Japanese food is difficult to do well in most non-Japanese homes (and several Japanese restaurants, too, if truth be told). The reason is its simplicity. When a dish contains only a handful of elements, each one must be perfect in order for the resulting dish to come together and reach the sublime heights to which it aspires. Obsessive attention to detail, the highest quality ingredients, a finely tuned sense of balance and restraint are all necessary and often sadly lacking. Which is why, if you'd like to taste a great bowl of ramen outside of Japan (and a few other places here and there,) you will probably need to take on the difficult task of making your own from scratch. But if you pick up a copy of Ivan Orkin's Ivan Ramen, such a dream is now quite wonderfully, if obsessively, possible.
• Who wrote it: Ivan Orkin
• Who published it: 10 Speed Press
• Number of recipes: One master recipe for shio ramen, with eight accompanying recipes for the components that make up the ramen; 23 recipes for other things you can do with the eight components; and five sweets and sides.
• Other highlights: This book is all about one recipe: Ivan Orkin's take on shio ramen, or salt ramen, the quintessential ramen sold in thousands of ramen shops throughout Japan. Ivan is an American chef who trained at Lutèce and spent a few years in a corporate kitchen in NYC before eventually ending up in Japan. Fluent in the language, married to Japanese woman and raising their children, Ivan decided to do a very brave, some would even say rash, thing: set up a ramen shop in the middle of Tokyo, the first gaijin (and maybe even only?) to do so.
The first half of the book is the story of Ivan's journey from NYC to Tokyo and back again (several times.) It's a wonderful story and one of the things we discover is that Ivan's decision to open a ramen shop was far from rash. Brave, maybe. Bold, even. But his main motivation was the love of ramen and his need to be cooking again after several years trying to figure out his next step.
After we learn about Ivan's ramen journey, he offers us the master recipe for his shio ramen, which breaks the dish into its eight components, offering a recipe or information for each one. (Fat, shio tare, katsuobushi salt, double soup, toasted rye noodles, menma, pork belly chashu, and half-cooked egg.) The book goes on to give a few other recipes for these ingredients and ends with a handful of sides and sweets.
Ivan Ramen has a nice matte-finished cover and is well bound so that it will stay open on your kitchen counter. There are full color photographs throughout, illustrating Ivan's life, his ramen shop, and all the recipes. A table of contents, index and information on sourcing ingredients complete the book.
• Who would enjoy this book? If you want to attempt sublime shio ramen at home, then this book is for you. Each step, each component, is thoroughly explained and illustrated, so you know exactly what to do and when to do it. Ivan Ramen is also for people interested in the journey of a chef and what magical things can happen when you work hard towards your dream.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Ivan Ramen by Ivan Orkin.
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