Sometime in the early 1600’s someone from Japan sailed to China. That person tried a soup made with noodles and liked it so much, that they brought the recipe back to their homeland.
From there the dish spread like wildfire and became a staple of Japanese cuisine. Of course we have no way of knowing if that’s exactly how it happened. It could have easily been a Chinese immigrant who brought the dish from his homeland to Japan.
The point is that ramen noodles and soup found a new home because it’s an easy dish to love. The noodles chewy texture and starch base make it the perfect vehicle for richer flavors. That’s probably why people wait for over a half hour to try a Ramen Burger — the trendy burger and brainchild of Chef Keizo Shimamoto – that’s taking Brooklyn’s artisenal food scene.
Most of us remember ramen as the very first dish we made without adult supervision. A little Styrofoam cup filled with dry noodles, flavored powder and ungodly amounts of salt was a lifeline when the parents couldn’t cook. It was delish and laughably easy to make.
When you try the ramen burger, it’s clear these noodles aren’t cut from the same cloth. A friendly gentleman manning the Ramen Burger stand told us that the burger patty is made with hand cut noodles made by the Sun Noodle Company. On the website CEO, Hidehito Uki said that “noodles will be accepted anywhere in the world as long as they’re delicious”, and the noodle burger bun of the Ramen Burger is more proof that he was right.
Biting into the noodles you quickly realize that it’s the ramen, and not the meat patty that make this burger. The texture of the noodles allows you to taste the sauce and the patty in a whole new way. The ingredients are together, yet they are separate.
Real ramen noodles are handmade and their history in Japan seems to be a mystery even to the Japanese. It can be traced back to a Chinese soup somewhere between the 1600’s and the early 1900’s, according to Men’s Journal. Nobody knows how exactly or even when, but at some point the noodles migrated from China to Japan.
Historically, Japan has been very protective of their culinary and cultural traditions. This means that many of your favorite Japanese foods are likely the same dishes that people have been enjoying for thousands of years. So by Japanese standards, a dish that’s four centuries old is still a recent addition.
For a new dish to become so ingrained in Japanese cuisine is a big deal. The answer as to why this happened goes back to the mission statement of Sun Noodle’s CEO. Noodles are a simple dish that tastes really good and people like good food.
Of course, we can’t forget about the burger patty. Adding the burger to the noodles marks a new chapter in the evolution of ramen. This time, it’s a turn towards the west with an American and Japanese hybrid.
When you consider the American cultural influences in Japan (Japanese baseball, anyone?), a dish that takes an American favorite and fuses it with a Japanese favorite was only a matter of time.
Written by: Aleksandra Bulatskaya
Photos: Victoria Felicity Elizondo
Cooking appliances that looked like they belonged in a laboratory rather than a kitchen, sat on the gleaming counters of the Michelin Star restaurant where Victoria and I came to interview the head chef about modern cuisine.
Chef TJ couldn’t be more different from an immigrant grandmother’s kitchen but as we would later discover, it was the first thing we both thought of while its Chef, Joey Elenterio explained that these machines can change the molecular structure of food in minutes.
We had just gotten back from a local farmers market where Elenterio bought an armful of fresh produce. His Sous Chef followed with a bouquet of freshly picked lavender from the restaurant’s garden, which was used to grow herbs and other seasonal produce.
At the time, he was the young, 25-year-old chef who presided over one of the oldest, and, at that time one of the only, molecular cuisine restaurants in the Silicon Valley. When we asked him about the new and innovative techniques of molecular cuisine – by name alone, it sounded more like a project fit for a physicist rather than a chef – he gave credit to hundred-year-old traditions and not the fancy equipment.
He explained that all the technology didn’t matter if the ingredients weren’t right. The freshest, local in-season produce was the star of the show. The invention of molecular cuisine seemed to relate more closely to old world techniques than modern cooking.
As Americans, we tend to complicate food in order to simplify it or make it “better.” Growing up in an immigrant home, most recipes followed a similar guideline: buy fresh ingredients, don’t mess them up (while cooking), add some herbs, and enjoy.
I still remember my grandmother sending my grandfather to the market with a shopping list. He would come back with the day’s catch of fresh fish and if it was really fresh, it was still be breathing (seriously).
Both Victoria and I come from immigrant families, so we naturally talked a lot about the culinary traditions we saw at home. We loved the new foodie trend as much as anyone, but every new trend always seemed to come to back to cooking principles we both experienced in our families kitchens.
To us, it seemed that cultures from all over the world are the ones that have always known the secret to good food. What appeared to separate a good chef from a great one, like Elenterio, was a deep respect for these traditions.
Here was the hottest chef in town, cooking the most refined type of cuisine and he seemed to see himself as less of an innovator and more of a vehicle for these ancient practices.
This assignment got us thinking about what this meant for every other new food trend. Why was it that culinary fads seemed to get closer and closer to old world traditions? We weren’t sure, but it looked like we were all searching for something in these foods, something deeper, almost primal and instinctive.
It’s the reason Victoria’s grandmother still makes hand made tamales, and the reason my mother makes an Uzbek rice called plof — in a pot brought over from the Ukraine, no less.
This is what inspired us to start this exploration. We are excited for you to join us on this journey as we discover more cultural tidbits, secret family recipes and the personal experiences of the artisans who make this food possible.
Alex and Victoria