Jul 26, 2015
The Unlikely Ascent of Ramen
It's 7:40 on a Thursday night and you're seated over a piping hot bowl of thick ramen noodles at Agu Ramen in Ward Village.
The most tantalizing of aromas permeates the Honolulu air. With the steam gently rising from the perfectly plated dish in front of you, you reach for your chopsticks, take one last whiff of the savory steam, and dig in. This bowl of noodle soup is utterly perfect, you tell yourself.
While there's no denying that Hawaii has had a love of ramen for quite some time, the last decade has seen the Japanese dish take on a meteoric rise in popularity in the United States. One quick glance through the hippest restaurants in most metropolitan cities reveals at least a handful of establishments serving up their take on the famed Japanese noodle soup to throngs of hungry patrons.
Surprisingly, the history of ramen remains somewhat shrouded in uncertainty. While some food historians believe the dish likely immigrated to Japan from China hundreds of years ago, the exact origins are as murky as the miso- or shoyu-based broth that accompanies the noodles. While ramen has been a part of Japanese culture for some time, it wasn't until the years following the Second World War that it became an integral part of Japanese culture when cheap flour from the United States flooded Japan.
Throughout Japan, small eateries serving up simple but delicious bowls of noodle soup sprouted up. Soon, restaurants that specialized in perfecting the noodle dish flourished throughout the island nation, gaining leagues of ramen enthusiasts. In 1958, Momofoku Ando—a Taiwanese-Japanese entrepreneur—invented Instant Noodles and subsequently spread the dish to the entire planet. By the 1980s, ramen became synonymous with Japanese culture—heck, there's even a ramen museum in Yokohama, Japan.
As interesting as ramen's origins in Japan may be, their ascension in popularity in the West, specifically the United States, is simply stratospheric. While the instant noodle variety has been a staple of students for decades, the rise of gourmet—or at least properly executed ramen—can largely be tied to New York-based chef David Chang, proprietor of the famed Momofoku Milk Bar. In the early 2000s, Chang, who is largely regarded as one of the greatest chefs of his generation, painstakingly worked to create the perfect ramen. With his help, the dish took off across the United States, a new noodle bar seemingly erected in every major city.
While there are a myriad of different types of ramen—shoyu, miso, and tonkotsu just to name a few—the beauty of the dish is truly in its simplicity. Perfectly chewy wheat noodles, a savory slow-cooked broth, and some toppings to accentuate. It truly can be that perfect
Although the ramen craze may be a new development on the mainland, in Hawaii—with our historical ties to Japan—the dish has been a staple in restaurants and homes for decades. But recently, even more ramen restaurants have opened up shop and given their own spin on the recipe. Here at Ward Village, we're fortunate to call the famed AGU and Goma Tei ramen restaurants neighbors. Both of these ventures—while quite different in their approach—are revered for their commitment to perfecting ramen and both are on our "must eat" list. Paired with a plate of gyoza and—if you're of age, a frosty beer—you're looking at the perfect meal. Now, the only thing left is to grab your chopsticks, your spoon, and dig in.
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