The recently opened GoGo Ramen serves noodles with a dash of the Orient

I don’t like instant noodles. There, I’ve said it. It’s not like I haven’t tried. In this age of gourmet food, it seems almost subversive to admit to an instant noodle addiction.

And I so badly want to be subversive. I considered moving to Thailand to be a beach bartender. But gave it up when I realised that I won’t be able to support by shoe ‘habit’. I toyed with relocating to the Himalayas, but dropped the idea when I realised that Costa coffee doesn’t yet have an outlet there. And I can’t even get a tattoo now. Because everyone seems to have one. (So much for rebellion!)

After much careful experimentation, I realised the only way I could eat these noodles-in-minutes was by vastly undercooking the noodles. That way at least they have some bite. So I’m very pleased with myself when I stumble upon Korean-American chef David Chang’s notes on making a perfect bowl of ramen. It turns out I’ve been on the right track. Noodles shouldn’t just fall apart like a soggy love song. They should be springy, bouncy and feisty. Like a good hair day. (Oh, you knew you weren’t escaping my feeble hair metaphors right from the start, didn’t you?) Chang’s the poster boy for subversive food, thanks to his chain of restaurants which have a cult-like following. They include the New York based Momofuku Noodle Bar, credited for making this Japanese comfort food the epitome of ‘cool.’

The country’s first ramen shop has just opened in Chennai. Run by Sandesh Reddy (of Sandy’s) and Sidharth Venkatesan, GoGo Ramen, serves up just two styles of ramen, pork and vegetarian. (By this weekend, however, they will be adding chicken to the menu.)

There’s a reason why they’re moving so cautiously and working with a minimalistic menu. Ramen is hard to get right. Given the fact that their main clientele are Japanese expatriates they need to get it just right. The next challenge, of course, is consistency, especially tough in a market like this where there are so many variables, from ingredients to man power.

So far, things seem to be falling into place. The restaurant is cosy-chic. Its busy seating suggests that they’re styling themselves after the popular cramped noodles bars of Tokyo. However, the vibe here is a lot more rarefied, and unavoidably so. Given the fact that at least 80 per cent of the ingredients are necessarily imported, a ramen shop in India will never be able to price itself as an everyday lunch spot. And therein lies the rub. For it’s not a special occasion restaurant either. This is essentially comfort food, so you need to go in expecting a warm hearth, not fireworks.

We’re lucky, however. Our meal begins with fireworks thanks to the pork buns. These are shaped very differently from the standard pockets. Leaning towards the Korean style of pau, they’re stuffed with juicy slices of pork, cucumbers and an addictively sticky soy sauce. The chicken buns are quite flat in comparison. The edamame, dusted with crunchy flakes of salt, is strictly for fans of these tender soy beans. We also try gyoza, steamed dumplings seared at the bottom.

The star of the show is of course the ramen. These noodles are traditionally made with wheat, water and alkaline salts. The salt is the secret ingredient that keeps them from getting mushy. GoGo Ramen adds one more ingredient to the noodles: egg for additional springiness.

The bowls are intimidatingly large, though I’m assured that is standard ‘ramen size’. The pork broth base, boiled for 18 hours till it’s almost opaque, is lightened with one chicken carcass, a handful of carrots and some onions. There’s leek, ginger and scallion to flavour the soup, which also contains a healthy helping of Kombu, a version of kelp.

The ramen is served with a boiled egg, with a still wobbly yolk, and a couple of slices of slow cooked pork. It’s robust with a distinct umami flavour. Since the flavour of the soup can get tedious after a while, it helps to have all the additional ingredients to play with: Sprouts, bamboo shoots. Spinach and tender seaweed. You can also opt for add-ons, like American corn with butter, mushrooms or tofu. Though I would stick with the basic version, to avoid a chaos of flavours.

For vegetarians, there is Soy Miso Ramen, which I’ll probably order next time. Then add in pork for a lighter meal. That way I can be annoyingly virtuous about how healthy I’m being. Besides, miso is great for the hair. Just saying…

GoGo Ramen is at 10/14, 1st Cross Street, 4th Main Road, Near Greenways Road, R.A. Puram. It’s open for lunch and dinner. Call 42061392 for reservations. A meal for two costs about Rs.1200.

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