June 2, 2013

Ramen Take Over

In the past year, a new type of noodles n' broth has taken over our city: ramen. And it's not the cheap stuff you used to heat up in your college microwave. It's restaurant-quality Japanese noodle soup with intricate flavors and textures. Real and self-proclaimed ramen aficionados have had plenty of time to debate what's authentic, but to the average local eater like us, the two ramen houses we've tried so far - Nom Nom Ramen and Terakawa Ramen - were both very good.

If you haven't explored Philadelphia's ramen scene yet, we highly encourage you to give it a try, especially on a rainy day. For more in the history of ramen and the start of Philly's ramen explosion, read this City Paper article from Drew Lazor from last year.

Nom Nom Ramen

Nom Nom Pork Buns
Nom Nom Ramen on 18th Street between Market and Chestnut is the ideal escape from the Center City bustle. We have been couple times, usually around 2pm when there is still barely a seat available. The simple wipe-off board menu only offers 3-4 ramen options, plus pork buns and crab buns. We usually get the most traditional Shio ramen, which is broth seasoned with salt and white soy sauce and pork, kikurage mushrooms, naruto, bamboo, scallions and pickled ginger, and the soy-based Shoyu with mostly the same stuff added in. The pork buns serve as a fine appetizer but don't think ramen, won't fill you up. It's not a heavy meal but you are consuming a lot of liquid and noodles, after all.

What made me really like Nom Nom was that I stopped in another time for lunch takeout and the meal - split in two containers, one for broth and the other for noodles/everything else to prevent the latter from getting soggy - traveled 12+ blocks back to the office to be just as hot and delicious when finally opened. Now that's good takeout.

Eat-in Shoyu Ramen
Take-out Shio Ramen before combined

Terakawa Ramen

Terakawa Ramen in Chinatown has the same ramen dishes as Nom Nom, plus additional appetizers, curry dishes and donburi (rice dishes). We only tried the signature Terakawa and Shoyu ramens here as well. Bradd felt strongly that the Terakawa ramen was the best among all the local ramen we've tried. It is described as a Natural Heritage Berkshire Pork bone soup topped with roast pork, bamboo shoots, kikurage mushrooms, red ginger, chopped scallions and a seasoned boiled egg. That egg was his favorite part, perfectly soft-boiled to a custard-like outside and gelatinous inside. While it comes automatically in the ramen bowl at Terakawa, you have to pay extra for it at Nom Nom.

I thought the Shoyu was very good but a smidge less flavorful than Nom Nom. The Karaage Chicken appetizer at Terakawa, lightly battered and marinated with ginger juice, served with spicy mayo, was forgettable but the pork buns were meatier than at Nom Nom.

The main difference between the two spots is ambiance. Both are casual but Terakawa feels more like a restaurant, with waitress service and funky decor, plus an open kitchen so you can see the enormous pots where your broth has been simmering for two days. Nom Nom is a fast casual set-up where you order at a counter and choose your own booth or table. So perhaps the former has a better vibe for dinner and the latter for lunch.

Inside Terakawa
Terakawa Ramen

Yes, you are paying $8 - $12 for a bowl of ramen. But it's not just noodles and sauce. It can have pork, fishcake, mushrooms, other veggies and a host of flavors you haven't experienced before. Still seems expensive for soup but worth a visit whether its your first timing trying this newish-to-Philadelphia dish or you're a regular. Other ramen places we'd like to try include Cheu Noodle Bar (here's a review from Row Home Eats) and Ramen Bar (and one from PennAppetit).

Bonus Ramen: Momofuku Noodle Bar

And if you're in New York City, do yourself a favor and go to David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar for insanely good, word famous pork buns and ramen. Get there 20 mins before it opens at lunch on a weekday, otherwise it fills up instantly and you'll have to wait.

Momofuku's signature ramen
Momofuku pork buns - you will dream about them. 

Nom Nom Ramen on Urbanspoon

Terakawa Ramen on Urbanspoon

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