Every cuisine has one – a comforting, flavoursome noodle soup that’s prescribed for every crisis whether it’s a common cold or a broken heart. There’s “Jewish penicillin” of matzo-ball soup; Vietnam has hot, sour, fresh pho; Indonesia has soto ayam – spicy chicken soup with rice vermicelli and fried shallots; Malaysia has thick, creamy laksa redolent of tamarind. And Japan? Well, Japan has soba, it has udon but most importantly, it has ramen, which could just be the finest example of them all.
To call ramen “soup” vastly undervalues the other players in this game: the tender slices of fatty pork, the fermented bamboo shoots (menma), the long, yellow wheat noodles, the crisp sheets of wakame (seaweed) that soften after baptism by the broth. But at its core, ramen is about that broth, a hot, umami-laden concoction that carries the whole lot. Its composition varies from region to region: in Hokkaido, the broth is miso-based; in Kyushi, the stock is an opaque pork bone (tonkotsu) broth. In Sydney, we can have them all. Two rules: if there’s an option to add a hard-boiled egg, we insist that you do. And second? If you feel the need to slurp, don’t hold back.
In a busy Chinatown food court, helpfully called Eating World lest anyone mistake its purpose, is Gumshara. Not to belabour the point, but eating is the name of the game here, and visitors must run the gamut of tempting shop-fronts hawking Asian delicacies from Hainanese chicken rice to banh mi. Stay strong: if it’s ramen you’re after, keep walking until you reach Mori Higashida’s Gumshara, tucked into the back left corner. It’s arguably the best ramen in Sydney, though the thicker-style soup, the liquid rich and unctuous with collagen from a stock wrought from long hours of simmering pork bones, is a meal in itself. It’s sticky and rich and creamy and if you get through the entire bowl you’re an impressive human being. It’s topped with tender barbecued pork, noodles, bamboo and spring onion. Add half an egg, with a velvety molten yolk for a true ramen experience.
26-29 Dixon Street, Haymarket; 0410 253 180
This Japanese chain is a specialist in ramen, dishing bowls of the good stuff since 1985. There are more than 80 stores in Japan and the Sydney outposts live up to the reputation for ramen excellence. If you fancy yourself a ramen aficionado, Ippudo is a must. There are 11 options here including a Veggie Ramen made with vegetable bouillon but for the real Ippudo experience, we recommend the straight-up Shiromaru Special: creamy tonkotsu broth with pork loin, pork belly, boiled egg, bamboo shoots, spring onion and wakame. You’ll be asked to choose how cooked you want your noodles – ideally, they’ll be al dente and slightly chewy. Remember, the longer they linger in their fragrant bath, the softer they will become. Add a considered dousing of chilli oil and dig in – and if you’re left with a bowl of broth, you can order another serve of noodles. Waste not.
Level 5, Westfield Sydney, corner Market and Pitt streets, Sydney; (02) 8078 7020
Lower Ground; Central at Central Park, 28 Broadway, Chippendale; (02) 8036 4534
Level 4, Macquarie Centre, corner of Herring and Waterloo roads, North Ryde; (02) 8964 7490
District Podium Level, Chatswood Interchange, 438 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood; (02) 8084 0704
Ramen isn’t a hoity-toity dish; it’s traditionally hearty, cheap and tasty, the kind of food you’ll see students slurping together near their uni or salarymen gulping down between meetings in Tokyo. Hakata-Maru Ramen keeps things simple: there are three choices: White (basic tonkotsu); Red (spicy miso); and Black (dark garlic oil) and a bowl of basic ramen costs less than $10. Despite its location in a city food court, the shopfront resembles an old-school ramen restaurant and the ramen is anything but fast food. The broth has simmered for hours to produce a milky, porky tonkotsu broth, the perfect foil for slices of roasted pork, slim noodles and soft-boiled egg. Of course, you’ll want to customise with a glug of rich garlic oil and a shower of sesame seeds before breaking the serenity with chopsticks and spoon.
Level 3, Market City, 9-13 Hay Street, Sydney; (02) 9281 6648
The motto here, in case you missed the words emblazoned on the exposed-brick wall, is No Ramen No Life. If that seems a tad dramatic, consider that the owners of Yasaka are Takeshi Sekigawa whose ramen clout was earned under the tutelage of Gumshara’s Mori Higashina, and Ben Zhang, whose passion for ramen saw him dining at the Chinatown ramen institution five times a week. It’s not an overstatement to say that ramen is life for these two. There are seven different types of ramen, including grilled chashu pork, spicy leek and kakuni, a sweet soft pork bone version; and three different broths to choose from: shoyu (pork stock with soy), salty shio pork stock and miso. There are also specialty soups such as Black Garlic Ramen with squid ink and Kokumaro with fish stock and bean sprouts. The noodles are prepared in-house each day, and the industrial-chic city location has been joined by a second suburban outpost.
126 Liverpool Street, Sydney; (02) 9262 9027
Rising Sun Workshop
Part community motorcycle garage, part ramen restaurant, Rising Sun shouldn’t work – but it really does. There’s no obligation to join a gang or wear leathers to eat at Rising Sun, you just have to have a healthy appreciation for the art of ramen. Take a seat at one of the enormous communal tables in the morning and eschew other delicious options such as Bangkok Bacon and Eggs and Hokkaido Milk Buns with egg, cheese and “kimslaw” and head straight for the Breakfast Ramen. The “buttered toast broth” is a chicken and pork stock to which generously buttered toast is added before being strained out, and the silken noodles are accompanied by bacon, 63-degree egg and tomato. What a way to start the day. At lunchtime, ramen consists of The Dark (chicken and pork broth with roast chicken-infused soy, kurobota pork belly, black fungus, blackened onions, egg and nori); The Light (chicken and dashi broth, pork belly, greens, mushroom, bamboo, egg and nori); and The Monk (miso and mushroom broth, corn, mushroom, greens, sprouts, bamboo, egg, spring onions and nori). By night, there’s just one option: Secret Ramen. Head in between Wednesday and Saturday to find out what it is.
Image by Kate Disher-Quill
1c Whateley Street, Newtown; (02) 9550 3891
This tiny Darlinghurst dining room transports visitors to a traditional Japanese yakitori joint, serving excellent gyoza, skewers and rice balls from the grill accompanied by plum wine, sake and shochu. The ramen, though, is much mythologised, something helped along by the fact that it’s only available between 12pm and 2pm Wednesday to Saturday during which time it regularly sells out. Chaco Bar chef Keita Abe doesn’t stick to the rules, so if your go-to ramen is a traditional tonkotsu, you’ll have to examine the menu a little more closely. Abe’s broths are described as Fat Soy with wood-fired pork, egg and black fungus; Fish Salt with wood-fired pork, prawn and John Dory wontons and leek; Yuzu Salt with squid, black fungus, leek, mizuna greens and butter; and Chilli Coriander with barbecued chicken, egg, coriander and black fungus.
238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9007 8352
Manpuku’s chef Hideto Suzuki is a jack of all ramens, producing all varieties of toppings, perfectly al dente house-made noodles and all styles of broth. There’s even a delicious stock that could be hard to find anywhere else – a fact that Manpuku proudly proclaims, the menu declaring that diners are “unlikely to encounter” the style pork and chicken stock served here “anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere”. Big call – great broth. Manpuku also offers chicken-broth-based ramen, traditional-pork-tonkotsu ramen and the special Manpuku MKII, a soy-based ramen with pork spare ribs, black garlic oil and mushrooms.
482 Anzac Parade, Kingsford; (02) 9662 1236
226 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood; (02) 9411 1021