Ramen seems like a simple dish. Japan’s favorite comfort food is nothing more than broth, noodles, and a few toppings — roast pork, seaweed, bamboo shoots, an egg if we’re getting fancy. But: Is the broth tonkotsu, made from pork bones; shio (salt) or shoyu (soy); assari (light) or kotteri (rich)? Are the noodles thick or thin, made by hand or in a factory, extremely chewy or relatively soft, wavy or straight? Is the pork fatty or lean, soft or tough? There are more than 30 regional varieties of ramen in Japan, according to the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum. The search for the perfect bowl can become an obsession. Google “ramen blog” and you’ll find site after site, with names like Ramenate!, Ramen Adventures, and the Ramen Shaman, all detailing their owners’ quest for the best.
Until recently, the dish was hard to come by in this area. The past few years have seen a ramen explosion, with bowls of noodles now available at pop-up restaurants, on late-night menus, as lunchtime specials, in bars, even made to order and brought directly to one’s door. (The Boston Ramen Noodle Co., which offers this service, delivers to Back Bay, the South End, and the Fenway.) And there are more restaurants specializing in the dish, which is a good thing. A kitchen that dabbles in ramen is often a kitchen that makes bad ramen. Crafting a proper bowl takes laser focus and true dedication, as anyone who has seen the movie “Tampopo” knows. Although we don’t yet have the selection of ramen joints found in larger cities, we now have choices enough to obsess over.