Monday, January 10, 2011


It pains me to know that for most people in the English speaking world, ramen brings to mind three-minute snacks laced with artificial flavoring and msg. I do respect Momofuku Ando, the creator of instant noodles, as one of the most innovative and motivated businessmen of post-war Japan, but unfortunately the convenience over quality of the instant noodle fails to capture the glory that is true ramen.

Ramen, sometimes referred to as “Chinese noodles”, is one of the foods I miss the most when I’m away from Japan. Imagine slurping perfectly firm noodles out of a bowl of hot, oily soup, occasionally interrupted by slices of rich roasted pork. A complicated aroma of soy sauce, ginger, browned meat, and a fresh heaping of spring onions fills your nose, and every bite is garnished with a generous addition of freshly crushed garlic. Just thinking about it makes me drool. 

If the body of the ramen lies in the noodles, its soul lies in its soup. It’s what makes each ramen special, what makes people literally travel across the country to taste the best that the different regions have to offer. The truly delicious ramen places serve only ramen with perhaps some dumplings and rice as a side dish. None of this sushi/ramen/donburi/stirfry combo nonsense. The most popular stands always have long lines of people waiting for their turn, often well into the night, when tired businessmen satisfy their midnight appetites after a long day of work and a long night of business drinking.

Now, ramen isn’t something that is typically made at home. There are packs of ready-made noodles (not the instant kind) that can be boiled and thrown in pre-made soup, but this doesn’t even come close what the professionals have perfected over generations. Each soup is made from carefully chosen ingredients that remain a closely guarded secret passed on from owner to owner, and this isn’t something that I was going to suddenly be able to make on a whim. That being said, with no true ramen stand in our little industrial city of Hamilton, I didn’t have much choice in the matter. Time to kick the withdrawal and face the daunting task of making some of my own.

Toppings on ramen vary, but my favorite is slices of roasted pork that have been marinated in soy sauce and sake. True cha-shu, Chinese roasted pork, is slowly hang-roasted, but many Japanese ramen stands choose to slow boil the pork in a soy sauce based broth, so that they get the flavored pork and pork-infused soup all in one go. Efficient and economical. This seemed to be the way to go.

Ramen (courtesy of dora-neko on
-This makes a lot of pork, but it can be consumed in a variety of delicious ways. See the bottom for ideas. Alternatively, you can quarter the recipe too. 

For the pork:
pork belly  1kg
(use a block of shoulder or thigh meat if you don’t want it to be too fatty, but shorten step 7 to 3-4 hours or else the pork will get way too salty, since the less fatty parts will suck in the flavor much faster)
soy sauce 1L
cooking sake 2cups
honey 1 cup
spring onions (the green part. Reserve the white part for the ramen) 2 stalks
ginger 1root
garlic 3 cloves
eggs 4-5

1. Bruise the green parts of the onion with the back of your knife. Wash the ginger well and slice without peeling. Crush the garlic. Leave the eggs at room temperature.

2. If the pork pieces are too big to fit into your pot, cut them appropriately, then wrap tightly with cotton twine. If you don’t do this, the resulting pork will be flabby and unpleasant.

3. Boil water (about 2/3 the pot) in the pot, and throw in the onions, a few slices of ginger, and the pork. Boil for 20 minutes, removing the whitish fat that floats to the surface.
4. Heat the pork in a frying pan without oil until brown on all sides. Strain the broth into a container to keep for later (this can be used to make a delicious porridge).

5. In the meantime, boil the soy sauce, honey and sake in the pot. Once boiling, add the rest of the ginger and the garlic.

6. Throw the browned pork into 5. Simmer on low heat for 40-50 minutes, then remove from the heat.

7. Place the lid on and leave for half a day. (about 9-10 hours)
8. Remove from the soup, untie the pork, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Separate the coagulated fat in the soup for making fried rice, and strain the soup to remove the ginger and garlic pieces. Store in fridge.

9. Put the eggs into boiling water for 5-7 minutes. Let cool, then peel and put into ziplock bag with several spoonfuls of the soy sauce soup. Rest in fridge for about 8 hours, then throw away the soup.

For the Ramen (adjust the amounts depending on how many people are eating):
Ramen noodles*
the soy sauce broth made above
the pork from above, sliced and browned a little in the frying pan
the marinated eggs
Chicken broth (to your liking)
spring onions, chopped thinly
whatever else you may fancy to put on the ramen. Popular choices include bok choi, pickled bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, nori seaweed, etc.

*These are pre-made, precooked and refrigerated wheat noodles found in your local Asian supermarket. Of course, you can substitute another type, including gluten-free noodles. But do try to find thick round noodles and don’t overcook them.

1. Dilute the soy sauce soup with the chicken broth to your liking, and heat on the stove.
2. Cook the noodles in a pot of boiling salted water according to the instructions on the package, then drain.
3. Throw the noodles in a bowl, top with everything except the garlic and pour on the soup.
4. Add crushed garlic to your liking as you eat. Enjoy!

As promised, here are a few ideas on what to do with the remaining pork and broth/soup. With a combination of these, I successfully managed to not only get rid of all of the pork, but also all of the remaining broth and soup as well. Very little went to waste.

Butameshi: slice and fry the pork a bit, place on fresh white rice with a heaping of spring onions. Pour a spoonful of the soy sauce soup on top and drizzle with sesame oil.

Fried rice: break open and mix a couple of eggs together. Heat the reserved fat from the pork making in a frying pan on high heat. Add the eggs and stir rapidly until they just begin to cook, then throw in two small bowlfuls of leftover white rice. Fry the rice, coating it with the egg until the rice gets flaky. Add chopped vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, and celery are my usual, but anything is good, really) and pork. Season with salt and pepper (the reserved fat is already seasoned with ginger, garlic, and soy sauce, so no further flavoring is necessary). Fry further, then serve hot.

Porridge: Boil half a cup of uncooked rice in about 500 ml of the clear pork broth. Once boiling, turn heat down to low and put on the lid, but crooked, so that some steam can escape. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. Chop the pork and spring onions into little bits. After the rice is cooked, season with chicken OXO and salt. Pour in bowl, top with pork and onions and drizzle with sesame oil.

Soup: Dilute the soy sauce soup with chicken broth to your liking and add veggies. I used cabbage. 


  1. This looks fabulous! And very interesting culinarily.
    You know, the Japanese cha-shu as you've described here sounds similar to Chinese braised pork belly (ru rou or hong shao rou)! Including with the eggs. This is exciting to me because it means I have some familiarity with part of ramen broth. I'm going to play with this next time I make ru rou. :)
    Thanks for bringing their Japanese recipe to the English audience.

  2. The fantastic Deborah Gewertz is currently doing her research about Ramen noodles!