Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square is not a ramen shop. Chef and owner Tsuyoshi Nishioka wants to make that very clear. Never mind that ramen is the only thing on the menu. He says it is a place to talk about your dreams and scheme up ways to achieve them.
To that end, Yume Wo Katare means "tell your dreams," and the tiny blue room is covered in frames holding the dreams of customers. You can pay $10 to have yours displayed for a month, up to $10,000 to have it up on the walls for 10 years. The logic behind this pricing structure is unclear. I learn this through translator Hinoki Kobayashi, a Harvard student who talked his way into a job after falling in love with the ramen. By writing down your dreams, says Nishioka, you become more accountable to them. If you achieve them, Nishioka will reward you with free ramen, and maybe a T-shirt.
Students like Kobayashi are exactly who Nishioka is making his ramen for. When he worked as a comedian in Japan, Nishioka never liked ramen much, until he got a day job working at a shop serving Jiro-style ramen, which is what he sells here. These are enormous bowls teeming with hearty wheat noodles, about half as thick as udon and wavy with a toothsome bite, thicker and chewier than at any ramen shops I've tried in New York and LA. The broth is incredibly rich and savory with a slick of oil, studded with bits of creamy pork fat. On top are deliciously fatty slices of roasted pork. Strips of cabbage and bean sprouts add crunch and just barely cut through some of the richness.
This is Nishioka's sixth restaurant. With two in Kyoto, two in Osaka, and one in Hyogo, he was looking to bring his amped-up ramen style to the US. He was specifically looking for a place with a student population, people without much money, and heads full of big dreams.
First he headed to Hawaii and decided there were not enough American students, too many Japanese-American adults. He continued to New York, which still didn't feel right. At his hotel there, he struck up a conversation about his plans with another guest, who suggested that Boston might be the place he was looking for. The next day he flew into town and found this Porter Square location.
When you sit down to eat at Yume Wo Katare, Nishioka shouts a question at you in Japanese. He's asking if you want raw garlic. You should say "yes," (hai in Japanese, pronounced hi) and you should not plan to smooch anyone that evening who hasn't joined you for dinner. You can also get extra pork fat (more fat!) or extra veggie toppings. There is a sign reminding you to only order what you can eat. If you can finish it all, more power to you.
There is a communal table for maybe 10 (elbow to elbow; you lose your inhibitions eating ramen properly, slurping it up) and several more seats at a counter that overlooks the kitchen. When you enter, you pay in advance and then sit against the wall and wait some more until you're told to sit at the counter or the table. Once you're done eating, you leave. No loitering.
There is only one enormous bowl of ramen on the menu ($12), about the size of a honeydew melon. There is no chili sauce or sriracha. Extra veggie toppings are free; three extra pieces of the meltingly tender, scrumptious fatty pork turn the bowl into buta ramen ($14). Good luck finishing that one.
There is no takeout, except for a pound-size piece of roast pork ($15), and no, they will not wrap up your leftovers. Tables have plastic pitchers of water; Poland Spring ($1) or Red Bull ($3) are also available. Or you can get a can of green tea ($2), served cold, or screaming hot with a few paper napkins wrapped around the aluminum. Here's another challenge: opening your can of tea, let alone drinking it, without scorching your fingertips and mouth.
Happily, the ramen is so deliciously savory, and warming — especially after you spend an hour shivering in the line outside, and you will have to do that in order to get in — that I'm unaffected by the disapproving looks from the kitchen when I push back from the table with half the bowl still full of soup. I waddle out smiling, in a pork-fat-induced stupor.
Days later, I return to Yume Wo Katare, and tell Nishioka how much I like his ramen, how I've been waiting for a place like this to come to Boston for years. He laughs; he's skeptical.
Says translator Kobayashi: Nishioka remembers my visits, and how I never finished a bowl. He remembers everyone who doesn't make it to the bottom, he says.
It's only then — when you take the last slurp of soup — that you can get the full view of your dreams.
I'll give it another shot, shivering wait and all.
Catherine Smart can be reached at cathjsmart