When I used to think of ramen, I would associate it with the iconic packaged soup college students are notorious for eating. My knowledge of ramen was sadly limited to crusty noodles and sodium-overloaded broth.
But oh, was I ever wrong.
I recently attended the Japan Fes. ramen contest for my first ever ramen eating experience. What better way to try ramen for the first time than to sample a variety of it at a festival dedicated to finding the best ramen?
The contest ran Sunday, Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. between 92nd and 94th street. Festival goers purchased tickets at a booth that the vendors accepted at their stands. Each ramen was one ticket, and you could buy three tickets for $20. The vendors each had one specific type of ramen they were showcasing at the contest.
With my three tickets in hand and two good friends by my side, I set out to find the best ramen.
My first stop was at Batten Ramen for their spicy miso tonkotsu. I chose this one because I’m a sucker for spicy food. Using my chopsticks to twirl the noodles and take my first glorious sip of ramen, I was in bliss. How had I lived so long without eating good ramen? The broth was the perfect level of spice for me and I enjoyed the subtle miso flavor.
While I ate my spicy miso ramen, I stood in line for the hakata tonkotsu ramen by Menya Jiro from Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan. The line for this vendor was extremely long, so I was happy to have food in hand while waiting. When I received my ramen from Menya Jiro, though, I understood why the line was so long. To my disbelief, this ramen was far superior to Batten Ramen’s spicy miso. I then realized the faults in the ramen from Batten Ramen – their noodles were average and the broth didn’t have much depth of flavor. The noodles in my hakata tonkotsu ramen by Menya Jiro were silky and thick. The broth was made of soy sauce and pork bone, providing more depth of flavor. In addition, the meat was more tender. The majority of the flavor was at the bottom of the cup, so it got better the more I ate.
Although I was beginning to feel pretty full, I was determined to have my third ramen. I then ventured off for the chicken broth shoyu ramen from Mew Men. They served two types of shoyu ramen there, and I ordered the shoyu-chintan. This ramen broth consisted of clear chicken broth with chicken and duck oil, and it came with pork chashu, chicken chashu, snow peas and scallions. Mew Men’s ramen was by far my favorite of the three. The broth was flavorful throughout so I didn’t have to wait until the bottom to enjoy the flavors. The noodles were silky and thin, and I was told thinner noodles are more traditional than thicker ones. However, I liked the thicker noodle size from Menya Jiro better, and would have loved to have their noodles with Mew Men’s broth. My only complaint about Mew Men’s broth, though, was that it was pretty salty. I was in need of some water by the end of it.
Even though I was complaining about being full, I somehow still found room for dessert – there is always some room for dessert. I went to Sam’s Fried Ice Cream and ordered, as you might guessed, fried ice cream. I ordered green tea ice cream that was fried and then covered in Oreo crumbs. The coldness from the ice cream was just what I needed after eating lots of hot soup. The ice cream was hard from being so cold to make sure it didn’t melt while it was fried, so I had to wait a little while to enjoy it. Despite that, this was delicious because the green tea flavor wasn’t overly sweet.
The winner for me was the chicken broth shoyu ramen from Mew Men. The silky noodles, depth of flavor and perfectly tender meat put this ramen above the other two I tried. And just like that, I went from never having eaten ramen in my life to enjoying three different types all in one day.