by Alicia Lieu
Recipe at the end of this post.
I refuse to give in to the hype of trendy things like ramen burgers and the Ramenrrito. Although ramen is being talked about as a food trend, I do think that it is a dish that is continually evolving and has found a comfortable place in the world. Many chefs are replacing our college dorm ramen with the real deal. Fresh noodles in a bowl of complex and silky rich broth. I recently had the privilege of meeting Arden Tse, who is starting up a ramen shop in Edmonton. The interview is followed by a link to his recent television appearance. His Prairie signature dish looks absolutely amazing. I have also included local NYC recommendations from my fellow foodies at work.
Alicia: Why ramen? And how did you choose your name?
Arden: My friends and I love noodles. It’s our comfort food, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, it doesn’t matter. Ramen is one of the more complex and fun noodle types out there. You can play around with it because it’s a regional cuisine influenced by wherever that particular ramen comes from. There’s no dedicated shops here in Edmonton, Canada so about a year ago my friends and I started making it at home. We’re not professional cooks, but thanks to cookbooks from kitchens like Ivan Ramen and Momofuku as a starting point, we were eventually able to make our own bowl of ramen that we were happy to eat. After doing a few home noodle parties, a few of us started thinking about the possibility of opening a dedicated ramen shop.
It wasn’t until I was introduced to Chef Stephen Baidacoff through a local cooking school that things really started taking off. Steve really understood our flavor profile and was able to refine our recipe to a much more sophisticated but still uniquely prairie inspired bowl. Smoky umami, use of the whole pig in our process (right down to the fried pig skin), and sweet corn. It just seemed natural to call ourselves the Prairie Noodle Shop as we’re not trying to be a Japanese concept. It’s Asian noodles inspired by prairie flavors.
Alicia: How has the start-up process been and how have people responded to your idea?
Arden: I really didn’t know if we were ever going to get this idea off the ground until all the right people got involved over this past summer. Steve helped work out the recipe and process, Kathryn Joel (owner of the Get Cooking school) both encouraged us and provided the facilities to do our first pop up, and a few other friends interested in the idea made the commitment to got involved. We formally incorporated and put some money into the project to give it a go. It took a lot of persistence, but the response and support from the Edmonton community has been overwhelming. None of us predicted that our concept would garner such a positive reception. Our event sold out before we even opened the doors and we turned away another 70 or so people. Edmonton is incredibly supportive of local entrepreneurship and it’s a great place to start a business. I think the idea that this ramen is our own creation really resonates with people. It’s inspired by where we live and it’s something that uniquely belongs to our city. I’m actually seeing this more and more across the US, where new ramen shops are incorporating local influences into their dishes. Ramen is evolving and we’re excited to be a part of that process that was pioneered by people like David Chang and Ivan Orkin.
Alicia: What is the next step for Prairie?
Arden: We’re already working on our next recipe for another pop up in November. After that we’re going to take a couple of months to regroup, and then round out a few more ideas we have in order to create a full menu of 5 or 6 recipes. The idea is to test them out at our pop ups. If all goes well, we’ll consider getting a full on location up and running. We’re not thinking too far ahead at the moment as our mantra is “one bowl at a time.” My friends and I would never serve anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves (and we have some picky eaters amongst us) so we’ll never sacrifice quality for quantity or speed.
Alicia: Tell us about your favorite ramen dish. Did you try anything that you liked in New York?
Arden: It’s hard to pick one favorite! Aside from our own Prairie Pork ramen (of course), I enjoy a creamy traditional tonkotsu, and I really love the depth and complexity of Ivan Ramen’s double soup (shio or shoyu). However, my newest favorite is definitely the Kimchi ramen that the girls at Mokbar in New York are making. It’s incredibly savory, and the broth has a great body to it. I’m looking forward to trying their bulgogi ramen the next time I’m in New York!
We’re on Twitter and Instagram (@YEGnoodles) and are currently working on a website. You can follow this link to read an Edmonton food blogger’s review of our first event as well as a link to my TV appearance.
Alicia: Thank you, Arden for introducing me to your ramen. I hope to experience the magic you are making at Prairie Noodle Shop someday.
Arden: It was a pleasure to meet you, Alicia. [End of interview]
When I was looking for an expert opinion on where to go for Ramen in New York, I knew exactly who to go to. Foodies Henry Cheng and Thomas Garry always know where to go. As I write this, Henry is actually in Japan eating ramen and sending me recommendations about New York ramen. Lets start with Ippudo, which is probably the most well known. It is delicious but the wait time is long. Ippudo West has a shorter wait time. Totto Ramen and Hide Chan are sister restaurants. Hide Chan has nice options in terms of broth richness, noodle thickness, and firmness of the noodle, Totto is good but the wait time is ridiculous.
Ivan Ramen is also very popular and they offer ramen without the broth, which is also very good. Henry’s preferred place for ramen is Misoya. It is so much easier to get seats here. Misoya serves miso- based broth and overall very tasty. One bowl definitely fills you up without having to order many additional options. Thomas agrees that Ivan Ramen and Ippudo are excellent restaurants. He also likes Cocoron as well as Tabata Ramen as a more affordable option at Port Authority. He recommends their spicy ramen and the coconut ramen. Trust him, he said, on the coconut broth. Mu Ramen is a pop up that is opening up in an apartment in Long Island City. I have put HinoMaru in Astoria on the top of my list, though. Their ramen is served with “a big fireball in the middle.” I’m ready.
At Prairie, they use fresh noodles made by a local manufacturer. The broth uses a double soup made with smoked pork pieces, bones, and chicken backs, along with dashi and Chinese dried shrimp. The char shiu belly is also made in-house with a salt and sugar cure. The sweet corn is tossed in sesame oil and a drizzle of black garlic oil adds a touch of tannic complexity. Sounds simply spectacular. Arden also recommends the Momofuku and Ivan Ramen cookbooks. However, I do not cook this way at home. At home, I keep varieties of Japanese and Korean ramen around. It is two steps up from the American supermarket variety. The Japanese brands have really great texture in their noodles and the flavor packets are the best. The Korean ramen is really nice and spicy and comes with freeze dried green onion and other garnish. If you have fresh made Asian style BBQ places around, that works as the protein for the dish, as well.
Ramen at Home:
One package ramen (any variety)
4 slices of fish cake (or fish balls)
2 handfuls baby spinach (or other leafy greens)
Optional: 2 sheets of dried seaweed
1. Follow the instructions for boiling the noodles on the package. Do not overcook noodles. Remove noodles from water and place in serving bowl.
2. Add the slices of fish cake and crack the egg into to the gently boiling water. When the fish cake is heated through and the egg reaches desired doneness, remove from water and add to the noodles in the bowl.
3. Add the spinach and cook for 30 seconds. Pour broth and spinach over the noodles, fish cake, and egg. Serve hot.
4. Top with seaweed sheets (optional).