Monday, September 29, 2014

Just Plain Good House-made Ramen Noodles From Sapporo-Ya

I headed out to Japantown to check out Udon Mugizo, a promising new venue featuring hand-made udon and a creative menu (sea urchin cream sauce udon, anyone?) but alas, it's closed on Mondays. Not to fret, because literally steps away was Sapporo-Ya, the only ramen joint currently on my short list and it was open.

I'm pretty much done with ramen unless it brings great celebrity or some other novelty attraction with it, but Sapporo-Ya is that rarest of birds, a ramen-ya that makes its own noodles.  It's one of my pet peeves about ramen that while its purveyors loudly trumpet the effort that goes into their broths, so little concern is typically shown for the provenance of the noodles themselves.  A recent article posted on revealed that of ten top ramen destinations in New York (as adjudged by New York Times taste-makers), nine of them get their noodles from what is IMHO essentially a large industrial noodle maker, and only one (Ippudo) makes its own noodles in house.

Sapporo-Ya not only makes its noodles in house, it has been doing it for three decades, and is obviously very proud of it. This pride is evidenced by the vintage noodle machine on display in the front window, and by the top-listed item on the lunch specials portion of the menu, "Plain Ramen with 1/2 Gyoza," which is what I ordered. (Sapporo-Ya does have a full menu of ramen broths and topping options, but what better way to feature the noodles themselves than with a "plain" ramen option?) The "1/2 Gyoza" is half a full order  of gyoza, which also are made in house, and no, they are not served IN the ramen.

My ramen came with straight, medium thickness (by ramen standards) noodles in a subtle porky broth that was only slightly salty and slightly oily, a medium that definitely wasn't designed to upstage the noodles. It was perhaps too demure until I enhanced it a bit with a few shakes of ground red pepper.  It was not a totally plain bowl, as their was some greenery atop, mostly scallion tops. Not complaints here about the hotness of the broth -- it came almost scalding hot, and I manged to burn my lips sampling it. Even with the heat of the broth and the extra time it took to cool down and consume, the noodles retained their chew to the very end.

Overall, the "plain" ramen was a pleasant experience, and a great alternative to the salt and fat bombs we habitually expose ourselves to  in eating ramen.  It was a bit like eating a Suzhou-style "white" soup with freshly made noodles, so ubiquitous in Shanghai.  The gyoza, I'll add, were also very good.

Where slurped: Sapporo-Ya, 1581 Webster St. (Kinokuniya Building, upstairs opposite Kinokuniya Bookstore), San Francisco.

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