Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ramen from a chain (甘泉魚麵)

Szechuan pork ramen (甘泉魚麵)

Speaking of ramen... I just don't get it. It's not like there's not a lack of a market for ramen in America. People love it... from the rich, hearty broths, to the delightfully springy noodles. There's something for everyone when it comes to ramen (that is, unless you have some odd patriotic reasoning that prohibits you from eating Japanese food). So how come in Taiwan, they can have chain ramen restaurants, that can churn out consistently good ramen, while we have to settle for hit or miss ramen more often than not (a few select establishments notwithstanding)? Case in point? A joint called 甘泉魚麵 (Gan Quan Yu Mian), which can put more than a fair share of NYC ramen places to shame.

Fuck yeah, never have I ever... had spicy Szechuan pork ramen. For just 110 NT (~$3.75) you get a bowl of fantastic pork broth impregnated by chili oil. Hiding in the soup is fatty pork sliced so thinly that upon cooking, it actually curls onto itself, delicate cubes of firm tofu that just soak up the flavors, and a spattering of crunchy greens to balance out the overpowering nature of the spiciness. As for the noodles... they carry the consistency of extra thin hand pulled noodles, superbly springy and playfully chewy. No, this certainly isn't a bowl of ramen for the traditionalists, that is, if you can even call this truly ramen. What I do know, is that it tastes fantastically kick ass, with a certain feisty aspect that I normally associate with beef noodle soup, but with a lighter touch.

Hakata ramen (甘泉魚麵)

I forget how much the plain hakata ramen was... not that it really matters, in the end it's a matter of cents on the dollar. I felt obliged to get it just because excellent hakata ramen is a veritable white whale of mine. I don't think I'll ever find a bowl that can live up to my unrealistic expectations of creamy bone thickened broth and lightly charred pork glistening in fat. Theirs was good, nothing spectacular, but for no more than $4, there's absolutely no reason for any complaining. Basically, I didn't look very hard for good ramen in Taipei, but the ones I found were all pretty good.

Now that the food is out of the way, let me spew some useless opinions about ramen in the US vs. ramen in Taiwan. First point of contention... price. I realize this isn't exactly a fair fight, like David vs. Goliath, but come on. The average pricing is ~115 NT ($4) for a giant bowl of above average ramen. I consistently pay between $15-20 in NYC. If every bowl that I tried in America was undeniably incredible, I'd have no gripes. I mean, I can understand that location matters, but when you churn out something that's below the standard of a chain restaurant in Taiwan, and want to charge me 3x the cost just because you're in Manhattan? Sorry, that's just not cool. Now I know some people will tell me that I'm an idiot, and that I'm ignoring the fact that I paid $1000 for a plane ticket to gain access to all this food. This is true, but this is also my blog... so I'm going to ignore that tidbit and consider all else equal because I can.


Danny said...

well i would say that the price of fairly good ramen is falling in NYC due to competition. For example, you could get the one that Kenji said was good (the garlic one), for like $11. So that part of it helps. But there are a lot of really random ramen joints in Midtown for example.

And I know they liked Setagaya but man, that stuff tastes just like Rai Rai Ken to me, and not in a good way.

The other thing is that the proliferation of ramen joints has led to much better char siu pork on these noodles. That's good news all around.

Nicholas said...

Danny - I guess, but $11 still feels steep (although there's no real good substitute good, so it's valued entirely by supply/demand). I really loved Sapporo when I worked in Midtown, holy shit that place was 1. cheap and 2. delicious.

True story on the improved char siu.

kim said...

That's an interesting eating vessel the noodle came in. Like a 'monk's" bowl ")

Thanks for your well wishing NIcholas. I'm slowly recovering...getting a crown for my broken tooth. Got to pay upfront since I"ve no insurance...:(

Johnny said...

You just got to eat more than 100 bowls of ramen to make up for the plane ticket. Btw, which hakata ramen joint did you think was the best in Taiwan?

Nicholas said...

kim - can't believe I missed this... no insurance sucks bad, especially given the state of our healthcare system. Hopefully in the past week you've gotten significantly better :)

Johnny - honestly couldn't tell ya. I didn't really eat enough ramen while I was there. Now if you asked me about beef noodle soup...

Johnny said...

What about beef noodle soup? I'm trying different shops as well, but maybe you can filter some out for me? I even try those 60 NT grandma stands, but there are too many of em and they mostly disappoint.

Nicholas said...

Johnny - the only one that I can honestly say was phenomenal beyond belief would be 良品. There's other places that I like, and will go back to like 永康牛肉麵, but they don't elicit the same kind of response for me.

Johnny said...

Aight i'm going to check those two out, thanks!

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