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5 Things You Need to Know About Ramen
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Want to dine like a pro? Each month, we ask local experts to share the inside scoop about a particular food or beverage. Use their tips to eat and drink better, whether you’re indulging at home or in a restaurant.
When it comes to Sapporo-style ramen, Brookline diners look to Tokyo-born Kenichi (“Ken”) Iwaoka, the chef-owner of Ganko Ittetsu Ramen. Iwaoka and his team turn out a tightly edited menu of springy wheat noodles in broth, done in the manner associated with Sapporo, the largest city on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The restaurant’s name—which translates loosely to “stubborn piece of iron”—hints at the chef’s unswerving determination. “Every day, I say, ‘I can make this better,’” asserts Iwaoka. “It’s motivating.”
1. Sapporo-style ramen has been around for more than 65 years.
“Sapporo is one of the oldest styles [of ramen],” says Iwaoka. In the mid-1950s, a ramen restaurant in that city began adding miso (fermented soybean paste) to pork broth. The style became wildly popular and other eateries followed suit. While miso ramen is considered Sapporo’s signature style, variations without soybean paste are also a part of the canon.
2. A wok is the secret to making this ramen so flavorful.
Ramen is commonly prepared by combining seasonings and broth in a serving bowl, then slipping in the noodles. For every order, Iwaoka flash-fries ingredients like miso, soy sauce, and vegetables in a hot wok before adding in stock and noodles. “The soup needs to be hot,” Iwaoka insists. “Once the temperature drops, you taste too much fat. Even the sodium level [tastes like] too much.”
3. It’s a misconception that a long boil achieves the best broth.
Some spots declare that their broth is superior because meat and bones boil for hours on end. Crafting well-made soup requires more nuance than that. “You don’t want to determine goodness based on how long [it cooks],” says the chef. Iwaoka simmers chicken low and slow to make one stock. In another pot, he brings Berkshire pork to a rolling boil before turning down the heat. These are later blended to make a delicious “double soup.”
4. Pairing the right noodle with the right broth is essential.
“It’s all about matching the noodle with the soup,” says Iwaoka. Heartier broths—like miso, spicy miso, and tan tan (featuring whisked-in sesame paste)—benefit from denser pasta that stands up to rich stock. Brothy varieties, like those in bowls of shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce) versions, are best matched with higher-absorption noodles.
5. Selecting the best requires more than noodling around.
“In the beginning, I was going to use domestic noodles, or even make noodles myself,” recalls Iwaoka. But a visit to Sapporo’s Nishiyama Seimen Company made him change course. “It blew my mind,” he recalls, observing the company’s expertise and capacity. Now, Nishiyama is the only manufacturer he allows to custom-craft all of the restaurant’s noodles. “Small things add up,” he declares. “I want to showcase that we are serious about what we do.”