Based in Toronto, Ontario, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Ivan Ramen Pops Up at Momofuku Noodle Bar

Yesterday was a red letter Japanese noodle day for me. First, I had a perfect summer bowl of cold sansai (mountain vegetable) soba at Cocoron  on the Lower East Side, preceded by a plate of petite, silky pork and okara* croquettes on a bed of watercress with a tonkatsu-type dipping sauce.



Corocon, located on a gritty stretch of Delancey Street, is authentically Japanese in that it is un-airconditioned, cramped, with bar seating and a few tables. Servers are quick and attentive, spiriting over a spouted-lacquer pot filled with soba-yu to mix with the leftover savory broth at the bottom of your bowl for a warming cup of soup.



As if that weren't noodle enough for one day, things got even better that evening, when I stopped by Momofuku Noodle Bar on First Avenue, where the American ramen master Ivan Orkin had taken over the kitchen for one evening to accommodate the overflow of guests shut out of an earlier pop-up appearance. Orkin is a rarity in Japan, a ramen maker who has succeeded amid the teeming competition of the Tokyo noodle universe. His attention to detail has made him a success, even spawning an instant version of his ramen that's been a hit in Japanese convenience stores.



On the menu at Momofuku were Orkin's classic shio ramen made with rye noodles, super-fatty pork belly, boiled egg and fermented bamboo shoots, and some new boundary-stretching varieties that Orkin is planning to serve at his yet-to-open lower-Manhattan restaurant (he's still looking for a venue). He's created dashi that use no meat broth, exploring the vast selection of Japanese dried fish and shellfish. His ago dashi, for example, is made with dried flying fish, shrimp and scallop.



We liked Orkin's Spicy Chili Mazemen, scant on broth and incorporating chipotle chili, eggplant soffrito and scallions, in which the chili adds a backdrop of peppery heat, acting as a supporting player without overpowering the dish. The bits of bacon in the Triple Garlic Mazemen were addictive, though it's important to mix this dish well (think of it as the ramen version of the French salade composée, where each ingredient is prettily mounded atop the noodles) to evenly incorporate the salty powdered dried bonito and shiitake.



Checking out the pop-up were Japanese cookbook author Harris Salat and chef Ryuji Irie, who are getting ready to open their own restaurant, Ganso, in downtown Brooklyn soon. Commiserating with Salat over the layers of city bureaucracy that slow the process down, Orkin said, "In Tokyo, all you need is a stove and a space and you're in business." Hey, New York City Department of Buildings, take a cue from Tokyo and let these guys cook!

*I wrote about okara, the soy bean mash by-product of the tofu-making process in this post on my cooking lesson with Brushstroke chef Mitsuhiro Narita.



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