There’s a new ramen in Little Tokyo: Shin Sen-Gumi!

I watched the movie Tampopo for the first time and now I can’t stop craving ramen… a specific ramen I had last week. But first, let’s talk about the movie.

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to see Tampopo. This movie was made for people who love food porn – and for those who love ramen. Several stories about each person’s relationship to food weave in and out of this classic 1985 Japanese film. Here’s the original trailer:

As soon as the film ended, I was craving ramen. Go figure. Actually, I started to crave the new ramen place I went to last week in Little Tokyo – Shin Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen. They have locations in Gardena and Fountain Valley but this is the first in the Los Angeles-area that I know of. They serve ramen from Hakata in the Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. I dropped in last week without knowing it was their grand opening. Check out all the flower arrangements at the entrance from other businesses and family/friends to wish them luck.

When you arrive, sign your name in the notebook on the small podium outside their main door. Then wait… and wait… until they call your name. When my friend and I entered, everyone in the restaurant gave us a gregarious welcome. The restaurant space is open – you can see exactly what the chefs are doing and you can see what everyone is eating and drinking. I loved how there was a lot of light in the place.

One of the reasons this place is different from Daikokuya is how you order. There’s a base ramen bowl that is your typical pork broth that is $7.50. You get to choose the noodle you want (hard soft firm), thickness of the noodle (thick or thin), and how strong you want the soup base (strong, medium, or mild). For my ramen, I chose firm, thick, and medium.

I dunked my spoon into the bowl and brought the broth to my lips. I stopped and smelled the savory steam brushing my face. I opened my mouth and took a sip. Wow. The broth has a salty flavor that tickles your tongue but them transitions into a sweet and creamy taste. I couldn’t figure out the flavors at first so I had to quickly bring another sip to my mouth… and another… and another. I was addicted because it felt like the broth’s flavors were flirting with my taste buds. And the noodles? The noodles were perfect – not too chewy or too soft… perfectly firm. I could have eaten another bowl of just noodles if I had the space in my stomach.

You can build your own ramen by adding sides. I ordered nori (seaweed) that I crumbled and put on top and the flavors boil egg. My friend ordered extra chashu (pork) which I regret not doing. The pork was thinly sliced and flavorful in the broth.

I’ve always said Daikokuya was my favorite ramen place in Little Tokyo but after going to Shin Sen-Gumi, I have to reassess my go-to ramen restaurants.

TIP: Yogurtland is right next door so you get to have your ramen and eat your yogurt too!

Cold eats: mul naengmyeon

This post highlights one of the dishes I talked about last weekend on public radio’s Splendid Table. The theme was cold eats in Los Angeles and one of the dishes I highlighted is the Korean dish called mul naengmyeon [pronouncer: mool nay-ng-me-yuhn]. It’s basically buckwheat noodles in a cold beef broth soup with a tangy flavor (vinegar and a little sugar) served with julienned cucumbers, sliced beef, sliced Asian pear, and a hard boiled egg.

It’s a light (but filling) noodle dish that’s perfect for the summer. A lot of people may not realize this but mul naengmyeon’s origin is actually from North Korea and it became popular after the Korean War. The noodles are intentionally long because it represents long life but most restaurants will cut the noodles so it’s easier to eat. If you go to a mul naengmyeon restaurant, don’t be surprised by all the slurping noises because that’s the only (and best!) way to eat the dish and show your appreciation for the food.

The mul naengmyeon in this post is from Chosun Galbi in Koreatown. They serve banchan (Korean side dishes) with the noodles and the best part is they have a nice outdoor patio where you can dine – perfect for a summer afternoon lunch.

I think the best mul naengmyeon I had was in Seoul last year. Why? The broth. It was the perfect balance of savory, tangy, and sweet. I’ll try to post it later so you can compare.

Note: If you like spicy dishes, there’s also another variety of naengmyeon called bibim naengmyeon which is served in a red hot spicy dressing instead of a broth.

I heart ramen!: Santouka Salt Ramen

If you’re looking for good ramen in Los Angeles, you’ll often be referred to Daikokuya or Santouka. Both are Japanese chains but Santouka is located in a food court in the Mitsuwa Japanese market in West LA and Costa Mesa and Daikokuya is a stand alone shop. But don’t let the location of Santouka fool you because at lunch, people line up in the food court for over an hour for their noodles… like me.

My mom thought I was crazy when I told her I was craving Santouka when I was in Costa Mesa with her. She doesn’t believe in waiting long for food – especially ramen. She doubted that any ramen was worth an hour wait. I talked her into it and she begrudgingly agreed to wait with me. We each ordered the Salt Ramen – probably the most popular dish on their menu. I like how you can order the ramen in three different sizes. Here’s my medium sized bowl.

The broth isn’t as thick as Daikokuya. Santouka’s broth has a more clean salt flavor but don’t get the wrong idea – this ramen has it’s share of pork fat. The pork that’s served with the ramen is super fatty, tender, and delicious. Also, the texture of the noodles at Santouka is spot on. If you’re in West LA or Costa Mesa, this ramen place should be at the top of your list to try. Apparently, the hype was right.

By the way, my mom took one slurp and looked at me and said she now understood why people waited in line.

Note: Santouka is cash only.

How do you shabu-shabu?

On Friday, I found myself at Mizu 212 on Sawtelle in West Los Angeles with my friend. This place touts their organic shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish sort of like sukiyaki – but less sweet. Instead of cooking thinly sliced meat and vegetables in the hotpot WITH spices and sauces like sukiyaki, shabu-shabu is made by cooking the meat and veggies in water to make a natural broth then dipped in a sauce when you’re done. It’s a great comfort food dish! Enough background, let’s get to the food!

I love walking by Mizu 212 because I love seeing patrons of this place hovering over their hotpot from the window. Steam rises from their bowls straight into the air and you see people looking down into their bowl of comfort. Above is a photo of my shabu-shabu after I put in all the ingredients. So, what’s in my shabu-shabu?

Everyone has their way of making their shabu-shabu. Here’s what I do when presented with a bowling hotpot of water, veggies and some good fixings…

  1. Add veggies. Choose the harder ones that take more time to cook first – squash, broccolli, carrots… etc.
  2. Add tofu. Believe it or not, tofu takes some time to cook so it’s best to add this early on.
  3. Add the softer veggies next (i.e. cabbage, asparagus…)
  4. Add udon noodles. You don’t want to add the boodles too early because the noodles will get too mushy.
  5. Lastly, add the meat. This won’t take long to cook because it’s cut very thin. For my shabu-shabu, I choose a plate of the rib-eye and also black pork to split with my friend.

While your shabu-shabu is cooking, take this time to make your dipping sauce. My friend and I were lucky to have Peter be our waiter. He came by and asked us what flavors we liked and concocted a little something for each of us. It was a combination of garlic, scallions, grated daikon, ponzu, togarishi, and Thai chili oil (I opted out of this one since I’m not a big fan of the spice). It’s a light dipping sauce that I could eat by the spoonful!

And here’s the shabu-shabu before I devoured it all for dinner. I love this dish because it’s not heavy but it’s filling – no salt or processed sugar (unless you add it yourself) but in all honesty, I didn’t put any of that stuff in my shabu-shabu. Enjoy!

By the way, how do you shabu-shabu?