Reality cannot compete with imagination; unless it’s ramen.
I love that the Japanese use “flower” to describe imagination and beauty!
見ぬが花 (Minu ga hana) is something of an idiom that translates to ‘not seeing, is a flower’ and is quoted to mean “reality cannot compete with imagination.” In a storyteller’s world, that is often true unless they stumble upon ramen – a beautiful way to express food, love and nourishment in a bowl. The unorthodox chef, Ivan Orkin is an embodiment of that statement and one of my personal heroes – he not only opened up what he calls “the maverick cuisine of Japan” to the world, but he also gave people permission to play around with food in the kitchen.
I remember, as a kid, my sis and I used to hover around our mother in the kitchen, with tips and tricks when a new dish was being experimented in the kitchen. What was chowmein then, is ramen now! Asian ingredients such as soy sauce were hardly kept in the pantry because that was meant to be a splurge. Back then, in the 1990s, in India – there was no Asian food. It was all Chinese. And Chinese food meant eating out. It was the television boom that brought along with it, new information – access to new cultures and cuisines.
Compared to the kitchen in the 90s, the kitchen today enables dreams, passions, an assimilation of cultures, new techniques and a lifestyle! From only knowing soy sauce and vinegar to making a beautiful bowl of ramen, the journey has been nothing less than amazing. And so here it is, my recipe for a fancy bowl of ramen that is pure love and keeps you pushing to conquer reality with imagination!
While today ramen is considered a traditional Japanese dish, its origin is that of an immigrant with more of an industrial nature than artisnal! Ramen used to be known as Shina Soba, which translates to Chinese noodles. Originally the dish used to be served with some toppings and made with pork bones and salt. Today, ramen is mostly served with a meaty broth and flavoured either with miso or shoyu (soy sauce). It’s the simplicity of the ingredients that makes ramen such a playful, complex and creative dish.
The best bowl of ramen I’ve ever had (other than mine, of course) is at Makoto in Berlin. I remember burying my face in a bowl of shoyu ramen with joy and then taking a sip of the Genmai-cha (roasted brown rice tea). The tea had a nutty taste that complemented the salty lip-smacking taste of the ramen. So when I came back to my kitchen, back in Delhi, I decided to combine these two tastes in one dish. Thus was born the black tea ramen 🙂
Ramen Noodle Soup with a Black Tea broth & Smoked Tofu (Serves 4)
For the stock –
3 ½ Cups brewed black tea
1 ½ Cups water
2 – 3 slices of ginger (slightly crushed, to release the aromas and flavour)
3 – 4 cloves of garlic (slightly crushed, to release the aromas and flavour)
4 tbsp soy sauce
A dash of vinegar
1 star anise
8 – 10 whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp smoked paprika powder
For the noodles & garnish –
1 Packet of Ramen noodles (about 350 – 380 grams)
1 Small red onion sliced thinly
Alfalfa sprouts dressed with some salt and lemon juice
Slow roasted tomato slices (Recipe here)
2 soft-boiled 7 minute eggs for runny yolk, 8 – 9 minutes for custard-like yolk
Nori (seaweed paper) shavings or Sprigs of coriander
4 tsps sesame oil
- Prepare the black tea, which, in this case is the base for the ramen soup. I used a packet of ‘Classic Earl Grey’ from TeaBox. With hints of Italian Bergamot oil, the tea had a lovely caramel and malty taste with a slight hint of citrus. This, to me, was a perfect base to prepare a shoyu (soy) ramen. Taste, while you brew the tea to make sure it doesn’t get too strong. You should be able to get a hint of the flavour, but the broth should not feel like noodles dipped in tea.
- Let the tea cool down a bit. In the meantime, start preparing the broth, eggs and noodles. Dry roast the star anise and whole black peppercorns. Add water, ginger and garlic to this and let the flavours seep in. Next, add the tea and finish off the broth with soy sauce, vinegar and the smoked paprika powder.
- While the broth is getting ready, start work on your eggs as well. I like my eggs, soft-boiled and runny to add another depth of flavour as well as texture to my ramen. For the eggs – bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan; enough to cover the eggs (should be 1 inch above eggs). Submerge the eggs carefully with a spoon into the boiling water and immediately reduce the heat. Cook the eggs for exactly 7 mins. After 7 mins, take them out and put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking.
- For the noodles, check instructions on the pack.
- Divide the noodles into 4 soup bowls.
- Arrange all the garnishes on top – ½ an egg for each bowl, a heaped spoon of the alfalfa sprouts, 1 – 2 thick slices of slow-roasted tomatoes, sliced onions and the slices of smoked tofu.
- Bring the stock to boil once again, then take it off and divide the stock in the soup bowls.
- Sprinkle nori shavings and/or coriander and top the soup with a spoon of hot sesame oil.
Here’s a tip: I love nori and often for a snack, I pan-roast a sheet of nori brushed with some sesame oil with sprinkles of sesame seeds and chili flakes. It’s such a good thing to munch on and so easy to make too!