While it might feel like a relatively new food trend around these parts, Ramen has been enjoyed in Japan for at least 150 years. Ramen has an interesting history, from its origin as an adaptation of Chinese wheat noodles to becoming a cultural icon in the 1980s. Japan is currently home to over 80,000 ramen shops and the dish has been exported to countries all over the world. Still, the story of Ramen is a relatively short one when the thousands of years of Japanese history are considered.
Traditional Japanese cuisines, such as sushi or kaiseki, are associated with strict discipline, rigid principles, and honouring tradition. Ramen, on the other hand, is the sort of bad boy of Japanese cuisine. As a relatively new kid on the block, it has created its own image and ethos, apart from other cuisines; expressive, boisterous, daring, and loud, Ramen distinguishes itself from its refined, subtle, and delicate counterparts.
The foundation of Ramen is based on regionality and innovation, which combine to keep the cuisine dynamic and exciting; the rules of ramen are to constantly bend the rules. Regions throughout Japan each have their own version of ramen, based on what ingredients are available to them in the area. Individual ramen shops then try and innovate their own distinct versions of these, whether that be through the use of different types of noodles, eccentric toppings, and so on.When this theory is applied to the 35 different regional styles found throughout Japan, the number of variations is too great to count, and you could spend years of your life attempting to try all of them.
But what does a ramen shop look like outside of Japan? Can a dish that is inextricably linked with Japanese identity be replicated in other parts of the world?
There are many answers to these questions. Here in Ontario, many shops simply import and replicate popular styles of ramen from Japan. While they are often delicious, it defies the nature of ramen itself, which should look to what is available in the area, and how it can be used in a relatively unique way. To make “authentic Japanese ramen” in Ontario is sort of missing the whole point. We are lucky to have a shop here in Guelph that takes these roots of innovation and regionality in ramen so seriously.
Crafty Ramen opened its doors in February of 2017. Since then, owners Jared and Miki Ferrall have been working every day to make their best version of ramen in Guelph. Jared met Miki in Japan, where he worked for years in a number of different high-end restaurants. Together, they attended the Yamato Ramen School and toured Japan sampling as much ramen as possible, eventually bringing what they learned back to open their own shop in Guelph. The offerings at Crafty Ramen respect Japanese methods while finding inspiration in local ingredients and cuisine. The result is a truly unique expression of ramen, fascinating and interesting bowls that you simply cannot find anywhere else.
Each day, one of the cooks takes the block and a half journey over to Trotter’s Butcher Shop, where Crafty Ramen sources all of its meat from. The chicken, pork, and duck go on to form the base for their broths, which combine with other local ingredients in forming any one of their dozen or so bowls on offer. Half a dozen of their bowls can accommodate vegetarian and vegan diets, options that are satisfying to even the most prolific carnivore. Moreover, everything that can be practically made in house is, even down to the noodles – which, of course, are made from Canadian flour. Jared and Miki’s penchant for constant improvement is infectious, and their entire staff works tirelessly to make even the smallest, incremental improvements in quality every single day.
There are a few building blocks that go into each bowl of ramen. One of the most important of these is the broth, the recipe of which is agonized over, constantly being reworked and tweaked. Jared has shared some tips and adapted a recipe from Crafty Ramen’s chicken broth for you to make at home.
Crafty Ramen’s Chicken Broth
While this recipe is geared towards ramen, it can be used in any recipe that calls for chicken broth. Keeping with the iconoclast tradition of the cuisine, Jared suggests forgetting any usual practices of stock making. Some of his general tips are as follows:
- Cut chicken into the smallest pieces possible: smash the bones up with the butt of your knife – the smaller the pieces, the more flavor is extracted
- Don’t get too caught up on having a clear broth: give the pot a stir and don’t be afraid to let it boil – more colour = more flavor
- Add your aromatics last (carrots, onions, garlic, etc), as this allows for their flavours to be brighter and more expressive
- Using weight as a measurement for ingredients allows for better precision and consistency
- 2 kg whole chicken, breasts removed
- 100g cooking onion
- 100g carrot
- 100g daikon radish
- 100g green cabbage
- 40g garlic
- 50g ginger
- Remove breast from chicken and reserve for another use. Cut chicken into small pieces, bones and all
- Place chicken in a large pot, and cover with 4 liters of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer, cooking for 5 hours
- Meanwhile, mince onion, carrot, daikon, green cabbage, garlic, and ginger
- After 2.5 hours, add onion, carrot, daikon, cabbage and garlic and cook for 30 minutes
- Add ginger and cook for another 30 minutes
- Turn off heat and let the fat rise to the top, then skim fat carefully without taking any broth with it
- Strain through the finest sieve you have, use immediately or chill and keep for later use
Cook like a Local Chef is a series that brings together the story of a local food with a recipe to try at home. Jonathon Barraball is a food and beverage professional and a freelance writer. This story was commissioned by the Downtown Guelph Business Association.