Ramen (Food Memories of 2011, No. 28)

Minca Ramen, New York.
Image from flickr.com/photos/roboppy,
Creative Commons license
Every day in December, I'm writing a short post about some food memory from 2011, mostly to be more thankful for all the great food and drink I've been lucky enough to have this year. 

The word "ramen" falls flat on a lot of ears. Anyone who assumes all ramen is of the Top Ramen variety (that's the infinitely shelf-stable freeze dried brick you'll find in many a college dormitory) is sorely missing out. Ramen just means noodles, but when hand-made and served right, they dance in a steamy bowl of richly flavored broth, bobbing scallions slipping through their strands, a smattering of other ingredients from soft poached eggs to pickled mustard greens filling out the enormous bowl that you always think will be endless and never is.

See and be seen (because you'll be waiting upwards of an hour and a half) at Ippudo (65 Fourth Avenue, at East 10th Street), where a spicy red broth won me over on my first visit. My favorite ramen dish at Ippudo serves a ball of freshly grated ginger in the middle of the soup, although I fish out some of it and only stir about half of it into the soup. Midtown on the east side, try Hide-chan (248 East 52nd Street near Lexington), a quieter upstairs affair with a menu that ranges well beyond soups. On the west side, the same group that owns Hide-chan has another, more cramped downstairs hole-in-the-wall called Totto Ramen (366 West 52nd Street, at Ninth Avenue), where the noodles and broth are just as good, but the atmosphere feels cruder. Another favorite, Minca (536 East 5th Street, between Avenues A and B), gives you a close-up view of the technique for charring that char-siu that sits on top of the noodles. The cooks in the open kitchen take a brulee torch to most bowls before serving them.