Monday, December 28, 2015
Boston, MA Edition: Yume Wo Katare
In the past few years, "ramen" has become increasingly mainstream. It's no longer just a utilitarian Japanese noodle soup dish. It has formed into this trendy dish popping up all over Western cities.
And, no, I'm not talking about the instant ramen mass-produced as a block of dried noodles with an accompanying spice packet that sells for about 20 centers per package. Ramen is the Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat-based broth with soy, miso, slices of pork, nori, fish cake and green onions.
In Boston, Yume Wo Katare is known to have some of the best ramen around. As it should because it literally only serves on item: the pork ramen. You can add extra meat. Yume Wo Katare is also cash only, has a long line no matter what time of day and has just three rows of bench seating, where you face the chef and are ultimately judged on how much you are able to eat. It's certainly an experience.
After waiting for a long time outside, it was finally our turn to pass through the door. Except, they split our party up into two and two (instead of four) so that it would be more simple to seat us. There are only 18 seats here afterall. We placed our order at the cash register, paid, grabbed our cup and pour a glass of water before shimmying into our place on the bench. Soon after, the other half of our party was seated in the row in front of us. We sit quietly and patiently as some of the people finish up their meals. One of the Yume Wo Katare chefs announces every so often "We gotta Perfect!!" or "It's a Next Time!" dependent upon how much of the ramen was finished.
Soon, as the chefs begin to prepare our meals, we were asked if we wanted garlic or not. The answer to that question is always yes. And before long, there is this massive, overwhelming piping hot bowl of ramen.
There are a few general types of ramen: shio (pale, clear, yellow, salty broth made with chicken, vegetables fish and seaweed), tonkotsu (a cloudy white broth used by boiling pork bones, fat over high heat for many hours), shoyu (clear brown broth, made with soy sauce so it's tangy, salty and and savory) and miso (contains miso, so it's tangy and slightly sweet).
Yume Wo Katare serves jiro ramen, which is a tonkotsu broth with shoyu added. The noodles are very thick and chewy. This giant bowl has a heaping ton of thick noodles in a fatty broth with a few tender pieces of pork belly, mixed in with bean sprouts, bok choy and lots of minced garlic.
I love the thick, chewy noodles, and the broth, while salty, was very good. I slurped up my soup, alternating between my chopsticks and spoon. It is a method that takes some practice, but I entered into a rhythm. But after I finished all my noodles, it felt like there was a rock in my belly. I looked down to see a full bowl of broth and some pork left. I took a few spoonfuls of just the broth - but there's no way I could hold all that in. It's so rich and fatty and greasy - and without the noodle to cut through it, it just wasn't going to happen. I took a break, hoping to make room in my belly - regretting everything I ate earlier in the day. There was so much pressure! They announce to everyone how you did! I wanted to do well! Unfortunately, when it was my turn to be judged, I received an "Almost!" That's better than a "Next Time!" so I was actually proud of myself. Even though the other three members of my group all got "Perfect!"
At the end of the meal, you're allegedly encouraged to "share your dream," and there are signs hanging up of previous patrons' dreams. This didn't happen while I was there, but it is apparently a big part of the experience. You're encouraged to be quiet and focus on your ramen - apparently as a symbol of what you can accomplish - and if you finish your ramen, you can accomplish your dream.
My only dream at that moment was to keep everything I just ingested inside of me. This was the first time I ever ate so much, I was genuinely concerned I might throw up. We thankfully had about maybe a half mile or so walk back to the apartment so I could try to get some of that to settle.
This isn't a casual, carefree light dinner. It's a TON of food, it's almost served militant style, and there's pressure to perform. That said, it's also fun. Just be sure to get mentally prepared first.