Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Naruto Tan Tan Ramen

Everyone who knows me knows that my relationship with noodles borders on obsession. Sen mee nam, or kuay teow (street stall beef noodle soup) was my favorite food growing up, and being Pakistani and living in Thailand, I had a lot of foods competing for my favor. When I left Thailand and came to the US, so much changed that I didn't even notice the lack of noodles in my life. When things finally settled down, my mom jogged my memory with her sen mee nam recipe, one that may have diverged slightly from the original, yet remains my favorite.

But then I went away to college. I found myself in Philadelphia, two hours away from mama and the aromas of her kitchen. My appreciation for her cooking grew by leaps and bounds, a familiar story to anyone who went away for school and has even a halfway decent cook for a mother.

How oblivious I was to the neighborhoods in Philly in those early days. It wasn't until my third year of college that Joey introduced me to the phở restaurants of Washington Ave. These simple restaurants, with vast fields of uniform tables and exclusively male waiters in white polos replaced the void that leaving Thailand had created in me.

When I went to Japan in 2005, I was once again bound to leave my beloved noodles behind, but this time for a destination that I knew would reveal wondrous noodles of its own. When I asked my new Japanese schoolmates where I could get a bowl of noodles in the neighborhood of our school, the standard reaction was a shrinking away, nearly physically dissolving into a sheepish show of shyness and formality. Truly Japanese style. It took an American to give me the shit straight. We dropped into a ramen joint and got down.

Now, I wasn't eating pork at this point in my life, at least not willingly. It was only when I was finished with my meal that I was told that this was pork pork pork; pork broth, pork katsu, shredded up pork reaching every corner of every bowl in the place. I laughed if off. Not my fault if I didn't know. I certainly wasn't laughing when my stomach reacted to the foreign substance that suddenly appeared in its main chamber by sending it through remaining ducts of my digestive system at alarming speeds. Despite the unpleasant feeling, this happening led me to discover the very helpful robotic toilets of Japan that didn't only give me comfort, but various options as well. I never knew such a deuce was possible. I had to stop myself from thanking it, shortly before I reconsidered and said thanks anyway.

And that was my impression of Japanese ramen. I found a vegetarian udon place in my neighborhood and never touched the yellow noodles again. It was only a couple of weeks ago that my brother Ahmad, on his own journey of pork/self discovery, recommended a ramen place in his neighborhood. Being a different man than my 2005 self, I agreed to the adventure.

We went to Naruto Ramen at 90th St. and 3rd Ave. in Manhattan. The place was modeled after the typical places found in Tokyo, a common sight in New York. I got the tan tan ramen, which comes in a spicy, translucent brown pork broth topped with ground pork that ends up dispersed through the entire bowl. It was very flavorful and I didn't need to employ my habit of saucing up my bowl with the available condiments. The soup was thicker than the light broth of my favorite Southeast Asian noodle soups, resembling curry noodles (something like Vietnamese bun bo hue or Thai khao soy). The pork simply became part of each bite without much of a meaty flavor or texture. Ground, it chewed somewhere between ground chicken and ground beef. There was a peanut flavor happening as well, yet no physical evidence of peanuts. The yellow egg noodles have a charm of their own, with a thicker, slightly chewier texture than rice noodles. Their curliness made them a little easier to stack onto the spoon.

Here's where I'll note that I eat noodles like a Thai: using the chopsticks to place noodles, meat, vegetable, and any other component onto the spoon, then dipping the spoon and eating. This way, each spoonful is a microchasm of your noodle bowl. I recommend it over the shoveling noodles followed by drinking from the bowl method.

Overall, it was a satisfactory meal and I wasn't given a colon blow like a was last time (must've been an isolated incident). I was glad, as it allowed me to watch DJ Krush totally kill it on the ones and twos in peace and tranquility. I'm still not sold on ramen, so I'll have to keep trying. I'm told I'll never find a good bowl of ramen in Philly, so it will have to be New York or elsewhere. As always, if anyone can make a recommendation, I would greatly appreciate it.


  1. They've got some good ramen at Kenka izikaya in St. Mark's. Next time you're in town we'll go.

  2. argh, sorry we couldn't make it to momofuku milk bar for them pork belly buns. i've heard good things about those...... next time.

  3. Ippudo NY is apparently king. Go forth and conquer..