Houston's Ramen Obsession Isn't Dying Down in 2014
"Goro & Gun was the catalyst," says Carl Rosa, Director at The Japan-America Initiative and founder of The Sushi Club of Houston and the Ramen in Common Facebook group. "For years there was talk among Japanese communities, and a lot of people throughout the community who aren't Japanese but have lived in Japan. They kept saying, 'If only there was a real, authentic, honest-to-goodness ramen shop in Houston.' That was the dream. Then Goro & Gun announced they were doing it, which initiated a response from Houston. It was something the city had never tapped into."
Photo by Troy Fields Carl Rosa credits Goro & Gun for sparking the ramen craze in Houston.
It's no secret why it took ramen a while to become popular in Houston. The city just doesn't have the Japanese population of cities like New York, L.A., San Francisco or even Detroit, where Japanese auto manufacturers attract immigrants. Rosa says that there are only about 3,000 Japanese families in Houston, and the majority of those who own and operate restaurants focus on sushi. Why serve ramen, a cheap street food?
Rosa and the other members of the group Ramen in Common are certainly pleased to have options in Houston now, but Rosa acknowledges that the ramen scene here definitely isn't what it could be.
"Houston is lacking a fundamental understanding of what real ramen is," Rosa explains. "I think there are a couple of restaurants working very hard on it. It's going to take time before people who really understand ramen can say with confidence, 'Now you're doing it well.'"
And real ramen? Should we be doing something more to achieve this nebulous goal? Yes, but also something less. Rosa compares it to sushi:
"Long before anything does well with fusion, it has to be done well traditionally. Ten years ago, sushi was absolutely ruined because Americans who didn't know what to do just found a passion for fusion. So all of the authentic and traditional spots were scratching their heads and wondering how to get the same crowds. And they started making contemporary concoctions. And now, some people really believe a spicy tuna roll is something you can get in Tokyo. I think until ramen can be perfected in a traditional way, it should not be touched.
"That's the reason I created Ramen in Common," Rosa says. "To hopefully prevent the bastardization of ramen."
According to Rosa, there are four primary criteria that make ramen ramen.
First, temperature. Ramen should be piping hot when it's served. Not so hot that you burn your mouth, but you should have to slurp a little to cool down the noodles as you eat. You want the soup to still be hot by the time you reach the bottom, so if you feel the bowl and it's just lukewarm, send it back.
Second, broth. There are three common types of ramen bases: miso, tonkotsu and shoyu. Rosa notes that many ramen places -- even the traditional ones -- are starting to mix the broths to create new ones. That's fine, he says, so long as the flavor of the broth can continue to stand on its own. "It's gotta get your attention."
Third, noodles. Depending upon each chef's preference, the type of noodles used will differ. Some use flour-based noodles, others egg-based. Some prefer long and wavy noodles, while others like short, thick ones. Sometimes noodles are served soft, and other times al dente. The main thing is that the noodles should never stick together in the broth.
Fourth, the eggs and the pork. Both must be cooked right. There are several ways to prepare the egg (63-degrees, five minutes) and several ways to prepare the pork, but the pork should never be too fatty, and its rich flavor should always complement the broth.