While ramen, a descendant of Chinese la mian, has been in Japan for over a century, it wasn’t until Momofuku Andō developed the curly flash-fried “instant” noodles that ramen became the ubiquitous fast food that it is today. Andō, a Taiwanese-Japanese businessman saw the poverty in post-war Japan and aspired to create a cheap quick-cook ramen that could be prepared in minutes.
After months of failed experimentation, Andō was beside himself and decided to go out drinking. On his way home he saw a street vendor frying fishcakes in oil. That’s when it occurred to him that if the noodles were flash-fried first, they might cook faster when added to the soup.
While studying in Japan in the early 1960’s Jeon Jong-Yeun noticed the prevalence of Andō’s Nissin instant ramen. Upon returning to his native Korea and witnessing his countrymen lining up to eat gruel at a market, Jeon was reminded of the inexpensive instant noodles he’d eaten in Japan. In 1963, Jeon borrowed Andō’s flash-fry method and started selling ramyeon (라면, also spelled ramyun) in Korea under the brand name Samyang.
Today, there are dozens of brands of packaged and cup ramyeons like Neoguri, Nong Shim, and Shin. Everyone has their favorite brand, but they all come with a red hot soup packet, some dried vegetables, and the trademark curly flash-fried noodles. Since the instant variety of ramen arrived in Korea first, there isn’t a culture of ramyeon shops that make the soup and noodles from scratch like they do in China or Japan. This means that colorful packages of instant ramyeon are the real deal. Even restaurants serve up packets of instant ramyeon, gussied up with home-made toppings.
Instant ramyeon is great for a good cheap bite on the run and can be oh-so-satisfying after a long night tossing back shots of soju, but like their instant Japanese counterparts, you have to wonder if there’s a better from-scratch alternative. That’s where the idea for this ramyeon from scratch started.
Drawing inspiration from Korean soups like gamjatang, yukgaejang, and budae jjigae, I created a rich earthy soup, redolent of garlic and tinted vermillion with the hue of chili. Rather than try and reinterpret traditional ramen toppings like chashu or menma, I decided to crown my ramyeon with a stir-fry of pork belly, well fermented kimchi and beansprouts. The noodles are thin and toothsome thanks to the kansui in them that reacts with the flour to give the noodles an extra chewy texture. Finally, I finished off the bowl with a spoonful of mayu, a black garlic oil that’s traditionally used in bowls of Kagoshima style ramen. It adds another layer of nutty complexity to the broth and looks stunning, floating atop the scarlet soup.
I know this is a lot more work than most dishes I post, but it can be done in one day, and with the cold winter descending upon us, I promise it’s worth the effort. The home-made noodles are still a work in progress so I’ll post a link to the recipe as soon as it’s perfected.
makes 2 bowls
3 cups tonkotsu stock
1 tablespoon Korean soy sauce for soup (국간장 – gukganjang)
1 tablespoon Korean chili flakes (고추가루 – gochugaru)
2 teaspoon Korean soybean paste (된장 – doenjang)
1 teaspoon Korean chili paste (고추장 – gochujang)
2 shiitake mushrooms sliced
2 cloves of garlic finely grated
for kimchi stir fry
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 ounces thinly sliced pork belly
1/2 cup well-fermented kimchi, chopped
2 handful bean spouts
2 teaspoons gochujang
1 teaspoon soy sauce
for black garlic oil (make ahead)
1/4 cup sesame oil
5 cloves of garlic grated
1 teaspoon cripsy shallots (deep fried minced shallots)
3 scallions (shredded and soaked in a large bowl of ice water for 30 minutes before being drained)
1/2 batch homemade ramen noodles
To make the black garlic oil, add the sesame oil into a small saucepan along with the grated garlic. Put the pan over medium low heat and let the garlic cook stirring occasionally until it is very dark brown. When the garlic is very dark, turn the heat down to low and let it cook until it is black. As soon as it hits black, turn off the heat and transfer the hot oil and garlic to a heatproof bowl. Let this mixture cool down completely. Add the cooled oil to a blender or food processor and blitz until there are no visible garlic particles left and the oil is uniformly black. It will taste burnt and slightly bitter, but this is okay as you only add a little bit to each bowl. Put it the oil in a container and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
To make the ramyeon soup, add the tonkotsu stock, gukganjang, gochugaru, doenjang, gochujang, shitake mushrooms and garlic into a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Aside from the mushrooms, you don’t really need cook anything in the soup, so after it comes to a simmer turn down the heat until the noodles and kimchi stir-fry are ready.
Heat a frying pan over medium high heat. Add the sesame oil and the pork belly and fry until the pork is browned. Add the kimchi and bean sprouts and stir-fry until the bean sprouts are cooked and the kimchi is heated through. Add the gochujang and soy sauce and continue frying until the sauce has coated the kimchi and pork.
To serve, put a serving of cooked noodles into 2 bowls. Split the soup between the two bowl. Sprinkle each bowl of ramyeon with the crispy shallots. Top with the kimchi stir-fry. Put a mound of shredded scallions on top, and drizzle a teaspoon of black garlic oil onto each bowl. Eat immediately or the noodles will get soft.