October 27, 2018

Food for Thought

I realized that many people who love ramen have not seen the movie Tampopo. Somehow I assumed that anyone who loves ramen has seen it. It’s a cult classic directed by Juzo Itami who is often described as Japanese Woody Allen. It was released in 1985 but I remember it catching on here in the 90′s. I’m pretty sure ramen would not have been so popular if it weren’t for this film. Google Ngram confirms that the timing of the popularity of the word “ramen” coincides with the release of the film—swipe to see.

In the early 90′s, some Japanese restaurants had ramen on their menus but it was mainly for the Japanese expats. One time my friend @jonahfwd and I went to a Japanese restaurant in the East Village and ordered ramen. There weren’t different kinds of ramen listed on the menu. Ramen was just ramen, listed among other common Japanese dishes like sushi and tempura. But I heard the waiter say to the cook in Japanese, “Two ramens. One of them is white.” When the two bowls arrived, we cracked up, because my broth was opaque (I think it was tonkotsu) and my friend’s was clear—I think he got classic soy broth. We both ordered the same thing but they brought us two visibly different things. We suspect many restaurants do this behind the scenes but this restaurant seemed proud of their political incorrectness.

Throughout the 90′s ramen became increasingly popular, and in the 2000′s, it blew up. It didn’t just become a popular dish; it became a popular type of restaurant. Tempura, in contrast, is still served as a dish in Japanese restaurants. Not many tempura restaurants exist. I think this partly has to do with people wanting the same experience they saw in Tampopo—it wasn’t just about the dish.

If you have not seen Tampopo, you should. You will understand the cultural background behind ramen.

#ramen #japanesefood #tampopo #juzoitami #nycfoodie #nycfood #noodles #nycrestaurant #nyceeeeeats #nyceats