So I was flipping through my photos trying to find something for Christmas cards (it’s that time of year!!), and I came across my folder from Ramen Yokocho in San Jose. What?! How did I not recap this already?
I love ramen. Like, seriously. So I was super excited about Ramen Yokocho.
I heard that the festival in San Francisco had ridiculous lines and waits of up to an hour for each bowl of ramen, so we arrived on the first day (a Friday) loaded with baby toys and snacks and prepared to fight through crowds. What we found was this.
No lines, very little wait for our soup, and no problems finding a table with space for our ginormous stroller.
I actually felt bad for the cooks behind the tents because when we arrived they were all working hard at their huge pots of broth and piles of noodles. When we left a few hours later most of them were just standing around doing nothing because there were so few patrons.
Anyway, on to the ramen! We only tried four of the eight offered that day because (1) we got pretty full and (2) there comes a point in toddler crankiness where throwing food at them no longer helps.
Chanpon Ramen from Chanpon Tei (Omi, Shiga)
This was the first bowl we tried, and according to the Ramen Yokocho website it was their first time in the US. The broth was a dashi made with bonito and kombu – a different take than the tonkotsu or miso broths that are more common around here. It was nice and savory without the oily, salty, meaty punch we’re used to. It had a hint of sea flavor while not being overly fishy if that makes sense. The bowl was also piled high with veggies – another new experience for us. Overall this bowl tasted like ramen, but like no ramen we’ve ever tasted before which was kind of confusing. I’d give it a thumbs up if you’re looking for a less meaty ramen.
Shiro Tonkotsu Ramen from Hiromaru (Toyama)
I went to the Hiromaru tent looking to try their tonkotsu black ramen, which was the one listed in the Ramen Yokocho advertisements. It sounded to me like my favorite Kuro Ramen broth from Maru Ichi, so I was excited to compare. Unfortunately when I got to the front a worker informed me that they were only serving their Shiro Ramen…which he described as a garlic ramen. That threw me for a bit of a loop because I had always known Shiro ramen as a miso broth. I even thought that maybe the worker (who was an event volunteer and not Japanese) must have misunderstood or that I must have gotten my ramen names mixed up. Then I tasted it and decided that it was the best ramen I’ve ever had. No joke. The broth was slightly salty but also garlicky and meaty without being greasy at all. It tasted almost creamy. The noodles were much thinner than any other ramen I’ve had, and I thought the thin noodle was awesome for picking up a good amount of the creamy broth with each bite. Looking it up afterward, Hiromaru describes their Shiro Ramen as a salt based tonkotsu broth blended with garlic oil. Ridiculously good.
Burger Ramen from Keizo Shimamoto (Ramen.co in New York)
Funny thing about this – they were very big on pointing out that this was not a Ramen Burger, but a Burger Ramen. The man Aldwin spoke to (who said he was Keizo’s brother) said that Ramen Yokocho didn’t want them to sell burgers. They wanted something in a bowl, so they deconstructed the Ramen Burger and turned it into a Burger Ramen bowl. Heh. The ramen burrito people were selling burritos, so I don’t know why a burger wasn’t allowed. Anyway, this Burger Ramen thing. I was so excited to try it because of all the Ramen Burger hype. I was disappointed when Aldwin showed up to our table with a bowl of noodles rather than a burger, but I was still excited to try it since all the same components were there. Well…I don’t think the whole deconstructed form did it any favors. From what I can see in photos of the original burger the sauce normally goes over the patty. In the bowl version they left the patty plain and poured the sauce over the noodles. The result was salty noodles and an unseasoned burger patty. The flavor of the sauce was good, though it reminded me a bit of those powdered french onion soup mixes with a bit of a sweet note. Overall I was really unimpressed and pretty disappointed. I’m left wondering if the burger version is that much different of an experience that people would wait in long lines for it or if it’s all just hype.
Jukusei Tonkotsu Ramen from Kohmen (Ikebukuro, Tokyo)
This was the final bowl I picked up after asking some of the event workers for their suggestions. They said that a lot of people came to their events just to try Kohmen, so I figured it must be pretty good. Well, pretty good I guess is accurate. The flavor of the broth was good, but to me it didn’t have the same depth as Hiromaru. Also, it was greasy.
Can you see that layer of oil? Besides the shine of oil over the sides of the bowl, the level of the liquid is actually at that ridge in the middle of the bowl. You can see the level of the actual broth under the oil a little below that. It was pretty greasy. Despite that, it was Aldwin’s favorite of the day. He said the broth was meatier. Not sure I agree, but I’ll let him have it. 😛
As for sweets, one of the only dessert options there was these mochi waffles from Moffle Waffle. The waffle was nice and crunchy on the outside while still maintaining that characteristic mochi chew in the center. It was an interesting take, but honestly, it was a bit hard to eat with just a plastic fork. Good flavor, though.
Have you been to a ramen festival? Was it crazy or empty? Have you tried the original ramen burger? Thoughts?
Missed Ramen Yokocho? Check out my favorite ramen spots in the South Bay by clicking the image below.