Smile Politely

Ramenpalooza VII

As I stated in my Sakanaya review, Mark Hartstein’s Saru Ramen events are some of the most anticipated food events in Champaign-Urbana. It’s a win-win for all. For $15, you get a delicious, meticulously made and painstakingly researched bowl of ramen. There also is always some charity organization involved as a beneficiary for these events. The latest iteration, “Yume Wo Katare”, on December 3rd, was no exception.

There are two interchangeable elements of these ramen pop-ups: the style of ramen that Mark wants to emulate and the charity the event will support. In this instance, he wanted to do his take on the ramen currently being made at the Cambridge, MA shop called Yume Wo Katare, one of the hottest ramen shops in the country. The name loosely translates to meaning “express your dreams.” On our last trip to Boston, the shop had unexpectedly closed for a period of time. Yume Wo Katare are know for their “pork-soy broth featuring thick, handmade noodles and heaping portions of pork slices, topped with crunchy, raw cabbage and bean sprouts. Minced garlic and seabura (pork back fat) toppings are available on request.” As for the charity this event supported, it was Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.

The broth used for this ramen is a take on tonkotsu ramen broth. Tonkotsu ramen is a celebration of pork and pork flavors. The broth is made primarily from pork bones. It has a distinctly cloudy look to it. It is typically then flavored with rendered lard. It is not a subtle dish. Sometimes, people go overboard. I’ve had versions where there is so much fat that you see two very distinct layers of liquid in the broth. Usually when committing to a bowl of tonkotsu ramen broth, you are committing to an assault of salt and fat onto your palette.

I am more than happy to say that Mark avoided this pitfall. The broth was darker than what I would expect, but most definitely characteristically cloudy. I was most surprised at how balanced all the flavors of garlic, fat, pork were. At the end of each sip of broth, you still got the unctuous coating of your tongue from the broth. It was the best of both worlds.

The highlight of the night was the marinated egg that was presented just before the ramen came out. We were given the option of eating the egg beforehand or eating the egg with the ramen. After tasting the egg, either scenario would have been great. It had a very deep soy sauce flavor. I could have eaten this all night.

We loved each component of this ramen except for the raw cabbage. It definitely added some crunch to the dish, but what else? My fiancée even wondered if the cabbage took away from the rich flavors of the rest of the dish. This is no fault of Mark’s, since it seems to have been a critical component of the ramen that he is trying to recreate.

In all, we thoroughly enjoyed this ramen and am looking forward to future Saru Ramen events. 

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