While Budapest can boast a million wonders, ramen noodles are not one of them. The Queen of the Danube lacks ramen-ya, the classic Japanese ramen shops that specializes in ramen noodle soup and gyoza, the little meaty dumplings that accompany them. I can't understand why that should be the case: Hungarians love noodle soups, and they love dumplings. They are fascinated by anything Japanese. How could they let this get away from them? There are about a dozen sushi shops around town serving raw fish to avid Magyars - a people not known for stuffing raw fish into their mouths - not to mention at least a thousand ex-pat Japanese who, to be objective, would eat Japanese food all the time if given their druthers. Yes, the Japanese are as provincial about their tastes as any Hungarian. A Magyar wants a taste of paprika in everything they eat, a Japanese expects everything to taste of sloy, fermented fish and seaweed. The world is a big and wonderful place, is it not? So no ramen in Budapest for the foreseeable future. However, by a freakish stroke of luck, we spent much of the the summer in Teaneck New Jersey. Teaneck, which is affectionately referred to by many of its native sons as "Jewtown, USA" is conveniently located near the nuclear epicenter of the western hemisphere's ramen noodle production: Sun Noodle. Sun noodle is a Japanese-Hawaiian noodle manufacturer that makes a noodle that some say are among the world's best. A few years ago they set up shop in Teterboro, New Jersey to supply the demand for high quality fresh noodles among New York's booming ramen scene. Ever since Chef David Chang started the neo-ramen shop craze a decade ago with his Momofuku Ramen in New York's east village (named after the inventor of the instant ramen noodle, Momofuku Andoh, who founded Nissan Food Products) ramen shops have sprouted all over New York. You think those chewy, springy ramen noodles were carefully crafted by hand in the back of a tiny noodle shop in Greenwich Village? Think again. They were made in New Jersey. Everything is made in New Jersey. By now, most of the better Japanese ramen franchises have set up shop around the New York area as well. Pop out of a subway station or pull into a suburban strip mall and you can usually find a decent ramen-ya waiting for you.
A good ramen-ya is like a good deli: it serves a limited menu of a comfort food but it can take a fierce pride in doing that task as close to perfect as possible. Ramen is to Japan what pizza is to New York: a slightly foreign dish (Chinese vs. Italian) that has been taken to heart, improved on, and made a central pillar of the local identity. New Yorkers are adamant about pizza (as anybody who watched Jon Stewart's Daily show pizza rant knows) because in Italy pizza is just a food. In New York it is The Food. The Japanese feel that way about ramen. I like ramen. Maybe not as much as my Significant Tokyo-born Other, who would take a train to Vienna in search of a bowl of "real" noodles. Vienna, incidentally, no longer has its two classic ramen shops, meaning that the closest decent bowl of ramen would be in Berlin, or possibly in Cracow.
|Handsome Guy Gourmet Tofu stand|
|You can have Santoka Ramen or Information, but not both.|
|Best panorama view of NY City available for $7.00|
|Shio Ramen, spicy miso ramen, and salmon abortion on rice.|
|Setegaya set lunch.|
|Present Holy grail of New York foodies.|
|Pork belly and spinach ramen. Home made. In Hungary.|