When you say ramen, I first think of the dry cup noodle – kappu nuudoru – and remember how I denied this food to myself and my children. I wanted to give us a proper homemade food. But sometimes the children tasted this food at their friends’ places and they really liked it. It is very convenient – you just pour hot water into polystyrene bowls, wait a while and then you can start sipping happily this good food. The hot goodness tasted so much! At least my children reported so. Instant, unhealthy, ordinary – these were certainly not words that would discourage children. How much my children longed for ordinary noodles in a strong broth, I understood when the taxi driver on the way from the airport after a long flight from Prague to Tokyo asked them what they are most looking forward to after a year of absence in Japan and they immediately answered that kappu nuudoru . I was looking forward to unagi and sushi and good tempura and kaiseki food at the Tea ceremony, but ramen? No. Noodle soup, instant or made from scratch, at home or in a restaurant, didn’t fascinate me. And behold, it is the Japanese noodle soup ramen that became the world hit today. Not unagi dish or kaiseki. My children are representatives of this new generation – ramen generation.
The truth is, the ramen culture eventually got me too. And it’s not my children who are to blame, but the Czech Philharmonic and Japan scholar Robin Heřman. The Philharmonic players because they liked one tiny restaurant of ramen in Kyoto, and Robin because he persuaded me to rent Miyabi for free for one day for cooking ramen. It was in 1996. He told me that one lady from Kyoto wants to cook ramen noodle soup for one hundred citizens of Prague and thus wants to express her enthusiasm that Kyoto and Prague will become sister cities. Robin immediately showed me photos of how big pig bones we should buy in advance and how big pots will be needed. Everything was big – bones, pots, the enthusiasm of Mrs. Oshima (Big Island) and the joy of the people of Prague. The impact on Miyabi was also big. To this day, we celebrate Yoshie Ramen Days and guests often ask us when we will cook ramen again. It’s always around April 15, but this year we are coming for the first time with the autumn celebration of ramen. Simply to warm up our hearts with the memory of the human goodness of Mrs. Big Island and to warm up our bellies and enjoy the goodness of the broth according to her recipe. We respect tradition and will prepare 100 servings until sold out. The day of the first ramen in Miyabi it was one day till sold out, now in the Take away only mode, it will take probably several days. Come in time to get your ramen!
How Kaho started
Mrs. Yoshie, now in her 80s, is from Korea, and although she married Mr. Oshima, who is Japanese, she suffered quite a bit for her origin in the environment of the patriotic Kyoto. But she told herself that she would rather celebrate her origins and decided to do it through cooking the best ramen in the world persuading the Kyotos that her shop is genuine Kyoto ramen. And yes, her ramen became famous, so much so that our philharmonic orchestra players came to see it and fell in love with her ramen noodle dish. As you may know ramen was brought to Japan especially in the early twentieth century by emigrants from China and Korea, and the food was called Shina Soba. Noodles from China. And because Japan was pursuing its power interests in both China and Korea at the time, of course, noodles from such countries may have been delicious, but it was an inferior food, as were the emigrants. It was cheap food. Poverty after World War II also contributed to the spread of noodles by the fact that the powers supplied America with grain at the time of the rice crop failure so that people would not starve. Yes, ramen noodles are soba, but they are not made of buckwheat flour like soba, but they are made of wheat flour. And they are not udon noodles, which are also made of wheat flour, because the process is much more delicate and alkalization with kansui mineral water is not applied there, nor is an egg added. In addition, the soup for udon is more light and classy – its base is the genuine dashi from kombu and katsuobushi.
If you love ramen, you know very well that ramen broth is a pretty strong meat soup. It has a manly cut! In Miyabi, we make our broth from large pork bones, chicken skeletons and dense sauce from cooking pork for chashu meat. When we do ramen in Miyabi, we cook overnight, because everything has to be cooked slowly and for a long time. At the time devoted for ramen, our most experienced chef Jára Štěpánek is at the hob. He took his experience from my son Vítek Kawasumi, whom Miyabi sent years ago directly to Mrs. Oshima to her restaurant Kaho for apprenticeship. We indeed take great care of the broth, because we know that it stands and falls on it. If broth is good ramen is good. It is said that the first is broth, then noodles, then chashu and then other side dishes. The broth is made in long process and with great care. Cooking noodles exactly according to what they need is also a matter of taking neat care in the same way as Italians are sensitive to cooking spaghetti. One second more and that’s too much. And to do good chashu is another skill. The classic says that it is advisable to add slightly fermented Chinese bamboo menma shoots to the soup as a side dish. We in Miyabi redo the taste of can food menma. Mrs. Oshima, and we in Miyabi according to her, complete the whole harmony of approaches and tastes with fresh moyashi soy sprouts. Our Yoshie ramen isn’t very colorful, but it’s delicious. I guarantee it!
Ramen has a bright future
When they presented a film, which is all about ramen, in the Lucerna cinema at the Eigasai Japanese Film Festival, the audience had great virtual experience of ramen accompanied with a real experience to eat it. In the Lucerna kitchen, Miyabi prepared ramen for everyone who had their movie ticket. Surely you already know what the movie name was. Tampopo, of course Tampopo. Nudlology. A film about personal obsession that what matters in life is nothing else but the perfect ramen noodle soup. You take away from the film not only a pretty good knowledge of how to cook ramen, but mainly an irresistible desire to eat it. I have never experienced better advertising on my body. I was also impressed that the main character was driven to his dizzying lifelong performance by his relationship with his wife, who’s name was Tampopo, Mrs. Dandelion. Tampopo’s heart was in the right place, but the noodles? Not noodles. It wasn’t until her husband Goro fixed it. Noodles – that’s romance!
If romance, it’s probably too, but it’s definitely a good business. In Tokyo alone, there are more than 5,000 restaurants specializing in ramen only and 25,000 throughout Japan. And how many are in the world today? We don’t have to go far, they have grown in Prague like mushrooms after the rain. Ramen can be cheap and ordinary, but mostly it’s already quite a luxurious meal in a luxurious setting. Ramen is fashion! There is already a ramen restaurant which received a Michelin star in 2015. Tsuta. In Yokohama they have a large Ramen museum. Since 1994. And it is quite frequented! Ramen Girls Festivals are held in Japan every year in several cities. Strong meat broth tastes better to men than women, so it is necessary to adapt the taste appealing to women as to the broth and noodles, as well as the side dishes. And because there are more and more people in Japan who want to be strictly vegetarians, new ramen is being created that is no longer true ramen, because it has neither meaty base nor typical pork chashu. The broth for women and vege oriented people is made of combu seewead and shiitake mushrooms, noodles from konnyaku and side dishes are tofu and vegetables. The world is changing and so are we. But in Miyabi, when it comes to ramen, we are still on the classics. Our ramen is a tonkotsu shouyu ramen. But I plan that after one weekend with our classic ramen we will prepare regional ramen like miso ramen and another weekend karei ramen. And then later maybe we can get the courage, and if there is interest, we will also offer ramen that will point on the future ramen times suitable for my children’s children. We will make the broth from seaweed and fish, we will put konnyaku flour in our noodles and we will add crickets in the soup!