked, and there’s even free iced tea. Holiday in Cairns, anyone?
113-115 Casuarina Square, Darwin
OK: don’t freak out. Darwin’s Bar Zushi has taken ramen to its (il)logical extreme: the ramen burger. Taking inspiration from the so-called ‘craze’ sweeping New York, the burger employs compressed, fried ramen noodles as a bun, with a slice of chasu pork, teriyaki chicken or an old-fashioned beef patty in between.