It has been about a week since I left the City that Never Sleeps. After spending 9 days in New York and serving piping hot bowls of ramen at Ramen Lab, I finally understand the meaning behind its name. I did not sleep at all! Despite my lack of sleep, I was dreaming a lot. I was actually living it: The Ramen Dream.
This unexpected ramen journey started not too long ago. As a full time professional Civil Engineer, my days were filled with designing roadways and utilities. With whatever remaining free time that I did have, I made ramen to fill up my ramen blog and Instragram - Nichijou Ramen. I was fully subscribed to the “Nichijou Ramen” or “Everyday Ramen” lifestyle. I spent day after day thinking about this alkaline noodle soup, about how to create new recipes and about perfecting old ones. I never thought it would be anything more.
Out of the blue, an opportunity of a lifetime came as I received a message from Kenshiro Uki, the VP of Operations of Sun Noodle. We began to exchange a few e-mails here and there over the course of several months talking about how Sun Noodle could provide a better experience to the home cook. As Kenshiro learned that I was more ramen obsessed than the average home cook, he asked if I have considered doing a pop-up, potentially at Ramen Lab with other ramen fanatics who also experiment at home. Cooking at Ramen Lab was one of the items on my bucket list. This is the place that hosts some of the best ramen chefs in the world, so of course I had to say yes. So many things were running through my head. Is this really going to be my first pop-up? Who else would I be cooking with? When can I start?
Considering the most amount of people I have served at one time was about ten people, I was in for a challenge. It felt like I was in some sort of Mission Impossible movie minus the lasers. I was in way over my head, but like the movies, I decided to assemble a team. Since the popup was for ramen home cook fanatics, I knew the perfect person to help out: Mike Satinover or /r/Ramen_Lord. Anyone who has tried to make ramen from scratch has bound to have stumbled upon Ramen_Lord’s recipes on Reddit. I cannot think of another person who has provided such in-depth ramen recipes online. If you have not tried cooking one of his recipes yet, you’re in for a treat.
It only took one message on Instagram to get Mike on board, after all, what kind of ramen nerd wouldn’t jump on this opportunity? We never met in person before, but through the power of the internet and our love for ramen we connected and began planning our pop-up. To each of us, it was obvious what ramen we would serve. Mike, having fallen in love with Ramen while studying in Sapporo, had to make the city’s staple style: Miso Ramen. For me, it had to be Shio Ramen. This has been a style that is rarely done well in America and I needed to share with the world that there is more to ramen than thick and rich broths. Shio Ramen to me is the Chicken Noodle Soup of the Ramen world. It is a bowl to sooth both your body and soul.
These two types of ramen by themselves provided a solid menu for our first pop-up, but because this was Ramen Lab, we wanted to really capture the spirit of the restaurant with our menu and educate the customers. The Shio and Miso ramen both utilized a chintan (清湯 - “clear soup”) broth, with the major difference being the tare or seasoning component and oils used. We wanted to share a third bowl that utilized a chintan broth as well, but also have it be out of the ordinary and fun. I had a few ideas in my notebook: a Matcha Wasabi Ramen, Coffee Shoyu Negi Ramen, and Beef Bourguignon Miso Ramen. Mike had been working on Chilli/Mole Miso Ramen. After some testing of our recipes, we combined some of our ideas and settled on a Mole Shoyu Ramen with some coffee elements. The menu was finally decided, but how do we get from a bowl that we cook at our home to serving 100 bowls at a restaurant? The answer: Spreadsheets. Lots of Spreadsheets.
Before our New York debut, we had to scale our recipes to restaurant quantities and determine the pricing of our bowls. Scaling and pricing out our bowls in general is a simple task. I provide cost estimates for projects at work all the time. Just instead of cubic yards of concrete, I needed to estimate pounds of chicken bones. The difficult thing about coming up with an estimate for ramen is we just had so many components! There were three types of ramen, each with its own tare, and there were maybe only 2 toppings at most that were shared among any two. It was a challenge, but we got through it.
The final two weeks before the pop-up was a blur of noodles and e-mails. I was eating at least 6 bowls a week from tweaking my recipes and practicing my bowls. Mike and I had to make sure that we knew how to make each other’s bowls with our eyes closed. As we were packing our bags for the trips, we generated marketing materials with our head shots, bios, and pictures of our ramen. This was the real deal.
David Chan is a Civil Engineer from Sacramento, food science buff, and the creator of the ramen blog and instagram, Nichijou Ramen (@nichijou.ramen). Nichijou (日常) roughly translates to “Everyday” or “Day by Day”, which perfectly describes what ramen means to him. When he is not thinking about designing streetscapes, his mind is on ramen. Nichijou Ramen is his day by day culinary journey to investigate the delicious bowls out there from an engineering perspective.
David’s passion for ramen started on a trip to New York over 10 years ago where he had his first bowl. In order to recreate his Ramen experience from the City that never sleeps, he began developing his recipes while using food science as the foundation, from measuring dissolved solids to calculating the salt content. He is looking forward to sharing the bowl that he crafted for guests at Ramen Lab and for the City where his obsession began.
Mike Satinover (aka “Ramen_Lord”) is a Marketing Researcher from Chicago by day, and a ramen nerd by night. His ramen obsession kicked off in 2009, when he lived in Sapporo, Hokkaido. There, he fell in love with Sapporo classics like the miso bowls from Junren, Sumire, and Saimi. Upon returning to the USA, he began making ramen extensively at home to try and capture that experience he had grown so accustomed to, eventually sharing his recipes and findings for free on Reddit. He has been featured on Serious Eats and in The Chicago Tribune for his ramen efforts, and is excited to share those efforts with guests at Ramen Lab.
The day to leave finally came. I flew out the day after Thanksgiving while sedated from the feast that I had the night before. After a rough red eye flight, I landed in NYC with 2 days of leisure time, but let’s be honest, this trip was all business. A ramen business trip. I spent my free time crushing 5 bowls of ramen (2 of which were from Keizo Shimamoto at Ramen Shack), meeting up with Mike, Kano (a fellow ramen fanatic), and Chef Josh Reisner. In between bowls I walked off whatever calories I could while taking in the sights. It was the perfect way to start my reunion with the City of New York and prepare myself for what was to come.