During my trip to Japan in June I developed a bit of an addiction for ramen. I had my first taste of the pork and noodle soup at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo (for breakfast, oddly enough) and was hooked upon my first spoonful. I ended up having ramen four times during our 11-day trip. Ever since I’ve been back in Salt Lake City, I’ve been searching for a place that services authentic Japanese-style ramen.
|My first bowl of ramen in Tokyo, Japan.|
The first place I went on my search for Salt Lake City ramen was Plum Alley, the Asian-fusion restaurant owned by the same people as Copper Onion that was recently named one of Bon Appetit magazine’s 50 Best New Restaurants in the nation. The ramen was even mentioned in Bon Appetit’s blurb about the restaurant, so I had high hopes for it.
|Plum Alley’s pork belly ramen.|
Unfortunately, my high hopes for Plum Alley’s ramen ($13) took a nose dive as soon as I sipped my first spoonful. Maybe it was because it was the first bowl of ramen I’d had since I was in Kyoto, but it wasn’t the same. Plum Alley’s ramen comes with a slab of pork belly, sliced ginger, a pile of green onions and a large portion of noodles. The pork belly was awkwardly large and required me to transport it to a plate to “cut” it with my spoon into edible-sized pieces. The broth had good flavor, but greasy texture. The ginger seemed unnecessary as it didn’t add to the flavor of the broth and was too bitter for my taste by itself. Plum Alley’s ramen is clearly an example of their fusion creations, which a lot of people I know enjoy. But for me, I want something that takes me back to Japan through my spoon.
Next up was Dojo, the sushi and Japanese restaurant tucked away on the west side of Pioneer Park. Rumor has it that the owner originally planned to serve strictly ramen, then changed his mind to a sushi-based focus. (Although ramen, chicken katsu and other Japanese staples are still on the menu. See my full review of Dojo here.)
|Japanese-style ramen at Dojo.|
Dojo’s ramen ($10) is available with pork shoulder or pork belly. I picked the pork shoulder, which was more like what we had in Japan, except that Dojo’s version was shredded. The pork and the broth had a really good, intensely meaty flavor. The texture of the noodles was perfect and the overall flavor was delicious. But it still wasn’t like the ramen we had in Japan. I would have liked some green onions and a little more subtleness to the flavor of the broth.
The third stop was Naked Fish, the sustainable sushi and Japanese “bistro” near City Creek Center. Ramen is only listed on their lunch menu, but comes in two forms: shoyu (soy sauce flavored) and tonkotsu (pork bone flavored), both $8.95. I picked the tonkotsu ramen. (Check out my full review of Naked Fish here.)
|Tonkotsu ramen at Naked Fish.|
The ramen was immediately familiar to what I had in Japan. Most notably was the slices of roasted pork–the first restaurant so far to used sliced pork (as opposed to shredded or pork belly). Also in the bowl were a few pieces of mushrooms, a small pile of green onions and a massive pile of noodles. The broth had a wonderful consistency (not too watery and not too gravy-like) and the flavor was delicious. I wasn’t a big fan of the giant ladle; I’d prefer the Japanese-style spoon much more. This seemed to be the most authentic ramen I’d found in Salt Lake City so far. The biggest downside is that it’s not on Naked Fish’s dinner menu.
The last place on my Salt Lake City hunt for ramen was Koko Kitchen, the small neighborhood mom-and-pop place on 700 East and 300 South. The ambiance is non-existent but the menu of traditional Japanese items extensively makes up for it. I ordered the pork ramen ($9), which came with cha-shu pork slices, a hard-boiled egg, green onions, seaweed and bean sprouts. This was the first bowl to have bean sprouts, something that we saw in most of the ramen in Japan.
|Koko Kitchen’s take on the Japanese noodle dish.|
Koko’s ramen was surprisingly disappointing. The sweet flavor of the cha-shu pork was slightly distracting and the broth lacked a ton of flavor, although the texture and consistency of it was good. The noodles had the right texture, I liked that there was seaweed, and the amount of green onions and bean sprouts were a nice touch. But overall I felt that the dish was lacking ambitiousness.
So, which bowl of ramen was my favorite? My vote goes to Naked Fish, without a doubt. I loved the roasted pork slices, the consistency of the broth and overall flavor. The close runner-up is easily Dojo, which had amazing flavor as a whole. Third would be Plum Alley, and last would be Koko Kitchen. Feel free to argue with me in the comment section! (Or let me know of anywhere else that serves ramen.)
|Three versions of ramen in Akihabara, Japan.|
I realize that ramen in Salt Lake City will never be the same as ramen in Japan. It can’t be. Even if the flavor and texture are just right, it won’t have the same connection as enjoying an authentic bowl in its birthplace. After trying so many different types of ramen around Salt Lake City, I remembered that every bowl of ramen I had in Japan was slightly different too, especially depending on the region we were in. So to each their own–to each restaurant for putting their own spin on a tasty classic and to each person for choosing a place based on their own preferences. As for me, I think I’ll stick with Naked Fish.