October 10, 2016
Living in Japan, I’m not used to spending a lot of money for ramen. But recently, while visiting New York – Brooklyn, to be exact – I shelled out $20 for a bowl of ramen and I would do it all over again. I would hand over, without a second thought, a sum of money enough for 2.5 mammoth bowls of ramen in Japan, if you took me to YUJI Ramen.
I love soup noodles, but I love dry noodles more. “Dry” is a bit of a misnomer since in this style of dish there’s often a slick of sauce coating the noodles. In the ramen framework, this is mazemen, also known as mazesoba. Mazemen means “stirred noodles” and it’s not particularly unique in the culinary canon; there’s a form of brothless noodles in almost every culture. Think of Italian pastas. Or Sichuanese dan dan mian. Heck, I grew up eating konlou mein for breakfast, and am plagued by endless cravings for Hakka mee some nights. These are the midnight cravings of a postcolonial migrant who left the Malaysian homeland…
…and now that we’ve established that I have a deep love for noodles, let me introduce you to YUJI Ramen Bacon and Egg Mazemen.
Where to begin? I thought of prefacing this with some kind of disclaimer about it not being a super-secret New York spot, or how my sister told me about the ramen omakase she had at YUJI Ramen some years ago (I’m still jealous). But really, I just want to talk you through this bowl. I ate this mazemen more than a month ago and I am still thinking about it. Bacon and Egg Mazemen sounds gimmicky and it even looks unimpressive when it arrives, covered in a mound of papery katsuobushi (bonito) flakes on top of curly kale. But push those aside and find the slow-cooked onsen egg waiting to be pierced with your chopsticks, with scatterings of crispy deep-fried garlic shining golden against the egg white. Chunky batons of bacon nestle atop a bed of curly noodles. Get yo yolk-porn shot and stir, quickly – let that egg sauce the noodles, along with the tare (ramen flavoring/sauce). Make sure you order Camembert in your tare. Then start slurping, and close your eyes.
I have years of hawker stall noodle eating under my belt, and a couple of years of the occasional ramen. But in the world of noodle-eaters, I am barely a beginner. Still, trust me when I tell you that you need this in your life. The noodles are springy and they slurp beautifully, and that tare is garlicky (I LOVE GARLIC) and clings to the noodles just so. When you start to think it might need a little more salt, you add a little bacon to your bite and your entire mouth could just cry in happiness. Katsuobushi and bacon make perfect sense together with their salty smoky flavors. And this is some seriously delicious, fragrant katsuobushi. Even in Japan, the average place doesn’t put that much thought into the bonito flakes. The kale lifts the noodles out of too-heavy territory, while the Camembert adds a little extra sump’n sump’n with its supporting creamy base notes
Noodle analogs immediately come to mind: a lighter carbonara, like Japan meets Italy, with a dash of California salad charm. The kale is a particularly American touch that I don’t think I’ll see in Japan any time soon, although mizuna might be the local equivalent. This mazemen is also reminiscent of Hakka mee, in terms of the lard/oil-based tare and the savory pork component. The cheese brought to mind a little ramen bistro in Kyoto, where they served vichyssoise ramen – an interesting concept, to be sure, and one I would have tried if they hadn’t been using that pre-grated parmesan that smells like fermented goat sick.
I don’t know if YUJI Ramen chef, Yuji Haraguchi, was there that night (I was kind of engrossed in my noodles), but if I meet him next time I will do a 45-degree bow and thank him profusely for bringing the bacon and egg mazemen into existence. And then, not-so-subtly espionage my way into the kitchen to peep at the tare….
YUJI Ramen is open Monday through Friday, from 6–11 p.m. (in the day time, it’s called Okonomi, and serves set meals for breakfast and lunch), but it also does a 10-course ramen tasting menu on the weekends, by reservation only. Sadly, I was not able to schedule myself in for ramen omakase during my brief time in New York City, but you can and you should do it post-haste. And yes, the Bacon and Egg Mazemen with Camembert is $20. You have been warned.
150 Ainslie Street
Brooklyn NY 11211