A brief history of ramen | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

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A brief history of ramen

An excerpt from Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan’s forthcoming comic cookbook Let’s Make Ramen!

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TEN SPEED PRESS
  • Ten Speed Press

There's a lot to be said for the pleasures of cheap instant ramen. In fact there's a whole genre of cookbooks devoted to pimping Momofuku Ando's revolutionary flash-fried dorm room staple. But ever since the founder of Top Ramen and Cup Noodles launched it in 1958, instant ramen has more or less obscured to the world outside of Japan what real ramen actually was: a working-class street food—and what it evolved into: a craft that inspires obsession among chefs and eaters alike.

You could argue that obsession didn't quite capture the American imagination until the rise of David Chang inspired the spread of ramen-ya—domestic and imported—across the country, introducing gaijin to a multifaceted soupiverse rotating around base broths such as tonkotsu, shoyu, shio, and miso.

Hugh Amano witnessed the golden age of ramen in both Japan and the U.S. As a kid visiting relatives in Japan, he says he always felt like the "big clunky American," but he still managed to slurp down endless bowls of noodles. "Ramen was just a really big part of my life." But it wasn't until he teamed up with Abe Conlon for the pre–Fat Rice chef's underground dinner series X-marx that he ever attempted to make it. "It was before I really understood anything other than excess and bombast," he says. "Pork neck, trotters, chicken feet to the max; a massive dong of umami, with little finesse, as a late-course entrée of a 20,000-calorie meal."

Amano, the opening sous chef at Fat Rice, went on to coauthor The Adventures of Fat Rice cookbook, memorably illustrated by Sarah Becan, who came to the chefs' attention after eating one of the restaurant's signatures, Portuguese chicken (po kok gai), and sending them a cross-sected annotation of the dish unbidden.

"Comics are an ideal medium for any kind of instruction," says Becan, who clearly demonstrated the power of pictures over words with regard to dumpling construction in the Fat Rice cookbook.

With Let's Make Ramen!, due out July 16 from Ten Speed Press, Amano and Becan neatly codify the elements of ramen and show that with a minimum of organization and planning, the home cook is capable of layering stocks, broths, seasonings, accompaniments—even homemade noodles—to create bowls of extraordinary finesse. "We wanted to make it accessible at the end of the day," says Becan.   v

TEN SPEED PRESS
  • Ten Speed Press
TEN SPEED PRESS
  • Ten Speed Press

TEN SPEED PRESS
  • Ten Speed Press
TEN SPEED PRESS
  • Ten Speed Press
TEN SPEED PRESS
  • Ten Speed Press
Reprinted with permission from Let's Make Ramen! by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.

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