“Dojo” is a Japanese term that means “place of the way”, often referred to a formal training place for a practice to forms of arts. At Ramen Dojo, this would be where the chefs practiced, and we observed, the art of the slurpy noodles.
The first lesson at Ramen Dojo was that of patience. With a shop this size and the fervent fan base, the average wait time was about an hour to an hour and half. Adult beverages a block down at a dive bar ironically named Yuppie definitely helped us through the process; but the more devout stood brave in the cold.
The restaurant was a small, cozy one. It was warmly lit, with tables and chairs enough for only 20, while an L shaped counter top allowing an additional eight, also conveniently carved out the register section. Parallel to the front door was the entrance to its kitchen, a small cave of florescent light and steaming pots of broth. Chefs working away cooking noodles and adding toppings to the giant bowls.
It was almost like a made-to-order sandwich shop or pizzeria: select your basics and add to your liking. The ramen come in three broths of soy sauce, garlic pork, and miso, at three degrees of spiciness, and the garnishes of sliced pork, quail egg, roasted garlic, greens and saffron. Available toppings included boiled egg, bamboo shoots, corn, kimchi, and many other standard favorites. What made me gleeful was their giant slogan: “Our Ramen is not Vegetarian Food”. As ramen broths were often pork based, I appreciated the declaration.
Before we were seated, we were inquired if all four of us will be having ramen. Which probably allowed them to prep the noodles in time, so that when we ordered they would only need to add broth and toppings. That was the second lesson: organized assembly. Efficiency was nice, but definitely added a more nervous atmosphere. The waitress stood glaring while we giggled our way through the menu, pressured to think fast. We ordered a round of beer just to buy a little bit more time.
But these tiny tests to our dedication came with great reward, the reward being our bowls of ramen. Ramen Dojo had been on the way of ramen and back a few times, the wait was not for naught. First of all, it was one of the most beautiful ramen I had seen. The bowl was filled with a gold richness containing tiny red flakes; steam rose through the pile of noodles and garnishes seducing our olfactory senses. The toppings were nearly piled, faced up with a wink. A tiny bunch of saffron acted like the ethereal red bow on the head of a brunette beauty, creating an airy structure to the image.
I had chosen the miso broth, which was rich and warmed the soul. The sliced pork was beautifully marbled, with just the right amount of fat-to-muscle ratio, its flavor deepened by the char. Tanginess of kimchi helped cut through the thick broth, giving away a crunching texture against the egg’s softness. Meanwhile, packed full of harvest’s eve, the roasted garlics melted like butter at my bite.
But the most wondrous for me were the noodles. Too often had I tasted noodles al dente at first but soon succumb to the power of the broth and sag into a sop of sadness. Not at Ramen Dojo, where their noodles were properly trainer to the way. It was almost reminiscent of spaghetti in firmness at first bite. Five minutes in, however, the ramen noodles came to life and became one with the broth: it was springing yet light, while the broth clung to their curves coating it was that extra pack of flavor. It danced. Like the noodles at Ippudo I’ve tasted, but in a meatier symphony this time. And life was amazing.
I resurfaced twenty minutes later, tiny beads of sweat gathered on my forehead, face red and shone. The last bits of broth laid at the bottom of the bowl, last smoke of steam waving for me to consume it. My stomach was close to bursting, but somehow, my hands moved as if with minds of their own, and held the bowl up high so I could devour even the last drops of delicious soup. It is here that I learnt my third and final lesson at this place of the ramen way: there was no such thing as self-control in front of the ultimate deliciousness, such as this bowl of divine ramen.
Ramen Dojo | 805 S B Street | San Mateo, CA 94401 | 650.401.6568